Tag Archives: Practice

Setting Yourself Up For Success

Here we are again, another year has gone by and a new one is set to begin. Amazing how fast time seems to go by anymore – feels like I was just enjoying my July girls’ weekend in Cape May only last week. But alas, it is the end of December and I am staring 2017 in the face.

It’s the time of year when most of us, intentionally or not, spend some amount of time reflecting on this past year. What all we did. What all we did not do, but wanted to.  The good stuff and the bad stuff.  The happy stuff and the sad stuff.  It is also the time when we tend to make promises to ourselves about how next year will be different.  We may even go so far as to make some New Year’s Resolutions surrounding the really big things we want to accomplish in the year to come.  This is all common enough – reflection and goal setting are both admirable activities, but how many of us take it to the next level?  How many of us actually follow through on the realizations from our reflection time and/or on the promises we make for the coming year?  I think we all know the answer to those questions – not many of us at all.

For years I was guilty of that too. If I even bothered to reflect on a previous year or dared to suggest a goal for the coming year, it pretty much ended with those thoughts. In many cases those thoughts never even made it into the new year.  I’d get up the first day of the new year and go about life as I always had.  New Year’s Resolutions?  What New Year’s Resolutions?  And for those few times when I did take my New Year’s Resolutions “seriously”, by 2-3 weeks into January they had fallen by the wayside and it was back to the same old same old.

This pattern held true for me until a few years ago when I began to do things differently. Rather than haphazardly reflect and make a mental goal for myself, I actually sat down and intentionally set 4 pretty significant goals for myself in 2014 and then proceeded to break those goals down into small parts and gave myself benchmarks throughout the year to meet. And every Sunday evening I would take 5-10 minutes to review my progress on those goals.  And so by the time December, 2014 rolled around I was delighted to see the growth and progress I had made with those 4 goals.  I had completely achieved 3 of the 4 goals and was well on my way with the fourth one.  That never happened before, ever.  Before employing this technique I couldn’t even bring one simple goal to fruition.  And happily I have continued to build on that success the past 2 years using this same format.

As I prepare to do my intentional reflection and goal setting for 2017, I share these tips with you in the hopes that you can also help yourself to make 2017 your most successful, productive year yet, personally or professionally…

Step 1 – Take the time (even if it is just 5-10 minutes) to reflect on the previous year

Give this task your undivided attention – you may be amazed at what you can learn. Here are some questions to consider asking yourself as a part of that reflection:

  • What went well this past year?
  • What didn’t go as planned?
  • What made you happy?
  • What made you sad?
  • What would you do differently if given the chance?
  • What were the obstacles that got in your way?
  • How were you your own obstacle?

Step 2 – Choose 3-5 goals for yourself (personally and/or professionally)

These are the things that you absolutely love the idea of…the things that make you light up…the things that will make you feel the way you want to feel and help you to live the life you have always wanted to live. They can be as big or small as you want, but don’t sell yourself short – dream big! Don’t be afraid to ask for what you really want from the new year.

Step 3 – Establish benchmarks for each goal throughout the year

Work backwards from the end point and break your goals down into their smaller parts. (Whatever ½ way for a goal is should be done by the end of June.) Make them realistic but yet also push yourself a little as well.  These can be realigned at any time (especially in light of major life circumstances that cannot be predicted), so don’t be afraid to push yourself on these.

Step 4 – Set time aside to check in on your progress toward each goal

Ideally you should do this once a week. You may not be able to do something related to each goal every week, but checking in helps you to keep track of your progress and to notice areas you are falling behind in. This time should be non-negotiable – the moment you start skipping this step you will have started down a path that will very likely lead to unmet goals in December.

Step 5 – Set yourself up for success

Make sure you have the resources gathered to help you achieve your goals. Those resources might be other people, time, money, or physical resources like books or other materials. Know your own strengths and weaknesses and go from there.  Whatever you will need to ensure forward progress on your goals, make sure you have it at the ready.

Step 6 – Remove the obstacles, including yourself, from the equation

If you want to be successful at achieving your goals you have to be honest about the obstacles that stand in your way (and that includes yourself and your old habits). The best way to identify them is through the very first step above (end of the year reflection) as well as through the daily checks mentioned in #4 above. Call your obstacles what they are and give yourself permission to let them go, change them, remove them, whatever you need to do so they are no longer an obstacle for you.

Step 7 – Be honest with yourself throughout the whole process

Anything less will not net you’re the results you are looking for.

There are many resources out there that share best practices and tips for planning a successful new year. The things I share here are what have worked unequivocally for me. Using these tools I have accomplished more big goals in the past 3 years than I have in all of the rest of my adult life prior to using this technique.  It is amazing.  It is powerful.  And if any of these tips speak to you, please give them a try and set yourself up for an amazing 2017!

Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible. – Tony Robbins

Oh The Holidays…

As the song The Twelve Pains of Christmas points out in its own humorous way, not everything about the holidays is merry and bright.  There are those things that we find to be stressful and frustrating.  And let’s face it, the holidays bring up many emotions – not all of the emotions are ones we enjoy experiencing, especially during a celebratory time like the holidays.

So how do we get through the holidays if our experience with them is filled with anxiety, anger, or angst?  How can you learn to be on the offensive and not the defensive?  How can you see the holidays as not just a challenging time, but also as an opportunity for growth, change, and healing?  How can you learn to be present in the moments such that you are grateful and enjoy yourself?

In general, being honest with yourself so you can clearly identify your triggers along with a willingness to see things differently are keys to a successful emotional shift.  Having a few tips and tricks up your sleeve when you head into those otherwise stressful holiday situations can also make all the difference.

  • If family togetherness is more than you care to handle, try these ideas:
  1. Prepare yourself before you go – in many cases the things that upset us the most with our family are things that happen every time we are together, so expect it and don’t hold on to it. Let it go as soon as it comes.
  2. See those family members who push your buttons through the eyes of love – remember they are doing the best they can given where they are on their own journey, and while that doesn’t always take away the sting of some of their comments it can help you release those things rather than hold on to them unnecessarily.
  3. Don’t take things personally, rather be filled with compassion – they may be struggling with their own feelings about the holidays or other things in their lives and as such may not be able to relate to others in a kind or loving way. Develop and use a mantra, such as “I am love, you are love”, to help you release those things when they happen.
  • Crowds not your thing? Try these tricks:
  1. Do some deep breathing or meditation before you head into a crowded place – get yourself to as calm and centered a state as possible before you enter the stressful situation.
  2. Have a strategy to do what you need to do in that crowded place and then leave – a little pre-planning is invaluable at times like this. Get in, do what you came there for, and get out – there’s no need to stay any longer than necessary as it will only add to the stress of the situation.
  3. Consider alternatives – do you have to go to that crowded place, or can you go somewhere else? Do you have to go at a specific time or can you go at a less crowded time? Consider all your options – don’t just do something because it is what you have always done or is what everyone else does.
  • If you get frustrated with that crazy, busy schedule created by all the holiday happenings you have to attend, then try these tips:
  1. Learn to say no when you can – it is tempting to say yes to all the holiday get togethers but your sanity is important too so consider not going to everything you get an invitation for. Maybe alternate your attendance each year between the events you really enjoy and let the hosts of those events know you appreciate the invitation and plan to come next year if invited.
  2. Set boundaries for yourself and stick to them – honor yourself and your loved ones with boundaries that give you the time you need for yourself as well as for holiday festivities
  3. Get creative – if you are one of those lucky people with multiple family members to visit on any given holiday, think of creative ways to bring everyone together in one place (like maybe your house) instead of running to 3 and 4 places. In many cases your other family members will appreciate the opportunity to not have to be the host all the time – it can be a win-win for everyone.
  • Feeling miserable because of too much food (sugary and otherwise) at the holidays? Try these suggestions:
  1. Re-set your portion size for the holiday – knowing there will be many tempting foods to partake in, consider rethinking portion sizes so even if you eat more things than you planned, by eating smaller portions you have a better chance of not actually increasing the overall volume of food you intake.
  2. Sample rather than eat – use the holidays as a time to try things, which means samples not full blown meals or portions. It’s okay to try things, but we want to try not to overdo it.
  3. Love yourself no matter what happens – practice forgiveness. It is okay if you had more than you wanted to have – it is a special time of the year. Recognize what happened, accept and love yourself, and let tomorrow be a new day.
  • If you struggle with the “keeping up with the Jones” syndrome and get stressed trying to outdo your family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues in the area of decorations, cookie making, gift giving, gift wrapping (you get the idea), then take a deep breath and consider these options:
  1. Let go of the need to compare – do what brings you joy, not what makes you the talk of the family, neighborhood, or office
  2. If you can’t let go of the competition, then give yourself permission to ask for help from friends or family to accomplish all these things you want to do-
  3. Consider how you can turn that competitive spirit into a positive force – think creatively about how to join forces with your “competitors” to do some amazing things for others this holiday season. Turn it into a little friendly competition that benefits others in the process.

Don’t dread the holidays – take them back on your own terms. Try some of these ideas and be open to enjoying your holidays a little more than maybe you have in the past. Make a few small changes in how you approach the holidays and who knows, you might actually have a happy holiday this year!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season!!

To Meditate Or Not To Meditate, That Is The Question

“The quieter you become the more you can hear.” – Ram Dass

In our normal, everyday consciousness, our mind is filled with a constant flow of thoughts. It can become quite noisy and even sometimes overwhelming. I often refer to this as the hamster wheel inside my head…that is a hamster wheel with an ADHD hamster hyped up on too many espresso drinks! These continual thoughts can be about the past or the future. We might be replaying events and conversations in your mind (dwelling on the past).  We might be thinking about what’s going to happen at our next meeting, activity, or event.  We might create fantasies about what life will be like when our dreams are fulfilled (aka future tripping).  Or we may conjure up scary scenarios about our worst fears coming true (good old-fashioned worrying).  It is very seldom that are we sitting still in the present moment.

In meditation, the goal is for your awareness to move from the noisy activity of your mind into the quiet “gap” between your thoughts. This takes practice – you don’t just sit down and clear your mind of your thoughts the first time you try it. I liken it to learning to play an instrument.  You can’t pick up an instrument for the first time and expect to play a complex piece of music like a master.  You have to start with the basics and practice (and practice and practice), slowly improving your skills and learning increasingly challenging pieces of music.  Similarly, meditation is not something most people are able to master when they sit down for the very first time.  It takes practice to reach that gap between your thoughts and stay in it for any length of time.  Some days will be better than others…some types of meditation will work better for you than others will.  But sadly many people expect that they will quiet their mind in their first or second attempt and when they don’t they declare that they can’t meditate or that meditation doesn’t work, and thus they quit.  I have seen that happen so often.  People give up due to incorrect assumptions or understandings or as a result of unrealistic expectations.

But consider this story from India in which the mind is compared to the trunk of an elephant, which is naturally restless and undisciplined (just like our minds). When an elephant walks with his trainer through a village during a special celebration or event, his restless trunk swings from side to side, knocking over things, impulsively grabbing things, and wreaking havoc wherever he goes. A wise, experienced elephant trainer will give the elephant a short bamboo stick to hold in his trunk prior to walking through the village so that the elephant’s trunk has something to hold on to and is focused and calm. He is no longer distracted by the sights and sounds in the village market because his trunk has something to hold onto…he has something to focus his attention on.

Likewise, when we meditate, we need to give our minds the equivalent of a bamboo stick – something that will anchor our attention so that our mind doesn’t trample through our consciousness, being carried away by inner and/or outer distractions. There are a variety of options to choose from (different types of meditation offer different “bamboo sticks”), including focusing on the breath, tuning into the sensations in your body, and using a mantra. The best thing you can do for yourself is to try a variety of meditation techniques until you find what works best for your monkey mind.

When you meditate, you experience the silence of the mind when it is not stuck in the past or the future. By its very nature, meditation calms the mind, and when the mind is calm, the body can relax as well. This relaxation is extremely healing for the whole mind-body system. People may come to meditation for many reasons, but it usually includes the ability to reap some of the many benefits of meditation, which include:

  • Lowered blood pressure and heart rate
  • Decreased inflammation
  • Reversal of aging at the cellular level
  • Reduced feelings of stress
  • Increased feelings of relaxation and peace
  • Expanded experience of healing emotions (i.e. love, compassion, joy, equanimity, and gratitude)
  • The ability to respond consciously rather than reacting in a conditioned way
  • Increased focus, memory, and ability to learn
  • Better sleep
  • Decreased addictive behavior

The benefits of meditation can be both immediate and long-term, but either way they are numerous and powerful. Meditation is truly one of the best things you can do for yourself both personally and professionally.

Adding meditation to my daily routine has been the single most important thing I have ever done and I cannot recommend it to others enough. Invest in yourself – take some time to explore the various types of meditation in order to find what works best for you and then make meditation a part of your daily routine. Whether you meditate for 3 minutes or 30 minutes, the benefits you will reap from implementing a consistent meditation practice are totally worth it.

Lessons

So I took a few weeks off from writing my blog. I just decided I had too much going on and something had to give. I also didn’t want to quickly write a blog post simply so I could say I published something every week like I have up to this point.  Instead I spent a few weekends, when I would otherwise do my blog writing, enjoying uninterrupted time with friends and family.  I set a boundary for myself and stuck to it.  It was some much needed recharging time for me.  But it was interesting how guilty I felt doing it.  That little ego voice in my head was quick to tell me I was a slacker and that if I were any good at organizing my time I could have gotten it done.  But you know what?  I stuck to my decision despite that voice and I learned some valuable lessons along the way too – lessons that have been recurring for me quite a bit over these past few months…

Lesson #1 – Let go of the need for perfection. This is a really tough one for me. I swear perfectionism in actually hard wired into my DNA.  But I am gradually learning that it really is okay to deviate from any plan you originally set for yourself.  In fact, if you allow for a little variation it can even result in creativity and growth opportunities.  A few lessons on the periphery of this one are forgiveness and acceptance.

Lesson #2 – Take things in stride and don’t let them bother you so much. Easier said than done, no? But that’s the goal.  That’s what we should work towards, right?.  Relax, breathe, and take one step at a time.  Things are seldom as bad as they initially appear.  Often we just need to take a little time to put them into the proper perspective.  The related lessons here are open-mindedness and flexibility.

Lesson #3 – Accept the interruptions of life…enjoy them and learn from them. Life is a never-ending journey filled with sharp curves, road blocks, and lots of construction. Whether you like it or not, it is going to be that way, so why not just sit back and enjoy the ride.  Subsequent, related lessons here include patience and being present.

I have heard it said that the universe continues to send things our way until we have learned the lesson intended for us.  I certainly can say from my own experience that is true, at times painfully so.  My desire for perfection and to maintain whatever standard I set for myself is often so rigid that I create quite a bit of suffering for myself – all of which is easily remedied when I step back, breathe, accept the present moment as an opportunity to learn & grow, and then simply let it all go.

What’s your area of growth opportunity?  What lesson is the universe still helping you to learn?  These are powerful reflection points, so don’t overlook the importance of spending some time pondering them.  Embrace the lessons coming to you.

“We repeat what we don’t repair.” – Christine Langley-Obaugh

 

Just Stop

So much to do, so little time to do it. We just never really stop. We don’t stop to see all the beauty that surrounds us in nature, in our lives, in the people we are interacting with on a daily basis.  We don’t have time.  Yet we crave it.  We crave the peace that exists inside the pause.  We crave the opportunity to appreciate and feel gratitude.  Yet so few of us experience it.  This is somethings that has fascinated me over the past few years, both for myself and in terms of watching others.

I recently started doing more work with people on meditation – teaching them how to meditate, what the benefits of meditation are, how to incorporate meditation into their lives, etc. And in my conversations with these folks I am continually amazed at the level of stress, frustration, apathy, and exhaustion that they are experiencing in their lives. When we break those feelings down for them it is abundantly clear that the constant “on the go” reality they live in is slowly sucking the life out of them.  And all they want is to find a way to make it stop.  I believe this is true for many more people as well.  In fact, I think it is somewhat of an epidemic in our society today.

We live in a society that says we can have anything we want super-fast. Yet relief from these kinds of feelings doesn’t come quickly – it requires a change in attitude and/or behavior…neither of which tend to change overnight. There is no quick fix.  It requires a change in how we view things, how we interact with things, and in how we live our lives as  a whole.  That means reprogramming how you have probably always done things.  That is not easy and it certainly is not quick.  And so we get easily discouraged and fall right back into those feelings of despair and frustration.  It is a vicious cycle.

But for those who persevere, who recognize you won’t break life-long habits in a day or even a week, the results can be life-altering. Like meditation though, it is a habit to work a little each day on adopting a new mindset and set of behaviors. You’ll have good days and bad days.  But if you just stop living as you have always lived and entertain the possibility of more and better in your life, you can begin a new journey which can result in a much happier and healthier way of living.

I teach meditation as one such tool for making that shift, though there are many other tools out there as well. I encourage you to find what works for you, embrace it, and settle in for the exciting journey ahead. You have nothing to lose – the alternative is more of what you already have and if that’s not what you crave, then why not give it a shot.  Simply put, this or something better please!

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.

Life’s Cyclical Flow

I read a short piece today from one of the required books for my Yoga teacher training course that beautifully captures a concept I have been trying to articulate for years and so I scrapped my original blog idea for this week so I could share this instead. It’s something I have tried numerous times to write about, but no matter how hard I tried I never really felt like I had captured the essence of the idea.

The concept I am referring to is that of how we have a tendency in our society to move from one thing right into the next without ever really being present, without ever really experiencing each individual moment or the time in between each thing that we are doing. But Rolf Gates describes it so well in his book, Meditations from the Mat. He begins by talking about the style of yoga he teaches (flow yoga).  In flow yoga you go from one yoga posture right into the next – one flows into the other seamlessly so the multiple postures are like one long posture and the breath and meditation remain unbroken throughout the practice.  But he points out that not all yoga styles are like that.  (In fact the style of yoga I have practiced all of my life is not like that.)  Neither way is right or wrong, but Rolf points out that there is an important lesson we can learn:

“…it is our tendency to pay attention to the postures themselves, but not to the spaces in between.  So it is in life.  We leave one relationship or job and set our sights on the next.  We cross one item off our to-do list and dive into the next chore.  The illusion is that the posture ends.  The reality is that the posture never ends, it just shifts from one form to the next, one lesson to the next, one opportunity to the next.  We remain life’s student whether we are inhaling or exhaling, in a relationship or out of one…” – Rolf Gates, Day 35, from Meditations from the Mat.

And while his analogy may speak more clearly to those of us who have done yoga at some point in our lives, the truth behind the message is relevant for all of us. We move from one thing in our lives to the next without taking the time to enjoy or appreciate the space in between those things. Often we plan to enjoy that space when we reach a certain point in our lives (after we are married, after we have kids, after we get that new job, after the kids are out of the house, after retirement, etc.), when instead we can and should be taking the time now to be in that space.  This rat race we call our daily lives takes such a toll on us – if only we would just slow down long enough to be in that space between the events in our lives, we would be so much the better for it.

My goal personally for the past several years has been to cultivate a practice that allows for a cyclical flow in which I pause to reflect and appreciate between the things I am doing in my life rather than rushing from one thing to the next. It is a practice, as is all things, but with practice I have gotten so much better at it wherein now I am pretty good at taking time to be in the space between the things happening in my life instead of rushing off to the next one. The result has been that I feel better, calmer, and I enjoy my days so much more.

Life truly is cyclical – the flow from one thing to the next, one day to the next, one goal to the next continues in what can become a vicious circle. But we have the ability to pause, breath, and experience the space in between, to slow things down and enjoy. If nothing else, take some time to celebrate and reflect on what you accomplished before going on to the next thing.  As Rolf Gates pointed out, we are all students of this life.  The question is what kind of student will we be?  How will you flow from one thing to the next in your own life?  As someone in the midst of this practice now, and as a former teacher, I would highly recommend taking the time to enjoy being a student of life.