Quick Tips for De-Stressing

“To experience peace does not mean that your life is always blissful.  It means that you are capable of tapping into a blissful state of mind amidst the normal chaos of a hectic life.” ~ Jill Bolte Taylor

“You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway.” ~ Steve Maraboli

“Pain is a relatively objective, physical phenomenon; suffering is our psychological resistance to what happens. Events may create physical pain, but they do not in themselves create suffering. Resistance creates suffering. Stress happens when your mind resists what is… The only problem in your life is your mind’s resistance to life as it unfolds.” ~ Dan Millman

“For fast-acting relief try slowing down.” ~ Lily Tomlin

“I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear.” ~ Steve Maraboli

 

 

I’ve come to believe that most Americans love stress; in fact, I think many of us are addicted to it.  We judge the success of our days on how much stress we experienced, how we “managed” it, and the rewards (usually other addictions) we give ourselves because we deserve to unwind after battling the demands of life.  There is certainly legitimate stress.  All living beings experience it.  But the great irony is that most of our stress is self-imposed.  It becomes a vicious cycle of punishment and reward that feeds our ego-self.

Stress is a normal physiological response to feeling threatened or out of balance.  Legitimate stress, like being chased by a tiger, can keep us alive.  It floods our bodies with hormones that heighten senses, increase physical strength and stamina and makes us more alert.  The problem is that our bodies can’t discern between legitimate (or real) stress brought on by potentially dangerous circumstances and the fabricated stress initiated by our ego-self.  The body reacts the same way to a tiger as it does to a threat to our reputation or our sense of control.  Both trigger the same “fight-or-flight” reaction in the body.

When the ego goes unchecked, it can perceive almost anything (and everything) as a threat to itself – and therefore us.  The body reacts with chronic stress as if we are constantly surrounded by hungry tigers.  We all know the dangers of chronic stress – the list is long.  It negatively affects every part of us; mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual.  Long-term stress can also lead to serious health problems.  It can raise blood pressure, suppress your immune system, increase risk of heart attack and stroke, magnify weight issues, speed up aging and increase anxiety and depression.

We may attribute our stress to external factors: work, finances, relationships, illness, and major life changes.  But in truth, almost all stress originates internally: lack of assertiveness, perfectionism, unrealistic expectations, negative self-talk, pessimism, and inability to accept uncertainty.  All of these factors are born in the ego.

That is bad news and good news.  The bad news is that for many of us, the ego has a stranglehold on how we perceive life.  The good news is that if we decide to focus on the root of the problem, rather than just the symptoms, many of the things that used to stress us won’t any more.  The circumstances may not change, but our reaction to them will.  A stress-less life is one built on the solid foundation of spirit rather than the sandy soil of ego.

When we feel stressed, we tend to try and isolate the circumstance we think is causing it and seek to change it.  But the circumstance is really not the problem, just a symptom of it.  Stress, like all of life’s discomforts, is simply a reminder that we can’t do it alone – it’s an invitation to take a break and reconnect to the power that is greater than ourselves.

Quick Tips to Reduce Stress

Every one of us experiences acute stress, probably on a daily basis.  When left unchecked, acute stress can become chronic and negatively impact every aspect of your life.  While I’ve outlined the only lasting solution, the work of returning to Spirit is deliberate and takes time to master.  With the daily demands of kids, spouses, jobs, household chores and activities, it’s hard enough to find 30 minutes to exercise, take a nap or enjoy a bubble bath.

With that in mind, I’m offering some quick and simple actions that you can immediately use to begin dissolving acute stress.  Even with five minutes or less, you can use these techniques to nurture yourself and keep your stress in check.  You’ll be happier, healthier and better able to meet life’s demands if you do.  It’s no surprise that when expanded into a daily practice, these techniques are also some of the most effective ways to re-connect with Spirit.

  1. Deep breathing
    1. Sit quietly and take slow deep breaths in and out through your nose.  Focus on your breath and feel it as it enters and leaves your body.  Let all distracting thoughts pass by.  As you inhale visualize the healing breath filling you with calmness and peace.  As you exhale visualize the breath taking with it your stress.
  2. Progressive muscle relaxation
    1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.  Close your eyes and take several deep breaths.  Focus your attention on each muscle group in your body.  Tense, or squeeze, that muscle group as tightly as you can and hold for a few seconds; then release.  Begin with your feet and work up through each body part.  This technique is very effective for releasing negative energy stored in the body.
  3. Reconnect with nature
    1. Get outside.  Notice the trees, flowers, or grass.  Listen to the birds sing or the wind in the tree branches.  If you can’t get outside, listen to nature sounds.  You can easily download nature sounds (or apps) on your smartphone or computer.  Communing with nature reminds us that we are a small part of a whole that is much greater than our worries.
  4. Gratitude
    1. Nothing helps release negative stressful emotions like gratitude.  Pause and review all of the things you have to be grateful for.  Acknowledge that these blessings are not the result of earning them, but have been given freely.  The benefits are greatest if you write them down or stay them out loud, but thinking them will also help.  Start each one with, “I’m grateful for…”  It won’t be long until the stressors and irritants in your life are put into perspective.
  5. Aroma Therapy
    1. Scents can be particularly powerful for reducing unpleasant emotions and calming the mind.  You can use candles or sachets, but essential oils are particularly effective.  Try keeping ylang ylang, peppermint, or lavender essential oils handy and apply a small amount to the skin when you start feeling stressed.  Take a moment to breathe deeply and enjoy the aroma.
  6. Stretch
    1. Stretching relieves tension and feels good much like progressive muscle relaxation.  It helps break up the stored negative energy in your body and release it.  Take a few minutes and stretch each major muscle group in succession.  Remember to breathe deeply while you’re stretching – it maximizes the benefits.
  7. Dance
    1. Put on your favorite song and dance with reckless abandon.  Don’t worry about looking silly – that’s the point.  A few minutes of dancing will stretch your muscles, increase your heart rate, and get you smiling – if not laughing out loud.  Life doesn’t have to be so serious.  Embracing the silliness and humor of life keeps things in perspective.
  8. Pray
    1. Prayer is willingly choosing to communicate to the source of all things.  Simply put, it’s talking to the Source.  And it’s not just religious “hocus pocus”.  There have been thousands of scientific studies that suggest that sincere prayer delivers real mental, emotional and physical benefits.
  9. Meditate
    1. If prayer is best described as talking to the Source, meditation is being still to allow the Source to communicate with/through you.  There are countless versions and methodologies, but they all have two simple steps in common: be still and calm the mind.  It is a state of being more than an activity.  It’s a powerful practice because it helps you learn to give the ego a break and listen to the spirit that is within you.  The result includes an increased since of calm and peace and a more active intuition.

Modern life is overrun with demands, deadlines, frustrations and hassles.  For many of us, stress has become a chronic part of life.  But constantly living in “crisis mode” carries a high price that negatively impacts your mind, body and spirit.  You can limit the damage by learning to recognize the true origins of stress (ego) and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects.  The answer to stress is reconnecting to Spirit; releasing the burden of trying to carry it all on your own – or even believing that you can.  Perhaps the real benefit of stress is that it reminds us to return to the Source.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Dangers of Self-Deception

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” ~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“The best lies about me are the ones I told.” ~ Patrick Rothfuss

“You can fool yourself, you know. You’d think it’s impossible, but it turns out it’s the easiest thing of all.” ~ Jodi Picoult

“Stop lying to yourself. When we deny our own truth, we deny our own potential.” ~ Steve Maraboli

“Everything will line up perfectly when knowing and living the Truth becomes more important than proving anything to anyone.” ~ Alan Cohen

 

Jim Carrey’s 1997 movie “Liar Liar” is about a man who can tell only the truth for 24 hours.  It was marketed as a comedy, but in truth most of us would think we landed in a horror story is we could tell only the truth for 24 hours.  We uphold honesty as one of the highest virtues, but the reality is that we hate it more than lying.  We don’t want to know the truth.  We even set others up to lie to us.  “Do these pants make my butt look big?”  We don’t want to know the truth – we want to be cajoled, to be lied to.  “How do you like my new haircut/house/car/sofa?”  We don’t want an honest response, we want a polite lie.

The worst lies of all are the ones we tell ourselves.  We lie about our motives, our emotions, our circumstances, our desires, our talents and abilities.  We focus on external sources to blame when things don’t go the way we want them to.  When it suits us, we swell up with self-righteous indignation and tell ourselves that we are better than “those people”.  But then we turn right around and judge ourselves as fundamentally flawed, unworthy, unlovable, and inadequate because we don’t have/do/think like “those other people.”  It’s no wonder we’re always at least half crazy.  It’s no surprise that most of us engage in some form of numbing addictive behavior as a way to hide from our own self-dishonesty.

There is another way.  What would happen if we decided to live our lives under oath?  What if we made a vow to always tell ourselves the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help us God?

It may be painful at the beginning, but it would also be liberating.  It would allow us to stop wasting energy on the lies and excuses and start dealing with the real issues in our lives.  Instead of complaining about our situations, we would start making positive change.  Instead of blaming others, we would start taking personal responsibility.  Instead of wasting energy maintaining the lies, we could live a life of integrity, honesty, love and compassion.  Doesn’t that sound better than chronic deception?

Self-Deception

The worst lies of all are the ones we tell ourselves – the ones we base our lives on.  It doesn’t matter where the lies came from: perhaps you made them up; perhaps you inherited them from friends, family, church, school, society; perhaps you believed things you heard in the media (from people trying to sell you things); or perhaps they were simple misunderstandings born out of innocence.  Regardless of the origins, these lies have a devastating effect on our lives.  Take a look at this list of the most common lies we tell ourselves and think about how you can begin to unlearn them and stand in your own truth.

I Am Not Worthy Of…

Love, happiness, success, partnership, forgiveness – fill in the blank with the word of the day.  Perhaps the biggest lie we tell ourselves is that we are unworthy.  The other side to this coin is the lie that our worth is determined by others’ evaluation of us.  Our culture tells us that our fundamental worth is based on what we have and what we do.  This belief makes self-worth something that must be earned, and it is completely untrue.  You are worthy because you are.  You exist.  You are breathing.  Think about all of the things that had to fall into place perfectly in order for you to come into existence.  It wasn’t random, and it wasn’t an accident.  Being here, alive, on this planet is proof enough that you deserve to be.  And that entitles you to all of the joys, heartaches, lessons and experiences that come with being alive.

I Deserve…

We often stay stuck in our lives because we have a sense of entitlement.  We falsely believe that we are owed something based on the way we have behaved, the role we have chosen, our family name, our heritage, etc.  We even fall into the trap of thinking that other people know what we expect and are just withholding our wants, needs and desires to torture us.  How silly.  These expectations of entitlement usually go unfulfilled because nothing in this world is promised.  We don’t automatically “deserve” anything.  We get what we ask, communicate, negotiate and work for.  Are you asking, communicating, negotiating and working or are you waiting and assuming?

Negative Emotions Are a Sign Of Weakness

Isn’t it interesting that we all want to experience joy, peace, happiness, and fulfillment but we try to hide from (or ignore) pain, hurt, fear, and vulnerability? We have labeled difficult emotions as negative or bad and avoid them at all cost.  We insulate ourselves, numb ourselves and repress anything we label as ugly.  Here is the problem:  shutting off or ignoring difficult emotions keeps you from experiencing pleasant emotions because they are processed in the same way.  Even more importantly, feelings buried alive do not die.  They get trapped in the body and grow like a tumor.  The strongest people are the ones who embrace all emotion.  They feel pain, accept it, learn from it, and walk through it.  Strong people turn their wounds into wisdom and their hurts into kindness for others.  We grow through difficulty, not by avoiding it.

I Can’t Do Anything About…

How often do we choose to become a victim of our circumstance rather than take personal responsibility for our lives?  Victimhood is learned helplessness.  The truth is that we always have a choice, ALWAYS.  We may not like the circumstances surrounding us and we may not like choices we have, but we always have a choice.  The choice to do nothing is still a choice.

Other People Are Holding Me Back

The truth is… most of us don’t want to take personal responsibility for our own lives.  We have hopes, dreams and aspirations but we also have a laundry list of reasons why we can’t accomplish them – and many of those reasons are other people.  It’s OK to choose to put your goals on hold, but it’s not OK to blame that decision on others.  If you aren’t doing anything to help you realize your goals and dreams, the only person you have to hold responsible is you.  It’s a lot easier to point the finger at someone or something else instead of looking within and really understanding your own feelings.  Don’t give in to the lie.

I’ll Be Happy When…

We all too frequently place the burden of our happiness on the behavior of others or on getting (and keeping) a particular thing.  This is like trying to scoop water with a sieve – it’s never going to be enough.  Happiness isn’t about getting what you want; it’s about wanting what you’ve got.  It’s great to have dreams, goals and aspirations, but if you keep living for a future time you just succeed in wasting the time you have right now.  Choose to be happy now.

Success Looks A Certain Way

Life is not about accomplishments, it’s about experiences.  You are not here to live up to other people’s expectations, and they’re not here to live up to yours.  Each of us if different; we have unique fingerprints, unique DNA, unique talents and experiences.  How silly it is to try and force each of us into the same size box.  What if we only made shoes in one size?  Wearing shoes that are too small is constricting and painful.  Wearing shoes that are too large is clumsy and dangerous.  We don’t think twice about wearing shoes that fit us.  Why would we measure success by only one standard?

A Busy Day Is A Productive Day

“Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.”  “Work smarter, not harder.”  We’ve all heard the clichés, and most of us buy into them.  When we greet a friend or family member we seldom ask, “How are you feeling?” or “What can I help you with?”  Instead we ask, “What did you do today?” or “What do you have planned for the weekend?”  Busyness seems impressive, but busyness does not equal productivity.   We run around crazy, filling up our calendars with appointments and expectations.  We measure the number of emails we receive, the number of Facebook posts we read, the number of laundry loads we wash.  We run from one fabricated crisis to another.  But how do we prioritize the things that really matter; a long conversation with a friend, a family get-together, helping others, self-nurturing and creativity.  At the end of our days, we won’t regret the activities that we didn’t do, but we may regret wasting our time on things that didn’t really matter.

It’s Supposed To Be Easy.

This may be the biggest lie of all, and it’s a lie we use to judge ourselves and others.  We beat ourselves up for faltering, for making mistakes, for not being perfect.  We often compare ourselves to others who have “made it” and judge against that standard.  But we don’t see the whole picture:  we don’t see the doubts, the struggles, the setbacks, the ugliness that had to be worked through to get there.  It’s not supposed to be easy.  We learn through the struggles.  We grow by making mistakes.  We learn to forgive by asking for forgiveness.  It’s time to be realistic.  Life is not easy, but it’s worthwhile.

It’s Too Late.

It’s not too late until you’re dead.  Since you’re reading this right now, I know you are alive.  Congratulations, it’s not too late.  It doesn’t matter how old you are, how much time you think you’ve “wasted” or how many excuses you can come up with – it’s not too late.  You can change as soon as you decide to.  You get one try at this life, and you have less time left today than you did yesterday.  Isn’t it time to get started?

 

So, are you guilty of telling yourself any of these lies?  What would it look and feel like to start telling the truth?

Self-Honesty Exercises

If we aren’t completely honest with ourselves, we won’t be able to grow and improve.  Being honest may sometimes be painful, but it is necessary for growing and learning in integrity – which is why we are all here.
The following exercises will help you improve your self-honesty.

  1. Take time to reflect
    1. Take 5-10 minutes every day to reflect.  Ask questions like, “How did things go today? What did I do right? What could I have done better?”
  2. Tell the whole truth with an open mind and without judgment
    1. Don’t ignore the ugly parts of your life or the mistakes you made, but don’t beat yourself up over them either.  This is not a self-esteem destruction exercise.  Simply tell the whole truth without judgment.  Then ask, “What can I learn from this experience?”
  3. Admit when you make mistakes
    1. The most painful thing about being completely honest with ourselves is admitting when we make mistakes.  Instead, we try to blame others, or our circumstances or come up with excuses to defend our behavior.  You can only learn from your mistakes when you admit them.  Ignoring them sets you up to repeat them.  When you make a mistake, admit it.
  4. Pay attention to your feelings
    1. Not everything you feel is true about your experience, but everything you feel is revealing about your experience.  When you have a strong emotion, (particularly an unpleasant one) ask yourself where it is coming from.  What is the true cause behind the emotion?  You will learn a lot when you see it honestly and without judgment.
  5. Admit what you don’t know
    1. A necessary part of honesty is admitting your limitations.  We often assume we know everything about a situation which causes us to react in stubborn and irrational ways.  When you’re evaluating a situation ask yourself, “What don’t I know about this?”  There will always be something.  And that’s a good thing – that’s an opportunity to learn and grow.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Principles of Communication

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.” ~ Fred Rogers

“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.” ~ Brian Tracy

“When you give yourself permission to communicate what matters to you in every situation you will have peace despite rejection or disapproval. Putting a voice to your soul helps you to let go of the negative energy of fear and regret.” ~ Shannon L. Alder

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” ~ Anthony Robbins

“Once a human being has arrived on this earth, communication is the largest single factor in determining what happens to him in the world.” ~ Virginia Satir

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” ~ Steven R. Covey

 

 

Communication is a ubiquitous word – and concept.  We are bombarded with information.  We have countless technologies at our disposal that propose to make communication “easy”: emails, text messages, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, blogs, webpages, and the list goes on and on.  We communicate a lot, but what do we really say?  What meaning are we sharing with each other?  Have we focused on quantity at the sacrifice of quality?

We comment on the weather, share what we ate for dinner, and complain about work.  We post our vacation pictures, talk about our exercise routines (or lack thereof) and complain about everything that is wrong or lacking in our lives.  But how often do we take the time to have real and meaningful conversations?  When do we sit down with another and share our dreams and aspirations, our hopes and fears, our goals and emotions?  When do we have conversations about the things that really matter to us – the things that impact the quality of our lives?  Not nearly enough, I think.  Sometimes I worry that we are losing the language to do so.  We eventually lose sight of that which we don’t communicate.  Many of life’s most difficult struggles could be eased (or even alleviated) if we talked freely and honestly about them.

Understanding the principles of communication may help us take it more seriously and intentionally use our limited time together to enlarge our experience rather than diminish it.

Four Principles of Communication

Communication is vital not only to our quality of life, but also to life itself.  Without the ability to communicate there would be no relationships, no institutions, no governments, and no meaning.  But most of us take communication for granted.  Because there is no shortage of messages and methods, we seldom focus on the content and quality of our communication.  Consider these four principles of communication and how the fundamental truths of them impact your life.

Communication Is Inescapable

We can’t not communicate.  Even the attempt to not communicate communicates something.  Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, we are wired to share meaning by sending and receiving messages.

Communication Is Irreversible And Unrepeatable

You can’t put spilled water back in the glass.  Even if you fill the glass back up, the water is not the same.  This is also true of communication.  Have you ever said something you wished you could take back?  Even after an apology, the effect of the communication remains.  Because of its irreversible and unrepeatable nature, each interaction has the potential to be life-changing, to become a sacred event.  When you realize just how precious and unique each interaction is you begin to realize the power they hold to hurt or heal, to nurture or destroy, to build up or tear down.  Communication is never neutral – never.

Communication Is Complicated

Communication is complex because of the seemingly limitless number of variables.  Many theorists suggest that whenever you communicate with another person there are at least six “people” involved: who you think you are, who you think the other person is, who you think the other person thinks you are, who the other person thinks she is, who the other person thinks you are, who the other person thinks you think she is.  It’s no wonder that we so frequently misunderstand each other.  But yet we often assume that our message is clear and the other person fully comprehends what we mean.  Aren’t assumptions foolish?

Communication Is Contextual

Communication does not happen in isolation – it is surrounded with context.  Each participant brings with them a unique set of values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, not to mention their desires, goals and intentions.  Each relationship, situation and environment is unique.  The combination of who, what, when and where add another layer of complication to the sharing of meaning.  Each culture also has a set of learned rules and regulations that govern what is appropriate and differences in culture can create misunderstanding.

~~~

And all this time you thought you were just having a conversation.  With all of these variables, it’s no wonder that we frequently misunderstand each other.  The irony is that we tend to overestimate our level of understanding.  The ego assumes that everyone understands us and that we understand everyone.  This can result in conversations that leave us feeling diminished rather than enlarged.

Enlarge or Diminish?

Communication has tremendous power.  With just a few words we can encourage another person or tear them down.  And we all know from experience that it’s not the words themselves, but the emotion they convey that is so powerful.  That’s why non-verbals communicate so much meaning.

Dr. Frank Luntz, author of Words that Work, explains that most communication is based on feelings rather than information.  “Eighty (80) percent of our life is emotion, and only 20 percent is intellect,” Luntz says.  “I am much more interested in how you feel than how you think.  I can change how you think, but how you feel is something deeper and stronger, and it’s something that’s inside you.  How you think is on the outside, how you feel is on the inside, so that’s what I need to understand.”

We could develop stronger more meaningful bonds with others if we took Luntz’s advice.  Every time you communicate with someone, you either enlarge or diminish them through your interaction.  Knowing this makes it a matter of choice.  In his book, The Natural Speaker, Randy Fujishin explains six specific ways that you can enlarge others through your communication with them:

Don’t take communication so personally

The single most important thing you can do to be more effective in your communication is to give the ego a break.  Remember that it ain’t about you because the understanding of your message lies in the other person.  This awareness helps you become less self-centered and not take the process so personally.  It also provides space to cultivate empathy for the other person.  Consider asking yourself these questions when you’re talking (and listening) to someone else:

  • What is this person’s point of view?
  • What does this say about this person?
  • How is this person feeling?
  • Where is this person coming from?
  • How does this person see this situation?
  • Who is this person?

Without this ability, our communication will be self-centered, superficial and often defensive.  Instead of really seeking to understand the thoughts and feelings of the other person we will be focused solely on the echoes of our own mind.  That’s not really communication.

Listen without verbal interruption

Once we are able to give the ego a break, we will be able to give the other person time to speak without interruption.  Most of us tend to verbally interrupt another person every 12 seconds during a conversation.  “That’s wonderful!”  “That’s terrible!”  “I’m sure.” “That reminds me of…”  “If I were you, I would…” “No, that’s not true, because…” “Oh, I know…” “It was even worse for me…” and the interruptions go on and on and on and on.  It’s no wonder we seldom feel truly heard, taken seriously and fully understood.

One of the most enlarging things we can do for another person is to practice deep listening – listening for meaning and without interruption.  Try practicing it and see the difference it makes.  Consider these tips to help you practice deep listening:

  • If the person is important to you, treat them that way.
  • When the other person has stopped talking, wait a few seconds before you respond.  They may have more to say.
  • Ask permission before giving your opinion.
  • Listen reflectively.

Listen reflectively

Listening reflectively means mirroring back to the speaker what she is saying – without verbal judgment.  The simplest way to accomplish this is to ask questions rather than assuming you understand everything, because you don’t.  The following examples will help you practice mirroring by using reflective questions:

  • “Are you saying…?”
  • “What I hear you saying is…?”
  • “You think…?”
  • “You believe…?”
  • “Are you feeling…?”
  • “Your point is…?”
  • “Do you mean…?”

Imagine how questions like these can greatly reduce miscommunication and enhance understanding.  It takes the burden off of you to fully understand everything the other person means.  Mirroring gives them the opportunity to clarify and you can simply be present.

Compliment others

A sincere compliment can give new life to the person receiving it.  We all know how great it is to receive a compliment but we seldom give them as often as we could.  Giving compliments is a skill that can be developed, once you decide to nurture it.  It starts by choosing to see the best in others and allowing you to give them credit when they show worthy character traits, put forth sincere effort or achieve a goal.  You can even compliment individuals for things they don’t do.  For example, you can offer a compliment to someone for not swearing, constantly interrupting, or criticizing.  Offering sincere compliments is a powerful way to enlarge another person and help them feel validated, valued and heard.

Reframe what is said

Reframing involves seeing a situation or experience from a different perspective.  Most of us can get stuck in a limited way of thinking because of our own baggage, experiences and perspectives.  Reframing invites the other person to consider multiple perspectives and attempt to see the lesson or opportunity in difficult or unpleasant experiences.

When attempting to reframe remember rule #1 and don’t take their response to your reframing personally.  They don’t have to accept the new perspective in order for it to be beneficial.  The goal is to begin looking for new ways of seeing – to change the lens.  Every story has multiple endings and you can choose the one you want.

Physical touch

It may seem obvious, but we often overlook the power of touch.  Touching another person helps them feel cared for, acknowledged and loved.  There are times when no words are sufficient, but a deep hug conveys just the right thing.  Of course, there is no fast rule for when (or how much) touch is appropriate.  It depends on the individual, the situation and the intent.  But when appropriate and well-intentioned, human touch is one of the most powerful ways that we can enlarge others and ourselves.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Learning From Adversity

“Opposition is a natural part of life.  Just as we develop our physical muscles through overcoming opposition – such as lifting weights – we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity.” ~ Steven. R. Covey

“The difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use them.” ~ Unknown

“Accept – then act.  Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it… this will miraculously transform your whole life.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

“If you’re life is cloudy and you’re far, far off course, you may have to go on faith for a while, but eventually you’ll learn that every time you trust your internal navigation system, you end up closer to your right life.” ~ Martha Beck

 

 

Adversity is a part of life.  How’s that for an obvious statement?  I don’t want to be trite or cliché, but it’s no secret that everyone has problems.  If difficulties are a fundamental part of human experience, why do we struggle so against them?  Why do some people overcome while others break apart against the rocks?

Friedrich Nietzsche is quoted as saying “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”  I would like to be quoted as saying that on this point, Nietzsche was a liar.  Obstacles, adversity, and problems do not, by default, make us stronger.  Just look around.  There are plenty of tired, overwhelmed and broken people in the world.  Two different people can experience the same challenge.  One will come out stronger and more secure while the other will fall into depression and defeatism.  What is the difference between the two?  It wasn’t the obstacle, but rather the content of their character.  I would like to offer you a more truthful version of Nietzsche’s thought: Lessons learned from obstacles, adversity and problems make us stronger.  Lessons unlearned are repeated until learned.

We’ve all heard the cliché “trial by fire”.  It originates from the process of smelting – a form of metallurgy in which pure base metal is produced from ore.  Metal ore is full of impurities leaving it of little benefit in its current form.  When the ore is smelted, it is exposed to extreme heat to decompose it.  The impurities are driven off leaving only the pure elemental metal.  The adversity of life is our trial by fire.  The purpose is to burn off the impurities – the false beliefs, diversions, and clutter that keep us from living our highest and truest lives.  If we learn the lessons, we are left with a stronger and more pure self.  The challenge is that we often have strong attractions to the impurities, the slag, and so we resist the process and attempt to hold on.  The more we resist, the higher the heat goes.  Additional reducing agents are added to help release the bond.  And we wonder why things go from bad to worse?  Didn’t I have enough on my plate already?

All experiences are lessons that God would have us learn.  The more we resist the lesson, the more we hold on to the impurities, the stronger the lesson becomes and the more often it is repeated.  Are you feeling overwhelmed by adversity?  Do things keep going from bad to worse?  If so, what impurities are you holding on to?  Fear? Anger? Guilt? Unworthiness? Shame?

How to Learn From Adversity

All of that is great, you may be saying, but how can I understand (and learn) the lesson when all I see is this crap?  I hope these tips will help you begin that process.  But first a disclaimer:  I am not talking about legitimate life and death circumstances.  When those occur, feel free to take immediate and drastic action if necessary.  I’m talking about those circumstances that only feel as if they are life and death.  Those we can take some time with and learn from.

  1. Think differently.  Open your mind to a new possibility – a new perspective.  Having problems is not the problem.  Challenges are necessary in order to grow, improve, and more importantly, discover who you really are and what you can do.  Be willing to consider the possibility that all experiences are lessons that God would have us learn.  Obstacles are teachers.
  2. Get some perspective.  Where does this obstacle fit within the grand scheme of your entire life?  We often see the emotional shadow the obstacle is casting and not the obstacle itself.  See it for what it really is – no better and no worse.  Don’t react prematurely or overreact.  See it for what it really is.
  3. Seek to understand the curriculum.  Be with the obstacle.  You can’t learn from a teacher that you are trying to battle or eliminate.  Feel the situation.  See it.  Ask, “What is this obstacle trying to teach me?”
  4. The lesson is in the emotion, not the circumstances. We tend to think of unpleasant emotions as bad.  Instead of experiencing them and learning from them, we often seek to repress them or medicate until numbness arrives.  Don’t try to evade the obstacle or wish it away.  You have to feel it to heal it.  Negative emotions do not die when they are buried, they resurrect in new forms. Acknowledge the emotions you are experiencing and experience them fully.  What do they tell you about yourself?  What can you learn from them?  In the process of experiencing emotions completely, we learn valuable life lessons.  We also discover how resilient and strong we are.
  5. Now ask yourself, “What is the next step?”  Take that step, however small, and then ask again.  Repeat.  You don’t have to solve the problem in one fell swoop.  Just take the next step.  Trust your intuition to guide you.  Ask for guidance from a higher power.  But take the next step.  Before you know it, the obstacle will be a distant memory and you will be a stronger and better version of yourself for having faced it.

Carrots, Eggs or Coffee?

Many of you have heard, read, or seen this beautiful fable.  It’s worth another look.

A young woman went to her grandmother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one would pop up.

Her grandmother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire, and soon the pots came to boil. In the first pot she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word. In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.

Turning to her granddaughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see.”

“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied. Her grandmother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The grandmother then asked the granddaughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, the grandmother asked the granddaughter to sip the coffee. The granddaughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma then asked,

“What does it mean, grandmother?”

Her grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

“Which are you?” she asked her granddaughter.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hurting People, Hurt People… Including Themselves

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” ~ Matthew 6: 14-16

“To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness.” ~ Robert Muller

“Sincere forgiveness isn’t colored with expectations that the other person apologize or change. Don’t worry whether or not they finally understand you. Love them and release them. Life feeds back truth to people in its own way and time-just like it does for you and me.” ~ Sara Paddison

“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.” ~ Katherine Ponder

“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” ~ Paul Boese

“He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.” ~ George Herbert

“Without forgiveness life is governed by… an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation.” – Roberto Assagioli

“Forgive all who have offended you, not for them, but for yourself.” ~ Harriet Nelson

“Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.” ~ Louis B. Smedes

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” ~ Luke 6:37

 

While my goal is to support you in doing your work, I’m doing my work too.  Some days it’s easier than others, and some days you get knocked flat on your butt.  The key is to get back up and keep moving forward.  Sometimes it’s by leaps and bounds, and other times it’s with baby steps.  Patience, Persistence, and Commitment are required to do the work.  You also have to throw in a healthy dose of forgiveness and self-love – especially when things are tough.

The lesson that I am learning (slowly but steadily) is that the spiritual path isn’t always peace, joy and tranquility.  It’s not supposed to be.  The most important work that we can do is to lean into, and fully experience, the shadow parts of ourselves – the old wounds, the dark memories, the injuries that were too painful to look at so we put them away in a box in the closet.  It’s also some of the hardest work that you can do because it requires that you dig into the parts of your personality that you deem unworthy, unlovable, undesirable, and unattractive.  These shadows are the weeds in our lives and they keep us from becoming the highest and truest expression of ourselves as human beings.

You may think you have already “dealt with” your hurtful experiences, but have you healed them?  There is one way to know – remember the experience of a past hurt or trauma in detail and “feel” into it.  Is there any emotional reaction?  Is there any pain, fear, resentment, bitterness, or anger?  If so, you haven’t healed yet; just repressed.  I know, because I spent many years of my life repressing past injuries.  I thought I had healed them because they weren’t obvious to my conscious mind.  But they live on as negative energy.  The energy of past traumas remains trapped in your body until you process and release it.  That is true forgiveness.  It’s not an intellectual process.  It’s a heart activity.  Most of us were never taught how to do this.  It’s time to learn.  It’s time to heal.

Hurting People, Hurt People… Including Themselves

If you’re reading this, you’ve been hurt – wounded by others.  The great irony is that hurt is entwined with love.  The vulnerability of loving another, of opening your heart-space to them creates the possibility of injury.  You can’t have one without the other.  Therein lays the importance of true healing.  The more you seek to protect yourself from hurt, the more you limit your ability to fully experience love.

An unhealed soul wound is like a thorn that hasn’t been removed.  The acute pain may ease, but the area around the thorn becomes inflamed.  If anything touches the thorn, the pain is severe – more intense than the original penetration.  The only way for the injury to fully heal is by removing the thorn.  At any point we can choose to remove the thorn, but the process would be painful and we tend to avoid pain.  Instead, we either protect the thorn or attempt to medicate it.

We protect the thorn by building walls around it, and putting up defense mechanisms.  If anyone comes near the thorn, we lash out in an attempt to protect our wound.  That is why hurting people, hurt people.  Sometimes the wound becomes so infected that the pain is constant.  We think the pain is coming from our current situation instead of our past experiences.  That’s when we medicate with addictive and/or self-destructive behavior.  Some of us turn to alcohol and drugs, others to food or shopping, still others to hoarding behavior, mindless hours of TV or internet surfing – whatever it takes to dull or avoid the pain.  Some of us descend into the paralyzing beliefs of guilt, unworthiness, fear, shame and worthlessness.

Here are some traits of “hurting people” – people with unhealed spiritual trauma and injury.  Do you recognize any of them in yourself?

  1. Hurt people transfer their pain to the people they love.  They inflict anger, judgment, manipulation or control on their friends and family.  They blame others for hitting their “sore spot” and react defensively, thus hurting others and perpetuating the cycle.
  2. Hurt people interpret every action or word through the lens of their pain.  Their emotional pain causes them to suspect that everyone is out to hurt them, or that there is evil intent behind other people’s actions.  Ordinary words are interpreted negatively and they often overreact.
  3. Hurt people believe themselves to be victims.  They are suspicious and have difficulty trusting.  They believe that life is “unfair” and they have been treated in ways they don’t deserve.
  4. Hurt people alienate others.  They continually hurt the ones the love and need the most with their self-destructive behavior and then wonder why no one is there for them.  They blame others for being distant, for not knowing what they need, and for abandoning them.
  5. Hurt people have the emotional maturity of the age they experienced their un-healed hurt.  They cannot grow beyond that stage until the wound has been healed.
  6. Hurt people are frequently frustrated with life or depressed because the past pain continually spills over into their present experience.  They fail to see that their current pain is actually the un-healed pain of the past.
  7. Hurt people often erupt with inappropriate emotional responses because particular words, actions or circumstances touch or “trigger” the past wound.  These reactions seem to “come from left field” but are actually a response to the years of pain and un-healed hurt that is overflowing into the current situation.
  8. Hurt people occupy themselves with busyness and accomplishments as a way to avoid their pain.  They frequently “live for work” and when they have free time, or find themselves unemployed, they experience significant pain, depression, and low self-esteem.
  9. Hurt people often attempt to medicate themselves with excessive entertainment, hobbies, sexual relationships, drugs, alcohol, pornography or other compulsive behavior as a way to avoid their pain.  Occasionally they completely shut down emotionally and go through life dull and numb.
  10. Hurt people often live double lives and lack integrity.  They present an “image” in public that doesn’t match their private lives.  They may pretend to be happy, in control, and fulfilled, when they are not.  This attempt to hide their “dark side” , or shadow, leads to hypocrisy, guilt, shame and depression.
  11. Hurt people are often self-absorbed and unaware that they are also hurting other people.  The depth of their pain is directly related to the depth of their ability to hurt others.

Are any of these weeds growing in your life?  Unhealed hurt leads to pain, unresolved pain plants the seeds of resentment, anger, bitterness, the need to control others, feeling out of control yourself and self-destructive or obsessive behavior.  These are the fruits of the shadow.

The only way out of this cycle is to heal the hurt and release the pain.  This begins with experiencing it, telling the truth about it, standing in that truth in integrity, forgiving (others, yourself and God), and lastly choosing a new end to the story.  It can be done.  It must be done in order to live a fulfilled life overflowing with peace, contentment and joy.  But it isn’t easy.

Many people have lived with (and compensated for) their pain for so long that they no longer recognize its origins.  Working with a trained professional – like a spiritual life coach – can provide the insight you need and help you begin the process of healing and forgiveness.  There are processes and techniques that will help.  Things don’t have to stay the way they are.  There is hope and healing if you are willing to do the work.  It’s time to stop ignoring the weeds.  It’s time to pull them out by the roots and plant something new.  It’s time for forgiveness.

Forgiveness 101

Forgiveness is not an intellectual process – it is a spiritual process.  Forgiveness is the decision that you will not continue to let the pain of past injuries dictate and control your current life. It is the willingness to release the negative energy – to process the pain in a productive and cleansing manner – and liberate yourself from it.  It’s not about the person who hurt you; it’s about you.  Hurting people, hurt people, but healed people, heal others.

If you’re ready to heal, consider these six aspects of forgiveness:

  • Forgiving does not mean forgetting.  When you choose to forgive you cannot (and should not try to) forget the injury.  That would be stupid.  Instead, seek to learn the lesson – for all experiences are lessons that God would have us learn.  This is called wisdom.  At the least, it’s an example of how you don’t want to treat others.  Remember the golden rule?
  • Forgiving requires that you experience and process the pain.  This is often the most difficult part.  It is not sufficient to simply tell yourself you forgive.  That’s just a diversion – that’s building another wall around the thorn.  Forgiving means extracting the thorn, removing the infected tissue surrounding it, and covering the wound with the healing balm of love.
  • Forgiveness is a process, not a destination. It is not a “once and then done” activity.  Just like after a surgery, the incision will be tender for a while.  You must tend to it.  But you must also exercise it and strengthen it.  It’s like spiritual rehabilitation.  It takes time but it can be done.  And just line a bone that becomes stronger in the area where it was once broken, your spirit becomes stronger and more resilient once you complete the healing process.  However, the process does not go on forever.  You don’t want to sit in the pain, you want to heal and release it.
  • Forgiveness requires putting your ego in check.  Most people aren’t malicious – they don’t seek to hurt others intentionally.  Remember hurting people hurt people.  Part of the process requires the acknowledgement that the injury you experiences was not about you.  It’s very unlikely that they set out to hurt you on purpose.  They were simply doing the best they could with what they had at that time.  It’s ok that it wasn’t enough for you – that it wasn’t what you needed.  When people know better, they do better.
  • Forgiveness requires forgiving all involved –not just the person who hurt you, but also yourself, and God.  We tend to judge ourselves harshly for “letting” someone hurt us, as if we chose to drink poison.  True forgiveness involves forgiving yourself and releasing your need to take responsibility for the injury.  Lastly, forgiveness also means forgiving God.  Sometimes we want to blame God for allowing bad things to happen to us.  Remember that God does not permit evil; God permits freedom of choice.  People permit evil.  All experiences are lessons that God would have us learn.
  • Forgiveness is not excusing the hurtful action.  We excuse a person who is not to blame.  We forgive a wrong that has been committed.
  • Forgiveness is not giving permission to continue hurtful behaviors; nor is it condoning the behavior.  It is choosing not to carry the pain of the hurt forward.
  • Forgiveness is not reconciliation.  We must make a separate decision about whether to reconcile with the person we are forgiving.  Forgiveness does not require a future relationship.
  • Forgiveness results in loving – and even desiring to heal – the person who hurt you.  When forgiveness is complete, you realize that the person who hurt you did so because they were also hurting.  Your healing will result in wanting healing for them as well – and for all who are hurting.  Compassion and forgiveness are two sides of the same coin.  Compassion and love come naturally when forgiveness is complete.

As we heal ourselves and forgive others we break the cycle.  When we heal ourselves, we begin healing others; as we heal others, we heal the world.

Isn’t it time to break the cycle?  Isn’t it time to give yourself permission to heal and forgive?  Isn’t it time to lay the burdens down?  You’ve carried them long enough.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Breaking Out Of A Rut

“The only difference between a rut and a grave is how deep it is.” ~ Charles Garfield

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” ~ Albert Einstein

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” ~ Winston Churchill

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” ~ Calvin Coolidge

“In my experience, nothing worthwhile has ever really been all that easy. But it certainly has been worthwhile regardless how difficult it seemed. ” ~ Robert Fanney

 

Even professional life coaches get stuck sometimes and this week I found myself in a rut.  I found myself obsessing about all of the things I haven’t done instead of celebrating my accomplishments; or better yet, getting up and doing something.  It happens to all of us from time to time.  The key is to recognize it and get back on track.  Success belongs to those who keep on going… no matter what.

So I’m taking a dose of my own medicine.  In honor of the April 12th issue on shame, I’m exposing my truth and re-committing to the process.  As a recovering perfectionist, I have to constantly resist the urge to think and judge (myself) too much.  We are our own worst critics.  When I get too deep in thought, I forget to act.  I fall into the trap of believing I need to know everything before I can do anything.  When I catch myself doing that I have to do something to get out of my head, and usually one (or a combination of) the techniques I share below will do the trick.

It’s not always easy; it’s not always fun, but taking a new action is a surefire cure for inaction.  The key here is a “new” action.  It takes traction to get out of a rut and you achieve traction by introducing something new to the equation.  It’s the only way to change what’s on the other side of the equals sign.

How to Break out of a Rut

We all have periods of inertia; it’s part of the cycle of life.  Projects and people have seasons just like nature.  But you don’t have to remain in perpetual winter.  Newton explained that an object at rest tends to stay at rest until acted upon by a force sufficient to move it.  If you’re in a rut, use the seven techniques below to create the momentum you need to break free.

The single biggest mistake you can make is to think that you’re supposed to know what you should do before you take action.  You can’t wait for inspiration to arrive before you change.  You change so that inspiration can arrive.  If you’re in a rut, use the seven techniques below to create the momentum you need to break free.

Be Honest about your feelings

As you work your way through your rut, don’t suppress your emotions.  Tell the truth about how you feel – to yourself and to others.  This doesn’t mean be a “Negative Nancy” and just complain.  But it does mean that you should own how you feel.  If a friend asks you how you are don’t default to, “I’m fine.”  It’s not true and you all know it.  It’s OK to say, “I’m really struggling right now.”  You just may get the support or insight you need.  If you feel the need to cry or yell out loud, do it.  It’s important to let the emotions out.  But after you’ve let it out, let it go.  Don’t stew in it forever.

Break the Routine

It’s time to do something different; even if it’s something small.  Take a different route to work.  Go to a movie.  Read a book.  Do something creative.  Order something from the menu that you’ve never tried.  When you’re in a rut, routine is the enemy.  Do something new today – and every day – until you get back on your feet again.

Be around people

When you feel blah you tend to isolate, but hibernation can make the rut that much deeper.  Even if you don’t feel like it, interact with others.  Get together with someone you care about and trust and talk.  At the very least, it will take your mind off of your own inertia and may result in some valuable insights and ideas.  You are not an island.  Trying to figure out your problems all by yourself sinks you deeper into the quicksand of thinking.  Call on your support system and take advantage of it.  That’s what it’s there for.

Take action

You’re in a rut because you’re not making progress and you’re not making progress because you’re in a rut.  So it’s time to do something.  It doesn’t have to be related to your blockage and it doesn’t have to be big.  Take a small step.  Each day increase the goal a small amount and build on the previous day’s success.  This is called incremental goal-setting.  Breaking a dream down into its smallest parts allows you to enjoy small wins and build on them.  It is literally one step at a time.  Plot it out on a calendar or write it on a piece of paper.  Don’t let yourself skip a step, and check off your daily successes.  Ask yourself what you would do if you felt great and do that.  Movement in any direction is better than standing still, and in the process of moving you may find yourself closer to your destination.

Engage in physical activity

When you’re in a rut you usually suffer from a lack of motivation.  You may even feel tired, like all of your energy is zapped – because it is.  But the best way to have energy is to make energy.  Get up and get moving.  Engage in some type of physical activity.  Walk around the block.  Play with the kids or the dogs.  Listen to some upbeat music and dance around the house.  Dig in the dirt.  Whatever it is, make yourself do something.  Moving your body will get your heart pumping and increase your energy level.

Forget about motivation

Are you waking up every day and praying that this will be the day your miraculous inspiration arrives but then you do the exact same thing you did yesterday?  Stop it… now.  That’s not the way it happens.  In fact, it’s just the opposite.  Don’t wait for inspiration so you can change.  You must change so inspiration can have a chance to spark.    Remember Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  Simply trying harder often makes the problem worse.  Instead you need some traction.  Traction is just another work for friction – the difference is in the intention.  Waiting for motivation is like waiting for money.  You have to go out and earn it.

Celebrate every success

It’s easy to get pessimistic when you’re in a rut.  Nothing feels good enough when you keep your focus on how far you have to go.  The antidote to this is to celebrate every success – however small.  You want to paint?  Get your supplies out.  You want to write?  Put your name on the page.  You want to exercise?  Put your tennis shoes on.  Then celebrate the accomplishment.  Give yourself credit for positive movement.  You’re one step closer to your goal than you were before.  Then keep up the work.  One more step and one more celebration.  Before you know it, you’ll be there.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mindfulness 101

“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“Few of us ever live in the present. We are forever anticipating what is to come or remembering what has gone.” ~ Louis L’Amour

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” ~ James Baraz

“Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it.” ~ Sharon Salzberg

 

It’s a crazy world that we live in.  I don’t know about you but I frequently feel bombarded by too much information:  too many plans, too many activities, too many worries and regrets.  Sometimes I feel like I have to make “to do” lists to keep track of my “to do” lists.  Don’t even get me started on incessant media messages – and the pressure to keep up with them.  As if the TV’s 1000 channels aren’t enough, there’s email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, ad nausea.  Just typing them out makes me short of breath.  I’m certain that I’m missing some critical update about a “friend’s” newest recipe or little league game score.  Queue the heart palpitations.  How am I supposed to live a well-tended life when I often feel as if life is whirling past me… and leaving me in the dust?

The answer for me is by cultivating mindfulness – this subject of this week’s WTL Newsletter.  Mindfulness is one of the easiest and most effective ways we have for managing stress and improving total health because it can be practiced anywhere and brings quick results.  Simply put, mindfulness means paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment.  How do you feel right now?  What do you see, hear, taste, smell, and touch?  Take time to notice the details.  Notice the weave of the dishtowel.  Look at the grain pattern of the woodwork.  Take a long deep breath and feel the air coming in through your nose, filling your lungs, and exiting.

Exercises like this bring me back to the present moment.  They allow me to savor the beautiful details of life.  My palpitations are already decreasing.

What if, for the next five minutes, you didn’t do anything?  Really.  Just sit and take it all in.  Experience everything your senses perceive without judgment.  Set a timer if you have to.  It will be worth it.

Life is short.  Life is precious.  Life is important.  What if we treated it that way?

Mindfulness 101

Mindfulness is not a “new-age” concept.  Its origins are in ancient Buddhism so it’s been around for thousands of years.  Most spiritual and religious traditions have some form of mindfulness.  That’s because it works.  A significant amount of scientific research shows that it is beneficial in alleviating a number of mental and physical conditions.  It can assist with improved attention, enhanced learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, and stress reduction.

Most of the time our attention is now where we intend it to be.  Have you ever pulled into the driveway and then realized that you remember nothing about the trip home?  This is a common example of “mindlessness”.  Our minds frequently get hijacked by our worries for the future, regrets and memories of the past, and our thoughts and emotions.  We move and act on “autopilot” and then ask ourselves where the day (week, month, year) went.  Mindfulness is really nothing more than conscious awareness without judgment.  It is the direct knowing of what you are doing while you are doing it.  It is paying attention to what is going on inside of your mind and body, as well as what is going on in the world around you in the present moment. 

By learning to experience the present moment as it really is (and without judgment) you develop the ability to stop those often unconscious emotional and physiological reactions to everyday events and create the space to choose your responses rather than act on autopilot.

Simple Mindfulness Exercises

Here are four simple techniques to help you incorporate the practice of mindfulness in your daily life.  Connecting mindfulness to certain queues helps you remember to make it a part of your day.  Pick one that feels good and try it for a week.  Then consider adding others as you are lead.  You will be surprised at what a difference they can make in your life.

  1.  Breathe Deeply. 
    1. You can do this anywhere, which makes it a great exercise to begin with.  To do it, simply breathe on purpose.  Take several slow deep breaths from your belly. Count to five on the inhale and count to five again on the exhale.   Breathe in and out through your nose.  Feel the air moving in and out of your body.  Focus on the sound, rhythm, and feeling of your breath.
    2. Listen to music.
      1. Have you ever noticed that it’s almost impossible to sing your favorite song while thinking of something else?
      2. Listening to music has so many benefits and it makes a great mindfulness exercise.
      3. Try listening to instrumental music to feel calming effects.  Close your eyes and really listen to the music.  Focus on the sound of each note and notice how you feel.  What emotions does the music bring up in you?  Do you feel any sensations in your body?
      4. Mindful eating.
        1. Every time you are about to eat something bring your attention to the present moment.  Remember that the purpose of eating is to nourish your body.  Smell the food.  Really look at it and enjoy the colors.  As you take the first bite, notice the texture and taste on every part of your tongue.  You can take each bite with as much intention as the last and turn an often mundane activity into an opportunity for calmness and peace.
        2. Mindful Driving.
          1. Driving can be a good queue if you have a trip you take over and over again, such as from home to work.  At each red light, breathe in the present moment.  Do this until the light changes and at every light.  While stopped, notice the scenery around you.  What is something you have never noticed before?  What has changed since the last time?

The Dangers of Multitasking

Multitasking is the enemy of mindfulness.  American culture idealizes efficiency and hails multitasking as an admirable trait, but most research suggests that it is counterproductive for a number of reasons. 

  1. None of the tasks get your full attention, even though they all need and deserve it.
  2. You are unable to get “in the zone” where your work flows smoothly and quickly because you keep switching focus.
  3. Rapid task-switching can cause a surge of adrenaline which reduces your concentration.

How to break the multitasking habit:

  1. Create a prioritized “To Do” list.
  2. Only open the files, windows, or supplies you need to complete the task at hand.  Put them away (or close them) when you are ready to move on to the next task.
  3. Write down things that pop up in your mind and save them for later.
  4. If necessary, set a timer and focus only on one task for a set amount of time.  Then take a break and move on to the next task.

Further reading:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prime-your-gray-cells/201107/are-you-smothering-your-brain-s-true-genius

Are You Smothering Your Brain’s True Genius? – Psychology Today

http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-myth-of-multitasking

The Myth of Multitasking – The New Atlantis

http://lateralaction.com/articles/multitasking/

Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work – Lateral Action

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment