To read all posts in this series from the beginning, click here.


After acknowledging the unmanageable nature of an addiction, realizing the importance of looking beyond oneself for help, and then actually doing so, the fourth step in a traditional 12-step program is to make “a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” What does this mean in the context of recovering from negativity? Surely, when we’ve been working to cultivate a better attitude, the last thing we want to do is make a list of all the reasons why we suck because we’re addicted to negative thinking. Can’t we just skip this one and go play golf?

Well, no. Because that’s not what it means. An inventory is a list, true enough; but in the usual sense of the word, it refers to what one has, not what one lacks. Business owners keep an inventory of what’s in the warehouse so that they can fill orders quickly, take advantage of sales opportunities, and grow the company. A proper inventory requires searching, literally—employees walk through the warehouse and make sure that the items on the shelves match what ought to be there. In much the same way, the searching inventory that takes place at Step Four calls for a thorough investigation of the resources available for moral growth.

This can get uncomfortable, hence the need to be fearless. Sometimes what we find on the shelf isn’t going to match what we thought was there. We might, for instance, wander into a dark corner of the moral warehouse confidently expecting to find barrels heaped high with Community Involvement and Kindness. But instead, we discover dust and cobwebs, along with the organizing flyer for the bake sale that we never got around to baking anything for, and the charity pledge form that we kept forgetting to turn in at the office because we got too busy and it seemed like just one more annoying nuisance anyway.

Taking an honest look at what’s really going on calls for courage, but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up emotionally for falling short of our expectations. When business owners look over their inventory and find that they’re running short of some products, they don’t moan, “Oh, I’ve done such a bad job, I’m terrible at running a business, it’s sure to fail.” They simply note the shortfall as an action item and move on.

There are several possibilities for action when a company runs short of inventory. Reordering the usual quantity of the same product is the most common and obvious choice. But depending on market conditions, other options may be more profitable. Maybe the product that is running low is overpriced, difficult for the company’s employees to process, or not in much demand. If so, the best choice may be to substitute an alternative item from another vendor. Or perhaps it should be discontinued because the company has a large quantity of another product, and the empty space in the warehouse is needed for promotional items to use in a marketing campaign to improve the overstocked product’s sales.

We also have many options in the context of a moral inventory. Let’s take a closer look at the bake sale example: After bringing carrot cake to a church or community group’s annual bake sale for many years, we didn’t get around to doing it last year, and now we feel grumpy just thinking about it. Does this mean we should put extra reminders on the calendar for this year’s bake sale?

Not necessarily. Maybe putting together all the ingredients for grandma’s carrot cake recipe seems like it has gotten too time-consuming over the years (it’s now “overpriced” in terms of time); or we don’t enjoy baking as much as we used to (a “processing” issue); or we feel unhappy because the carrot cake is not as popular with the bake sale’s patrons as it once was (the “demand” is less). If so, we shouldn’t feel obligated to do it anyway. Making a cash contribution instead would be perfectly acceptable. And if growing the carrots in the backyard garden was the most fun part, perhaps we could turn our charitable energies toward making better use of our “overstocked” carrot inventory—bringing carrots to the food bank, or working in a community garden.

In general, if there is some aspect of life that we’ve been neglecting and that leaves us with negative feelings when we think about it, then we probably need to look for more desirable alternatives instead of forcing ourselves to do it the same way. A thorough inventory of what we’ve been doing, with particular attention to the reasons for our actions and how they align with our moral values, is vital for making well-informed decisions going forward.


Click here to read Recovering from Negativity, Step Five.

Over the weekend the weather was gorgeous here in Ohio. Almost like summer, we had bright sunny mornings, birds singing, and balmy breezes. Naturally, as might be expected of responsible adults, my husband and I spent Saturday morning finishing up the tax forms and taking them to the post office. Then he fired up the push mower for the first time this year, while I started cutting back some overgrown bushes that I hadn’t gotten around to pruning last fall. I also dug a few dandelions out of the flowerbed in the side yard, which will need mulch before I plant the flat of snapdragons I just ordered.

dandelion and bee

(photo credit:

Sometimes I miss the little girl I used to be, waking up full of joy to be alive and running outside to play, maybe still in a nightgown. Why take time to dress when there were so many adventures waiting to be discovered? The world felt magical—like being inside the pages of a storybook, full of beauty and wonder. Without thinking twice about it, I would happily lie down in the grass and watch a bee buzzing in the dandelions.

Growing up often means letting one’s mind get cluttered with what-ifs. Instead of watching a bee in the dandelions, an adult might think: If I did that, I’d get grass stains on my clothes. The bee might sting me. A biting fly might decide I’m tasty, or a millipede might crawl up my sleeve. What if a curious skunk wandered too close while I wasn’t paying attention? Maybe even a rabid skunk—hey, it could happen.

Besides, lying down in the grass isn’t something that mature adults do. The neighbors might think I fainted, or fell and broke a hip, and call 911. Worse yet, someone might start a rumor that I was drunk and passed out. Gossip like that grows legs—why risk it? And what are those dandelions doing in my nice neat suburban lawn anyway? Better go get some weed killer before anyone notices them.

Although these worries may look ridiculous when written out like this, we routinely have all kinds of what-ifs sitting at the back of our minds with the other mental clutter. Often we don’t even notice because it has gotten to be such a matter of habit. We’ve filled our minds with socially-based expectations for how our days should go, and any deviation—or perhaps just the thought of a deviation—automatically triggers the scripts for our internal naysayers.

And even if it didn’t, chances are we’d get bored pretty quick watching a bee in the dandelions anyway. We no longer have that childish mindset of living in a magical world full of amazing discoveries. Unless we intentionally practice mindfulness, many of the things we loved as children don’t even cross the threshold of awareness once we’re adults. By then, our brains have become very efficient at subconsciously filtering out unimportant distractions: a bug in the weeds, no different from thousands we’ve seen before, no reason to notice it.

Realistically, we couldn’t get much done in today’s busy society if we lacked that filter and always got distracted by every little thing we saw. Experiencing a natural world rich in detail might have worked well for our hunter-gatherer ancestors, but it’s more of a liability to modern humans, now that most people’s work involves abstract mental tasks. We tune out the distractions because our adult responsibilities don’t give us much choice in the matter. Even so, I believe that our busy, task-oriented minds would be much refreshed by pausing, every once in a while, to notice the beauty in the dandelions before we spray them or dig them up.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

It’s in our nature as a storytelling species to filter our experiences through the narratives we create to explain them. As humans, we go through life full of self-talk, whether or not we do it consciously. When we plan an event we know will likely be stressful, such as traveling to a place we’ve never seen before, we rehearse it in our minds and tell ourselves why it will be okay.

Our culture goes through much the same process of creating new stories to explain advances in technology, changes to our traditional social structures, and greater diversity in our communities. Having to deal with so many unexpected changes can make us very anxious, just because life feels so unpredictable. We need simple, calming explanations that fit reasonably well within our existing mental maps and leave us confident of being able to manage the changes.

Now that we’re a half-century into the modern civil rights era, our culture has mostly gotten used to the idea that we shouldn’t expect everyone in our communities to look and behave exactly the same. Although we still have much work to do on clearing away old prejudices, our society has made much progress toward the goal of accepting diversity.

But many of us find it harder to accept ourselves for what we are. Mass-market advertising preys on our insecurities by suggesting that we won’t have any friends unless we wear the latest trendy fashion or drink the right brand of beer. Whatever our physical traits may be, there are cosmetic products or treatments aimed at improving them, along with ads that proclaim how embarrassing it is to look like our natural selves. If we don’t fit in with some clique at school or in the workplace, we could get bullied for being “weird.”

It’s not always easy to recognize such manipulation and bullying for what they really are. Often we blame ourselves, thinking that we’d have more friends and get along better if only we could be more like other people. Then we blame ourselves again for not doing a better job of dealing with our gloomy feelings and our anxiety. We don’t take enough time to consider all the factors involved.

Defining one’s personal identity and finding self-acceptance can be even trickier in the context of disabilities, mainly because our culture hasn’t yet fully accepted them as part of human diversity. Instead, our culture has created narratives about normality and what might happen to anyone who doesn’t fit neatly within its boundaries. As a result, anything outside those boundaries—wherever they may be at any particular time—can be hard to accept as part of one’s own identity.

Well-meaning people sometimes offer advice along the lines of “accept the condition, but don’t let it define you.” Such advice generally means not letting one’s potential be limited by low expectations. As with person-first language, the aim is to put less emphasis on the condition, in hopes of avoiding the negativity often associated with it. Put more simply, this advice is: Don’t settle for being defined by all the bad stuff our culture says.

Some may see this as acceptance—but it has the drawback of leaving all that bad stuff out there, unchallenged. And when we don’t actively challenge prejudices, we often end up internalizing them. That is why pride campaigns work toward reclaiming words and asserting control over their definitions. Whether we’re talking about disabilities or any other human characteristics, leading an authentic life requires acknowledging their place in defining our identity. We can’t truly accept ourselves as long as there is something we keep tucked away at the back of the closet, never mentioned above a whisper.

When we put acceptance into action we’re telling new stories, both to ourselves and to the world. We’re creating new definitions that embrace all of who we are, rather than just the parts that fit someone else’s idea of who we should be. This is how our culture grows and evolves. Seen in this light, the telling of authentic narratives is a gift to the world, broadening its boundaries and strengthening its diversity. No one should ever have to feel afraid or ashamed to speak a personal truth.

This article has been published on the Autism Acceptance Month site, which posts new articles and resources every April, with a focus on “sharing positive, respectful, and accurate information.”

I had been wondering if I would see any crocuses in my garden this year, after such a long, cold winter. The spot where they are planted faces north and doesn’t get as much winter sunlight as some other parts of my yard. Usually they bloom in early March, but there was nothing at all emerging from the hard-frozen ground when I looked a month ago. They did start coming up eventually, though, and are just starting to bloom.

April crocuses 

This week I’ve been reflecting on patience and the natural growth process vs. to-do lists and schedules. It’s all too common for people in today’s busy world to feel rushed and overloaded, not because of having daily tasks that actually require huge amounts of time and effort, but simply because there is always something more on the to-do list. Rather than finishing our work for the day and enjoying a peaceful evening, we think ahead to the errands planned for tomorrow, the business meetings next week, and so forth.

Now that it’s April, I am one-quarter of the way through my 2014 resolution to discover and comment on a positive blog every day. Several people have complimented me for this resolution, while also telling me that they wouldn’t have the time for it. In all honesty, not being perfect, I have occasionally missed a day and then made up for it by visiting two blogs the next day. Staying on schedule is not what’s important here; what matters is the incremental growth throughout the year, however it may be accomplished.

As for how to find enough time for projects in general, I believe that a childlike perspective of “play time!” can make a world of difference. In our culture, we get used to filling our days with scheduled tasks to be completed. Then we veg in front of the TV or find other mindless entertainment to give our brains some downtime, but that doesn’t completely distract us from the piles of stuff waiting to be done tomorrow, and every day after that. Life starts to feel exhausting. New projects become stressful commitments of time we’re afraid we might not have, rather than just being fun ideas for something we’d like to do.

I have to confess I almost fell into that trap when the idea of visiting a new blog every day first occurred to me. The task-scheduling part of my brain promptly kicked in with criticism—had I totally lost my sanity, putting 365 new items on the to-do list for the year? How was I ever going to manage that? And because it would take different amounts of time depending on how quickly I found a positive blog on any given day, I couldn’t even block out a nice neat defined chunk of time for planning purposes.

Then I realized I should be looking at it as a daily adventure—a journey or quest, instead of a series of scheduled tasks requiring detailed advance planning. Back when we were kids and went outside to play after school, we didn’t have calendars telling us to play tag from 4:30 to 5:30 on Mondays and to pretend we were astronauts from 4 to 6 on Tuesdays. We just walked down the street and asked our friends what they wanted to play; and if we changed our minds about it, well, that was okay too.

I do recall making a daily schedule for pretend games when I was six or seven years old, just to amuse myself after looking at my dad’s daily planner, because I thought the idea of having such a regimented life was hilarious. Little did I know…

That’s not to say we should all throw away our schedules and lists. Life really does get complicated in the modern world, and often it’s useful to plan our daily tasks. But we don’t need to take it so seriously that we let those to-do lists control every moment of our lives. They should be helpful assistants, not tyrannical masters. Not everything needs to be done on a schedule. To-do lists can be much improved with a bit of imagination. Pretend you’re a little kid again and put stickers on the pages—smileys, rainbows, and cheerful affirmations. Write in some reminders to watch the sunset, imagine castles in the clouds, and just breathe.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.