Category Archives: mind hacks

How do you love yourself?

Last night I was feeling kind of insecure about mistakes I’d made earlier in the day, about times when I was not my best. My mind went to the old familiar place of shame and fear that I am not good enough. Then I went to the next habitual place of “what can I do to be better?”

I think I set a lot of challenges for myself, like Nanowrimo, or this month’s, “exercise everyday for 60 min”, for not totally healthy reasons. I think I am often trying to better myself as opposed to loving myself. And maybe, probably, those two things don’t have to be opposed. But for me, loving myself hardly ever enters into my mind, or my life. I am not sure I even know how to love who I am, without the constant striving. I have a really hard time forgiving myself for not being better.

But that is not how I treat people that I love. I love my husband, my daughter, my friends, for every little part of them. They don’t have to be perfect, or better than they are. I love the whole package.

So, how do I turn even a fraction of that love towards myself? Last night, in my quasi-dream state I thought I might make it into a challenge (of course I did), something like “Try loving myself for 30 days.” Heh.

I am really not sure how to do that. I have some vague ideas about being attentive to what I am feeling when I am eating, drinking, walking, reading, etc, to see if I like how I am feeling, as well as notice my self-talk and try to develop a more loving “inner voice.”

I don’t know. I feel like I have come a long way in the last few years. Therapy and avoiding situations that reenforced a negative self-concept have really really helped. But there are so many layers to this onion. I need to keep working at it.

So, how do you love yourself? Do you have any insight? Practical, spiritual, psychological? Cause I would like to feel better about not being better.

[cross posted from my blog]

Gratitude x 3

You’ve heard from Tabby and Mina on Gratitude this week, both the high-mined and the peachy. I have a little bit to say about gratitude, and a lot to say about joy.

Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, said “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”

For me, autumn is just full of joy. I feel it just watching a leaf slowly float down from the tree. Does that sound sappy(pun not intended) well, too bad. That really is how I feel.

I think we need to widen our definitions of joy. So, when we seek it, we will find it. Can we find joy in the brilliantly colored leaf on the sidewalk? In crisp, cool wind that gives us an excuse to wear our favorite scarves? In a beautiful crafted sentence found in a new book? In the creativity and cleverness of others? In a hot cup of dark coffee? In our kids who constantly challenge and amaze us? In the warmth of our partner’s hand on a cold walk?

To be joyful is to have your eyes open for the little details that give meaning to the moment. Gratitude is recognizing that moment in your heart.

Monday Mind Hack: Some Grudging Gratitude

I was slow finishing this post, so now my co-blogger has not only beat me to the punch but also come off as far more high-minded than I. Well, that’s only fair, as she is far more high-minded than I am.

Gratitude can be a great mood-altering substance: change your perspective and feel thankful for what you do have instead of dwelling on what you don’t. When you develop the habit, it’s easy to feel suddenly grateful for everyday things like a game of cards with your kids, a pizza, or a perfect peach. (OK, perfect peach is not an everyday thing, but you see what I mean.) You can go all “Double Rainbow, All the Way!” without the acid and the resultant letdown.

I don’t really have trouble feeling grateful. I often go to sleep at night feeling grateful for my bed, knowing that many people don’t cuddle under fluffy blankets on flannel sheets and a soft but supportive mattress. The good fortune involved in such a happy circumstance does not escape me, even after something like 15,000 nights of doing the same over the course of my life (I subtracted a few hundred nights for summers at Girl Scout Camp and the last year of my futon.)

I just don’t like being told to be grateful. Consider: it always happens when you are in conflict, or when someone is telling you to STFU.

“Mom, my shoes are too small and I’m starting to lose circulation from my mid-calf on down.” “Just be grateful you have shoes!”

“Cleaning coffeeshop toilets feels like such a waste of my Master’s degree.” “Just be grateful you have a job.”

If you’re on Facebook, you know that November is the month when your friends begin listing the things they are grateful for in their status updates, kind of like February is the month when NPR starts featuring blues musicians. (Kidding! I love NPR—some of my best one-sided friendships are with NPR hosts.)

I would by no means suspend any pleasure of theirs, and I enjoy the little peek into the thoughts and feelings of my friends. (I admit, I am one who does not mind reading what people had for breakfast as their status updates; I am weirdly voyeuristic curious that way.)

Reading them every day for two weeks now has me edgy, in that pouty “don’t tell me what to do” way triggered by the “just be grateful you aren’t a shoeless hobo” superego in my head. But I know it’s good for me, so here goes, and now I’ll be all caught up.

1. Online friends: I talked to one of my first online friends to go “IRL” with me on the phone yesterday. She reminded me how accessible joy can be when you’re receptive and curious, which made it a lot easier to make the rest of this list.

2. My gas stove, which merrily spits fire if I get too wild in the kitchen, making me feel temporarily like a real restaurant chef.

3. Chocolate cookies from Rustica, which are truly better than you can imagine. You may think you have had a cookie just like this, but if you haven’t been to Rustica, you have not.

4. Peaches: obvious. Best. Food. Ever.

5. The musicians in my family, because letting my music education go was one of the hardest things I ever did, and now it’s all right back in my house again.

6. My southern roots, which I embrace by making grits dressing and banana cream pie and creamed greens and sweet tea and biscuits and gravy. And peaches, obviously.

7. Grad school, where I met my people. I don’t see many of my people anymore, but grad school was the first place where it seemed I might actually have a people. Had a best friend who just Got Me. And got a husband too.

8. Coffee. My other best friend.

9. Learning to knit, which makes me feel competent in a way that a PhD and 500+ published encyclopedia entries do not. Turning a heel on a sock makes me feel like a magician. Also, knitting means always having an excuse to fall out of a conversation.

10. Cocktails: my favorite part of having cocktails is when someone else makes it and hands it to me. We like to drink something we call Tuccis, after Stanley Tucci, and they bear a strong resemblance to the Parisian Cocktail.

11. MPR, my constant kitchen and car companion.

12. Computers, without which I could not have my job, could not stay home in my little hidey hole office, could not have those Facebook friends.

13. My light box, which keeps me marginally sane.

14. My bed, where in the encroaching cold of November I burrow down under several blankets and still try to steal body heat from my beloved, who is—thankfully—only mildly grumpy about that.

Monday Muppet Hack — Gonzo Love

I have multiple posts in the pipeline, but also deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. Nothing is getting finished that isn’t followed up by a paycheck. (Well, except beers. There were a lot of beer bottles on the kitchen counter Sunday night. So far no one is paying me to drink beer.)

But this is good stuff, from the people at Wired, who are always full of good stuff:

Take on a new challenge and the excitement of tackling it will rub off on your relationship. “That exhilarating feeling may come from another source, but it’s still associated with your partner,” says Aron, who theorizes this happens because of brain chemistry. “When people fall in love, they get activation in the dopamine system,” he says. Novel or exciting pursuits also stimulate the brain to pump out more dopamine. Aron theorizes that even playing videogames together may draw a couple closer.

I love this advice, which I think is good advice for falling in love with your partner again as well as falling in love with your work or your life. As a workaholic I too easily fall into ruts, but I also love novelty and miss it greatly. I am the person who will order the pasta with peaches and salami, or the cardamom and black pepper ice cream (admit it, that sounds delicious). I love cover songs with weirdly inappropriate singers and shoes and purses that don’t match anything.

The other thing that makes this advice awesome is that it is offered alongside a picture of Gonzo and one of his chickens rockclimbing. I am not sure what species Gonzo is so we’re going to assume that when he’s rekindling the excitement in his avian relationship it is fully and consensually reciprocated. (Who am I to judge, apparently I love everything that isn’t supposed to go together.)

The whole article is Muppetized advice: If you don’t feel like rekindling your relationship, Hippie Janice is a cautionary example for tips on untangling your earbuds, and Sam the Eagle demonstrates eating spaghetti.

And if you don’t like Muppets, well, the grumpy old guys are there complaining too.

Thanks to the revived Camp Creek Blog (a homeschooling blog) for pointing this out.

Monday Mind Hack — Perspective

I try hard not to fall back on the old cliché “It could be worse” when trying to console someone or boost morale. “It could be worse” is almost always true, and yet it is so far from comforting it almost feels like scolding.

“Quit yer bitchin'” more like. Not helpful. “There’s a first-world problem,” someone says when you’ve lost one too many rounds with the technology in your life. Great: now I can feel frustrated, overwhelmed and ashamed of what a yuppie douchebag I’ve turned out to be. Thanks for that.

So when someone posted an article on Facebook with the one-word comment “perspective” I was hesitant to read it. Plus it’s called “Notes from a Dragon Mom,” which made me think that it was related to that whole “Tiger Mom” thing, and I’m sure we can agree no one needs to go there again.

But I didn’t want to leave my desk chair and go face the onerous task of grinding the morning coffee beans (“There’s a first-world problem”), so I read it anyway.

Wow. Perspective. Read It. Really.

The author, Emily Rapp, writes movingly about parenting a terminally ill child:

Ronan won’t prosper or succeed in the way we have come to understand this term in our culture; he will never walk or say “Mama,” and I will never be a tiger mom. The mothers and fathers of terminally ill children are something else entirely. Our goals are simple and terrible: to help our children live with minimal discomfort and maximum dignity. We will not launch our children into a bright and promising future, but see them into early graves. We will prepare to lose them and then, impossibly, to live on after that gutting loss. This requires a new ferocity, a new way of thinking, a new animal. We are dragon parents: fierce and loyal and loving as hell. Our experiences have taught us how to parent for the here and now, for the sake of parenting, for the humanity implicit in the act itself, though this runs counter to traditional wisdom and advice.

Her point isn’t that those of us with healthy children should feel guilty for that unearned grace or foolish for having dreams for the future, but that parenting—living—is ultimately a “here and now” experience.

The truth is that healthy children and healthy parents die unexpectedly, as our family learned personally and painfully this summer when we lost 3 friends in a car accident. And there are less dramatic changes and surprises: a career ends abruptly, lifelong friends move away, a mental illness appears out of nowhere and settles in to stay. It now takes me two hands to count up the number of friends—mostly mothers 40 and under—diagnosed with breast cancer in the last two years. What Rapp writes about parenting is true for all the plans we make: “none of it is forever.”

Gratitude for not having any of those problems is great, but it’s still a short-term perspective. The long view, ironically, reveals that regardless of whether we’re healthy or sick, successful or at sea, today is really all there is. The only way we can be sure that we’ll achieve the desired consequences of our actions is to do them “for the humanity implicit in the act itself.”

If I set that as the standard for what I put on my agenda today, what stays? What goes? And what do I need to add to make this day worth doing, just for the sake of doing it? If I set that as the standard for how I perform the day’s necessary but ordinary tasks, would I do them differently?

Musical Mind Hacks Monday — 4 Bands to Change Your Mood

Most everyone loves a little music therapy, and now we’re learning something about why. First, there’s something about the anticipation/fulfillment pattern of music. This article (Jonah Lehrer in his Wired column) cites evidence from classical music that dances around the tonic (the I chord) but doesn’t quite hit it, building anticipation for the final climax enjoyably. If you listen to rock or pop music you hear something very similar: guitarists leaning on the 7th, creating a near frenzy of desire for resolution.

I do love instrumental music, but when I really need music therapy I like to sing along and really belt it out. Maybe it’s like doing affirmations: you really need to say these things out loud and not just add them to the noise in your head. And check this out:

Scientists have researched what variables in a song inspire people to sing along in public, the Daily Record reports. Experts found that the impromptu urge to sing along to a song can be credited to four different elements.

These are a long and detailed musical phrase, multiple pitch changes in a song’s hook, the song being led by a male vocalist and the male vocal being in a higher key.

It’s not on my list of top mood lifters, but yeah, I’ll sing along to their catchiest song: Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” (But if you really need a mood lift immediately, go now and watch the Google doodle of “Don’t stop me now.”)

I have my own favorites, many of which fit the qualities researchers found, plus have some personal resonance and — if you ask me — empirical awesomeness that make them go-to songs for me when I need an attitude adjustment.

Stevie Wonder
OK, yes, he is not a band — technically. He’s just such a fantastic musician that he counts as a whole band and then some. And if you want songs with multiple pitch changes—that come out sounding like the most obvious, simple melodies no matter how complex—Stevie is your man. Stevie writes some great love songs: I won’t tell you about the mushy night when husband-to-be and I sat on the sofa and sang Stevie songs to each other, because that is just too much. Or that his brother sang “If It’s Magic” while his brother-in-law played the harp at our wedding: beautiful. Then there was the time we saw him live on New Year’s Eve in Detroit . . .

Love songs aside, though, Stevie is the ultimate “movin’ in the positive” (“Master Blaster”) music. Before all that hearts and flowers stuff, I remember the summer after I graduated from college: I spent the first day crying and crying (and listening to David Bowie, “Changes”) because I felt so lost. Then I picked up the Musiquarium compilation albums and spent the next three months listening to “Boogie on Reggae Woman” nonstop, and I was healed. It’s a sing along, it’s a dance along, it’s irresistible:

Though the very best Stevie sing along could be this one, “As.” Songs in the Key of Life should be handed to every depression patient. Or maybe just to everybody.

Dixie Chicks
They aren’t men, but they do sing in that easy pop tenor range. The Dixie Chicks were part of an experiment for me, years ago, to try things that other people might be critical of. My brainstorm: listen to country music. I didn’t really like the sound of Natalie Maines’ voice at first, but I couldn’t deny that singing along to “Goodbye Earl” and “Sin Wagon” was a lot of fun. When they came out with Taking the Long Way in 2006 I was primed to love it: they had already won me over with their bluegrass—rather than contemporary country pop— sound, and this album was their middle finger to everyone who had gone after them, burning records and sending death threats, after they dared criticize the president during a concert. (Wow, that incident sounds even weirder 10 years later.) Taking the Long Way is a whole album that responds to “Shut Up and Sing” with “I’ll sing, but no one tells me to shut up,” and that first song, “The Long Way Around,” is pretty much the theme song for any kid who grew up in a small town that always fit too tight.

After that album I went back and got Home, their first really big album. All the songs sound different and more defiant after their fall from country music grace, especially “Truth No. 2” (written by the amazing Patty Griffin). Singing along with the Chicks on that one always makes me want to go storm the Bastille, or at least keep plugging along a few more days.

Sly and the Family Stone

Sly is so funky—and at times so dangerous—that it’s easy to miss the fact that half his hits are self-help: “Everybody is a Star,” “Everyday People,” “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” “You Can Make It If You Try.” I usually prefer to listen to albums rather than greatest hits compilations, especially for music in the heyday of long-play albums, but in this case the greatest hits album is like mainlining positivity. When I put this album on now I see myself in our old one-bedroom apartment, pregnant and trying to get a dissertation written before having the baby, following a spectacularly disastrous oral exam. Could I really make it if I tried? Singing these songs over and over again, I started to think I could. Maybe the greatest of them all, fit for nearly ever occasion: “Stand.”

I can’t resist linking to the Pee Wee Herman medley, which is so worth a click through. (Embedding is disabled on the video.)

U2
Like many children of the 80s, I found the soundtrack of my life on U2 albums, from War to the upcoming 20th anniversary commemoration of Achtung, Baby. I doodled lyrics from “40” during class in high school. When the movie Rattle and Hum came out I thought my teenage self might die from love of each individual member of the band. I sat in my bedroom and repeatedly listened to “One” and “With or Without You” while I pined for the boy who later became my husband. Lately I’ve had All That You Can’t Leave Behind in the kitchen CD player, which has a nice long stretch of songs that help me persist through a persistent funk: “Beautiful Day,” “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” “Elevation,” and “Walk On.” All of it says: keep going, drop your baggage, look around and enjoy this day, and if things suck now it won’t last. Nothing new, perhaps, but when you sing it out to the chickpeas and rice while making dinner it’s mighty uplifting stuff.

(Forgive the Tomb Raider video, please! In fact, forgive all the videos. If I could post audio only I would.)

When I was younger, my list of music therapy songs might have been more of the “Where Will I Find Love?” variety, but this list is squarely in “Love your life and don’t look back” category.

What are your go-to songs for turning your mood or your day around? Send us a guest blog post (mina dot 40questions at gmail dot com) or send a link to your own blog—or just put ’em in the comments.

Whose Time Is It Anyway?, or, Advanced Mind Hacking

One of my favorite little books on meditation, mindfulness, and all that jazz is the classic “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh.

It opens with the story of a father who never has time for himself. Maybe this will sound familiar: housework to do, career stuff, children demanding time in so many ways. Even a child’s wish to play with a parent is just one more thing that must be addressed before getting “Me Time.”

Eventually, however, the father figures out a secret to getting limitless time for himself: he counts it all as his time. By bringing all of himself to the activity at hand—bathing the baby, helping with a math problem, washing the dishes—all of that time is his. Brilliant and beautiful: I love this kind of reframing.

As the gentle Thai monk points out in the next chapter, however, chances are quite good that the father doesn’t remember to bring all of himself to all of his activities, all of them time. One reason for that, he suggests, is that we all need practice and training in mindfulness, so that our habits support us rather than carry us away from that goal of limitless time.

But I know something the monk doesn’t, at least not as lived experience. Or maybe he is just too kind and gentle to point this out: sometimes, living on someone else’s time is easier. A mom can spend a full day living on family time: getting kids up and ready for the day’s activities, driving, shopping, cooking, mediating arguments, taking care of bedtime, planning for tomorrow. Even in 2011, you get Good Mom Points for spending a day this way. You’re busy, so you must be important, and you put your desires last, if you can even remember what they are.

It can be exhausting, true, but the dirty little secret is, you spare yourself the labor of choosing how to use your time, and so you absolve yourself of the responsibility of what happens with it. Dissatisfied with how the day went? Well, what could you do—you were never on your own time.

Even in a relatively healthy family, it’s not unusual to see each individual’s time get tangled together with everyone else’s. Kids rely on mom to be their engine, waiting for her reminders to get ready for their own activities. Dad counts on mom for maintaining social connections and organizing what happens around the house. Mom plans vacations and weekends around what the rest of the family would enjoy. There’s nothing malicious or insidious about this state of affairs: part of it is training kids, part of it is efficient division of labor, part of it is the joy of making other people happy. Still, it’s the rare family woman who doesn’t find herself wondering, like the father in the story, where her “Me Time” has gone and—much more challenging—what she would with do if she ever found it.

This is a mind hack Triple Salchow: be fully present in the endless loop of household activities, acknowledge the choices that you’re making, and acknowledge your own desires. You gotta get the first part right, or you won’t be set up to land it at the end.

I trip on all of these sometimes, but I’m worst at the last one. I admit it: sometimes I will do something for the kids or for my husband because it just feels too hard to think of what to do for myself. My birthday’s coming up this week, though, so I’m going to work on sticking the jump at least once, as a gift to myself.

Mind Hack Monday (on Tuesday)—What’s a Mind Hack?

Many years ago I worked as a copyeditor for a psychology journal, an enterprise that was fascinating and tedious in direct proportion to the number of tables in each article.

I was struck by an article about cortisol levels in people who had undergone various kinds of severe stress or trauma. The people in the study had permanently elevated cortisol levels; whatever stressor had lead to the release of the cortisol hormone had occurred so much or so severely that it effectively stuck the body in the on position. In plainer English, the adrenaline rush of the fight-or-flight response we all have when faced by a crisis had become permanent condition for these people.

This article depressed me profoundly, because not only did I see myself in those people, but I saw the possibility that I would Never Feel Better. My Stress Hormone Release Valve (note: not scientific terminology) had broken and would now stay broken, maybe forever.

Not too long after that I took up the practice of meditation. Honestly, I was kind of desperate to feel better: anti-depressants weren’t common then, and talk therapy—the kind where you review all your grievances against your parents and the bullies in school and whoever else might have wronged you—had gotten stale and repetitive for me. (Nothing against therapy; I’ve had great therapists since then.) I would have tried anything, and while I was trying the stress-relieving qualities of a loaf of banana chocolate-chip bread at the bakery I saw a sign for a meditation class.

Truly it changed and saved my life, and now we are learning why. Scientists have begun studying the effects of meditation on Tibetan lamas and casual practitioners, and they are finding that meditation can change the way the brain works—including long-term cortisol levels!—for the better. We’re also learning that brains are more plastic than we think and that cognitive decline can be slowed or possibly (in some cases) even reversed.

Some people call this “Mind Hacking,” a term that reflects a kind of cheeky optimism about the possibility of reprogramming our thinking—and maybe even the physical processes underneath it—by hacking into our brains like a programmer rewriting less-than-functional software.

Meditation is one example of a powerful mind hack, but I like to think of a mind hack as anything that reframes my thinking in a way that breaks some previously written loop and starts me in a new direction. A great metaphor, analogy, or question can be a deceptively effective mind hack. Sometimes it’s just the right advice, permission, or idea at the right time.

I think all three of us are fans of a good mind hack, and between us we should have at least one to share each Monday, like AM’s post this Monday about letting go of “the idea that They need you and that the world won’t be right” if you take time off from your responsibilities and schedules.

So true, which is why I am writing this piece about mind hacks on Tuesday, when I wanted to have it done on Monday. 😉

Play along with us and share any good mind hacks you know, too. We’d love to feature your idea, book suggestion, inspirational quotation, or any other trick to keep our minds agile, positive, and healthy.

Mind Hack Monday – At least I’m not in Borneo

I’m trying to stay positive, to look on the bright side of life, live with gratitude, yaddda, yadda, yadda.
We moved from the Midwest to a quaint neighborhood in NE Philly last Thursday. Since then, my positive attitude is being crushed under 47,000,000 cardboard boxes and the myriad of “necessities” we need to buy that are draining my bank account and my spirit to live.

Every time something annoying happens — like we show up to a basement that flooded during Irene and is now so humid that I can feel mildew growing on my skin when I even step down there — I remind myself that some people don’t even have basements. When I find out what a dehumidifier costs, I remind myself that some people live in a rainforest in Borneo, and their shit’s always soggy. When I find out our new refrigerator wont be delivered for another week, I remind myself of all the times I wished I didn’t have to cook dinner and could just go out to eat.

We really did move to a lovely place. Last night we were saying that it reminds us of a little European village, but everyone speaks English, and instead of going back to a hotel or bed and breakfast we go back to our home with all our stuff.  ALL our stuff. . . Jeez, we have a lot of stuff, and I already gave away a small Bornean village worth of stuff before we moved here.

Another thing that is wearing me down is plain and simple bodily exhaustion. This house has four floors counting the basement, and today we have been lugging boxes out of the rainforest below, up forty steps, to the hot but dry attic. Since Friday it has been more of the same. I’m celebrating Labor Day but only ironically. I can’t take a day off either because. . . well, because clutter makes me antsy and this amount of mess just makes me cuh-razy.

So it is back to the salt mines for me and back to reminding myself that I am lucky to have so many beautiful and useful things, like couches and rice makers.  Because in the Rainforests of Borneo you can only keep what you can carry in the basket on your head.

Mind Hacks Monday–I Can Handle It

A Facebook friend was seeking some advice from her friends in the computer for handling a five-year-old’s mixed emotions about starting Kindergarten.

Do you downplay fears and talk up the fun? Acknowledge the sadness at leaving a familiar preschool? On that first day, do you stay for just one more minute, or do you exit quickly without looking back at the forlorn, tear-streaked face of your abandoned baby?

As I move through the second decade of parenting, I’ve taken the philosophy that what I do isn’t all that important. It’s what the kids do. So my advice was to help the child feel competent to handle whatever unpredictable feelings come up: feel sad? feel scared? feel lonely? That’s OK, you can handle it.

Introducing yourself to new kids making you feel shy? That’s OK, you can handle feeling shy. Getting frustrated when your handwriting doesn’t look like that strip pasted on your desk? That’s OK, you can handle feeling frustrated.

This was of thinking was a revelation to me when I first discovered it. Somehow I grew up believing that bad feelings—mine or anyone else’s—were to be avoided at all costs, and were a sure sign that something was wrong, dreadfully wrong. Meditation helped me to learn that feelings were just feelings, not events or situations that require action, and practice taught me that I could sit through feelings that seemed unbearable and still be there the next day.

Then I had a choice: I could choose to try control my feelings, maybe by shutting down and withdrawing, or by going seriously Type A and controlling every aspect of my environment. Or I could simply remind myself that having a feeling, no matter how bad, is not going to kill me, and no feeling, no matter how intense, lasts forever.

In the book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, author Susan Jeffers says that “I Can’t Handle It” is the belief at the base of all fears. To fear rejection is to believe that you can’t handle rejection. To fear loss is to believe that you can’t handle being sad or disappointed.

As a freelancer, I’ve recently ended a contract that has provided almost half our household income for several years. Talk about feeling the fear . . . But I’m lucky to have experience—and I don’t just mean experience as a writer or editor. I have experience having less money, so I know I can handle that. I have experience being turned down for work, so I know I can handle that. I hate feeling uncertain about the future, but that’s nothing new either. Uncertainty—I can handle it.

And yet the great thing about “I can handle it” is that it neutralizes so much of what makes uncertainty unpleasant. There’s no controlling outcomes: maybe my parents will react badly to that decision, maybe that investment is going to tank, maybe my child is going to hate school. But can I handle it? That’s entirely up to me.

There is an obvious risk with “I can handle it” as well. “Handling it” doesn’t mean lying there and taking it, or going it alone. Too many people I know act as though asking for help or even venting a little bit about their concerns proves that they couldn’t handle it. “Sorry for whining,” they say. “That’s OK, I’ll do it myself,” they say. “That’s just the way it is,” they say.

Just like self-acceptance doesn’t have to mean giving up on yourself, “I can handle it” doesn’t mean “I am the world’s doormat.” “I can handle feeling bad” doesn’t imply “and therefore I will not investigate how I could lessen the frequency, duration, or intensity of my bad feelings.”

It’s deceptively simple: “I can handle it” merely frees you from the urgency of feelings—yours or someone else’s—so you can focus on what is really happening and what you can really do about it instead.