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The company you keep

July 1, 2016

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of staying in your own lane. But we are never completely alone in our lane, of course, and so in this post I want to think out loud a bit about how we choose our traveling companions. Traveling companions may take a variety of forms; they can be real or imagined, and they can be people we actually know or people we’ve read about or heard from but have never met.
Some of our most influential traveling companions are family members, especially our parents. Even when they are no longer with us, we may hear our parents’ voices in our head when we are trying to make a decision or feel very alone. That can be a comfort. But some family companions are backseat drivers, and they won’t get out of the back seat, no matter how hard we try to kick them out. We feel as though we are stuck with them forever. But how true is that really? One of the things coaching clients often begin to realize is that they may want to begin to set new boundaries with family members. This may include a range of options, up to and including cutting off contact with family members who degrade them or use button-pushing as a fun way to entertain themselves during family dinners ;). Sometimes, though, the client finds that the change that needs to occur lies within. As the client changes who he or she is, family members often respond in positive new ways.
Once we branch outside of our family tree and consider our relationships with friends, coworkers, and the like, our range of options for traveling companions expands a bit as well. In settings outside our family, we can decide which relationships to continue, discontinue, or maybe put the brakes on for a while. Again, though, we have to look at “who” we show up as in those relationships. Are we constantly seeking approval? Are we trying to control what other people say or do? Are we driven towards a certain status that influences how we treat others? Our beliefs about ourselves drive our relationships, so we have to take a close look at those beliefs before we start making changes. That’s often a large chunk of the work I do with coaching clients.
For example, if a client has felt threatened because of past trauma or abuse, we have to work through the beliefs that those experiences have created. A client might believe, for example, that “I’m not safe in relationships.” This isn’t always a conscious belief—so the client may not recognize that it’s even there—but the client will see the effects of it. It may look this way. Having the belief may lead the client to always be on the defense. He or she may always be on the lookout for even perceived slights or attacks, and either avoids people or is overly aggressive. Other people pick up on this right away, and may avoid the client altogether. If they have to interact, they will usually either be very hesitant or perhaps more aggressive in return. The client perceives these behaviors as further evidence that he or she is not safe in relationships, and the cycle worsens. The client can never stay in his or her own lane under these kinds of circumstances. Once we can identify the belief and release the negative energy connected to it, however, the client can begin to show up in ways that are more open. That in turn can lead others to respond differently, and the cycle can begin to change. Once clients can identify beliefs that are getting in the way and release the negative energy, they are then much freer to move forward. We often then talk about their core values—who they are, what they stand for, what they want their lives to be about.
After clients have gone through that part of the process, they usually have pretty good clarity about who they are and how they are showing up. They have identified their core values, and practice showing up in ways that reflect those values. We are all human, mind you—so practice never makes perfect. But at this stage of the game, clients want to feed and nurture themselves in more positive ways. This is when they really start paying attention to the company they keep. Which friends offer support, no matter what? Who is the one friend they can count on to make them laugh, even when things look their bleakest?  Where do they go to feel spiritually uplifted? It's an exciting part of coaching, because clients have transitioned from feeling that they have very limited choices to realizing that they have crazy unlimited possibilities for their lives. We often brainstorm, and I may make suggestions, but clients usually go out and discover things that light them on fire in ways that I could never have imagined.
It’s important during this stage of transformation to surround yourself with people, activities, and influences that support you. Otherwise, it’s easy to burn out and feel like change isn’t a permanent reality for you. You may find that you get triggered by a family member and react in the “old way,” for example, or that you fall into habits that you wanted to leave behind. It takes time and energy to create new habits, and you have to make conscious choices that support you in those efforts.
So what do those choices look like? They will be different for each of us, of course, but basically they involve giving yourself opportunities. For example, give yourself the opportunity to connect with a spiritual community. Yes, it’s hard to walk into a room full of people you don’t know, but most places of worship are welcoming and friendly. I invite you here to also give yourself the opportunity to:

  • Strengthen your body with healthy food and exercise.

  • Meditate or read a book that energizes you instead of cruising Netflix or Facebook. We all need a “brain break” once in a while, but if you are constantly surfing the tv or the internet, it’s a sign that your mind is restless. Give it something positive to focus on and you will feel better in a very short time. As I've mentioned on my Facebook page and in this blog, some of my favorite companions include Brené Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Rachel Macy Stafford, and Glennon Doyle Melton.

  • Practice gratitude. (Read more about my thoughts on gratitude here.)

  • Learn something new. Take a class or a lesson in something you’ve been curious about.

  • Be with people who make you feel really good about yourself. At the same time, allow yourself to create distance from people who don’t.

In short, give yourself the opportunity to be surrounded by ideas and people who support you and allow you the space to become who you truly are. The more you can do this, the faster you will be cruising in your lane toward your goals and dreams. 



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