Thursday, December 3, 2015

Personal Growth, Change, and the Power of Positive Thinking

This is going to be a bit different for me as I'm going to get a little personal, yet at the same time I intend to keep this post pretty vague as I don't want to divulge too many personal things. However, I felt as though this is something I needed to share since it was quite profound and impactful. I hope it can spur discussion with anyone out there who has gone through the same thing, or perhaps even help someone out there who is trying to make the same kinds of changes that I am.

Like most people, I've been shaped by the experiences I've had over the course of my life, and like most people a lot of them have been good and a lot have been bad. However, one of the problems I've had over the years is that I've allowed negative experiences, the ones that have hurt me, embarrassed me, or otherwise changed me for the worse, to linger. Beyond that, I've let them change my actions/reactions to certain situations, and I've allowed them to color my perceptions of and interactions with people around me. Most frustratingly, I've known this for many, many years but could never seem to change it. If I really put in the effort, I could change it for a few weeks, but it was more of the "fake it until you make it" approach as opposed to any real sea change in my thinking and processing. I just couldn't seem to let go and move on from anything that had hurt me in the past, and I couldn't seem to stop projecting all of the hurt, anger, and resentment I had toward those past situations and people onto the people around me in the present who had nothing to do with it. It was affecting me and those around me, near and far, quite negatively and, in all honesty, I felt like I was hopeless to ever meaningfully, permanently change it. I was really good at seeming like I was happy and carefree on the outside, but inside I was constantly nagged by all of the slights, however real or perceived, large or small, that I'd absorbed over the years and they completely skewed how I viewed the world and people around me.

And then something amazing happened...

As I said, I'm intentionally keeping this post vague in terms of details because it is my personal life, after all. However, something huge happened to me that changed me forever, and in a life-alteringly fantastic way. Now, I'm a religious person and always have been. I'm a devout Christian and I read the Bible and pray on a regular basis. I believe in the power of prayer and that while we are imbued with freewill and make our own destinies, God does listen to us and offers help, strength, and guidance we need it.  On this particular night a couple of months ago, as I was laying in bed, something triggered what seemed like a lightning bolt inside my heart and mind (metaphorically speaking, of course). Everything that had ever happened to me, all of the hurt and anger, resentment and mistrust, cynicism and negativity, all of the jaded and bitter feelings I'd been clinging to deep inside...they all seemed to just fall away from me. A light bulb went off in my mind and I had a sudden realization that I could let it all go, I could stop letting the past affect my present, and that I had been treating those closest to me as though they had wronged me when they never had.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that when I woke up the next morning, I felt like a completely different person. More than that, I also finally understood that one of the reasons I was never able to grow and change in the past is because I was always looking toward the future, and impatiently (anyone who knows me knows that patience has never been a virtue of mine). I decided then and there, that morning, to live in the present, one day at a time. To put it simply, I was going to just focus on making each moment, each day, great for me and those around me. By focusing on my thoughts and actions each day, I wouldn't be overwhelmed or impatient by worrying about what the future would hold...I would live in the moment. This was quite a contrast from having one foot planted firmly in past hurts while simultaneously having another planted in an uncertain future I was impatient to arrive at. Everyone around me noticed how different I was and were probably skeptical that it would last. I did a lot of reflection and a lot of crying over the first couple of weeks, yet here I am months later, and it's not only here to stay, but feels effortless. I think it's because I'm not putting as much concerted effort into changing (although I am working very hard at it) so much as it seems to be just how I am now.

Two things that have been huge helps in keeping me centered throughout this monumental change are basic meditation and regular prayer, the former for stress/anxiety relief and the latter as a source of guidance and strength. Both have proven to be even more powerful and helpful than in years past...whether this is actually the case or whether I'm just noticing it more, it doesn't matter as the end result is the same. More than that, I'm finding that I'm opening up more, both to myself and others, about my feelings and that I'm communicating and listening better than I ever have.  Given how absolutely terrible I was at all of these, I sometimes feel like that's not saying much, but it's been a process akin to learning to walk although I feel like it's not as scary as I thought it would be.  I have to say, in all honesty it all feels really good although I'm still aware that I've got a ways to go until I'm where I want to be. Rebuilding myself and my relationships with those around me is not a quick fix and learning patience, how to take responsibility for my mistakes, and how to pick myself up and keep moving forward with a positive attitude are difficult things that I'm doing better now than I ever have. However, I know that I'm still a complete work-in-progress. Just tonight (as I write this), I screwed up badly and ended up stung quite deeply by the consequences. While I'm still dwelling on them and kicking myself repeatedly for my mistake, I'm intending on waking up tomorrow morning with a positive attitude and working as hard as I have to to make tomorrow a great day. I'll learn from tonight's stupid mistake but won't keep beating myself up over it...rather, I'll use it as a springboard for growth and for making sure it doesn't happen again.

I know that I've got such a long road ahead of me to become the person I've always wanted to be, but for the first time in my life it doesn't seem daunting. In fact, for the first time in my life it seems like it's completely within my reach. A positive attitude, a lot of changes, and asking for guidance when it's needed will take me a long way. The journey has been great just over these past couple of months...I can't wait to see where it takes me next.

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