The Myth of a Clean Slate (and Why You Don’t Want One, Anyway)

clean slatePeople talk a lot this time of year about beginning with a clean slate. It’s a lovely idea to start over without all the baggage that weighs you down, isn’t it?

There are lots of ways to try and wipe the slate clean. Many people try to end certain habits or cultivate new ones. Some people end a relationship or start a new one. Some move to a new house or a new geographical location, altogether. Others start a new job or career.

Have you ever done any of these things, only to find your same, old patterns creeping (or crashing) back in? Maybe you have even thought, “This time, it’s really going to work! I’ve worked so hard, and I’ve done everything right this time.” How frustrating!

Why the Slate Is So Hard to Wipe Clean

So, why is it that we keep getting dragged back into our old patterns, no matter what we do? Not surprisingly, it all goes back to childhood. By the time we’re 2 1/2 years old, our major life patterns are set. From conception until age 2 1/2, we absorb how it feels to be human from how people around us feel about being human. From that absorbed feeling, our brains develop a sense of self that automatically generates every moment of our lives and a survival mechanism that allows us to fit well within the world around us.

Our thinking brains don’t begin to operate until the age of 2 1/2. Since we aren’t able to think during the early absorbing time, none of what we absorb or develop is rational. Some of the feeling that we soak up from others is called Learned Distress, the feeling that there is something wrong with us being just the way that we are. If we could have made some rational decisions, we would have thrown that feeling right back out, but unfortunately, it just becomes part of how we feel that it is to be human. And then, we develop survival mechanisms to cope with or control the Learned Distress, and they can seem downright crazy to our adult, thinking brains.

For instance, one major survival mechanism is dependence on others, and one way the brain puts that into practice is for someone to be unhealthy or even very sick. We all know rationally that being dependent and sick isn’t good for us. But, this person’s 2-year-old brain isn’t concerned with what makes sense. It just knows that survival depends on being reliant on others, and a good way to do that is to be sick. Hence, they might work very hard to get healthy, only to find themselves dragged back into unhealthy habits or conditions, or even developing new ones, inexplicably. It doesn’t make rational sense, and this person isn’t intentionally practicing self-sabotage. This is just the powerful 2-year-old trying to survive. This part of us has been there the longest, and no matter what control mechanism we try and impose on it, the 2-year-old eventually wins.

These negative patterns can happen anywhere in life—in health, relationships, career, and how we express ourselves in the world. Every aspect of life ultimately comes back to our absorbed sense of self and our survival mechanisms developed early in life.

Why You Don’t Want a Clean Slate, Anyway

A clean slate might sound pretty good right now, but here’s why you don’t want one. There is something even deeper within you than your Learned Distress and survival mechanisms, and it is pure good. This natural well-being is the kernel of energy that you began life with, and it is the feeling that it is completely good to be you, exactly as you are.

Your well-being was meant to be the totality of who you are, and your early life was just meant to be a time when it expanded in ways that allowed you to express your uniqueness. But, since people around you didn’t feel good every moment, you absorbed Learned Distress from them, also, and here you are, wishing for a clean slate.

But, what would be better is to wipe away the Learned Distress, so that your well-being can finally expand and take its natural place as the automatic, generating force in your life. Your well-being contains the unique goodness that is yours to express in the world, so allowing it to flow freely from within you gives the world a vital piece of the whole that you are meant to contribute.

What Well-Being Looks Like

One of the first things people say to me after they’ve peeled away a layer or two of Learned Distress is that good things happen so much more easily. When Learned Distress is in charge, we have to control it or leap over it in some way and make good things happen. We’re used to working hard for the good things. But, have you ever gotten out of bed and vowed to work really, really hard to make something bad happen that day? Of course, not. Learned Distress generates that for you.

Taking the Learned Distress out of the way allows well-being to generate your good moments in exactly the same way. So, clients call me and say, “I can’t believe it. For the first time ever, eating right was so easy this week.” Or, “I’ve always known that I should just tell people what’s on my mind, instead of worrying about what they think. But, this week, I just kept surprising myself by being really honest, and it worked so much better than I ever thought it would.”

My favorite part of helping people uncover their well-being is discovering with them what their uniqueness is. Sometimes, people worry that if we peel away their Learned Distress, there won’t be anything of them left. But, they soon find out that they have hidden desires and gifts that lead them along the unique path they are here to travel. As they unlearn layers of Learned Distress, pieces of their uniqueness are revealed to them, sometimes as complete surprises. And, because well-being is the driving force now, this good feeling propels in ways that make new twists and turns easier to navigate than they have been before. A client of mine just moved to a new country for a job that came about as the result of unlearning big layers of her Learned Distress. Major factors fell into place easily for her in the move, such as finding a buyer for her house instantly and effortlessly.

So, next time you’re wishing for a clean slate, you might wonder instead what it would be like to open up your well-being like a great big present. What unique surprises might be hidden within you, just waiting to delight not only you, but the whole world?

Sara Avery helps people get unstuck in their relationships, health, career, and self-expression. Learn how she can help you tackle your biggest challenges.

On the Holidays, Grieving, and Finding Inner Strength

How to move gently through grieving.I know that the holidays can be a really hard time, especially if you are grieving in some way. Grief can result from so many situations, as a client reminded me yesterday. She said that this holiday season, she finds herself grieving for the life she wishes that she had, but doesn’t, especially including children and a mate.

As I was considering what to post this week, I felt the most helpful thing I could do was to republish this piece I wrote last spring on grieving and finding our inner resources in the most difficult of times. I hope that you find it helpful and will pass it along to anyone you might know who is struggling this holiday season.Continue reading

How Success Lies Beyond Being Perfect and Playing by the Rules

Woman in sunny fieldOh, boy. This is not the topic I had planned for this week, but the unfolding of this blog post has been such a big shift for me and actually so fun, that I had to share it with you.

I overbooked myself this week and found myself at the point where I needed to write something for this space. I thought to myself, “Oh, no! I’ve run out of time to come up with something good enough.” Then, “Well, I can’t cop out and run another archive post this week.”Continue reading

6 Reasons the Holidays Stress Us Out (and the Antidote to All of Them)

Holiday stressDo you feel rested and relaxed once January 2 rolls around each year? Or, do you breathe a sigh of relief, grateful to have survived one more holiday season?

If you fall into the second category, you already know that you’re not alone. The negative feelings that we encounter during the holidays run the gamut from mild stress to anxiety to profound depression. If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I am always looking for the reasons within us that allow any situation to trigger such negativity.

In this article, I’ll describe a few of the biggest core issues that can make the holidays feel less than wonderful. All of these issues fall within a larger body of negative feeling called Learned Distress®.

Early in life, we all absorb this feeling that there is something wrong with us being just the way that we are. This Learned Distress becomes the automatic, generating force behind our negative moments and situations. As we absorb this negative feeling, our brains also develop survival mechanisms to help us cope with or control the feeling that there’s something wrong with us. Unfortunately, even our survival mechanisms can offer big stumbling blocks to happiness and success.

The holidays have the capacity, like any major life stressor, to trigger the most intense of our Learned Distress and survival mechanisms. So, let’s look at some of the most common. You may find that one or more resonate for you.

1. I Don’t Have Enough Money

The feeling that “there isn’t enough for me” pops up in lots of ways for people, but money is perhaps the most common way that we experience it. There are many expectations that we often have about the holidays that require money. Gift giving. Parties. Charitable giving. Decorating. Special holiday meals. Concerts or shows. Dressy clothes to wear to all these events.

Whether or not your finances are tight, the extra expenditures that you may feel are necessary at this time of year can really trigger the Learned Distress that “there’s never enough for me.” Believe it or not, even people who actually do have the funds to afford all of these things often say things to me like, “All I worry about is where my next meal is coming from.” This is because this feeling of not having enough is stored deep within us from early in our lives, just waiting to be triggered by something like the holidays.

2. I Don’t Have Enough Time

Many of the same holiday expectations above trigger fear about not having the time or energy to fulfill them. Can I get all my cards done on time? Can I get presents purchased, wrapped, and shipped? While going to parties every weekend? And concerts or the ballet? Again, whether or not you do actually have the time and energy to do these things, your fear that you don’t can still be triggered in a big way during this season.

3. I Don’t Matter

Feeling that we matter is at the core of being human, so having this triggered is one of the worst things we can experience in life. The feeling that we don’t matter is stored within us from early in life and is really just triggered by circumstances, kind of like tripping an alarm. But, we gauge the feeling that we don’t matter almost entirely by how other people respond to us and treat us.

So, one of the big triggers for this awful feeling is loved ones being absent, either because they’ve passed away or because we’re separated from them temporarily or permanently. Another big trigger for feeling like we don’t matter is not having a significant other or close friends to spend time with at the holidays. Even if you’re usually content to be alone, the holidays can feel like a time when you should have people around, so the feeling that you don’t matter gets triggered.

This feeling often also makes us feel invisible, even in the presence of people who are close to us. Maybe you do your best to tell your loved ones how you would like to celebrate the holidays, but they don’t seem to hear you, and plans are made that don’t fit with what you really want, at all. This is the feeling that you don’t matter at work, generating situations over and over again where you get to feel that same way.

4. Everything Has to Be Perfect

Do you feel this pressure at the holidays? Maybe you have to send everyone cards. Or, decorate just the right way. Bake cookies for everyone. Throw the perfect holiday party. Look perfect at holiday gatherings. Cook the best holiday meal ever. Find just the right present for everyone. Or, maybe it’s all of the above with a few more things thrown in!

If this rings a bell, your brain decided early in life that the way you could survive, despite feeling that there is something wrong with you, was to always do things in the perfect or ideal way. Do you ever feel panicky at the thought that you might not actually achieve all of the above? Do you even know if doing these things makes you happy? Our survival mechanisms can be so strong that they don’t even really allow us to know if we’re doing something based on what is really good for us, or not.

5. I Have to Make Everyone Else Happy

This is similar to number 4, in that you may not even be aware of what would make you happy, because your survival mechanism has you so busy making sure that you give everyone what they want from you (or what you think they want from you!). Survival for you depends on getting everyone else’s approval or validation, so you expend lots of energy doing whatever may help you achieve that.

Very often, this pattern has a healthy dose of number 3—”I don’t matter”—built into it, so you may wake up on January 2 and think, “Well, I made the holidays great for everyone else, but what about me?!”

6. I Have to Win

Better. Bigger. Brighter. Than everyone else’s. Is this the pressure you feel around the holidays? That unless you are the winner of this year’s holiday in some way—decorations, presents, parties—that you will have failed in some way? This is a demanding piece of Learned Distress, and like numbers 4 and 5, it may not even allow you to consider what would really make you happy.

The Antidote to Learned Distress

Did you recognize some of your own Learned Distress above? The most important thing I want you to know is that these negative feelings and survival mechanisms are not who you are. Before you ever started to absorb Learned Distress, you were pure well-being, a pure bundle of feeling good being just the way you are. You still have this well-being at your core, and it is your true nature.

You have within you what you need to achieve what matters to you, including having enough money and time. You are already good enough, just as you are. You do matter, exactly as you are.

Unfortunately, I know that reading these things probably doesn’t help you feel much better about your situation right now. If I could snap my fingers and dissolve all of your Learned Distress today, I would. But, Quanta Change doesn’t offer any such quick fixes. If we started working together today, we could probably erase some of your significant Learned Distress in the next few weeks. And then, we would be peeling away layers and allowing your well-being to emerge for some time to come. The reality is that Learned Distress that has been building for decades doesn’t disappear by following some simple advice that can be contained in a blog post.

And yet, my holiday wish for you is that by knowing that there is this deep well-being within you, that you can walk through this holiday season with just a little more ease and joy. Think of your well-being as a present just waiting to be unwrapped. What if you let yourself peel just a little wrapping paper away to catch a glimpse of it this holiday season?

Sara Avery helps people get unstuck in their relationships, health, career, and self-expression. Learn how she can help you tackle your biggest challenges.

Quanta Change Dream: Controlling Mother Neutralized

Celebrating womanOne of the most fascinating things I get to do as a Quanta Change Guide is to tie a major dream together with the positive change my client experiences. When I first began my own process, and my guide started to connect the dots with my dreams and my change process, I honestly thought, “Well, that’s interesting, and I’m glad she’s so excited about it, but I’m not sure that these things could all tie together in the way she says they do.” But now, after 13 years of going through my own process and guiding others through theirs, I get just as excited as she did, because I can see how clearly these things really do tie together.Continue reading

Why It’s So Hard to Be Really Honest

Why is it so hard to tell the truth?Are you perfectly honest about everything all of the time? Probably not. I wonder if anyone really is. Most of us never reach a criminal level of dishonesty, unless you consider speeding to be a form of lying. But, who hasn’t told a loved one what we thought they wanted to hear from time to time? Or, pretended that we knew something that we really didn’t? Or, said that we were fine when we were anything but?

You might say that some of these instances are harmless or even a good idea. As a violin teacher, I’ve been encouraging to students right before a competition or performance in ways that you might consider less than perfectly honest. I don’t think you could convince me to do otherwise. You can probably give me good reasons for similar situations you’ve found yourself in.Continue reading

The Surprising Thing about Positive Change

shocked womanIt was the weirdest thing the first time it happened to me. My whole life, I had felt very dependent on other people’s approval. And, some people’s opinion of me counted more than others. But, all of a sudden, I just didn’t care anymore about what a particular person in my life thought of me. It was such an intense shift for me that I can still remember where I was standing when it hit me. Now, you would probably think that I was jubilant. But, I felt strangely uneasy. I even thought, “If I try really hard, I can probably get that feeling of dependence back.” What the heck?!Continue reading

What Do You Really Want?

Do you know what you really want?Connecting to what you really want—to what really matters to you—is vital. It is what allows you to discover your uniqueness, so that you can make the world a better place. So, it’s a bit alarming to me that one of the most common things I hear from clients is, “I don’t know what I really want.” They usually say it when we’ve started to dig into their feeling that they don’t deserve to have what matters to them. We often have to back up a step when they realize that they don’t even know what matters to them in the first place. Then, there are people who are pretty clear on what they want, but as we work together, that shifts pretty dramatically.
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Is Enough Really Enough for You?

How much is enoughWhen I start talking about the concept of having enough with my clients, I can almost guarantee what the response will be. This conversation is most often about money, but it sometimes is about time or energy, too. I ask them to imagine what it would feel like to have enough, and the response is almost always, “Can’t we say ‘more than enough’?”

Why is it that enough rarely feels like enough? Why do we feel that we have to store up or have excess just to feel comfortable?

I’ll never forget discussing this with an acquaintance while sitting in his million-dollar home with his German luxury vehicles out front. He affirmed that actually having enough isn’t the same as feeling that we have enough when he practically yelled this at me: “All I worry about all day long is where my next meal is coming from!” He then said that they only way he would feel like he had enough would be to have the same income, but live in a trailer home. And then, he thought a moment and said, “No, even then it wouldn’t be enough.”

Wow! Is this guy crazy, delusional, greedy, or a liar? I don’t think so. He’s just a fairly extreme illustration of the feeling that we all deal with in some way or another that there’s never enough for us, or, even if there is enough right now, some famine is coming for which we must prepare.

Now, some people are like this man. They have boundless energy, willpower, and talent to overcome that feeling, at least outwardly. Their situation seems OK, so many of us look at them and think that they must feel like they have enough. Others are overwhelmed by this feeling and feel powerless to do anything about it, and often these people are the ones scraping for money, time, or energy.

This is interesting not only on an individual level, but also on a societal level. How much of our growing income inequality in the world is driven by this feeling that there’s never enough, no matter which side of the equation someone falls?

Where does this horrible feeling of scarcity come from in the first place? On a large-scale level, I think it goes back to the fact that our world does have a limited number of resources. It’s why I’m not a big fan of the abundance consciousness movement, which doesn’t really take into account real world numbers or situations, nor does it seem to lead towards society working together to make sure that everyone has enough. While “the universe” may indeed be limitless, our little, blue planet is most definitely not that way. That’s also why I don’t encourage my clients to follow their impetus to imagine “more than enough.”

On an individual level, we absorb the feeling of “there’s never enough for me” from our parents and other early caregivers early in life. During this time from conception until the age of 2 1/2, the brain is forming the sense of self, which becomes the automatic, generating force behind every moment of our lives. How we felt back gets stored in this tank, if you will, that then generates moments—without our conscious input or control—that feel the same way. This is what leads to repeating patterns in our lives, including not feeling like we have enough of something (or actually not having enough).

When I start to address this with clients, we often have to backtrack a bit, so they can discover what they really want and what really matters to them. I have yet to hear someone say that they want to have five mansions and a luxury yacht and actually stick with that after they’ve really explored what matters to them. Once they get a handle on what they really want, we can start to explore what it would be like to truly have enough of that—always.

One of my favorite success stories in this realm comes from a client who felt tremendous scarcity around time, among other things. Time scarcity is really powerful, because it seems truly limited in a numerical way. This man had to install something for a customer over the weekend and he told me that there was no way that he and his assistant could get it all done in the time they had, based on past experience. I had him do his work around it, and then waited to see what would happen. I was actually pretty surprised when he told me they got done with the job at the level of perfection he required in less time than they had alloted, even. I asked him what it was like—did he feel that they worked faster, somehow? He said that it felt like time slowed down. Each time he looked at the clock, he couldn’t believe how much they had completed. I can’t tell you how shocked he was at this. It was truly unprecedented.

In what part of your life do you feel that there will never be enough? Can you let yourself imagine how you would feel if you always had enough of whatever it is every single day of your life? That is the beginning of leaving behind this awful scarcity feeling that we all live with in some way or another.

Facing loss or challenges with more inner strength

You Have Everything You Need within You

Facing loss or challenges with more inner strengthAs you may know, I live near Boulder, Colorado, which is experiencing devastating floods. While I have not suffered any property damage, myself, many around me have. When I was thinking what I might say to help those who are facing the loss of their homes, their businesses, and most heartbreaking of all, their loved ones, I kept coming back to the article below that I published several months ago. While I focused on grieving here, what I’ve suggested also applies to facing big, unprecedented challenges, as well.
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