Archive for the ‘Mindfulness’ Category

Summer: A time of refreshing

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Stress. A quick Google search tells us stress is “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.”  I don’t know about you, but May can bring with its flowers a multitude of demanding circumstances.  It’s a month of must-do’s, especially if you have school-aged children.  ‘Tis the season for the ‘final final’ of every club, activity, sport, and academic arena that your child has ever participated in, and though they are all wonderful things, just looking at your calendar for the month ahead can cause a state of mental strain!  And this comes after long, demanding days at the office. It’s enough to wear even the strongest down.

If you were to self-assess in this very moment how stressed you are, how would you rate?

If you’d like a little help in determining your stress levels, consider taking this short quiz from Psych Central (psychcentral.com):

https://psychcentral.com/quizzes/stress-test.htm

Emotional and mental tension from life’s demands can take its toll on our mental and physical health and contribute to many health issues. This article from the Mayo Clinic cites these negative symptoms of stress:

On your body:

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems

On your mood:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression
Many of us have fond memories of summer break.  No school, sleeping in, running barefoot, catching lightning bugs, throwing water balloons, sipping lemonade, swimming, picnicking, camping — all wonderful earmarks of the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. It was a time of refreshing between the demands of the school semesters. When we were kids, my brothers and I would play hide-and-go-seek until it was too dark to see where we were running.  I remember the exhilarating feeling of sprinting back to the old ash tree just steps ahead of my chasing brothers, tangled hair flying as my swift, grass-stained feet carried me to the safety of base.  Even if your summers were spent indoors, or taking a summer class, or working at your first job, the season still usually signifies a refreshing break in the routine, a change of pace. But how often do we get that time of refreshing in our adult lives? Seasons come and go and we plod on, day in and day out, consistently meeting demands and solving problems with no respite, leaving us exhausted.

Changing up your schedule to spend time to do things you enjoy is a valuable way to combat stress. The obvious thing to do is to take some time off work and go on vacation. But many can’t afford to take the time off, or have the funds to do so.  Yet they need a break as much as the next person! Look how Maya Angelou celebrated author, poet, and historian so succinctly states it:

“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”

Here, here!  We all probably agree, but how do withdraw if time and funds are a constraint? It’s really quite simple.  For the moment, put aside your visions of lavishly escaping to a tropical island in the South Pacific, and just daydream for a moment about things do you like to do when you have some free time. Maybe it’s just taking a walk at lunch. Or riding your bike. Maybe you like to fish. Maybe it’s listening to your favorite tunes, or shooting basketball, reading a book, or going on a jog.  Maybe your thing is to meet a dear friend for coffee. Or visit a museum, or browse your favorite clothing store. You may be one who likes to hike, or binge-watch your favorite show or … take a nap!

I have found that I have to escape city life from time to time to find my place of refreshment. I keep my tent and camping gear tucked neatly away in the trunk of my car, so that at a moment’s notice (i.e., 5:01 pm on a Friday afternoon), I can hop in my car and take a short drive out of town to find a scenic spot to set up camp. For me, something about physically removing myself from the city and escaping to the mountains instantly renews my sense of excitement and wonder. Add to that breathing in the crisp, clean mountain air, feasting my eyes on greens and blues (green trees, green grass, blue skies, blue waters), and turning off my cell phone! gives my soul the peace it longs for.

Whatever it is that suits your fancy, make sure it’s something that you truly enjoy and has nothing to do with your day to day routine that leaves you drained. But you’ll find that the most difficult part of refreshing is not determining what to do, but when.  It’s easy to decide that activities that serve no purpose other than fun aren’t as important as our day-to-day work demands that shout so loudly, and just push the fun stuff aside. You’re going to have to make a commitment to fun. Maybe you can carve out a new morning routine before the commute. Maybe you can find some time at lunch to have some down time. Maybe one evening a week you can leave the office right at 5 pm and go play. Or take a half day on the weekend and commit to spending that time doing something you love.  Though fun may not seem as vital as work, truth is, we need both.

There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.” — Alan Cohen

When is the last time you did something just because it was fun? And if it’s been way too long, how are your stress levels? Our souls need refreshing and it’s important we figure out how to provide this form of self-care for ourselves. As summer approaches, try to carve out some time for fun. Your body and soul will thank you for it!

“A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.” — Roald Dahl

L-O-V-E: How to make it last

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

L, is for the way you look, at me
O, is for the only one, I see
V, is very very, extraordinary, and
E, is even more than anyone that you adore…

Most likely you’re familiar with the jaunty 1965 Nat King Cole song. It’s been the theme music in romantic comedies and played on radio stations for generations. It so very well describes the giddy, elevated feeling we experience when falling in love. Whether it be in a romantic relationship, a business partnership, a friendship, a new work team, or a new job — the sparkling freshness at the beginning of a relationship can send you down the hallways dancing and humming. But it’s not long after the wear and tear of life sets in that those feelings can quickly turn to disillusion and discouragement.  We’ve all experienced it. What starts out as the opportunity of a lifetime turns into the ball and chain around our necks, similar to how that new car smell is so quickly replaced by the odorous aroma of abandoned fast food wrappers left lying on the floor. Falling in love doesn’t seem to be the issue. Staying in love is another story.

How do we prevent the adversities of life from ruining our relationships? Jack Canfield, an American author and motivational speaker, says this:

“Successful people maintain a positive focus in life no matter what is going on around them. They stay focused on their past successes rather than their past failures, and on the next action steps they need to take to get them closer to the fulfillment of their goals rather than all the other distractions that life presents to them.” 

Research shows that people who are able to maintain a positive mindset have better relationships. Robert Ackerman, researcher at the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences (University of Texas), worked with middle school students to assess how well they resolved conflict with their parents, and videotaped the subjects for over 17 years. With nearly 20 years of data at his fingertips, he discovered that kids who grew up with loving, supporting parents, exercising positive communication and warmth, were more likely to experience adult romantic relationships that were positive.* To quote Ackerman:

“I think that studying more positive behaviors is important because it may shed more insight on how to better enhance romantic relationships.” 

How is your positivity–or lack of–affecting your relationships?  If you struggle with letting negativity get a hold of you when life gets tough, here are a few things you could being to look at:

  • What are your core beliefs about adversity?  Do you see it as fate or something you can control?  Do you see suffering as part of being human or a result of particular actions?  Do you see setbacks as having long-term effects or are they short-lived?
  • Start listening to your self-talk when adversity strikes. Do you tend to go to an “I can do this” place or a “I’m doomed” place?
  • Ask an honest question:  is there anything about the drama that accompanies adversity that you enjoy?
  • Can you look back on past adversity and see that you overcame the obstacle and moved on, or are you still experiencing negative effects from that event to this day?

We all know it’s not about having a happy, trouble-free life that brings joy. It’s more about our ability to roll with the punches (resiliency) and allow the event(s) to shape us into better human beings. Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese-American artist and poet, put it this way:

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see in truth that you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Finding a life coach to work with you to combat negative tendencies can be a good first step of heading down the road of positivity, which can lead to healthier, happier relationships.  Though it doesn’t happen overnight, behavior can be changed, and with some help you can begin to shift your focus from the negative to the positive.

Two in love can make it
Take my heart and please don’t break it
Love was made for me and you
Love was made for me and you
Love was made for me and you.

  • (2013. Study finds good marriages more likely for teens of happy homes. University of Texas at Dallas News Center (n.d.): n. pag. Web. http://www.utdallas.edu/news/2013/3/21-22501_Study-Finds-Good-Marriages-More-Likely-for-Teens-o_article-wide.html?WT.mc_id=NewsHomePage).

Why You Don’t Actually Need Work/Life Balance

yinyangArticle contributed by guest author Aimee Teesdale

Years ago, I was struggling to do what I thought I was supposed to do: study, graduate, find a job, work… I believed that all I needed to do was figure out the right work role and then everything else would fall into place for me.

Like many people, I also assumed I would have my work on one side, and my life on the other, and I would simply switch between the two every day. A successful person, we are told, carefully manages both of these, i.e. they find that elusive “work life balance”.

In coaching others, I’ve met countless people who struggle with this same “imbalance”. Our jobs feel disconnected from the rest of life. At work we’re supposed to dress differently, speak differently, behave differently. It’s as though we put on a mask when we enter the workplace; the mask of a “teacher” or “manager” or “accountant”. The idea is that true professionals never allow their messy emotions to get in the way of their jobs. We’re not meant to let the “life” part creep into the “work” part. Our hopes and dreams are not relevant. Our disruptive opinions are not workplace appropriate.

And what about our authentic selves? What about our deeper yearning for purpose? About our fears? Well, there’s a place for that, but it’s only later in the day when you get home, and finally get to take off the mask. Only then are you allowed to “be yourself”.

I’m a big fan of the concept of balance in life, but something about this just didn’t sit right with me. The more I worked with people who experienced this, the more I learnt that the problem wasn’t that people failed to find balance between their professional and personal lives, but that they saw them as two separate things to begin with.

Balance vs. Alignment

I originally believed the right role for me was “psychologist” or maybe “HR consultant”. At the time, I had just ended a long-term relationship that left me feeling completely lost; struggling with making friends in a big new city, launching a career, and finding my place in the world.

During those challenging years, I worked hard on my own personal development. I travelled. I pushed out of my comfort zone and found my passions. I worked on my professional development too, by training hard as a personal performance life coach and starting my own business. Which was all great.

But the real magic happened when I realized that my private life and professional life were really two different expressions of the same thing. I had an epiphany: development in one inevitably led to development in the other.

I quickly found out that my career was the most fulfilling when I approached it as a whole, authentic person and not simply as someone who was playing a part, or wearing a mask. I realized that so many of my clients weren’t struggling with work/life balance but rather with a lack of alignment between the two.

Emotional Intelligence is the Key

When I learnt to bring my genuine self to my work, my world changed.

When I learnt to let go of fear of change, fear of rejection, fear of failure and fear of the unknown, my work became something truly exciting.

Your success at your chosen profession is so much more than your achievements and your qualifications. While they’re important, your skills and experience are only a small part of what makes you the complex human being you are. You are also blessed with emotions, thoughts, beliefs and dreams, and by cutting this part of yourself out of the workplace, you limit what you’re capable of, and stunt your development in both areas.

Personal and professional success are not zero-sum; rather, they both stem from the same source: emotional intelligence. Cultivating self awareness, knowing how to take control of thoughts and emotions …these are the skills that transform you from a cog in someone else’s machine to something much more powerful. A thinker. An entrepreneur. A creator or healer.

Today, I would not be able to help my clients in my professional life were it not for the insights I gained in my personal life. And my personal life would not be as rich as it is now without the skills I am learning in my professional life. I was only able to really grasp this when I stopped seeing work and life as two things that ought to be separated.

Your hopes and dreams are not just something to bring out of hiding when your work is done for the day. How can you develop the courage to bring your complete, full, wonderful, flawed self into your work, right now?

• Instead of finding ways to squash yourself into a pre-defined role, ask how you can create a role of your own
• Remember that you are not solely defined by the work that you do, or the title that goes along with it
• Instead of finding ways to separate out the personal and professional, deliberately blend them. Become curious about the ways your personal development can fuel your professional development – and vice versa

What’s the Big Deal With Mindfulness?

Article contributed by guest author Renelle Darr.
I have been doing yoga on a fairly regular basis for about 15 years and began getting into meditation almost 5 years ago. Yoga is amazing but a good mediation session takes it to the next level (and good doesn’t always mean “feels good” but rather “good for you”). For a long time, I really thought meditation and mindfulness was about sitting and training your mind to have no thoughts and perhaps no feelings. I couldn’t do it! Impossible! No way! Well, the more I’ve learned about meditation and mindfulness, I now realize that goal really was impossible! I’ve spent more time studying and practicing mindfulness over the last year and want to share some of the key insights I’ve gleaned along the journey so far. I’ve studied the fascinating book How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist, took a local class on “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction” (MBSR) based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. and various other lectures and sessions along with deepening my own mindfulness meditation practice. A few brief insights:
 1. Mindfulness Defined. Jon Kabat-Zinn says “fundamentally, mindfulness is a simple concept. Its power lies in its practice and applications. Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” I believe the part of the definition about “non-judgmentally” is the hardest part for most people in being truly mindful . So it’s not about emptying the mind after all, but about being aware without judgement.
2.  The Concept of Touch and Go. Mindfulness is about paying attention to what is coming up for you, truly feeling it and moving into the comfort or discomfort but not attaching to that one thought. When a thought or feeling comes up touch it and then let it go, even if it is a tough one, a trigger or something that is weighing heavily on your mind. The real trick is also doing this with positive feelings.
 3. Positive Feelings Are the Tough Ones. Our positive feelings are sometimes the hardest ones to detach from. We don’t want them to go away and because of that our positive feelings can cause us the most pain if we are unable to “touch and go”. 
4. Stress Can Be Transformational. What? Don’t we always hear that stress is bad? Typically, we are problem-focused (what can I do to fix this and make it go away?) when managing stress. We are much less emotion-focused (becoming aware, accepting and able to make sense of emotions) or meaning-focused (turning tragedy into triumph as written by Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning). Putting focus in these other two areas changes how our brain responds to stress and mindfulness is a path to get there. Kelly McGonigal has a great TED Talk on this subject.
5. Mindfulness Leads to Emotional Intelligence. Just 8 weeks of daily mindfulness practice (say a sitting meditation for 15 minutes a day) will shrink our amygdala. The amygdala is that tricky little part of our brain that signals “DANGER – fight or flee now!” and has been the culprit for many misunderstandings and interpersonal issues between humans.
6. Sample Mindfulness Practices.  Sitting meditation is one of the more common forms of mindfulness practice. While not the only way to practice, I’ve come to realize that a brief sitting meditation practice is an important part of the mindfulness journey. Other practices are body scans, mindful yoga and intentional yawning (that’s right, yawning is a form of meditation and has positive impacts on the brain). Here is a short article I wrote that expands on how to practice sitting meditation.
My mindfulness practice is a journey.  I don’t always meditate every day as I desire.  I still have thoughts and feelings I touch and then can’t seem to let go.  I do know I’m paying more attention, I see things more clearly, my kids are more adorable and yes, sometimes the pain is much deeper but I’m moving through it all lighter and with less judgement.  The shift is subtle yet profound.

Do you want to be an emotionally intelligent leader? Do you want to manage your stress better? Do you want to improve your health? If so, I highly recommend embracing mindfulness and starting your own journey.

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