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The Self-Discovery Digest

by Elizabeth and Katherine Hirsh
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When things change it can be exciting, but it can also feel a little scary. What's out there? What's beyond this? We are never assured of an answer even if we are excited about our new path and have carefully planned our route. Maturity is realizing that this uncertainty is okay and just a natural part of life. Taking a new road requires hope, faith, and trust.

We've been fortunate to have a home at the University of Minnesota and our stay has been splendid. We've been able to examine many aspects of self-discovery. We've been able to pose questions and propose strategies for achieving a greater measure of peace and contentment. We have shared books and other materials that touched our lives. We have enjoyed the journey and have grown along the way. We hope that you have, too.

Now, we're moving forward. Happily, we have a new home base and will be reaching out to you monthly via www.selfdiscoverydigest.com. We thank you for traveling with us since 2008 and we look forward to continuing the conversation at our new site. We invite you to enjoy past Self-Discovery Digest posts at this site as you will still be able to access them here.

Following are some parting thoughts that have crystallized for us over the past three years:

• Life is endlessly fascinating.
• People are generally good and are trying their best.
• Letting go can be liberating - some situations are beyond personal control.
• Power and fulfillment come from aligning who you are at your core with how you are in the world.
• Healing and progress are always possible.

Self-Discovery Tool 41
Change is inevitable. Transformation is wonderful and yet anxiety-provoking at the same time. Join us as we embrace this new direction. Partner with us as we grow and evolve - we wouldn't want to blaze a new trail without you!

What do you do when all your patient and careful effort to solve a problem wasn't enough? When despite trying again and again, you are unable to succeed? How do you manage the grief that comes with a sense of failure? We've all been there and it feels truly awful. But before sinking into the murky waters of despair, try out the tips below to get back to the brighter side of life.

1. Decide it's okay. As ridiculously simple as this sounds, accepting the outcome as okay - even if it's not what was hoped for or planned - brings peace. By making a mental shift and choosing to see the outcome as okay, you can let go of the burden of thinking that you should or could have done something more. Ease up on your sense of personal responsibility and choose to believe that things ended up just as they were always going to - often this is true anyway.

2. Don't tough it out alone. As the saying goes, "a burden shared makes for a lighter load." Reach out to family, friends, a trusted confidante, or someone who loves you. Let them remind you that your life and your worth are built on more than this one difficult situation. Besides the comfort you can gain through telling your story, you may receive help, insights, or useful advice that would not be available if you had not reached out.

3. Do something fun, silly, or frivolous. Chances are you've been tightly focused on the setback you've experienced and have been in a serious mode for some time. Take a break from the heaviness. Distract yourself by doing something easy and light. Shift your concentration to beautiful and joyful things. Give yourself permission to do so, force yourself if you have to - your well being depends on it.

Failure is a fact of life, and when the stakes are high it can be debilitating. Making the effort to think differently and do something positive can feel overwhelming. Yet doing so has big benefits. Resolving to do your best to move forward in whatever way you can will help you and those around you get to a happier place.

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In the face of failure, commit to doing something immediately to feel better, even if it is committing to feeling your feelings of grief. Free yourself from the weight of "what if's." The past is over. Today is a fresh, new day. Don't compound your disappointment by failing to move ahead - turn toward a better future by starting right now!

Memorial Day began as a way to commemorate the sacrifices of those who died while serving in the armed forces in the US Civil War. Memorial Day has since been expanded to acknowledge our debt to all people who lives were lost in service to our country. As a public we are quick to recognize this holiday with flags, parades, and fireworks. Although important outward gestures, we can fail to delve into this day's deeper meaning.

We can begin to access the essence of Memorial Day by looking to the model that service personnel offer. They demonstrate commitment and steadfastness in service through their spirit, courage, and resilience. In honor of those who have, or are serving, use the following questions to help you tap into your own version of these virtues.

Spirit
What values compel you to be of service? How can you strengthen your commitment to living those values day to day?

How have you kept the faith when circumstances were bleak? How were you able to cheer on yourself and others despite overwhelming obstacles?

What do you do when an experience is not straightforward? How do you ensure you are not oversimplifying a complex issue or seeking a black-and-white explanation for something that is truly ambiguous?

Courage
When have you stood up for your beliefs or taken a stand? What helped you hold fast to your principles?

How has simply being true to yourself been heroic? What fueled you to live an authentic life despite the challenges you faced in doing so?

What made you carry out an action despite your fears about it? When have you conquered your fears and persevered to achieve an outcome that was meaningful to you?

Resilience
When have you had to bounce back following a difficult time? What thought processes or habits helped return you to a place of strength?

When have you been hurt and used this as a learning opportunity? How did your positive attitude improve your ability to cope?

What life circumstances have restricted your options? How did you reframe these limits into a positive focus on what you can do?

While Memorial Day was originally intended to honor those who paid the ultimate price, we believe it is important to show our gratitude for the sacrifices of all our service members: active duty, retired, living and dead. Take time to remember those who've passed as well as thank those still living. Contemplate the qualities of spirit, courage, and resilience. Discover ways to memorialize those who have given so much by more consciously incorporating these characteristics into your daily life.

Self-Discovery Tool 39
Put yourself in the service mindset. Consider what it takes to volunteer to serve in the armed forces, remembering there are thousands who have done this and thousands who are doing so at this very moment. What might you accomplish in your own life if you were to pledge to give of yourself in a similar fashion? Be thankful for those serving you and remember to find ways to serve others - follow the example of our valiant service men and women!

We have been hearing constantly about the wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William. The media remind us daily of what this couple and other famous figures are doing and how they are doing it in a BIG way. It can be exciting to see what celebrities are involved in and to marvel at how glamorous their lives and activities seem to be. Yet we can get distracted by this focus on distant others and forget to make our own lives a celebration. What can we learn from those who are "living large" and how can we start applying this in our own lives?

See yourself and your significant others as VIPs. Instead of looking at prominent people as special and important, see yourself, your family and friends as amazing and act accordingly. Treat yourself and those you love with thoughtful attention, care, and courtesy. Demonstrate respect for the people in your life (yourself included) by honoring their particular tastes, preferences, and interests, just like you would a king, queen, or celebrity.

Create your own excitement. Don't believe that only rich, famous, or well-connected people can do exciting things. Try something new and different. Go camping, spend the night at a romantic hotel, put on the sassy outfit you've been too timid to wear, try the shops in a neighborhood across town, go dancing - do something within your budget that is novel and fun. Don't fall into the trap of believing that interesting things are "what other people do." Fill your life with little adventures.

Make everyday gatherings exceptional. When seeing friends, having a party, or serving dinner for the family, do it up as if it's a holiday. Why wait for Thanksgiving or a birthday to do something extraordinary? Do it now, today. Use the china in the back of the cupboard, try a new recipe, dress up, invite new people, hang decorations - most importantly, show those you care about just how much they matter to you.

Self-Discovery Tool Number 38

You don't have to be a star to be magnificent and lead a blessed life. You don't need a camera following your every move to realize your value. Commit to creating your own magic for yourself and those you love. Make an effort to spend more time doing special things instead of watching others do them!

When approaching a tough decision, coming from a position of non-attachment can be a great tool. Non-attachment is about taking the perspective that all good solutions are on the table and thus no particular option is privileged until all information has been examined. Non-attachment means that whatever happens, you'll be alright because you won't be paralyzed by the mistaken assumption that things will-or have to-turn out a certain way.

You approach decisions with an open heart and an open mind. You aren't overly tied to the past, though you respect what has come before. And you aren't lost in an unrealistic fantasy featuring an overly idyllic or exceedingly gloomy future either. The opinions of others are not over or under valued. You are in a place of balance. To help get you to this place of balance and non-attachment, we suggest trying the following techniques.

Examine your reactions. As you think about each option, pay close attention to your physical and emotional responses: Are you filled with joy and peace, does your body feel lighter and your head more clear? Or are you experiencing a sense of unease and hopelessness, accompanied by a heaviness or tension in your body? When you consider putting aside a particular possibility, do you feel relief or anxiety?

Imagine you are counseling a friend faced with your dilemma. What advice would you give your friend? When considering the issues from the outside, which solutions would likely stand the test of time and which are temporary fixes? Which choices would cause you to say your friend was acting with integrity and which would you evaluate as merely convenient? Would you counsel your friend to compromise or stick to his or her guns?

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When tackling a big decision, try approaching it from a place of non-attachment. Suspend preconceptions about what has to happen and what the correct and ultimate outcome should be. Revel in the clarity this affords. Notice the freedom this gives you to make a more complete commitment - this is your choice and it represents something about who you are and who you seek to become!

We're very fortunate to live in the 21st century with all its creature comforts, convenience items, and communication tools. We have the luxury of being able to be in touch with almost anyone we want, wherever we are, as well as having access to an almost unlimited supply of information whenever we choose to seek it. Never before has this kind of potential literally been at our fingertips. And yet despite these advantages, we can be overwhelmed with our own desire, and the world's pull, to be constantly digitally connected.

How do you know if technology's grip on your life has gone too far and if you might be in need of a tech break? See if you recognize yourself in any of the following items:

• Do you feel guilty if you don't answer your phone or respond immediately to a text even when it's not an emergency or someone with whom you want to talk?

• Do you feel uncomfortable if you don't answer an email instantly even when its subject is not time sensitive?

• Do you feel afraid to leave your home or office without your phone, laptop, hand-held device, etc., even when you don't truly need to have it?

• Do you tend to record events such as parties, family gatherings, performances, games, etc. to post them online rather than simply enjoying them as they unfold?

• Do you find yourself tweeting, texting, emailing, or updating your online status when you are in the physical presence of someone who deserves your attention?

We encourage you to take a tech break. Put down for a moment the communication devices that keep you tethered to the online world. Tune back into the people and things in your physical world and the experiences that are occurring around you. Rest assured that your virtual communities will be there when you get back, and what's more, you'll have more interesting and substantive things to share after a short break.

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Are you feeling overwhelmed by all your digital connections? Is the push to keep up with your communications driving you to exhaustion? Take a small tech break, unplug, leave your devices alone for a while, and notice and appreciate what is happening right now, directly in your physical environment. Cherish your non-screen life and then come back to your online/digital realms refreshed!

It is winter in the northern hemisphere and many animals are deep in hibernation. Hibernation is a protective state that helps them make it through a time when food is scarce and weather conditions are potentially dangerous. It gives them some respite before the busy spring season of creating a new home, finding or reuniting with a mate, and parenting a new brood of offspring. Although a period of limited activity, hibernation is an important part of the cycle of life.

Humans can also benefit from a period of quiet and calm in which they can recharge. However, unlike our animal brethren, we can become stuck in a hibernation state (Winter). We find ourselves in a holding pattern, stagnating rather than resting, dithering rather than carefully preparing for the time of action soon to come (Spring). Animals instinctively know when it's time to emerge from their dens. We can overlook or even ignore that little voice telling us to move on and get back out in the sunshine. Luckily, what we may lack in instinctual awareness, we can make up for in self-awareness. We have the gift of self-reflection at our disposal, allowing us to recognize when we are dragging our feet. Here are a few suggestions to help you wake up from a winter's sleep:

Do something. Don't wait for the perfect plan or the ideal opportunity - it doesn't exist. There is almost nothing that once started, cannot be altered and you often won't know what needs to be changed until you have taken some action. If you miss the mark a little, that's OK. You are learning from experience and taking action.

Break goals down into manageable pieces. If you are stuck because what you'd like to achieve feels too overwhelming, try breaking it down into smaller steps. Completing these steps will move you toward your goal and at the same time boost your sense of self-efficacy.

Reach out to others. Having a supportive environment can make all the difference in whether you feel energized and enthused about life. The method you choose for reaching out - making a phone call, joining a support group or discussing your plans over dinner with significant others - isn't nearly as important as making the decision to enlist assistance and encouragement.

Focus on the positive. Take an inventory of what's going well and how you might do more of it. Celebrate your accomplishments and explore them for ideas about the circumstances and people who help you to do your best work and be your best self.

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Are you feeling "sleepy" or stuck? Are there areas of your life that haven't had the attention they deserve? Is it time for a wake-up call? Commit to doing something within the next week, no matter how small, to get moving on the things in your life that need nurturing. Make an effort to transition from winter's grogginess to the energy and warmth of spring!

As we begin the second decade of the 21st century, we are not pushing changes, resolutions, or new philosophies. We figure that, like us, you have heard enough about these notions from other sources. No, this year we're going "old school" and embracing age-old wisdom and the best of the past - traditional thinking that's worth a second look as well as worthy of being carried forward into the future. Sometimes we're in such a hurry for the next best thing that we forget to practice and embrace what's already understood, working, and useful. So in honor of 2011, we reprise 11 basic truths for the New Year:

  1. Honor your elders, learn from their experience and resiliency
  2. Kindness, patience, and a warm smile are powerful medicine, use them
  3. Practice politeness; good manners and a pleasant attitude never go out of style
  4. Be grateful for what you have instead of focusing on what you believe is missing
  5. Good friends are priceless, treat them accordingly
  6. Help others when you can, what comes around goes around
  7. Life's too short to hold grudges, forgive when possible and forgive yourself, too
  8. If it's too good to be true it probably is, be wary if someone or something promises too much
  9. Nature's beauty is available to us if we take the time to notice and appreciate it - even in the city the sky is always above our heads and the ground is always beneath our feet
  10. Be yourself, it's much easier than trying to be someone you're not and no one else can be you like you can!
  11. Insert your own basic truth here (this spot is reserved for your own worthy tradition; something coming from your heart, your family, your community, etc., that you wish to carry forward)


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What folk wisdom or sage advice from those who've gone before might be applicable now to life challenges you are facing? How can you tap into the teachings of the past to get perspective on the present and build a better future? We encourage you to get back to basics, simplify and use what you know - make 2011 the "new" good old days!

Many holidays and religious traditions include the notion of setting an extra place at the table. This might simply be a place setting and another chair. It could involve serving up a sample of food and drink from the meal that has been prepared. It might even entail creating a special item intended as an offering. Whatever the form, the extra place can represent a number of things: a place for a visiting stranger, a connection to ancestors or a lost loved one, a sign of gratitude, a reminder of those in need, etc. To adapt this to the context of self-discovery, we'd like you to think about aspects of yourself you could honor by setting an extra place the table:

A spot for an unexpected guest
We are creatures of habit but that is not all that we are nor can be. When have you surprised yourself by doing or looking at things in new ways? Remembering the delight you felt, how can you invite more of that elment of openness and curiosity into your life? How can you prepare yourself to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities? What mindset can you adopt to help you react positively to the unexpected - from within or without?

A means to remember someone you once were
We all have a past, filled with ups, downs, wins, and losses. When you look back over your life what are the roles that helped you develop and mature? How can you acknowledge these while at the same time affirming how you have changed and grown? Are there sides of yourself that you abandoned that may be useful or enjoyable to you now? What strategies can help you cope if others aren't comfortable with what you want to resurrect or re-engage?

A way of giving thanks for the unique person you are
We may not be perfect but most of us, most of the time, are good people doing our best in our own special way. What are the qualities that you cherish most in yourself? How can you use them to support you in establishing a more meaningful and joyful life? What can you do recognize and celebrate your unique contribution to your home, work, and community?

A method for nurturing parts of yourself that are being neglected
We are right to champion the needs of others but we are wrong when we forget ourselves in the process. What facets of your personality are you ignoring and what needs are you downplaying? How could you find ways to nourish them? What practices can you set in place to perform more effective and ongoing self care?

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How can we be more welcoming to the many parts of ourselves? What can we do to make our internal and external environments more hospitable to our authentic selves? What simple actions can we take to make our lives more of a "celebratory feast" of where we've been, who we are, and what we want to become?

Follow Your Passions

It's November, almost holiday time, and as Thanksgiving approaches here in the U.S., it brings to mind the experience of sitting around a food-laden table with significant others to express our gratitude for the good things in our lives. At these gatherings most of us have noticed relatives or friends who stand out because they seem happier and more contented than the rest. Why is this? There are many possible reasons, but we believe a key one is that these folks are following their passions.

Besides seeing relatives who embody this around the holiday table, how can we recognize this generally so we may apply it to our own lives? Watch people in the midst of doing something they love. They are energized, focused, and willing to keep going even if things get challenging.

To make this notion more concrete, check out the documentaries below for two compelling examples of people finding fulfillment doing something they love: one is about enthusiastic pumpkin growers striving to perfect their plants despite tremendous obstacles, and the other centers on a chorus of seniors who remind us all that it's never too late to pursue greatness. Note that "greatness" is in the eye of the beholder, and what drives you will not necessarily be things that will make you a big shot on Wall Street or the envy of society - but that's the point - what matters to you will be unique and will fuel you in a way that is special to you and may have no relation to what others are seeking.

We encourage you to watch these stories to feel inspired to chase your passions and to help you be one of the lucky, contented people at the table this and every Thanksgiving Day!

Lords of the Gourd
http://www.pbs.org/previews/lordsofthegourd/

Young at Heart
http://www.youngatheartchorus.com/index.php

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This Thanksgiving, let's be thankful for what moves and motivates us, and put that gratitude into action by following our bliss. Watch these documentaries or others like them, ask loved ones who are doing what they find deeply satisfying how they do it, and then think of small ways you could try this for yourself. The possibilities are endless. Happy Thanksgiving!