Being on lockdown is a familiar feeling for many people around the world right now. The compound we live is currently on complete lockdown, but people here are encouraged to get out for some exercise each day, provided they are socially distancing themselves from others. Physical activity and movement are hugely important at this time and can play a significant factor in our mental health over the coming weeks.
I usually like to listen to music when I run, but today I chose to run in silence and enjoy my surroundings. As I finished my run, I came across this sign:
Kind of humorous as the sign is obviously spelt wrong but the point of the sign is clear- Construction Ahead.
This sign is a perfect metaphor for what lies ahead, not only in our own communities, but also the world. As we pull out of the COVID-19 crisis, there will be lots of mending, rebuilding, and recovering. There is no blueprint for how to get this done as we are operating in unprecedented times.
With all the construction that lies ahead, there are sure to be mistakes made, just as the word ‘Ahead’ was spelt wrong on the sign post. As we navigate unknown waters and try our best to recover, there will never be more of a need for patience, tolerance, compassion, and forgiveness.
By understanding that everyone is currently doing their very best to get through this, we can hopefully be more forgiving of mistakes that are sure to be made and better understand the need for putting more loving kindness and compassion into action as well.
Life is imperfect as are each of us. Despite all of the uncertainty, we still live in a beautiful world. Let’s look at this as a chance to grow and learning together in ways we never thought were possible.
Shine on folks.
Fear keeps us safe and is present in our life for a reason. With everything that is going on with COVID-19, there is no question that we need to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe in this moment. However, during this time, it can be very easy to slip into a stream of fear that might seem overwhelming to us.
Despite the fear we may be experiencing, we still need to be there, in a positive way, for ourselves and for the people who matter to us in.
How can we show up for ourselves and for others if we are too caught in constant fear cycles?
Jewel, the amazing songwriter, speaker, and writer has done an extensive amount of work in her own life dealing with the fear and anxiety she experienced while growing up. In her own words, she doubled down on learning about fear and the role it played in her own life.
She referred to fear as being a thief and the more she learned about it, the more curious she became about why it existed in her life. Being able to sit with fear, dissect it, and be curious about it, allowed her to develop the tools to get out of her own mind and be more present in her life. And when she could do this, she was able to become more of an observer of her thoughts, feelings, and habitual ways of being.
This was the moment in Jewel’s life when she was no longer a puppet of past fear, but could put the tools she had developed into action on a daily basis. Doing so helped her thrive and flourish in her own ways. Her music has made a difference to countless people around the world and she is a genuine role model for self-empowerment and taking action to do the hard work necessary to overcome adversity and hardship.
What can we learn from Jewel?
We can learn that dealing with fear is a very unique, individualized process that can be explored in a variety of ways. Although she created her own skillset for exploring fear through writing, meditation, mindfulness, and making music, we are all capable of exploring our own fear and assessing to what extent it impacts our ability to be there for ourselves and for others in challenging times.
The main way that Jewel was able to do this was by developing much greater meta-awareness. She didn’t have the answers nor did she force the answers to the questions that she had about her own fear and anxiety.
She simply learned to sit with these emotions and be curious about them. When her fear and anxiety increased and she was on the verge of one of the many panic attacks that she experienced, she was able to develop her own meditative visualizations that helped to ease the intense feelings that bombarded her.
One of these visualizations was to imagine herself sitting underwater. During this visualization, she would notice all the colors around her and describe being able to taste the sea water and to look up to see the clouds and sky above the water. She would sit in this visualization for however long it took for her to transition back into a more calm state of mind.
How does this apply to us?
By drawing more self-awareness to our fear and anxiety, we can explore our own unique ways of better coping with it. This can look very different to each person, but the key is to try to bring ourselves back into the present moment in a calm and loving way with ourselves.
By being able to return back to the present, we put ourselves in a better position to respond in positive ways to our family members and to ourselves, especially during times of challenge and distress.
As you reflect on the levels of fear and anxiety in your life, what are some ways that you might become more curious about them? What are some strategies that you can explore that may work for you to help ease the impact of these challenging emotions and allow you to drop into the present moment with more clarity and purpose? Let us know your thoughts. Thanks for reading.
“The genius of evolution lies in the dynamic tension between optimism and pessimism continually correcting each other.”
Anger, fear, resentment, frustration, anxiety, stress, and a multitude of other challenging emotions cannot reside in the same space as gratitude and appreciation. When we take a moment to shine a light on the things we are grateful for in our life, it can free us up, if even for a fleeting moment, from challenging emotions that we experience.
Although challenging emotions are a natural part of life, when we allow ourselves to drown in them, they can cause a cascading of neurotransmitters within our brains that have a direct impact on body’s immune system. Over time, the flooding of these neurotransmitters in our system can lead to chronic fatigue, illness, and greatly limit our ability to cope with stress.
The practice of gratitude has been proven to change our physiological state and is a trainable skill that can be developed. There are numerous ways that we can practice gratitude in our lives. Just like meditation, it can be difficult to find flow and rhythm and it is easy to get distracted, but bringing more gratitude into our lives can have a very positive impact on our sense of well-being especially during times of distress.
Even in its simplest form, gratitude can take shape in many different ways. Here is a list of questions for you to think about. As you reflect on these questions, the most important thing is that you genuinely drop yourself into the feelings that come with authentically answering them. You can write your answers down, share your answers with a loved one, or simply answer them in the silence of your own mind.
Gratitude is precious. If you can answer even one of these questions and it cause the slightest shift within yourself, that is the feeling of gratitude in action.
Practice this as much as possible. Thanks for reading.
Words are our most powerful way of communicating. Pay close attention to them.
~Psychology Today Magazine
The words we use represent what matters most to us. Living in alignment is when our thoughts, words and action are in harmony. On a daily basis, most of us strive to live in harmony with ourselves, our loved ones and the world around us.
However, it is easy to get pulled out of alignment when we feel overloaded with commitments and responsibilities or when we experience stress and anxiety. Simple daily reminders can help keep us on track and remind us about what is most important in our lives. It’s always good to have check points that pull us back into alignment.
If we were to take an inventory of the values that matter most to us, what words would spring up on our list? The most common core values that can be found on the internet are:
Achievement, Adventure, Courage, Connection, Creativity, Dependability, Determination, Friendship, Health, Honesty, Independence, Integrity, Intelligence, Kindness, Learning, Love, Peace, Security, Simplicity, Sincerity, Success, Truth, Understanding, Wealth
This is just a little glimpse into the personal values that many people believe are most important, but there are many other core values that are not on this list.
Using this list as a starting point, which values mean the most to you in your life? Are there any values that are not on the list that also matter to you? Although we can all create a list of core values that we live by, there are times when our thoughts, actions, and the words we use do not align with what matters most to us.
Neila Steele and I love to put a simple, but effective strategy into action in our house that is not only fun to do, but helps to constantly remind us about what is most important to us and our family.
The Chalkboard Wall
For years we have always made sure to have at least one chalkboard wall in our house. We presently have two walls devoted to being a chalkboard space. You can find chalkboard paint at any home maintenance store.
After buying the chalkboard paint, choose a wall that you want to devote to being a chalkboard space in your house. It should be a space in the house that is highly visible. We use the wall just inside the front door of our house on the first floor and the wall at the top of the stairs.
We enjoy being fun and creative with our chalkboard wall, but we use it as a place to display words that matter to us. For example, it can be lyrics to a song, an inspirational quote, or an important question that we need to think about.
Our general rule of thumb is that whatever goes up on the wall matters and helps remind us about what is most important. Being surrounded by words that matter helps us strive to be more aligned in our thoughts, actions and words.
If you do not have the space to create a chalkboard wall, you can use anything to record your thoughts and words on and post them up in an area of the house that has high visibility (your front door, the bathroom mirror, kitchen cupboards etc.).
Purposeful design of your environment can really help to prioritize the things that matter and can be an ongoing fun and creative project that keeps you and your family busy.
As you reflect on the values that matter most to you and your family, how can you make these words more visible in your home as a reminder of what is important to you?
Thanks for reading.
Each day we construct our personal narrative based on our unique perspective of the world and our place within it.
Our personal narrative holds power. It guides us each day in our thoughts and actions. Although our personal narrative is built on past experiences, it is easy to project into the future, into the unknown, and to construct our present narrative based on what we think will happen in the future.
In times of distress, it is easy to get so caught up in our own personal narrative that we fail to see that other people around us are fighting their own battles and hardship.
The COVID-19 crisis is now deeply entrenched in our collective psyche. It impacts each of us to varying degrees. When we can remove ourselves from our own personal narrative and focus attention on the collective anxiety and stress that many people are experiencing, it can help us to develop a greater sense of compassion and awareness.
There’s safety in numbers and in connecting with others. Although we may not be able to connect with others face-to-face, we can access digital connection to build the mutual support that we all need to move forward.
As we develop a deeper understanding that we are not the only ones going through hardship, we can ease the personal stress and anxiety we may be experiencing in this moment and time.
When we feel a collective part of this human experience, we can connect more deeply with self and others and better sit with the uncertainty, stress and anxiety that we’ve all been forced to deal with.
Over the next few days, if stress and anxiety creep in, take a moment to be still and try to place your attention not only on our own feelings but to project compassion and empathy to those who are going through the same thing.
Thanks for reading.
As heavy disruptions continue to find their way into our lives, it can be very easy to get deeply lost in thought. In particular, being LOST in FUTURE thought that does nothing to serve us in the present moment.
When will the disruptions end? When will our lives resume as normal again? How long will travel restrictions be in place? When can I stop socially distancing myself from my friends, co-workers, and others in my community? Will my summer plans be ruined by the current COVID-19 pandemic? etc. etc. etc.
It is very natural to ask ourselves these types of questions as we grapple with the unknown in regards to our current situation. And with these questions can come the heaviness of fear and anxiety as we cannot predict the future or know what is going to happen.
It is important to understand that during times like this, there are strategies that we can put into action that can help better deal with difficult thoughts and emotions that we may be experiencing. Developing a mindfulness practice allows us to better sit with uncertainty and to train ourselves in steadiness, trust and being more centered.
Jack Cornfield, a well-known author, mindfulness practitioner, and clinical psychologist, once shared a story about being a monk in training back in the 1970s in Thailand and Laos. During this time, he had devoted his life to focusing on combining loving kindness and self-compassion with the practice of mindfulness, and incorporating together the wisdom of Eastern and Western psychology.
One day he and his renowned zen master, Ajahn Chah, were wandering through the rice paddies on their way to a nearby village. Out across the rice paddies was this giant boulder. Pointing to the boulder, Jack’s teacher asked, “Is that boulder heavy?” Jack answered, "Yes, of course it is". His teacher simply smiled and replied, “It’s not heavy if you don’t pick it up.”
Jack understood what Ajahn Chah was trying to teach him in that moment which was to learn inside how to witness what is present without being lost in it. The boulder represents the heaviness of strong emotions such as fear, anxiety, worry, doubt, frustration etc. Although they are present in our lives, we don’t have to pick them up and bear their weight on our shoulders all of the time.
So, what can we do if we find ourselves in this position? It’s not about ignoring these emotions or conversely venting about them either. We can learn to better navigate these emotions by noticing them, naming them, and placing them aside. In a way, it’s about depersonalizing these emotions to remove the heaviness that they can cast on us.
The açt of noticing these emotions and setting them aside, coupled with some mindfulness breath work, can ease the impact that they have on us. It is a trainable skill that we can develop if we spend the time to work on it. As Jack Cornfield says, we can literally visualize ourselves placing these emotions inside a jar and setting it aside. We can acknowledge they exist but in setting the jar aside, we are creating the space needed to separate ourselves from these strong emotions in the moment. We can also say to ourselves that for now we will let them go. For just this moment, we will not let them dominate our thoughts.
Once we’ve done this, we can take 3-5 minutes to sit quietly and do some breath work. Here are 2 different breaths to experiment with:
Mindfulness can help to provide us with different tools and strategies to lessen the impact of negative emotions if we are open to it. The activity described in this blog post takes no more than 10 minutes. All we need to do is to find a quiet place to reflect on our emotions, name these emotions and set them aside in whatever container we visualize. Once we've done this, we can do a few cycles of breath work. This exercise is free and simple! Give it a try.
What are some current strategies you are putting into action to combat potential stress, fear, and anxiety during these difficult times? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comment box below.
Thanks for reading.
How can we be better each day? How can we work on self in order to be there for others who matter to us? How can we work on self to be there for ourselves when we need it most?
In times of uncertainty, we are challenged to think differently about what is possible. If we are not careful, we can easily cave into constricting thoughts that limit our ability to focus on options and possibilities available to us during difficult times.
In times of uncertainty, we can let fear and anxiety creep into our lives by taking hold of the way we allow ourselves to think. The choices we make today, in this moment, are what matter most to us and the people who need and depend on us the most.
Frame up each day by setting one small goal that is achievable and this will pave the way to setting another goal tomorrow. What's one small thing you've been wanting to do but haven't gotten around to it lately? Maybe it's sending an email to a loved one abroad. Perhaps it's doing some gardening or tidying up your home workspace. Whatever it is, make it achievable and get it done. When we stitch together one personal goal achieved with another and another, it can have a profound impact on our well-being and mental health. And there is no greater time to focus on our well-being and mental health than now.
So, what is your one small personal goal for just today?
Overhanging clouds of doom and uncertainty continue to force their way into many different parts of the world with lightning quick speed due to the spread of the Coronavirus. So many people have been impacted by outbreaks of the virus and the World Health Organization has officially declared that the COVID-19 is now a pandemic.
With each passing day, the news just seems to be getting worse. A massively slumping stock market, school closures, cancelled trips, locked borders, an unforeseen end to Coronavirus, and severe restrictions have all been jabbing away at many people’s sense of well-being and it doesn’t look like this will let up anytime soon.
Most of us need certainty in our life. With certainty comes a sense of safety and stability as we know what is happening and when it’s going to happen. However, due to the Coronavirus outbreak, we currently have no idea what the future will hold over the next few weeks and months.
This type of uncertainty will more than likely cause increased levels of stress and anxiety which can trigger a cascade of stress hormones being released by our sympathetic nervous system. Stress hormones can cause physiological changes in our body that can definitely impact our mental health, especially if we cannot find a way to put the brakes on the stress and take control of the vehicle.
The vehicle that I refer to is our minds and the habitual thought patterns that can overwhelm us in times of stress and anxiety.
Brene Brown, best-selling author, presenter and storyteller, strongly believes that vulnerability is not weakness, but instead our most accurate measure of courage. It’s about tackling uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure straight on. The way we do that is by acknowledging that these things do exist in our life. How can we lean into the discomfort of our vulnerability?
The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting all of us. Acknowledging how we genuinely feel is an act of vulnerability and an important step in the process of putting the brakes on the stress and anxiety we are likely to experience in our life in the coming weeks and months. So, what are other ways we can we put the brakes on?
Stuck at Home
As countless people around the world are now faced with having to work and learn from home, there is a sense of being on lockdown. Reframing what being ‘stuck at home’ means is a great thought activity that we should all take part in as it can help to lessen the mental constriction that comes with the feeling of being on lockdown.
How might being ‘stuck at home’ be looked at more as an opportunity rather than a curse? It is essential to understand with every obstacle comes opportunity. We might not see it in the moment, but many genuine opportunities exist when we look forward with clear eyes and a clear mind.
Chances are we will probably never again have such an opportunity to be at home for such an extended period of time again. What a great chance to learn new things, complete unfinished projects and work on self.
Some questions to explore while you grapple with how to use time more effectively over the next several weeks are:
What unfinished books can I now finish reading?
What home projects can I now complete?
How can I declutter the physical space in my home?
How can I mentally declutter?
In what ways can I be more physically active?
How can my family better bond?
It is important to accept there will be an increase of stress and anxiety in the coming weeks. Instead of letting it become a runaway freight train that gains momentum, accept that everything is impermanent and this too shall pass. Remember in these times of uncertainty, a mental reset genuinely helps to reframe the story we tell ourselves. With this reframe comes the opportunity to clear our minds and to clear our eyes. How will you better lean into the uncertainty that has descended on us?
Thanks for reading.
Vulnerability: The quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.
What risks have you recently taken that have put you in a position to be tested and challenged? How have you pushed yourself to the edge of your comfort zone?
When something matters to us, we have to be willing to put ourselves out there, even in the face of fear. There has been a lot written about the theme of vulnerability over the last few years. Best selling author and presenter, Brene Brown, often speaks and writes about the power of vulnerability and that doing hard work in life requires us to live authentically. And living with genuine authenticity is impossible if we are not willing to BE vulnerable, especially in higher stakes moments in life.
Being in the arena is where that hard works often gets done. Brene likes to use the idea of being ‘in the arena’ as a metaphor for putting ourselves out there. She says that people will often take shots at us from outside the arena, but it takes a tremendous act of courage and bravery to put ourselves in the arena in the first place to get done whatever work we need to get done to live with more authenticity and purpose in our life.
There is a person I know who put themselves in the arena this past week. This person is a genuine inspiration and chose to put them-self in the arena in order to pursue their dreams. With all eyes watching, this person failed to deliver in the manner that they are capable of delivering. Having experienced this failure, they were gutted and filled with disappointment.
I reminded this person about why they had chosen to put themselves in the arena in the first place and that being in the arena is THE only way that they can do the work that they are meant to do. Living with courage and bravery means that we must face both the good and the bad and to understand that we need to put ourselves out there, despite the fear, the uncertainty, and doubt that we may experience.
There have been times in the past that I have experienced just this in the talks that I have given. It’s easy to think that I have nothing interesting to say or that what I have to share is unimportant. It’s easy to think that nobody will care about my message and judge me harshly. If I gave into this voice, I would never have been able to even take the stage at all. In knowing that what I have to say does matter, I have given myself the permission needed to share my story and my learning with the world. Just as the person I know chose to put themselves in the arena last week and experienced failure, they are ready to dust themselves off and get back at it, just as a true champion would.
If you have a message to share with the world or a talent that needs to be seen, I hope you put yourself in the arena. I hope that you live with the authenticity needed to shine and to never doubt your purpose. Thanks for reading.
To what extent do you practice gratitude in your life? Who are the people in your life that you have gratitude for that have made a difference to you? What types of daily experiences do you have that help to provide you with a sense of hope, purpose, belonging, and achievement?
In the busyness of life, it's so very easy to get caught up in all the things that we need to get done. Life can seem so chaotic that the days pass with blinding speed, making it extremely difficult to reflect, for even a moment, on the blessings in our lives. In failing to recognize the good in our lives, we can easily throw ourselves even deeper into the vortex of ever-increasing demands on our time and energy which makes it even more difficult to practice gratitude.
Strengthening Our Gratitude Practice
Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of the Positive Psychology movement, has an extensive body of work related to the impact that gratitude can have on a person’s well-being and sense of fulfillment.
Seligman and his team of researchers conducted several research experiments that focused on developing a regular gratitude practice with different types of people and then measured the impact that it had on their well-being. In particular, they wanted to know the impact that a regular gratitude practice had on depressed individuals.
What Went Well (the 3 ‘W’s)
Seligman and his team taught the 3 ‘W’s strategy to the people in the experiment. For a succession of 7 straight days, each person was taught to identify 3 things that went well for them. Even though their days might have been filled with darkness and depression, they were encouraged to search for anything, positive in nature, that might have happened to them each day. It could be as simple as, “Someone held the door open for me at the shopping mall” or “I managed to get out of bed and make myself a cup of hot tea”.
Not only did Seligman help these people identify positive things in their life, but he also had them attach labels as well to describe what the good thing that happened to them represented. For example, “Someone held the door open for me at the shopping mall” represented ‘Kindness’ and ‘Managing to get out of bed and make myself a cup of hot tea’ represented ‘Independence’.
Seligman calls this gratitude practice "Researchers of Good". Instead of looking at all the reasons why things are not going well in our lives, we actively search for the good and recognize this good through a daily gratitude practice. It's a different way to program ourselves and our software to be on the lookout for more good in our lives.
Amazingly, Seligman and his team were able to determine that a daily gratitude practice for just 7 straight days helped to stabilize the mood of depressed patients. When these people realized the positive impact that a regular gratitude practice had on their mood and sense of well-being, Seligman encouraged them to continue this practice for another month. The more these people practiced gratitude with regularity, the better they felt.
As gratitude is the capacity for appreciating the positive benefits we receive in life, it is important to develop this practice ourselves. It is a practice that Neila Steele and I have focused on for several years and have tried to teach our boys to put it into action in their lives. Neila and I have also presented several workshops on the importance of developing a gratitude practice and have shared several strategies in these workshops for putting it into action.
The Gratitude Window
One of the strategies that we would like to share in this blog post is what we call ‘The Gratitude Window.’ This strategy is based on Seligman’s work, so we need to give him full credit for inspiring us. Neila and I have presented this strategy to teachers in many different schools and to many different parents.
The windows of a classroom are a great place to record thoughts of gratitude. Using non-permanent markers, students can record the things that they are grateful for and what these good things represent. By getting students to do this regularly, they can build their capacity to be more grateful and to understand that practicing gratitude with consistency is an important tool in their life that adds to their sense of well-being and fulfillment. We encourage teachers to have all of their students do it for at least a couple of weeks. After this time, they can make it optional for students, but we ask them to observe how many students continue the practice on their own. In most cases, the majority of students continue this practice under their own accord.
We’ve also encouraged parents who attend our workshops to keep a ‘Gratitude Window’ going in their own home. Any window or even mirror in the house works great for this. Neila and I also created a chalkboard wall to record ‘gratitude’ in our own home.
Whether it’s a window, a mirror, or a chalkboard wall, it is great to make these thoughts of gratitude visible. Of course, this practice can be developed in a journal that only the journal owner has access to, but it can take on a lot more significance and meaning when it’s done as a group and reflected on as a group.
As you reflect on your own life, how might you practice more gratitude for the good things you experience each day? How might you record these thoughts of gratitude with more regularity to better develop the practice of being grateful? How might you use the 'Gratitude Window' in your classroom with your students or in your own home with your family? If you have different ways of promoting gratitude with your students and with your family, please share in the comment box below. Would love to hear new ideas. Thanks for reading.
Neila Steele & Andy Vasily