Whatever occurs or appears in your life can be an opportunity for personal development if you are committed to continuous self improvement.
Take kittens, for example. In Hawai’i, it’s smart to have an outdoor cat for reasons best left unexpressed. When my husband and I heard of two kittens headed for the pound, we were happy to intervene and circumvent this potential life-threatening possibility. Within 24 hours of their arrival, it was clear that these energetic babies had lessons for me.
It’s natural to have healthy boundaries
Bodhi and Chitta were living outdoors the first six weeks of their lives. They are understandably wary of humans given their Lilliputian size. Unlike humans, kittens don’t need a minimum survival kit. Self-protection is an automatic reflex.
When humans approach, tensing up, shrinking away, running away, turning their back on you, ignoring you, hiding, hissing, and scratching all come easily to them. They don’t stop to think, “Oh, maybe I’m hurting the human’s feelings.” Or, “Gee it’s not polite to turn your back on a human.” Guilt is not in their repertoire nor is obsessively churning over the appropriateness of their behavior.
Chitta in particular has an aura that’s about 10 feet wide and does not hesitate to give you a searing look that communicates, “You’ve got to be kidding me. You are not getting anywhere near me.” Bodhi is the master of turning his back on you and pretending that you don’t exist.
Boundaries determine where I begin and you end and the degree of space between us. Clear boundaries are essential to healthy interpersonal relationships and are key to living a happy and meaningful life. Several different factors influence your ability to establish boundaries: genetics (including your neurochemistry and the sensitivity of the amygdala), the effect of your early environment, and how well you adapted as a baby to separation from your mother.
Many people, especially highly sensitive people, have trouble with being overly porous. Do you find yourself extra sensitive to other people’s thoughts and emotions? Do you feel responsible for the world around you? Do you overextend yourself to please others? Do you have trouble setting physical and emotional limits? If so, it might be time to think about your boundaries.
My new life coaches are telling me it’s natural, healthy, and positive to have clear boundaries. Learning to value yourself and build healthy boundaries takes time and attention, but like everything else in the realm of personal development, it is eminently possible.
Worry never helps
Citta is a daredevil, Bodhi an adventurous climber. They are both irrepressibly curious. The worry habit started to arise as I observed their vivacious gymnastics. The resulting potential for trouble was obvious when Bodhi got his claw stuck in a hanging chair tag.
Then, friends told me how kittens can be eaten by mongoose or beaten up on by older cats. Reading about the rampant leukemia and HIV among island cats was the final straw. All this put me in a tizzy, as I was overcome with worry awakened by the recognition of the kittens’ fundamental vulnerability. In truth, life is dangerous and we are all fragile, but I know deep down that adding worry to the mix won’t help at all. It just eats away at you and does nothing to improve the situation.
Here’s my simple approach to worry. Applied consistently, it will slowly erode away this unhelpful habit.
1. Observe and acknowledge how worry is taking over your mind. Simply seeing the worry already creates space and a sense of relief.
2. Breathe in and out, slowly and deeply, placing your attention on the breath. Let the worry thoughts dissolve on the outbreath into space, just letting go of the tension and any new thoughts occurring in your mind. Continue this cycle of breathing for however long it takes to reconnect with a sense of peace. It might be 5 minutes or 20 minutes.
3. Remind yourself that worry never helps. I employ the aid of inspirational quotes for this purpose. These are some favorites starting with the French philosopher Voltaire:
“Most of my life has been one tragedy after another, most of which hasn’t happened.”
The modern day marketing sage, Seth Godin, agrees:
“Anxiety is nothing but repeatedly re-experiencing failure in advance. What a waste.”
I confess, I had no idea who Seth Godin is until Annabel Candy got in bed with him. Nevertheless, I greatly appreciate his pearl of wisdom, which floats up in my mind when the worry machine starts to crank up.
As you master this simple technique, you will gradually become more agile at spotting and addressing worry far before it consumes you.
Play, play, play. Rest, rest, rest.
The rambunctious kittens play hard: chase, wrestling, hide-n-seek, grab or bite the tail, hide-n-pounce, push your sibling off the chair, climb the highest mountain. Their sheer joy and enthusiasm sparks the question, “Do I play enough?” Their playful spirit challenges you to energize all your activities throughout the day with the same sense of delight.
Animals follow their inborn energy cycles and rest when they are tired. Humans on the other hand often fail to get sufficient sleep and are not always cognizant of their innate rhythms. Researchers believe that there’s a natural dip in energy about 8 hours after waking—mid afternoon— when we are meant to take a nap. Some cultures embrace the mid-afternoon nap as a tradition, but in many others you are expected to work like mad throughout the day.
A 20-minute nap can help you feel refreshed and alert, transform your mood, improve cognitive performance, and reduce afternoon accidents related to drowsiness. Resting in the afternoon without actually falling asleep has similar benefits. A word of caution: some people find afternoon napping interferes with their ability to fall asleep at night. We’re all different, so check your own rhythms and needs.
I always feel refreshed after a nap, but have failed to make it a positive habit. I’m now planning to follow the behavior modeled by the kitten alliance.
Life happens, but I’m gradually learning to take it in stride. The kittens quickly warmed up to us. In fact, they are lounging next to me as I peck away at the keys. But they still reserve the right to express their boundaries. Until they are a hefty size and strong enough to fend off their natural predators, they have the penthouse lanai (deck) with garden view as their digs, ample food, their best friend in each other, a soft sofa bed, and human love and affection too. What more could you want? As for us, we are more than pleased with our new personal development coaches.
How about you—what are your thoughts on boundaries, worry, and catnaps?
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