Last Monday, my mindset challenge was to document how I spent the 168 hours of my week. By doing this, I became incredibly aware of how much time I spent exercising, commuting, and talking and listening to my young boys. Also, how I spent my work day interacting with colleagues and time spent in front of the screen (a bit shocking to be honest). It really opened my awareness to the point that I didn’t want to write down that I had spent more than an hour that day on Facebook. By becoming aware of this unnecessary use of time, I allowed myself to still be on FB but to cut the time down and use the extra to do some yoga and walking instead.
Reflecting on the past 7 days, I felt it was a quality week because the time that I usually wasted with frivolous things was chopped in half and then I took that time and deposited into more quality time for other things that matter to me. I would definitely recommend the 168-hour challenge to investigate your own week.
My week continued with a very busy Saturday, spending the entire day attending and participating in a First Aid Course. Saturday night we had invited 4 couples over and a few of their children to join us for a dinner party to celebrate my husband’s birthday. Finishing the First Aid course, I rushed around to pick up some gorgeous tulips, and a few more odds and ends that we needed for our evening. I was feeling tired, hungry and had a headache but pushed through and thought I could get myself into a more social mood for the evening ahead.
Walking in the door. I arrived home to a house full of guests, a bustling kitchen and happy children. However, it all felt a bit too overwhelming. I gave my husband a warm hug and felt fine. Then without warning, it hit me, I was no longer in a social mood at all and the ‘switch’ happened. There was nothing left in me to give out. It was like I had been drained of all my warmth, wit and charm. I turned into someone I didn’t like. Friends greeted me and I could tell that they knew I was not my ‘normal’ self.
Immediately I starting looking for a way out. I hid in the kitchen for awhile washing up the dishes (actually doing more banging than washing) and started to withdraw even more. To a great degree, I wanted to blame my husband, but it wasn’t his fault (and then I started to feel guilty, it was after all his birthday celebration). My thoughts were spiraling out into untrue exaggerations. How could I get out of this? I began to worry that everyone would think I was being bitchy, anti-social and moody. I decided to grab our dog’s leash, and with her, I escaped out the front door. It was the only choice I believed I had to remove myself from that situation.
I went for a long, silent, evening walk with our dog while our guests were being entertained by my husband. I literally pulled a 'Houdini'. During the walk, I felt a sense of dread and guilt. I had literally run away from my own home. Wanting to lift out of these self-defeating thoughts, I brought myself back to some of my mindfulness practices. I began with the breath, to bring a sense of calm and focus back. I wanted to clear away the mental chatter.
It occurred to me that mindfulness isn’t about being happy, cheerful and warm all of the time, nor is it about chanting positive affirmations on a daily basis. Despite wanting the night to be perfect, mindfulness isn’t about being perfect.
As I walked, I reminded myself that no one is perfect, there is no perfect anything really. When I arrived home during the party, I wasn’t practicing self-compassion and judged myself to be weak, bitchy, anti-social and moody.
During the long walk, I reflected on the fact that being mindful of our genuine physical and emotional states is critical. Whether these states are positive, neutral or negative, we must honor and accept them. Even if that means honoring feelings of guilt and shame. If I had been more mindful of the fact that I had low blood sugar, I was physically fatigued, and not feeling well, I could have easily avoided that feeling of needing to flee.
I know that all of our close friends would have completely understood how I felt if I had been more mindful and respectful of my genuine feelings. All it would have taken was honest communication. It is so crucial to take moments of stillness to recognize our physical sensations, our attitudes and emotional states in order to honor and be true to ourselves.
My mindset Monday challenge this week is to be mindful of how I feel, not to judge myself, but to be aware and present with self-compassion. To honor these feelings and put myself in the best position possible to communicate my truth quietly and clearly.
Test how self-compassionate you are here.
Honor yourself, practice self-compassion and strive to connect with others.
"We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be."
As a parent and a teacher at NIS, it’s great to see the learning that happens across the grade levels. The grade 5 teaching team has been getting guest speakers to come in as part of their Spark Talk Series. These ‘Spark’ talks are aimed at presenters sharing their authentic passions in life. It can be something that they are good at or anything that truly excites and motivates them. I was invited to speak to all of the grade 5 students this week and shared with them the passion that I have for health and well-being. This presentation led me to also speak about my mindfulness practice as a teacher and a person.
During my talk, I shared with the students how I began my journey in health as a registered nurse back in the 90s and it was through nursing that I developed a desire to work more on the preventative side of health. Becoming an educator allowed me to maintain my passion for health but to do so through school nursing. This journey in school nursing then led to me becoming a teacher.
One of the things that I love most about mindfulness is that it has the power to connect the minds and bodies of people. I told my students that one of my greatest joys in life is to connect people through mindfulness. Recently, in the mindfulness sessions I run for teachers and students, I’ve been trying out a new activity called 'back to back breath' that I first read about on edutopia.com here. I tweaked and modified the activity in my own way based on my teaching style. I’ve provided a detailed description of the activity below. If you try it out, let me know how it works for you or your students.
Back to Back Breath
Ensure that you try to partner people up with someone that they do not mind coming into physical contact with. They must be comfortable with the person they are paired with.
Sit each pair of people back to back so that they are equally connected. The shoulders meet, upper and lower backs connect. Get each person to sit tall and maintain equilibrium with their partner in regards to the pressure applied backward against each other.
Focus on the Breath
Most of our breathing is done through the front of our bodies, but in this activity we focus on breathing in through the back body. Get each pair of people to begin becoming mindful about each inhale and exhale feeling their breath connect with their partner through the back.
After about a half-minute into the activity have each person take their thumbs and place them under their arm pit and lift themselves up to open their chests broad and wide. After doing this opener, have them place their hands back down on their crossed legs and continue to mindfully breathe in and out. Continue this breathing for about three to four minutes.
Although this is meant to be a silent activity, I think it is alright to include music to help create a calm and peaceful environment. As I got ready for school on the morning of my presentation, my son was playing one of his favorite new songs. I thought that this song was perfect for the back to back breathing activity, so I used it with the students. I have included a You Tube link to this song below in case you want to try it out.
The students responded extremely well to this activity. I feel so incredibly rewarded when I can see that my mindfulness practice impacts young people in such a positive way. Here are some comments below:
“ I feel calm and relaxed.”
“I feel mentally stimulated.”
“The music and the breath made me feel happy.”
“It felt very peaceful.”
Sharing our true passions requires us to be our authentic selves without fear of being judged as right or wrong. May Sarton’s quote above sums up the importance of daring to be ourselves. I love this quote. Have a great weekend.
Strive to authentically connect with others, breath, and stay present.
Have you ever really assessed how you spend your days? We are so quick to want them to be over with at times and to count them down before holidays or big events. We whinge when we don’t have enough time to do the things that we desire and cross off some days with our compulsive busyness of just surviving. Being aware and mindful of how I spend my time is something that I strive to do but still struggle to strike a balance with.
Recently, I read Laura Vanderkam’s What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast and in this short guide, she recommends writing down how you spend your entire week. That means every minute is accounted for. Just as if you were trying to lose weight by recording every morsel of food that you had consumed each day and week until you had reached your desired weight, Vanderkam suggests jotting down how you spend your 24 hours every day for a week amounting to 168 hours in total.
You can check out her 168-hour spread sheet to track how you spend your valuable time by clicking this link here.
Starting Monday, January 19th, for this week’s #Mindset Monday challenge, I’m going to try out Vanderkam’s idea. The reason why I’m doing this is to become more mindful about how I may spend my time and where I could be wasting precious minutes and hours. I’d like to use my time in better ways and not squander it away with mindless or meaningless tasks.
Of course the majority of my time will be spent working and sleeping, but I’d like to delve into the ways in which I can better manage and get rid of the things I do that do not serve me well. I’ll be assessing how I spend my time but also specifically what I do with that time. I believe that this well-intentioned act of keeping better track of my time will enable me to ask some important questions. I jotted down some of these questions below.
Where is my time spent?
Am I nurturing relationships?
Am I nurturing my career?
Am I taking care of my family?
Am I investing in my own mental, physical and emotional health?
Am I being of service to others?
Am I cultivating creative skills?
Am I nurturing strength of spirit?
Am I being vs. just doing something?
Am I taking restorative breaks?
Am I trying new things?
Am I doing these tasks mindlessly or am I filling my moments with living mindfully?
My ultimate goal is to use this week as a big way to investigate how I spend my time so that I may be able to eliminate those mindless habits that I do with automaticity. First, I need to compile my personal information in order to delete those time suckers that no longer serve me and then I’ll deposit that extra time into ways that help me grow and learn.
Take hold of your days, breathe fully, and strive to fill your days with mindful moments.
“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”
What immediately pops into your head when you hear the name Mr. Rogers? If you are among my generation and you’re from North America, you may start to sing.… “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Would you be mine…won’t you be mine……..won’t you…. be my neighbor?”
When I was a little girl, I used to watch Mr. Rogers on television. I can recall a sweet, calm and patient man wearing a warm cozy cardigan and putting on his sneakers as he entered his home. This was the way he began each show. If you were to ask many people who are familiar with his show what they thought about him, most would probably say that Mr. Rogers was just another airy fairy kid’s show entertainer from the past. How accurate is this assessment of him?
While doing some mindfulness research this past week, I came across a TED Talk by a pediatrician, and researcher, Dimitri Christakis. It was Christakis’ talk that led me to learn more about the amazing work of Fred Rogers. Rogers’ program was so simple in nature, yet focused on real life lessons, expression of feelings, and self-control. The show was slow-paced with none of the modern day blitz of fast paced scene changes and blaring music that accompanies many of the shows that young children watch today. I remember how relaxed and unhurried Mr. Rogers was.
I’ve learned that behind the scenes Fred Rogers was an incredibly passionate advocate for children’s mental health and well-being. In every episode, he taught extremely important life lessons through the scripts he created each week, the 200+ songs that he wrote himself and the valuable messages that he delivered to young people.
I believe that his message about the necessity to slow down, reflect, choose our words wisely, and be compassionate individuals was firmly rooted in the seeds of being mindful well before the term mindfulness even became a buzz word.
His messages about going back to basics were simple, yet incredibly wise. He focused on the importance of showing greater patience in our lives. He constantly advocated for the mental health of young people and went to extraordinary lengths to further this cause.
Fred Rogers was a believer in expressing gratitude for those who matter in our lives but equally believed that we all have something special to offer others as seen in the quote at the top of this blog post. He definitely knew the significance of mental health for all and the value in expressing gratitude for those who matter, in our lives.
The You Tube link below shows a beautiful moment in which he accepts a lifetime achievement award from the academy. During his speech he practices loving kindness by remembering all of the support he had received from family, friends, co-workers and even those who have passed on.
Standing before an Oscar audience of acclaimed actors, actresses, and directors he gently reminds everyone to pause and observe 10-seconds of silence in order to reflect and give gratitude to those who have helped them achieve great success in life. Using his own wrist watch to time off the 10 seconds, Fred Rogers asks everyone to think about the people who have cared, supported, and guided them up until this present point in their lives.
In week 2 of my #MindsetMonday challenge I would like to ask you to take just 10 seconds out of each morning to remember all those who have made a difference in your life. Who has supported you in whatever it is you have pursued in your life? Who has been your biggest advocate and who has been there to guide you? This simple act of being mindful elicits gratitude in a conscious way. By acknowledging the people in your lives, and directly sending out gratitude in their direction, you will in turn improve your own health and well-being.
So, in the thoughtful words of one of Mr. Roger’s well-known songs, “Let’s make the most of this beautiful day”. Let’s indeed make this most of each beautiful day this week.
Remember those who have supported you, breath and strive to give the gift of your honest self.
Practicing mindfulness with regularity has allowed me to continually look at things from a different perspective, to consider other points of view and important elements of life that I may overlook otherwise. During the holidays I bookmarked a Ted Talk presented by a well-known psychologist named Daniel Goleman entitled 'Why aren't we all Good Samaritans?". I watched the talk a few days later and took some notes. In the Ted Talk, Goleman talks about specific research that digs into the topic of compassion and the reasons why people do not show more of it in every day life.
Goleman discusses the latest research related to compassion and how the major belief is that we, as humans, are wired by default to be caring, helpful, and kind. However, certain factors prevent us from often times looking beyond ourselves. During his own research, Goleman once came across an article in the NY Times that talked about a woman named Alice Charney Epstein and an informal test that she created while in the midst of the dating scene in search of a potential partner. The test was simple and straightforward in nature. Once she had met somebody she was interested in she would actually time how long it took for them to ask her a question with the word 'you' in it. She was obviously looking for someone who showed interest in knowing more about who she was.
As I watched the Ted Talk and thought about the test that Alice Charney Epstein has created, I began to contemplate how often we are engaged in discussions during our own day with colleagues, friends, and family. It is easy to get so caught up and self-absorbed in our own wants and needs that we can often fail to pay even partial attention to the person we are speaking with. Goleman talks about the spectrum of interaction from being totally self-focused to actually noticing, being empathetic and truly compassionate.
I'm not suggesting you pull out your stopwatch every single interaction of the day and time how long it takes for others to ask you a question, but I do encourage all of you (and myself!!) to pay closer attention to how we carry out our conversations with others. Are we mindful of these interactions and listening to the best of our ability? Are we asking genuine questions that show that we are interested and care about the other person? How long does it take us to ask our 'YOU' questions in our daily interactions with those in our lives? Something to think about.
Strive to pay more attention to others, ask 'YOU' questions, and practice compassion.
Here it is, the beginning of another new year. With this change comes a renewed desire to create goals that we’d like to pursue each January. That being true for me too, I’m commencing with a series of challenges starting Monday, January 5th, 2015. Mindset Mondays will now appear on my blog, each Monday throughout the year. I plan to write about things that help to provide me (and hopefully you) with inspiration at the beginning of each week. Often times, motivation can be low on Mondays which can cause our mindset to not be in the best of places as we start the week.
On Mondays, we often default to unproductive habits of thinking that have us start the week off with a groan wishing that it was the end of the week already. I’d like to change that or at least offer up the option to try out something new in the form of my Mindset Mondays challenge.
Below is a poem that used to hang on the wall in my mother’s home in Mississauga, Ontario Canada, the house where I grew up. To be honest, I never really paid attention to it, but at some point in my adult life I began to take notice of it. So much so that I now know it by heart. My husband also shared it on his blog here. Obviously it has taken on a special significance in my life. The poem ‘Desiderata’ was written in 1927 by Max Erhmann and in Latin translates into ‘desired things’.
For my first Mindset Monday, take a moment to read the poem carefully and pick a line of the poem that resonates with you the most at this point in your life. Perhaps it resonates with you because the line itself is something you struggle to do. Or maybe the line is something that you strongly agree with and try to put into practice already. Whatever it is that lights up for you, use it to create a personal mindset for an enriched week.
At this moment I’ve chosen ‘listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story’, Have you ever noticed how sometimes you may be talking to a colleague, your partner or friend and know that they are not listening. They are distracted or preoccupied with their own thoughts and aren’t giving you the gift of their presence. I’m as guilty as they are of not listening at times. It’s something I’m not proud of and want to improve upon by setting an intention at the beginning of this week to do so.
I’d like to focus on the 'listen to others' part of the line, ‘listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story’, into an intention for the week by creating my own checklist to improve as a listener.
My aim is to give my children, my husband, my students, my colleagues, and other people I come into contact with the gift of my presence. I hope that by choosing this mindset I’ll be able to anchor my focus on paying attention and actively listening to others. My Monday Mindset this week is to be open and receptive to listening well. To be of service to others with my ears, mind and heart.
Strive to adjust your mindset, breathe fully and be present.
Neila Steele & Andy Vasily