The Least Wonderful Time of the Year


I was in the grocery store two weeks before Christmas and for various reasons, I was feeling stressed out, lonely and depressed. It was a miserably rainy, cold afternoon. I was soaked and chilly. The lights in the store were horribly bright fluorescent, the floor was slippery, the tacky displays of holiday ‘cheer’ were ugly and garish. And the in-store Christmas music was loud and incredibly irritating.

I noticed that most of the other shoppers also looked soaked, chilly, irritated and stressed. I began thinking about what a difficult month December is for more people than not. How we’ve created an expectation that we’re all supposed to feel happy and merry when really, it’s darker, colder, lonelier and more stressful than any other month.

Just as I was thinking that, the irritating loud Christmas music began playing ‘It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.’ An extra sappy, extra cheesy version. The voices singing sounded so falsely happy and almost creepily insistent. I stopped in the middle of the aisle, raised my hand in the air and saluted the speakers with my middle finger.

The other shoppers in my aisle started to laugh. One of them did the same salute towards the speakers with the same finger and said “Hey Most Wonderful Time of the Year… Fuck you!” There were about ten of us in that aisle, all laughing and smiling at each other with shared empathy.

Two days later, I found out that a dear friend was in the hospital because they had very nearly succeeded in committing suicide. Because they were depressed and lonely and stressed out, and because it was December.

I went to see my friend right away. Looking at him in his hospital bed, the first thing I said was “I completely understand.” The second thing I said, was “I can give you two reasons not to do this ever again.” He asked what they were? I said “Love and hope.”

He started to cry and said “But I don’t feel much love and I don’t have much hope.” And I told him this…

Love and hope. Those two things are always there, even when you can’t see or believe in them. You love people and are loved by them. That’s an exceptional motivation to remain in your life.

And so is hope, which exists outside of our own consciousness and is what keeps the world in motion. Hope is so pervasive and so above and beyond us, we have it even when we don’t know it’s there.

We have love and hope even when we can’t feel them for ourselves, because everyone in our life is feeling love and hope FOR us. All the time.

I think sometimes that some of us aren’t here to have easy or particularly happy lives. I think some of us are here to help other people feel more love, more appreciation and more compassion. That makes us essential and it means our difficult lives are actually a powerful, vital force for good.

When you think about all of the best and most amazing things that have ever been accomplished or created in the history of the world, what two things were the cause of most of them? You got it. Love and hope. Over seemingly impossible odds, when despair is winning and all reason tells us to give up… Miraculous things can and do happen when we just hold on to those two things and keep living and keep trying.

There is so much love and hope put into the universe for you. It may be intangible, but it’s huge and very real. People feel it for you every moment of every day, as they know you feel it for them. Your family feels it for you. Your friends feel it for you.

Even if you don’t or can’t feel it for yourself, you are constantly surrounded by immense quantities of love and hope. We all are.

December is the darkest, coldest, most difficult month of the year. Give it the finger and know that love and hope shine brightest and warmest in the cold and the dark.

Shine and Rise Life Coaching


Turn The Wheel

We all struggle with the unhealthy habit of negative thinking. Sometimes it’s replaying unhappy moments and memories over and over. Sometimes it’s self-defeating thoughts about our ability to succeed or overcome. Sometimes it’s repetition of our worries and doubts. Most often, it’s repeated insecurities about who we are, how we look, what others think of us.

According to the majority of psychologists and neuroscientists, negative thinking strongly affects the way our brains function. Repetitious negative thinking slows down mental agility, which causes all sorts of roadblocks when we’re trying to process our thoughts and emotions. It also makes it very difficult – often impossible – to find solutions or positive outcomes.

Most of our negative thoughts are fear-based, when we really break them down to the core. And when we experience fear, the brain has decreased activity in the cerebellum and left temporal lobe. What this means in simpler terms, is that fear slows our mind’s ability to process new information, and it also messes up our impulse control, our mood and memory. Basically, fear-based thoughts make our brains sluggish, depressed, forgetful and irrational.

Getting even more sciencey… Our prefrontal cortex in particular, is what helps us sort out what’s important to us, based on how much attention we pay to a thing, and how we feel about it. So the more energy and time we spend on negative thinking, the more we train the synapses and neurons in our brain to support and repeat the habit of those unhealthy, unhelpful thoughts.

But wait, that’s actually good news…

Recent research in neuroscience has proven that focused, repetitive mental activity can create changes in the actual structure of our brain. Meaning that how we think, what we think and what we do about it, makes all the difference to who we are. It also means we absolutely have the ability to re-train our brain to be healthier and positive, permanently.

Negative thinking is a bad habit that forms over years and years of reinforcement. Just as any other bad habit, it can be broken. Those same areas of our brain can be re-trained to become positive and healthy. It’s hard work and it takes determination, focus and patience. Anybody who tells you thinking positive thoughts is easy, is probably trying to sell you something. (Almost quoted from ‘The Princess Bride’ by accident there.)

Although thinking positively isn’t remotely quick or easy, it is simple. One of the best ways I’ve found, is to visualize my hands on a steering wheel. When those negative thoughts come up again and again, I see my hands turning the wheel gently in a new direction. Doesn’t particularly matter where, just somewhere else, somewhere nicer.

Sometimes I picture a road in front of me and I choose to turn left or right. Sometimes there’s no road, I just slightly adjust the way I’m driving. The negativity gets left behind as my mind moves somewhere different and better.

Another simple way to evict unpleasant thoughts, is to remember things that make us happy. I’ll often make short mental lists of things I really like. Ten favourite books. Fifteen favourite songs. Five prettiest places I’ve ever seen. Seven nicest things anyone has ever done for me. And so on.

It works. It works amazingly well. Negative thoughts will eventually and inevitably rise up, because we’re only human and life is often painful and hard. But it’s also often beautiful and sweet and the world is full of marvels and wonders.

It comes down to a basic understanding that our thoughts are a choice. Even though it may seem involuntary, we choose to think about things that make us miserable and stressed and unhappy. Which means we also have the power to turn the wheel and choose thoughts that make us joyful, hopeful and appreciative.

Finding Light

shineAs the winter months are so close to over, I’m aware each day of the few extra minutes it stays light outside. Curtains are closed and lamps go on just a bit later every evening. The sun is warmer and everything just feels more bright.

Through the dark weeks and months of winter, I think a lot about light. How profoundly powerful a small glow can be when it radiates into utter dark. How a tiny flashlight or candle can literally sometimes save us from harm or even death.

Often when we feel surrounded by impenetrable black, we forget how to find within ourselves, even a faint bit of light. But while we breathe and think and feel anything at all; it’s always there… Twin beacons of memory and hope.

Memory is easier. Recalling moments when we truly were happy, or excited, or at peace, or felt deeply loved. Each time we do this, neurons in our brain light up like a city at night. Light inside of us, always there and just waiting to shine.

Hope is usually a more difficult thing to do when the weight of darkness pulls us down. But it’s there too, because we keep taking one breath after another.

If hoping for specifics just serves as a reminder of all you don’t currently have, then hope bigger. Hope for something huge and wonderful and far beyond the confines of your own life. Hope for something silly and fantastical. Or hope for something small and real and lovely.

I hope the cure for cancer is discovered tomorrow and that it turns out to be 12 hugs per day. I hope that Hogwarts is real and one day I’ll get an acceptance letter. I hope the garden I plant this Spring grows strong and beautiful by summer.

A simple thing to do to light up on the inside, is to smile at yourself. Stand in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eyes and smile. You’ll feel kind of bonkers at first, but looking at your own eyes and your mouth (overcome the instinct to look at wrinkles and blemishes), when you’re smiling, actually releases the same dopamine in your brain as you get when someone else smiles at you.

So take a minute in front of a mirror, and grin at yourself like a loon. It’s science, not insanity!

No matter how dark and bleak life can feel at times, light is always there for us. We can remember it, we can hope for it and we can create it.

3 Ways to Face New Days

Tamea Burd Photography - Plane wing - Rises

It seemed fitting for the first post on this blog, to be about beginnings… We face them all the time, often with hope, occasionally with fear. And once in a while, we realize that they happened to us without us even knowing.

Fresh starts and changes can always be a good thing, it entirely depends on how we react and respond to them. When dealing with fear of change, the strongest tool we have is our sense of perspective. We tend to think too far into the future, trying to imagine or predict all of the possibilities ahead. The reality is, we can’t predict our own futures, so worrying about what might happen is completely futile.

Of course being well prepared is important, but that’s about practicality, not being negative. Being prepared still involves thinking positively, by assessing what a situation needs, avoiding pitfalls and providing ourselves with the components that will enhance the likelihood of success. Beyond that, any mental effort spent in worrying or focusing on worst case scenarios, is a 100% waste of time.

Success in any new venture or situation, happens when we move forward past any fear. Concentrating on what needs to be done, staying clearheaded and above all, thinking in the moment. We all know how crucial it is to be positive and to have belief in ourselves, but those things only work when we tell that nagging little voice of doubt to shut the hell up.

The easiest way to do that, is by a basic law of averages. In any given situation, we almost always have a 50/50 opportunity for success or failure. If we do the normal human thing of worrying about the 50% chance of failure, then it’s only logical to give equal time to thinking about the 50% chance of success.

Once that principal is well and truly understood, it’s amazing how much easier it is to actually be positive and motivated, with little or no extra mental effort involved. (Let’s face it; being positive and motivated is a million times more difficult than it sounds when things in life are daunting or difficult.)

When we’re facing a new beginning, the way to move forward to the best possible outcome is by doing these three simple things:

1 – Concentrating on our equal odds of success

2- Remembering that our nagging worries are not reality

3 – Overcoming  fear with common sense and logical thinking


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