Before You Set Your Goals, Set Your Fears

Before You Set Your Goals

“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” -Seneca

So many gurus and life coaches these days will tell you that the best thing you can do to help you reach your goals or turn your life around is to think positive. “Set big, specific goals!” “Go after the life you really want!” And, truly, this is good advice. It’s good to be specific and to think positive about what you want out of life.

With that said, maybe too much attention is paid to what we want and thinking positive. What about the negative things? What about those worries and fears that keep you up at night? Should you just put on a happy face and push down those nasty thoughts with fantasies about your future?

That really isn’t the best strategy.

It’s a bit like when you were a little kid and were afraid of the dark. Everything that seemed familiar and friendly in the daytime suddenly takes on a sinister cast in the dark. The familiar, harmless creaks in the floorboards become a monster approaching. The coat hanging on the door becomes a looming apparition. Remember what happened when you turned on the lights, or the sun rose? Suddenly those sinister things seemed utterly harmless and manageable.

This is the right approach to the things you fear. Look them in the eye. Unlike those innocent days of childhood, you have legitimate things to fear from the world. Terrible things can happen to the best of us, and there are things even worse than death that can happen to us. And yet, not everything is as scary as it seems.

So what do you do with this fear?

Most of us try not to think about it. And that might be the whole problem.

I recently ran across a method for facing the fears that might be holding us back that I’ve found to be highly effective. It’s called fear setting. Entrepreneur Tim Ferriss developed this system based on the teachings of the ancient Greek philosophers known as stoics, and I highly recommend his TED talk on the subject. The link is below.

How it works
The idea is that what’s really keeping you from doing what you really want to do with your life is unspoken fears that may be consciously or subconsciously holding you hostage. What do these fears demand? Your attention. Fear setting is about giving the hostage takers what they want, and that’s all you have to do to liberate yourself.

But fear is a tricky beast to outwit. Since fear helps you survive, it has a way of pulling all your biological strings. It causes your heart to race, your palms to sweat, and tenses your muscles–all without your consent or awareness.

To get around this, you have to attack it systematically.

Fear setting consists of three pages of notes, and shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes to an hour of your time, usually much less.

Page one
At the top of the page, write the thing you’re thinking of doing that gives you some level of anxiety, for example, asking that person out on a date, applying for that job, signing the papers (divorce, house, marriage license, car, whatever), making that investment, taking that trip–anything that carries risk which fear might be holding you back from doing. Next, you’re going to make a simple table in the middle of the page with three columns. The first column is every worst-case-scenario thing that could go wrong if you pull the trigger on whatever it is, everything you fear the most.

In the next column, for each worst-case-scenario, you’re going to list all the ways you might be able to prevent that terrible thing from happening.

In the third column, for each worst-case-scneario, you’re going to list all the ways you might be able to fix it if that terrible thing happens, or the names of people who might be able to help you through it.

That’s page one.

Page two
This is where things get fun. List all the good things that might happen if you go through with the thing. Simple, but exhilarating and energizing.

Page three
Just in case you need that little extra push, it’s time to contemplate what might happen if you do nothing and just maintain the status quo. You’ll need another three-column table for this one because you’re going to contemplate what your life will be life if you do nothing for three time periods: 6 months, 1 year, and 3 years. Be sure to take into account any applicable aspect of your life: finances, relationships, occupation, etc. This is where you’ll take a good, hard look at the hell you don’t want, but which might be coming your way if you do nothing.

That’s it!

So what
Is this just a way to talk yourself into doing literally anything? No. This is about being honest with yourself in every possible way. In fact, you’re almost as likely to talk yourself out of something.

Ferriss puts it this way: “It’s not a panacea. You’ll find that some of your fears are very well founded. But you shouldn’t conclude that without first putting them under a microscope.”

What I did
I’ve been working on a creative project off and on for some time. I had put it on hold for a while to focus on some other priorities. After the storm passed, there was the project staring at me with an expectant look. I knew I had to begin again, but I felt some reluctance. What was holding me back? I saw an opportunity to put Ferriss’ method to the test.

I actually forgot to do the other two pages! All I did was page one, and yet … It got me going! It didn’t take long at all, and I jumped right into a highly detailed planning session for the remainder of the project, setting incremental deadlines with clear deliverables.

And I did it with zero hesitation, because I had a clear answer to the question “what’s the worst that could happen?”. We’ll see how the project goes, but I met my first incremental deadlines, and I’m well on my well to meeting the next one. For me, Fear Setting was powerful, and has easily sold me on this method for contemplating other things I might be feeling anxious about.

Ferriss says he does this exercise at least once a quarter. I’ve since used a similar technique just in my head for smaller hassles and sources of anxiety in my life. For instance, I might ask myself “what’s the worst that can happen if I don’t get this done?” or “what would I do if this thing I’m afraid of happens?” If I can answer this uncomfortable questions, suddenly I feel empowered to move forward. And maybe that very discomfort is where the opportunity lies. Joseph Campbell said “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”

The cave you fear to enter ...

Tim Ferriss puts it this way:

“The hard choices–what we most fear, doing, asking, saying–these are very often what we most need to do. And the biggest challenges and problems we face will never be solved with comfortable conversations, whether it’s in your own head or with other people.”

Choose the good life.

Tim Ferriss’ TED Talk:

https://www.ted.com/talks/tim_ferriss_why_you_should_define_your_fears_instead_of_your_goals

Tom Gunn is the marketing director and blog editor at The Good Life Massage. Visit our website for more information or to book a massage online. You can contact Tom Gunn to help you build your brand with branding design and content marketing by contacting him at tomgunn@gmail.com.

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The Mind Games You Can’t Win

Head Games You Can't Win

You’re a con artist, do you realize that? You really are. Most people are, it turns out. It’s just that most of us are also our own marks for the con.

It’s not usually an act of malice, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Most of us are too busy marshaling our minds to get through one day and then the next to notice what we’re doing to ourselves. That is, until the abuse we’ve been dishing out to the person in the mirror mounts, and a day (or days) of reckoning come.

This reckoning can come in many forms, too many to list here, but let’s just say the cleanup usually involves professionals–people like defense or divorce attorneys, police, doctors, psychologists, sometimes even massage or physical therapists. You can imagine, then, that these are the kinds of consequences you’d like to avoid.

There are so many ways we torment, lie to, and fool ourselves. But here, we’ll try to list some of the big ones and suggest some ways to get out of the traps your are setting for yourself.

Shortsightedness
Are you just reacting to everything? It can happen to the best of us as we bounce from one activity to another just responding to a stimulus, avoiding pain, or feeding appetites. You rise to avoid being late and getting in trouble at work. Someone cuts you off in traffic and you curse without even thinking. Someone says something snotty to you at work and before you know it, your voice is raised and you’re having violent fantasies. You fix yourself a drink after work to unwind. And then another, etc. Keep that up, and you’ll hurt someone–yourself or someone else.

You live in the body of an animal, true, but you’re also a self-conscious human being. So act like it! Be mindful. Be intentional. Take a moment, maybe first thing in the morning, to set just one important intention for the day.
Maybe some of these questions might help get you started.

  • What do you want people to remember about their encounters with you today?
  • What can you do today to move towards creating the future you want?
  • What are your values, and what’s one thing you can do today to live one of those values?

Not only will you help to avoid some unnecessary anguish for a decision made in the heat of the moment, you’ll be much more likely to end your day not feeling merely sated or amused, but satisfied. Content.

Procrastination
Have you ever thought of procrastination as a lie you tell yourself? The lie is basically this: that if you don’t do it now, maybe–somehow, some way–you won’t ever have to do it at all.

This simple decision–a lie told in the mirror without a second thought–creates a terrible tension in your mind and heart. This tension creates a buzzing in the brain that’s so persistent that you might not even be aware of it, like an annoying sound you learn to tune out. But it’s also so obnoxious that it slowly erodes your sense of self-worth and confidence. And that’s where you pay the price for this one.

There’s a really wonderful children’s book about this called “There’s No Such Thing As A Dragon” by Jack Kent. In the story, a boy wakes up to find a kitten-sized dragon in his room. He tells his parents about it, and the more they deny the dragon exists, the larger it gets. Through each stage of the dragon’s growth, the boy tries to get his parents to believe and pay attention to the dragon to no avail. By the end of the book, it’s carrying away their house on its massive back. When the parents finally acknowledge the dragon is there and the boy pets it, the dragon quickly becomes kitten-sized again. What are your dragons? The more you ignore them, the larger, scarier, and more disruptive they’ll become. Ignore them completely, and you may get burned.

Rationalization
Logic is a frightening tool because it can work so well, but you can also fool yourself with it so easily because, by definition, it makes sense. But check your premises–the assumptions, ideas, and beliefs that inform that logic. Logic works, but it’s only helpful if the information is good. Garbage in, garbage out.

One thing that can be so beneficial about talking regularly to a friend or loved one. There can be great benefit in consulting with a mental health professional. They can help you identify some errors in your thinking, like the ones in this blog, especially when you can’t detect them yourself.
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Worry
Worry is a primary way you can wear your mind out to exhaustion, and for no good reason! It’s like riding the brakes of your mind. Worry serves a purpose: it’s a feeling generated by an awareness that something is amiss and needs our attention. The best strategy is to try to cope with whatever you’re worrying about by taking some kind of action–or— if that’s not possible, recognizing that what’s wrong can’t be fixed, not right now or not by you, and letting the worry go. True, this is much easier said than done, but it also may not as difficult as you might think.

Jagged pills
You may not consciously intend to play these mind games with yourself. If it’s any consolation, it’s very common. You’re far from alone. But being mindful, embracing your network of social support, and consulting with caring people around you can help you live with intention and balance. This requires some humility. It may be hard to swallow, but you don’t know yourself half as well as you think you do.

So meditate, exercise, learn. Do nice things for yourself like making new friends, getting regular massages, and filling your life with beauty. This isn’t just a nice option–it’s key to avoiding terrible consequences if you don’t act.

The only real way to win these mind games is not to play.

Choose the good life.

 

Tom's Byline Photo Cropped

 

Tom Gunn is the blog editor and Marketing Director at The Good Life Massage. You can email him at tomgunn@gmail.com to comment or to get his help developing your brand with content marketing.

Get Out: How to Refresh Your Well Being With the Power of Nature

Get Out

When was the last time you spent more than a few minutes outdoors? If you’re like me, you prefer to stay inside, surrounded by a few nice people and your favorite things. But recent studies suggest you might be harming your mental, and possibly even your physical health by staying in too much.

And it’s not just about staying indoors, it’s about city life in general. If you’re reading this, you most likely live in a world full of electronic and mechanical noise, artificial light, metal, plastic, and pavement. But it probably wasn’t like this for your grandparents, or their grandparents.

The urban experiment
In the roughly 10,000 years of human civilization, it’s only relatively recently that a critical mass of humanity has begun living in cities, foregoing rural or nomadic life for freeways, big box stores, and high speed internet. It may seem like it’s been the way life is for most for a long time. But it’s really an experiment in human living that’s only just begun.

How’s it going for you so far?

In spite of the many benefits of living in cities, people are reporting high levels of unhappiness, malaise, and dissatisfaction. Does that mean we should sell our possessions and live in the woods? There may not be any need to go to such extremes.

Take a hike
One study showed that even minimal exposure to nature can make a difference in happiness and well-being. Short walks in the park, keeping potted plants around, or even gazing at landscape painting made a difference in the subjects. Another study showed that when potted plants were present in an office environment, overall stress was reduced, employee sick time plummeted, and productivity improved.

Consciously adding some outdoors time to your self care regime is easy, fun, and relaxing. Even if you’re out in not-the-best weather, you might be surprised how much better you feel afterwards.

Even some artificial nature is better than nothing. At The Good Life Massage, our waiting area has a pleasant waterfall and handsome potted plants, and every massage treatment room is equipped with a white noise machine, usually making the sounds of rain or ocean waves to help deepen your relaxation.

Add a little nature
The preponderance of evidence that suggests that exposure to natural settings and a general sense of well-being and happiness has been overwhelming to the psychological community. So much so that a new field of ecopsychology has arisen, in which mental health professionals are looking further into the ways our happiness, health, and relationship to nature intertwine.

In a sweeping happiness survey of American cities, some interesting patterns showed up. One of the significant factors that connected America’s happiest large cities (Seattle among them!) was proximity to natural or green spaces, along with easy access to large bodies of water. These were only a few of several factors, but it’s interesting in light of the studies about the relationship between happiness and regular exposure to nature.

So turn off the TV, leave your phone off, and get out there. Don’t let a beautiful day, or a beautiful life, go to waste.

Choose the good life.

Tom Gunn is the blog editor and marketing director for The Good Life Massage. You can hire him to help build your brand and reach your customers by emailing him at tomgunn@gmail.com.

How To Recognize and Handle Toxic Anger

Toxic Anger

Are you feeling angry? How often? Every time you drive home from work? Every time you have a conflict with a family member? Every time you read the news or scroll through social media? Understandable. Common, even.

But today I hope you’ll stop and consider whether all the anger you experience in your life is really necessary. In fact, not only might your level of anger be unnecessary, it might be making everything in your life worse.

What is anger, exactly?
We tend to think of emotions as good or bad, positive or negative. Anger is one of those feelings that’s often labeled bad or negative. Looking at feelings that way is not always useful, though. Here’s why. If someone invaded your home and started taking your things, you’d be angry, right? Is that a negative feeling? Not if it motivates you to do what you have to do to protect yourself, your family, or your property. In that case, your anger is a very good feeling for you to have.

Anger’s primary function is to protect us–to get our hormones into gear so we’re ready to put up a fight that might be necessary to our survival. Fair enough. So let’s apply a little test, shall we?

Think about the last time you were angry.

What happened?

How did you react?

How did it feel in your body to feel that way?

Most importantly:
Was your life actually in danger?

Chances are, no. If so, the anger you felt was toxic. You’re using it to hide from your feelings, deny your own vulnerability, or to run from a challenge. If so, your anger isn’t really protecting you–it’s harming you and the people around you.

What are you yelling about?
It’s often been said that anger is a secondary emotion, and to some extent, that’s true. We tend to slip from a more difficult emotion into anger because anger is simple. It’s kill or be killed! It doesn’t get much simpler than that. You may find, though, that it doesn’t exactly help you with complex problems that aren’t life or death.

Confirmation bias
Anger can also rise when you feel your grip on the world is slipping away from you. It can arise from beliefs that, when carefully examined, really make no sense, or at least don’t amount to a life and death struggle. See if these common, but silly ideas that tend to cause anger sound familiar:

“Life should be fair,” for instance. Or “this person should be able to anticipate my wants and needs!” or everyone’s favorite “They should drive exactly the way I would.”

What to do with it?
Practicing more mindfulness helps. Check in with yourself. Get curious about what you’re feeling and why. If you lash out in anger and don’t know why, ask yourself. Talk to a friend, or write about it in your journal. Are you passing over a challenging feeling you’d rather not confront, but which needs your attention?

This sounds hard, but even a toddler can do it.

Children’s Advocate and Entertainer Fred Rogers wrote a song you might remember from your own childhood, but it outlines with crystal clarity the best way to handle and subvert toxic anger.

Watch, and think about what these words mean. How could you put them to work in your own life?

Choose to live the good life.

The staff of The Good Life Massage are not psychologists, psychiatrists, or mental health professionals. This article is intended for informational and entertainment purposes only, and should not be construed in any way as professional counseling or advice. People with severe mental and emotional problems should seek help from trained professionals and physicians.

Tom Gunn is the blog editor and marketing director for The Good Life Massage. You can hire him to build your brand or enlarge your online presence by contacting him at tomgunn@gmail.com

Swim Into The Wave: How Hiding From Your Emotions Can Destroy You

Swim Into The Wave

For experienced ocean swimmers, waves are just part of the challenge. So it is with life. Waves of emotions can throw us for a loop disorient us, and confuse us before we even have time to process what we’re going through. Unfortunately, our cultural biases have taught us to handle our feelings in exactly the wrong way.

Quick fix
What do you do when you’re hungry? Grab a bite (whether it’s nutritious or not). What do you do when you have a headache or some other kind of pain? Pop a pill. The tendency to want to avoid pain and discomfort is not only understandable, it’s completely natural. But it’s not always the best way to handle things, particularly your feelings.

What’s the quick fix for bad feelings? Take your pick! Food. TV. Pornography. Alcohol. Drugs. Everyone seems to have a favorite. You may feel good temporarily, but put off your self care indefinitely and you’re in for a world of hurt.

Here there be dragons
Think you have total contol over your feelings? Think again. You can control how you respond to what you’re feeling to some extent. But the stronger the feeling is, the more difficult it is to control your response in a given moment. You may soon find that you’re repsonses to things are way out of proportion and make no sense. This is often because of emotional problems you’re refusing to address properly.

So, guess what happens when you try to ignore, cover-up, or otherwise run from what you’re feeling? It gets strong. Your feelings are like a monster that feeds on your resistance. The more you ignore it or deny it’s there, the bigger it gets.

It’s like the dragon in this excellent children’s story:

The more the child bought into the mom’s argument that the dragon didn’t exist, the bigger it got. Before long, it was carrying their whole lives away from them.

Keep going
Winston Churchill said “If you’re going through Hell, keep going.” The only way out of an unpleasant feeling is through it. This is true for even serious emotional trauma and grief. Mental health professionals are trained in guiding their clients and patients through the process of feeling and re-living their trauma in the most vivid and detailed way possible. It’s not pleasant at all. But neither is surgery.

Even a massage, when used for treatment, can be very uncomfortable. There seems to be a principle at work that dictates that in order to overcome physical or emotional pain and to heal, one must feel it completely.

Ride into the wave, or risk drowning in it.

Tom Gunn is the marketing director and blog editor for The Good Life Massage. You can hire him to assist with your brand development and marketing my emailing him at tomgunn@gmail.com

Talking Through It: Conversation Do’s and Don’ts for Massage

Talking Through It

Your massage is your own, so of course you have some latitude in customizing your experience. Massage therapy is one of those self-care treatments comparable to getting your hair done: you’re working with someone one-on-one in a vulnerable position. Not only are you in close physical proximity to your massage therapist, you’re undressed in a private room getting touched by them–it doesn’t get more vulnerable than that!

Naturally, a relationship of trust will develop between you and your therapist. Not only do we expect this, it’s encouraged! As your therapist gets to know your body’s unique needs and quirks, they can provide better massage with regular treatments. That personal trust and connection can play a vital role in the healing process.

Having said this, it’s important to understand that there are boundaries and limitations to that relationship, and that the conversation shared in a massage setting isn’t exempt from these.

What can I say?
Nothing, if you choose! As a rule, your therapist will probably read your social cues. If you seem game to talk, they may engage you and start a chat while they work on you. If you don’t initiate a conversation, they’ll leave you to enjoy the massage in a peaceful, quiet setting.

You can also feel free to give your massage therapist feedback. Phrases like “That’s too deep!” or “Can you ease up on the pressure there?” or “That stroke is kind of chafing right there.” are all appropriate ways to help guide your therapist and make your massage experience as good as it can be.

If you want to talk, that’s fine, but keep it light. Try to avoid heavy or potentially offensive topics. Would you discuss what you’re about to say with a stranger on the bus? If not, maybe reconsider your choice of topic.

If you’d like to talk and get to know your therapist over several sessions, that’s great. Just keep a few things in mind:

Massage therapist, not “Therapist”
It’s common for people come in for massage who are under serious stress. But the scope of massage therapy is only to address the physical component of healing and stress relief. The mental and psychological components should be handled by trained mental health professionals. You may develop a strong rapport with your massage therapist, but that doesn’t mean they have the training or skill to talk you through your stresses and emotional difficulties.

You wouldn’t expect a licensed family therapist or psychologist to give you a massage, would you? Of course not. The difference there is that those professionals don’t touch you, except to maybe shake your hand. A massage, however, can include a great deal of talking, and even emotional release. Clients under a great deal of stress have even been known to sob through their massage as painful emotions are released along with the muscle tension. But that doesn’t mean your massage therapist can or should become your therapist. Bring your mental health problems to a mental health professional.

Don’t ask for a date, for heaven’s sake
There’s nothing wrong with finding your massage therapist attractive, and the relatively intimate setting of touch therapy might unintentionally inspire romantic or sexual thoughts. But please: keep those thoughts and feelings to yourself during the massage.

Your massage therapist is there to help, and it’s completely inappropriate to flirt, touch them back, hold their hand, ask for dates, or try to initiate a romantic relationship with them. By the same token, your massage therapist has no business making romantic or sexual advances of any kind. In fact, such behavior at The Good Life Massage is grounds for termination.

Even if the advance would be innocent or welcome under different circumstances, it’s completely inappropriate during a massage. Besides, it makes the session far more uncomfortable and awkward. If you find that you’re developing romantic feelings for your massage therapist, consider getting your massage from someone else from now on. After all, we have several therapists to choose from.

We won’t “take sides”
As people start talking, it can be natural to progressively get more personal. You might even feel comfortable enough to talk about personal relationships or conflicts. This is totally understandable. We all need to vent sometimes. But don’t expect your massage therapist to “take your side” or commiserate with you like a personal friend might. They might say “It sounds like you and your partner have some things to work out. I hope that works out okay,” or something equally neutral. We’ll help you release the physical tension from your whatever personal drama is impacting your life, but it’s not our place to join you in dwelling on it.

So, yes, go ahead and chat! Or don’t! But understand that your massage is a professional exchange. Yes, it’s a intimate, even a little personal, but within certain limits that are worth keeping in mind.

Book your next massage now.

Tom Gunn is the marketing director and the blog editor for The Good Life Massage. You can hire him to assist you with content marketing, social media, and logo/brand development by contacting him at tomgunn@gmail.com