Every two hours or so, sit down and write about what you're thinking at that very moment. Just don't get scared of yourself. Most of our thoughts make no sense at all. We're conflicted as a species. Descartes also reviewed his own thoughts and found many contradictions. His most important idea is that we should question the source of our beliefs, not the belief itself. Because most of our beliefs are based on our or other people's perception. Please listen to this warning. Admit your fear. Sit with it and address each fear one at a time, while emotions previously suppressed are headed your way. You might notice I didn't say, "Get rid of your fear." No, let it be. Sit with it. Feel it and, as you can, gently release what you can. When you don't run away from or avoid fear, it loses its power to control you. There's no way to do away with the risk or the ambiguity of not knowing what's next. To take that risk--to trust that second voice and allow yourself to experience your vulnerability--is life changing. Letting go of perfectionism takes an acceptance of risk and the vulnerability that comes with it. You aren't perfect. You don't have to look perfect or act perfectly. Your weaknesses are going to show to others.

(Theirs do to you, right?) Sitting with your vulnerability means that you can admit that both the good and the evil wolf exist in you and that the best you can do is try to feed the one that's fighting for love and compassion. There will be times when you feel jealous, when you wallow in self-pity, or when you're insensitive or overreactive. Those are emotions and actions we all fall into. They are what make all of us imperfect. Admitting them, living with them, others knowing them because you told them--all of it takes vulnerability. You may find that many of your choices have had negative consequences; others have been positive. Your task now is to get them down on paper and to distinguish one kind from the other. Prepare to get real and get honest with yourself about the choices that have led you to where you are, right now. There is no room for victim thinking here. We are dealing with life influences that you made through the choices and decisions you chose. Your critical choices may certainly include positive decisions, moments whose consequences have affirmed or inspired you and which continue to give you satisfaction today. As you did with your defining moments, test your reactions to your critical choice using the benefit of time, objectivity, maturity, and experience. It may be that a critical choice for which you have regularly blamed yourself has been distorted, in your perception, into something it was not. Your paragraph should answer: Has my interpretation of this critical choice been accurate? Or have I exaggerated or distorted it in some way? At this point, you should have completed one set of seven exercises for one of the age brackets shown on page 141. Now go back, take another look at those age brackets, and decide which bracket you want to address next. As you have just done, ask yourself, Was this a period in my life when I made a critical choice? If so--even if you just think the answer may be yes--let me encourage you to get going with Question 1 again and work your way through all seven questions. Recall the focus of this chapter: You will have completed your homework for this chapter when you have conducted this "self-audit" for a total of seven critical choices.

The fear-induced, self-destructive determination that so many people demonstrate in suppressing who they authentically are is a never-ending source of amazement to me. When you think about how much life energy people devote to denying who they are and living who they aren't, you can't help being awed by the tragic enormity of it. What a waste of talent and energy! As we get into the complexities of adult living and try in vain to "dance" for so many masters, the drain of crucial life energy just gets worse and worse. In the complex lives we create with kids, parents, spouses, jobs, church, friends, and every other demand source, it can seem like you are trying to hold ten of those "childhood beach balls" underwater all at once. Trying to be so many things to so many people, oftentimes when none of them are even almost who you really are, can absolutely wear you to a frazzle. You are who you are and the more you try to ignore that reality, the higher the cost to you. You can be your own worst enemy, creating emotional and physical breakdown. The disconnect shows in estrangement from loved ones, physical exhaustion and illness, frustration, and inner turmoil. As if we don't do a good enough job of losing touch with our authentic selves and sabotaging our own lives by settling for what we don't want, we frequently and tragically get "help" from those we encounter along the way. These "helpers" are among what I call the pivotal people in your life. Maybe those people include your parents, spouse, or siblings. Maybe the pivotal people in life include teachers, friends, and coworkers. Whoever these people are in your life, some of them are genuinely positive influences and some are horribly negative. But make no mistake: Certain other people do have a huge impact on the formation and content of your self-concept. Moreover, these people can determine whether you live consistently with your authentic self or instead live some counterfeit life controlled by a fictional self that has crowded out who you really are. Stress causes inflammation at a cellular level, compromising our immune systems, contributing to disease and reducing our overall mental and physical vitality. When stressed we breathe shallowly, radically decreasing the amount of cleansing, nourishing oxygen that can reach our cells. When stressed we are susceptible to experiencing indigestion and stomach upsets, even challenges with our menstrual cycles, skin, sleep cycles, moods and more. Emotionally, our stress can cause us to lose precious perspective, patience and peace.

Stress is the launch of various bodily processes instigated by our brain's perception that we are under attack. According to Mithu Storoni, neuroscientist and author of the book Stress Proof, `psychosocial' stress is our biggest stressor today: that is, feeling threatened by other people. In the past our greatest stressors were the wild animals that could eat us alive, or the savage environmental conditions that could jeopardise our livelihood. These days, however, it is our fellow human beings causing us the most angst. Think of the comparison or competition we can feel with one another, the sense of judgement we can feel exposed to day to day, or the bullying and power plays that generally colour unsupportive, unhealthy relationships. Simply by choosing kindness and compassion for ourselves and each other we can actively minimise a great deal of this psychosocial stress, person by person, day by day. Yet until everyone chooses to ride this wave of kindness together, we are very wise to have some stress-savvy tricks up our sleeves for interpersonal stresses and stressful challenges of all kinds. How did I arrive at this view? Much of my rapid decision-making techniques blossomed in the military because when I was in the service, my actions affected other people's lives. I learned it out of necessity. The ever-present possibility was not only that I could lose my own life, but that I could cause loss of life to my fellow men. Similarly, when I meet people, I often wonder if they realize the effect of what they're saying and how it impacts others around them. People are often oblivious to simple things, such as the speech they produce, particularly, the tone, style, manner, and attitude with which they speak. If you become more conscious of what you say, then you'll create a better overall awareness and impression. That's another example of how to adjust moment by moment, staying aware of your audience and acting and speaking accordingly. Every event in my life has brought me to this particular point in my existence on earth. Every learning experience I've had has led to this very moment in time. Your thoughts and actions culminate in the here and now, but you are endowed with the free will and creativity to craft a brighter future. You are part of the spectrum of life. When you become aware of the magnitude that each thought, action, and event potentially has---how a ripple in thought can become a tidal wave of change---then you can better appreciate the great responsibility and opportunity each one of us has.

Dare to expect the best of yourself, and you will make the world a better place! How many of your ideas are based on what others have told you? Or based on your first thoughts or assumptions? At the core of thinking lies our ability to separate the truth from falsehood. What is true, what is false? One way to look at that question is to take a pragmatic perspective. William James describes the idea of pragmatism as follows: "The attitude of looking away from first things, principles, 'categories,' supposed necessities; and of looking towards last things, fruits, consequences, facts." Thoughts should serve a useful purpose. If they don't, they're useless. That's straight thinking. Pragmatism is a method of thinking, not a solution. In fact, all thinking is a method. Your thoughts serve as an instrument. But it's a conflicting instrument that's very hard to use. Henry Ford said it best: "Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it." Thinking is not only hard--it's the single most important thing in life. Remember: The quality of our thoughts determines the quality of our lives. And our decisions are a result of our thoughts. When you first begin to change habits and behaviors, the results can be heady. Think about starting a new job or having a new baby. You may be on a high with energy galore, simply because of the rush of how new it all feels. But then comes reality.