Freedom from Obligation

A theme that’s been emerging in my world is the difference between Obligation and Commitment. For some people, they may be synonyms, but to me, they definitely are not. I’ve been doing one of my word studies to dig in and get them clear for myself.

com·mit·ment noun
the state or a quality of choosing to be dedicated to a cause

ob·li·ga·tion noun a course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound

 There’s one keyword that delineates them, to me.


The more I dig into the etymology, history and meanings of the words, to me, commitment is choosing to bind yourself to something/someone and obligation is a thrust upon you and often feels like a burden.

This is important because I look at my life through the lens of choices.

Whenever I begin to feel obligated to something I pause to check in to see, is there anything about this ‘thing’ that I’m actually committed to? Can I connect to that commitment strongly enough that the feeling of burden lifts?

I find when I’m doing something out of obligation my heart isn’t in it, whereas if I can do it out of a commitment, it’s all heart.

One example is that I often skip buying presents for my friends on their birthday. But I’m known to randomly send gifts, cards etc when I feel inspired. I’m committed that they feel loved, but not obligated to do it in any particular way or on any specific timeline.

A small shift perspective can have a huge impact.

Another example. In March 2017 I’d been living a nomadic life for a couple of years and was starting to feel a bit like a fraud because I’d been in one place, my hometown no less, for several months. I was feeling obligated as a nomad to get back on the road and really pushing myself to make this happen. Funny thing is, when I related to it that way, as an obligation, I wasn’t able to get any traction. Everything I had planned didn’t come to fruition. This all became super clear when, three days before I was scheduled to finally leave town and go to Europe, My Guy experienced a major tragedy in his family. He said to me ‘don’t feel obligated to stay behind, you can go Europe‘ and my first thought was ‘hell no! I’m committed to you, I’m staying!‘.

That same conversation taught me another lesson, about my commitment to myself. Traveling and nomading is not an obligation – I chose this life and if it stops feeling juicy and awesome, if it starts feeling like a burden, then I will choose a different life. Once I again started relating to my lifestyle as a choice and commitment rather than a burden and obligation things started magically falling into place. By June 2017 I was back to traveling in a new and exciting way.

I wrote about Priorities and it’s still totally true. I continue to evolve and this conversation of Obligation and Commitment is just another layer to the onion of this round of evolution. My hope is that by sharing it with you, seeing my journey, will allow you to more deeply connect with your own.

Does this relationship between Obligation and Commitment ring true for you?

Are there things you’re doing out of Obligation that you can look for what you’re Committed to as a way to shift your relationship?


Words are Magical

Have you ever considered just how subjective language is?

They’re simply sounds we make. As a society we have all agreed that specific sounds represent specific things.

It’s magic really.

For example, take the word couch

couch   kouCH/   noun
1. a long upholstered piece of furniture for several people to sit on.

It could also be called a sofa, if it’s smaller it may be called a love seat and the larger variety are sometimes called sectionals. Which one is correct? Which one applies when?

It gets even more complicated when you look at the full definition for ‘couch’ as it can also be a verb:

couch   kouCH/   verb
1. express (something) in language of a specified style.
2. lie down.

And this is a simple example!

It gets much more complex when you look at the definition of a word that represents something unseen like love or hate.

There are over 470,000 entries in the latest addition of Webster’s Dictionary.

So many options available to us, and yet, we collectively seem to gravitate toward the same subset over and over. So much of the available vocabulary goes unused in everyday conversation. This points to something…with so many words available and underutilized it would also seem that we often settle for using a word that doesn’t fully embody our intention. We fail to take the time to find the exact, specific word to represent our thoughts, feelings or intentions. I’ve discovered a significant value in taking the time to utilize the precise appropriate word, in some situations.

My first exposure to the importance of words came from Mom. I was homeschooled and Mom often made up games to help us learn, keep in mind this was in the 80’s before the internet was at our fingertips. One of my favorite games was called Synonym Gin, she wrote synonyms on playing cards and we had to collect four to get Gin and win. I remember being enthralled by how there could be so many ways to say the same thing. It was around this time that we read Julie of the Wolves, I learned that in the Eskimo’s language of Inuit there are nearly 300 words to describe what we have only 1 word for – snow. This fascinated me.

The actual game from my childhood. Mom keeps everything.

Later in my early twenties, I was exposed to the fictional society described in The Giver by Lois Lowry. The society often requests precision of language from its members. They go so far as to eradicate broad words to describe emotion. Upon reading this I found myself going back to the synonym groupings of my childhood and looking them up in a dictionary, wanting to understand the nuances, to be precise with my language.

More recently I participated in a self-development course that is fond of word studies, not only looking up a word but also exploring the etymology, the history of the word. In the course a single definition is reached, agreed upon and used for the rest of the course to ensure a common understanding. This idea of ‘redefinition’ feels juicy to me, like I’m developing a personal relationship to a word. Doing this sort of study creates a profound awareness of how often things are only true because we agree they’re true.

Word study is something I often incorporate into my own process for understanding new concepts. It’s also become integral to my process for intentionally designing my world. I did a word study on habit versus ritual when wanting to be sure I was relating to my grounding process appropriately – it’s a ritual, not a habit – and relating to it that way empowers me. I did a word study when writing my Partner a love letter, I wanted to be sure I used specific, intentional words to describe my thoughts about how our relationship developed over the previous year. I started with impressed, after research I found amazed and confounded to be most accurate.

I encourage my clients to play with what thrills them, I don’t believe in most one-size-fits all solutions, I’ll share what I do to give you a starting point just know that there’s no right way to do this, play with what works for you.

Sometimes I use an actual book, but usually I use the internet. I begin by looking a word up in a thesaurus, I’ll check to see if any of the synonyms seem to better fit my need, looking all of the contenders up in the dictionary. Sometimes I’ll look up key words from the definition as well.

Once I land on what seems to be an accurate word to use I will google it and its etymology. Sometimes when I understand the history of a word it no longer fits. For example, the word habit originally referred to garments and shifted to refer to a behavior pattern when they became heavily associated with the garments worn by clergy which wore the same garment daily for life. Now that I have a more intimate relationship with the word habit I recognize that most things I used to relate to as habits are actually practices.

Sometimes I pull different definitions together and create my own, pulling from that ‘redefinition’ idea. Sometimes I learn that there simply is not one word to exactly describe my thought, feeling, etc which is empowering in its own way.

There’s something about this process, the research, that gives me time and space to really consider something and be deliberate about how I relate to a thing, an intention, emotion etc. This practice has me really check in with myself, what exactly is it that I want to communicate? I often do this even if I’m only communicating to the various parts of myself, for an internal dialog.

I believe words are incredibly powerful. They carry weight. The history and meaning of a word impact how it is received. Using the exact correct word not only allows you to be intentional and become more aware of your thoughts and intentions, it conveys to others that you care enough to do so.

This practice of word study shows up often in my life and my work. I already gave you the example of writing a love letter to my Partner and examining my daily routine. It also served me when writing about the Victim vs Victor conversation, over use of the word feel and my examination of the concept of Ego. Each new year I craft my annual intention, my declaration to the universe of what I want for myself in my life over the coming year and word study plays a critical part in this process as well.

Where could intentional use of language be applied in your world?

As with all things, moderation is needed. There are many times where it is far more valuable for me to ‘talk it out’ than to go off and do a word study. Take care to use a practice like this as a way to deepen your relationship and self awareness – not to hide out or delay action.

Change your reputation in 5 steps

No matter what you think of yourself, part of your identity is how others think of you. Their opinions and thoughts of you influence how they relate to you, what they say about you, what connections they offer etc. This isn’t new information. What may be a new concept, however, is that you have the power to shift how they think of you. With a bit of intentionality and time, you can shift this in five steps, here’s how.

1 – Get clarity on how you’re seen now

The easiest way to do this is quite simple. Ask. Ask as many people as you can to describe you in five words. To get a really great holistic view look to ask someone from each area of your life, or community that you’re a part of. I asked someone from each of these groups : siblings, parents, gal pals, co-workers, gym buddies, neighborhood buddies, church pals, social media.

Keep in mind that they’ll likely share the positive things with you, it’s rare to have a friend, even more so an acquaintance, that will actually be straight and share negative impressions with you. The first thing you can do to combat this is to be clear that you want honesty, not flattery. Additionally, you may also look for the more blunt and honest people in your world and ask them what five words they often hear others use to describe you, good, bad and neutral.

The words I got the most often were: Aggressive, Smiling, Intelligent, Caring and Bossy/Pushy.

2 – Decide how you want to be seen going forward.

Take your time with this. Be intentional. Choose five words that you want to embody. I sat down with a thesaurus, dictionary and the internet and really looked at the definitions, etymology (history) and various associations with words. Once I found a word I pulled synonyms and definitions together to create my own – what I mean by that word.

Here are the five I chose:

Catalyst: a person or thing that precipitates an event or change; a person whose talk, enthusiasm, or energy causes others to be more friendly, enthusiastic or energetic.

Fun: inspiring enjoyment or playfulness. providing mirth.

Tenacious: holding fast, persistent, holding together, stubborn, cohesive, not easily pulled asunder; tough.

Thoughtful: showing consideration for others; manifesting careful thought; mindful.

Smart: quick in action, ready mental capability; clever, witty or readily effective, dashingly or impressively neat or trim in appearance, socially elegant, sophisticated, saucy, pert.

3 – Embody this new you.

This can be the hardest part. Especially if you think that you’re already some of these words. For example, I felt that I was already tenacious, but that it was being interpreted as bossy/pushy. So I had to spend time really looking at what it would take to have my commitment to a result show through, rather than bossiness or forcing something.

Whenever I found myself feeling stressed, annoyed, or under pressure and returned to these words, as a grounding point, as my commitment.

4 – Create a structure to remind yourself of what you’re committed to.

These words became a bit of a mantra for me. I am a Catalyst. I am Fun. I am Tenacious. I am Thoughtful. I am Smart. And, life happens and it can be super easy to forget this type of project. So create some structure to support your future self in success.

Print the words/definitions out and post them in a prominent spot in your environment. Move them every few weeks too, so they don’t begin to blend in and become part of the landscape. I started with them on my fridge and over the course of the year they lived on my bathroom mirror, next to my bed, next to my computer screen, over my kitchen sink, in my car, you get the idea. I also created a small image to make the screensaver on my phone as well as the desktop background on my computer.

5 – Check in with others to see how you’re doing.

After the initial inquiry to my friends of 5 words, they think of related to me. I made it a practice to check in every 4-5 months. What was interesting for me is that the second time I asked, people were a lot more likely to share words that could be perceived as less flattering.

I didn’t say it would be easy, but it is fairly simple.

I never quite got to where everyone always related to me as my five words. I did get to where it was close: Transformer. Fun. Tenacious. Compassionate. Smart.

The bigger impact I see, now that it’s been a few years and I have the benefit of hindsight, is how I think of myself. I now know that I have the power to shift not only how I see myself, but also how others see me. This is just one element to designing my life, creating my world, ensuring that I get to live the life of my dreams.

What are your five words?


Train the Monkey

The core foundation of living an intentionally designed life comes down to your ability to Train Monkeys. Yup, you read that right.

Not that kind of monkey. This kind.

You know the ones, we all have them. They live in your head and talk to you all day and night long, an ongoing dialog of judgements, assessment, chatter, obsessions, idle thoughts. The challenge is that the Monkeys don’t stop talking unless you train them. Unless you do the work and build a muscle around training those Monkeys they can be so loud that you can’t connect to Source/God, they just talk right over whatever Source is trying to say to you.

It may be time to consider new management in that head of yours. This was the case for my recent client, Samara. She was consistently stressed, surviving her life, hopping from one fire to another in her home and business. After some investigating we identified that the root of her challenge is that she was allowing her Monkey Mind to run her life and desperately missed experiencing a connection to Source/God.

Step 1 : Find the Monkeys

You can’t train something if you don’t know where it is or how to find it.

monkeymineThe most basic part of your brain is the Reptilian Brain or Lizard Brain, located physically in the cerebellum. This is where your impulse lives, fight or flight responses, this is your survival instinct. The Monkeys certainly interact with the Lizard Brain, but they live in a distinctly different place in your brain.

For most people the Monkeys live in the Neocortex and play in the Limbic. The Neocortex is where thought and language take place. The Monkeys live here and just chatter away, a constant dialogue, talking to you all day long. The Limbic is essentially where judgement and emotions come from and this is where the Monkeys love to play as they’re great at judging you, the world around you, your actions, others actions, everything really; they also get riled up by emotions, they feed on them.

The part that can’t be easily explained by science and biology is your Higher Self. For me this is my soul and how Source/God speaks to me. Once I built a muscle around training the Monkeys and could choose when to quiet them, that’s when my Higher Self started getting more air time in my head and heart. Over time I even started to receive what I call Downloads, thoughts planted in my Mind that I’m clear are not my own, rather messages and directives from Source/God. Thing is, you won’t be able to find this place inside you until you spend some time getting to know the various players.

I suggest you start by spending some time, perhaps a week, noticing when they Monkeys are chattering. See if you can identify when it’s the Monkey Mind versus your Lizard Brain responding to something. Don’t attempt to change it, just notice.

Samara realized that her Lizard Brain would trigger a fight or flight response to the fires and challenges she faced throughout her day in her home life and business. Then, once the threat had passed her Monkey Mind would dominate the rest of her day.

Step 2 : Get to know the Monkeys

It’s difficult to train something you have no relationship with. To train an animal you must first earn it’s trust.

With that in mind, spend some time getting to know your Monkeys. What do they talk the most about? What are their common complaints? What do they love to judge? What emotions get them going?

Again, spend a week focusing on this. Just notice, don’t attempt to change.

Samara’s Monkeys spent most of their time analyzing if she’d handled the daily emergencies ‘correctly’, assessing if she was going to be able to leave work on time to be with her family. They also judged her for not spending more time with family and, at the same time, judged her for not handling the business more efficiently.

I feel it important to note here that there are times when the Monkeys help you. They remind you to turn off the stove, buy toilet paper, they think about relationships, self-image etc. and a certain amount of this is healthy. The Monkeys also judge and assess your environment and help you sort things out, for example as you navigate a networking event your Monkeys are determining which people you want to connect with and which ones aren’t a fit. The goal here isn’t to eradicate the Monkeys! They often help and support you in life, no you don’t want to make them go away, you want to develop the ability to choose when you interact with them and when you quiet them. As you’re noticing the focus of the Monkey chatter, also notice when they help you and when the conversation moves into obsessive and no longer serves.

Again, don’t try to change it, just notice (I KNOW, this can be HARD – just trust me)

Step 3 : Give the Monkeys something to do

If you want a group of monkeys to quiet down, throw some bananas or toys into their cage. You want to start including some practices or techniques to distract your Monkeys.

The most effective thing is to incorporate meditation into your daily routine. Meditation is different than prayer. Consider that prayer is talking to Source/God and meditation is listening. By this definition, regardless of your religious affiliation, meditation can be incorporated into your daily routine.

There are many, many types of meditation. I always suggest that those new to the practice start with deep breathing for just 30 seconds twice a day and slowly increase to five minutes twice a day over a couple of weeks.

For some, the addition of meditation is all that is needed, this simple addition has a butterfly effect and things fall into place. However, for those who are more analytically inclined, additional practices and tools are required.

In Samara’s case we added some new boundaries as well as time management techniques in addition to meditation. She set boundaries with her clients and vendors around when she would address their ‘fires’ and she implemented some focused time daily to manage the business operations which helped to avoid internal fires. She also had a conversation with her family about her guilt over not being home more and made some agreements with them that freed her up to worry less.

Another practice is to simply change the conversation. When the Monkeys get on a rant about something that is self-deprecating, and you notice that it’s happening, change the conversation. You do have control over your thoughts. One thing that works well for me, when I notice the Monkeys going on about something disempowering I focus them, instead, on making a mental list of ten things you’re grateful for, or ten people you love and why, or ten items on your bucket list…you get the idea.

This is not an overnight shift. It takes time to Train Monkeys. It isn’t easy, it will take discipline, commitment and intentionality. Thoughts lead to actions which lead to results. If you’re determined to design your life, to intentionally create a life you love, you must first start by designing and intentionally creating your thought life.