Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’

5 Ways to Put Stress in its Place

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Stress is your body’s reaction to anything which requires attention or action. It often arises when that thing which requires attention or action is not something we want to do, or feel like we’re able to do. Fear of failure, and fear of being seen as a failure can spur our feelings of stress, and prevent us from taking positive steps toward resolving the issues.

Not all stress is bad

Stress in and of itself is not negative. Stress is a normal, human response and actually has many positive benefits. For example, research shows that stress can lead to improved cognitive function and build resilience, to name a few. [https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-stress-you-didnt-know-about] It can increase short-term immunities, and motivate you to get it in gear and succeed. [https://www.health.com/condition/stress/5-weird-ways-stress-can-actually-be-good-for-you]

It’s the prolonged, day-in-day-out stress which tears us down. Research show that this unmanaged, prolonged stress can cause ill effects such as headaches, digestive issues, insomnia, elevated blood pressure, and chest pain, diabetes, skin conditions, depression, anxiety, and other emotional disorders. And if you already suffer from a disease, unmanaged stress can make your symptoms worsen. [https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/effects-of-stress-on-your-body]

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

– Sydney J. Harris

It may surprise you to learn what the real culprit of this unmanaged stress is. It’s not the negative circumstance — or the frustrating people involved — or the long list of to-dos which are surmounting. It’s how you respond to this prolonged stress which get you in trouble.

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”

— Hans Selye

Notice what your body is saying

A precursor to putting stress in its place is to learn to tune into your physical responses to stressful situations. How does your body alert you to stress? Some people experience a rapid heartbeat, while others get a sick pit in their stomach. Some report a dry mouth, clammy hands, or unusual sweating. Some get a headache, can’t eat, or eat too much. Some feel excessively tired, discouraged, and disheartened. Some get the cry feeling. Others feel something nigh to terror. What about you?

Next time you sense stress, pause to notice these physical “symptoms”. Not only do you want to note what are you feeling in your body, but where are you feeling it? Is it in your neck? Or maybe your shoulders? Tuning into these physical responses will put you on alert for when they come again…and they will visit again. These signals act as an early warning system enabling us to choose to act instead of react to the triggers.

Another facet to notice is how you treat others when you are stressed. You may go quiet, and become non-communicative, or you may resort to finger-pointing and yelling. You may throw yourself into work while avoiding important people in your life. You may act out in behaviors which damage relationships. You may hide your stress and pretend nothing is wrong, stuffing it inside (only for it to reappear later), or you may attack anyone and anything which comes within ten feet of you. If you can relate to any of these anti-social responses to stress, or are able to add your own, it may be time to try something new.

“The truth is that there is no actual stress or anxiety in the world; it’s your thoughts that create these false beliefs. You can’t package stress, touch it, or see it. There are only people engaged in stressful thinking.”

— Wayne Dyer

Learning a new way of responding to stress — putting stress in its place — can help us work calmly under pressure, push through tough times, and be able to use stressful events to improve our circumstances.

Stress Management Traits

Those with strong stress management skills accept that stress is inevitable and a part of everyday life. They are aware of how they feel when stress arises, and have adopted calming techniques in response. They can maintain their composure and make a choice to control aggressive, hostile, and irresponsible behaviors. They tap in to their vitality and strength to push back when needed, or let go. They take appropriate actions to alleviate the stress. They do not procrastinate. They choose not to sweat the small stuff and are able to keep things in perspective.

Those who struggle view stress as external and don’t realize that what they are feeling is their reaction to stress. They can feel unable to concentrate, become forgetful, and experience brain fog. They worry and tend to act impulsively, engaging in unpredictable, sometimes explosive or abusive behavior. Does this describe you?

If so, it may be time to make some shifts.

“Training your brain to manage stress won’t just affect the quality of your life, but perhaps even the length of it.”

— Amy Morin

5 Ways to Put Stress In Its Place

1-Just do it. Choose one thing you can do to tackle that stressful situation — and take one step. You most likely won’t fix it in one fell swoop, and at this stage, you’re not even trying to. Just elicit movement in a new direction. You know how good it feels to check something off of your to-do list? So…check something off of that to-do list! Breaking overwhelming tasks into bite-sized chunks make it easier to achieve a motivating sense of accomplishment, even if it’s something small.

“Doing something that is productive is a great way to alleviate emotional stress. Get your mind doing something that is productive.”

– Ziggy Marley

2-Flood yourself with positivity. Research shows that the more we exercise our signature strength(s), the more positive emotions we will feel. Do you know what provides you with positive emotions, such as joy, excitement, peace, hope, and contentment? Take the VIA Character Strengths assessment to discover your signature strengths. The report will list out your strengths. Take a look at your top three and brainstorms ways you can incorporate more of these things into your daily life – then do them, as often as possible. Not only will you feel better, this positivity will rewire your brain to be more creative and innovative as you search for ways to resolve stressful situations.

“In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive.”

Lee Iacocca

3-Try to relax. I know, it’s the last thing you’d think of doing when you’re stressed, especially when there’s already too much on your plate. But finding a way to relax your body and your mind can refuel you with the energy needed to tackle what’s next. Take a walk, do something you enjoy, talk to a supportive friend. If nothing else, breathe. Breathe in deeply, and slowly, then exhale. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

“It’s a good idea always to do something relaxing prior to making an important decision in your life.”

– Paulo Coelho

4-Reflect on your past achievements–and failures! Yes, what you are facing is tough. It may even seem insurmountable. But you’ve done hard things before. Think back on times of success, times you worked hard and made it through. What skills did you lean into to get through the stress? You’ve done it before so you can do it again. Also remind yourself of times you failed, and made it out the other side. If you are still here today it is a testimony that the failure didn’t break you. You are resilient and wired to handle changes which lead to stress. You got this.

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”

– Michael Jordan

5-Don’t quit. Prolonged stress can be exhausting, but giving up will not solve anything. The only way to get there is to keep on keepin’ on. If you’re struggling to hang on, reach out to a trusted loved one or confidant. Find a counselor, coach, or therapist to talk to, and if you find you’re entertaining thoughts of hurting yourself or others, seek professional help immediately. In order to persevere, you need to keep yourself refreshed. What provides refreshment for you? Maybe it’s getting more sleep, or reading a book, or hanging out with friends. Maybe it’s listening to your favorite music, or exercising, or taking a mini-vacation to somewhere warm. Do these things as often as necessary to keep your perspective and energy fresh.

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

– Winston Churchill

Handling stress is tough, but it can be done. Which of these will you do more of today?

“You can’t choose what life throws at you, but you can choose how you respond.”

― Maya Angelou

On a positive note

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Times such as these can feel overwhelming, far too trying and tiresome to attempt to maintain a positive outlook. With ever-changing restrictions, guidelines, and perspectives which continue to constrict their grip on life as we once knew it, many report feeling utterly exhausted. Mix in fear, uncertainty, and grief, and it’s a recipe for negativity. Add in a little financial struggle and a heaping lack of in-real-time social interaction, you may find yourself completely spent at the end of each day. Who can muster up the effort for a positive mindset with all of this going on? Choosing optimism can feel like just one more thing on your to-do list. It’s much easier to allow dejection and depression to curl their dark tendrils around what’s left of the light inside of you and choke out any positivity you have left.

But realistic optimism during tough circumstances is the very salve needed to soothe our wearied souls.

What does it mean to be realistically optimistic? To better understand, let’s take a quick exploration into the field of positive psychology. Jeana Magyar-Moe, Ph.D., defines positive psychology as the scientific study of optimal human functioning. Optimal human functioning. Let those words sink in. Would you describe your life right now as optimal human functioning? Most likely not! Martin Seligman, Ph.D., defines it as the scientific and applied approach to uncovering people’s strengths and promoting their positive functioning. Do you feel your strengths these days are being revealed in a way which promote positive functioning? If you’re anything like me, quarantines and stay-at-home orders have instead revealed how weak my character is when it comes to things like eating well and exercising. Oh, why is that fridge door so easy to open, and why is Netflix is so much easier to choose than a yoga workout? Similarily, Chris Peterson, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, says positive psychology is the scientific study of what goes right in life, happiness and joy, what makes life worth living, and the good life. Nice. For him. All it takes is one glance on social media to see most everyone around us telling us what is NOT going right in their lives.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not seeing a lot of people who are living out positive psychology these days.

Whichever definition you most connect to, there’s no need to argue which is best. We have plenty of other newsworthy items to argue about. I think we can all agree that an increase of positive emotions is something we all could use more of. But how to find that in a world swarmed with negativity?

Realistic optimism is not about pretending nothing bad is going on. It’s not hiding our heads in the sand, or looking the other way when negative events occur. Life is tough right now, no need to pretend that it’s not. But would you believe that a positive spirit is not so much about what’s going on around us?

Researchers have found that our circumstances only make up 10% of our happiness levels! I find that shocking. What do you mean, my ability to experience positive emotions is not based upon what is or is not happening to me? Oddly, studies show that 85% of the stuff we worry about ends up having a positive or neutral outcome? Think back on the last thing you were really worried about — did it actually come to pass to the degree you expected?

And while 50% of our happiness results from our genetics, the remaining 40% is up to us, through our choices and actions!

You’ve probably heard of emotional intelligence — that ability to perceive the emotions you an others are feeling, in the moment, and manage your behaviors and relationships appropriately. The competencies which make up emotional intelligence are really about behaviors — behaviors based upon the emotions we feel. Two of these competencies, realistic optimism and resilience, are closely connected to positive psychology. Realistic optimism is expecting success instead of failure, seeing opportunities instead of threats, expecting the future will bring positive change. Resilience is perseverance and diligence in the face of setbacks. I sure like the sound of each of those. But easier said than done.

Why have a positive outlook? Through her work around the science of positivity, researcher and author Barbara Fredrickson and her colleagues discovered that positive emotions have superpowers. They can broaden our awareness, attention and cognitive abilities. They can build our creativity and resiliency. They allows us to see a wider range of possibilities, unlike negativity, which tamps down our innovative ideas. Positivity helps us be more socially connected and build stronger relationships, and has actually been proven to undo the psysiological damage that persistent negative emotions can cause. [https://positivepsychology.com/broaden-build-theory/].

And all of that can happen despite the negative circumstances which surround us!

I know, it’s hard. Honestly, I think it’s easier to allow negativity to take rein, allowing our emotions to run amok, without any awareness or management. Think back on a time when someone recently made you very mad. Remember the physical symptoms you felt? Maybe your heart was racing, your mouth became dry, and you felt a sick pit in your stomach. Maybe your face flushed, your jaw clenched, and you found your hands became fists. And the thoughts which result from that hard-hit of negative emotions! It’s probably not a good idea to mention them here.

These emotions which lead to thoughts are what lead to our actions. Actions which, often, later, when we lie down in bed and think back on our day, make us cringe. It’s much easier to let negativity rule than take hold and choose positivity. Consider this, for example. When you read a post on social media that makes your blood boil — which is easier, in the moment: to type something smart aleck or cutting, or to choose to tell them something you appreciate about them?! Negativity is a much easier choice. However, if we continue to let negative emotions take the lead, we’ll quickly and easily end up in Debby Downer’s neighborhood. But who wants to live there?

How do you know if you could grow in realistic optimism? See if any of these ring true for you. People who struggle with an positive outlook tend to see failure as permanent and that difficulties, when they arise, will last a long time. They demonstrate inflexible thinking, and, as a result, can feel powerless and helpless. They expect the worst and often dwell in the past, engaging in negative self-talk. They operate from a fixed mindset and often believe that every misfortune is their own fault and attribute their success to luck rather than their own capabilities. They blame their circumstances for their misfortune and love to tell you about everything that has gone wrong over the days, months, and years. Does this sound like you?

On the other hand, those who possess a positive spirit see unfortunate events as temporary, and use each struggle to develop better coping skills. Their self-talk speaks to them of success because they believe they will succeed. These individuals operate from a growth mindset, believing negative events are temporary and happen to everyone. They are unfazed by defeat and bounce back after disappointments. They’re flexible, adaptable, and look for ways to allow failures to teach them resiliency. Do you know anyone like this?

Carol Dweck speaks of these two mindsets in her book, Mindset (2015). She describes a fixed mindset as one which assumes our character and intelligence are static, and our success is based upon of inherent intelligence, one that’s set at a fixed standard. In other words, there’s no room to improve or grow. Those with this mindset avoid failure at all cost to maintain their sense of worth. In contrast, Dweck notes that a growth mindset “thrives on challenges and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence, but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.” Do you see the difference?

She also goes on to say, “Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behavior, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.” [Mindset, 2015]

In other words, most of the goals we think will make us happy, often don’t. In contrast, it’s our mindset which determines our level of happiness.

The beautiful thing about a positive spirit is that it can be developed, no matter how negative you’re feeling today, and no matter the ugly circumstances swirling around you. A model to follow is PERMA, developed by psychologist, educator, and author Martin Seligman. Each letter of PERMA represents things we need in our lives to experience more positive emotions. Seligman coined the phrase, “Learned Optimism”, because a positive outlook for many of us does not come naturally. We have to choose PERMA, to learn it, and not wait for it to just happen by some act of fate.

Which one of these could you use more of?

Positive Emotion. In order to have a positive outlook, we need to feel positive emotions. Experiencing emotions like joy, hope, contentment, excitement, and giddiness, on a regular basis, can increase our levels of positivity immensely. Take note of the emotions you feel most strongly each day. If the negatives outweigh the positives, take some time to do the things which create positive emotions for you.

Engagement. Do you absorb yourself in your activities fully or are you a multi-tasker? If the latter, your ability to engage may be limited. Research shows that it really is difficult to multi-task — though you may be doing two things at once, one of them is getting more focus and attention which means the other is put on the back burner. Learning to focus on one thing at a time and relish the experience with all of your senses — engaging — is vital to building positivity.

Relationships. Experiencing deep, meaningful relationships, and taking the time to connect with those we care about, is probably the foremost way to build positivity. Make a list of those you love being around, and note why. Figure out ways to reach out and connect with them on a regular basis. Need more friends? Seek out ways to make new connections and build relationships, whether it’s joining a social group or expanding your friendship circles to include new faces.

Meaning. What is your life purpose, and how does that show up in your day-to-day activities? Can you connect that purpose to the work you do? Does it show up in your personal relationships? Knowing why you do the things you do and aligning them with your values can add meaning to everything you do. Try writing down your values, the things which are most important to you, and see what shifts you need to make to better align your life with those values. Seek the help of a coach or counselor if needed.

Accomplishment. If you’re a to do list-maker, you know how good it feels to check off a box when you complete a task. Accomplishments, both great and small, make us feel good. And they increase our motivation to continue to be successful. Looking back on past accomplishments can spur us toward greater goals. Try it. What did you accomplish today? Write them down, and circle the items you are most proud of. Share an accomplishment with a friend. Celebrate your wins. Try this for a week, or a month, and watch your positivity grow.

From a 20,000 feet view, here are a few ways to cultivate PERMA:

Challenge your negative thoughts about past events and why they happened.
-View negative experiences as neither personal nor permanent (“this too shall pass”)
-Consider the worst-case scenario and come up with actionable strategies to avoid it
-Remember bad things happen to everyone (the grass isn’t always greener)

And on a more down-to-earth level, here are some practices to incorporate PERMA into your day, week, month, and year, proven to increase your positive emotions:

Connect with friends/family/new people

Change your setting

Get outside and spend time in nature

–Find something that makes you laugh — and laugh!

Exercise (aerobic and cardio work best)

Do something kind for someone else– giving back, community engagement, volunteering, etc.

Activate your curiosity and learn something new

–Begin a gratitude jar/journal/letter

Reflect on a past achievements and celebrate them

Set a new goal and jot down how you’ll get there

Count your blessings and small kindnesses which happen every day

Savor moments, big and small

–Find flow (get lost doing something you love)

By choosing just one of these to start doing each day, with repeated practice, you will increase your positive emotions. Don’t believe me? Give it a try and find out. It can’t hurt to try. Your weary soul deserves a little positivity. And what an amazing example you could set for others who think they have to sink into the downward spiral of negativity. Who knows, your positive emotions may inspire them to do the same.

You and this world need your positivity.

Letting go

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

Over the years, I have struggled with giving up things I loved…my spacious home filled with cherished stuff, financial security, my church, a job that paid well with benefits, someone to provide happiness for me, and all the privileges which came along with that lifestyle…because I had to. Instead, I’ve had to figure out how to live in a very small space, secure remote work, accrue some debt, get rid of most of my stuff, live on a very limited income, learn to enjoy my own company, develop a personal relationship with God, and find joys in the simple things. Now that I’ve let it all go, and choose this lifestyle, it no longer feels like a struggle, though to many I may seem poor.

But it sure makes the transitions called for during a times such as this a lot easier. Other than the need for a mask, and a deep compassion for those who are without food, are scared, and have lost jobs and loved ones, life without many of the typical conveniences feels normal to me, and oddly, I feel thankful for the rough times which led me here.

Crazy-thinking, I know.

I get it, right now it feels really hard. Because it is. But sometimes letting go of parts of life-as-you-know-it can be a breath of much-needed fresh air if you allow yourself to breathe it in and fill your lungs. With a mask, of course, for now. And down the road, without it all, you may just find a place of peace and joy you didn’t know was possible.

I’m not negating the struggle getting there. We’ve never faced something like this and losing beloved things like career, savings, freedoms, security, health, and loved ones is painful–terrifying, even.

But things may just turn out all right. On the other side of this, your life may look a lot different than what you dreamed or planned…and you may even ask yourself, “How did I end up here?!”, like I have, countless times. Yes, it will be a different life…but maybe, just maybe, all right.

Change is so hard for us humans, but it’s not going anywhere. Let today’s struggles give you the strength for the next wave of change which will hit, once this one ends. Keep your chin up. This is hard…but we can do hard things. You got this.

Because you never know, you might just like that place you find yourself on the other side.

How do you sabotage your success?

Article contributed by guest author Brian Baker.

Everyone has had the experience of self-destructing. It’s a strange feeling to know that you ruined the very thing you were trying so hard to accomplish. Most self-sabotage is the result of discomfort. It can be the discomfort of failing, succeeding, or having to perform tasks that are uncomfortable.

You may have heard the saying, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Unfortunately, most of us are well-practiced in the art of avoiding discomfort. This is the most common way we sabotage our success.

Are you sabotaging your success? Consider these points:


1.  Distractions. The tasks that need to be done in order to be successful are typically less appealing than watching TV, surfing the internet, or spending time with friends. We’re experts at distracting ourselves, and the urge to seek out distractions increases with the unpleasantness of the task.

  • Solution: Allow yourself to have distractions, but control when, and how long, you engage in them. You might give yourself 30 minutes of distraction time after three hours of work. Or, you might limit distractions to the evening after your work is done for the day.

2.  Procrastination. Distractions are one way of procrastinating, but there are countless ways to procrastinate. The general theme is that you’re doing something other than what you should be doing.

  • Solution: Be clear on what needs to be done and why.
  • Focus on just getting started, which is often the most challenging part of working.
  • Use a timer and see how much you can accomplish in 30 minutes.

3.  Indecisiveness. Indecisiveness is a success killer. When you can’t make up your mind, progress comes to a stop. If you wait until you have all the wisdom and information necessary to make the perfect choice, you’ll be waiting a long time. You have to pull the trigger and move forward.

  • Solution: Be clear on what needs to be done to accomplish your objective.
  • Give yourself a time limit. You might give yourself 10 minutes or a day to make a decision. Then just decide and do your best.

4.  Negative thoughts. For many people, the closer they get to success, the more negative thoughts they experience.

  • Solution: Take control of your mind and think thoughts that are useful to you. Cheer yourself on rather than criticize your actions.
  • Ignore the random noise of your mind. You don’t have to engage with your random thoughts. You can choose to ignore them.

5.  Focus on low-priority tasks. We like to work on our projects but avoid the most important tasks. The most important tasks are often the least enjoyable, so we avoid them. We tackle the less important tasks because it allows us to feel like we’re still making progress.

  • Solution: Have a list of tasks to do each day ordered from most important to least. Start at the top of your list and work your way down.

6.  Quitting. This is the ultimate way to sabotage your success. You can’t achieve anything if you quit before you’re successful. Many people have a habit of quitting right before achieving success.

  • Solution: Develop the habit of finishing what you start. Avoid caving into the fear that crops up when you’re about to find out if you were successful or not. Remember that you can always try again, regardless of the outcome.

Self-sabotage is a great problem to have because you don’t need to try to change anyone else. In fact, the entire issue is your responsibility! This might sound disheartening, but it’s easier to change yourself than it is to change someone else.

Remember this, the person responsible for your successes and failures is staring at you in the mirror each day.

Reflections

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” — Margaret J. Wheatley

Making time this holiday season to reflect on the past year may feel like one more item to add to your ever-growing to do list, and the last thing you have time for.  However, stopping to reflect may be one of the most important things you do amidst the holiday hubbub.

Reflection simply means to give deep thought to something.  It’s not a fleeting, in-passing glance back, and isn’t to be confused with the goofy, quirky “Deep Thoughts” by Jack Handy on NBC’s television comedy, Saturday Night Live.  Reflection consists of stopping what we’re doing, pausing our current thought stream, and purposefully remembering past events, considering why they happened, how they happened, and pondering the outcomes.

“There is no greater journey than the one that you must take to discover all of the mysteries that lie within you.” – Michelle Sandlin

In a research study of employees in call centers, compiling the efforts of Francesca Gino, Giada Di Stefano, Bradley Staats, and Gary Pisano, it was discovered that employees who spent 15 minutes at the reflecting about lessons learned at the end of the day performed 23% better after 10 days than those who did not. [https://hbr.org/2017/03/why-you-should-make-time-for-self-reflection-even-if-you-hate-doing-it]. In the world of academia, researchers found the significance of reflecting on the student’s learning is undeniable . “It can naturally activate further engagement with learning material, deepen learners’ understanding of the topic and reinforce independent thinking and in that way create an effective learning environment.”[https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329203590_Theories_on_Self-Reflection_in_Education].

Reflecting is a positive choice any time of the year, but is especially beneficial as we wrap up the past 12 months and look ahead to 2020. Making time to reflect can add value in many ways. Here are just a few:

  • Forces us to slow down during a hectic time of year
  • Makes it possible to celebrate our achievements
  • Promotes gratitude
  • Helps us determine the things we don’t want to repeat in the coming year
  • Births creative ideas, helping us plan ahead for what’s next
  • Inspires others to reflect on their own lives
  • Connects us with those around us by remembering those who helped us along the way

As educational reformer John Dewey noted: “We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.”

Need some ideas on which aspects of this past year to reflect on?  Consider some of these, for starters:

  • What went well?
  • Where did you miss?
  • What ‘made your heart sing’?
  • What made you laugh?
  • What scared you and why?
  • What are you most grateful for?
  • What (and who) inspired you with hope?
  • Who helped along the way?
  • Who do you wish you would’ve spent more time with?
  • Which accomplishment made you the most proud?
  • How did you overcome a particularly difficult challenge?
  • Who did you help?
  • What do you wish you would’ve done more of?
  • Who are you most grateful for?
  • Which activities were the best use of your time?

Most likely, reflecting on the above questions will prompt you to think of more questions of your own to reflect upon.  If you like to write, consider using a journal to document your thoughts, or record your responses on a voice recorder, or have an in-depth conversation with a trusted friend or colleague.

Doing so will help direct you toward a successful year ahead.

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” — Peter Drucker

A lesson in emotional intelligence–from the critters

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

I built a little pond on my plot at my community garden last year. I’ve put a lot of loving work into it, gathering and arranging rocks, purchasing a bubbling solar fountain, and nudging plants to life around its perimeter. I collected cattails from a nearby stream and replanted them along with a few lily pads and other water plants. One of my neighbors even put fish in it which we both feed.

So you can imagine my frustration arriving every day to discover the rocks have been thrown in, plants are torn up and knocked over, and the pump is disassembled in pieces at the bottom of the pond. The foam pump float has been ripped apart, full of tiny fingernail imprints. Grrr! Who would do this?!

My garden neighbors have a wild child whom I caught several times last year playing in my pond, throwing rocks, trampling plants, etc. The parents would yell at him to get out but he paid them no mind. So my assumption–of course–was to blame this hellion for the daily destruction. I know it’s a small thing in the big scheme of life, but I found myself getting really cranky that these parents would not discipline their child enough to keep him out of other people’s stuff! All the ‘facts’ matched up: he is an unruly kid and needs to stop.

Just when I had developed a real attitude about the poor little kid (and his parents), I read an article about the damage that raccoons can do to a garden pond. Raccoons! And as I started looking a little closer at all the signs, I see now that it is obviously one of these masked critters who is the culprit and not the little boy! Especially because the parents assured me (yes, I spoke with them) they haven’t even brought him to the garden this summer! Here I spent a few stressful weeks dissing on these parents and the kid, in my mind, and even talked to the garden manager about it, in my ‘kindhearted righteousness’. So imagine my chagrin at the realization.

Which got me thinking…

Sometimes we make negative judgments of people when we really don’t have all the facts. We think we do. But we don’t. We create a story in our mind based upon our views and outlooks and determine it is the truth…when it’s just not. It’s easy to do. And it’s hurtful. And wrong. And it’s a good way to ruin relationships and assure our hearts will become bitter.

Have anyone you’re judging today based upon YOUR set of facts? Someone you KNOW is in the wrong, and has bad intentions…so you think. What if…what if you’re wrong? What if there’s a different perspective, some whys you might not be aware of, some facts you haven’t noticed, which are missing from the narrative you’ve so carefully crafted? I’d like to encourage you to learn from my mistake…and let’s all take a lesson from the critters. Give someone the benefit of the doubt. Quit pointing the finger. Accept that maybe your own closed mindedness may be the real ‘bad guy.’

I’ve got some apologizing to do.

Then I’m going to forgive myself.

Then I’m going to go water that garden.

What is an open heart?

Article contributed by guest author Rick Hanson.

The Practice:

Put No One Out Of Your Heart.

Why?

We all know people who are, ah, . . . challenging. It could be a critical parent, a bossy supervisor, a relative who has you walking on eggshells, a nice but flaky friend, a co-worker who just doesn’t like you, a partner who won’t keep his or her agreements, or a politician you dislike. Right now I’m thinking of a neighbor who refused to pay his share of a fence between us.As Jean-Paul Sartre put it: “Hell is other people.”

Sure, that’s overstated. But still, most of a person’s hurts, disappointments, and irritations typically arise in reactions to other people.

Ironically, in order for good relationships to be so nurturing to us as human beings – who have evolved to be the most intimately relational animals on the planet – you must be so linked to others that some of them can really rattle you!

So what can you do?

Let’s suppose you’ve tried to make things better – such as taking the high road yourself and perhaps also trying to talk things out, pin down reasonable agreements, set boundaries, etc. – but the results have been partial or nonexistent.

At this point, it’s natural to close off to the other person, often accompanied by feelings of apprehension, resentment, or disdain. While the brain definitely evolved to care about “us,” it also evolved to separate from, fear, exploit, and attack “them” – and those ancient, neural mechanisms can quickly grab hold of you.

But what are the results? Closing off doesn’t feel good. It makes your heart heavy and contracted. And it primes your brain to be more tense and reactive, which could get you into trouble, plus trigger the other person to act worse than ever.

Sometimes you do have to hang up the phone, block someone on Facebook, turn the channel on TV, or stay at a motel when visiting relatives. Sometimes you have to put someone out of your business, work group, holiday party list –or bed.

In painful or extreme situations, it may feel necessary to distance yourself utterly from another person for awhile or forever. Take care of yourself, and listen to that inner knowing about what’s best for you. You may need to put them out of your life. And you can see for yourself if you need to put them out of your heart.

How?

When your heart is open, what’s that feel like? Physically, in your chest – like warmth and relaxation – and in your body altogether. Emotionally – such as empathy, compassion, and an even keel. Mentally – like keeping things in perspective, and wishing others well.

Feel the strength being openhearted, wholehearted. Be not afraid and be of good heart. Paradoxically, the most open person in a relationship is usually the strongest one.

Get a sense of your heart being expansive and inclusive, like the sky. The sky stays open to all clouds, and it isn’t harmed by even the stormiest ones. Keeping your heart open makes it harder for others to upset you.

Notice that an open heart still allows for clarity about what works for you and what doesn’t, as well as firmness, boundaries, and straight talk. Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama are famous for keeping their hearts open while also being very effective.
Seeing all this, make a commitment to an open heart.

In this light, be mindful of what it feels like – physically, emotionally, mentally – to have your heart closed to a particular person. Be aware of the seemingly good reasons the reactive brain/mind throws up to justify this.

Then ask yourself, given the realities of this challenging person, what would have been a better path for you? For example, maybe you should have gotten more support from others or been more self-nurturing, so you wouldn’t have been as affected. Or spoken up sooner to try to prevent things from getting out of hand. Or managed your internal reactions more skillfully. Maybe you’ve done some things yourself to prompt the other person to be difficult. Whatever these lessons are, there’s no praise or blame here, just good learning for you.

And now, if you’re willing, explore opening your heart again to this person. Life’s been hard to him or her, too. Nothing might change in your behavior or in the nature of the relationship. Nonetheless, you’ll feel different – and better.

Last, do not put yourself out of your heart. If you knew you as another person, wouldn’t you want to hold that person in your heart?

3 Quick and Easy Mindfulness Practices to Help you Stay Sane while Parenting a Twice-Exceptional (2e) Child

Article contributed by guest author Dayana Sanchez.

One of my intentions is to help parents of 2e children, not just to survive, but to thrive. If you are the parent of a gifted or 2e child, you have a big mission in this world. It is not an easy one. It is ongoing hard work, day after day.

How can you keep up with the ceaseless demands of life in addition to figuring out how to support the needs of your uniquely gifted child? Therapies, extracurricular activities, tutoring, play dates, IEP meetings, and the list goes on. How do you take care of yourself in the midst of it all? What practices do you have in place to help you stay centered and grounded?

Your role in the development of your child’s talents is a big deal, and the world needs you. If you are thriving, your child will do so too. Take a moment to imagine a world in which your child is flourishing and contributing their gifts to society. Pretty awesome, right?

I’d like to share some daily mindfulness practices that help me stay grounded in the midst of anything. I believe in these practices so much that I’m certain they would make anyone’s life easier. Whether you have gifted children, 2e children, or no children, incorporating these simple mindfulness practices will help you manage stress, release tension, and navigate the daily challenges and difficulties of life with more ease and clarity.

While the word mindfulness may make you think of long hours of painful cross-legged sitting, you don’t have to be an experienced meditator to reap its benefits. Mindfulness is a portable practice. It is something you can practice any time of the day and even on the go.

I like this definition by Jon Kabat-Zinn because he is a scientist who has been doing research on the benefits of mindfulness for decades. Simply put,

“Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

So, the trick here lies in purposely paying attention to whatever is happening around you, in your body, or in your mind. You choose what to pay attention to. As long as you are consciously bringing awareness to whatever is happening in the present moment, you are practicing mindfulness.

When there is a gifted child in your family, life can get very hectic, and it can be easy to get lost in a frantic atmosphere that builds up stress and agitation on a day-to-day basis. By creating mindful routines within your regular routines, you exercise your attention muscle and cultivate more awareness in your life. This opens up space within you that allows you to move away from reactivity and be more present and available for your child, your family, and yourself.

Try incorporating these practices one by one or all at once. Your choice. Make it fun and stay with it. If you forget to do it one day, just pick up where you left off and move forward. Mindfulness is also about being kind to ourselves, so make it an experiment and try not to put pressure on yourself. Explore, see what feels right, and get ready to enjoy the benefits.

Create a Daily Ritual

I started experimenting with a morning ritual inconsistently for a few days and began to notice its benefits almost immediately. Since I started doing it every day, this has been a game changer. This practice is one of the things that have made the most impact on my daily attitude and mood.

So, what happens during a daily ritual? It is up to you. The idea is to intentionally set aside a few minutes during the day, every day, to become present and connect with yourself. First, make a conscious choice about what you want to create as part of your ritual. You can use it for some self-reflection, intention/goal setting, or to enrich your day with some inspiration to influence your state of mind positively.

You could write down some questions to ask yourself and post them in a place where you are likely to see them every day, ideally, at the same time. These could be questions that would help you tune into what’s going on in your mind, your body, or within your emotional landscape. Although it is not necessary, writing some questions or affirmations ahead of time will help you with your intention to engage in your ritual every day.

A daily ritual doesn’t have to be in the morning. You can have one at night or during the middle of the day. Just choose a time when you are more likely to stick with it.

There are a couple of advantages of having a ritual in the morning. Have you ever tried laying in bed for a few minutes before the pressures of daily life come rushing in? That feeling of newness and excitement about what the day will bring is something we can only get in the morning.

The first thing you do as soon as you wake up will set the tone for the rest of your day. I have been guilty of the horrible habit of grabbing my phone and checking my emails first thing in the morning, but we don’t know how bad something is for us until we stop doing it and replace it with better habits.

If it is possible for you, take some time every morning to slowly transition to your physical world. Take advantage of those first few minutes of a brand new day when your brain is still producing alpha waves. Stimulation of these waves has been linked to boosting creativity and reducing depression. This state of transition can be a great opportunity to tap into our inner wisdom and is a perfect time for a daily ritual.

Do Nothing

Life has periods of doing and periods of non-doing. It cannot be all about doing, doing, and doing some more. Living this way is not sustainable because we eventually crash and end up losing a lot more time recovering.

Taking care of yourself and your emotional well-being is like maintaining a car. If you are using your car recklessly, not paying attention to what it needs, and constantly draining the gas tank, your car is going to end up in the shop sooner or later, which can be pricey and dangerous.

The same goes for the way you treat your mind and body. Making time for rest is a necessity. Often, in our action-oriented culture that values multitasking and over-achieving, rest seems like something we should be ashamed of. It’s almost as if we have to hide to take a break. But rest is not only our right; it is our responsibility.

Those of you who have traveled on a plane before have heard this time and time again: In case of a flight emergency, you need to put your oxygen mask on yourself before helping your child put theirs on. Not the other way around. Pay attention to your needs so that you can have the mental and physical energy to pay attention to your child’s needs. Take time to replenish and make it a regular practice.

To practice not doing anything you have to set time aside for it. You only need two to five uninterrupted minutes during your day. Schedule it on your calendar and make your family aware of this. If just the thought of this is too overwhelming for you, try to start with a few days a week. Treat this time as something sacred and whatever you do, do not feel guilty! This takes practice.

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” ~ Blaise Pascal”

And what are you supposed to do when doing nothing? If you have never practiced doing nothing, this may seem strange at first. The Taoists call this ancient art of doing nothing, Wu Wei, which means “the action of no action.”

You can start by going in your room and taking a moment to sit still for a few minutes. Relax your shoulders and start to slow your breath down. Begin to notice where there is tension or tightness in your body and do some light stretching if it feels right for you. Continue bringing more attention to your body and physical sensations. Let the breath be your compass. If you find your mind drifting away to thoughts of obligations, commitments, or other things, just gently guide your attention back to your breath. Notice the pauses between your exhalations and inhalations. Focus on the ebb and flow of your breath. Simply observe.

You can set a timer and just notice what happens during this time. The art of doing nothing should be effortless, so the only effort required is in finding the time to do nothing.

Have a Daily Check-In

Another short and simple practice to incorporate into your daily routine is taking a moment to check in with yourself. At any time of the day, we can pause and intentionally bring our awareness to our body, surroundings, feelings, emotions, or breath. You can practice this anytime, anywhere; while waiting in line at the grocery store, after dropping the kids off at school, during dinner, etc.

Simply stop for a moment and observe. What is happening in your mind at this time? Are you going over that ever-increasing to-do list or are you present with whatever is happening around you?

You can set a reminder or an intention to remember to do this every day. I have a daily reminder on my phone where I ask myself, “Am I present?” Most of the time, I am not. Having the reminder serves as a tap on the shoulder to become present, even if it’s only for a moment. With practice, our periods of being present become longer and longer.

You don’t have to be perfect at this. In fact, no one is. I believe being present is the ultimate challenge for us human beings. So, when you do find yourself being present, pat yourself on the back because you are doing some profound work. This is the kind of inner work that can help you find more clarity and harmony in your life, which will be reflected in your daily interactions with your family and loved ones.

Mindfulness invites us to observe things as they are without any judgments of how things should be. It is a powerful tool that can reveal to us our behavioral and thinking patterns and the ways we typically interact with our environment and with those around us. It can also provide a great deal of information about how we relate to ourselves as well as the kinds of inner dialogues that tend to inhabit our minds. While these revelations may not be entirely fun or pleasant at the beginning, the good news is that it gets easier the more we do it. The more mindful we become, the easier life becomes.

After giving these practices a try, let me know what you start to notice in your life. New and unexpected things may emerge for you. Feel free to reach out if you need some guidance on how to apply this or if you would like to learn more about mindfulness. I have been practicing it for more than ten years, and I’m very passionate about bringing mindfulness to families and children.

Tips to Maintain Passion and Stay Focused at Work

Article contributed by guest author Patricia Conlin.

(Adapted from original posting in October on EMinfo.com)

Without a burning daily sense of purpose, sometimes we start to get lazy or even worse give up on personal and professional goals. When we are driven by purpose, we can navigate through set-backs and challenges better than if we are just motivated by the need of paying bills or buying a new car. What is your purpose? What purpose will get you out of bed on chilly days or dreary days or slow days? What will fuel your passion to pick up the phone, connect with an old customer, reach out to a service provider or book a weekend conference to connect with fellow colleagues? It is well worth the time to think about some of your key values that you want to incorporate into your work, develop your own personal mission statement as well as setting financial and personal goals. I have said many times that writing down goals is powerful and even more powerful is visualizing yourself achieving them for a few minutes every day. Our brains can be hard-wired for success by daily action steps as well as lifestyle upgrades that help us maintain high levels of energy to achieve our goals.

Here are some tips to maintain passion and stay focused at work to be the best you can be:

1. Stay inspired

Any meaningful project or work takes a large amount of daily focus. Before setting goals, ask yourself why you should do it and what will keep you motivated. It is for your kids, husband, wife, friend, community or dog? What emotions do you imagine feeling when you succeed? Pride, joy, peace, excitement, confidence? Find ways to make the journey towards your goals more fun, like allowing your creativity and imagination to flourish while involved in your work. Look for ways to put your unique stamp on your work or to change the way your approach things daily to avoid falling into the rut of uninspired and poor effort.

2. Create small daily goals or action lists

Create a daily “to do” list that is achievable and works towards both short-term and long-term goals. It’s always helpful when you have your list of tasks beside your computer so you can always see it, and check off completed tasks for a sense of accomplishment. You can keep daily lists in a handy binder so you can see it or use your PC or mobile device if you prefer that way. Remember to also create quarterly and annual goals (and even 5 and 10 year goals) and refer to them on a regular basis.

3. Prioritize Work Projects daily

The first hour at work is where most people are productive. This is because all energies are yet to be spent. So put all the taxing, difficult and challenging tasks on your agenda during the first hour. Follow these with the high priority calls and then end with those routine administrative tasks that you find boring. Do this and you won’t be stressed with important projects at the end of the workday.

Another potentially time consuming and distracting activity is email. Let’s face it: We all get a lot. It’s likely a heavy mix of personal and work correspondence, promos and some spam. One good way to a whole day spent on emails is to have a separate email address for work and one for your personal email. Have them both powered to filter all emails for junk. Once you have free time on hand, check emails again and unsubscribe from senders who you could live without. Make sure you limit your email time to set hours during the day as well so you aren’t distracted during phone calls or typing in the background!

4. Make phone use a priority

Phone conversations can build powerful bonds between you and others and can help sway a client to use your service. When you make a regular habit of phoning others, they feel more engaged and will open up more for better long term relationships. Personal calls during work hours can take away from focus and productivity and should be kept to breaks or lunch hour if possible. If you receive an unexpected call with important news and need to think about how to respond, try writing down all the details and telling the person that you will call them back later to give yourself time to better prepare a response.

5. Keep your desk de-cluttered and comfortable

Many people find working exhausting even if it’s done seated most of the time. An uncomfortable work environment will make working more difficult so don’t lose precious time and be distracted with discomfort. Get a really good chair with great back support. Also make sure you get up every 20 minutes to stretch to avoid cramps and fatigue. Try to avoid staring at your computer for hours so you avoid eye strain. Keep clutter to a minimum as it can prove to be distracting. To stay focused at work, only have the things you need neatly piled on your desk and put the rest away or file it where you can find it when required. Leave personal belongings on a separate space nearby.

6. Stay away from social networking sites

These sites aren’t meant to be checked all the time. So discipline yourself to log in only when you have extra minutes free. There’s a strong tendency that you’ll stay much longer than planned with most social networking sites. Not only will it defeat your purpose of staying focused at work, but there’s plenty of information there that could get your mind unnecessarily irritated or occupied which will distract you from your daily goals.

7. Stay properly hydrated

Drinking water isn’t only healthy, it refreshes you as well. Once you feel the first sign of fatigue or hunger, a glass of water can push them away. Getting up to go to the water cooler helps stretch your legs and refocus for the next task. Recent studies indicate that up to 80% of the population doesn’t get enough water which leads to chronic dehydration and fatigue!

8. Eat healthy protein rich snacks

Like having water close by, healthy and protein rich snacks will settle a hungry stomach and balance blood sugar levels for a boost in energy. Nuts, seeds, yogurt or protein bars are some good options and if you have a sweet tooth, opt for dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate as an upgrade.

#Success #Passion #Potential

 

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

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