Let’s face it: HAPPINESS IS SCARY.
To quote the great-amazing-inspiring Shame Researcher, Brene Brown, “I believe the most terrifying human experience is joy. It’s as if we believe that by truly feeling happiness, we’re setting ourselves up for a sucker punch.”
Have you ever felt this way?
I have. More than I’d like to admit.
So when I decided to change my messaging from “Meditation Teacher & Life Coach,” to “Happiness Trainer,” I knew I had to tackle the Happiness-Monster head-on for my Tribe.
That starts with understanding how our brain works AROUND Happiness.
Every choice we make, from the moment we wake up in the morning, is motivated by Happiness. If our brain believes that this choice will bring us greater Happiness, that is what will choose. This choice is *not* motivated by our Highest-Self, rather the “highest-self-I-have-access-to-right-now.”
Ever had that extra cookie or glass of Vino at the end of the day, and it was against that morning’s desire to “go keto for real, TODAY!!”
Yep. It’s Happiness-Searching from your “highest-self-I-have-access-to-right-now” -Self.
When we wake up in the morning and decide “today is the day!” We have a lot of Highest-Self decision making power. This gets drained through the day. So, by the end of it, we’re in Decision-Fatigue. Decision-Fatigue is one of the ways our Automatic-Self sneaks back in.
The other way it takes back the driver’s seat is through our fight-or-flight response. Our brain doesn’t know the difference between actual danger and perceived danger, so any time it perceives danger through the day, we use up our energy and are less able to approach life from our Highest-Self.
Let’s call this energy: Adaptation Energy, and let’s use a Well as our metaphor.
Let’s say that you have a personal Well of water (Adaptation Energy) each day. With every decision you make, you give away water consciously. A big decision equals more water than smaller ones.
On top of this, you have a subconscious mind constantly scanning your environment for danger. This is like cracks in the Well, syphoning off your water faster than it can regenerate.
As you go through the day, you have less and less water to give away, and by the end of the day it’s gone. Let’s also say that your access to your Highest-Self is really only good until you’re at 75% full. From there, our Automatic-Self begins to take over more and more.
This is, of course, assuming you woke up with a full Well to begin with! If you’re lacking sleep, in a period of your life with unusually high-demands, or getting sick…sorry sista! Your Well ain’t starting off full!
Thus, we end up in an ever-repeating-known of KNOWING what we WANT to do, FAILING at it, and getting FRUSTRATED or feeling GUILTY, asking “why can’t I just CHANGE?!”
This is the “Unhappiness Cycle.” Not only does it put Happiness on the other side of something physical- like losing the weight, or finally starting that book of poems you want to write, or getting that fat-raise, BUT it also creates internal struggle and strife, which only drains us of MORE energy that could be of so much better use somewhere else!!!
So now that we’ve explored how our brain works AROUND Happiness, what can we do to begin achieving more Happiness?
Here are some tactics I teach my clients. Generally we start super small, so it feels like it’s so stupid-easy, how could I *not* do it? Over time, the Happiness-Muscle gets stronger- it’s like going to the gym- the consistency is what counts.
Eventually, your boundaries around how you Cultivate Your Happy become non-negotiable because they are results-driven. You see how much better you are showing up in life, so you’re more likely to stick to it.
1. Non-Negotiable Self-Care. Often, as women with a #ladyboss life, a Family, and, you know, Dreams(!), we get so caught up in giving-giving-giving that we forget to put on our own oxygen mask first. I work with my clients to start small, and expand outwards as they and their families get used to Mom taking a little more time for herself.
I love to start with a daily meditation practice in the style of what is commonly referred to as “Vedic Meditation,” (meaning from the Vedas) because it gives you the most “bang-for-your-meditation-time-buck.” The results, such as: more energy, focus, patience, resilience, tend to show up almost right away. I teach this practice in a four-day (90m/day) foundational course once-per-month in Chicago
To remove any barriers of entry, however, I recommend starting with the book “Stress Less, Accomplish More,” by my teacher, Emily Fletcher, which has a lot of great science behind how meditation works, and gives an easy introductory technique. Then, when you’re ready to dive deeper, call me!
Why Meditation? It begins to remove the barrier of putting Happiness outside of ourselves. When we meditate, we encourage the body to produce bliss chemicals. As you find you are fulfilled within, everything outside of you becomes a Rad Bonus! –rather than being a desperate reach for the Happy Juice.
2. Make a “Highest Self” List. List 3-5 activities that have *no* barrier of entry and can be done in 10-15 minutes. This might be: reading, taking a walk, having a dance party for 1 to your favorite Backstreet Boys song…..(I know I’m not the only one!) and keep it handy. When you get home at the end of the day and you’re feeling that glass of Vino or cookie, do one of these activities FIRST. Then, if you still want your thing, have your thing.
This gives your highest-self a chance to permeate the automatic-self when you’ve reached the end of your adaptation energy, and starts a pattern-interrupt process for habit-change.
3. Decide, and then BE DONE. For working days: decide, the morning of, or the night before, what constitutes your day’s work. Be realistic. I like to break it down into 2 non-negotiable work tasks and 2 “it’d be great to get this done,” tasks.
Aside from daily emails, when these 2-4 larger tasks are done, YOU are done. If you don’t get to your secondary ones, put them on the top of the list for the next day, or recognize they may not be that important and put them on the “remember to do next week,” pile.
Secondarily, choose a time, after which, your emails are done for the day. Yes, perhaps you have a project deadline you have to check in on later, but make a quick calendar appointment that you’re only going into your email at X-time, for X-amount of time for that one project. Do NOT get sucked in.
For at-home tasks, like laundry, try to do 1 per work day, to avoid a pile-up on your days off. See what tasks are negotiable and can be handed off to a Partner, Kiddo, Nanny, Virtual Assistant, etc.
For non-work days, and yes – even as entrepreneurs we need those – choose 1-2 tasks MAX to get done. Don’t try to spend your one day off cleaning the house, doing laundry, going to the grocery store, AND AND AND…..this just leads directly to burnout.
Overall, aim to have one day per week that is totally free of scheduled obligations– I know it’s hard with kids and all their various activities, so even if it starts with an hour a week and expands out, it’s a start.
The most important takeaway in this section is that we don’t need to be *constantly* working, tasking, etc. We are instead, actively creating time to spend with our loved ones, with ourselves, and with activities that bring us joy.
If you’re feeling daunted by all the info above, just pick one to start. Schedule some time to start it later today, or first thing tomorrow. The Happiness Muscle isn’t strong yet, so don’t try to get it perfect, just get it going.
I offer you, finally, a 30-day Happiness Challenge. Pick one of the above tactics and diligently practice it for 30 days. On Day 1, write a quick email to yourself (and feel free to cc’ me at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can be on this journey together!) about WHY you’re starting this new habit. What do you want to see change in the next 30 days?
On Day 30, check back in on that note and see what has shifted for you- if you cc’d me on it, you’ll be hearing from me, too!
Content provided by Women Belong member Kelsey Mathes