Yesterday, I held a free Mindfulness workshop at the local library. I wanted to share strategies that participants could use on a daily basis.
You see, until fairly recently, I falsely equated mindfulness with long sessions of yoga and meditation. While those activities are definitely good for developing mindfulness, it's an unfortunate myth that you need to set aside large chunks of time to be more present. I appreciate yoga and meditation, but I don't prioritize those activities. I have had much better results incorporating short, daily mindfulness practices and I wanted to share that with other busy people. I know several people wanted to come to the workshop but couldn't make it, so I'm summarizing the strategies here. You're welcome.
Mindfulness Strategy #1: Find an Anchor An anchor is a lovely metaphor. Just as an anchor on a ship keeps it from straying too far from its location, an anchor for your mind can keep you from straying too far from the present moment. If you find yourself going down rabbit holes of thought or feeling undesired emotions, an anchor can reel you back in. Some example anchors include:
Mindfulness Strategy #3: Thought Download For verbal and visual people, this can be a helpful exercise. The concept is very simple: Take five minutes to write down ALL of your thoughts surrounding a certain issue (your in-laws visiting, a project that is stressing you out, a difficult conversation, etc) or feeling (anxiety, stress, sadness). Do not censor or judge, just let it flow. This alone can be enough to allow you to move on. However, it can also be a springboard to many other in-depth activities such as recognizing facts versus assumptions, seeing/understanding your thought process, and beginning to take those hurtful or unproductive thoughts and changing them to something new. A life coach can be very supportive of this process. (Hint, hint.)
Mindfulness Strategy #4: Feel the Feels This can be challenging, but it is sooooo good for you if you can put the time in to practice. When you are feeling an undesirable emotion such as anxiety or fear or stress, you often don't realize that those emotions are not signs of actual danger. In fact, any time you are in actual danger, you aren't sitting there feeling anxiety...you are running or fighting or surviving. So anxiety (or any emotion) is simply a set of sensations in your body in reaction to your thoughts. If you can accept it and allow yourself to feel it, you can let go of it more easily than if you ignore it, quash it, or fight it. Try these 4 steps to help demystify and therefore free yourself from some emotions that aren't serving you.
Hopefully you can find a strategy or two in that list that resonates with you. Try them all and report back to let me know which ones were the most effective.
Yesterday, I had an experience that gets more profound the more I think about it. My cute little town, Golden, CO, had a time capsule reveal and dedication ceremony. 50 years ago, the people of Golden opened a time capsule buried in 1918 and then placed their own to be opened on November 11, 2018. First of all, the day itself is bursting with meaning. Many numerologists and spiritual gurus attribute power and significance to the 11th day of the 11th month. And I admit that I like the symmetry of it. Secondly, yesterday was Veteran's Day. It was also the Centennial of Armistice Day, which marked the cessation of World War 1. So it's a day to celebrate sacrifice and pride and peace. It also happened to be snowing the first big snow of the season, which added a buzz to the ambiance.
With remarks from the mayor, veterans, and high school students, the ceremony itself was thought provoking and impressive. And despite snowy weather and slick roads, the town hall and the history museum that was streaming the ceremony were both at full capacity with standing room only. After the ceremony, the items from the 1968 capsule were on display, mostly paper-based memorabilia--newspaper clippings, scrolls of signatures, and letters from residents. My girls enjoyed reading letters from the 5th graders of 1968 and seeing historical pictures of our town. We also got to see the new time capsule and we signed a ledger and wrote notes that will go inside, to be read in 50 years. It was the best kind of history lesson.
At one point, I asked my girls how old they would be when the next capsule was opened.
"57!" exclaimed my youngest, Cici.
"And I'll be 59," said Aleida. After a thoughtful pause, she added, "And you'll be 90, Mom."
Wow. This hit me harder than I expected. 90 years old. Longevity does not run in the females of my family. Both my mother and her mother died before reaching age 70, so the odds of me being alive for the next unveiling are fairly slim. 50 years from now, my children will be women with memories older than I am now. They will most likely have families of their own. They will have careers and a circle of friends they have yet to meet. They will have lived away from home--from me--for decades. Will they be at the unveiling in 50 years with their kids? Could I pick them out of the crowd if I could travel through time today?
My thoughts got heavy, my friends. And I'll admit that I fought with some anxiety. This was undeniable proof that time passes...and quickly. And in the face of such proof, I couldn't help but reflect on my life so far and consider what the future will hold. I have SO MANY THINGS left to do.
My anxiety did lead to motivation and resolve. Time will pass. There's no stopping that. But what we do with the rest of our lives is completely up to us. It's trite, I know, but today IS the first day of the rest of your life. What will you do with it?
Do you have goals but feel stuck when you think about trying to reach them? Do you start projects that go unfinished? Do you leave important conversations unsaid because you don't want to deal with the conflict or the fallout? Do you hold back on sharing your creations because you are a "perfectionist?" Behind all of these questions lurk a sneaky but powerful beast: the Fear of Failure.
Here's the irony: The only way to TRULY fail is to give in to the Fear of Failure. And some of us might be doing this without even realizing that we are doing it. Why? Because the Fear of Failure masquerades as many other less-evil-seeming motivations. When Fear of Failure is in disguise, we might not even make it to the first Big A--Awareness--because we are convinced that we are dealing with something else. Can you relate to any of these?
A couple weeks ago, I gave a workshop at the local library. We discussed what it means to live a balanced life, completed the Life Balance Wheel (link to the worksheet below), and created action steps toward bringing up the areas that ranked low.
This topic is important, so I wanted to share some of the takeaways from the discussion I had with the workshop participants. Since I've never known anyone to rank all areas 10 out of 10, everyone has room for improvement, right? If you want to try this activity, you can follow along with this video. Before starting, print out the Life Balance Wheel Worksheet.
Takeaway 1: Balance does not look the same for everyone.
Think about Goldilocks...Papa Bear's bed was "too hard," Mama's was "too soft," and Baby's was "just right." Likewise, what feels like balance to you might mean overwhelm to somebody else. For example, working 20 hours a week might seem like too much for one person, not nearly enough for another, and just the right amount for a third.
More specifically, my father and his wife generously came to watch our kids, our house, and our critters so that my husband and I could attend a wedding in Philadelphia back in September. From their tidy, quiet household of two, they came to our loud, cluttered home complete with 2 kids, 3 dogs, 2 cats and a bearded dragon. They had to coordinate getting the girls to karate, feeding them three meals a day (plus snacks!), caring for all the animals, which includes making sure the young dog was not out at the same time as the cats, getting kids to bed, keeping them entertained, and mediating arguments. On top of all that, they threw a one year birthday party for the cats which included cat toy gifts and tuna ice cream treats. This barely controlled chaos is TOTALLY NORMAL for our household. And honestly, I enjoy it. I can feel balanced amidst the flurry of activity. For my dad and his wife, however, it must have been exhausting. At their phase in life, balance means drinking coffee, reading the paper and completing the soduku puzzle each morning. It means going golfing and doing yard work and watching a movie in the evening. They have busy, full lives, but their daily existence is completely different than my crazy life.
So when you consider your life, consider what feels right TO YOU, regardless of societal norms or the expectations of others. If you read my post about the Big A Words, this is establishing AUTHENTICITY.
Takeaway 2: You have the choice to live by design versus default.
If you rank an area of your life low, you absolutely have the ability to improve it. Let's say you rank Health/Self Care as a 4. You have small kids, a full time job, and other commitments. You don't have the time to work out. You have defaulted to a 4 in that area. I guarantee you that if you truly WANT to bring that number up, you can and will find a way to do it. However, if you are just ranking it as a 4 because you think you should be in better shape, it will be a lot harder to find the motivation to get 'er done. This brings me to...
Takeaway 3: Be aware of how you are thinking about your imbalances.
We often falsely believe that if we achieve a state of balance, then the warm fuzzies will follow. This is a logical assumption, but it is completely backwards. What we tend to do is this: we reach a goal, and instead of stopping and feeling good about it, we set another higher goal, feeling like we will arrive once we reach THAT goal. But once we reach that goal, we set another goal and so on. We never get to that place of contentment and satisfaction when we are waiting for the goals to provide those feelings for us. However, if we can get the horse (emotions) in front of the cart (goals), we can do two important things. 1. We can feel more content and balanced regardless of where we are on any kind of goal-reaching spectrum. 2. We can improve our focus and motivation toward those goals and reach them more quickly. Simply put: A better mindset = Better results. More on that in a future post. :)
Takeaway 4: Write down your next steps. (Big A Word: ACTION)
So you want to improve your fitness? Great. How will you go about it? Again, go back to what authentically feels like a way forward for you. If you need structure, signing up for a gym with scheduled classes or working with a personal trainer might be best. If you hate the gym, perhaps you should look into finding a hiking or mountain biking group. Sustainable changes have to feel good on some level. Yes, exercise hurts when you are out of shape, but if you can appreciate the view or make faces at your work-out partner, you can stay motivated to keep at it.
Takeaway 5: Enjoy the process.
Like happiness, balance is not a permanent state of being. You can feel balanced one minute and then life happens and throws you completely out of whack. The goal is not a consistent state of balance, but an appreciation for the journey toward balance and taking the time to bask in those moments that feel balanced.
When my children do things that make them uncomfortable (competing in a karate tournament, trying new foods, traveling to new places), I tell them that they are expanding their comfort zone. Likewise, you can expand your "balance zone" by cultivating a habit of proactivity and a mindset of abundance. If you can enjoy the journey and work on staying present and mindful, then you will find that balance becomes a state of mind rather than a goal post that's always just out of reach.
It's not what you think. These are good A words. In fact, these 5 words lay out a process through which you can improve ANY aspect of your life. They are the basics, the foundation. So let's get to them.
Big A #1: AWARENESS
You cannot work toward a solution without awareness that you have a problem. You cannot change your attitude if you don't first become aware of what your inner voice is saying. You might not be aware that there are many ways to look at the same circumstance. For example, when my kids were younger, 3 and 5, they started a game of climbing up the outside of the banister in our house and jumping off...getting higher and higher each time. I saw them doing this and suggested they pile some pillows in the landing spot to cushion the fall. They did, and fun ensued. I wasn't AWARE that this might be a questionable activity until another mother came to my home and was appalled when my kids started goading her child into this activity. It was an a-ha moment and anytime you describe something as an a-ha moment, you are dealing with a shift in awareness. "A-ha! Other moms think this is dangerous!" "A-ha! I am in the habit of negativity when it comes to dealing with my co-worker." "A-ha! I am creating my own anxiety around this issue." Without awareness, change cannot occur.
Big A #2: AUTHENTICITY
Once you have awareness that change is needed, it is important to do a little "soul-searching" to decide the way forward that is right FOR YOU. For example, with the above scenario, once I saw this through another mother's eyes and realized she was concerned, I questioned my parenting for a minute. Ultimately, I decided it was okay because it was a chance for my kids to learn about their bodies and limitations in a *fairly safe* and controlled environment. I value adventure, and I want my kids to as well. Seeing my friend's concern, however, did cause me to keep it as a "family activity" and encourage less controversial games during play dates. That solution--allowing my kids to enjoy the activity while being sensitive to another mother's more cautious outlook--was authentic to my parenting style and my desire to be respectful of others. It is important that you check in with yourself when working toward positive change. Are you making changes that sit well with your core values? Are you allowing others to sway you? What feels right to you--regardless of societal norms and expectations?
Big A #3: ACTION
Once you have an honest conversation with yourself, you can start to take action. This might require some visualization. I recently gave a workshop on Life Balance, and attendees rated 8 areas of their lives from 1-10 where 1=Can't get any worse and 10=Can't get any better. After discussing why they ranked different areas the way they did, I asked participants to pick one of the lowest ranking areas and envision what it would look like to bring that area up two points. If they could do that with ease, I asked them to envision what a 9 or 10 in that category would look like. From there, they could start to plan some action steps toward their authentic vision.
Big A #4: ACCOUNTABILITY
Once you have action steps, how will you stay accountable to them? Do you keep promises to yourself? If you write down a goal and make a pact with yourself, will you follow through? It would be nice if we all kept the promises we made to ourselves...if we could hold ourselves accountable and always step up. However, we sometimes need support. Do you have a friend or partner or mentor who will check in with you and hold you accountable to your big ideas? One of the biggest benefits of a life coach is the accountability piece. Each session ends with the question: What are you committed to doing between now and the next time we meet? And the next session always starts with the question: How did you do with your action steps? It might sound simple, but it's extremely powerful.
Big A #5: ABUNDANCE
If you are aware of what's going on in your mind as you interpret the world around you, and if you can authentically outline some action steps and be accountable for them, then you are on your way to a life of abundance. Abundance does not mean that you have everything you want and/or that you are happy all of the time. It does not mean that you live in the big house and drive the best car and enjoy a state of constant bliss in your relationships. Abundance simply means that you look at the world from a place of gratitude and positivity. Even when bad things happen, you come at them from a mindset of abundance, realizing that you have a choice in how you look at things AND you have the ability to work toward a more balanced and satisfied life. A mindset of abundance comes from believing that you are in control of your life and from seeing the world through a lens of generosity and love, rather than a lens of scarcity and resentment. We hear stories of poor villagers who have few material goods but live happy lives. And we hear stories of famous millionaires who "have it all" but can't seem to find contentment. Abundance is not about stuff; it's completely about how you think.
To learn more about working toward positive change, contact me to schedule a complimentary discovery session.
Last week, I attended the Women's Foundation of Colorado's annual luncheon. The whole experience was uplifting and inspiring, starting with simply being there with my mother-, aunt- and sister-in-law, all of whom are models of strong, intelligent, ambitious women, and ending with the keynote speaker Billie Jean King. I don't follow tennis, but I am familiar with King's iconic status, and I learned a lot about her work toward gender equality (in the sport of tennis and beyond) and her activism on a broad spectrum of issues. She has lived a very proactive and impressive life. On a side note, I also learned that she has a close friendship to Sir Elton John and his song "Philadelphia Freedom" was written for her. Good stuff.
At the luncheon, her talk was set up in an interview format, and if I'm being honest, King did not directly answer any of the questions asked by the interviewer. She went off on tangents, rambled, repeated herself at times, and often failed to return to the original topic. Still, her charisma carried her and her talk was full of gems for how to get the most out of life. As soon as she started talking, I was furiously scribbling notes in the margins of the program because her words of wisdom were so powerful, and her history gives her the credibility that made me take it all to heart. So here you go...nuggets of wisdom from Billie Jean King:
"That's just the way it is."
"It's just not meant to be."
"Bad things always happen to me."
"Can't change now."
"I just can't catch a break."
We've all said or felt these sentiments in our lives, but in these words and ideas might be the key to happiness and life satisfaction.
A report in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology stated that autonomy is the number one contributor to happiness. Autonomy is defined as "freedom from external control or influence; independence."
As some of you know, I am currently working toward earning my conditional Black Belt at my martial arts school (I get my new belt tomorrow-yahoo!). One of the requirements of our increased training is to read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In many ways, this is a guidebook on finding more autonomy. In fact, the first habit is "Be Proactive." The author, Stephen Covey, writes "Reactive people are driven by feelings, circumstances, by conditions, by their environment." In other words, they are not autonomous because they are not free from external influence. They live by default, often letting people and circumstances act upon them. In contrast, "Proactive people are driven by values--carefully thought out, selected, and internalized values." So proactive people are autonomous. They live by design, creating the life they want according to their values, regardless of circumstances.
Think about that for a minute. And then honestly decide if you are more REACTIVE or PROACTIVE. Here are a few questions to get you thinking:
1. When you fail to complete a project or reach a goal, do you typically:
a. Blame lack of time, other obligations, or external factors for getting in the way
b. Realize that you didn't have an adequate plan to complete the project and think about how to avoid a similar situation in the future
2. When your birthday approaches, do you typically
a. Think about what you'd like to do and hope somebody plans it for you
b. Think about what you'd like to do, make reservations, and invite your friends to celebrate with you
3. When somebody does something to hurt you, do you typically
a. Feel betrayed, talk to others about the situation, and/or avoid or unfriend that person
b. Confront the person and talk honestly about the situation
4. When you want to change a habit or behavior, do you typically
a. have trouble coming up with ways to change and/or tell yourself that it's just the way you are
b. lay out a plan, set goals, and find somebody to keep you accountable to those goals
5. When you want to get something done, do you typically
a. talk about it but fail to make a solid plan
b. write down daily, weekly, and/or long term goals and take action to complete them
You can probably figure out that if you answered mostly (a) answers, then you are a more reactive person. However, if you answered mostly (b) answers, than you have a habit of proactivity. How do we work toward a more proactive existence?
My oldest daughter, Aleida, is in 4th grade this year, and she's been coming home with lots of talk about the "popular kids" and what they're up to. According to her, she is not one of the popular kids.
"Do you want to be popular?" I asked.
"No!" she answered, with great feeling.
Still, she's clearly torn. As a mother, my heart aches to think that she might feel left out or "less than" when at school, but I also know that navigating the cliques and social pressures are all part of growing up. I can't control the kids at school, but perhaps I can give my daughter some tools to help her through the process.
More than anything, I want my daughters to like themselves. Sure, self esteem will wax and wane, but if they can truly like themselves, they can avoid being derailed by the opinions of others.
This brings me to my quote of the day from Byron Katie:
Do you struggle with self doubt or low self esteem? Is your self-worth affected by what others think of you? If so, try some of these suggestions to cultivate self love and appreciation.
This post is neither easy nor fun to write. If you want one that was, check out my post on spirit animals.
No...today I am fresh off a parenting fail and I am struggling. Parenting fails always make me feel sheepish, but this one was in public, witnessed by people I know and admire, as well as by strangers who live in my community.
A couple months ago, I signed myself and my daughters up for a 5k. It's a fun, well-organized event that I like to support. Forget the fact that I didn't run a 5k until I was in my 20s...my kids are 7 and 9 and we're doing it. Yesterday was the day, so over breakfast, we had a pep talk. I was especially focused on my younger daughter, telling her how a positive attitude and a good solid effort were far more important than any time goal. We discussed some strategies for how to deal when the going got tough, and I really tried to solidify the "NO WHINING" rule.
The start line was abuzz with good energy and we lined up surrounded by friends. Kids were smiling and happy, and I was ready to have a good time. "We got this," I thought.
3 minutes folks. Just 3 minutes after the start, my best laid plan began to unwind. My youngest started whining and asking to stop and walk. This same child has endured 10 weeks of Prep Cycle and several all day karate tests without one whimper. This same child is the darling of all her teachers and a leader in her classroom. This same child can be the toughest, sweetest, most amazing child on the planet.
I did try. I told myself to be the adult. I told myself that I was in control of my emotions. I used some of my coaching language both on my daughter and myself. I tried to pep talk her. I tried to convince her to run with her friend. A few of our adult friends offered to run with her because they know that children often exhibit much better behavior for someone other than their parents. But she was dug in. She shunned people's offers, she continued to whine, and nothing I or anyone else said could snap her out of it.
Well...one thing snapped her out of it. I snapped into it. I lost control of my emotions. I resorted to ultimatums and guilt trips. I told her we were going back to the finish line. I pouted and cried. I threw a fit almost equal to hers.
I could list about 30 reasons why I lost it. Many of them would point to my daughter's behavior. Several would point to other circumstances weighing on my mind. And most people would read those reasons and validate them. But none of those reasons are good excuses. In a future post I will go into detail about why circumstances are not valid excuses for bad behavior, but right now I want to talk about another result of this whole situation...the feeling of regret.
Even as I was throwing an adult-sized fit in front of poor unsuspecting onlookers, I was regretting. I was regretting that the run wasn't going as I'd planned. I was regretting that I didn't have a better strategy for making it fun instead of a fight. And now that some time has passed, I regret that I didn't model better behavior for my daughter...and I regret my own regret.
Yes...I regret my regret. My daughter has a lovely ability to go from angry to fine. Once she gets it out, it's out. No grudges, no lingering smoke coming out of her ears, just mad to glad in about 2 seconds. She can hug you and apologize and carry on AS IF WE HADN'T JUST MADE A SCENE.
I can't. So even once she had started running again with a much better attitude, I couldn't let it go. I played some music to get us to the finish line (ironically, "Shake it off" by Taylor Swift), and as my daughter danced and ran, I could've joined her, had I not been plodding along, wallowing in my regret. So I regret my regret. What a vicious cycle, huh?
Here's the thing about regret: for the most part, it serves no purpose. It is an indulgent emotion because we give it more time than it deserves and it doesn't create good results. We indulge in it even though we know it's of no good use to us. And regret is of no use to us because it is based on a desire to change our past, which is something we simply cannot do, unless you are Marty McFly.
Yesterday made me think a lot about regret as I was feeling all the heavy layers of it. Oh how I wanted a Redo button on the run. I wanted to change the original plan of 5 minutes running and one minute walking. I wanted to change the way I responded to my daughter's first whine. I wanted to go back and pull out the energy chews I had for bribes but had forgotten to use. I wanted to go back and NOT sign up in the first place. Can you see how fruitless all that wanting is? I can't go back and change anything at all.
So how can we make regret more useful? I came up with a few ideas as I struggled through the process:
When my husband called to see how the run went, one of the first things I said was, "Well, I'll never do that again." I meant that I would never run with my daughter again. This was a direct response to the fresh upwelling of regret. However, with time comes perspective, and I'm already loosening my view on the idea. I know that I will run with my daughter again, but I'll "never do it" that way again. I will learn from my regret rather than just be a victim to it.
A friend of mine recently posted the following quote on her Facebook page. She found it in our local (and delicious) Himalayan restaurant, the Sherpa House.
I was struck by two things (after I tore my mind away from thoughts of the restaurant's delicious buffet): 1. What a beautiful sentiment and 2. The Dalai Lama could be a life coach.
I love this quote because it encapsulates so many concepts that I use in my life coaching practice. First of all, it starts with your THINKING. "Everyday, think as you wake up, 'today I am fortunate to have woken up.'" How simple. And even better, everyone can honestly think this. I often talk about how going from negative to positive can be challenging if you don't believe it. So going from "Ugh...another day of the grind" to "Hello world, I love my life!" might be asking too much. But simply thinking "I am fortunate to have woken up" is a phrase we should all be able to wrap our heads around, and it is a huge improvement from starting with thoughts about your stress at work or the pain in your back or the 10 loads of laundry you have to get done.
The Dalai Lama also understands that we choose what we think. He says, "I am going to have kind thoughts toward others...I am not going to think badly about others." This takes practice, my friends. Negative thoughts happen, but with awareness and practice, you can improve your attitude.
At my martial arts school, instructors often say, "Practice makes permanence. Perfect practice makes perfect." If we practice sloppy kicks, our kicks will remain sloppy. Likewise, our minds are wired for efficiency, so if you have a practice of negative thoughts or self pity, you have created a pathway for your brain and you will default there again and again. However, if you start to practice positivity, you will create new permanent pathways and your brain will begin to default to seeing people and events in a better light. It's called Neural Plasticity and it is a real thing! (Follow the link for the science and application.)
Another "coachism" in the Dalai Lama's statement is "I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all others." This is so powerful. We might not all be as altruistic as the Dalai Lama and that is okay! Let's just start with the first part "I am going to use all my energies to develop myself." Imagine if we did that! ALL our energies?!?! What if we didn't waste any of our energy on surfing the internet or fussing over what to wear or worrying about events out of our control? If all of our energies went into positive self development, what would that even look life? I challenge you to spend a few minutes day dreaming about that. What energy wasters would you cut out and with what would you replace them? Oh the possibilities! And if you take to heart the rest of it about benefiting others and all that jazz...that's all BONUS.
I encourage you to write down the Dalai Lama's quote or print it out or make it your computer wall paper or whatever. Maybe paste it to the ceiling right above your pillow or put it in a frame next to your alarm clock so you see it every time you wake up. First thing each morning, practice saying, "I am fortunate to have woken up and today I am going to use my energy to develop myself." Try it for a week. See what happens and report back.
If you want some support as you develop yourself, I'm here for you. Let's partner to start that perfect practice toward a better life. Contact me for a complimentary intro session or register for my in-person group starting on Oct 9.