I learned an important lesson a long time ago, in one of those church basements I’ve grown to know and love in my 12-step career. It was a critical piece of learning for me, because without it I was very stuck. Here it is:
Right action will lead you to right thinking a whole lot faster than right thinking will lead you to right action.
This was the exact teaching I needed to get my transformation started.
I didn’t know I could be a loving person. I didn’t know I had it in me to transcend that baggage I was carrying around: the grief, the regret, the disappointment…
But I got it that I could pretend. I could kinda trick myself into being a better person by doing better things. I glommed onto this “Acting as if” tool right away, and it may have saved my life.
It was not a requirement for me to believe in my own loving heart in order for me to write a gratitude list. It was not a requirement for me to know that I am a good person in order for me to do something for someone else.
And I did. When I began writing 15-item gratitude lists every single day, when I pulled things for which I could be grateful out of me, despite my negativity, a space opened up inside me, a softening around the crust of my heart.
When I began to do things for others, asked and unasked, I could actually feel new pathways being formed, pathways to and from a loving space.
Try this, it can (it will!) change your life.
- For the rest of this month, write a gratitude list. Yes, the big one, with 15 gratitudes. Start each line with “I am grateful for…” and write 15.
- Also, for the rest of this month, do something for someone else Every.Single.Day. When someone cuts you off on the freeway, blow them a kiss. Bring some food or blankets to the homeless if you have any nearby. Smile at the person ahead of you in the express lane at the market who has more than 15 items in her basket. Pay the toll for the car behind you. Tip more than usual at a restaurant.
I want to hear how this experiment goes for you. Let me know in the comments how it feels to open your heart through your actions!
But that’s not all. Remember, I said it goes both ways.
I used to be very absolutist about this, and say to my clients and friends and loved ones that “You can’t think your way out of this.”
I was wrong.
It’s a basic tenet of spiritual neuroscience and it’s huge.
In any and every given moment, just the fact that you can be aware of your thoughts gives you the power to change them. I have learned this powerful lesson, that in any moment, I can stop, put my hand on my heart, drop out of my head, and ask “Is there room for love, even here?” It’s a game changer.
- When the phone rings and my first thought is that the call is going to be difficult, or disappointing, or some kind of bad news, I can let the ringing continue — I can even let the call go to voicemail! — while I take a breath and call in love.
- When a call is actually difficult, or disappointing, I can, in an internal whisper, ask that powerful question — Is there room for love, even here? — which immediately allows me to drop any idea of being adversarial and instead allows me to stand shoulder to shoulder with whomever I’m talking to and look at the problem with them.
- When I’m face-to-face with someone who is out of balance, and being some kind of difficult, I can call in love, wrap myself in its safety, and breathe into the next moment from my heart.
Try it! Try that momentary pause, with your hand on your heart (or mentally if you’re in a face-to-face situation), and ask “Is there room for love, even here?” This allows for so much opening, I can’t wait to hear from you how it goes. Talk to me in the comments.
Some simple things you can do to make your access to changing your thoughts easier.
This change-your-thinking, change-everything may not come easily to you.
If you have baggage (and who doesn’t?) it probably won’t. But you can improve your odds!
I have seen that when wholesome, towards-joy, loving actions are a part of your daily life, the ability to change your thinking comes easier. Here’s a list of my favorite ways to build that muscle.
- Meditate daily
- Express gratitude
- Be generous, do things for others without being asked
- Sing your favorite songs
- Have an orgasm
- Get in touch with someone and tell her or him how much they mean to you
Do you have these actions and practices in your daily life? Do they help you achieve the loving balance you crave? What else is in your bag of tricks? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.