Updated: Apr 16
Small Wins Baby!
The last few weeks have felt like $%@#. But resilience has been my secret weapon for years. It's a parachute I've deployed over and over in my life. When things seem to be out of control, and I'm in a tailspin, it's a system that kicks in and pulls me through.
Resilience is the ability to reverse a downward cycle that has been propelled by all the big and small traumas of your life. The ones the pileup and bury you and have buried me in weeks, and occasionally years of feelings of depression and being stuck. It is all about the small wins. COVID 19 has been a terrible tailspin. So, I've decided to share a sneak peek into my new book that will be out this summer.
Stubborn Joy is about how to stop your downward cycles. It teaches you how to break the stories you tell about yourselve and the world.
This excerpt is from the chapter is Tiny Wins – Enjoy!
Life comes hard and fast. And often, it feels ultimately out of your control. But probably, like most people, you crave control and predictability. You want to see your goals met and your aspirations achieved.
As a founder of a software company, I was not immune. If anything, I craved control more than any other person I knew. I would will the universe to bend to my desires. I would trick fate into granting me my every wish.
Only after being pushed out of my company, did I have to take a hard look at myself. I did not like what I saw, and my ego was a broken glass castle. I came to hate and love these words from a freed slave that died almost 2000 years ago. But he had a window to my soul.
Epictetus said, “Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not.” I was sure I was in control of everything until I was not. I believe I would just keep winning until I realized no one wanted to play. It was only after I face the truth and learned to distinguish between what I could and couldn’t control, that I found happiness and the ability to win again.
In the purgatory between starting a new thing and ending an old life, I developed these steps to keep moving and rebuild myself. The neutral zone, as it’s called in William Bridge’s book, “Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes” He calls for holding space to learn from your past experience, before starting a new challenge. And has a quote from Lau Tzu I like, “I do my utmost to attain emptiness; I hold firmly to stillness. Do that which consists in taking no action; Pursue that which is not meddlesome; savor that which has no flavor."
There is a place for self-love. It’s essential, but it can also be a sinkhole that feels impossible to climb out of. So, once you're done, drinking wine and eating cookies on your couch, its time to get moving. No one is coming to rescue you. But, thank goodness you can rescue yourself! You are the only person that can. No one can fix this but you, only you. So, get the f$%@# up.
Step one: You need to understand no one is coming. Nothing can stop or change what has happened. This is not the moment to numb yourself.
Step two: Write down five of the very smallest, the tiniest, the most minuscule wins that you can make today, right the $%@# now! Write them down right now!
Step three: Pick one and do it right now.
(Don't worry, you're not the craziest person out there. And I feel like COVID is a reasonable time to be little nuts.)
Celebrate yourself. This is the most critical step. You must celebrate your wins. You need to roll around in the feeling. Let it linger as long as you can. And if you gotta cry because you haven't won for a while, that's okay too. Don't be afraid.
Most of the time I feel I'm too old and dignified to celebrate, that's for children and puppies. I think I'm disciplined enough to do something, so I should just do it.....But like most people, there is a big gap between what I think I should do and what I do.
There is a part of your brain that can help (the mesolimbic and mesocortical pathway). These pathways modulate emotion-related behavior. When you celebrate and feel good about whatever you have done, you trigger this part of your brain, and it helps you want to experience that feeling again. Every tiny win is a small step in reversing your downward spiral. It builds up your emotional "grit" muscles.
So celebrate like you are the parent of a two years old, or a new puppy, and they finally went potty by themselves. You might feel silly, but this is a way to reclaim that inner child that just needs a pat on the back. Nobody's going to celebrate your tiny wins, so you have to. It also gives you the courage to do it again. When you celebrate you, it is a moment of stubborn joy. It is a moment that you choose you in a world that wants more from you than you can give. Take this tiny piece for yourself.
Ok...but what about the voices in my head?
When you hear the loud or sometimes quiet voices that dissuade you from what you want to do, pay attention.
They may say:
"You can't do that."
"No one likes you."
"You are not smart enough."
"You are not strong enough."
"You are not enough."
"You are not ready."
"We can do this later."
"You are too busy."
"No one cares, so why try?"
Step one: When you hear those voices in your head telling you you're not enough, look into the darkness of your mind. Find them and personify them. Objectify them so you can look at them. You need to look at them right in their eyes.
"I see you, Mara." - Buddha
Step two: Don't argue or negotiate. You don't negotiate with terrorists, and these voices are ruining your life. Do whatever you need to do to take your tiny win now. Look straight into their eyes as you do it and enjoy the sweet silence that follows. Don't forget to celebrate.
You are worth it. You are a unique and irreplaceable part of the cosmos. You can't forget this truth. Each of us is a part of our vast, complex, and perfectly ordered universe. And your contribution is very important. So, set yourself up for success with tiny little steps and itty-bitty wins.
Make sure you win every time
I hate to break it to you but, you have almost no control. And the world is out to prove that you don't, not even of yourself.
Here is what you have control of on a good day. I'm pulling loosely from Epictetus, but this is what he taught almost 2000 years ago. It's still good.
Within your control are your opinions, goals, aspirations, and what you hate. Outside of your control is the kind of body you have, whether you were born into wealth or the right family. Also, You have no control over what other people think, what they say, or what they do to you...or don't do, like loving you.
To be happy, you have to remember that everything external to you is out of your control—trying to control or to change what you can’t only result in anger, frustration, and depression. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you don't. But both times, it was outside your control.
The key to winning every time is to choose goals or aspirations that are within your control. The things within your power are wholly and naturally at your full discretion. They are free from any obstruction, impediment, or dependence, especially on other people.
If you have been feeling frustrated, anxious, or blaming, then you know for sure that whatever goal or aspiration you have is outside your control.
Don't get me wrong. I want big things for you. But you have to take baby steps that you celebrate. And make the "wins" only dependent on you.
For example, you may have an aspiration like, "I want people at work to notice me." This is not within your control. Maybe you do your hair in a new way or speak up in a meeting. Those actions are in your control, but the outcome is not.
There are better types of aspirations. When you ask yourself "why" half a dozen times, you may get an answer like this: I wanted to feel affirmed; I wanted to feel accepted; I want to feel beautiful and powerful.
Your new aspiration, one that is totally in your control.
"I feel beautiful, powerful, and loved."
These are feelings that you can feel about yourself, and the best part is you can experience them right now. Go to a mirror. Bathrooms work great. They have locking doors. Put your hands in the air, way above your head, and take three deep breaths. While looking at yourself in the mirror, smile. Now say, “Today is going to be a great day! I am a winner. I am beautiful. I'm powerful. I love you! You got this!"
As a shy introvert, that struggled with eye contact and speaking to a strangers, this was my private mantra before every pitch in front of investors, CEOs of fortune 100 companies, and the occasional crown prince. After saying my private prayer multiple times, a day for over a year, at the incubator my software company was going through in Silicon Valley, I can't say I'm a shy introvert. I broke the invisible bonds that bound me. Each time I said, "I love you, and you are enough," it was a small win—one entirely in my control.
Here's my list of five, teeny, tiny little wins I use first thing every morning.
1# Hold a ten-breath plank
2# Three girly push-ups.
3# Ten squats
4# Smile and say, "Today is going to be a great day!"
5# Say, "I am beautiful. I love you; I am enough."
I do this right in the bathroom, and before I am distracted by text messages and email. I don't think about it. I just do it. If I forget, then the next time I walk into my bathroom, I do it. Sometimes when I'm having a tough day, I do it a few times.
You don't have to do all five, pick one. Choose whichever one feels sticky. When I first started doing this five years ago, I had a hard time making eye contact with myself in the mirror. I felt ugly and unlovable. Eight years in an unhappy marriage had crushed my self-esteem entirely. The confidence I'd built up before meeting my x-husband had evaporated. But a million tiny wins later and telling myself I was beautiful and enough did not just regrow my confidence, I came back more robust and resilient.
No matter where you are or how you feel about yourself, you can also break the emotional and mental bonds that hold you back from the life you wish to experience. Take your tiny wins and celebrate you.