“If you want to change your life’s direction, you need to direct your intention, which means first being honest about the thoughts, rationalizations, intentions, and attitudes you already have.” Robert Altman, The Mindfulness Code

You hear about a shoe store opening up at your local mall, and you decide that you simply must have a new pair of fabulous red shoes. Off you go to the mall but you have no idea where the shoe store is in the mall. So you start with the Mall Directory. Looking at the map, what are the two things you need to know to get you on your way to that new pair of fabulous red shoes?

  1. Where you are now.
  2. Where you want to be.

So the first thing you do is find the bold YOU ARE HERE marker on the map. Why begin at this point?

Because you need to know where you are now in order to figure out how to get to where you want to be.

Now, take a closer look at that YOU ARE HERE marker. What it doesn’t say is as important as what it does say. It doesn’t say, “You are here. . . .but you have no business buying yet another pair of fabulous red shoes.” It doesn’t say, “You are here . . . .but once you get to the store, there probably won’t be any fabulous red shoes in your size so why bother?” It’s an objective statement of fact. It’s simply an indicator of your present circumstance, that is, where you are in the mall at this very moment. No more, no less. YOU ARE HERE – it is what it is.

You’re probably thinking, so what? Of course it doesn’t say that, McDowell, it’s just a sign.

But now let’s look at how this might apply to how we think about ourselves outside the mall.

When you think about where you are right now, how often do you attach some type of subjective, usually negative, judgment to your current situation? Maybe you’ve lost your job in this crumbling economy and haven’t been able to find another one no matter how many resumes you’ve sent out or job fairs you’ve attended. When someone asks you how your job hunt is going so far, do you reply, “I haven’t found anything yet,” and just leave it at that? Or do you say, “I haven’t found anything yet . . . and I’m sure it’s because I’m not qualified, there simply isn’t anything out there, no one is hiring, I can’t afford to take such a huge pay cut.” Do you make the objective statement – “no job yet” – only to follow it up with the subjective judgment – “and at this rate, I probably won’t find a job” – which, of course, makes you feel even more depressed and desperate and (if you’re like me) worthless than you already do? And then, to make matters worse, you allow the subjective judgment to determine your next steps, and so now you stop applying for certain jobs because you “just know” that you aren’t going to get hired anyway.

I am, for the most part, a “cup half full” person. But if I had a nickel for every time I added a subjective judgment onto an objective statement about my present circumstances, I’d be living in a sumptuous beachfront house in Hawaii wearing simply fabulous red slippahs (okay, I can hear my spiritual mentors whispering, “McDowell, it isn’t the money that’s keeping you from living in Hawaii, it’s your intention,” even as I write this, but that’s another topic for another blog!). Unless I am “thought-diligent,” unless I am mindful of what I’m thinking about when I think about my life, it’s very easy for me to negatively judge my present circumstances – and, as a result, chart a course of action that will not help me realize my goals – instead of making peace with my present circumstances in order to move forward with positive intentions.

Over the last few years, there has been an explosion of information about how we can use the power of our thoughts to improve our health, attain wealth, attract love, live longer and better. These are truly powerful messages that can – literally – transform our lives.

But I think there is a necessary first step that we must take before we can fully realize the changes that we want to make in our lives by harnessing this power: To know where we want to go and figure out how to get there, we must begin with identifying where we are right now. Knowing where we are helps us identify WHAT needs to be changed and the reasons WHY we want to move away from our present circumstances towards a new life. As an empath, my work is about getting people to have the courage and energy to look at and accept themselves – their wants, feelings, needs, desires, darkest thoughts – in order to move from their current state to a desired future state.

None of us is immune from subjectivity, ignorance, or denial. But it has been my experience that if we can understand our situation from an objective, nonjudgmental standpoint, we have a better chance at finding ways of responding positively to our present circumstances. We must begin by doing what Altman describes as “cultivating a neutral and nonjudgmental awareness, which allows us to witness and observe events without attaching to them. Our subjective emotion needs to be developed into objectivity in order to determine both the need for change and our ability to change.

Perhaps we cannot remove all the ups and downs of life. However, we have it in our power to alter how we perceive our lives, how we interpret YOU ARE HERE, in order to change our perception of the experience of our lives – which ultimately influences our decisions and our actions. This is in no way to imply that your present circumstances might not be daunting, painful, or even life-threatening. Rather, identifying what our lives consist of now, and making peace with our present circumstances, means that we are more readily able to accept and engage the difficulties of life. Once we objectively acknowledge our present circumstances, we can determine where we need to be, and then begin to chart a course of action for getting there.

“If you truly want to change your life, you must first be willing to change your mind.” The Mindfulness Code, Donald Altman

If you truly want to change your life, you must first be willing to change your mind. Donald Altman, The Mindfulness Code ©2010

You know how some people seem to be better at handling change than others? Most of us know at least one person who has successfully made a major change in their lives, like quitting smoking, losing weight, or even walking away from their “Sure Thing” job. Then there are the rest of us – and maybe you count yourself among these people —who give up the minute it gets tough.

Whether it’s a change in your job, health, family, relationships, or life in general, transitions are an inevitable part of life. However, most people don’t like change. For many of us, change can be difficult or uncomfortable. This is true regardless of whether the change is forced upon us, planned, unexpected, or self-created. Why? Because we are giving up familiarity in exchange for the unfamiliar and unknown.

But the good news is that anyone can learn to deal more effectively with change, and face their fears, by doing one incredibly easy thing: choosing to change their perspective of change.

And here’s why I know this to be true.

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From 2002 to 2012, I shared my life with the four-legged love of my life, a Czechoslovakian Shepherd named Kona. He meant everything to me. For 10 years, taking care of Kona gave my life meaning, and I couldn’t imagine my life without him.

Until, one day, I was forced to imagine the unimaginable.

Almost from the day of his birth, Kona had health challenges, all of which were serious but treatable. Then in 2006, Kona was diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition. Life expectancy rates for dogs with Kona’s condition were bleak at best; one vet told me that the longest any of his patients lived after the diagnosis was a meager three weeks!

The prognosis was so poor, in fact, that my vet, knowing how I felt about Kona, tried to prepare me for what the tests indicated would probably be Kona’s imminent and sudden death. He walked me through the steps I needed to take in the coming weeks: everything from keeping him quiet, avoiding excitement, and even what to do if Kona had a heart attack while we were out walking or just playing outside, which was apparently how most of the dogs with this condition died.

To say I was devastated doesn’t come close to describing how I felt. And, needless to say, I barely heard a word that the vet was telling me.

I cried for two days. I was filled with fear whenever I even thought about Kona running up and down the basement stairs, let alone not having Kona in my life.

And then I decided to change how I would perceive this awful, unthinkable news: I realized I had a choice.

I could either choose to let it negatively impact every remaining moment I had with Kona – I could lock him in the house, never take him for a walk again, never let him chase birds or rabbits, never leave him alone for a single moment “just in case.” Or, I could choose to see this as a blessing and be grateful for every moment I was going to have with him. We could go on as we did before, chasing lots of rabbits (knowing he could never catch them, thank heavens!), taking long walks – aware of the possible consequences but living our lives to the fullest.

And we did, not just for three short weeks but, miraculously, for four glorious years!

Which is not to say that I didn’t have to come up with a plan for facing my fears and dealing with Kona’s condition realistically. I did have to figure out what to do if Kona had a heart attack while we were away from home. I did have to figure out who I was going to call if Kona became incapacitated, and I needed to get him in the car and to the emergency clinic quickly – not an easy thing to do by myself since he weighed over 100 pounds.

And I did have to think about the unthinkable: going on with my life without Kona in my life.

But once I changed my perspective of the situation, I was able to face the fear and come up with an action plan for moving forward no matter what might happen.

You Say Tomato, I Say Tomahto

The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you. We are in charge of our attitudes. Charles Swindoll, Founder, Insight for Living

We all know that the three most important words in real estate are location, location, location. In learning to deal with change more effectively and without fear, the three most important words are attitude, attitude, attitude. You can change your perspective of an event as well as how you feel about having to respond to it.

Take, for example, writing your own obituary rather than leaving that for someone else. You can approach your end-of-life preparations with dread or thinking it’s morbid. Or, you can see it as an opportunity to sing your own praises, to get your house in order, or to just know that you can do something as painful as thinking about your own or someone else’s mortality without being crushed by the knowledge.

We have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change the inevitable, the unexpected, or the unthinkable. But we CAN change how we approach and deal with anything that might throw us off course or keep us from living a life in our best and highest interests.

Change Your Thoughts? Change Your Life!

“We cannot change anything if we cannot change our thinking.” Santosh Kalwar, Quote Me Everyday

Within each of us is a soul-deep knowledge of our passions, our values, our desires, and our yearnings, all of which are waiting to be born. And yet, all too often, our current thoughts and beliefs limit our ability to imagine new horizons, to see our present circumstances or our future in new ways, and to give birth to our true selves.

But you CAN learn to release your limiting thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, and attitudes. The key is to give yourself permission to acknowledge your current thought patterns, belief systems, feelings, and fears; challenge your existing assumptions and attitudes that no longer serve you; and explore ways to transform your limiting thoughts and beliefs into limitless possibilities!

Giving yourself permission to see your thoughts in a new way and then to create new thoughts based on your own personal truths will empower you to identify, accept, and embrace change in all areas of your life – spiritual, physical, mental, emotional. And while you might not be able to change an unwanted hardship, you will be able to more readily accept and engage the difficulties of life.

I believe that when we give ourselves permission to rethink, to consider other possibilities, we crack open a door to our Higher Selves – and our Higher Selves, recognizing that the door has been cracked open, wedge a crowbar in to make sure that we consider a different way ahead. You only need to be willing in order to move in a new direction!