At a barbeque recently, I was introduced as an Inner Fitness Trainer to a single mother in her 30’s. The young mother all but sucked her teeth and rolled her eyes at my title. It took me years to learn how to not take the behavior of others personally. Though her response did not feel friendly, I smiled and said hello. I continued chatting with the group for a moment before my date and I headed towards the smell of good food.
Maybe 90 minutes later, I noticed this same woman standing in my peripheral vision, poised to jump into a conversation I was having about inner fitness. She leaped in, saying, "No one can be positive all the time. People who smile all the time are lying."
I clocked that she was clearly on edge and looking for a fight. I know the surviving self when I see it. This self is always on the hunt for what’s wrong and in pain or producing pain for others. It is that part of all of us that feels overwhelmed and burdened.
As an inner fitness trainer, I pay attention to a person’s tone and breathing depth. I look for clues about their emotional state. This woman’s shoulders looked tight. She did not seem comfortable in her skin.
Research shows that emotions are contagious. Anger, depression, or intense negativity can spread and infect an entire community, just like a common cold. The same is true of positive emotions. This woman’s energy was negative. We were at a fun party and I didn’t want to be the cause of a mood shift. I became watchful to avoid ramping up her already sour attitude. Usually, I would simply walk away. But my inner voice said, "Stay. Listen."
At the subconscious level, intuitively, our lives are always trying to resolve unresolved issues and right wrongs. From the soul’s perspective, people and circumstances we encounter that create friction are opportunities to grow or heal an unresolved issue. I didn’t know why this woman and I were put together. But because I do not believe in coincidences, I listened.
As she spoke, her frustration and anger were palpable. I got curious. (Leading with curiosity is a great way to interrupt negative patterns and foster relatedness.) I turned to her and asked questions about her comment and her life.
She is the fierce champion of her special needs daughter. Her ex refused to be a father or pay child support. As she spoke and slightly trembled, it was clear this woman was handling a lot. I admired her resilience and told her so. Casually, I asked if she had encountered any unexpected support or surprising empowering discoveries. She shared several ways that good things have happened for her daughter. The stressed woman brightened as she talked.
Counting our blessings has a positive impact; so does feeling listened to and heard. Both generate hope and openness - these two characteristics are present whenever we are in our thriving Self.
The woman’s face relaxed as she shared a storehouse of stories that were full of tiny miracles. She met a stranger in the grocery store who shared information about programs that were perfect for her special-needs daughter. When calling to learn more about the program, she realized it was super expensive, and registration was closed. Yet, while talking to the program associate a registered participant called and needed to suddenly cancel her enrollment. The woman was given the open seat and gifted with a scholarship to attend.
The woman’s sour attitude was gone. We chatted for 45 minutes. As she reconnected with her many blessings, her shoulders dropped. We both felt better. We hugged and parted.
As I walked away, I thought about all the subtle ways that the thriving Self had neutralized her surviving self, which had become focused on the problems in her life. Remembering what was good about her life made her more open and shifted her attitude to gratitude.
She was right. No one can be positive all the time. But when life becomes overwhelming, we should all be open to the positive people and circumstances sent to help us get back on track.
Tina Lifford plays Aunt Vi on the critically acclaimed television show, Queen Sugar. The Little Book of Big Lies: A Journey Into Inner Fitness is her first book; released by Harper Collins, November 2019, and is full of the kind of internal “actions” that will transform your thinking and your life. You can also join her at a workout in her Inner Fitness Studio to practice strengthening your wellbeing and making it actionable in your day to day life. Don't miss the latest news from Tina Lifford and The Inner Fitness Project. Sign up our monthly newsletter here.