Tag Archives: Mindfulness

Special Places

There are places in this world that just seem to resonate with us in ways we may not always be able to explain. These are the places that help us “find ourselves”. We usually refer to them as our “happy places”.  They are the places that often “feel like home” to us in ways that nowhere else does.  Time in those places help us to refocus, to remember what’s important in life, to reconnect with ourselves, and to relax.  We can’t wait to be in these places, and we absolutely hate to leave them, doing so usually while kicking and screaming (either literally or at the very least mentally).  We all have such a place.  It may be a physical address or building, or it may be some place more general like a tropical island or the mountains, but either way, we all have such a place.  Just pause for a moment, right now, close your eyes, and picture that place in your mind.  Recall how it makes you feel.  Just breathe it in for a moment.  Allow those feelings to come back to you in this moment of reflection.  It feels so good, doesn’t it?

For me, that special place is the beach. Any beach really, so long as it is warm. The feeling of the sand between my toes, the rhythmic sound of the ocean, the relaxing feel of the breeze on my face…these are some of the things about the beach that call to me.  Time there helps me to refocus my life, to remember what’s most important, to reconnect with myself and my dreams, to relax, and to re-establish that sense of calm in my life which I appreciate so much.

It is in these places and at these times when life gets a bit clearer and we start to see the areas of our life that could use a little adjustment. We can sit back, away from the normal daily chaos in our lives, and reflect on things like:

  1. What about my life is working right now? What about it do I really like?
  2. What about my life is not working right now? What about it do I not like so much?
  3. What am I willing to commit to in order to have more of what is working in my life/less of what is not working in my life?
  4. How do I keep this clarity about my life when I go back?
  5. What can I do differently in my daily life to maintain this feeling?

Maintaining the feelings, the clarity, and/or the calm that you experience in your special place can be accomplished after you leave that place, though a conscious effort is needed on your part. Taking the time to ask the questions listed above is a great place to start, but that is only the beginning. You have to actively work to make the changes you committed to once you return home.  You have to take the steps you identified when answering the 5 questions above in order to maintain the life you identified as desirable when you did that reflection.  With practice and perseverance, living that way will become your new habit, but until then you have to become aware of the times when you slip back into your old habits and then work diligently to pull yourself out of them.

Reflection for the purpose of awareness is the first step. Taking consistent action is the second step. Together you can create a life anywhere that resembles the one you have when you are in your special place.

Finding Joy

I have heard it said that the key to happiness is being able to find joy in your daily life, in the seemingly mundane things that make up our everyday routines. And my experience, particularly in more recent years, has proven that to be quite true. The problem is that for so many of us, we do not pause long enough to see that joy.  It’s not that there is no joy to be had, it is that we just don’t see it, even when it is right in front of us.

It is no secret, nor should it be a surprise to anyone, that we all get so caught up in the day to day happenings of our very busy modern lives to the point that not only do we not find joy in our lives, but we seldom even notice the people and things around us that could bring us joy if only we stopped for a moment to take them in, appreciate them for who and what they are, and gives thanks for them.

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” – William Arthur Ward

Some people refer to this phenomenon of going through the motions of life without really being present as living in a robot-like or zombie-like state. Regardless of the words we use to label or describe it, the bottom line is that we are not present in the moment. We don’t see the people and things right in front of us for the beautiful, amazing creatures and opportunities that they are.  We are so focused on where we are going next, on the goal we are trying to achieve, on getting through the day, on getting to our next day off or our next vacation, on getting to the next thing on our To Do list, on reaching retirement, on getting the next job or house, etc. (you get the idea here), that we go through virtually every waking moment of each day not noticing most of who and what is around us, let alone see any joy in those things.  The sad and ironic thing is that for many people when they reach their destination (be it the end of their To Do list, the weekend, that next vacation, their next job, the completion of their goal, etc.), they usually find no more happiness than they had previously.  Why?  Because joy and happiness doesn’t come at the end of your journey to that place you wanted to reach – joy and happiness is found throughout that journey.

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” – Greg Anderson

Like most of us, I spent many years living for the next thing. I was never quite happy, but I was certain I would be after the next thing. But then I wasn’t.  It was a vicious, rather depressing cycle.  When I finally decided to let go of the next thing and really experience each moment as it came and went, careful not to become too attached to any one moment though as that can be problematic in and of itself, I finally began to enjoy my life and all the people and things in it.  I had spent so much of my life looking for joy and happiness and what I came to realize is that it was always right here, in front of me, the entire time…I was just too busy, too side-tracked, too distracted to notice it.

It is so easy to get wrapped up in the trappings of this modern world, but if we are conscious about the choices we are making, focusing on each individual moment, I do believe we would all experience more joy in our lives. While reaching a specific destination in our lives is important, let us not forget that what is even more important are the experiences along the way – opportunities to learn and grow, to appreciate the people and things in our lives, to give thanks, to create something new, and to experience true joy and happiness.

So let go of your expectations and the single-minded focus on the end goal. Be present in each moment as it unfolds. Even when things become difficult of challenging, there is beauty and joy to be had.  Pause to reflect in the moment.  Give thanks for what the moment has to offer you, even if it is a difficult lesson.  And always remember that at the end of the day, it is about the journey, not the destination.  That’s where the joy resides.

Stretching Yourself

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch

Most successful people will tell you that at some point in their journeys they stretched themselves beyond what was their “comfortable norm”. Indeed, many would likely argue that stretching yourself is the only way to achieve great things in your life – that by sticking with the norm or status quo you will become stagnant rather than grow and achieve great things. And whether you choose to stretch yourself by taking large steps or small steps along the way, the point is to make sure you do stretch yourself in some way, big or small.

We all have a different tolerance level for the amount of stretching we can/will do at one time. For me, I was comfortable taking small stretches, one right after another. Specifically, I went from barely having a voice in this world (being shy, thinking no one would care what I had to say, and that I had nothing important to share), to writing a blog (despite being nervous that people might judge me or comment harshly), to now also having a podcast, to continually looking at how to keep using my voice in new and different ways.  All in the span of less than a year and a half.  One small stretch at a time I have developed my voice and have become brave enough to share it.

Having just said all that, and while I fully believe that stretching yourself is a vital part of living your best life, it is also important to honor your needs from a self-care perspective, stepping back to take care of yourself as needed. We have to take good care of ourselves so we can do the great things we have set out to do. It is easy to push too hard for too long, neglecting important self-care – and when that happens we actually hinder our progress despite any stretching we may be doing.

The solution is to find the balance between pushing yourself to reach your life goals and making sure you are caring for yourself properly as well. I know for me it took a little trial and error to find that balance, but I believe I have gotten to a point where I do a pretty good job of caring for myself while also continuing to push myself forward toward my goals.

Here are a few simple tips that have helped me personally achieve that balance and avoid stretching yourself too thin:

  1. Have clear goals – if your goals are clear you are less likely to get pulled in various directions at once…you can stay focused on the goals you have set for yourself which means less stress and chaos in your life as well as progress toward your goals
  2. Set clear boundaries – setting clear boundaries for yourself and for other people in your life is the best way to protect yourself from over commitment, excess stress, being pulled away from the work you have set out to do on your clear goals (among other things)…in other words, it is okay to say “No”, “Not right now”, and/or “That’s just not in alignment with my goals at the moment”…most of the time the people in your life will understand and be supportive, and you should feel good for standing up for yourself and the goals you have set for yourself
  3. Enlist help – let someone you trust in on your goals so they can encourage you, help keep you focused and on track, as well as help keep you accountable to your self-care too…so even if you don’t realize you are neglecting yourself, this person may see it and be able to point it out to you thus preventing you from crashing and burning
  4. Listen to your body – the best indicator that you have been negligent in the realm of self-care is your body’s messages to you…your physical body will respond in any of a variety of ways when it is not getting what it needs (everything from headaches and loss of sleep to any of a number of illnesses)…learn to understand what your body is telling you so you can pause long enough to take care of yourself.

So by all means go ahead and stretch yourself, just be mindful of your own needs so you are able to continue on your journey long term and enjoy the results of your hard work when that time comes.

Given this topic, I can’t end without suggesting a little assignment for you – consider the following – What’s the area in your life where you need to stretch more?  What is one small way you can work toward stretching in that area of your life today?

“Success is due to our stretching to the challenges of life. Failure comes when we shrink from them.” – John C. Maxwell

Changes – A Brief Reflection

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer

It has been a month of change. Majorly cleaning out my personal possessions (I think I have gotten rid of close to 60% of what I own). Selling my house.  Moving into a temporary situation since my new place is still under construction.  Living out of boxes – some things with me and others in a storage unit.  Developing a new routine.  Adjusting to a new commute.  Truly the only constant in my life at the moment seems to be change.

In a perfect world the construction would be done, I’d move into my new space and be able to set everything up right away and only needing to develop a new routine one time. But that’s not how real life works, is it? No, there are always bumps in the road, unforeseen twists and turns, and some challenges that make things all the more interesting.  It could be frustrating.  It could be stressful.  It could be enough to make me rethink my decision.  Except it’s not…because I have made the choice not to allow it to be any of those things.  Oh, I have had my moments when I have gotten close to feeling stressed or frustrated, but I have worked hard to catch myself before things spiraled to that point of no return.

When I work with people inevitably we spend a lot of time on the choices they make surrounding how they respond to things that happen in their lives. Simply put, it is a practice and it requires you to be present in each moment so you can notice how you are choosing to react/respond. The same event can take place in your life yet you can choose to respond to it in any of a number of ways.  The choice is yours.  I recommend to the people I work with that they choose a response that elicits the feeling(s) they desire to have in that situation.  If you don’t like feeling stressed or frustrated, then choose a response to the situation that won’t make you feel that way.  Yes, that can be easier said than done…that’s why it is a practice.  If your attempt to choose your response didn’t work out the way you planned this time, then next time you can try again.  You will notice over time, if you truly are trying to be mindful and notice your choices, that you get better with each passing choice you make.  You will never be perfect…we are human, so perfect isn’t in our DNA, but you can get better with each new opportunity.

“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.” – Nathaniel Branden

And so I have taken my fair share of deep breaths through all these changes which allows me a chance to reflect on how I want to feel and respond accordingly as things transpire…especially the things that are not happening as I might have preferred for them to have. Ultimately I try to keep it everything in perspective. I like things neat, orderly, and in their place – which is exactly why the universe is giving me a healthy dose of the opposite.  It’s a chance to learn and grow – to practice making better choices in my responses to what life is throwing at me.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” – Frederick Douglass

Boundaries

By definition they are dividing lines, and while not all boundaries are literal lines they all do certainly denote a division of some sort. There are many kinds of boundaries, but the kind I am talking about today are the healthy, personal ones – the ones we have (or at least should have) in our own lives that help us take care of our own selves.

“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.“ ― Brené Brown

We need to have personal boundaries for many reasons…to maintain our personal space, to uphold our personal beliefs and morals, as well as to take proper care of ourselves. Healthy boundaries allow us to not only take care of ourselves, but to take better care of others around us as well. And we set a good example to others when you have these healthy boundaries for ourselves.  By setting clear boundaries in our own lives we lead others in the arena of self-care by example.

“You best teach others about healthy boundaries by enforcing yours.” ― Bryant McGill

I am sure you have all heard the airplane oxygen mask analogy – secure your own mask before assisting others with theirs. Why? Because if you don’t it is very likely neither of you will end up with an oxygen mask on.  And there is also the old adage of “nothing pours from an empty pitcher”.  If you are drained, if you don’t care for yourself first and foremost, you will having nothing to give to others no matter how much you might wish to give or be of service to them.  The bottom line is that you can’t help others if not honoring your own needs first.  It really is that simple.

“Setting boundaries is a way of caring for myself. It doesn’t make me mean, selfish, or uncaring (just) because I don’t do things your way. I care about me, too.” ― Christine Morgan

But suddenly having boundaries where there were none before can be problematic, let’s be honest. If you allow your friend to always be late and then suddenly want to hold them accountable to their promised arrival time, or if you always cook or clean or do laundry without assistance despite what your day or week at work has been like and then suddenly expect your spouse or children to help, or if you always allow someone to speak down to you and then suddenly stand up for yourself…you can imagine it isn’t going to go over well. So how to we make that change?  How do we set boundaries with the people in our lives if we have gone for so long without them?  The answer is actually quite simple – you tell them your expectations and boundaries.  That’s right, it comes down to good old fashioned communication.  You honestly explain how you have allowed this for so long but are no longer okay with it being that way, and you tell them why it is no longer okay with you.  When explained gently most people will respect your desire for new boundaries and will work hard to try and meet them.  It’s when we just introduce them without warning or explanation that we often experience difficult resistance.  So as with all things in any relationship, just make sure you communicate it clearly.

“We can say what we need to say. We can gently, but assertively, speak our mind. We do not need to be judgmental, tactless, blaming or cruel when we speak our truths.” ― Melody Beattie

Boundaries give you permission to live and do things you enjoy while also not giving away all of your power to others. As Gerard Manley Hopkins once said, “Your personal boundaries protect the inner core of your identity and your right to choices.” Think for a moment about your boundaries with different groups of people – spouse/significant other, children, parents, siblings, neighbors, boss, colleagues, etc.  What do you allow or tolerate that you really aren’t okay with?  What do you wish would change?  Where do you need to do some work on your boundaries?  Where do you need to create boundaries?

Here’s a quick summary of the process that I have personally found helpful for setting boundaries and for sharing them with others:

  1. Think of areas in your life where you currently feel stressed mistreated, etc.. Of those areas, are there any where you would feel better if you set boundaries? For example, if you said no more often or if you stood up for your personal needs or beliefs?
  2. Once you identify the ways in which you can add boundaries, then begin to add those new boundaries into your life. Introducing them one at a time helps both you and those around acclimate to this change.
  3. Explain your new boundaries to the people in your life who will be impacted by them. Use gentle words and be sure to make the explanation about your needs, not about them personally or about something they have done wrong. Making it about your needs helps them understand and in most cases people will respect and support your wishes, while making it about them will put them on the defensive.
  4. Reassess your boundaries often because they will need to change as you and your life change.

Let go of the voices in your head and all the conditioning from childhood that tells you to continually sacrifice everything for others regardless of the impact it has on you. Set boundaries for your life and hold to them. Not only will you feel better as a result of doing so, you will be able to show up in your life and in the lives of others in a more meaningful and impactful way.

“Speak in your own voice about the things that matter to you.” ― Marty Rubin

In A Perfect World

Confession – I am a recovering perfectionist. Recovering as in I work on it daily…everyday. In some ways it is like an addiction – it is a daily struggle to stay on track and not slip back into that old habit.  I struggle with the tendency to be perfect in all that I do each and every day and I struggle to remind myself that I am not perfect – never have been and never will be – and that’s okay.  It’s hard, to say the least, and I am not even sure I know how or when I learned to be this way, but at some point in my childhood perfectionism became a thing for me and I have been fighting with it ever since.

From what I say to what I do and how I do it, I am in a constant battle with myself.

  • * I write in pencil mostly so I can erase things if they aren’t neat enough or organized on the paper in a neat and orderly fashion.
  • * I will redo projects, writings, lists, etc. numerous times if they are not “perfect”.
  • * I obsess over what I am going to say in scheduled meetings…and you can be sure I will critique what I said after the fact with a fine tooth-comb.
  • * I will even go so far as to write out things I am going to say in meetings if I think it is important enough to make sure I say the right words.
  • * When I write my blog, I write and rewrite over and over in a search for the perfect words.
  • * I have put off doing many things (i.e. projects, life goals, etc.) in my life because not everything was “perfect”.

That’s just a sample of the ways in which my perfectionism manifests itself daily…just enough of a sample to give you an idea of what I am talking about.

And if I’m not perfect, which of course is all the time, then that ego voice in my head has a field day telling me what a horrible person I am because I can’t get anything right. It is a crazy, vicous cycle that for years plagued me with little relief. But in the past 3-4 years I have slowly come to accept and understand that, like everyone else in the world, I am not perfect, that I will not do things perfectly, and that despite my imperfections the world will continue to spin on its axis and life will go on.  I will be fine, as will others around me, despite my imperfections.  It’s a matter of reprogramming my brain to relax in the face of imperfection and ultimately to stop expecting it altogether.

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali

Here’s what I have found to work for me when I feel that perfectionst tendency kicking in:

  1. Stop and breathe.
  2. Step back and ask myself how big is this thing really…what’s the worst that can happen if I don’t do/say this perfectly.
  3. In extreme cases, I may ask for a second opinion from a trusted friend or colleague on how big of a deal a lack of perfectionism might be in this case.
  4. Most importantly, I give myself permission to be human…which means I give myself permission to not be perfect.

Being perfect is not the same as wanting to do excellent work. Wanting to do excellent work is a wonderful and important goal, but we have to find a way to release ourselves from the stranglehold of perfectionism in the midst of trying to do excellent work. Trying your hardest and doing your best should be the goal, not being flawless or otherwise risk being subjected to internal ridicule.  We thrive and improve from hard work, determination, positive support and motivation, not from listening to that demeaning voice in our head beating us up for not doing something perfectly.

I know I am not alone in this battle with perfectionism. I have met enough others just like me to know perfectionism is a bit of an epidemic in our society. So the good news is there are plenty of us out there to be able to support one another in a quest to let go of the hold perfectionism has on our lives.  Each one of us is perfect in our own way, so there is no need to compare ourselves with some external, unrealistic measure of perfection.  Simply work hard, do your best, live a positive and powerful life and allow yourself to be perfectly imperfect.  Strive to make tomorrow better than today, don’t strive to make it perfect.

“Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection. – Kim Collins

Eating The Elephant

“When eating an elephant take one bite at a time.” – Creighton Abrams

Do you have a tendency to try and eat the elephant in as few bites as possible? You know, try to accomplish something quickly and in big pieces as opposed to working at it slowly, one little bit at a time, over a longer period of time? I know I do.  And I think our society sort of pushes us in that direction – there’s always so much to do and not enough time to do it in that we are always looking for ways to get more done faster.  This is something I personally have wrestled with a lot in my adult life, particularly in the past 2 years as I have started up my coaching business.

When I do something I am almost always “all in”. Not a bad thing on the surface, but what it translates into is an almost obsession-like focus on that thing. It’s like I have to do it all, every aspect of it, NOW.  I sit down to work on something, focused on getting it all done right away, and the next thing I know it is hours later – all those other things that needed done in my “regular” life are left untouched (i.e. laundry, eating dinner, exercise, etc.).  Productive on one hand (although one could probably argue that to some degree, as I will attempt to do to some degree below), but also neglectful on the other hand.  A few personal examples to help illustrate my point…

  1. I recently completed an online course. It was self-paced with videos, exercises, and occasional live Q&A sessions. A new module was released each week, but it is available to me forever, so there’s no rush to have to get to the new module each week.  Not to mention that it’s the kind of material you really should work through slowly so the knowledge has a chance to sink in and become a part of you.  But I found myself, each week when the new module would come out, sitting down and trying to complete the whole module in an evening.  On several occasions I caught myself playing one of the the video lessons while simultaneously checking emails or working on something else.  I’d get to the end of the video and be surprised it was over…not remembering much of what was said.  Needless to say, I watched quite a few videos more than once.  Finally I made myself stop trying to get the new modules done in one night, and eventually I gave myself permission to not even try to fit it in within one week if my schedule didn’t allow for that in way that also allowed me to retain what I was to be learning.
  2. As I began to develop the idea for my coaching business, I came across a lot of helpful resources – podcasts, websites, books, online courses and webinars, etc. At times it was overwhelming because again when I come across something I am interested in I can get caught up in digesting it all at once.  Numerous times I caught myself being sucked into podcasts, webinars, websites, or books to such a great degree that I was not getting other things done.  And when I tried to alter my schedule so I got to other things that needed done as well, I found myself still trying to keep up the previous pace of absorbing my new-found resources.  The brain can only attend to so much at one time and, like with my experience with the online course I took, I would finish listening to a podcast or webinar or finish reading an article or book and not remember what I read or not get out of it what I should have because I was rushing through it and/or multi-tasking. But I was getting through the new resources in lightning-fast time.
  3. In my former career-life, I was a teacher. And for one of the graduate courses I took on how to create a positive classroom culture/climate we were given an assignment to integrate a tool from our textbook into our current classroom and then write a paper on how it worked. Our textbook was filled with dozens of ideas for how to create a positive classroom climate and culture.  All I had to do was pick one to incorporate.  Instead, I totally redesigned my classroom incorporating a majority of the ideas from the book.  A perfectly fine idea if I had done it over the course of a semester or a whole school year, but I did it in a few short weeks (after all the paper had to be turned in on a specific date).  It radically transformed my classroom and my teaching in a wonderful way, but the stress I put myself under to complete it in the time allotted my the professor was crazy.  But to me, it was all or nothing – eat the whole elephant now or not at all.  In hindsight, I did that type of thing a lot as a teacher.  I pushed myself to do so much in a short period of time in an effort to give my students the best I could give them.  There was no moderation, no gradual phasing in – it was all now or not at all.

Again, on the surface being super focused on these things and dedicating time to getting them done as soon as possible is not a bad thing overall. But the reality of doing that can be bad often times. What could be so bad about it?  Well, for one, my hyper-focus on this one thing means other things are going by the wayside.  It’s a fact, there is just so many hours in the day.  Plus, I can sometimes be so focused on getting one thing done that as I am inundating myself with all the reading, assignments, work, etc. associated with that one thing and I get tired or lose focus, I force myself to keep going often at the expense of really learning, growing, or grasping the information.  I catch myself sometimes simply going through the motions to say I did them without really reaping the benefits of having done them.  In those cases I often have to go back to it again at some point.

“The shortest way to do many things is to do only one thing at a time.” – Mozart

Why do I do this if I know from experience that I end up either redoing some things multiple times or not accomplishing what I set out to in the first place? My best guess is that it’s partly patience, partly excitement, and partly my personality. The good news is I have noticed this tendency and can work to be cognizant of it.  That is the first and often hardest step when it comes to creating change in your own life.  I have gotten better at noticing when I am doing this in the moment of doing it, not just after the fact.  Noticing it as I am doing it means I have the chance to change what I am doing or how I am doing it.

Ultimately I need to learn to take smaller bites of the elephant, savoring each bite, instead of trying to swallow the whole darn thing in as few quick bites as possible. But this too is a practice. And so I endeavor to keep noticing when I am trying to eat the whole thing at one time, redirect myself to slow down, enjoying the opportunity and moment, and then eat the elephant one small bite at a time.  I will end up in the same place ultimately, but I will have learned more, had to redo fewer things, and I will have enjoyed the journey a whole lot more.

There’s something to be said for appreciating the journey, for enjoying each step of the way, for soaking in all that an experience has to offer. Eating the whole elephant at once may technically get you done faster, but at what cost to you, those around you, and the end product or result? Like much of life, it is a practice, something to work at, but it is certainly worth the time and energy to do so.  And it is definitely something I continue to work on in my own life.