In an eight-month workshop, which I went on to lead, we asked ourselves four questions each day.
1. What did I notice that had nothing to do with me?
2. What did I do today that I respect myself for?
3. What did I do to help another person today (anonymously if possible)?
4. What bothered me today, if anything?
The assignment was to consciously seek out something to notice every day -- not to just record something in retrospect -- but to stretch beyond who you normally are. Anything you do without thinking about it is something you would normally do and doesn't count. The same goes with respecting yourself and helping someone. First, connect the thought to the action, then take the action. Record what you have done afterwards.
What did I notice that had nothing to do with me?
Noticing things around me that had nothing to do with me vastly enriched my life. I began by reconnecting with the earth. Whether noticing a magnificent magenta and purple sunset or the faint pink veins in a hibiscus flower, I was awestruck by nature's beauty.
What did I do today that I respect myself for?
As for respecting myself, this was during the time when I had difficulty saying no. I was overcommitted, overwhelmed, and exhausted all the time. I enjoyed many of the things I was doing, but hadn't learned when to stop. To respect myself, I would take a night off, turn the phone off, and soak in a nice hot bubble bath. I stopped being so stingy with myself and treated myself to a few small luxuries such as fresh raspberries, even when they cost $4.99 for a half-pint.
One day, while driving back from a day in the Florida Keys, I began obsessing about having a hot fudge sundae at the mile marker 98 Dairy Queen. Then the thought occurred to me that I could respect myself by not giving into the craving; I could drive right past the Dairy Queen. I wish I'd never thought that thought. For miles I wanted it, tasted it, and salivated just thinking about it. Rarely am I able to pass up chocolate once I start thinking about it.
I finally made my mind up not to stop at the Dairy Queen. Instead, I would treat myself to something healthier later. However, I wasn't sure I could really make it by the Dairy Queen without stopping. As I approached, I had to laugh out loud at God's sense of humor. The Dairy Queen was closed due to construction. I got to respect myself in spite of myself.
What did I do to help another person today (anonymously if possible)?
Helping another person was much easier because I had been working on getting out of myself and doing nice things for others for years now. For me, the stretch part was to do small things and not tell anyone.
The ideas were endless: put a quarter in someone's expired parking meter, throw someone's newspaper closer to their front door, slip some money into someone's purse without them knowing, anonymously send flowers to someone, sharpen a co-worker's pencils at work. Anonymity was important, but I didn't lie if I was caught. Being a good fairy out in the world gave me a wonderful feeling about myself that carried into every area of my life.
What bothered me today, if anything?
As for what bothered me -- many days I answered "nothing." Other times, it would be my attitude in traffic. (My behavior had already changed, but what went on in my head was another story.)
I wrote when I talked about someone behind their back, under the guise of not understanding how they could be that way. It was still damaging to their character and their spirit even if I meant no harm.
I recorded when I neglected to hold the elevator door for someone because I was in a hurry and they were far enough away that I could pretend that I didn't see them. I wrote when I teased someone and hurt their feelings.
The subtle things I don't like about myself ended up in this section. At the same time I had to remember that it was "progress not perfection," and not to be too hard on myself when I fell short.
That workshop taught me to live more consciously but also to be more compassionate with myself. It was most definitely a transformational experience.
Practicing the Four Questions Daily for the Next Month
Practice the four questions daily for the next month. Use them as a guide, an ideal, not something to get down on yourself for not doing perfectly. Stretching and disciplining ourselves builds character and courage and gives us the fortitude we need to make our dreams come true.
Changes: Shaking Up What Is Comfortable
Another thing we worked on in the workshop was change. Whatever is comfortable -- shake it up.
For instance, if you are normally talkative, say as little as possible during the next week. If you are normally shy or introverted, make it a point to speak to at least one new person each day, even if all you say is "hello." If you are in a support group and normally share at meetings, don't. If you normally pass, raise your hand and share this week.
If you usually drive to work, take public transportation, and vice versa. If you take the expressway, allow extra time and take the scenic route for a change.
If the kids usually hang out at your house after school, send them elsewhere and enjoy a few hours of quiet time. If they usually go to a friend's house, invite them over to bake cookies, finger paint, or play an old-fashioned board game. Remember board games from the pre-computer days?
If you've never been comfortable around computers, take a beginner's course or get a tutor. If you feel less than whole when not plugged in, stay off the computer for a week. I know, I know -- what about your e-mail! Remember, it's only a week. You'll survive and cyberspace will manage without you for a week. Trust me, it's worth it.
Stretching Beyond Our Comfort Zones
It's so easy to get stuck in a rut, confined to our comfortable routines. Transformation requires that we stretch beyond our comfort zones. This builds the courage and self-esteem necessary for living our bliss.
Go for it! Make that change!
For the next week, do things differently. Be as contrary to your nature as possible. Throw the routine out. Make it up as you go. Experience liberation!
Letting Your Heart Sing: A Daily Journal for the Soul
by Deborah Tyler Blais.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Capital Books, Inc. ©2001. http://www.capital-books.com
Click here for more info and/or to order this book.
About the Author
Deborah Tyler Blais leads transformational workshops and lectures around the country on a variety of spiritual topics including "Letting Your Heart Sing as Means to Wellness" Her story, "Dharma" was published in Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul. A native Floridian, Ms. Blais currently lives in Hollywood, Florida, with her husband Gary and is passionately devoted to inspiring and motivating others to create lives filled with joy, peace, and abundance.