Ashley Kelly

Push past your limits with some mental stretching

Ashley Kelly

Physical activity has always been a big part of my life. I loved playing sports when I was a kid and as I got older it was only natural for me to add regular exercise into my routine.

I found health and fitness so interesting that I decided to get a degree in health science along with some other certifications as well. No, I’m not always dedicated to my health and fitness. I’ve definitely gone through phases where I’m more diligent and phases when I’m not.

But there’s one part of physical activity that I’ve always avoided and only did because I had to.

Stretching.

Yep, for all the knowledge I have about health and fitness, and knowing the benefits of why stretching is super important, I still avoided it (and sometimes still do).

I used to think it was because I just didn’t like it and because I wasn’t that flexible of a person. I’m actually not that flexible and never have been (maybe that’s because I avoided stretching lol). Go figure.

But really, the real reason is because I find it difficult. I find stretching uncomfortably hard.

It’s the part of working out where my mind is full-on. My thoughts run wild. My mind chatters incessantly about nothing and everything and it won’t turn off. The sensations are hard to bear and my mind would play off that.

This hurts.

It’s too hard.

You’re not good at this.

You’re not even flexible.

I don’t like this.

This is stupid.

There are several aspects to your health and fitness, all of which are important and where you avoid one, it’s not long until it becomes your limiting factor.

I think life is the same.

There are certain things that cause us tremendous discomfort. Maybe for you it’s social settings, maybe it’s public speaking, maybe it’s having difficult conversations, maybe it’s being alone.

If we give in to the chatter that happens during these uncomfortable scenarios, I find it’s easy to start making excuses for ourselves that we start believing. Like, oh, I’m just shy, always have been, always will be so I won’t go to that party…or the next one or the next one. Or, oh, I’m no good at public speaking, I just get too nervous and it's not a skill I have so you find any reason to avoid trying. Or, maybe you keep cycling through toxic relationships because the thought of being on your own is unbearable.

Whatever the area of discomfort is, it’s calling for you to lean into it and stretch yourself. Why does this make you act a certain way? What response is this bringing out in you and why?

Ignoring it and pretending it’s not there only gives it more power and ability for it to become a limiting factor in your life.

I’m not saying you need to conquer all your fears and difficulties in one fell swoop. The point is to acknowledge that it exists and that working on it little by little is a step in the right direction.

Just like stretching. I’m not going to improve my flexibility because I stretched once. That happens over time, with small steps and stretching myself a little further each time.

As you lean into the discomfort it starts getting easier. It doesn’t hurt as much.

Don’t let limiting factors in your life hold you back from your potential. They don’t need to have that much control.

So, lean into the stretch of whatever’s calling for your acknowledgement, mental or physical, and push just a little farther.

People are always showing you who they are

Ashley Kelly

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. People know themselves much better than you do. That's why it's important to stop expecting them to be something other than who they are.” - Maya Angelou.

Have you ever met someone and had an immediate feeling about them? You know, that feeling you can’t really explain but somehow you know there’s something not quite right about them. Or, maybe you know instantly that this person is genuine, honest and super awesome and you can’t wait to become besties.

I’ve been really in touch with my ‘people radar’ — or spidey sense, intuition, whatever you want to call it — since I was a little kid. I’ve always had quick and strong impressions about people and oddly enough, my perceptions turn out to be right more often than not.

Don’t get me wrong, of course, sometimes I’m totally off and I didn’t see something coming. Shady Mcshadester ends up wowing me and becoming someone I respect or Mr. Awesomesauce turns out to be someone I wish I never met and, if given the opportunity, I’d gladly ‘accidentally’ hit them with my car.

We all have this ability to evaluate people and situations uber quickly. It’s called thin-slicing. Side note, this is just one of the reasons I think human beings are so cool. We have the ability to make a relatively accurate judgment of someone in about the same time it takes to warm up a pizza pocket.

How amazing is it that our brains can analyze an array of data into this specific indescribable feeling that causes us to just know something about someone. This is how I imagine the computation of this inside our heads:

But, back to the quote at the beginning by Maya Angelou…

I have a hard time with this because ultimately, I want to see the best in people. I think it's only human to want to give people chances (sometimes too many) to redeem themselves and to believe that they can be their best selves.

So, sometimes, I ignore the results of my “thin-slices.”

I’m sure you’ve battled with this too at one point or another in your life. All the “signs” point to run the other way and the “red flags” are viciously waving, but yet, you do the opposite of what you should. You stay in that toxic relationship for far too long, or you enter into a partnership with someone you had doubts about from the get-go, or you lend money to that friend that you know is unlikely to ever pay you back.

And, I don’t blame you. I’ve done the same and I’ve caused myself tremendous unnecessary heartache.

I mean, it’s easy to dismiss our thin slices because how can we objectively quantify them.

Instead, we secretly expect people to be how we hope they will be…and then we become disappointed when they don’t meet our expectations.

And, this is the part that isn’t fair.

We can’t expect other people to be anything other than who they are.

People can change, of course. They can change their minds, their appearance, and some basic things pretty quickly. But really ingrained habits, I’d say, are rarely changed over night.

I don’t think you should necessarily write someone or something off at the first sign of potential trouble. But, when someone shows you that they’re unreliable, that they’re flaky, that they’re dishonest, or that their self-interest always trumps everything, I’d say for the most part, those signs turn out to be pretty good indicators of what’s to come.

So, next time when someone shows you who they are, take it in. File that thin slice in your mental filing cabinet instead of dismissing it. When they continue to show you the same behavior time and again, they’re showing you exactly who they are.

If you didn’t believe it the first time, believe it now.

Expecting anything else will only set yourself up for disappointment.

What you do moving forward, is on you.

Are people doing the best they can...most of the time?

Ashley Kelly

One of the books I read last year was Rising Strong by Brene Brown (highly recommended).

In her book, she talks about the difficult emotions that accompany failure and what it takes to get up and keep getting back up after a blow.

I remember having a mind-bending moment when she introduced the concept that people are doing the best they can with the tools they have, most of the time.

I remember putting the book down and staring off into the abyss while I tried to process what I had just read. My immediate response was to resist this fairy-tale BS and come up with four hundred reasons why people are actually the worst. There was just no way that could be true.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who had or has a pessimistic reaction to the idea that people are doing their best most of the time. I mean, all you have to do is turn on the TV and watch the news and you’ll see plenty of examples of people being terrible.

As I sat with the idea and let it permeate my mind, I thought about my reaction and what it said about me.

Am I doing my best most of the time with the tools that I have?

What would the best version of myself behave like? Have I been acting like that person?

After what seemed like hours of thought, I came up with the answer.

Sometimes.

Sometimes, I am doing my best. And sometimes circumstance, emotion or impulse get the best of me and only in hindsight can I see exactly what I could have done better in that situation.

My hope for anyone that has ever been hurt or disappointed by a failure on my part is that they could understand and forgive me…or at least empathize with me.

So, based on that and my hope that people would do that for me, the next question I had was:

Why did I immediately turn to the negative and assume that people aren’t doing their best?

How is it fair for me to have the expectation that people will always cast me in a positive light yet I don’t do the same?

Here’s what I came up with.

Assuming the worst in people is a defense mechanism.

To lead with the assumption that people are doing their best means that we have to be open to understanding, forgiveness and empathy…all of which require vulnerability. And being vulnerable is hard. It takes courage.

It’s easier to hold ourselves to a lesser standard so we can avoid the pain of getting hurt or seeing the parts of ourselves we don’t like in other people.

It takes effort to rise above that and will take consistent effort to challenge and change our assumptions about other people.

“My life is better when I assume that other people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.” Brene Brown.

Sometimes, when other people give their best, it might be hurtful, energy sucking and painful. I’m not saying you have to tolerate abuse, but holding the idea that people are doing the best they can might help open your mind to understanding their behavior and give you the courage to be forgiving and empathetic.

At the end of the day, we're all just trying to figure things out.

We’re all trying to make sense of our lives.

I want to believe that people are doing the best they can with the tools that they have. I think believing that pushes us to be better people. It pushes us to hold ourselves to a higher standard, even when others around us don’t or can’t.

What do you think?

Do you think people are doing the best they can with what they have?

Complicated is an excuse.

Ashley Kelly

When you buy into the “it’s complicated” story, what you’re doing is one of two things (or sometimes both):

  1. Avoiding what needs to be done

  2. Creating a facade to cover up the reality that you haven’t thought something through

Complicated is an excuse.

Things aren't that complicated. Relationships aren't that complicated. Your product isn’t that complicated…and if it is, see #2 above.

Whatever decision you're facing, isn't that complicated.

Complicated happens because you make it so and then sell yourself the story you created.

You start inflating the importance of irrelevant details and get pulled off of the path that will lead you to the outcome you want. Welcome to overthinking mode.

Each additional complication you dream up buys you more time to avoid the pain of doing the work. The real, hard work it takes to accomplish something, solve something, create something, fix something, build something.

Next time you find “it’s complicated” stopping you dead in your tracks and holding you back from accomplishing something, ask yourself these two simple questions instead of buying into the complicated story:

—What’s the outcome I’m looking for?

—How can I accomplish that?

I know, they seem simple…too simple really. But, simple is good.

Circle back to these questions as many times as it takes.

Your mind will shift from problem to solution and your focus will be on your plan instead of excuses that don’t serve it.

Things might be hard, but they are seldom that complicated.

What's your contribution to the failure?

Ashley Kelly

I was having a conversation with my sister the other day and we got to talking about failure. Specifically, we were talking about relationships — with partners, family, friends and colleagues — that had failed in our lives.

As my sister was describing an anecdote, there was a moment when she was outlining in perfect detail everything the other person had done wrong.

She finished her explanation with “I know I’m 50% at fault too, but I just wanted to point that out.”

We paused for a moment and then I asked her, “Ok, if you’re 50% to blame, what was your contribution to the failure — what was your 50%?”

There was silence on the other end of the phone for a long time.

And then, she replied back...

“That’s a good question, I’m not sure.”

My intention wasn't to point fingers at her because, well, I’m guilty of doing the same. I was interested in her analysis of what she thought she did wrong.

This got the gears in my mind turning and I started thinking about the times in my own life when I've said,

"I know I'm 50% to blame, but..."

Was I saying that because it was "the right thing to say" or because it diffused the tension?

I’ve said those words out loud many times but haven’t really thought about what I was contributing to the failure. Ultimately, it was because I didn’t believe I had done anything wrong. Or at least, I believed that the other person was waaaay more at fault than me.

Talk about self-righteous. Pfft.

When things fail, it’s natural to want to point blame at anyone or anything around you — intentionally or not — and excuse yourself from the situation.

We’ll blame our boss for being difficult.

We’ll blame our coworkers for not pulling their weight.

We’ll blame our partners for not listening.

We'll blame someone for saying something that provoked us.

There are an endless number of reasons. It’s easier to pick from a list of excuses than to test our own flaws. Looking deeply at ourselves is hard, it hurts and it’s uncomfortable.

In life, things fail.

Communications fail.

Relationships fail.

Projects fail.

And even if you can admit that you’re partly to blame and you say those words out loud, do you believe that? Do you really believe that you could be or are part of the problem (or even the whole problem)?

Acknowledging that you bring 50% of the fault is a great first step. To take it a step further, spend more time analyzing yourself the next time things go wrong instead of scrutinizing someone else's every fault.

Don't succumb to that old friend denial and absolve yourself of all responsibility. That's your ego talking and it's refusing to accept that what you don’t like could be true.

It’s possible that the other side is more to blame. Maybe they are at fault. Or, maybe not.

But, that's not important. What is important is to ask yourself what you brought to the interaction? What did you contribute to the failure?

Know that…because that’s your responsibility.