Learn to Tolerate JOY

July 19 Last week I wrote about why it’s important to say YESSSS to the magic that comes into our lives. Most specifically, I wrote about how hard it was for me to say yes to gifted biking adventure to Scandinavia.  Luckily I was able to push through, receive, and now I am excited to study their healthy lifestyle practices of Hygge and minimalism when I travel there next week.

Obviously this is an amazing opportunity.  So why did my brain think of so many reasons why I shouldn't go?  I think it's because accepting pure joy can be hard for many of us.  So this week I wanted to address why we can often say "no" to joy when our hearts are desperately asking us for a YESSSS.

From my own life, here’s a list of reasons why I say "no" when I mean YESSSS:

I am too “busy” (or are unwilling to make time).

It's too good to be true and I'll look stupid when it doesn't work out.

I'll be uncomfortably indebted to someone or something if I accept a gift

My receiving something means that I'm taking it from someone else. 

I feel guilty about my good fortune and don’t want to add to my guilt. 

Too much fun or play is decadent and thus wrong. 

I don’t know why exactly but saying yes to good fortune scares me. 

You could probably add your own reasons to this list but essentially I can sum it all up with one word: FEAR. I think I'm afraid of bad things happening to me but really I'm afraid of being flooded with joy.

Have you ever experienced a joyful run of events? I hope so. It’s one of those periods of life when you get the promotion and are finally moving into your own apartment and then you meet a friend for happy hour and end up chatting with an attractive someone and suddenly you have a date for next week too.  You practically skip home that night in the lovely summer air and feel like you have finally arrived in your life.

Now think about what happened after all the joy flooded you. Did something bad happen? Maybe you got sick or picked a fight and got too drunk or forgot to turn in that assignment. Whatever it is, do you feel like it ended that great run of good fortune?

If so, then you are not alone. The truth is that addicts are just as likely relapse after a joyful experience as a painful one. Joy triggers our fear in deep and unexpected ways.

Writer and executive coach Gay Hendricks has a theory about this. He calls it our “upper limit problem.” Basically it’s our tendency to sabotage ourselves when we are right on the brink of our next stage of person evolution.  Upper limiting can happen in many different ways--you probably have a pattern--and until you pay attention to it, it will control your life.

Your upper limit may happen because deep down you don’t think you are worthy of good fortune. It may happen because you grew up in a family that envied successful people. You could do it because you actually do feel guilty about having success and not giving back in someway. Whatever it is, it’s important to understand the mechanics.  Understanding why it happens means that you don't have to keep unconsciously repeating it while your dreams sneakily inch away from you.

I’ve often thought of yoga as the practice of getting out of my own way. I really do believe that life is pretty much fine to run itself. It did this for so many years before us human got here. In my own life, the times when I am happiest are when I am going with the flow.  Sure, I have to show up and do some work but the flow of life brings me into magical, joy-filled experiences.  When I cling to or reject these experiences, that is when the good flow falls apart and I start feeling stuck.

If you can relate to this, then our collective work is to learn to tolerate joy and learn to get out of our own way.  Here are a few steps that have helped me to do just this:

1) When good things happen, consciously acknowledge they are happening. Slow down and say to yourself that you are experiencing joy and that it’s ok. Say thank you to whatever force brought that goodness to you. Breathe. Learn to tolerate all that emotion and sensation.

2) Affirm that it’s only through personal evolution that you can be of service to the world around you. You can’t help anyone from a stuck or struggling place. You help by inspiring from a place of authentic growth. If you doubt this then think about the people that have inspired you to change and grow. Did this inspiration come watching them suffer or from watching them move from suffering into real joy?

3) Make a list of your upper limit behaviors. Ask a close friend to share her perspective on how you get in your own way.  Tell her you’d love to talk to her when the upper limit stuff comes up again. Make a plan for it and put it into action the next time something awesome happens. Know you are worthy of having another person coach you through this. It will probably help them too.

4) Write it out. If some bit of good fortune feels especially hard to accept then do this short exercise inspired by the epic book, the Artist’s Way. Grab your journal and set an alarm for 10 minutes on your phone. Take five minutes to write about all the things you are afraid will happen if you embrace the joy. Take five minutes to write about what you are angry about in relation to the joy. If you feel incomplete, set the timer for 10 more minutes and do it again.  It might not seem logical to think about anger and fear in regards to joy and success but set your timer and watch what tumbles out.  Warning, this is powerful. I do it whenever I know I am holding myself back and always make a breakthrough.

5) Count on your fingers the people who will celebrate your joy with you. Not every person in your life will be able to tolerate your joy.  Some people will get afraid for you or jealous of you or give you a weird look that makes you question yourself. This holds you back more than you think. (If you are interested then please read more about Dr. Mario Martinez’s brilliant work on tribal shame). The antidote to this is to create a tribe where your joy is sacred and where you can shine as your brightest self. My group coaching classes do just that and it’s amazing how much each lady grows when held by a powerful group of her peers.

6) Understand the alternative. I truly believe that our purpose here in life is to fall in love with the process of growth. When we hold back from our joy out of fear, we interrupt the growth and get stuck. People can get stuck for their entire lives.  Many of the ladies I coach are stuck and it’s incredible how quickly they get unstuck when they raise their hand and say they are ready for change. One lady in her 60’s healed her relationship with food in 10 weeks.  Amazing right?  I know all of this embracing joy and welcoming change takes big time courage but what is the alternative?  There is far too much goodness available out there for you to stay too stuck for too long.  I know the joy is hard to handle sometimes, but I hope reading this helps you know that you aren’t alone in that, not at all. And I'm also here to tell you that the world needs your joy far too much for you to hold it back any longer.  So let it flow, feel all those feelings around it and keep on moving forward you beautiful solider.