Getting Personal: Too much of a Good Thing.
I love the Internet. I love my iPhone. I love how technology has democratized storytelling, learning, publishing…and so much more.
Yet lately, I’ve been suffering from an over-stimulated, inter-connected, 21st century nervous breakdown of sorts. Perhaps you’re feeling the same frustration?
It’s not easy to find balance in this 24/7 never ending flow of information, requests for your attention, and voluminous social chatter. New York City probably doesn’t help matters. How do you turn off the noise?
As I found out the hard way, it led to my own burn-out and illness.
As some of you recall, I got pretty sick back in November 2011.
Eighteen months later, I’m still finding my health on the journey back from chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, hormone imbalance, and beneath it all—Lyme disease. While I would never wish such ill on anybody, this illness has been a great teacher.
I’ve learned an incredible amount about chronic illnesses that affect the immune and endocrine systems, and integrative therapies to get you well. (If you’re interested, I wrote a blog post a while back about my healing protocol and regimen).
I’m also learning new ways of structuring of my life, my work, and my energy—choosing to embrace more silence as a way of learning and letting go. (Thus, one of the reasons you haven’t heard from us in a while at Get Storied).
Before I got sick, I operated at 120%. I’ve always been a doer, a passion junkie, a dude on a mission. Forget the marathons; I ran in sprints. Not always the most effective 120% but a storm of activity nonetheless. This often led to double shifts late into the evening, often finding inspiration in the wee hours of the morning.
I kept up with the pounding pace that feels all too normal in our creative culture. It was a pace I couldn’t keep up for long.
Getting Sick Forced Me to Set New Boundaries.
When I got sick, I was literally too weak to walk across a room. I suddenly found myself operating at 10%. This meant I had to learn to say no to literally 110% of my life! Can you imagine? My ego was crawling on the floor. I had to accept that I could no longer be everything to everyone. It was a painful process, but it forced me to get clear about what really matters.
As I slowly regained my health, I’ve learned (reality: I am still learning) to set boundaries for how best to use my energy. This means: what’s mine to do? What’s critical path? What activities energize me versus suck the life out? Just because somebody asks for something, doesn’t mean I should do it. Especially in this new age of social media.
We’re all struggling—internally and externally—to set new boundaries.
Trust me, I know it’s hard. If you’re anything like me…whether you’re a changemaker or a creative, an entrepreneur or an empathic people pleaser…you’re problem isn’t about saying Yes. It’s about saying No.
Of course, I’m afraid of missing out. You might be too. What if I’m not around to answer that important new client email? Or what if I miss that enlightening bit of content in my social feed? Or god forbid, I might disappoint someone…
Here’s the thing: we continue to apply an old set of values to a new set of social relations. Think about it: We were all taught to be polite, give everyone our time and attention. But in a culture of inter-connectedness where we’re bombarded daily with demands for our attention—the emails, the voicemail, the Twitter feeds and requests from friends of a friend—it leaves us entangled in everybody else’s needs. These may or may not be in alignment with your priorities and agenda. “Opting-out” is a lot easier said then done.
What if you could just say NO to the noise—without repercussion?
I know, we’re all trying to unplug a bit more. Whether that means turning off your smart phone for a few hours, or resisting the urge to check Facebook when waiting in line at the post office. But it doesn’t address the underlying issues taking you away from your life, your mission, and the present moment.
When I was really ill, a mentor of mine Dan Mezick taught me some of the most valuable lessons about saying No. He said to me: “Michael, you’re on the cusp of a big breakthrough. I can feel it. You just need to work on the following mantra:
“It’s okay for 5% of the world to think I’m an asshole.”
At first I resisted.
“This is stupid! I’m not comfortable with this statement,” I snapped back at Dan.
“Interesting…let’s look at this…Why?” he asked patiently.
“This stands in direct opposition to what I believe in,” I huffed.
And then came the breakthrough.
I suddenly saw it in stark contrast. My fear of being perceived as an asshole was sabotaging the ability to truly live and speak my truth. Or from another perspective, my desire to ‘be loved by everyone’ was taking me down a path of pleasing everyone at the sacrifice of my own needs.
Dan later continued with part 2 of his come to jesus:
“You must always have at least 5 reasons for saying Yes.”
In other words, if I can’t come up with at least 5 good reasons for doing something, than it’s a No. Just like that. No. Unless I have 5 good reasons.
Think about how often we say Yes because we think something is going to happen, but then that expectation doesn’t actually materialize. Forcing myself to come up with 5 reasons is a way to ensure I’ve questioned my assumptions. It also manages risk, since I have 5 assumptions, reasons, or motivations to support the decision instead of just 1 or 2. So if some of them don’t pan out, I’ve got a good chance of creating value nonetheless.
So now, before I take something on—whether it’s a new commitment, project or relationship, it better damn well be something that supports the things I really care about.
Ready to Set Some Rule-Breaking Boundaries? Here’s How:
When any choice comes up, ask yourself: Do I have 5 reasons for saying yes? List them.
Part of the trick about this exercise is asking yourself why again and again.
- Why do I want to do this (whatever this is)?
- Am I attracted or repelled? Is this a clear YES, or is there hesitancy?
- Where is the synergy or leverage in saying YES?
- How do I belong in this story? Why do I want to be part of this story?
- Is this something I would be proud to share with others?
With this simple practice of 5 Reasons, I’m working on cutting through the distractions and staying focused on what matters most. It continues to be a work in progress, but one that appears to be an important lesson for the times we’re in.
Maybe this practice can help you too.
Silence can Help You Stay Clear on What You’re Here to Do.
Which brings me back to silence. And emptying the cup.
We go through life, collecting experiences, in order to have stories to tell, about that which we already knew all along. We’re already at the end of the story—but we keep ourselves busy trying to fill in all the pages, backwards.
It’s a paradox: We all have a deeper knowing. Certain things that we just know, or come natural to us. We just don’t know necessarily how to express them at first.
So we go through life, seeking one experience after the next, trying on different things for size, until we find a story that seems to fit. But soon it doesn’t fit anymore, and we go searching for another one. The whole time, we’re seeking stimuli in order to express that which we’ve always been and known all along. That’s the ironic cycle of life.
So consider your inputs. We live in a world of constant inputs, like we’re drinking from the firehose. What choices are you making with the inputs in your life – especially food, friends, feeds? They all have a huge effect on your state of mind. And they can help, or hinder, getting clear on what you care about, and where you want to spend your time.
Instead of the endless seeking and the mind-numbing need to know—I’ve been hitting the OFF switch on email, social media, and other inputs more often. There’s incredible and infinite wisdom within me, just as there is within you. Yet it’s a lot easier to distract ourselves than to spend the time connecting with our inner guidance.
In silence, you find time to remember who you really are, and what you are here to do. And that’s a story only you can write the ending to.
So if you don’t hear from me on email, Twitter or Facebook as much as you used to, you now understand why. I’m still here, and I still love you. I’m still doing the same boundary-pushing storytelling that I’m on this planet to do. Only I’m trying to be more mindful and healthy about the path.
I’m wishing you, too, the courage to say No when you need to…and just the right amount of silence to find and live your truth.