Category Archives: The Mentor’s Corner

The Inside Job, Part 2

In last week’s post I talked about how happiness is an inside job…that it must start inside ourselves in order to be real, authentic, and lasting. I also talked about how mindfulness, awareness, discernment and practice can be used as steps toward choosing a positive, happy outlook on a daily basis. The keys are choice and persistence. We have to choose to be happy (mindfully be aware of our choices and discern new ones when needed) and continually work at choosing happiness on a daily basis (practice). All of that may make good sense, but how do we sustain that happiness, contentment, and feeling of peace? What are some practical tools to help us be more mindful of our choices, to discern happier choices and to practice making the choice to be happy, content and peaceful regularly?

Hence, Part 2 of The Inside Job. I wanted to share some tools I have used and found to be helpful in my quest to choose happiness no matter the situation. To be sure, choosing happiness is not always an easy thing to do. There are so many things working against on any given day. But I have found that with practice (using the tools shared below), reflection (being honest with ourselves about the choices we are making, especially when we are not choosing happiness), and a desire to want to be a better person every day, we can reach a point where happiness becomes more of an automatic response…that it becomes our go to choice most of the time.

One last thought before I share the tools/techniques – this is not about escaping/not facing negative or bad situations. To be clear, this is about how to help yourself reach a point in which you can consciously choose happiness, contentment and peace despite the situation and circumstance surrounding you on any given day. It’s about putting things into perspective, recognizing your blessings, and choosing positive feelings over negative ones. In order to do so successfully, you have to deal with those negative feelings…reflect upon them…face them. And these are some tools to help you do just that.

Some practical tools for choosing happiness over other negative options:

  1. Breathing – Just stopping and breathing can really refocus your attention and perspective. It turns your attention to your breath instead of whatever else is happening in your world at that moment. I like this tool because you can do it anywhere, anytime, for any amount of time and it is extremely impactful to your mindset. I find it most helpful in situations in which I feel stress, anxiety, or anger surfacing. Specifically, what I do is close my eyes (if possible), take a deep breath (for a count of 4), hold the breath for a moment at the top of the inhalation, then exhale (for a count of 4)…and I repeat that as many times as I am able to or need to (depending on the circumstances). Try it once – you will immediately notice you feel calmer and clearer…a great place to then reassess your situation and make a choice of happiness over stress or anger.
  1. Light Meditation – This is one of my favorites as it not only helps me to refocus my attention and perspective, it also gives me a feeling of warmth and support. (That might sound a little strange, but I think once you try it you will understand what I mean.) I find this technique most helpful when I sense stress, anxiety, or a strong feeling of inadequacy or doubt coming on. Like breathing, you can do it anywhere, anytime, and for any amount of time. I prefer to do this technique at home or in my office with the door closed so I can close my eyes and really relax and focus on the light meditation, but you can modify it for use just about anywhere. Once my eyes are closed, I breath normally and just envision a beautiful yellow light above my head (some people prefer to envision a white light, or a light of some other color – the color of the light should resonate with you…honor the color that comes up for you when you do this technique). I visualize that yellow light to be almost like the consistency of honey as it slowly pours down over me, eventually covering my entire body. The more time you have for this mediation, the slower you can envision the light flowing over you (or you can envision it covering your whole body multiple times as well). As I visualize it flowing over your body I “feel” its warmth…its “protection”. I literally think about the light washing away those other, unwanted feelings – I envision those feelings falling away from my body and into the ground beneath me. At the end, not only do I feel calmer, but I feel supported as well, thus being in a place from which I can choose happiness and peace over the stress, anxiety, inadequacy or doubt I may have been feeling before.
  1. Take a walk – We have all heard it said that you should “go take a walk to cool off” when in the heat of an argument or disagreement, and with good reason. It is excellent advice. Removing yourself from the situation that has you worked up is a great first step to calming down and making better choices (no good choices are made in the heat of the moment when your emotions are ruled by anger or frustration). Walking away allows you to refocus, reprioritize, and/or reevaluate. This is an especially wonderful tool for when you are feeling angry, frustrated, anxious or blocked in some way. The downside to this tool is that you may not always be in a situation/location where you are able to take a walk (in which case I would suggest “mentally” taking a walk while focusing on your breathing). While there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to take a walk, I would suggest combining your walk with one of the other tools listed here so you do not spend you walk fixated on the thing that caused you to need the walk in the first place. Fixating on the situation that brought those negative feelings about will likely only prove to perpetuate those same feelings. When we say take a walk, we really mean take a walk both physically and mentally (away from the situation causing the negative feelings you are experiencing). Separate yourself from it all so you can calm down, think more clearly, and make the choice to be happy.
  1. Read something inspirational – Whether it is a single quote or a passage from a book, reading something inspirational can transform your outlook almost instantly. This is one of my favorite tools for when I am feeling stuck, uncreative, unmotivated, or uninspired. Like most of the techniques shared here, you can do this anywhere, anytime, and for any amount of time. Smartphones make finding inspiration quick and easy when you are on the go, while at home you may have a specific book you turn to when you need a little pick me up. Whatever works for you…wherever you find inspiration (be it in word, art, music, etc.), go there when you need to reignite your passion, creativity, etc. – because when you are in those places you will find that sense of happiness (your choice of happiness becomes much easier at that point).
  1. Reflect on the blessings in your life – Whenever I feel like the universe is conspiring against me…like nothing I do is right…like my life just plain sucks, this is my go to technique. By taking even just a few seconds to reflect on all the blessings in my life I can very quickly put into perspective whatever is happening in my life at that moment. I also keep a daily gratitude journal because I have found that taking a few seconds each day to be grateful for something different each day frames my mindset for the day…and if/when I find myself going down that rabbit hole of negativity I can either look at my journal for an instant reminder or quickly recall what I wrote earlier in the day. We so quickly forget all the things we have to be grateful for, despite what bad things are happening in our lives. Reflecting on our blessings helps us choose happiness and contentment each day.
  1. Talk with a trusted friend or loved one whom you find to be positive and/or inspirational – Sometimes we get ourselves to a place from which we need help returning. A trusted friend or loved one who is known for their positive or inspirational outlook is perhaps the best one to help us in these situations. When we can’t see any blessings in our lives to be thankful for, they can point some out for us. When inspirational quotes just aren’t able to inspire us, they often can rephrase them such that they resonate with us. They can tell us to take a few slow, deep breaths to calm down when we aren’t able to do that on our own. Sometimes just being able to talk the situation out with a neutral party (who has a positive attitude/outlook) can help us build the bridge between that negative place we find ourselves and the ability to choose happiness in that situation. Be careful though not to use this technique as a complaint session, as that is not the intent here. Again, if you have chosen the right person to talk with they can help bring you back on track.

Note – These are but a sampling of many possible ways you might choose to bring yourself our of negative thinking and into positive, happy, peaceful thinking. These are some of the techniques that have worked for me, but it is important for you to find what resonates with you. You may find that different situations call for the use of different techniques, and that is okay. Remember, the goal is to bring yourself to a place where you can choose happiness, contentment, and peace despite the current situation and/or events. If there are other things you find work well for you, please share them in the Comments section of this blog, as others will likely benefit from your sharing as well.

The Buddha once said, “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”  I believe there is so much truth in these words. When you reach that point when happiness is your thought, you will be happy.

You be the judge…

Judgment – a powerful word with many connotations. As such, there is much that can be written on this topic, and this blog will only scratch the surface of one aspect of it…but hopefully it gets you thinking about the ways in which you pass judgment and how it may be impacting you and those around you. Let’s face it, we pass judgment regularly on people, ideas, places, clothing, food, music, words, tangible objects…yep, pretty much everything. She’s pretty, that’s ugly, he’s successful, that’s pointless, she’s too fat, he’s too tall, they are too selfish, that’s dumb…the potential examples are endless. But why?

Why do we do continually make such judgment statements? Often we are simply trying to qualify how we feel about someone or something, but it is done in such a way that we, intentionally or unintentionally, place a value on or take value away from that person or thing. In passing judgment we are in essence saying that person, place or thing is either good/bad or right/wrong. But where is it written that those things are good/bad or right/wrong? Religiously-rooted beliefs aside, so many of the things we judge ourselves and each other on are arbitrarily assigned…they aren’t written anywhere…they are things our society has taught us to believe are signs of greatness, achievement, success and beauty (or their opposites).

I would suggest we change our paradigm and our vocabulary. Instead of saying something is good/bad or right/wrong, try expressing how it resonates with you in a specific manner. Be descriptive, but in such a way that you are not judging it. For example, if I try a new food that someone has prepared for me and I do not care for the taste of it, instead of saying something very general and judgmental like, “Yuck, that tastes awful” (or something to that effect), try stating what specifically is not to your liking such as “It is spicier than I care for.” It may not seem like a huge difference but what you have done is gone from judging the food, and in some cases the person who made the food, to sharing your personal taste preferences. The person who made the food would likely be offended or hurt by the “Yuck, that tastes awful” comment, but would probably be understanding of your personal preference for non-spicy foods. The latter is a statement about you and your choices, not about the food or the person who made it. Big difference…big impact.

I recently listened to a podcast where I was introduced to the 20 Gunas. (Here’s a crash course for those not familiar: In Ayurveda there are 20 Gunas or ten pairs of opposite qualities (ex. – heavy/light, hot/cold, smooth/rough, hard/soft, etc.) Guna is Sanskrit for attribute or quality.) One way to combat our tendency to pass judgment is to learn to use different vocabulary, such as the 20 Gunas of Ayurveda, to describe our experience with something. Again, it takes the focus away from passing judgment on the person or thing and simply identifies how things resonate with you personally. Less attacking in nature and more descriptive. Whether you look to Ayurveda’s 20 Gunas for examples or not, changing your vocabulary and thus the judgment aspect of your statements removes the other person’s need to feel like they have to become defensive, which in turn creates a much more positive environment/exchange for all.

Don’t get me wrong, changing your paradigm and vocabulary as it relates to any topic is not easy, especially when it is something we have been conditioned to know, believe, or do throughout our lives. One of the reasons I am writing this is to help solidify these concepts in my own mind…trying to make them become more of a natural state of thought as opposed to something I have to consciously watch out for and remind myself. As with anything, it is a practice. But if we just take notice to the things we say and slowly work toward rewording our judgment statements, I do believe we can rewire our thinking to be more factual-based and compassionate and less opinion-based and judgmental…so our statements are more about ourselves and our experiences and less about others and what we perceive their experiences to be. Try it out and be your own judge.

The Journey

I have always been a list maker. A task master, if you will. I have been known to make lists within lists to help keep myself organized. (I have also been known to rewrite lists simply because things got “out of order” and I had written the list in pen…yep, you guessed it, I can be a bit OCD about some things.) Bottom-line: I love lists. They keep me organized and focused. And they help me stay on track with deadlines. It doesn’t matter to me if it is a simple thing like remembering to respond to an email or if it is a bigger, more complex task like rolling out a new program at work. I like to see it on the list…and then I LOVE crossing those things off my list! The sense of accomplishment I feel when I look at my list with all those items crossed off is incredibly satisfying.

But what I never realized was just how hyper-focused I was on finishing all those tasks, and what that meant for my focus on everything else happening around me. Then I heard Nancy Levin talking about honoring the space between no longer and not yet, in a podcast interview. By far, one of the most powerful quotes I have come across in my journey these past few years. So profound, that I actually wrote it down when I heard it…then I typed it in large font in a Word document and printed it out so I could hang it up. I wanted to be able to see it everyday…to remind myself daily to slow down and to appreciate the whole process…to enjoy life…to savor each moment and all the people and things in those moments…to be grateful for each day and all the blessings in it. You see, what I was missing out on when I was so intensely focused on my lists and my goals was the importance of the journey. Oh, I had accomplished lots of things, but I never stopped to notice how I was feeling or what I might be missing out on in the process.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed life all the while I was focused on my lists…but my focus was not on the here and now…it was not on the process I was going through these past 2-3 years. Instead it was on my goals and all the things on my “To Do” list. I had my eye on the prize and could only really see “it”, not the path I was on to get to it. The level of enjoyment I was experiencing in my life while being so focused on reaching my goals and crossing things off my list just wasn’t the same as the depth of enjoyment I found to be available when I slowed down and started to appreciate the journey. There’s so much to love about every moment of everyday…not just in the moments when something gets crossed of the list or some goal is achieved.

We all spend so much of our conscious existence going through the motions in our day-to-day tasks (on our way toward some goal or objective), without ever taking notice to all the things around us as we are going through those motions. We aren’t stopping to smell the roses. We aren’t taking time to soak up the sun. We aren’t pausing to be thankful for all the blessings in our lives (in fact we often don’t even see the blessings in our lives because our focus is on achieving some goal and not on all that is around us). Most of us plan to do those things…they may even be on our To Do lists. But it’s always “after I get through this next thing on my calendar”. The problem is, there’s always another thing before we get to those more important things. It’s a never-ending cycle that prevents us from enjoying the journey we are on.

I suppose if I were to leave you with a parting thought today, it would be this: Be present and enjoy your journey in this life. Don’t rush the process or get caught up in “crossing off the next thing on the list”. Enjoy life – it is short, so savor every moment you have. Appreciate the journey and all it has to offer you.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?

“At any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.” – Abraham Maslow

So true. And given that choice many people pick safety…comfort…the familiar…the norm. It is so much easier and less scary than to do something new or different. There’s no thinking needed. No extra work required. It’s what we are accustomed to…the status quo…piece of cake. Oh, it may be a bit mundane or boring at times, but what is that if the other option involves change, growth, or the unknown, right? This is the mentality many people have toward life. I know for sure that it was my attitude of mind for a long time.

But what if you chose to “step forward into growth”…to do something different, out of the ordinary, or outside your comfort zone? It’s a frightening concept to be sure, but one I would strongly urge you to embrace. There are plenty of examples illustrating just how much truth there is in this. Take for example the fact that virtually every book I have ever read on successful entrepreneurs and leaders talks about the risks they took which resulted in their successes…how they stepped outside their comfort zone and ended up realizing their dreams. No matter the industry, education or background of those individuals, the one thing they share is the link between moving away from their safety zones and realizing their dreams. I don’t believe this is a coincidence – I think these people are on to something the rest of us can capitalize on if only we’d take a chance on ourselves…think bigger, play bigger, dream bigger.

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I think we’d all agree that truly is insanity. It just doesn’t work that way. If you want something new or different for your life then you have to do something different. It really is that simple. No more excuses, no more victim mentality, no more settling for less than you want or deserve. Step away from your safety zone and make a move toward growth and change. Your wildest dreams can come true by just doing a few things differently…taking a few risks. Create a new norm for your life…one that allows you to be the person you have always wanted to be.

Life in the Fast Lane

Ours is a society that wants everything done NOW. We value getting things done quickly and then moving on to the next thing. And while there can be times when getting something done swiftly is truly a valuable thing, I think this mindset has skewed our view of life as a whole. We live in this hurried state most of the time such that I think we are missing the whole point…worse yet, we’re missing out on our own lives!

Life isn’t about getting “there” as fast as you can, it’s about the journey. It’s about doing the best we can, trying hard, and accomplishing the things we set out to do. It’s about pushing forward, persevering and never giving up. It’s about the people we meet, the relationships we build, and the experiences we have along the way. We miss out on so much in life because we are hyper-focused on getting to the next thing, failing to appreciate where we are right now. We get fooled into believing that if we “just” do this one last thing we will finally have the time to do all those other things we have been meaning to do…spend time with loved ones, enjoy a hobby, pamper ourselves, take a vacation, read a book, take that class we’ve always wanted to take, etc. The problem is there’s always another item waiting in the queue so we never reach that point where we allow ourselves the opportunity to do those things we’ve been promising ourselves (and in some cases promising others too). How miserable is that?! It’s a cycle of perpetual disappointment and drudgery in my humble opinion. A carrot that is always dangling in front of us, never to actually be reached. No wonder so many people are unhappy these days!

My recommendation – be present! This present moment, the one we are in right now, is all we really have, so take the time to reflect on it, revel in it, soak it up and welcome it. If all we are doing is rushing from one moment to the next, from one task or goal to the next, we deny ourselves the opportunity to enjoy life. Think about it. When was the last time you enjoyed feeling rushed from one thing to the next…feeling like you had no time to breathe, no time to relax, no time to do something for fun? Probably not very often if I had to guess. But the good news is we have the power to change that! We can go slow, enjoy the journey, and still arrive at our end destination…still achieve the goals we set for ourselves. In fact, I would argue that is the best way to do it. Allow yourself the opportunity to appreciate all the things you are doing to get where you are trying to go. It’s a healthy, happier way to lead your life.

As Confucius says in our quote of the week – “It does not matter how slow you go as long as you do not stop.” – I would encourage you to keep at it, whatever “it” may be for you, but also make sure you enjoy the journey along the way. Learn to appreciate that space between where you were and where you are going next. You, and anyone you interact with on a daily basis, will be so much happier for it!

Strength

Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.
- Ann Landers

 

Our society places a lot of stock in an individual’s ability to be strong in difficult times. We are taught to believe that it says a lot about a person when they can “hold on” or “hang in there”. And while I am not suggesting that there are not times when that is true, because I know for sure that it is…but I do agree with Ann Landers’ words. Sometimes the harder thing to do is have that difficult conversation, to walk away, to leave, or to let go. Think about it. Even though you may not like a particular situation you are in (a job, a relationship, a life circumstance, etc.), at least you are familiar with it…are used to it…know what to expect from it. Over time you can even become numb to it and/or get to a point whereby you are able to ignore it or work around it. This is the more natural and easy path to take in these kinds of situations. Conversely, when we are in those same difficult situations the thought of having to talk about the “elephant in the room” can be too painful or tough to consider. The idea of having a difficult conversation with someone, of quitting your job, of ending a relationship, or of changing your way of life can be scary for any of a number of reasons.

It’s a classic choice between fight or flight. As a society we admire the fight response because we have been taught it’s the stronger, better response. And let’s not forget how Hollywood makes “fight” look glamorous and exciting too. The flight response on the other hand is seen as the cowardly way out. I find this troubling as I think this mindset accounts for more problems in our society than solutions. I think it is one reason why we are such poor communicators. I think it is one factor that causes divorce rates to be so high. I think it is a contributor to the bullying we see so much of in our schools and workplaces.  And I think it is one component of the overarching anger-filled, negative veil that seems to shroud so much of our society today.

At the end of the day we are the choices we make, so make every one of your choices an opportunity for positivity and success in your life. Don’t shy away from a choice because it is a difficult one. You are only ever one choice away from a new beginning every moment. Every choice defines you…every choice gives you a chance to pave your own way…to literally create your life. So be strong and make good choices…hold on when it is appropriate to do so but let go when it is time…no matter how hard it may be.

The Rise of the Phoenix

In Greek mythology, the phoenix is a long-lived bird that regenerates or is reborn through a cyclical process whereby upon death (traditionally the legend cites death by fire), the phoenix gains a new life and rises from the ashes of its predecessor. As such, this mythological creature is often used as a symbol of rebirth and renewal. And when you think about, what great symbolism – to go down in flames only to rise again anew! Powerful imagery to say the least. But I also think it is symbolic of what many of us go through at various times in our own lives. We’ve all been there – something big happens in our lives forcing us to start over in a major way…to be reborn or renewed like the phoenix. Perhaps it is the loss of a loved one or of a job, maybe it is the loss of a significant relationship or prized possession, or possibly a huge financial loss. No matter what it was for you, it rocked your world…but, hopefully, you made the decision at some point during your healing process to pick yourself up and move on…to rise from the ashes and start anew. There’s no doubt, these kinds of life events leave their mark on you, but after you have overcome them you are able to look back and know you are stronger because of them.

Deborah Day once said. “Renewal requires opening yourself up to new ways of thinking and feeling .” How very true! In order to rise from the ashes of those significant life altering events, you will most likely need to open yourself to a new view, a different way of thinking or feeling about life as you know it. Easier said than done, right? Certainly, but definitely worth the effort. We are such creatures of habit and we get stuck not only in the way we do things but in how we think and feel about things too. Those stagnant thoughts and behaviors stunt your growth as a human being! And at no better time is that apparent to us than when we are “rising from our own ashes”. Hard as it is, be open to new ideas, new feelings, new interpretations, new ways of viewing your world. Trust me, it will transform your life. It really is all in how you view things. Choose to view your world in a positive light. Have an attitude of gratitude for everything…even the challenges you face, for they have something to teach you too!

And so as we work our way through our March theme of rebirth and renewal, keep in mind that we are all human – translation: we are not perfect, nor should we hold the expectation that we, or others, will be. Have love and compassion for yourself and for others. Be compassionate towards yourself as you emerge from your ashes and be a support to others who are rising from theirs as well. Rise like the phoenix and do great things!