Why Ignoring Your Past Doesn’t Work

“Get bored with your past, it’s over!” —Caroline Myss
“When the past calls, let it go to voicemail. It has nothing new to say.” —Unknown

Your past is calling.These two quotes have been making the rounds on social media recently. They’re clever, and they sound like good advice. They even work pretty well for some people to a certain point. But, these sayings ignore the fact that your past is actually the automatic, generating force behind every moment in your life. You can no more ignore your past than you can wake up in a completely different body.

Specifically, the part of your past that is generating your present moments is the feeling you absorbed about being human from conception until the age of 2 1/2. During this time, you couldn’t think yet. Your brain was merely a sponge, soaking up how people around you felt about being human. You took this on as how it feels to be you as a human. Your brain turned all this absorbed feeling into your unique sense of self. After the age of 2 1/2, your sense of self became the automatic, generating engine for the moments of your life. In other words, your brain keeps generating moments in which you feel the same way you did in your most intense moments, positive or negative, before the age of 2 1/2.

Usually, when people talk about ignoring the past, they mean the negative stuff, which I call Learned Distress. Since you couldn’t think yet, when someone around your young self was having a bad day, you couldn’t process it and throw it out, nor did you even understand it was “negative.” Just like a sponge has no choice in what it absorbs, your little sponge-brain just absorbed that feeling as, “This is how it feels to be me.” Later in life, as your brain generates moments that feel the same way those early negative moments felt, you have the rational capacity to judge them and decide that you don’t feel good in these moments.

Along with the negative feeling you absorbed early in life, your brain developed a survival mechanism that allowed you to fit well with those around you. When your brain generates negative moments for you, this survival mechanism kicks in and allows you to cope with or control things in the same way that worked well for you in relation to your family and other early caregivers.

Those people for whom the quotes at the top work well developed a survival mechanism that usually allows them to keep negative feelings buried and somehow overcome that to make good things happen, or at least keep things under control and going in the right direction for themselves. There are also people who tend to feel the negative stuff, but still have a survival mechanism that allows them to keep overcoming the negative. These folks usually live in a lot of crisis, but they find ways to overcome it. Then, there are people who are completely overwhelmed by their Learned Distress in various ways. Their survival mechanisms allow them to keep going, but their past is usually hard to bury, ignore, or deny, and they often feel defeated in some way by their negative moments.

People come to me when, no matter their survival mechanism, their Learned Distress has become to intense to continue living with in the same way they always have. Learned Distress actually is recharged at night when we sleep, and it keeps growing in intensity over time as this recharging process takes place. So, the moments generated from Learned Distress keep getting more intense and difficult to handle over time. When people reach their breaking point, whether it is in their health, relationships, career, or self-expression, they also reach the point I love where their brain will really allow them to start unlearning layers of Learned Distress permanently. Since their control mechanisms have been what has allowed them to survive, the brain holds on tightly, but will finally start to let go when the pain and frustration of Learned Distress reaches this boiling point.

What’s great is that unlearning Learned Distress gradually reveals more and more of someone’s natural well-being. This well-being, which people sometimes call “higher self” or the part of us connected with God or Source, is the very center of our being. Well-being not only allows us to feel good physically, mentally, and emotionally, but it is the source of our creativity and uniqueness. And, it is what allows us to discover and fulfill our unique purpose on the planet. Learned Distress has overwhelmed our natural well-being, but as layers of it peel away, our natural well-being expands to take its rightful place as the automatic, generating force in our lives. Just as we’ve never had to work for bad days to happen, the good moments and situations begin to happen effortlessly.

One of my clients has experienced a lot of this effortless good in his preparation to move his family to Hawaii from the mainland US. In the past, much smaller moves have been difficult and traumatic for the family. But, as he has unlearned the Learned Distress that generated those painful situations, he has found that this move has gone more smoothly than he even could have wished for or expected. Every step of the way, from finding land and resources to build the house and farm they dream of, to selling their current house, to arranging to ship their belongings, they have found things to work out better than they even hoped could happen.

In what way does your past keep speaking up in your life? Even if it’s an event that happened long after childhood, it has its roots in how you felt very early in your life. Do you feel like you can still keep hanging up on that voice, or is it getting so loud that you can’t ignore it any longer? The good news is that your natural well-being and uniqueness is lurking just under all of that negative feeling, just waiting for you to discover it. Here’s to your well-being emerging!

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

Is It Interdependence, or Really Just Co-Dependence?

Interdependence is not the same thing as co-dependence.The idea of interdependence is an important and necessary one for us to embrace in modern life. We’ve moved beyond the days of subsistence, where we produce and make nearly everything we need. This gives us the ability to express our individuality and uniqueness in ways that we never could if our survival depended upon raising our own food, creating our own shelter, and managing everything that goes along with doing that ourselves. And, people working together, each sharing their gifts, is what allows us to accomplish new and bigger things that allow us to move forward as a society.

One way I’ve heard interdependence described is that it is the way our bodies work. Everything in our bodies works in complete sympathy with everything else, and yet each cell and component is self-sufficient on its own. When it comes to human self-sufficiency, I believe that means that healthy adults are meant to be able to rely on themselves for their own basic emotional and physical needs. The basis for self-sufficiency is that we have everything within us that we need to provide what we need and want in life. When we come from that place, we have a stable platform from which to share our gifts with the world and work with others to create something bigger than we could do on our own.

Contrast that with co-dependency, which is sometimes mistaken for interdependency. Co-dependency has more of a crutch feeling to it. It is based on the feeling that one doesn’t have everything they need within themselves to be stable and gather the resources they need, so they lean on someone else for those things. People express co-dependence in different ways, so that one person may be very dependent on others financially, while another is very dependent emotionally. There’s often a subtle (or not so subtle) manipulative factor to co-dependency, also. The co-dependent person is often good at determining and becoming what someone else wants them to be, so that this other person will provide what the co-dependent person feels they need.

You can see how interdependence comes from a place of inner strength, while co-dependence comes from a place of inner lack. I hesitate to say weakness, because the potential for inner strength is within us all, and it’s just that this potential is blocked for those who behave in co-dependent ways.

This internal block is caused by what I call Learned Distress, the feeling we all absorbed early in life that there is something wrong with us being exactly the way that we are. This negative feeling becomes embedded in our sense of self, and it becomes the automatic, generating force behind our negative situations. Everyone absorbs a different flavor of Learned Distress. Those who develop co-dependent behavior absorbed the feeling that they can’t depend on themselves in one arena or another; they have to depend on others in some way in order to survive.

My clients who have unlearned the source of their co-dependency usually experience shifts in several ways. First, they feel more capable and confident in their own abilities. As a result, they feel less dependent on others for their basic needs. They also are able to uncover their unique gifts and find ways of sharing them with the world. And, they often find themselves either seeking or being sought by others to collaborate in making bigger things happen in the world in ways that fit perfectly with their uniqueness. A great example is a couple who are both clients of mine, and are both artists. They’ve always collaborated with each other on projects, but as they’ve both unlearned in this arena, they have found themselves branching out and working with others on their projects. They’re finding strengths they didn’t know they had, uncovering new ways of expressing themselves, finding others who fill in skill gaps they had experienced when trying to work on their own, and reaching out in whole new ways with their artistry, as a result.

The world needs all of us, sharing our uniqueness and working together with others to help the world shift in good ways that would be impossible if each of us worked alone. We’re meant to work together, but co-dependency often gets in the way of us really being able to do that effectively. I hope that this has helped you understand the difference between co-dependence and interdependence, so that you can move toward more fully making your vital contribution to our 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.

Why It’s So Hard (or Easy) to Admit You’re Wrong

Admitting I'm wrongWhy is it that some people never seem to admit they’re wrong about something, even when they clearly are? And, why do others seem to apologize just as a basic part of their existence? There are several survival mechanism elements at play here.

First, there’s the person for whom survival depends on always knowing everything. That person panics at the thought that someone could see that they aren’t perfect or don’t know exactly what they’re talking about. Often, this kind of person also feels like they must win in order to survive. So, competition also kicks in, and they will argue endlessly to try and prove they are right. Sometimes, they’ll even go as far as to make things up, just to keep up the illusion that they are right.

The next kind of person is the one who has to do things the “right” way. Their survival mechanism has a strong sense of right and wrong built into it, and it feels unsafe for them to step out of their “right” way or to admit that they might have done something the “wrong” way. They rely on keeping things tightly under control, so admitting to having stepped outside their tight boundaries feels very unsafe to them.

The flip side of this equation is populated with those who apologize for everything, even if they are within their rights to have said or done something. This person needs other people’s approval in order to survive, and unlike the first kind of person I described above, this person feels unsafe in competing. In fact, they need to let others win, so that they gain approval. This person panics if they don’t have the approval of everyone around them, so even if they are right, they may still apologize. In extreme cases, they may even apologize for being right!

Some people are even combinations of all of the above. If you fall into this category, you may feel like you’re in a constant tug of war between needing to be right/perfect/the winner and getting other people’s approval.

When I talk about “survival,” I really mean it. Early in life, we all absorb the feeling that there is something wrong with us being exactly the way that we are. At the same time, our brains develop mechanisms that allow us to fit well with our surroundings and survive with the presence of the feeling that there is something wrong with us. All of this negative feeling and survival mechanism become embedded in our sense of self, which is the automatic, generating force behind every moment of our lives. So, however we felt and survived early on will continue to be the way the moments and situations feel throughout our lives. So, whether survival depended on getting others’ approval, having things be one’s own way, or things being the “right way,” life will continue to require that of us.

When clients work with me to unlearn these negative patterns, these survival mechanisms gradually relax their death grip. The first two kinds of people I described find themselves more easily relating to others when it comes to conflicts. They don’t feel as panicked when someone sees they’ve done something that wasn’t “perfect” or the “right way.” One client with the second pattern recently called her ex-husband, an estranged sister, and a co-worker from long ago to take responsibility for her side of things not working perfectly between them. She said it wasn’t her favorite thing to do, but she never would have even considered it before. She didn’t feel like it threatened her survival to admit that she hadn’t done everything the “right” way.

When the third kind of person begins to unlearn, they start to actually feel that they matter enough to acknowledge their own feelings in a situation, instead of just do whatever they need to for others’ approval. One of my clients with this pattern recently shifted how she relates to her husband, as a result of this change in herself. Rather than just go along with however he wants to shape conversations, she has actually started speaking up for herself and saying what she wants. At work, people are seeking her input on projects more than ever before. This shift often has this effect, also—when someone feels that they matter as much as those around them, others feel that and begin to seek their opinion on important matters.

Do you recognize yourself here? Do you feel panicked at the thought that people might see that you’ve done something imperfectly or “wrong”? Or, are you the chronic apologizer? Unlearning these patterns leads to more honest relationships based on the feeling that everyone wins when we share who we really are with the 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.

What Makes Grieving Even More Painful

How to move gently through grieving.When it comes to grieving a loss, whether is the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, or another major loss, there is a lot of good information out there about what is natural to feel and experience. Most people know about Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ model on grieving, and it’s very helpful to be aware of those natural stages of grief and allow oneself to fully experience them. As you may be aware, they are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, and they can occur in any order and may repeat.Continue reading

The Positive Attitude Paradox

Why having a positive attitude doesn't necessarily benefit you.One of my clients got two very different reactions to saying nearly the exact same thing in the past week. He was pretty surprised when I told him which one shows that he’s moving in the right direction in terms of the change he desires in his life. A bit of background—this client has very significant, chronic health issues, and his default way of telling people about his situation is to play it down and basically say, “Everything is OK.” So, here are the two scenarios from the past week:

1. He told a friend about his ongoing issues, and the friend said, “Wow, you are just such an inspiration. Your attitude is amazing, and I’m just always so impressed by how you are handling all of this. (This is the response he’s used to getting.)

2. A couple days later, he told a friend how he got a big scratch on his forehead—that he walked into a branch, because a recent eye surgery has decreased his peripheral vision. He said, “It’s OK. It’s just one more thing to keep me humble.” Her demeanor changed immediately from concern to exasperation as she said, “Haven’t you had enough?” She then walked away and didn’t have much to do with him the rest of the night. (This was a very different response than he’s used to and it was very puzzling to him.)

Would you be as surprised as he was to know that it was the second reaction that had me excited for him? This man’s survival mechanism is his “positive attitude,” and it’s actually what is holding him back from real healing. But wait, isn’t a positive attitude supposed to be good for us? Isn’t it supposed to even lead to better health? Let me explain why I disagree in this man’s case and in many cases, if the goal is true well-being.

Early in life, we all absorb the feeling that there is something wrong with us being exactly the way we are. This Learned Distress becomes embedded in our sense of self, and it becomes the automatic, generating force behind our negative moments and situations. As we absorb Learned Distress, our brains also develop a survival mechanism that allows us to fit well with our surroundings and keep moving through life.

One of these survival mechanisms is to bury the feeling that there’s something wrong and make it seem like everything is OK. That’s how my health-challenged client feels he needs to be in order to survive. He feels safest when he is being the “model patient” or the “strong, positive being in the face of tremendous odds.” His “positive attitude” doesn’t mean that the Learned Distress isn’t there; it just means that he buries or denies it and then has to pretend like everything is OK, even though he tells me that he has some level of health crisis happening every day. The problem with burying the Learned Distress is that as long as it is buried, it can’t unlearned, and it actually keeps intensifying over time. As this intensification happens, his health issues get bigger and he has to work harder to say, “But, it’s all OK.”

When people with buried Learned Distress seek my help in releasing it, the first thing that happens is that it comes out of hiding. All the negative feelings they have so carefully kept under wraps for their entire lives start to come up, and their survival mechanism starts to fall apart. I’m always excited to see this happen, as I know it means that their brains are allowing them to release a deeply controlled layer of negative feeling, and this means they are well on their way to having their natural well-being generate moments in that area of their lives, instead of Learned Distress.

With this client, a huge sign that his survival mechanism is falling apart is the second reaction that he got this week. Instead of, “Oh, you’re so brave and positive,” it was, “Haven’t you had enough?” People respond automatically to us based on how we feel about being ourselves, so this tells me that his sense of self is at the point of saying, “Enough of being sick! I’m tired of pretending everything is OK when it really isn’t OK at all.” This is the point where the brain will actually allow a layer of Learned Distress to start peeling away. When layers are peeled off, natural well-being can expand to take its rightful place as the automatic, generating force in life, and moments and situations that are generated from well-being feel good effortlessly.

This client has been through other, less intense layers of change before, and they’ve always resulted in him experiencing situations that are easier and feel better than anything he’s ever had happen in his life. Moments generated from well-being have a very different quality than moments generated by the “positive attitude” that is really just a false front for Learned Distress. They are characterized by a surprising sense of ease and joy that can never come when someone is fighting back the feeling that something is wrong with them. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to seeing what surprises this cycle of change will bring for my health-challenged client.

Do you ever feel the struggle of saying, “It’s all OK,” when you know deep inside that it really isn’t? Does it feel like something inside you is coming close to overcoming your ability to keep a positive attitude? Believe it or not, there is something even better waiting for you when you can let all of that fall apart, so your true well-being can operate more freely in your life.

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

Addressing the Roots of Inequality

Exploring the roots of inequality.If you looked at a word cloud for the past week in the US, the word “equality” would surely be one of the biggest. The US Supreme Court’s hearings on two same-sex marriage related cases have put equality in the spotlight. Why is it always such a big battle?

I believe that the roots of inequality go back to the simple, but overwhelming and pervasive, fear of scarcity. We can look at war throughout history and see that war most often happens as a battle for resources—and often for the best resources. So, it’s not just good enough to have enough, one must have the best or the most. This goes back to a fundamental survival fear and ingrained memory of scarcity that even if we have enough right now, the next famine is just around the corner.

I got a personal view of this once when talking with a very wealthy and successful businessman about scarcity. We were seated in his million+ dollar home with his luxury cars out front, and he was practically yelling when he said, “All I worry about all day long is where my next meal is coming from!” That fear of scarcity is so fundamental that even when someone has been very successful at overcoming it materially, the actual fearful feeling is just as strong as it ever was.

This fear becomes the basis for comparison and competition. A leader or group feels that there isn’t enough for everyone, so they need to secure needed resources for themselves, their families, their tribes, their nation. But, if everyone is equal, what right do they have to take resources that belong to everyone or even take them away from someone else? They find some characteristic that sets their group apart from the others and then, to justify taking more resources, they paint the other group as “less than” on the basis of that characteristic. And, so, you get justifications like, “My religion is better than yours,” “My skin color is better than yours,” “My country is better than yours,” or even, in our modern, simulated warfare called sports, “My team is better than yours.” And, this comparison/competition is aided by intense feelings of “I don’t matter” and “I’m not good enough” on the “losing” side.

This comparision + competition issue has become embedded in our humanity to such a level that we do it everywhere, and we even take it for granted. Many people even see it as a plus. Those who win are the strongest and the best, so they deserve to have the most, right? And, those who are weaker or don’t always come out on top don’t deserve as much, right? While that might seem a given or logical, when you apply it to societies and especially when you add in the understanding from my “worry about where my next meal is coming from” friend, you have one group that keeps piling up more and more resources (and therefore, power) by squeezing others out, from their fear that there is never enough.

When the inequality gets too great, when the less powerful group has less than they need to survive on, they begin to fight back. And, when the feeling of “I don’t matter” gets triggered at a level that can’t be buried any longer, the main feeling people experience is anger. Put these two factors together and you get major societal upheavals like the French and Russian revolutions. The American Civil Rights movement was also motivated largely by one group of people not having enough to live on. At the end of his life, Dr. Martin Luther King’s focus was increasingly on economic injustice, because it was impoverishing the group he was working to lift up. And, he had to constantly work to channel the anger of his group into non-violent means.

Of course, not every comparison and competition ends in a battle for the most desirable plot of land or even economic inequality. Since these survival mechanisms of comparison and competition have become part of being human, we see them even in places where the “other” party isn’t taking anything away from anyone by being equal. Marriage equality is, in my opinion, a perfect example of this. Two gay people getting married does not lessen anyone’s heterosexual marriage rights.

We’re looking at big societal movements here, while my work with clients is very much on the individual level. But what we see happen at an overarching level often has parallels at the individual level. I work on these same roots of inequality—comparison, competition, not mattering, not being good enough—with my clients all the time. And, as they peel away layers of these negative, survival-based feelings, they see greater equality happen in their own lives. Clients who have always felt they had to win to survive begin to relax and allow others to be themselves, to do things in their own way. They say things like, “It’s so much easier to be around people now that things don’t have to be my way all the time.” And, clients who work on the “I matter” issue begin to be seen, heard, and respected for what they have to offer, effortlessly. They say things like, “For the first time ever at work, my boss asked for my input and said that it was invaluable.”

Although I work with people on this individual level, I think we have to work on a societal level for equality, also. Every human being has a unique and important contribution to make to society, and we can only realize the great tapestry of those contributions when each person has the opportunity to voice their uniqueness in the 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.

Is Your Good Life Real or Manufactured?

Your well-being is meant to sprout like a gardenHere in Colorado, it’s a typical spring day. . .there are 8 inches of snow on the ground with more on the way! But below that heavy, white blanket, there’s a garden just waiting to spring to life. Let’s pretend that your life is a flower garden. You know how flowers are supposed to work. . .you plant a seed or a bulb where it will get the right amount of sun, you water it, and ouila! The plant pokes up and grows into something beautiful.

Now, imagine that there is a layer of plastic just below the soil’s surface. You plant your seeds and water them, but nothing comes up. You know that you were supposed to get beautiful plants, and you still want to have them, so you start to manufacture your garden. You draw a plan of your ideal garden, and you get plant-looking materials and launch yourself into a big project of cutting, gluing, and sticking your creations into the ground. It’s hard work, but you want the flower garden, and you make it happen. All shapes and sizes, just like you planned it.

One day, a storm comes in and blows away half your flowers. What a pain! But, you get back to work, repairing and recreating. You enjoy it for a while longer, but another storm comes in. This time, heavy rain and hail take their toll, and you have to put it all back together once again. As storm after storm comes in, you start to get really tired of all the work it takes to rebuild the garden each time. You explode in anger each time with growing intensity, furious that something always comes to wreck your pretty garden. But, you always get a hold of yourself and rebuild, always before someone else can see that your garden isn’t always like your ideal. No matter how exasperated you are, when people visit, you smile and say, “Everything is great with my garden!” But, it’s exhausting and you’re sick of how much work it takes to maintain it.

This is the picture I use to help some of my clients understand their survival mechanism, the one I call the Idealist pattern. To survive, they feel like their life has to look a certain way, conforming to whatever their ideal “pretty picture” is. The success of this pattern is built on keeping negative feelings under control, which doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. But there’s actually a big problem with keeping negative feelings under control, because there is just one pipeline feelings come through, so positive feelings are blocked, also.

The positive feelings, which I call natural well-being, are the core of who we are as humans, and this well-being is meant to be the automatic, generating force behind the moments of our lives. So, burying or controlling feelings is equivalent to laying down the plastic sheet in the soil, keeping the seeds of well-being from growing naturally and effortlessly into the garden of a fulfilling life.

Idealists come to me when their manufactured garden has been destroyed one time too many and they just don’t even have the capability to put it all back together again. Often, their manufacturing processes don’t even work, anymore. The ways they’ve put their pretty picture back together now fail and they are having a hard time getting their negative feelings back under control. They may have a relationship that has fallen apart, some health issue that spirals out of control, their career has tanked, or there is some other aspect of their life that just doesn’t get back in line in after “the storm.” That’s OK with me, because it’s actually the point at which their brain will allow really deep change to happen.

When Idealists remove the plastic sheeting and let their well-being generate their lives, it doesn’t always look so different to people around them. Their “garden” has always looked great. But, if you walk into the middle of each, there’s a huge difference between a manufactured garden and a real one. Not only is the real garden much more vibrant and resilient, but it generates itself! So, Idealists say things like, “The thing that just happened at work was life changing, and I didn’t do anything at all to make it happen. Nothing good has ever happened this easily in my entire life.” And, since the previously blocked well-being is now uncovered, they feel much different. So, they also say things like, “I have never felt this happy or at peace before. I feel like I can relax and enjoy things for the first time in my life.”

Have you ever felt like you were manufacturing the good in some part of your life? Relationships, health, career, self expression? While you may have been very successful at creating a pretty picture, there is a more natural and infinitely more wonderful “garden” that your well-being can create for you. It can take a lot of courage to clear out the plastic flowers and dig out the plastic sheeting, because it involves delving into the negative feelings that have so carefully been blocked, but there is an incredibly wonderful surprise waiting to spring forth when you do.

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

Why Is “Living in the Now” So Hard?

Why it's so hard to live in the now.“Live in the now.” “Stay present.” It’s one of the big pieces of advice we get when we want to feel better about our lives. Many of my clients express great frustration with their inability to do just that, though. So, for me, just trying to be present isn’t enough. We have to go to the heart of the matter—why we aren’t just staying present automatically?

People say that not living in the now is a result of our focus on either the past or the future, instead of the present moment. That’s a good start, but I still ask why we would feel the need to do that. The core answer is that we feel that there is something wrong with us. So, we either look back and lament. . .I wasn’t good enough, I didn’t get their approval, I didn’t fit in, I didn’t win, and on, and on. Or, we plan or worry about how we can do things in the future. . .how to be more perfect, how to win others’ approval, how to plan things carefully enough, how to make good things happen, and so on. (And if you’re like me, you’ve done a lot of both!)

You might be someone who is pretty good at refocusing yourself to the present. Or, you might be like my clients who either have never been able to do that (no matter how hard they tried) or whose ability to do that has fallen apart. If you’re in one of the two latter categories, it might be time to address the core of the issue, the feeling that there’s something wrong with you.

Even when you know that this negative feeling is the root of your inability to stay present, it isn’t as simple as just letting go of it. (I wish it were!) That’s because this feeling that something is wrong with you has been with you from early in your life. From conception until the age of 2 1/2, you absorb this negative feeling, which I call Learned Distress, from your parents, siblings and others around you. Learned Distress gets embedded in your sense of self, which becomes the generating force behind every moment of your life. Learned Distress is also largely how you learned to survive and fit well with your early surroundings. So, your brain doesn’t easily let go of this negative feeling, even when you begin to realize how counterproductive it is to feel this way.

But, when people are able to access their sense of self and permanently peel away layers of Learned Distress, not only does the brain let go of the negative feeling, but it also starts to generate moments from natural well-being. When your situations are generated automatically from well-being, you just feel good now. The need to refocus is gone and instead of using lots of energy to try and be present, you get to just enjoy wherever you are and who you are at that moment.

My clients who have been able to refocus themselves (despite it being difficult) are amazed at how much more energy they have to just enjoy their lives when they don’t have to work so hard. They say it’s like getting to sit back and enjoy the scenery for the first time, instead of just having to focus on driving and staying on the road.

For my clients who have felt unable to stay present, the outcomes are even more dramatic. Just a couple of days ago, a new client described how incredibly different he felt about the day he had just been through. He started the day with a teaching presentation that he gives often. Despite the fact that he has always gotten high praise and excellent feedback on it, he is usually thrown way off balance both before and after it by worry that it won’t be/wasn’t good enough, unable to communicate well with his family in the morning or handle anything well after it. But he said that this day just felt more normal. Instead of the day running together in one anxious blur, he presented and felt good about it, then moved on to a list of diverse tasks he rattled off to me, saying that he just ticked each off his list and felt complete and unhurried at the end of the day. He said he just felt more capable, without having put any extra work or planning towards that goal.

Does any of this ring a bell for you? Have you struggled with trying to stay present? The feeling that something is wrong with us so often gets in our way, but really getting rid of it clears the path for us to enjoy each moment as it comes.

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

Why Everyone Wins When You Put Your Oxygen Mask on First

Put your own oxygen mask on firstYou’ve heard this idea before, right? You have to put your own oxygen mask on first before you can help someone else. If you pass out, you won’t be any help to that person next to you on the plane. Those of us who tend to do the opposite of this in life have often heard this advice over and over.

This idea has become such a cliché that you would think that everyone had already mastered it. However, this idea that you have to actually take care of yourself first is something I end up talking a lot about in my practice. Why is this so hard for people to get?

There are two kinds of people who I often see putting others first to such a degree that they put their own self-sustainment in jeopardy. One is the person who survives by squelching how they feel and working like crazy to make everything look “great.” I call this the Idealist pattern, and this person is putting everyone else first because it’s what they “should” do.

The other pattern, what I call the Caregiver, survives by getting others’ approval, conforming to others’ ways, and relying on others’ support. While they may also say that putting others first is what they should do, Caregivers also often feel like they can’t entirely rely on themselves, so they are hoping that they will get what they need in return for their “generosity.”

You might think that I’m exaggerating when I say that people survive through these patterns, but I really mean it. Early in life, we absorb how those around us feel about being human, and we develop a survival mechanism that allows us to fit well with those people. This happens before we have any thinking capacity, so often, these survival mechanisms don’t really seem to make sense rationally. And yet, this mechanism continues to be the way we feel like we have to be to move through life and fit in the world. So, despite the fact that putting their oxygen mask on first makes perfect sense, people with the above patterns still keep moving forward in the same, old ways.

People seek my help when these mechanisms have started to fail for them. They have an internal struggle—they have to be this way in order to survive, but being this way is depleting them and in some cases, literally threatening their survival. What’s awesome is that when they peel off layers of the survival mechanism, not only do they find the ability to really care for themselves, but they discover that the source of their ability to do that also allows them to share their unique light with the world. Instead of becoming “selfish,” they find that they have more to give others from this well of uniqueness within themselves.

One of my clients who has worked on this theme intensely over the past few months is now uncovering new and considerable talents as a healer. While she had felt that it would be selfish to focus so much on her own needs, she is finding that she will be able to aid those around in her in new and wonderful ways as a result of doing just that.

Have you gotten the “put your own oxygen mask on first” lecture? Have you found it a struggle to actually do that? I can tell you from personal experience that moving beyond the survival mechanism of always putting others first can really open up a whole new world of first feeling really good within yourself and then being able to share your gifts with others in a way that doesn’t deplete you, but actually fuels your ability to do more.

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

Your Well-Being Only Needs to Be Uncovered

Your well-being only needs to be revealedWhen you hear the term “well-being,” you might think of something to create or strive for. That’s an especially strong principle that many people live by in the beautiful town, Boulder, Colorado, that I call home. It goes something like this: “Of course I can be healthy, as long as I take my vitamins in the morning, do my yoga, have my freshly-juiced breakfast, bike up Flagstaff Mountain at lunch, do some more yoga, and of course, eat perfectly.” And on, and on. I get tired just thinking about it.

I don’t think all of that is really well-being. I actually think it’s a control mechanism that people use to try and overcome what blocks them from experiencing their true well-being.

The energy that I understand to be well-being is the core of who you are as a human being. It’s the kernel of energy you began life with, and it is meant to be the automatic, generating force behind every moment of your life. Your well-being is the source of your ability to just naturally feel good physically, mentally, and emotionally. It is also the source of your creativity and uniqueness. It is the energy that fuels your ability to fulfill your life’s purpose. And, it is what connects you to everyone and everything else.

Well-being doesn’t need to be created. It only needs to be uncovered.

An unnatural feeling called Learned Distress is what blocks you from experiencing your natural well-being throughout life. Early in life, you absorb the feeling that “there’s something wrong with me being just the way I am” from how those people around you feel in their negative moments. This feeling becomes embedded in your sense of self, which becomes energy storage bank from which every moment of your life is generated. So, Learned Distress becomes the automatic, generating force behind your negative situations.

And unfortunately, through your brain’s natural, energy renewal process, Learned Distress rises in intensity over time. That higher intensity means that things either feel worse over time or that it takes more effort to overcome the output of Learned Distress. If you’re the kind of person who has always had ongoing difficulty, struggle, and crisis, those challenges just keep growing. If you’re the kind of person who has been able to make things go well for yourself by doing the right things, it just takes more energy to get the same outcomes.

So, what’s it like when layers of Learned Distress get peeled away to reveal your natural well-being? When your well-being becomes the automatic, generating force behind more and more moments of your life? You can imagine how this will be by thinking about the last really bad day you had (generated from your Learned Distress, of course). How hard did you work to make that day bad? Did you wake up and will yourself to have a bad day? Vow that you would stay the course and do all the things that would ensure that the day would go very, very wrong? Of course not. When well-being is the generating force, your good moments and situations become that effortless.

As this starts to happen for my clients, it’s not unusual for them to use the word “miracle” to describe what’s happening for them. But, this really is how it’s supposed to work—well-being is meant to work for us, not the other way around. So, someone like my 71-year-old client who has always hated exercise becomes the star patient who recovered faster than anyone her doctors had ever seen from knee replacement and hiked 1.3 miles on a steep, mountain road just two weeks after surgery. Or, a college-age client whose school work has been crippled by ADHD ends up on the Dean’s List and says things like, “I looked at the first two questions and knew I would ace the test!”

Can you see where Learned Distress is making it harder and harder for you to feel good? Can you even imagine having good things happen as easily as the bad things happen now? You really do have the energy that I call well-being within you that can allow that to happen.

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