Why You Should Ditch Your To-Do List

March 1st, 2014

In this post, I’m going to tell you why you should get rid of your to-do list, and what to replace it with. I wish I had learned this years ago, but I’m very glad I finally did. I think you will be too.

I heard about it from a woman named Monica (if she gives me permission, I’ll tell you her last name). I’m taking a 5-week prayer class at my church to become a prayer minister and she is one of my classmates.

Monica, who is many years younger than me (I wish I knew how she got to be so wise at such a young age!), shared in class that she has replaced her to-do list with a “want to experience” list. And as soon as I heard her say that, I realized what a powerful idea it was.

Creating and then looking at a to-do list can easily leave us feeling drained, especially one that has time-consuming, hard-to-do items on it. And when we get that way, it’s hard to feel motivated.

But if instead of making a to-do list, you make a want to experience list, you will most likely find yourself empowered and motivated.

For example, one item on a to-do list might be to exercise. Exercising is something that is unpleasant (or worse) for a lot of people, and can be especially hard if you have a chronic illness. But if on your “want to experience” list you write down “I want to experience the most enjoyable time I can with my children (or grandchildren if you’re my age)” and exercising is one of the things that will make that possible, then you are much more likely to exercise than you would be if it were just an item on your to-do list.

Just about everything on your to-do list, including taking medications, picking up the kids at school, buying a present or sending a card, making an appointment with your doctor, etc., can be restated as something you want to experience, and then put on that list. And when you do that, you’ll be much more likely to take the steps needed so you can have the experience, whether it’s of more peace, better health, more happiness, or anything else, that you want.

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Tom Robinson, who has a chronic illness (Crohn’s disease) himself, helps people with chronic illnesses meet their many challenges and then find and follow a path to happiness and fulfillment.

Get his free report, Has Living with a Chronic Illness Worn You Down? Learn How to Outsmart Your Illness and Have a Much Better Life.

Are You Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution – in Your Own Life?

January 31st, 2014

You have probably heard the phrase “You’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.” It comes from a talk Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver gave in 1968. After he said it, lots of organizations, including non-profits and government bodies began using it for themselves. You’ve probably heard or seen it many times.

A while back, I heard the phrase again, this time with a somewhat different twist, in a teleclass by results and success coach Michael Bernoff.

Michael asked those of us who were listening to the call to ask ourselves if we were being a part of the solution to the problems in our lives. I thought it was a great question, so I decided to use it in this post.

It is easy, as I’m sure you know (I sure do), to get depressed and anxious about our illness, including all the negative effects it has on out lives. All of us do that from time to time. It’s normal, and there is no reason to feel guilty about doing it.

However, I now know that I can lessen my depression and anxiety you can lessen your depression and anxiety – often a lot, but asking myself the simple question: How can I be a part of the solution in my own life?

You can too.

For some people, asking that question may be a hard thing to do, because they don’t think there is anything they can do to make things better. If you’re one of those people, you can ask yourself a second question, which is: I don’t think there is any way for me to be a part of the solution to the problems in my life, but if there were, what would it be?

Those of you who have read my other blog posts know that one of the ways that I encourage people with chronic illnesses to be a part of the solution to problems in their lives is to give themselves lots of compassion. You can learn some other ways by getting my free report (see the top right corner of the page to find out how to do that) and by reading some of my other posts. But the best way to get started is by asking yourself the questions in this post, with the intention of coming up with one or more answers to them.

An Awful Christmas Present

December 31st, 2013

Earlier this month, I was having a conversation with a woman who has lupus. The reason I’m writing about it is because I was greatly affected by one of the things she said.

Linda, who is a cable TV installer, told me about a customer of hers who has some very difficult health challenges. And then she shared something the woman had said to her, which was this:  “The best Christmas present I could get would be to not wake up.”

I don’t know what illnesses she has, but I have to think she has probably been in a lot of pain and that she has struggled with her illnesses for a long time. And I know, from both my own experience with a chronic illness and from working with 100’s of people with chronic illnesses for over 10 years, how hopeless a person can feel and how impossible a better life can seem.

But I also know, from what my clients have shared about their lives, from books and posts I’ve read, and from my own experiences, that miracles can—and do—happen. And while I don’t know if they will happen, for me or for anyone else, I have learned what we can do to make it much more likely that they will.

First, we can look for all the things we have to be grateful for, including food to eat, a roof over our heads, friends and family and the good times we’ve had and the special moments and love we’ve shared, the education we received that makes it possible for us to read books, blogs, magazines, etc., our organs that are working fine (and everyone who is alive has some) – the list goes on and on.

And second, we can have empathy and compassion for the parts of ourselves (remember, we all are made up of many parts) that are struggling and are in emotional or physical pain. And we can let the organs and the parts of our bodies that aren’t well know we appreciate them for doing the best they can, and then send them loving compassion.

I sent Linda an email letting her know that I would be glad to give her customer a no cost consultation. I hope she takes me up on my offer. I know it’s after Christmas, but if she does the things I’ve described here, I have a strong sense she will find that life, even with serious health challenges, is a gift, and she will want to wake up tomorrow and the next day and the next, etc., and enjoy that gift.

Are You Angry at Yourself? Probably – Even if You Don’t Think so

November 30th, 2013

You may already know that anger can have negative effects on both your emotional and physical well-being. I will describe some of those effects later in this post.

But before I do, I want to point out something most people don’t think about, which is this: when most of us think about anger and being angry, we think about someone we’re angry at, or about something that happened to us that made us angry and upset. We remember getting angry when something happened to us that wasn’t fair, like getting sick or losing our job – or both. We get angry at our government for passing bad laws or for not passing laws we know are needed.

But when we think about anger and being angry, rarely do we think about our anger at ourselves. However, most if not all of us have some–and some of us have a lot of it.

We get it from not being the way we think we should be. We get it from not having the willpower we think we should have. We may have it because we haven’t taken good care of ourselves or from not staying true to our values. We can get angry at ourselves because we got sick—even though we’re not to blame for that happening. And we can be angry at ourselves for countless other reasons.

Whatever the reasons and wherever they came from, whether we are aware of it or not, virtually all of us have some anger at ourselves. And that self-anger can have the same negative effects on our emotional and our physical well-being as anger at others does.

Those effects include weakening our immune system, high blood pressure, problems with digestion, skin problems, heart attacks, strokes, anxiety and depression, and many others.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that 85 percent of all diseases appear to have an emotional element. I think the percentage is even higher.

So if most of us have some self-anger, and that anger has negative effects on our emotional and physical well-being that makes our lives worse, what can we do?

The first thing we can do is to look and see if there are things we’re angry at ourselves for, things we’ve forgotten or never acknowledged in the first place. Then when we find that anger, we can do the same thing we can do when others do things that hurt and upset us: Just as we can forgive them, we can forgive ourselves.

In one way, it’s often easier to forgive ourselves than it is to forgive others. That’s because it’s easier to forgive people who apologize for what they did, but other people often don’t ever apologize. But we can always apologize to ourselves, and when when we do that, and mean it, it is a lot easier for us to forgive ourselves. So I strongly recommend that you take the time and make the effort to forgive yourself.

The next thing you can do is to be gentle with yourself and have lots of understanding compassion for both the part of you that has been hurt and angry and for the part that caused the hurt and anger. Remember that the part of you that did that was doing the best it knew how and was not intentionally trying to hurt you or make you angry and upset.

Healing self-anger can make a very big difference in your life. One of my clients recently discovered that because of her anger at herself, anger that she didn’t realize she had, she had been punishing herself for years. When she forgave herself and stopped doing that, she had a big breakthrough and experienced a miraculous shift in her often difficult relationship with her husband.

Whether or not you have a breakthrough, I am certain that healing any self-anger you have, by apologizing, forgiving, and having compassion for yourself, will have a very positive effect on your physical and emotional well-being.

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Tom Robinson, who has a chronic illness (Crohn’s disease) himself, helps people with chronic illnesses meet their many challenges and then find and follow a path to happiness and fulfillment.

Get his free report, Has Living with a Chronic Illness Worn You Down? Learn How to Outsmart Your Illness and Have a Much Better Life.

How Good a Racecar Driver are You?

October 31st, 2013

I’m going to start out this post by asking you a favor, which is to please bear with me while I explain why I titled this post How Good a Racecar Driver are You?

My guess is that while you’re probably a good driver, you’re not a racecar driver. But even though you’re not, you know that in any car race, the fastest driver wins. And I’m sure you also know that there are two ways to be go faster in a race.

The first way is to get a car with a more powerful engine, while the second is to be a better driver. And while I have no intention of disparaging any of the drivers who participate in the Indianapolis 500 or the Daytona 500, it seems to me that how fast drivers are able to drive on a course with tight turns, such as the Monaco Grand Prix or the EuroSpeedway Lausitz, depends more on their skill than how fast they are able to drive on a large oval-shaped track.

For that reason, a skilled driver with a slower car could easily do better than than a less skilled driver with a more powerful, faster car.

Having talked about drivers, racing, and cars, I’m going to switch, and talk about you and me, life, and our bodies – and the illnesses we have.

Here’s why: When we have a chronic illness, then if we compare our body to a racecar, it’s probably not a supercharged fast one. But even so, by becoming better and better drivers, we can do better and better on the course of life – even better than people who have healthier bodies.

So how can we become “better drivers?” We can do that by, rather than focusing on the fact that our car isn’t as good or as fast as we would like it to be, focusing instead on the things that add to our quality of life. Maybe that means playing a game of Scrabble with our partner or our children. Maybe it means getting out in nature. Maybe it means nurturing a relationship with a friend by paying a visit or making a call. Maybe it means being gentler and more compassionate with ourselves.

Now it’s your turn. How can you be a more skillful racecar driver on your life’s course?

If you need help, reach out! And tell friends and family members who need help to do the same

September 30th, 2013

I chose the subject for this post because of what a former classmate, whom I’ll call Bill, told me at my high school reunion last month. We shared with each other what we had done since we graduated several decades ago. I learned that he had become a chemist. When I told him that I had left my career in engineering behind and for the last 11 years had been helping people with the emotional challenges of living with chronic illnesses, his expression changed noticeably.

Bill shared with me that his son Mark had been in a Ph.D. program at a prestigious university, but before completing the program had been diagnosed with Lyme disease. He also had other debilitating symptoms due to another illness that doctors had been unable to identify.

Mark tried his absolute best to keep up with his heavy academic load, but was not able to do so. The reality that he would not be able to complete his degree was devastating for him, especially because he had almost no one to turn to for emotional support. He was close to his parents, but they were 3,000 miles away.

Sadly, Mark took his own life.

Bill told me his son’s suicide was the most painful experience he had ever gone through. As a parent myself, I had no doubt that it was. He added that there is a part of himself that will never get over it.

One of the aspects of suicide that makes it especially painful for those who loved the person who committed it is that it can almost always be prevented, usually fairly easily, if people know it’s being contemplated.

While chronic illnesses like Lyme disease can’t always be cured, with the right caring support, people with them can virtually always have better lives. And knowing that there are others who truly care about how physically and emotionally difficult it is to live with a chronic illness has a big positive effect, just by itself.

But sometimes, as in Mark’s case, unless they are told, others don’t know how difficult living with the the physical and emotional pain of a chronic illness is.

Fortunately, the vast majority of people who are living with chronic illnesses and don’t get the support they need, don’t commit suicide. But like Mark, many of them have decided that others don’t care, and they don’t ask for or seek out the support they need.

If you are one, please start asking and seeking. There are people who care (I’m one), but you’re unlikely to find them until you do.

Best wishes in your search and quest to have the best life possible. And please share this post with others who need support and care, but aren’t reaching out for it.

How “watching” a movie can help you live a better life

August 31st, 2013

I’m sure you’ve noticed that as you watch a movie, you find yourself caring about the protagonist because of the hardships she (or he) goes through. And you identify with her struggles, disappointments, and pain, and silently root for her to overcome her challenges, fulfill her mission, and realize her (or his) dreams.

The challenge of living with a serious chronic illness is at least as hard as the difficulties and obstacles the main characters in most movies have to overcome. If you were to watch a movie where the protagonist had to deal with symptoms like yours and do all the things you do to take care of yourself and the others in your life, I’m sure you would have a lot of empathy and want the best outcome possible for him or her – just as you would for the main character of a good movie.

In a very real sense, you are the leading character in a movie: your life. You do face major challenges because of your illness and symptoms. So I encourage you to care about and have at least as much empathy for yourself as you would for the actor or actress who portrayed a character like you in a movie. Not only do you deserve it, but when you do that, you will start to feel a lot better.

But there is something else besides learning to care more about and have more empathy for yourself that you can learn by imagining watching a movie about your life.

Here it is: When we watch a movie, we usually know more about what is going on than the main character does.

Because of that, there have been many times when I have known that the things he (or she) is saying and the actions he is taking will get him into trouble. I have wanted to tell him to stop and say or do something else. But of course, there has never been a time when the protagonist in a movie has been able to hear me.

But imagining watching a movie of our life is different. Doing that gives us a different perspective of our life, and often more wisdom, than our normal perspective and the wisdom we have as we live it. And we can use that perspective and wisdom to tell the main character what the best thing he or she can do to manage illness symptoms and live a much better life.

To summarize, what I am suggesting is that you imagine you are watching a movie of your life. You can imagine watching yourself as the main character, or you can imagine another actor playing that role. The movie has just gotten to today, and as a viewer of the movie, you have a sense of the best thing the actor can do next. And knowing that, you follow your own wisdom.

This technique works well because when we are able to detach ourselves from our situation, we can see options and ways to take care of ourselves and deal with our challenges that we can’t see otherwise.

Best wishes as you watch your own “movie” and have a much better life.

Learning How to Live Better From my Dog

July 31st, 2013

Let me start out by saying that my dog didn’t actually teach me how to live better. But she played a key role in my learning the suggestion I’m going to share with you.

Here’s how:  I’m a dog lover, but I don’t like a dog’s incessant barking any more than the next person. However, when my dog barks, I know there is a reason for it. Usually it’s because she’s heard or smelled someone or something she thought was a threat, and she wants to let me know.

Knowing that, what I’ve learned to do is to tell her, “Thank you for letting me know about the danger, Addie. I’ll take over and take care of us now.”

Telling her that reassures her and she stops barking.

Now this may surprise you, but I think there is a way in which our behavior is similar to a dog’s. Here it is: Like dogs, we have a threat detection mechanism that is running whenever we’re awake.

But while our behavior is similar to a dog’s, there are of course some differences. One of them is that, as you know, we don’t bark. Our threat detection mechanism doesn’t cause us to do that.

What it does instead is to respond to perceived threats by making the voice inside our head start talking to us. If the perceived threat is a stranger, the voice will very likely start judging him.

If the perceived threat is new ache in our body, the voice may start telling us that maybe that’s the first sign of another illness, or even cancer. If the perceived threat is the fact that our partner is late getting home, the voice may tell us that something has probably happened to him or her.

I could give many more examples, but I hope you’re seeing how, even though it may have sounded farfetched at first, the voice inside our head is similar to a dog’s bark.

And because it is similar, then just as I told my dog I was taking over and was going to take care of us, we can quiet that voice by telling it that we’re taking over and will take care of ourselves.

Of course, we need to follow through and do that. And whether we realize it or not, we are all capable of doing that.

So the next time the voice in your head starts reacting to perceived threats and telling you how bad things are, I invite you to let it know that you are going to take over and take care of yourself. And then do it.

Is this why you have a hard time having compassion for yourself?

June 30th, 2013

When I tell people all the reasons why they should give themselves lots of compassion, some of them do. But others don’t. They may try, and they may even think that they’re giving themselves compassion, but they aren’t.

For a long time, I have wondered how to help that second group of people so they too can experience the peace and the healing that results from self-compassion.

One answer became clear to me recently when a good friend, whom I’ll call Jane, finally understood how to give herself compassion, three years after I saw that she would benefit a lot from doing that because of the illness she was dealing with, and told her so.

She told me how helpful truly giving herself compassion was and how good it felt to finally be able to do that. And in response to my question about why learning to do that took so long, she had two answers. The first was that she thought she actually was giving herself compassion, even though I told her many times that it didn’t look like it to me.

Her second answer touched me very deeply, and I will never forget it. I knew that her father had died recently, that she loved him very much, and that she had a very complicated relationship with him. But while she knew he had punished her a lot when she was growing up, she was not able to admit to herself that she had been very badly abused. What had happened to her was that until she was 17, her father had beaten her every day after he came home from work for her transgressions that day, no matter how minor.

While she wasn’t consciously aware of it, admitting that she needed and deserved compassion would have been admitting that her father had done that to her. It took her three years and her father’s death to be able to do that.

Once she did, she was able to give herself compassion – and her tears started to come and she began healing.

Having worked with people with chronic illness for more than 10 years, I have found that like Jane, many had been abused. Maybe you were too. But whether you were or not, if you are finding it hard to give yourself compassion, I strongly encourage you to look and see if things happened to you in the past that you haven’t fully let in and acknowledged. And if you find them, do acknowledge and let them in, so that you too can start giving yourself the compassion you need and deserve.

One final reminder: giving yourself compassion is not a one-time event; it is an ongoing practice, I encourage you to continue for the rest of your life.

A New Way to Use Three Important Words

May 23rd, 2013

Four years ago, I wrote a post for my blog* in which I said that the words “I’m so sorry” were 3 of the most important words I had learned in my life. And I went on to explain why they were important, which was that there was a part of me that, because of having a chronic illness and having experienced many traumatic events in my life, was in a lot of emotional pain and needed to hear those words – from me.

I wrote about how I said them to myself in the mirror and how helpful that was, and that my clients found doing that very helpful too.

I recently got a video camera so that I can post videos online. As I was learning how to use it, it occurred to me that recording myself saying those three words, and then watching myself say them, could be a very powerful healing method. So I tried it, and found out it was.

Because I’m able to record myself with the camera, I have modified my technique. I made it a 3- step process, to take advantage of that capability. The first step was to record myself describing what is going on in my life; what’s going well, things I’m struggling with, and the positive and painful feelings I’ve been experiencing. This can be hard to do, but I have found it well worth doing.

The second step was to record myself being a wise, compassionate parent or mentor to myself. I acknowledged the part of me that is struggling and in pain and told him how sorry I was about what he is going through. Then I reminded that part of me about the good and wonderful qualities he has, reassured him, told him how much I loved him and let him know that I was there for him.

The final step was to watch the video. When I did, I sent lots of compassion to the person in the first part, the one who described what was going on in his life and what he was struggling with. And then I let in the compassion, the reassurance, and the love that the wise mentor in the second part of the video was giving to me.

Doing this has been very helpful for me, so I have started sharing it with my clients and others. I would love to hear how well it works for you.

*I’m So Sorry