Read an Excerpt
The Power of Positive Choices
Adding and Subtracting Your Way to a Great Life
By Gail McMeekin
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2001 Gail McMeekin
All rights reserved.
P Is for Priorities
Your choices determine the quality of your life experience. The act of making choices implies the chance or the power to select one option over another. Positive Choices are life choices elected to support your body, mind, and spirit. Negative life choices, such as doing unsatisfying work or staying in a destructive relationship, undermine your joy of living. They drain you of your precious life energy and potential. Yet, in the wake of stress and life adversities, we often forget that we do have the power to re-create our lives by Adding and Subtracting Positive and negative life choices. In fact, learning and then implementing this basic yet challenging technique empowers you to claim the life you truly desire.
Do we have total control over every life choice? No. Wanda would love to be tall and lithe and sing like Barbra Streisand. Again and again in her life she has found herself thinking, If only I were 5 foot 8 inches tall and could sing.... But, instead, she's 5 foot 1 inch short and was shamed out of junior choir for singing off key. Is she totally helpless to her fate? No. She could wear shoes to make her look taller, and her musical friends insist that she could learn to sing if she practiced. But high heels kill her feet, and Columbia Records will probably never chase her down to cut a solo album no matter how much she practiced. So Wanda has decided to live with her limitations and forgo the uncomfortable shoes and voice lessons. She's chosen to leverage her natural talents and let go of her "if only" fantasies.
INQUIRY Are there any "if only" life choices haunting you? If so, what are they? Are these life choices impossible or possible? If they are indeed possible life choices, are they important enough to you so that you can select one or more of them and dedicate your energy toward mastery of it? Make note of the life choices that you want to pursue and those you choose to release. As suggested in the Introduction, use your journal to answer the questions and do the exercises in these Inquiry sections.
Gratitude for who you are and what you have already manifested in your life creates a strong foundation of support while you walk through the fires of change. Ponder all the "riches" currently present in your life—your abilities and interests, people you cherish, environments that nurture you, your health, Nature's glory, and any other manifestation you may want to acknowledge. The madness around us often eclipses our appreciation of walks on the beach, connections with people who nourish our souls, or exciting work. Resolve to thank the universe regularly for the gifts you already have.
INQUIRY What are the good things in your life? Write down all of the life choices or gifts that you are grateful for and want to celebrate today. Again, use your journal to answer the questions and do the exercises in these Inquiry sections.
Many people find the number of possible life choices overwhelming. There is a seemingly endless selection. You could be a gypsy and live in a foreign land, start a successful restaurant, or take in homeless children. Determining your priorities is an essential sorting-out process. Noting which life choices infuse your life with passion and fulfillment helps you to elevate these life choices to top priorities. What do you desire most?
Clearing out the things in your life that don't work opens up an entire range of new options and possibilities. The older I get the more I see the wisdom in the axiom, "Less is more." Take a mantle over a fireplace, for example. Mantles often hold family photographs, flowers, and candlesticks. Yet, I've been noticing lately how many people's mantles appear packed with too much stuff. Recently, I took everything off my mantle and realized that this myriad of objects was hiding the beautiful hand-carved woodwork. After pondering the image that I wanted to project, I selected a pair of thin but elegant candlesticks and a crystal clock to sit on the newly exposed shelf. These three pieces were my priorities to display. I wanted to study these three objects for a while and savor their combination. Formerly, these objects and the woodwork were buried in my maze of excess.
Simplification is a guiding principle for the Positive Choices part of the book. You can't do it all, have it all, or experience it all. So you must choose your priorities wisely and carefully. To do that, you must be willing to release the old, the excessive, and the outgrown in both the material and the psychological worlds.
INQUIRY Given the limitations of time and energy, what principles, activities, or people do you choose to make the Focal Points or Top Priorities in your life? Make a list in your journal. If your list is longer than ten items, I suggest that you shorten it. Post your top priorities on a file card and review them daily to verify your selections. Freely edit until your list presents the real truth.
Many people resist having a focus in their lives and jump from career to career, relationship to relationship, or project to project. This process of constant shifting can leave you feeling drained and frustrated. Does choosing a focus involve a loss? Of course. If you choose to write one book now and postpone another, or decide to live on the ocean rather than in the desert, you have selected one option at the expense of the other. But by focusing, you connect more powerfully with your opted choice. If you don't like it, you can change it. Or if you live on the ocean, you can vacation in the desert. Allow your top priorities to serve as a daily framework for your time.
O Is for Opportunities
Selecting life priorities precipitates another rendezvous with the ever-challenging question, "Why are you here?" This Positive Choices chapter propels you toward claiming your personal mission and power. Openness to new opportunities engages your evolution process. Now that you have chosen your current Positive Choices—those priorities that form the foundation for your lifetime—you want to engage the Addition Factor.
First, let's check in with your inner voice to see if you have been getting any signals about what's missing from your life. Have you recently been aware of your inner messenger or intuition either whispering softly in your ear or screaming loudly to pay attention now? Exactly what is your inner voice telegraphing? Burnout, boredom, pain, death, job loss, or crisis can heat up the intensity of your messenger's voice. Have your been ignoring this inner guidance, or is your messenger currently silent? If you've been hiding from your messenger, it's time to end the game and listen. You may experiment with our cultural distractions—drugs, television, overwork, food, or gambling—but these distractions only delay your encounter with these internal clues. Eventually your inner voice will win out, and you will be forced to consider what's being said. By listening now, you may prevent a later negative crisis, like an illness or an accident, that will shock you into tuning into yourself. Trust that your inner messenger is working on your behalf.
INQUIRY Does your messenger have a message for you and, if so, what is it? What Positive Choices is your inner voice urging you to try out or bring forth into your life? If your messenger is silent, it means that you have tuned it out. Start a daily dialogue with this infinite source of wisdom. Write down everything your inner voice is saying, word by word, even if you don't understand what it means. Pay particular attention to any ideas that your messenger has about Positive Choices that will enhance your life.
Tom kept hearing the words, "Go to the sea; you are meant to live by the sea." Tom was searching for a life partner and had tried personal ads, dating services, fix-ups, and even a matchmaker. When the company he worked for went bankrupt, the messenger became even more insistent. Terrified to move without a job and unsure of what he wanted, he decided to experiment and rented a cottage on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean for three months, taking advantage of bargain winter-rental rates. His plan was to explore opportunities in the landscaping business and see how he liked a particular resort town and a new lifestyle. It was there he met Bonnie and discovered a niche for his own business as a consultant to national parks.
Tom's messenger had nagged him for more than two years to move to the coast, but it was the trauma of losing his job that paved the way for him actually to try it. Even if this experiment had failed, by acting on his desire to be by the sea, Tom opened himself to learning more about what he truly wanted. Had this particular town not been right, he still would have been armed with new knowledge with which to select his next experiment.
It can be revealing to look at the teachings that come from the languages of other cultures. For example, the Chinese symbol for crisis illustrates the interconnection between stress and opportunity. Opportunity can surface disguised as loss, like in Tom's case. His company's financial woes gave him the impetus to pursue his true path. With every problem-solving venture, we gain an opportunity for transformation. Tom discovered new forms of self-expression and contentment by daring to capitalize on his love for the sea and his desire to work outdoors.
To help you to generate even more ideas for Positive Choices to Add to your life, get your journal and find a quiet place to relax where you will not be disturbed. Read through the following exercise and then meditate on it.
INQUIRY Imagine that you are financially secure and that money is no longer a struggle for you. You are free to use your time in any way you wish and create your life exactly as you desire. Think about all of the things you'd like to do, be, buy, or sample. Don't let you inner critic interrupt this exercise; let your imagination flow freely, ignoring practicality. This is your own private wish list. What opportunities would you welcome into your life? What relationships would you deepen or pursue? What kinds of new people would you like to meet and befriend? What kind of work would be fun and fulfilling for you? Would you work at all and if so, at what? Could your leisure and your work become one? Where would you truly enjoy living? What kind of home would nurture you? What kinds of objects and colors would you surround yourself with? With whom, if anyone, would you live? How would you like to grow personally? What would you most like to learn about? Would you go back to school or create a self-study program? Is traveling part of your fantasy? If so, where and why? How would you like to use your energy in the world? What kind of person would you most like to become? What would make your life meaningful for you? Before you lose the preciousness of these hopes and dreams, jot down anything you want to remember. This Inquiry is a wild-card fantasy designed to connect you with your vision of peak experiences—Positive Choices for you to summon into your life.
To support the Addition of these opportunities into your life, create or locate visual images of them and compile a Positive Choices collage. Hang it up where you can see it daily.
S Is for Subtraction
Now that you have declared your priorities and identified the Positive Choices you want to welcome into your life, what do you do about the life you have? How do you deal with the stress levels you feel and the choices you've made that no longer serve your life story? Do you feel powerless and out of control of your life? What's bothering you? All forward movement or growth begins with letting go. Subtracting unhealthy or negative life choices that discredit your dreams sends a signal that you have staked a claim on constructing a better future.
INQUIRY What life choices are undermining your well-being and need to be released? Make a complete and candid list and then assign an order to them based on which ones pollute your daily living the most. These negative life choices are Serenity Stealers and sabotage your life-force.
The power of Subtraction is astounding. When we forcefully say "No" to dysfunctional people, toxic workplaces, limiting beliefs, or unhealthy habits, we open up the space to fill our lives with what we long for. Is this exchange process easy? No, but this book gives you the tools to manage the process. Sara let go of a graphics business that she had grown to despise and was delighted to find herself re-energized. No longer was she consumed with the politics of making deals or plugging uninspiring products. Now she is flooded with invitations for new social and business connections and is planning a trip around the world to indulge her love of photography. Negative life choices—people, interactions, or situations—siphon your life-force into destructive tributaries and deplete your resources. Save your vitality for the things that really nurture you. Letting go of all the things in your life that don't support you maximizes your precious time. You evolve every day into a new being, and many of the people, projects, and beliefs in your life no longer reflect your emerging self. Deep down, you know what disturbs your inner peace and what you need to cast off.
Your Serenity Stealers function as negative choices, even if you didn't originally select them. What causes you stress is your relationship to these Serenity Stealers. It is not your mean-spirited coworker or your noisy street, but your interaction with your choices that culminates in negative feelings or responses.
INQUIRY What are your Serenity Stealers robbing you of? What do they cost you on a physical, psychological, or spiritual level? Is it inner peace, selfrespect, or your ability to make good decisions? Be specific.
Whenever we grapple with a Serenity Stealer, we have three options. First of all, we can avoid it. Brendan hates long commutes, so he always lives and works in close proximity. Spending hours on the expressway with exhausted, irritable drivers every day, especially in the snow, makes him anxious. The price of commuting is too high, even though he's lost out on projects as a result. Look back over your list of Serenity Stealers and note the ones you can avoid. Be honest. If your job is horrendous, you could get another one. If making Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd totally unnerves you, eat out or get it catered. Too often our limiting beliefs hypnotize us into thinking we have no ability to make changes. Stress and stress overload, which is burnout, often happen when we forget that we do have ultimate power over our life choices. Once you begin the process of Subtracting negative choices from your life, amazing things may happen. Celeste made the agonizing decision to end her friendship with a woman she had known since high school. The friend, Dolores, constantly criticized Celeste's dream to become a teacher and ridiculed her, saying things like, "You're not interesting enough to keep people's attention," or "You're not creative enough to do art with kids." Although Celeste told Dolores on numerous occasions that her comments were hurtful and that she was determined to be a great teacher, Dolores continued to undermine her. Finally, Celeste terminated their relationship. Two weeks later, Celeste met a lovely new neighbor, a teacher, who helped Celeste with her applications for a master's degree in education and eventually became her mentor. Celeste's clarity that she deserved to have supportive people as friends fine-tuned her criteria for selection.
Your second option when confronting a Serenity Stealer is to alter it. John thought his job as a nurse manager was totally impossible and he would have to quit. Instead he identified his three biggest Serenity Stealers, which were staff shortages, too much paperwork, and the lack of recognition for tasks well done. Proactively, John proposed solutions to each of these morale killers and shared them with his boss. To his surprise, his boss agreed to talk to the board of directors about the feasibility of additional staffing and conceded to let him implement a new software system to streamline the paperwork. Sometimes if we ask, we receive. John now feels more hopeful about an improvement in his work life but is withholding final judgment. If his boss had been unwilling to team up with him and address his complaints, John was ready to resign. Attempts to alter a Serenity Stealer are often worthwhile: even if it doesn't work, the results clarify your next step.
Last, we all encounter Serenity Stealers that we do not have control over. If you contract a serious illness, become the caretaker for an elderly parent, or get sued by a lunatic, you are stuck. But you still have the power to determine how you cope with it. If you are ill, you can research alternative care, locate the best doctors, and find support from other folks with the same diagnosis. If you are a family caretaker, you can enlist aid from other family members, locate community resources, and seek to create the best scenario for all the parties involved. Many adult children actually glean a new closeness with their parents in such a crisis. If you are sued, you can prevent it from happening again and enlist the best legal help you can afford for now. With all of these serious life challenges, you will need to go through a process of analysis to find the right answers. And, rightfully so, you may start out feeling angry and victimized before you can make peace with the hardships you have been dealt. Look for positive role models and ask for support. Seek the lessons hidden in the darkness and leverage them.
Excerpted from The Power of Positive Choices by Gail McMeekin. Copyright © 2001 Gail McMeekin. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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