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Warning (Personal): Landing in Love in an Unexpected Way

The other day I was driving with my partner, Patrick, and I reached over to caress his cheek at a red light. I’d been tight and withdrawn for several days, so when I felt the impulse to reach out with tenderness, I acted on it because I didn’t know when I’d feel that way again.

I feared a response like, Now you want to show me love instead of shutting me out? Where have you been the last few days?, but was floored to be met instead with an undefended, loving look.

I grew up with a belief that I have to earn love. That I have to cajole love with good behavior, sexiness, or being thoughtful and kind. This belief makes me try too hard in every area of my life.

Here’s the pattern: I put in more effort than I get back until I hit the wall and feel defeated and resentful. I withdraw, feeling unwanted and unseen. My underlying fear that I’m unworthy of love is reinforced by the lack of reciprocation.

When I’m in this pattern, I’m not able to receive the love that’s actually available. I also don’t see that I created the imbalance and my own defeat by trying too hard instead of being present and meeting the person or situation with the right amount of effort.

Love that’s bought with effort can feel like love, but it’s like eating only frosted pound cake day after day. Over time our bodies break down from malnutrition. Just like our bodies need more than cake to live, we need more than bought love to live.

In the wake of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s suicides, I want us to think about the love and connection in our lives. I don’t know what they struggled with or what was happening with their brain chemistry. I don’t know what made them decide that leaving was better than staying and I’m not passing judgment on their choice.

But I do know what it’s like to feel alone, surrounded by people, unable to feel how loved I am because I’m locked in my own feelings.

I do know what it’s like to try to make myself feel worthy of love by over-achieving and to feel crushed when I don’t feel seen or known.

I do know what it’s like to feel depressed and think it’ll never change.

In her article, “Americans are depressed and suicidal because something is wrong with our culture,” Kirsten Powers writes, Rather than pathologizing the despair and emotional suffering that is a rational response to a culture that values people based on ever escalating financial and personal achievements, we should acknowledge that something is very wrong. We should stop telling people who yearn for a deeper meaning in life that they have an illness or need therapy. Instead, we need to help people craft lives that are more meaningful and built on a firmer foundation than personal success.

My over-efforting pattern started to change when I realized that nothing and no one outside of myself can fill the 5-gallon bucket of love-need inside me. I got clear that the negative things I think about myself punch holes in that bucket and make any love or accolades that pour in drain right out. I had to learn to plug those holes myself.

I had to dig deeper to find a place inside where love just is. A place past the belief that I have to hustle to feel worthy and get love. A place where love isn’t a commodity to be bought with good behavior or achievement, but is instead a constant that hums along independently of our ideas and beliefs about it.

Revealing the love we are made of at our core asks us to strip away everything we think it is and everything we think we have to do to get it.

Love is what’s left after our layers of compensation and hustling fall away.

When Patrick and I first started dating, he was more of the withdrawing type, as I wrote about in this post, Three Ways We Sabotage Change in Our Relationships. He’d max out on the closeness he could handle and would need to pull back to regroup. I could see that happening and didn’t take it personally or freak out. Instead I gave him space to come back when he was ready.

This wasn’t another strategy to buy love. My own love-bucket was full enough that I didn’t have to try to buy love from him with manipulation. He could feel my total lack of grip, which gave him room to choose to open up to our relationship at a pace that worked for him.

But years later, I discovered in the car that I still brace myself to be met with resentment when I’ve been tight and withdrawn. Like shoe-prints left on a well-worn trail I no longer tread, I still show traces of the belief that I have to earn love by being good.

When Patrick leaned into my touch and beamed more love at me than I felt I deserved in that moment, another layer of that belief fell away, like a calving glacier falling into the sea with a loud groan.

I forgot where we were, that cars behind us would soon start to honk. I let his loving look land in my body, turned my face to the road, and accelerated through the green light.

 

Thanks for reading! Join my email list for access to growing and helpful resources. XO

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Using her Deep Dive Process, Marie-Elizabeth Mali works with unconventional women who feel stuck and dissatisfied. If you’re ready for a Deep Dive, click here.

How To Safely Practice Getting Vulnerable in Your Relationships

Ugh. Relationships, amiright? Somehow, with all your wounds and your parental, societal, religious, and educational conditioning, you’re supposed to magically know how to relate to another person. That person also shows up with their own wounds and conditioning and is supposed to magically know how to relate to you. Like talking on a phone through security glass, your real selves rarely get to touch.

My partner, Patrick, and I got to know one another by researching different aspects of relationship for 7 days at a time. We were a part of a personal growth community and doing relationship research with a partner was a way to get vulnerable and learn more about ourselves in the safety of a container that we created using pre-negotiated conditions and rules.

Because we both tend to be nice and say what we think the other person will be open to hearing, for 7 days Patrick and I decided to research saying the real thing no matter what. Because we weren’t in love, we weren’t invested in controlling the other’s experience of us, which made it easier to be honest.

If you also tend to censor your truth to be nice, think about this: By controlling how you’re perceived by others, nobody really knows you. You start to believe that something’s wrong with you. You have to hide it when you feel stuff that doesn’t jive with your nice persona. You also don’t truly know anyone else because you’re only experiencing their response to your façade. It’s a lonely place to live.

On the TV show, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Midge would wait until her husband fell asleep before jumping up to curl her hair, apply cold cream, and return to bed. Before he woke up, she’d get up, take out the curlers, wash off the cold cream, put on her makeup, and get back in bed, pretending to wake up once he did. It was an elaborate (and exhausting) ruse she’d learned from her mother to maintain the illusion that she always looked perfect.

You do the same thing when you present your best self to another at the expense of your vulnerability. Over time, you drift apart and lose respect for the person you’re with, because you’re secretly mad that they fell for the façade you’re now sick of having to keep up.

When Patrick and I researched saying the real thing, we were both shocked by what we discovered. How much I shook and how easily my tears spilled when I said something like, I want you to stay over tonight, or, I enjoyed hanging out with you today. How embarrassing to feel all this vulnerability under my independent exterior. It went against every conditioned bone in my body to share it with him.

To my surprise, as I showed him my tender side, he didn’t run. He didn’t reject it or shrink back. In fact, he came closer and began to open up more.

Patrick wanted to hide that he still had feelings for his ex-girlfriend, but he shared them because of our research. When he discovered he had room to express his mixed feelings and I didn’t flinch, he felt safe to continue revealing more of himself. He realized that his story of having to control my perception of him wasn’t true.

As we showed each other more of our real selves, we fell in love. To this day, almost three years later, if we catch ourselves trying to hide something, we soon come clean with it. The depth of love, communication, and permission we have is enlivening. We now live in the magic of true vulnerability because we developed our skill through this research.

Heads up: For some of you, sharing your fears and wounds is a well-worn path. You can talk about the worst experiences of your life and never hit real vulnerability. For you, it might be harder to share what you want, or something you like about the other person. Your vulnerability may lie in letting yourself want more and revealing how deeply you feel. Watch for what takes you to the edge of your comfort zone and share that.

You may fear that you’re too much. I had that fear, too. You may be afraid that if you show all of yourself you’ll be rejected. You may even have built up a lifetime of evidence to support this fear. Doing relationship research on vulnerability can help you work through this fear in a conscious way.

When who you really are breaks through your façade into a relationship, as it eventually must, the relationship may go through changes, or even end. Not because you’re too much, or bad, or wrong for revealing more of yourself, but because the relationship was a house of cards built on a façade and shit just got real. If you set up the relationship on a foundation of vulnerability and honesty from the start, you have more chance of it working out because you each know what you’re really getting into.

How to set up a research container to explore vulnerability:

Grab a willing friend and agree to do relationship research on speaking your emotional truth. It can be someone you’re lightly dating or just a friend. If you’re dating, watch out for feelings getting in the way of speaking your truth. If you’re just friends, make sure there’s enough at stake to keep you honest.

Agree on a length of time that feels good. We picked 7 days but you could choose 15, 21, or 30 days. Pick a small enough window that you’ll both be all in for it, but a long enough window that you build up useful data.

Agree that you’ll touch base every day and say what’s on your heart as directly as possible. If the recipient of the communication feels like the giver’s holding back or padding their truth, ask the giver to repeat the communication more clearly and directly after they’ve finished.

You could set a timer and have each person speak for a maximum of five minutes.

When the giver is speaking, the receiver listens. At the end, say, Thank you. Switch giver and receiver.

At the end of the daily back-and-forth, debrief for a few minutes by each saying how it felt to say the thing and how it felt to receive it. The debrief is an opportunity to continue being transparent and getting even closer to your emotional truth, while also learning how your communication lands with another.

At the end, thank one another and move on. Don’t process it. You’re researching how to reveal yourselves more fully and how to receive someone who’s revealing themselves, not getting into the story of the emotions that were revealed.

 

Thanks for reading! Join my email list for access to growing and helpful resources. XO

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Using her Deep Dive Process, Marie-Elizabeth Mali works with unconventional women who feel stuck and dissatisfied. If you’re ready for a Deep Dive, click here.

Lessons from the Ocean: The Scuba Diver’s Ultimate Guide to Life

Earlier this year I celebrated my 800th dive, which got me thinking about what I’ve learned from spending that much time underwater. Here are 9 things the ocean has taught me about life:

1. If you do your part, buoyancy is effortless.

Perfect buoyancy is a balance between effort and surrender. When I get the balance right, I have the experience of feeling held and my body relaxes.

My part is to get the weights and air right in my gear. If I do that, there’s no floating away and no sinking. I’m effortlessly held. It feels divine, like the direct experience of being supported by the universe.

Working skillfully with your mind is like getting the weights and air right in your gear. Our practices don’t create the experience of support, but they set you up to let go into it, which reveals the support that’s always there.

2. If you’re bored, up-level your attention.

Not every dive has fireworks of activity. Some dives are downright sleepy, especially after lunch and you’re thinking you should have taken a nap instead of getting wet for this lame-assery.

But there’s always something to notice, even if it’s your breath. Listening to the sound of your breath underwater is so meditative and calming, you can surface renewed even if you didn’t see a single cool critter.

If you’re bored, how could you up-level your attention? The moment we think we know what’s going on, or think we fully know another human being, is the moment we blind ourselves to the miraculous and deaden our sense of wonder. Mind-blowing things happen around us all the time. It’s up to us to notice the wow in the ordinary. It’s not life’s job to kapow through our dullness and complacency to get us to notice how amazing it is.

3. If it’s not a good time to go in, be patient.

Sometimes we get to a dive site and the current’s flowing in an unsafe direction, so we wait. Eventually it turns. As it’s turning there’s a pause, called slack, when there’s no current, which is a great time to dive.

Maybe lunch gets pushed back, or another activity gets rearranged, but in the end, we have a better dive because we were flexible about time.

Be respectful of the changing currents in your life.

4. Be willing to work for it.

There’s a site in Palau called Blue Corner. If you hit it when there’s a strong current, you can hook into the rocks and hang out there to watch sharks hunt. Schools of jacks face into the current, clumped together to look like one big organism, and the sharks come barreling through, scattering them until they re-form again. It’s exhilarating.

If you avoid all current to only do lazy daisy dives, you’ll miss an amazing experience. Sharks hunt when the current’s strong. If you want to see an apex predator of the ocean do its thang, you have to be willing to work for it.

5. Keep going even when it’s not pretty.

I’ve seen female sharks with bloody gashes around their gills where males bite them during sex, mantas with chunks of their fins missing from shark bites, sharks with fishing hooks embedded in their mouths, and a starfish with a short, lumpy arm in the process of growing back.

Nature isn’t romantic and beautiful all the time. It’s tenacious in how it works around obstacles. In the way a manta missing half a fin keeps swimming, we can keep going, even if we’re barely hanging on by our fingernails.

6. Don’t grip.

When I’m too attached to a specific interaction I want to have, it often doesn’t happen. It’s as if the animals stay away because they can feel my tension. Animals are limbic creatures. They feel everything.

On my 800th dive, I went in with celebration and joy, with no attachment to what we might see. A hammerhead made several passes as if to say hello, a pod of dolphins came by, and two mantas showed up and circled our group as we were headed to the surface. Total magic.

Even with our hefty frontal cortex, we’re still limbic creatures. Our bodies respond to everyone and everything around us, even if we don’t always listen. We can feel when someone’s gripped and it tends to make us want to get away. The more we learn to relax our grip, the better our relationships feel and the more daily magic we experience.

7. Gender is waaaaaaay fluid.

In each anemone home, a group of clownfish has a large, dominant female and smaller males and juveniles. If she dies, a male turns female and grows, becoming dominant.

A harem of female parrotfish lives with a dominant male. If the male dies, one of the females turns male and becomes dominant.

Nudibranchs are hermaphroditic. They sidle up to one another and become the sex necessary in order to procreate. I’ve seen them have sex in both directions at once to fertilize each other’s eggs. Then they lay their eggs in a spiral that looks like a gorgeous flower.

Let’s chill around gender and accept that we, too, exist on a continuum, m’kay?

8. We need each other.

In Costa Rica, at Cocos Island, we dove a site famous for schooling hammerheads. We descended to 80 feet holding a rope because of the current, then swam around looking for hammerheads. On that particular dive, we had to pull ourselves from rock to rock to crawl around the site because the current was too strong for swimming.

Hanging onto my heavy camera gear with one arm and pulling myself forward with the other, I got exhausted in 25 minutes. Luckily, a strapping Spaniard near me had enough strength left to haul us both back to the line.

Once I got to the line, still at 80 feet, I ran out of air. Disoriented, I couldn’t process why air wasn’t coming into my lungs when I breathed. The divemaster saw me struggling and shoved his regulator (airpiece) in my mouth, grabbing his spare for himself. We ascended the line together, sharing his remaining air.

I used to resist diving with a buddy and a group. As an introverted only child who self-soothes by being alone, I wanted to be free to shoot the critters at my own pace without having to keep my attention on others. But if it weren’t for my two buddies on that dive, I would have died.

I’m alive today to tell to all the other loners out there: we fucking need each other. Life’s better lived in connection. Maybe we’re loners because we never learned how to ask for what we need or set proper boundaries. Time to get over ourselves and let people in.

9. Everything is interdependent.

Diving reveals over and over again how much symbiosis exists in nature.

The remora that hitches a ride on the shark, eating parasites on the shark’s skin that would otherwise irritate it, while downing leftover food the shark doesn’t eat and getting a free ride through the water.

Cleaner shrimp that venture into the mouth of a sharp-toothed moray eel to clean it without getting eaten because it’s a service the moray needs.

We’re a part of nature, too. When we go in the ocean, it enlivens us and clears our heads, because our bodies were meant to move and be in direct contact with the elements. While I enjoy my creature comforts on land, when I interact with a sea lion, giggling at the joy and playfulness they exude, I feel totally alive and connected to my own joy.

I hope you also find out what brings you alive to your joy and do it as often as you can, because your aliveness and joy benefit everyone.

Thanks for reading! Join my email list for access to growing and helpful resources. XO

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Using her Deep Dive Process, Marie-Elizabeth Mali works with unconventional women who feel stuck and dissatisfied. If you’re ready for a Deep Dive, click here.

How To Create Real Optimism Instead of Magical Thinking

It’s hard to be optimistic when it feels like humanity’s gone off the rails. For every glorious moment that signals change, like Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, there’s another school shooting and more innocent kids dead.

It’s tempting to either transcend and tune out or take on all the horror and weep and rage to anyone who will listen. But this is not a time to turn away from the world and say affirmations, nor is it a time to wallow in despair. It’s a time to both feel our pain and do the work to shift our consciousness.

Creative solutions become available when we change the mindset that created our current problems. As Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Choosing to cultivate real optimism opens up a new way of seeing that can change the world.

As Cari Romm reminds us in this article, it’s possible to train ourselves to be more optimistic. There’s power in envisioning the world we want to live in and taking action to make that vision a reality.

Here are 10 ways to cultivate a grounded kind of optimism that doesn’t ask us to suppress or bypass our feelings.

1. Stop re-traumatizing yourself.

No one forces us to open news websites, Facebook, and Twitter over and over again. That’s on us and our addictive brains looking for a fix. It’s like rubbernecking when we pass a car wreck. Do we have to bog down traffic to satisfy our morbid curiosity? Let’s be deliberate about when to take in the news and for how long.

When we close the computer, let’s think about what we want to create, go outside and breathe fresh air, and connect with an actual human or a pet. We have choice here. Let’s use it.

2. Shift your mind’s focus.

We’re hard-wired to remember pain and suffering more than pleasure. A gazillion times a day our minds notice what hurts, when we feel slighted, and what went wrong. Because of this wiring, we tend to forget what went well and what we did right.

How often do we give thanks that water comes out of the tap when we turn the handle? When I was a kid visiting my family in Venezuela, we only had running water for a few hours a day. Each morning, we filled pots and the tub with the water we needed for the day. We boiled what we needed to drink. To this day I appreciate having hot, cold, and filtered water on command. Being grateful for what’s working now helps us build up resilience for hard times.

3. Be conscious about the kind of attention you ask for from others.

I used to think that if I didn’t share my pain we wouldn’t feel connected. There’s some truth to that, in that if we gloss over our inner world to stay “surface-safe” we end up malnourished. But there’s real danger in bonding over our wounds.

If we bond over our wounds, we have to continue making our wounds primary in our lives to keep relating to each other. When one of us steps off that cycle toward healing, the friendship has to shift or it will end.

Let’s base our friendships on love and creative vision instead of our wounding. In this way, we can hold each other through both ups and downs, and, together, create the world we want to live in.

4. Notice when you complain, then ask what desire that complaint points you toward.

Every complaint is a veiled desire. Instead of stopping at the complaint, let’s take the extra step to ask ourselves what the desire is underneath it and move toward making that desire happen.

I used to complain when my partner would play games on his phone. Once I shifted my focus to the desire under the complaint, which was to have his attention, I simply asked for his attention. This worked better for both of us than the complaint ever did.

Finding the desire behind the complaint increases our power to create fulfilling lives instead of keeping us stuck in suffering. Moving toward our desires, and supporting others in moving toward theirs, moves us all toward co-creating a world that works for everyone.

5. Choose pronoia instead of paranoia.

Pronoia is the view that life is happening for us instead of against us. Whether we believe in pronoia or paranoia, we’ll find evidence for the viewpoint we choose, so we might as well choose the viewpoint that supports our agency.

When I’m stressing out, I’ve learned to ask, “How could this be happening for me?” Then I wait for an answer to emerge. Sometimes it feels contrived and awkward, but often I gain a useful insight into the situation that reduces my stress.

6. Be honest: are you addicted to struggle?

My business mentor recently called me out on this one. I’m transitioning to new software for my business and it’s been a nightmare. I’ve been staying up into the wee hours chatting with tech support for weeks, trying to get to the root of why parts of it don’t sync right with my website. I feel paralyzed, exhausted, and over-the-top stressed.

My partner is good with computers and offered to figure it out, but I refused to hand it over to him. My business mentor has someone on staff who could handle the setup for me. Even after she offered, and I said yes, I didn’t make the phone call right away to get the ball rolling. I kept struggling to fix the issue myself for another week, at the expense of the business activities I enjoy that are in my wheelhouse, and at the expense of my physical health and happiness.

When we’re addicted to struggle, it’s as if what we accomplish feels more worthwhile because it was hard. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s just as worthwhile to ask for help, so we can prioritize what comes naturally and evokes joy.

7. Find or create a supportive community.

When we’re trying to cultivate real optimism it helps to find a tribe that’s passionate about the same things. Even as it’s essential to do our inner work to cultivate an unshakeable baseline of self-love, the reflection we can receive from and give others on a similar path is instrumental, too.

If you lack a sense of community, what action could you take today to create more of one? It could be as small as commenting on a friend’s Facebook post that you resonated with, or as large as starting a tribe of your own. Take an action today that opens you up to feeling more connected with others.

To create a world that works for everyone, we have to lift others as we climb. The old model of success at others’ expense has gotten us into the mess we’re in today. It’s time to shift our concept of success to include the well-being of everyone in our sphere of influence.

8. Stop arguing with reality.

Byron Katie says, I am a lover of what is, not because I’m a spiritual person, but because it hurts when I argue with reality.

Optimism doesn’t mean glossing over the way things are. It also doesn’t mean pretending to be a more together or enlightened superhuman than we are. Until we learn to love and accept the parts of ourselves that we wish didn’t exist we’ll never have integrity.

When we stop resisting reality and get really honest about what we can and can’t control, we begin to have peace of mind. As our clarity grows, so does our power to change our lives, and by extension, the world.

Byron Katie’s The Work, a series of questions to deconstruct our thoughts, is a great place to start. Here’s a link to free tools so you can get started on getting right with reality and getting free.

9. Figure out why you’re here.

Viktor Frankl said, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.’” He survived the Holocaust by finding meaning in his experience, which gave him a reason to survive. If we focus on what gives us meaning, we have more power to survive adversity.

When living with chronic pain for a decade, I discovered that if I focused on discerning what I needed and asking for support, I could experience joy even in the midst of high pain because I stopped arguing with reality and created connection with others instead of isolating myself. My ability to hold my clients through their adversities became steady and exquisite because of what I learned by letting pain help me grow.

10. Cultivate self-awareness.

Viktor Frankl also said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Real optimism is born out of living in alignment with our deepest selves, which is a skill we can cultivate through meditation and self-inquiry.

The more people on the planet able to choose to respond to life out of creativity and clarity, the more we can innovate a sustainable world in which everyone’s basic needs are met, which is a world worth being optimistic about.

 

Thanks for reading! Join my email list for access to growing and helpful resources. XO

Parts of this article originally appeared on Elephant Journal, with the title, “How To Cultivate Real Optimism—Instead of Just ‘Thinking Positive.'”

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Marie-Elizabeth Mali show women how to move from feeling stuck and dissatisfied to having clarity and courage to take bold action. If you’re ready to create a life you love, click here.

Stop Making this Fatal Relationship Mistake

Does your love interest keep having to jump through an increasingly complex series of hoops to prove themselves to you because you’re so slow to trust? Testing at the beginning helps you both see if it’s safe to go deeper. But at what point does continuing to test start to wreck your relationship?

I rescued a traumatized pit bull mix, Phoenix, three years ago. When my partner first started staying over, Phoenix was overprotective of me and terrified of men. Because of her sharp bark, he was afraid go to the bathroom at night in the dark, even though she was crated!

After he moved in, it took a year of his walking and feeding her before she even wagged her tail at him. But if he made one fast move, she’d still growl or bark. After two years, she greeted him for the first time with the joyful wriggling at the front door that she used to only give me. He almost cried.

It’s exhausting to constantly have to prove yourself worthy of trust.

After 2.5 years of living together, during which he took care of me through two major surgeries, my lack of trust took center stage again. He forgot to pick something up at the store that I’d asked for. I made it mean that he didn’t care about my needs and didn’t want to help me. I told him how disappointed I felt.

After a long silence, he said it felt like I was still testing him. I thought he was ridiculous, but soon realized he was right. I’d been tracking what he said he’d do and whether or not he did it in my time frame. When he did it more slowly, or forgot, my belief that my needs didn’t matter got hit. My trust in him went down, which he could feel, and he got nervous and made more mistakes.

Here’s the kicker, my friend: Whatever disappointing thing you’re afraid your partner will do, they’ll probably end up doing because you’ve infused that expectation into the subtle field of your relationship.

Here are four ways to work with your lack of trust and improve your relationships:

1. Start treating your partner as if they’re the person you want them to be, not the person you’re afraid they are.

Have you noticed how your partner shines when you’re filled with love for them? And how, when you’re not, they lose their luster? Own how much power you wield with your perception and use it gracefully.

If you focus on what you fear instead of on what you want, what you fear will most likely happen. It’s not that your partner is the bad person you’re afraid they are. It’s that you’ve grooved that fearful expectation into yourself so deeply that your life literally organizes itself around fulfilling that expectation and giving you the experience you fear.

This is not to say that you are to blame for the bad things that have happened to you in the past. NOT AT ALL. It’s to say that it’s time to interrogate the beliefs created by those painful experiences and change those beliefs if they prevent you from having the loving and trusting relationships you want now.

In a nutshell, you don’t get to pick at your partner for years out of your lack of trust, then blame them for fucking up. That shit stops now.

2. Make one small request a day.

To build the muscle of receptivity and appreciation, start making one small request a day. Ask for something that doesn’t carry a lot of weight, so you’re not crushed if it doesn’t happen.

For example, “Please bring me a glass of water.” If they do it, genuinely radiate appreciation and say “Thank you.” Keep your request simple and avoid justifying it with a bunch of extra words like, “Please bring me a glass of water because I’m so tired and have a cat on my lap.”

You deserve to ask for what you want without having to justify your request with why you can’t do it yourself. If you tend to over-justify, you have work to do around receiving. Do the vulnerable thing and ask clearly and simply for one small thing you want.

Write down successes like, “I asked for a glass of water and they brought it to me.” Train your mind to notice and appreciate when your partner does something right.

If you ask for what you want, without the charge of the 5,387 times you didn’t get it before, your partner will want to give it to you. If they don’t, that’s worth talking about. Maybe you both have some built up resentments that need clearing before the channel of generosity can open between you again.

3. Explore the terrain of trust.

You may need support for this exploration from a coach or therapist. It’s hard to navigate this terrain entirely on your own, especially if you have tons of evidence for why you can’t trust anyone. Our patterns run deep. When you get uncomfortable, you’ll tend to abdicate responsibility or overly blame yourself for things that aren’t your fault, so it helps to have a trained pair of eyes looking at the terrain with you.

If you’re in a relationship, tell your partner you want to work on your lack of trust. Ask them to gently tell you when they feel you’re not trusting them. Invite your partner to help you see yourself more clearly. This is tender and vulnerable work. Be sure you’re both ready for this level of transparency and that you won’t use it to clobber one another with resentments masquerading as truths.

Eventually, as you build your capacity to trust, you’ll be able to meet your partner with more of you present, instead of keeping your wounding in front of you like both dartboard and shield.

4. Stop testing.

No, really, just stop. If you’ve been in relationship for more than 5 minutes, and they’ve been there for you so far, you can stop testing. Looking for evidence that they’re untrustworthy and expecting them to fuck up is a shitty way for both of you to live. It poisons the present and doesn’t lessen the pain when a future fuck-up happens. To help shift this tendency, click here to read my blog about how to change the habit of anticipating loss.

I’m here with you, learning to trust, too. Seeing my partner help me with joy is well worth the work of shifting my patterns. As I stopped testing, he showed up even more fully than before. Our relationship has more room for imperfection and humor. We now meet life as a team.

Thanks for reading! Join my email list (see sign-up form below) for access to growing and helpful resources. XO

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Marie-Elizabeth Mali helps women in life transitions reinvent themselves. If you’re ready to create a life that reflects who you really are, click here.

How To Reinvent Yourself: 5 Steps to Transform Your Life

 

I often work with women in life transitions who want to reinvent themselves. As their old life falls away, by choice or not, it’s a great opportunity to assess and make new choices that take them in the direction of their desires. Here are five steps to support you in your reinvention:

1. Assess how your inherited identity set up your current life.

Let the things you think you should do, say, or have, reveal to you where you operate from conditioning, or what I like to call your inherited identity. Notice the places in your life that you’re mired in shoulds so you can start unraveling those knots.

Start catching when you say, I have to _______ and change it to, I want to _______. If it’s not true, then either find a way to want what you’re doing or find a way to stop doing it.

Unraveling your conditioning is a life-long process, since you’re not only carrying what you’ve inherited from your culture, education, and religion (or lack of one), but also ancestral and collective patterns. These patterns run deeeeeeeeeeep. So get out your pickaxe and start chipping.

Here are some questions for you to journal on to see your current landscape clearly and get clear about what needs to change:

  • How does my inherited identity inform what I like?
  • How does my inherited identity limit my vision of what I think is possible?
  • Where in my life and imagination do I play it safe?
  • Which parts of my identity do I want to keep because they serve me well and which do I want to leave behind because they don’t fit who I’m becoming?

2. Get clear about what you want.

If you try to move forward by thinking, I never want to do THAT again, you’ll fail. Trying to move away from what you don’t want won’t free you from it, but moving toward what you do want can.

When I ended my marriage to a wonderful man with whom I didn’t share the depth of connection my soul craved, I took a long, hard look at the ways my inherited identity chose him as a mate. I wanted a partner who met me more deeply, so I had to reinvent myself to embody the woman who would attract a man like that.

By making myself vulnerable and learning how to trust and express myself more clearly, I met the love of my life. Our relationship looks nothing like what I imagined for myself and it’s right because I got clear about what matters most to me.

Getting clear about what you want is hard when it’s different than what your family or culture has trained you to want. But discovering what you actually want is an essential step toward reinvention in alignment with your deepest self.

3. Study people who live and express themselves the way you aspire to.

In order to create what you want, you have to know in your bones that you can have it. If you’ve never had it before, you don’t have an imprint for it in your body yet. You can make one by finding people who embody the thing you want to experience and doing what they do until the imprint is your own.

I recently realized that in my twenties, I decided I’d never be a stereotypical businesswoman. I’ve kept my business small for the past 25 years to avoid having to be someone I didn’t want to be. But now I want to have more impact. Doing everything myself in my business holds me back from being a bigger force for change. I needed a new mental imprint to help me grow my business.

At a recent conference of women business owners and philanthropists, I met powerful women who rock business from their feminine power. They create heart-centered connections and benefit others while earning great money. Meeting them gave me an imprint for the businesswoman I want to be. I’ve already begun to shift by hiring a bookkeeper and signing up for a year-long business mentorship.

Find three people who embody how you want to be. If possible, pick their brains about their values and beliefs, as well as how they became who they are now. If you can’t connect with them directly, study their writing and interviews to build an understanding of how they got to be the way they are.

Using what you’ve learned, create a set of values and beliefs that serve who you want to be. When faced with a decision, ask, What would ______ do?, until you respond that way on your own.

In this way, you’ll springboard yourself into the experience you want to have and get yourself out of the habituated, limited thinking that’s been keeping you stuck in your inherited identity. The more you start thinking and acting out of your vision, the more it becomes your experience now.

4. Learn to talk to yourself like you would your kid or best friend.

A client of mine recently said, to her bummed out kid, When it’s hard, let it be hard, and when it’s easy, let it be easy. In other words, don’t minimize or suppress the hard stuff, and don’t be apologetic for or complicate the easy stuff either.

It was easy for my client to pull out that Zen-master-type brilliance to comfort her grieving kid. But does she talk to herself that way when she’s having a tough time? Nope!

When you’re reinventing yourself, notice your self-talk. In a journal, write down what you say to yourself in your head, positive and negative. What do you say about your face when you look in the mirror in the morning? When you drop a cup and it shatters? When you get passed over for that promotion, the promising date doesn’t call you, or you reach for that second brownie?

What do you notice as you track your self-talk? Are you hard on yourself? Do you believe you can’t have what you want, so you tell yourself what you’ve got is good enough? Do you gloss over the hard stuff and tell yourself everything is fine, even as you’re about to get evicted?

Next to each phrase of actual self-talk, write what you’d say to your best friend in the same situation. Eventually, you will learn how to be your own best friend and your life will change to reflect that.

5. Slow down and feel.

When you’re reinventing yourself, you’ve got to slow down and make room to feel. It’s tempting to rush through to get to the newness already, but that’ll bite you in the ass later.

Or in the ankle, as the case may be! As I come out of recovery from my second hip replacement with clarity about what I want to create for this next phase, my life has started to speed up. Just as I started feeling the need to slow down a bit, I sprained my ankle. If I’d been moving deliberately, I wouldn’t have missed that step and been forced to slow down by pain.

If you start to notice yourself wanting to speed through your reinvention, or think you’re past these steps already, stop. Pick the one you least want to focus on and give yourself 30 minutes to focus on it. More, even. Ask yourself what you’re avoiding by wanting to move forward so fast. If you let your momentum shift naturally instead of pushing it, you’ll be able to bring more of yourself with you and be more discerning about what’s working and not working.

The idea behind reinvention is to get closer to the truth of who you are each time you do it so that your life reflects more of the real you than your inherited identity. Give yourself the gift of feeling your way through the process, even if you don’t like what you discover in the moment. The hard work you put in now will be worth it when you love your life and who you are in it.

 

Thanks for reading! Join my email list (see sign-up form below) for access to growing and helpful resources. XO

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Marie-Elizabeth Mali helps women in life transitions reinvent themselves. If you’re ready to create a life that reflects who you really are, click here.

Warning: Not Your Grandma’s Monogamy

After my divorce, I entered a cliché rebound relationship: heavy on great sex and light on emotional intelligence. Once that relationship ended, I wanted more emotionally nourishing relationships, along with great sex, so I decided to try out conscious non-monogamy.

I met a man who was in an open marriage. After getting permission and ground rules from his wife over the phone, I had one of the most electric sexual experiences of my life with him. I could feel his love and respect for her throughout. I now had a blueprint for a deeply committed and adventurous relationship. A year later, I fell in love with one of my lovers.

In her book, Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic, Esther Perel writes: Love is about having; desire is about wanting. An expression of longing, desire requires ongoing elusiveness. It is less concerned with where it has already been than passionate about where it can still go. But too often, as couples settle into the comforts of love, they cease to fan the flame of desire. They forget that fire needs air.

In every monogamous relationship I’ve had, my sexual desire has dwindled over time. A few months after falling in love, I wanted to explore monogamy with him, with deliberate attention on the dance between love and desire as described by Esther Perel. I asked him to be monogamous. After a long pause, he said yes.

Our relationship withered over the next two months. It felt like a crusty shell instead of the rich, nourishing connection I was used to. I could tell he was withholding something. One morning, when I started crying out of the blue, he realized what it was. He told me that when he said yes to monogamy, he wasn’t a total yes. He said yes to please me and then shut down.

We decided to be monogamish instead. To us, monogamish means being primarily monogamous and, if a strong desire arises to make out or have sex with someone else we may do so, as long as we communicate openly and handle any residual effects together.

Neither of us kissed anyone else for over a year. Then I had sex with a fellow diver on a dive trip after we’d flirted all week. When I got home, I told my partner about my experience. Knowing I could be honest with him once I got back to land made it even hotter for me. To my surprise, he got turned on by my turn-on.

I love that my partner approves of my appetite instead of trying to own it.

Almost another year passed and an ex-girlfriend of his came through town while I was away. When he told me they were having lunch, I had a feeling they might have sex. How would I respond if they did? Would I be generous or would I shut down? I didn’t know.

When he told me over Facetime, his face bright and open, that they had sex after lunch and a flavor of his desire came out that he hadn’t felt in a while, my heart expanded at his bubbly chattiness. As a coach and spiritual practitioner, I’ve cultivated the ability to stay steady in intense moments. I felt love, gratitude for his honesty, and happy that he felt nourished and full of joy. But there was more for me to see.

Once I got home, I felt insecure and needed reassurance. I uncovered a false belief that I internalized while growing up: If he wants to be with someone else it means that I’m not enough for him and he doesn’t really love me. I worked with that belief until I could let it go. This internal work helped me see that I don’t have to be everything and everyone to my partner in order to trust his love for me and know that I’m enough.

One spring day, we walked down 14th St. in NYC and a young woman walking in front of us caught my eye. She had flawless brown skin, an afro, and was wearing a bright green dress that hugged her stunning curves. I felt his attention shift to her, as mine had. I said, Wow, what a gorgeous woman. I love how her ass looks in that dress and how confidently she walks! He said, Yeah, she has an amazing body and seems happy in her own skin. I felt affirmed, instead of gas-lit, that the shift in his attention I felt was real. He felt accepted in his appreciation of another woman’s beauty and power. We continued our walk feeling closer to each other. To me, that’s a win-win.

Today, in the developed world, relationships are about love, instead of about uniting families for survival or commerce. Because of this and women’s gains in financial independence, we are more free than ever before to set up our relationships as a practice-ground for our growth. But most of us still default to the familiar.

If monogamy is our default, the question is: Am I choosing monogamy out of habit, fear, or desire?

If the answer is habit or fear: Am I willing to get uncomfortable and explore an aspect of conscious non-monogamy that intrigues me in order to expand my range?

If non-monogamy is our default, the question is: Am I non-monogamous out of habit, fear, or desire?

If the answer is habit or fear: Am I willing to get uncomfortable and explore how monogamy could support me in going deeper with one person and expand my range?

I don’t believe that one relationship structure is inherently better than another. We can be conscious or unconscious, and ethical or unethical, within any structure. I believe that relationships have the potential to free the love hidden behind our inherited identities that wall us off from one another. To that end, I coach people on creating the relationships they want to have, however they want to have them.

I’m grateful to have a partner who’s also dedicated to relationship as a practice. Our shared dedication to individual growth strengthens and supports our loving bond. Instead of relying on a structure to stay safe, my safety lies in knowing I’m on a path that’s true for me, however rocky, at times, the terrain.

Thanks for reading! Join my email list (see sign-up form below) for access to growing and helpful resources. XO

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Marie-Elizabeth Mali helps women in transition reinvent their life. If you’re ready to create a life that reflects who you really are, click here.

Sidestep the Thought-Tornado: Five Ways to Get to the Right Decision

 

You have a decision to make. Options, fears, memories, and random thoughts swirl through your head. No matter how much you go around and around, you can’t see what to do. You want to decide already but are afraid of making a choice you’ll regret, so you keep trying to figure it out.

Recently I had a decision to make about my business and was swirling in conflicting thoughts about it. I didn’t want to make a decision from that place and couldn’t access my clarity. I’ve learned that’s my cue to stop trying to force the clarity that isn’t available in that state.

Here are five steps I use in that spot that’ll work for you, too:

1) Get out of your head.

When you’re caught in a thought-tornado, you can’t make a clear decision. Whatever you decide from that place will be driven by fear or gripping, which is not what you want running your life. You have to shift and make room for clarity to surface.

Can you feel your body right now? Chances are you can’t. To make a clear decision, you’ve got to get out of your head into your body. Your body never lies. And your head? Well . . .

The stronger the thought-tornado, the stronger the physical action you have to take to get out of it. Turn up high-energy music you love and dance it out until you’re sweating and breathing hard. You could also take a walk, do your favorite exercise, take an epsom salt bath, do breathing exercises, get a massage, or have sex.

Different things work for different people, so get to know your physical, mental, and energetic system by trying various ways to re-embody yourself. Discover which activities work best for you. Rinse and repeat.

The most important thing is to put the chew toy of your dilemma down. Hide it in a cabinet if you have to. Get your butt outside, on the dance floor (a.k.a. your kitchen), or to the gym, and get your movement on.

2) Focus on something else you enjoy.

If you give your busy conscious mind a break by shifting your focus to something else, the solution will often “randomly” pop into your head. When you’re otherwise engaged, your subconscious mind still works on the issue behind the scenes. It will often lob its clear wisdom into your conscious mind once you’ve made room to receive it.

Like getting into your body in Step 1, different things work for different people here. You could take a shower, go outside and be in nature (off your phone!), take a nap, read a book, watch TV or a movie, or cook a meal. Try different things and discover what works best for you.

You could also think of the decision you’re trying to make and make an intention to remember your dreams before you fall asleep. The answer might show up in a dream that you recall the next morning.

3) Focus on the ONE next right thing.

When you’re caught in a thought-tornado, an antidote is to pick one next right action to take. You’re overwhelmed because you’re seeing all the things and you’re not in your body.

So, by doing Step 1 to get into your body, and Step 2 to make room by focusing on something else, you can often see the ONE next right step to take in Step 3. Maybe that step is to eat a snack because your blood sugar is whacked from all that over-thinking that made you forget to eat.

You don’t have to know how to get from A to Z, Z being the decision that you’re stuck on. But you can see and do step B. And B will lead you to C, and so on.

Instead of trying to see too far ahead, keep your attention close and do the one next thing that feels right. Add one right thing to the last right thing and TA DA you create a path toward where you want to go.

4) If all else fails, vent.

Like the pressure valve that keeps a pressure cooker from exploding all over your kitchen, sometimes you’ve just got to vent.

Set a timer for three to five minutes and vent to a friend, in person or on the phone.

The crucial part of venting: Your friend’s role is to listen but not respond to or believe anything you say. At the end, they are to give no response beyond “thank you.” Then you both hang up.

Sample instructions to share with your friend: I’m going to set a timer for ____ minutes and spew everything that’s in my head right now. I want you to listen and let it wash over you without tripping on it or taking in what I’m saying at all. I just need to dump these thoughts so I can reduce mental pressure and make room in my head for clarity. When the timer goes off, say “Thank you,” and we’ll both hang up. Deal?

Maybe as you vent you’ll hear yourself say something true that lands in your body. Remember that thing and forget the rest. Venting the pressure cooker without getting caught in analysis or meaning reduces your thoughts’ grip on you. Over time, you can learn to be more discerning with your self-talk since you’re no longer identified with the thought-tornado as something useful, or even real.

5) If you still can’t decide, flip a coin.

Sometimes your desired choice is so confronting you won’t let yourself see it. If you’re still stuck after doing steps 1-4, bring out the big gun: the coin-flip.

See how you react to the winning option. If you’re psyched, there’s your answer. If you’re not, maybe the losing option is what you want. If there are more than two options you’re considering, keep flipping the winner of one toss against an option you haven’t done yet until you’ve worked through them all. Eventually the option you truly want will be clear.

 

Ultimately, some decisions take time to unfold. The more you can make room for clarity to arise the more your decisions will be aligned with your deepest desires. You know, those scary desires behind the ones that would be safe or convenient. It may not be comfortable to allow your deepest desires to surface and guide you, but life sure gets better when you do. XO

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Marie-Elizabeth Mali supports women in shedding their inherited identities and sourcing their belonging from within. If you want to create a life that reflects who you really are, click here.

How To Create Belonging Wherever You Go

I was an introverted only child who grew up between three cultures and never felt like I fully fit in, so I’ve thought about belonging my whole life. I’ve explored a deep solitary connection to spirit as well as total immersion in a close-knit community to experience how belonging happens in different settings.

Earlier this year, I landed in an inner sense of belonging that’s authentic and portable. Now, instead of looking to others to determine whether or not I belong, I meet them with my belonging already sourced from within, which has revolutionized how I show up.

Here are five things you can do to create a sense of belonging wherever you go, even when you feel like an outsider.

1) Get curious

When we enter a new situation, we tend to focus on ourselves with a waterfall of thoughts: “How do I look? Do I smell ok? Do I have food in my teeth? I don’t want to look like I’m trying too hard, I’ll just lean against the wall and watch.” But it’s hard to connect with others when our attention is on ourselves. Getting curious is the antidote.

My ex-husband and I used to play a game in spaces where we hardly knew anyone. We’d go up to a stranger and start a conversation. By doing this, I learned a lot about the power of simple curiosity as a bridge to belonging.

The next time you’re hanging back, get curious. Notice something and comment on it, ask people about themselves and how they came to be there. Genuine curiosity can be felt and is an instant ice-breaker.

2) Reveal yourself

This one comes after curiosity because, if you’re like me, you may use curiosity and good listening skills to recede into the background. If being a wallflower is your true nature, great, but it wasn’t mine. For me, it was the survival mechanism of a mixed child who wanted to fit in.

A few years ago, new friends told me they couldn’t feel me behind my reserved exterior and challenged me to reveal myself more. By vulnerably sharing myself, I created belonging, because the emotions I revealed were ones that we all struggle with. Authenticity is a cut-to-the-chase path to belonging.

If you tend to be curious at the expense of sharing yourself, balance your curiosity with being more self-revealing. Look for moments where you can open up first to take a conversation deeper.

3) Don’t piggyback

People piggyback to try to show empathy by sharing a similar experience but it’s not the best way to create connection.

Example: Your friend got a parking ticket. Instead of saying, “Bummer. Tell me more,” or, “Shit. You sound stressed about that, want to talk through how to make it work?,” you say, “That sucks. I just got a ticket last week.”

In the first scenario, your attention is on your friend and you give them room to open up, which is true empathy. In the second scenario, you think you’re showing empathy by revealing that you’ve had a similar experience, but you’re pulling the attention back to yourself and subtly topping your friend, which doesn’t feel good.

It takes practice to change this habit, but doing so will create belonging, because your friends will feel more space and safety to share themselves with you.

4) Remember there’s only one of you in the universe.

YOU’RE A FREAKING MIRACLE!

There’s only one person exactly like you, even if you’re part of a like-minded tribe. How many single-celled amoebas had to divide until sex evolved, leading to the possibility of you?

If you don’t believe in evolution, how about this: God doesn’t make mistakes and God made you. Any negative crap you believe about yourself is a false idea you picked up from family, culture, religion, and education. It’s inherited and not who you really are.

If you walk into a room anchored in the knowledge that your existence is a freaking miracle you’ll be less freaked out about whether or not people like you. They will no longer determine your worth because YOU’RE A FREAKING MIRACLE.

Remember that each person you meet is also a freaking miracle, whether they know it or not. We’re all bumbling along in our inherited ideas of separation until we choose to interrogate and dismantle them. Compassion for the less conscious as we work to become more conscious fosters belonging because we know how much it sucks to forget who we really are.

5) Practice meditation

Meditation isn’t an instant fix, but it’s an important part of the puzzle of belonging. The more friendly you get with the orchestra of voices in your head, the more you realize that there’s no such thing as a singular “I” that people can accept or reject.

The landing in belonging within that I experienced earlier this year occurred at a meditation retreat. All the books, lectures, healing sessions, and meditations of the last thirty years of personal and spiritual growth added up to the moment I saw who I am in such a way that I won’t forget it again.

I still go up and down, but when I’m down there’s still an awareness that my essence is fine, even in the midst of exhaustion and grief.

If you’ve never meditated before, start small. Sit for five minutes and notice your breath moving in and out. When you notice that your mind wandered, bring your attention back to the breath. You don’t need a fancy cushion or even to be able to sit on the floor. Gradually work up to sitting for twenty minutes a day. You could start with a guided meditation app, like Headspace, or attend a meditation class, and work up to sitting on your own in silence.

Meditation is a cumulative practice. You’ll go through periods when you drop in without a hitch, and others when you’re bobbing along on the surface like a buoy in a hurricane. It doesn’t matter. Just sit and over time you’ll discover who you really are beneath the noise.

 

What struck you in this post? Let me know in the comments! Sign up for my email list to receive more helpful and growing resources. XO

Image by Sarah Treanor

For more of my writing on belonging, click here.

This blog was also published on Thought Catalog, with the title 5 Simple Ways To Create Belonging Wherever You Go.

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Marie-Elizabeth Mali supports women in shedding their inherited identities. If you want to create a life that reflects who you really are, click here.

Five Habits to Transform Tough Times

A year ago, I knelt in the closet of my elderly mother’s country house going through her things. My partner threw out moth-eaten clothes and I tried to toss some old shoes, but my mother shouted at me to save them. Dirt-stained shoes filled with mouse shit that I, muttering, threw in the “keep” box way too hard.

Since I’m an only child, my partner and I traveled across the country to help her put her house on the market. My mother could no longer drive there alone and likely would not return once we left. Tensions ran high because she wanted to ship home as much as she could and we wanted to get rid of as much as we could so the house would show well.

Fast forward a year and the house still hasn’t sold. Last week, I flew cross-country and went there alone for 36 hours to clear it out some more. Then I went to NYC for two days to visit my mother.

I’m still an only child. My mother still keeps too much and resists getting the professional help she needs. But I’m now able to help her more out of love than obligation because I’ve cultivated these five habits in the past year:

1) Notice what you’re telling yourself about what’s happening.

Last year I felt obligated and resentful at being the only child of a stubborn woman. I couldn’t feel how hard it must have been for her to let go of driving, and her house, because all my attention was on how the situation was impacting me, which locked me into victim mode.

Before I got on the plane last week, I decided to handle the house and my mother with flow and joy. I challenged myself to stay focused on how I wanted the house to be and the interactions with my mother to feel.

I hired someone to help me at the house instead of trying to do it all by myself. We had fun while we worked. When I held up three half-burned red candles my mother saved years ago to re-use on some future Christmas, I laughed instead of judged.

A lot happened in a day: We packed two carloads for Goodwill, Junk King hauled away a truckload, someone serviced the furnace, I gifted a friend a loveseat, and we cleaned. I kept my focus clear and the whole day flowed.

What we tell ourselves about what’s happening is ALWAYS more powerful than what’s actually happening. We have more choice than we know. We can use any situation to reveal capacities we didn’t know we had if we look at it as a chance to invite them out.

**Look at a tough situation. Does what you’ve been telling yourself about it serve you? Ask yourself, “How else could I see this?” and/or “How is this inviting me to grow?” and/or “How do I show up differently here than I have before?”

2) Build in fun and rest along the way.

I used to grind until I dropped and needed days to recover. I was afraid I wouldn’t have enough time to finish unless I powered through. Now, unwilling to wipe myself out anymore, I build in breaks to recharge. I still get plenty done and enjoy myself more.

For fun, in 36 hours upstate and two packed days in NYC, I attended a relaxing sound bath, enjoyed a home-cooked dinner with a friend, took a salt bath, wrote for two hours by a window facing trees and land, had dinner with friends at a restaurant I love, and saw a Broadway show with my bestie.

**Especially if you’re too busy, what’s one fun thing you could choose to do this week? Maybe it’s something you already do and want to enjoy more, or maybe there’s something new you could add that would put a skip in your stride through the grind.

3) Practice gratitude

No matter how tough the situation, there’s always something to be grateful for. Are you breathing? You could be grateful for that. Are you reading these words? You could be grateful for sight, literacy, and the internet.

When I get stressed and uptight, I pause, take a breath, and think of three things to be grateful for. Sometimes, at first, my mind says, “F*ck gratitude,” but when I choose to find gratitude anyway my stress level improves.

**Start the day by thinking of three things you’re grateful for and end the day with three different things. If it helps, write them down in a gratitude journal. You’re training your mind to notice things to be grateful for as you move through your day, a handy habit when you hit tough times.

4) Beware of mission creep.

I’m on my way to do a task, but as I walk I see three more things that need handling. I used to stop to do them and end up drowning in mission creep and totally stressed about time.

I’ve learned to stick with a plan. I now have a document where I jot down unanticipated things that crop up. I no longer worry about forgetting them if I don’t stop right then.

I planned five tasks at the house: the junk haul, packing for Goodwill, servicing the furnace, the loveseat giveaway, and cleaning. As other tasks came up, I put them on a list for next time. I left the house feeling successful and complete because I stayed on task.

**Are you a victim to mission creep? Take back your power by creating a list and staying on task.

5) Look for magical moments.

Our minds look for what’s wrong more than what’s right, but we can train ourselves to notice the magic of synchronicity. In this way, we fill our minds with the good in our lives, leaving less room for them to harp on what’s hard.

Upstate, I worked at a friend’s in the morning before heading to my mother’s where there’s no cell reception or internet. Because I “ran late,” I received two calls about the day’s upcoming visits. If I’d been “on time,” I would have missed those two important calls.

That evening, in pouring rain, I met friends for dinner before driving back to NYC. Just when I needed to park, a car vacated a spot in front of the restaurant. I parked there and barely got wet.

I have an “Evidence Journal” where I record these moments. Since starting it, I handle tough times better because I’ve built up trust. When life seems hard, I know there’s more going on than I can see. I’m more able to keep my focus on what to do instead of spinning out in self-defeating stories.

**Start an Evidence Journal. Throughout the day, keep your eyes peeled for magic and write it down.

Add one of these habits each week for the next five weeks. Keep them going over the next year and watch your experience transform.

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Marie-Elizabeth Mali supports women in shedding their inherited identities. If you want to create a life that reflects who you really are, click here.