Tag Archives: Self-care

Inspiration From A Child

As children we look to adults to teach us what we need to know in the world.  And why wouldn’t we – adults have life experience so they can show us how to succeed without having to repeat painful lessons.  At least that’s the theory behind it.  We all know it doesn’t always play out quite so neatly.  But regardless, the point is, it is a one-way street.  A one-directional exchange.  Children learn from adults.  Yet, as an adult, if you spend any amount of time with children you will find them to be an incredible source of inspiration unto themselves.

Case and point:  I often spend time with my best friend’s ten-year old daughter – sometimes it is as little as 10-15 minutes while other times it can be a few hours.  And each and every time I am in awe of what I take away even from just watching and listening…here’s just a few areas I have found inspiration through her:

  1. Seemingly endless curiosity: As adults we grow tired of the continual rounds of “why?” and “how come?” that children tend to throw at us because we don’t have time for those questions – there is always so many more important things to do. Yet for a child, understanding the world around them is all there is, hence the endless “why?” and “how come?” questions.  They seek to know and understand – and in a lack of information or answers, their creativity (another example I mention below) takes over in an attempt to use what they do know about their world to explain this new thing they don’t yet understand.  How inspiring it is to see such an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and understanding, for curiosity about the world around them.  Think how we could benefit from having some of that curiosity in our own lives each day as adults.
  2. No worries about what others think: With technology and social media being such a staple part of their norm, young children have no problem making videos of themselves and posting on Musically, You Tube, etc. They don’t worry about what others will think about their hair or their clothes.  They aren’t concerned about whether they stumbled over their words or not.  They just have fun making whatever video they have decided to make.  Meanwhile the thought of using FB live or Periscope is paralyzing to me as I find myself worrying about how it would sound, what I will look like, saying “um” too many times, what people would think of the content, if I even have anything worthwhile to share in the first place…I could go on, but you get the idea.  So many of us could benefit from learning how to relax and just have fun with stuff like this from our young friends.  Think of all the things we don’t do as adults out of fear of what others will think – clearly this an area to find inspiration from young children.
  3. Boundless creativity: Have you ever had a child tell you a story they have made up? Did you marvel at where they came up with half of the stuff in the story?  It seems as if their creativity has no limits.  They are not bound by what is real, what they can touch or see, or feel.  Literally, if they can think of it then it can exist in their young minds.  Just sit back and watch young children in free play sometime and you will be amazed at the incredible amount of creativity you see.  It is one of the most inspiring things I have ever witnessed.  For anyone who has ever struggled to be or feel creative, just sit in the presence of children for even a short period of time and I promise you, you will feel inspired and creative.

The exchange between adults and children shouldn’t be so one directional. We can learn so much from children. Children just do what they do.  There are none of the external worries or cares that we have picked up as adults.  (How we as a society strip our young children of these beautiful attributes so that they grow up to be overly serious, stressed out adults who worry entirely too much about things is a subject for another day perhaps.)  Children serve as such wonderful examples of what it can look like to be present in the moment.  We really should pay a bit more attention to the inspiration we can garner from the young ones in our lives.

“While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is about.”- http://www.wisdomquotesandstories.com

The Power of No

Danielle LaPorte says it so perfectly – No makes way for yes.

We live in a society of that feeds off an intense need for instant gratification and a fear of missing out. A society in which saying no is virtually out of the question. Saying no means you might miss out on something really big or it could very well result in a loss of or lack of something in your life.  You simply can’t say no and expect to live a full life…or so a rather vocal segment of our modern society would have us believe.  And let’s not forget that we, as a society, judge our level of success by how “busy” we are.  The more things you say yes to the busier you are, the more successful you are, right?  So again, saying no just can’t possibly be an option.

But here’s the harsh reality – unless you say the word no, at least on occasion, you can and will lose the ability to say yes at some point, very possibly at the moment when you really want/need to say yes. Why? Because you are human and can’t do it all.  Because there are only so many hours in a day.  Because no matter how close you get to being perfect, you still can’t be solely responsible for accomplishing everything that needs to be done at home, at work, and everywhere else in between.  It just isn’t possible.  You just cannot say yes all the time.

And let’s be clear – those are merely the facts as they exist, they do not represent a failure on your part. There’s no judgment. There is only the stone-cold reality that when we say yes too often we eventually reach a point when yes can’t possibly be the answer anymore.  If you are always saying yes you will inevitably reach the point where you cannot physically fit anything more into your schedule…into your life…and so it is then that no has to be the answer.  Something has to go before anything else can be added.  Quite a conundrum when faced with the opportunity to do something you have always wanted to do, but you can’t because of all the other things you previously said yes to (things that you may not even really care about).

And who does it hurt? Let’s be honest here – primarily you. And while overcommitting on your part can create problems for others as well, by and large you are the one who suffers from your inability to say no.  So what is the answer?  How do we find a balance between saying yes and saying no?

The key is to set and honor boundaries for yourself. If you follow any of Brené Brown’s work then you are likely familiar with this statement from her on the importance of boundaries, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” Your time, your health, your sanity, your talents, etc. are important so you need to be mindful of your “Yes’s and No’s” such that you are honoring your wants, needs, desires, and limitations.  Again, it is not about any kind of  failure on your part, rather it is about being honest with yourself and not overcommitting.  Saying no on occasion to things that don’t feel right, don’t resonate, don’t align with your personal mission is not only okay, it is essential to being able to say yes to all things that are meaningful to you.  Commit to the things that light you up, to the things you are passionate about.  Don’t say yes out of guilt or some misguided sense of obligation to someone else.  Say yes because it means something to you.  If you do that, not only will you find that you are no longer overcommitted, but you will also find yourself in a place of great joy and happiness.

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.

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.

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

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

Celebrate The Good And The Bad

Four years ago today my life changed in a way I could never have imagined or foreseen. And it was certainly not in a way I would have ever wished for, but the end result so far has been, surprisingly, quite amazing. I would never have guessed it could go from what felt like the end of the world as I knew it to the most amazing time of my life.  It has truly been a radical transformation.

In the blink of an eye, it seems, I went from being married to someone I considered my best friend and partner for life to being single and uncertain of what the future had in store. It was a painful and confusing time to say the least. But after a few years of deep reflection, soul searching if you will, and dedicated time spent working on myself and figuring out what truly makes me happy, I reconnected with parts of myself I had lost touch with over the years…parts of myself I really liked and which held great meaning for me.  So I began doing things that allowed me to stay in those places and be that person again.  So freeing, so energizing, and so empowering.  And now I am doing things I am not even sure I could/would have even imagined for myself before.  I am playing bigger than I ever have, embracing the opportunities life sends my way, working hard to make a positive difference in the lives of others and the world as a whole.  I have never been happier or more focused, nor have I ever experienced as much success as I am right now.  It has definitely been a transformational couple of years for me.

Isn’t it funny (not in a humorous way but rather in an interesting and curious way) how life can throw things your way that feel and seem just absolutely awful and insurmountable? Like you will never recover? Like things will never be the same again?  Like you will never be happy, or successful, or (fill in the blank) ever again?  And yet, in all the cases I have ever seen in my life, things that have happened both to me personally and to people I know or have encountered in my life, better things always seem to come.  It’s as if the universe is saying to us that difficult change, while it can be temporarily devastating, can actually be good for us.  One might even argue it is a necessary part of life.

I’ll use a butterfly as an analogy. Caterpillars change into a beautiful butterfly through an amazing metamorphosis process we all learn about in elementary school. They wrap themselves in a cocoon and begin a massive transformation.  When that transformation is complete they are radically different from their initial form…they have become beautiful, colorful creatures.  Clearly, their transformation is not easy, but the end result is absolutely amazing to behold…a new life having been born.

What I have seen and experienced is that, despite how awful it can feel on the onset and even as you trudge through it, major changes in our lives are what seem to help get us on the path we are suppose to be on in the first place. Could it be the universe dealing us the hand we need to have in order to fulfill our greater purpose? That’s certainly one explanation for it.  Of course, when dealt that hand we have to play it or nothing can ever possibly come of it…but if we choose to play that hand, again despite how hard it can be at times, amazing things can, and in my experience do, happen.

We all experience challenges in our lives, but if we embrace those times as opportunities to bring something even better into our lives we open ourselves up to amazing transformation. Our view or perspective of those challenges makes all the difference. If we get caught up in the negative side of the things that happen to us, that cause major change in our lives, we will miss out on the opportunity that has been provided to us to make something great out of a negative or unpleasant situation. So celebrate both the good and the bad, the blessings and the challenges, in your life – they all serve a purpose, designed to help us live the best life we can.  You just might be amazed at the outcome!

“I dwell in possibility.” – Emily Dickinson