Posts Tagged ‘positivity’

I feel very protective of my close friends.

I forget this is true until one of them tells me a story of some awful thing someone else has done to them. And I don’t even have to think about it. I want to tell them how amazing they are and how much they don’t deserve that kind of behavior, and I want to listen to them vent if they think that will make them feel better, and I want to validate the hell out of them.

And I’m angry on their behalf. Much angrier than I would be if the same thing happened to me. And none of the weird delayed reaction anger either. I’m pretty much angry right away. Angry and sometimes indignant.

One time a close friend of mine called me up on the phone with this story of some really bizarre and inappropriate behavior of a mutual acquaintance of ours. And I realized this mutual acquaintance could, no doubt, use his access to me to make things even worse for my friend. And I knew the mutual acquaintance would have no qualms in doing so.

I decided then and there to let that mutual acquaintance go. It was one of the easiest interpersonal decisions ever. If there had been inappropriate behavior directed towards myself, I would have agonized over it, and wondered if I was being reasonable, and wondered if I needed to give some more benefits of the doubt, and worried about possible repercussions and burned bridges, and worried about what people would think, and wondered if it was somehow all my fault. But because it was about my friend, doing the right thing was easy. To this day, I think about the boundary I set with satisfaction and zero doubt.

This, then, is what it means to become your own best friend. It can be a powerful thought experiment. It is advocating for yourself the way you would advocate for your actual best friends. It is wanting for yourself the kind of respect and appropriateness you would want for your actual best friends. It is stopping and telling yourself the story of what’s going on right now as if the story was happening to your best friend instead of to you, and then noticing the difference in reaction and allowing that to guide you accordingly.

And it is also about learning to see and appreciate yourself the way your best friends see and appreciate you. I think my best friends are fabulous. I am blown away on a regular basis by all their good qualities, and I feel so lucky to know them and have them in my life. I love hearing about what they’re doing, their successes and their failures, their joys and their sorrows. I want them to be happy, of course, but when they are having a hard time, I see how courageous they are. I see how hard they’re trying. I see the risks they are taking. I see how deeply they feel and care. And I admire them so hard.

To be my own best friend, I need to admire myself that hard. To be my own best friend, I need to be blown away by my strengths, not only be bogged down by considering my weaknesses. To be my own best friend, I need to remember that my hard times don’t automatically reflect poorly on me.

To be my own best friend, I need to embrace the idea of being as protective of myself as I am of the other people I love.

One of my amazing besties!

One of my amazing besties!

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Last week I went to the grocery store, and on a whim, I purchased a cheese ball.

It was a gorgeous cheese ball. Port wine cheese, mottled orange and red, pleasingly symmetrical and encrusted with nuts.

I’ve never purchased a cheese ball before, and I was excited about it. I was looking forward to trying it, especially since I also got these fancy crackers at Trader Joe’s. And as I was dancing with someone that evening, I mentioned my excitement over the cheese ball. Because apparently that’s what I think of as fabulous dance conversation.

“It sounds like you really like cheese,” my partner said.

This is the cheese ball in question.

This is the cheese ball in question.


The week before, I had not been feeling the dancing. I’d been really sick, and even though I was better and no longer contagious, I was annoyingly weak and easily fatigued, and my center of balance felt off, which for dancing is particularly unfortunate. And then one of my partners told me THREE times while we were dancing how I’d gotten worse at dancing since the last time we’d danced. I tried to laugh it off the first two times, but by the third time I’d lost all patience (big surprise), so then I was not only tired and weak but also irritated. Not the best night. I went home early and watched Star Trek instead.

And then the next week, I took a lesson before the free dancing period, and I was completely lost for pretty much the entire hour. I was supposed to be learning both how to lead and follow all these different turns, and I’d never really led before, period, and trying to learn both sides at the same time meant I was learning nothing at all because having my focus divided meant I didn’t have enough focus for either side, plus there simply wasn’t enough repetition for me to get it down. By the end of the lesson, I felt like my brain was oozing out of my ears in goo-like fashion.

As I walked off the dance floor afterwards, I realized I had a choice. At that moment, I felt stressed and like a terrible dancer. If I encouraged that feeling, I’d be super tense while I danced, which isn’t good. I’d lose a lot of my connection with my partners, which isn’t good either. And I wouldn’t be having fun, which is definitely not good.

Or I could shake it off to the best of my ability, and believe BY FORCE OF WILL that I was going to have an amazing time dancing that night. I could think of all the other amazing times I’d had, and I could think about how much I love dancing, and I could be happy to see my friends and partners, and I could simply do my best and be okay with that.

I chose option two, and I had a fabulous evening. By getting out of my head and cranking down the perfectionism, I danced better and had a lot more fun. But I could have just as easily have chosen option one and struggled through the evening.

In the end, it came down to my own state of mind. Nothing more, nothing less.


Back to the cheese ball. “I’m so excited about it,” I told my partner. “I can’t wait to try it.”

“Wow,” he said. “You must really love cheese.”

“No,” I said. “I really love life.”

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My friend Ramez Naam wrote a blog post about a bunch of general good things that happened in 2014, including same-sex marriage legalization in more than half of the US, new lows in hunger and malnutrition, increasing accessibility to the internet, and the climate agreement between the US and China.

I agree with him that the news has been very bleak over the past several months, and it’s easy to feel like everything is getting worse. But the truth is, as usual, not so simple, and some things are definitely getting better. That doesn’t mean there isn’t more work to do, or that we should ignore the issues that need more work, but I do think it’s valuable to keep a balanced perspective. Among other things, it helps fend off burn-out and despair to notice the progress that is being made.

It is interesting trying to maintain a balance. Too much positivity, and you might not be giving attention to issues that need it or not be willing to work for change that would improve things. Too little positivity, and you might not have the energy or vision required to keep moving forward, and negative thinking can keep you trapped in the status quo as well.

But at this time of year, I like to spend a little extra time thinking about the positive things. I think the negative things tend to stick in our minds more prominently (or at least in my mind), so a little extra appreciation for both myself and others feels like a good balance to me as I celebrate and reflect on the past year.

Speaking of celebrating, I’m staying home for the holidays this year, and my only rule has been: nothing stressful, only do what you want to do. And this year the rule actually worked too, and the result has been a fun and relaxing December. I’m not exchanging presents with hardly anyone (I made one, and only one, exception), and instead have focused on having quality time with people I like. And my stress levels, if anything, are lower than usual.

So what have I wanted to do? I have a beautiful tree, which makes me very happy. I’ve attended a few holiday parties and done some baking. I made my annual visit to the Dickens Fair, where I purchased this year’s new ornament. I’ve watched my favorite Christmas movie, The Holiday, and I might squeeze in a viewing of my other favorite Christmas movie, The Lion in Winter. Oh, and I did buy a few toys for Nala because watching her run around and squeak them on Christmas morning will be both adorable and hilarious. This week there is going to be cooking and hot cidering and light-viewing. And also sushi and pie, because these are both foodstuffs that improve life.

This year's ornament: Tentacles, oh my!

This year’s ornament: Tentacles, oh my!

And I’m continuing a tradition I started last year for Christmas morning. I always make those Pillsbury cinnamon rolls that come in the long tube; I’ve been eating those on Christmas morning as long as I can remember. So I feast on cinnamon rolls and orange juice, and I send texts to people I like, and I take Nala for a walk. And then, in new tradition territory, I look at the 2014 photo book I made about a month ago. It has all my favorite photos from the past year, organized in a more or less coherent fashion, and I’m not allowed to open it until Christmas morning. So then I see a bunch of happy moments from the past year with the people I care about, and it really is the best way ever for me to spend Christmas morning.

Whatever you’re doing this week–whether you’re celebrating or simply taking it easy or working harder than ever or living life as usual–I’m wishing you all the best, cinnamon roll in hand.

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I received a good reminder earlier this week, so I thought I’d share.

If you aren’t familiar with the website Meetup.com, it’s a website where people put together activity groups. So you can join and then find groups in your area that host events that you can attend, and if there isn’t any group in your area, then you can start one yourself! There are hiking groups, book groups, parenting groups, board game groups, support groups, and on and on.

Meetup.com is a website that comes up often in online advice about how to make new friends. The idea is that you can meet people while pursuing your interests and hobbies that you want to do anyway. And you instantly have something in common! I personally know a few people for whom this strategy has worked quite well.

However, I myself tried a Meetup group some years ago now, and I was not impressed. I went to one event, and I didn’t click with any of the people present. It was hard to get there, and then it was all small talk, small talk, small talk, and someone suggested we should arrange meetings to all work out together at the gym, and I threw up a little in my mouth. (To be clear, there is nothing wrong with having a Meetup to hang out at the gym; it is just really not my thing.) I was relieved to go home, and ever since then, I’ve thought, “Oh, Meetup. That totally doesn’t work for me. At all. The end.”

But I still get their emails because I am lazy about getting myself off email lists, and a few weeks ago, I saw a new Meetup group that was exactly my thing. Of course, the first Meetup group I’d tried had also seemed to be exactly my thing and look what happened there, but this was maybe even more so. So I decided I’d try it out.

My first meeting was on Monday evening. I was nervous, and I kept thinking of all the ways in which it might be uncomfortable or boring or plain obnoxious, and I kind of didn’t want to go. But I’d RSVP’d and I’d spent considerable effort preparing for the meeting, and this felt like one of those times I needed to ignore my brain and push myself to go anyway. So I went.

And it was FABULOUS. It was interesting and informative, we had a wide-ranging conversation about topics that I want to learn more about, the people were respectful and articulate and insightful. I was so glad I went.

Nala used to hate her kennel, but now she wants to hang out in there all the time. (Yeah, I might be reaching a tiny bit, but...cute dog photo!)

Nala used to hate her kennel, but now she wants to hang out in there all the time. (Yeah, I might be reaching a tiny bit, but…cute dog photo!)

So here’s the reminder I took away from this experience: Just because you’ve tried something once doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t try it again. Generalizations can sometimes be a useful shorthand, but when they’re formed with too little information and without being aware of variation, they can be inaccurate and potentially harmful.

Also, sometimes brains are overly negative. And sometimes we have to do our best to ignore them until we can prove them wrong. Being able to tell the difference between a real threat or issue and unfounded negativity is an incredibly valuable life skill.

And Meetup.com can sometimes be awesome! Good to know.

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Theodora Goss recently wrote one of those lists of what she’s learned in her life. The entire post is worth a read, but I was particularly interested in her #9:

“Your habits create who you are.”

I completely agree with Dora. Our habits are the building blocks of our lives and of our identities. I actually love this truth because while changing habits can be difficult, it is very possible. So that means if we don’t like our lives or identities, we can work towards doing something about that.

Photo Credit: Celestine Chua via Compfight cc

Take the identity of being a writer, for example. (How could I not go there?) Some people are satisfied with the daydream of being a writer, which is fine but unlikely to bring about the reality. But for people who seriously want to claim the writer identity, it’s all about habits. It’s about making the time to write on a regular basis. It’s about making a commitment to finish projects. It’s about revising and reading other people’s work and thinking critically and educating yourself to become better. All those activities can be developed into habits over time.

This works for personality traits to a certain extent, too. We all have our original set points for different traits, and some of us will have to work harder than others to change and maintain those points, or will have limits to where we can move those points. But we can choose to encourage new habits that develop a certain trait. I used to be quite shy when I was younger, but I decided it wasn’t really very fun to be shy. So I practiced meeting people, I practiced inviting people to do things, I said yes to invitations, and I cultivated new hobbies that encouraged me to be social. I still have my shy moments, but now I often look at those moments as a challenge or game that I can try to succeed at as opposed to a miserable experience. And really, most of the time I’m not very shy at all because of the habits I eventually formed. I’ve talked to several other people who have had similar experiences.

And finally, habits even affect the kind of thoughts we have. That’s what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is all about. If we decide we want to be more positive, we can explicitly practice framing our thoughts in more positive ways until it becomes second nature. If we want more self esteem, we can practice thinking kinder thoughts about ourselves until, you’ve got it, those thoughts become second nature (or at least more frequent). Sometimes a lot of how we see the world is affected by our individual thought patterns, which are really just habits of thinking we’ve picked up over time.

When I think about it, I realize how strongly my habits shape my life, from how I spend my time to what and how I think to what my actual expressed priorities are. Of course, habits can arise FROM those priorities as well as shape what those priorities are. I think that’s why I care so much about living an examined life, so I can be more conscious about choosing those priorities and figuring out how to express them rather than have priorities happen TO me.

What habits have you chosen to develop? What habits do you want to change?

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“I’m not interested in blind optimism, but I’m very interested in optimism that is hard-won, that takes on darkness and then says, ‘This is not enough.’ But it takes time, more time than we can sometimes imagine, to get there. And sometimes we don’t.”

Colum McCann (by way of Jonathan Carroll’s Facebook page)

I think this is important to remember. Hoping for the best without taking the time to educate ourselves is not particularly helpful. Blindly doing the same thing we’ve been doing over and over while expecting a different (and better) outcome is Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity. Looking at silver linings to the extent that we’re blinded to reality and won’t look for changes we can make to better our situations keeps us stuck in one place.

But taking a real look at our lives and making change, real change, takes optimism as well. Optimism allows us to believe we’ll be okay whatever is happening. Optimism allows us to think change is possible for us. Optimism allows us to create a vision of a better future. Optimism gives us courage. And optimism gives us a greater capacity for both kindness and happiness.

The trick, then, is in being able to tell the difference between the optimism that holds us down and the optimism that lifts us up.

Photo Credit: Ira Gelb via Compfight cc

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Guess what time it is? Birthday week! I’ve been spending the past week celebrating, and there will even more celebrating through the weekend. (Battlestar Galactica the board game! Fancy tea! And also frozen yogurt!) And today is my actual birthday, so I am spending time doing fun things…and also revising. Because revising seems to be a never-ending process in my life at the moment.

For the last couple of years on the blog, I’ve made a birthday post listing five happy things. But today I’d like to take a moment to think about one BIG happy thing: gratitude.

The reason thinking about five happy things every day is supposed to increase general happiness is that it helps us cultivate a sense of gratitude. This year has been a tough one for me, and what I’ve learned is that in the face of adversity, feeling gratitude is even more important. It’s so easy to get caught up in a tidal wave of difficult emotions, but being aware of all the positive parts of life helps keep things in balance. And because of the contrast, the good and the sweet and the special feel even stronger and more important than they normally do.

So today on my birthday, I am feeling gratitude and appreciation. There are so many wonderful people in my life, many of whom will be reading these words today, and my life is so much richer because of you. Whether I am learning from you or having fascinating conversations with you, having super fun times with you or offering and receiving support, you make a difference in my life. I only wish I could see those of you who don’t live close to me more than I do.

Taken during birthday week! Nala is too excited to hold still and look at the camera.

Taken during birthday week, by Yvette Ono. Nala is too excited to hold still and look at the camera.

I have been lucky this past year in many ways. I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time doing creative work that is important to me: revising The Academy of Forgetting (and revising some more), starting on the Space Novel, thinking of future story ideas. I’ve gotten to spend time in Seattle and New York and Boston, Chicago and Toronto and Detroit. I’ve reconnected with some people who matter to me, met some new people who have been fantastic, and deepened my existing friendships. I’ve been on the receiving end of a whole lot of generosity.

I live somewhere I feel comfortable and safe. My knees have been cooperating, and my allergies have improved. My friend Ferrett survived his triple bypass. I learned a lot about myself, and I’m on the path to creating the life I want. I have a little dog who brightens every single one of my days.

So here’s to another year! I know there will be challenges, but there will also be so much joy and gratitude that I get to be here experiencing life in all its glory.

What do you feel grateful for today? Let’s spread the happiness around.

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