Forget the Joneses

“Because I have to.”

That’s the usual response I get from friends when I inquire why they are involved in so many activities—activities that are clearly causing stress and fatigue. I see this a lot in families with young kids: adults racing around from work to school to the practice field to piano lessons to… the list goes on and on.

It’s not limited to families, however. I also see my single friends in similar situations. Work, happy hour, a second job, and social engagements fill their calendars to the max. So who’s the culprit behind all of this running around?

It’s those damn Joneses.

Of course I’m referring to the age-old parable of “keeping up with the Joneses,” those famous neighbors/friends we all love to hate. We see the Joneses in all parts of the city. In the suburbs, they’re the ones with the better house, the better lawn, and the kids in four after school activities. In urban areas, the Joneses are the jetsetters, driving their fancy cars to lavish parties, expensive restaurants and going on ultimate vacations. The Joneses can be found in every corner of the world.

It’s not them, it’s you

Behind their backs, most people hate the Joneses. But it’s not the Jonses that are the problem, it’s the constant comparison of our own lives in relation to the Jonses that is the problem. To make matters worse, our constantly-connected world now allows us to keep up with the Joneses 24 hours a day through social media. We fill our computer screens and minds with evidence of our own lack in comparison to others. This non-stop storyline causes us to feel jealous, empty and inadequate.

That perceived inadequacy is what causes us to overextend ourselves. As our social networks grow larger, I’m noticing even more of a drive for people to try and live up to some unachievable lifestyle, and they’re willing to put their health and sanity on the line to get it. It’s the reason I so often hear, “Because I have to.”

But do you have to? No, you don’t.

It’s time we reclaim the perfection that is our own lives. It’s time we focus on our own accomplishments, our own victories and our own contributions to the world. It’s time we remember that through our own unique lives, we are positively affecting the universe. We just don’t always see it.

The reason we don’t see our impact is because of our old friend the ego. The ego is our interface with the physical world. It examines the world and helps us make sense of the landscape around us and it determines how we should interact with others.

The ego isn’t always right. Yes, it means well. Its job is to protect Number One—the “self” that we know and relate to. But the ego suffers from not having all of the information available. It becomes scared and overprotective. It blows things out of proportion and causes us to question our own motives.

The ego is susceptible to the constant comparison with the Joneses. It views the success of others as a threat, reasoning that we will be judged negatively by the world if we don’t act the same way, achieve the same things or do better than our neighbors, friends and coworkers.

Most of us don’t take the time to question the ego, we simply rely on it to guide our actions and responses to the world and call it good. But this is only the beginning of our troubles, for when we accept—unquestioningly—data from the ego we get a skewed view of ourselves.

When we don’t challenge that data, we simply assume that we have to keep up with the Joneses. We accept that the world will judge us negatively if we don’t do everything in our power to live up to standards set by the media, coworkers, friends, family, or our own one-sided egos. We feel trapped and hypothesize that the only way to live is to keep up with the rest of the world, whether we want to or not.

Reality challenge™

This week, I invite you to challenge your relationship with the Joneses and your ego. Whenever you catch yourself feeling overextended, overwhelmed, or are doing something you really don’t want to do, stop and ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Am I doing this activity because I really want to?
  2. Am I getting any pleasure out of this activity?
  3. Who am I expecting to notice that I am doing this activity? (friends, spouse, kids, neighbors, PTA president)?
  4. What’s the worst thing that would happen if I didn’t do this activity?
  5. Would I still be involved in this activity if no one knew who I was?
  6. Could I quit this activity tomorrow?

As you can see from the questions, what you’re trying to do is get your ego to be a little more objective. Yes, there are certain things you have to do, like going to work and taking care of the kids. But is anyone forcing you to volunteer your time every night of the week?

The answers you give to the questions above should help you see how much you are trying to keep up with the Joneses or if you are really wanting to involve yourself in activities that give you a good return. What advice would you give to a friend who gave you the same answers?

We oftentimes don’t see how we have painted ourselves into a corner with our lives. When we let prestige, honor, materialism or acceptance rule our activities, we seldom get a good return. When we use our time in purposeful, nurturing,  and fulfilling ways, we get an excellent return.

So, which will it be? A good return on your time or a stress and fatigue trying to keep up with the Joneses? This week, make it a priority to find out.











Finding calm in the middle

The Aspen tree is a perfect example of positive change. Each year as the tree prepares for winter dormancy, its leaves turn a dazzling display of different shades of gold, red, orange and purple. The tree itself is stressed enough to drop its leaves so that it can direct its growth from the inside and emerge bigger and stronger in the spring.

“I’m in the process of positive changes.”

That affirmation from the beautiful and inspirational Louise Hay has been in my head constantly these past few weeks. Like many others, I’ve been experiencing a lot of change that has hit all at once. At times, that change feels like more than I can handle. And during these times of extreme change, it’s hard to maintain a positive attitude. In fact, it’s downright impossible some days.

When faced with extreme changes, affirmations can be a saving grace. Some people love and resonate with affirmations; others do not. I’ve had mixed results with them over the years but am reminded of their importance as I navigate these hard changes. Affirmations are starting points–they are designed to wake you up and help you take notice of where you are now and where you are headed. They serve as a reminder of the way life can be if you’ll only take notice and adjust your thinking.

The affirmation above does just that. When I start to feel stressed, angry, tired or when I simply can’t cope, that affirmation pops into my head. It helps me remember that all of life’s changes are indeed positive. Sure, my first reaction may be to deny it, mock it, or decry it, but affirmations work in subtle ways. When I notice I’m mocking the affirmation or not believing it, I quiet my mind, repeat it several times and then forget it. It’s enough of a pause in my conscious thoughts to remind me that the world is conspiring in my favor. It slaps me upside the head as if to say, “You may not see it now, but all of these changes will work out to your benefit. Be mindful of how you respond to these changes.”

Ultimately, change is good. Remember that and affirm it. You might not believe it or be conscious of it in this moment, but change is positive. Change is growth. With growth comes new opportunities, so seize change and allow it. Remind yourself over and over that you will come out in a much better place even if you can’t see it right now.

Two easy ways to use affirmations:

  1. Take a scheduled time each day to repeat a few affirmations quietly. Relax your body, focus your mind, tell yourself that for the next several minutes you will suspend judgment and allow yourself to believe the words you’re about to say. Say them  in your mind, say them out loud, or shout them to the universe if you feel inspired. Spend just a few moments doing this at a time that works for you.
  2. Throughout the day when you catch yourself feeling on edge, anxious or stressed, stop what you’re doing, close your eyes for a moment and repeat an affirmation that reminds you of where you want to be. Pick words that address how you’re feeling and reframe those emotions to more positive ones. Just saying this internally a few times can help adjust your thinking and emotions on a small scale. Sometimes all you need is a little push in a new and different direction to help reduce your stress and remind you of how great you are.


Reacting or responding?

Your choice to react or respond can affect your health and your spirit

There she was: one hell of a big brown bear. At least I assumed it was a ‘she’ since I didn’t want to be caught between her and any cubs that may be hanging around. She was busy gorging herself on some unseen bush about 15 feet in front of me and my dogs were enthralled with a ground squirrel that had just disappeared into the Earth. None saw the other.

In one of those ultra-calm moments, I slowly walked toward my dogs and attached their leashes to their collars. The entire time I kept my eyes on the big bear that was close enough to lurch toward me and tear me to shreds. Slowly I walked backward with the dogs, distracting them with a quiet pat on my legs. We walked slowly in reverse until I was sure we were out of view of the mama bear. Then, we took off. And by took off, I mean we ran full speed up the mountain toward my house. It’s a steep climb and one of my dogs was having a hard time with his arthritic legs, knees and the altitude. Still, we didn’t stop till we got home and locked inside. Then, the panic of the situation kicked in and I collapsed in relief on the porch.

This story jumped into my head this afternoon as I pondered a question from a reader on my Facebook page. Karl was responding to a post about living in the present moment and my advice to “react only to what you are seeing in your present experience and let the rest fade away.”

Karl’s question: “how about responding instead of reacting? Big difference.” It is a big difference, as long as you’re not splitting literary hairs. I immediately understood Karl’s question and felt the validity of his response. All too often we do react instead of respond to events in our lives and the variance can make a big change to our bodies and our spirits.

In my bear encounter above, I realized I responded before I reacted. Yes, I did do both and a look at the small differences between the two responses showed me how a slight change in mental and physical behavior can determine a completely different outcome. For me, that outcome meant safety, although you can substitute a number of different words: health, aliveness, survival, happiness.

Most of us spend a considerable amount of time reacting to life. We react to things we hear, see, experience and even react to things we imagine. Reacting is instinctual, automatic. Its primary job is to make the body move when the subconscious perceives threats. You react to a speeding car coming down the street. You react to the sound of a balloon popping. It allows our automatic nervous system to react on our behalf without having to think about it.

Responding is much more thoughtful, present and calculated. Responding is a choice. You get to choose a response. You get to choose NOT to respond. Responding is the result of the intellect and conscious mind making a decision to do, say or act in a particular way.

There’s a reason to know the difference between these two actions. Responding opens up options while reacting gives you limited choices. Learning to respond when you would normally react is a skill that gives some good payoffs. Look at my bear story, for example.

Since reacting is usually involuntary, I could have let my body take over at the first sight of the bear; that is, I could have reacted. Had that been the case, I may have made a lot of noise or quick sudden movements that could have alerted the bear to my presence. This in turn could have caused her to come after me, turn and run away, or alert the dogs to her presence, causing more problems. Instead, I chose to respond, calmly thinking through my options. I slowly got the dogs leashed and out of the way allowing us a smooth, easy escape. I did, however, react once I was out of view and ran like hell. Reacting first could have been fatal had there been a cub in the vicinity.

This is obviously a dramatic example of reacting versus responding. But we do this same thing every day when we live in our minds instead of the present moment. My guess is a lot of us do this frequently when we get an unexpected bill in the mail. Quickly, our minds turn to panic: how am I going to pay for this? Where is the money going to come from? What if I can’t pay the bill? These kinds of reactions force the body into fight or flight mode. We’re then filled with stress hormones since the physical body can only react in the present moment. If, instead, we choose to respond to that unexpected bill, we keep the stress hormones to a minimum and allow our conscious mind, intellect and inner self to look at other options.

Throughout the day our “future thoughts” and “past regret thoughts” can force our body into these same kinds of reactions. The result of this kind of reaction is an elevated level of stress hormones and unnecessary taxation of the body and mind.

Teaching yourself to respond rather than react takes practice—gentle practice. The easiest way to begin this change is to become aware of your thoughts. When you find yourself daydreaming or lost in thought, check-in with your body. Are you tense? Is your heart rate elevated? Is your mind beginning to race? If so, you’re emotionally reacting to your thoughts and it’s a clue to consciously shift your thoughts to a more positive and calming direction.

As you become aware of your thoughts and learn to shift them in a new direction, you can then move into situations that normally cause a reaction. You’ll need conscious discrimination here as you want to allow your body to react in situations where you need to react, i.e. when physical danger is present. But when you find yourself ready to haul off and scream at your co-worker for a stupid decision, you can catch yourself and consciously choose to respond.

In responding, it’s important to remember to honor your emotions. Yes, you may be angry with your coworker and that’s fine. You may even choose to yell at her for the mistake. But if you allow yourself that split second to bring conscious awareness to your own thoughts and feelings, you can direct your actions (speech, thought or otherwise) in a more positive outcome for both of you.

One small tip I’ve gleaned through practice is to bring my awareness back to my physical body when I feel like I’m beginning to react. When I become aware that my thoughts are going to take an idea and run with it (I’m going to scream at my co-worker), I try to find something to grab onto like a chair or doorframe. I then force myself to feel what’s in my hand: the cold steel of the frame or the fabric of the chair. Sometimes that little bit of sensation awareness can shift my mind out of reaction mode and buy myself some time to respond appropriately. It’s a small step, but it can help.

Taking those few moments and changing your response can help decrease your stress and open your mind to new options. Remember, if you don’t need to react in the present moment you can choose to respond or not. You have a choice.

This process takes discernment. It takes practice. And it takes a willingness to direct your thoughts and body into purposeful action. It seems like such a trivial point but the results can help take your consciously-created life in a new, positive direction.