Those special days.

When your face hurts from genuinely smiling so much. When your heart aches from being so full, and all you can do is grin it out. When you shake your head in disbelief at how lucky you are to be living what you’re living, and how many incredible people surround you. You are proud, content, secure, and grateful.

Get curious about those days; you’re probably on to something.

• • •

Who were you with?  What is your history with them? How do they make you feel? Who do you become when you are around them? Why?

Where were you? What were the comforts surrounding you? The challenges? The sights, smells, and sounds? Who were you because of those cues?

What was happening?  Doing? Being? Learning? Sharing? Making? Thinking? Feeling? Why?

• • •

Sometimes the answers are far from obvious. Dig deep. Get to those really ninja things that we can so easily overlook.

For example, Colin Farrell hit on the underlying dots when he connected his old drug habits and his current Bikram Yoga practice: they both satisfy his need for ritual.

When you’ve got your answers, that’s when it gets fun. That’s when you get to use them as your tools & starting blocks, as you become an intentional architect of your own life. Here, you can design your everyday so that more of those special little things are peppered throughout. Slowly yet suddenly, those special days then become the default rather than the exception.

Just make sure you’re ready for the pain. Great risks, great rewards.

Humbly,
~ H

(This post was inspired by my day at the 2013 UBC Student Leadership Conference.)

The big dots of the post:
• Be aware. Notice. Question curiously. Adjust. Repeat.

Related
• Brene Brown on The Power of Vulnerability.

The tiny shift that changed my life

What’s this about? A simple little substitution with ridiculously disproportionate effects in my life – for the better. Will it change your life? Probably. What is this magic, you ask?

The shift

“I have to…” → “I get to…”

That’s it. It digs into one of the points from my last post – that our thoughts and words often play a bigger role than we sometimes realize (or admit to).

The effect
The power of this is that it re-frames… everything. It immediately takes something from obligation → privilege. This is what gratitude in practice looks like for me.

• I don’t have to pay my bills. I get to – because I actually have a smartphone, access to transportation & the Internet, a place to live, etc.
• I don’t have to figure out my life. I get to. How many people have this freedom to steer their life trajectory?
• I don’t have to go to the bank or the grocery store. I get to – because I actually have money of my own to deal with and easy access to food.

Note: I still complain about these things sometimes – I’m human. I’ve just gotten better at realizing when I am, stopping, and going through the reframe-for-gratitude process.

Fair warnings
Making this shift will change your relationships – and this can go either way.
“Ugh, I have so much stuff to do tonight” ← this is relatable. “I get to clean, cook, write a report for work, and do my readings; I’m so freakin’ lucky” – not so much. (It might earn you one of these.) Of course what it actually means is: I recognize that I have a home to clean, food to prep, a job to contribute to & earn from, and the privilege of education… But where I’m from, defaulting to misery & complaining is always a lot easier.

So expect a few feathers ruffled when you’re going against the masses. You might become irritating to some. Obnoxiously positive to the point of extremely annoying, even; any current relationships based primarily on co-miserating will have to adapt or die. But that’s what happens when you think different. That – and being viewed as someone with a rainbow stuck up their butt – was a risk I was willing to take. I’m just doing my due diligence to let you know some of the consequences of taking this advice. There are too many up-sides for me to do it any other way.

Putting it into practice
Still want to do it? Brill. It can be simple, but I found it hard to do at first. Assuming you’re coming from the same “woe is me” privileged sense as I, you’re up against re-programming a habit ingrained through years of practice. There’s no flick of the switch that will undo that – it just takes cultivating a new habit to override the old one.

Bad habits are overcome by learning new routines and practicing them over and over again. – Timothy Wilson covering Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit

While we’re at it, let’s step back from a quick assumption: that “tiny” = “easy” or “inconsequential”. See: butterfly effect.

Step 1
: Take a few days to just become aware of how often / seldom you say “I have to ___”. The toughest step is usually to recognize that. Count if you must.
Step 2: Start subbing in “I get to ___” instead, and go down the quick path of ‘what that actually means’. Resist the urge to roll your eyes at yourself. (It can seem ridiculous when you’re in the throws of an all-nighter to stop and think “I get to study for this, because I’m lucky enough to be in school. Do it anyways.)
Step 3: Repeat steps 1 & 2.

Don’t just take my word for it
I Googled “i have to i get to” after drafting this post and lo and behold – someone’s thought this exact thought already. Beauty. So if you’re on the fence about taking my word for it, perhaps backup from a New York Times best-selling author holds more clout for you (it’s a spot-on post, I suggest a read). Many others have thought the same, of course. Sometimes it’s not about who you choose to believe, as long as the message gets across. I always gladly connect people to other great thinkers if the alternate source will be taken more seriously. I’m just trying to make change happen.

So read. Believe. Do.

Humbly, ~ H

ps: Another wildly powerful “little swap” was when I got more deliberate about “I don’t / I won’t have time” → “I don’t / won’t make time”. BOOM. More on that next time…

The big dots of the post

Think in a certain way long enough and I swear you’ll start to believe it – for better or for worse.
Co-miserating is usually easier than co-marveling. The latter is way more worth it.
Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. It always starts small.
It’s about being happy with, and grateful for, “now”, even as we look forward to different things “one day”.
Yes, it might actually suck. Who said privilege was supposed to be easy?

What do you get to do? What do you make time for? Any other powerful swaps that have been game-changers for you?

Related:
#firstworldproblems
Everything is amazing and nobody is happy (start at the ~2 min mark)

Gentle Reminders from Ramadan

A bit of context

I grew up in a Muslim family. Though I don’t categorize myself as faithfully religious, I do practice many of the traditions and customs of Islam because they hold personal meaning and align with my values. Observing the holy month of Ramadan is one that has been a constant since grade school – one that I look forward to each year, and try to practice humbly when the time comes.

For me, it is physical meditation; a palpable practice of mindfulness, compassion, gratitude; it is community, connection, solidarity; a delicious juxtaposition of control and surrender. Ramadan also has a knack of kicking my propensity toward big / random / abstract thinking up a notch. So, naturally….

On to the Lesson(s)

Many of us have the luxury of knowing this during our month of practice:

Fast all day; abundance awaits at sunset.

Last night, my mom & I had our first Iftar of 2012 (1433 Islamic calendar). About halfway through, we exchanged a “wow, my stomach kind of hurts” sentiment. The irony of this was not lost on either of us. That this came from having too much, too fast, not yet 15 full minutes removed from an 18-hour day of abstaining from all food and drink… a sort of growing pains, if you will. We were now aching a similar ache — but for a very different reason. Cue head-shaking.

On the menu: Spinach, cucumber, tomato & baby shrimp salad; Rice noodle & veggie soup; Mixed fruit (peach, mango, kiwi, cherry, raspberry) & yogurt; Apple slices with cheese cubes. Dates (not pictured). Water. A far cry from the traditional Bengali-influenced Iftar we’ve historically had.

I will never forget my mom telling me once, years ago (this is the 90s, people) about the realities of many of the beggars in Bangladesh. About how sometimes after fasting all day in the sweltering heat, all they have to break their fast with is a  glass of water (not Vancouver-sparkling-clean, either); maybe some rice or lentils or some bread, if they’re lucky. There is no clock ticking down to “GO”, letting them know the instant they can dig in to the feast within arms’ reach. No 30-day countdown until “things go back to normal”. I heard this sitting at the Iftar table: warm and safe, hungry and waiting.

(Aside: I’m so grateful for my mother being such a vivid and impactful storyteller. She somehow intuited that my sister and I were in humble — rather than self-centered “I’m so hungry, CAN’T THAT CLOCK TICK ANY FASTER?!” — mode, and delivered those few powerful and sobering words that shaped the way I try to live my life to this day.)

Last night, I was feeling guilty about my abundance, my luxury, my relative gluttony. There I was, too full to eat everything we’d prepared for ourselves, knowing that in that instant, poverty and food security – local, national, global – were very real issues for countless others. Knowing that this was not just a far-away, “them” problem; knowing that for some it doesn’t end when Ramadan does. Knowing what it can feel like, and then easily being able to move on to the other side, like a visitor… a poser. I dwelled on the guilt for awhile. Turned it over in my head. Then I stopped, and re-framed.

This is privilege, in all its glory – the simultaneous blessing and curse. Acknowledging this, I chose gratitude over guilt.

Stepping back to a global big-picture: I could easily be living a very different life. Considering the sheer chance-filled & arbitrary nature of the major decisions that shaped my family’s trajectory, it’s kind of a wonder that I’ve landed exactly where I am today. It blows my mind on the daily.

I think we’ve all been in those situations when, no matter how badly we want to change the it (or the world), in that instant we just can’t. The only thing we can change is ourselves – how we think, feel, act. My guilt in that moment was not going to feed those without access to food (it could act as a motivator for future action, but that’s another topic). The only thing it was doing was robbing me of fully appreciating the gift I’m living. In that moment, in choosing gratitude, I chose acceptance. (I hurry to add: this is not the same thing as complacency.)

I understand that my fortune is privilege, is opportunity, is obligation. My struggle is in seeing my own place on the spectrum of inequality, in negotiating empathy and compassion with circumstantial powerlessness. My struggle will always be in remembering this momentary discomfort that connects me to the daily stories of millions. These are just some of gentle reminders Ramadan affords me.

The biggest loss last night wouldn’t have been the unfinished food; in that moment, it would have been my not learning from my blatant little brush with over-abundance, my not appreciating right now. This is my life, my reality (and I ain’t afraid to show it…) – I am ridiculously blessed, and I know it.

Humbly, ~ H

The big dots of the post

We want (or feel we need) much more than we actually do. Life is a constant dance with the concept of enough.
That saying “Poor little rich girl” holds such diverse meaning; struggle and fortune can be physical, mental, emotional, ethical.
We’re so damn fickle sometimes.
Gratitude seems to have this magical ability to make the current moment perfect.

Have you re-framed something in your life recently? Chosen gratitude over something less giving? Changed yourself when you couldn’t charge out to ‘save the world’?