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.
“Joy is always in process, it’s under construction, it is in constant approach in the doing of what we are fashioned to do.”
Imagine just how enormous the Golden Gate Bridge is. The deck of the bridge itself weighs a whopping 166,397 tons. With its 746-foot towers and the 600,000 rivets in each of the towers, it is obvious just how big of a task it was constructing the Golden Gate Bridge. The building project began on January 5th, 1933 and took more than 4 years before the first cars would make the journey across on May 27th, 1937.
Although engineers knew that it was going to be difficult to keep up with the maintenance of the bridge itself, they vastly underestimated the amount of time, energy and materials needed to ensure that the exterior was well-taken care of.
Taking care of the bridge is now a never-ending quest in order to keep it protected and looking sharp.
The bridge is under a constant barrage of attacks from its' predators, which in this case, are corrosive salt air, pollutants and contaminants from the millions of vehicles that pass over it each year, UV rays, and age itself. A team of 35 painters is assigned the never-ending task and taking care of the iconic structure that connects the city of San Francisco to Marin County, California.
The endless cycle of maintenance doesn’t have a start or finish. Instead, the painting team focuses on the parts of the bridge with the worst corrosion then moves on to other areas in need of restoration. This cycle repeats itself over and over again and will do so for years to come. Although the main objective of this project is to keep the bridge protected and looking sharp, it’s not as simple as throwing a coat of paint on the area in need of improvement and moving on.
I use the Golden Gate Bridge ongoing maintenance project as a metaphor for the ongoing maintenance that is required to look after our own well-being. If we don’t do the consistent, deep (underneath) work needed to protect ourselves, the constant threats that we are under can take a huge chunk out of our own levels of well-being.
Just as the corrosive salt air and contaminants from motor vehicles eat away at the Golden Gate Bridge every day, so too do the barrage of threats that humans face in regards to their own levels of well-being.
Anxiety, stress, lack of sleep, fear of judgement, fear of failure, masking inefficiencies that we feel we have, fear of never reaching our potential, lack of authentic connections in our lives, lack of vulnerability, suffering in silence etc. are just some of the ongoing threats that people face on a regular basis.
It takes constant awareness and maintenance to be able to look after ourselves in a way that counters the daily threats people face. No matter how physically, mentally, and emotionally strong we think we might be, it’s worth it to put specific strategies into action to help us counter the negative impact that daily stressors can have on our well-being. There is no question that these threats can potentially wreak havoc in our lives.
So, what can we actually do about these threats?
As you read this part of the blog, just think about how hard you have been on yourself in the past, maybe even recently. Humans have a very common tendency to privately shame themselves for their shortcomings, failures and self-perceived inadequacies. In knowing and accepting that we are all fallible, we can learn to better deal with the self-judgement that comes from feeling as though we do not measure up. By understanding this, we can put more self-compassion into action in our lives.
Self-compassion extends ourselves the freedom to say, “I’m not perfect, I will make mistakes. I know I don’t want to repeat these mistakes but am willing to give myself a break.”
As world renowned author and speaker, Brene Brown, says, "We all need the courage to stand alone." What she means by this is that we need to understand that we cannot let others define who we are or what we are about. The courageous act of standing alone requires that we are willing to do the hard work necessary to better understand ourselves, our triggers, and our habitual ways of thinking and feeling. Having the courage to stand alone means that we can sit alone and find the quiet space needed to be honest with ourselves and to identify what might be holding us back from living a more fulfilled life.
Although this might seem like an insurmountable task, when we cut to the core of what matters most, it is about being reflective in order to better understand ourselves and our ways of being. Defining ourselves under our own terms and conditions and not by what others think about us is an important step in the right direction. However, if we are not willing to sit alone to do this very hard work, we can find ourselves drifting aimlessly away from where we ultimately want to be.
Meditation and mindfulness are tools that we can apply that assist us in our ability to courageously stand alone and do the hard work described above.
By staying active, we arm ourselves with one of the most important tools there is to combat the daily stressors that can take their toll on our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Whatever you do, plan for daily physical activity. The impact of physical activity can be felt almost immediately. Show more love for yourself by moving your body!
Are you presently where you want to be right now?
If not, the above three strategies are a good place to begin the exploration of improving on your own levels of well-being in order to create a better version of yourself. In doing this, you are better for others too. Thanks for reading.
It is difficult to have a Zen-like attitude in a life that is filled with constant interruptions and distractions. However, living more mindfully is a way that we can devote the time necessary, if even for a fleeting moment each day, to find the stillness and solitude needed to slow ourselves down.
Living in the present and being more mindful is a trainable skill that can be developed if we are willing to commit just a sliver of time each day to finding some calm and quiet. One of the ways to stay centered is to pay attention to your breathing. Slow, deep breathing has been proven to lower the body's fight or flight response and help to calm us down. The more we can find calmness, the more we can develop the ability to consciously be more aware of how we respond to anxiety and stress and to do something to combat these things in a proactive manner. However, it definitely requires a daily commitment.
Developing more mindfulness in our lives does not require a Herculean effort that ends up robbing us of all of our time and zaps us of the much needed energy to get us through our busy days. There are 1440 minutes in each day. All we need is just 0.5-1% of our day, just 7-14 minutes to begin this practice.
Imagine that we start off with just 7 minutes a day of mindfulness practice. By extending our practice by just 30 seconds each week, we can slowly build on the mental and physical stamina needed to sit for longer periods of time to focus purely on self. With each passing month, we will find ourselves being able to sit for much longer periods of time.
Starting with 7 minutes of daily practice (0.5% of our day) was just an example. Start with whatever amount of time works. We can then slowly build up from that point, but make it a daily practice whenever possible. For example, a person can begin with 10 minutes a day and increase by one minute each week. That’s a 4-minute increase per month which equates to 44-minute increase per year. 10 minutes in the first month will lead to 14 minutes in month two, leading to 54 minutes in your twelfth month.
There are no hard and fast rules about how much time is needed to begin this practice. The main point is to slowly build up on the ability for sit for longer periods of time.
Focused Breath Work
There are a number of different ways to focus on the breath while sitting still. If the mind wanders, no problem, just return back to the pattern of breath that you are focusing on. It’s natural to get distracted but using the breath an a anchor point always helps us get refocused. Below are some examples of breath work that you can try out.
The 7-11 Breath
Slowing inhale for a count of 7 and exhale for a count of 11. Repeat this for the entire duration of the meditation. It’s OK if you lose count of the number you are on, just keep consciously returning to the pattern when you find that you’ve become distracted.
Box Breath (4-count)
Breath in for a count of 4
Hold for a count of 4
Exhale for a count of 4
Hold for a count of 4
Repeat this process for the duration of the meditation
The Staggered Inhale, Long Exhale Breath
Inhale through your nose in short bursts making a noticeable sound with each burst. Slowly your lungs will fill to maximum capacity. Then exhale steadily in one complete exhale. Repeat process for duration of meditation
There are many more types of breath that you can work on but the above three might be a great starting point if this is your first time trying it out. If you are experienced at doing breath work, you’ll know many different ways to focus on the breath while meditating.
The opening quote in this blog post is an important reminder that improvement and results take time. By focusing on the long haul, we can make the micro-improvements necessary for lasting change. Our well-being matters! In the long run, mindfulness practice can be slowly infused into our lives by choosing to focus on one small step at a time. Hope this blog post helps you to reflect on your own well-being and what needs to be done to make it more of a focus in your life.
There is no question that being the recipient of an act of kindness can have a very positive impact on the way that you think and the way that you feel. Being on the receiving end of an act of kindness can cause a shift in your brain’s neurochemistry due to a spike in ‘oxytocin’, the hormone responsible for creating internal feelings of belonging, warmth, and significance.
Research has also shown that being the ‘giver’ of kindness has a very similar impact on your brain. When considering how you might increase your own sense of well-being and the well-being of others in 2020, it’s worth considering research done by Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky and colleagues.
Sonya and her team of researchers were interested in measuring the impact that being kind to others can have on well-being and happiness. More specifically, the well-being and happiness of the person providing the act of kindness for others.
In regards to performing acts of kindness for others, does the frequency and intensity of being the giver of kindness have an impact on well-being and happiness? This was the question that Dr. Sonja explored with her colleagues. To take a deeper look at this question, the researchers placed participants of the study into two different categories:
Which group do you think benefitted the most from providing acts of kindness for others? Do you think the sprinkling of kindness throughout the week had a greater impact on well-being and happiness or was it the group that had devoted an entire day to providing acts of kindness to others?
When questioned about which group benefitted the most from performing acts of kindness for others, 80% of people believed that the ‘Sprinklers’ benefitted the most in regards to the impact it would have on their level of well-being and happiness. In other words, the people who performed just one act of kindness a day for others, over a succession of days, experienced a greater sense of well-being and happiness than the "chunkers" of kindness.
However, the research conclusively showed that most people who chunked their acts of kindness had higher levels of well-being and happiness. Setting aside an entire day each week to providing acts of kindness to others far outweighed the sprinkling of kindness over the week.
Why was this?
When analyzed on a much deeper level, the ‘sprinklers’ of kindness, although well-intentioned, felt that over time their effort to be kind was just a ‘drop in the bucket’. Therefore, they felt that the act of kindness that they had bestowed on another person didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. They didn’t feel as though they were making a difference.
Humans by nature want to make a difference and to know their efforts matter. The group of people who had devoted an entire day to providing kindness to others felt that their efforts mattered. One kind act after another made them feel more significant thus deepening their own sense of well-being and happiness.
Dr. Sonja’s research has been replicated many times with the same results. The chunking of kindness has a deeper impact on well-being and happiness than the sprinkling of kindness.
Of course, being kind to others should be a daily part of what we do. If we choose to devote one full day a week to providing acts of kindness for others, it doesn’t mean that we refuse to be kind on other days. The ultimate aim of being kind to others is for them and not the person providing the kindness. However, the byproduct of a kind act can also impact the well-being of the 'giver' of kindness.
Dr. Sonja’s work can help us to see things a bit differently when it comes to kindness. This blog post is meant to jolt your thinking about kindness and what it means in your own life and to get you to reflect on the people who have been kind to you. It's meant to get you to think more deeply about the impact that acts of kindness can have on others and ourselves. Being more present and mindful allows us to stay connected to kindness and to be more willing to acknowledge the powerful role it plays in our daily lives. Thanks for reading.
“The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.” --Bill Copeland
We all have the very best of intentions when it comes to setting New Year’s resolutions. Without goals it can be very difficult to make any progress at all as we have no clear objectives in regards to the areas of our lives that we want to make growth and improvement.
To be honest, I’m steering clear of setting New Year’s resolutions this year as my thinking has shifted when it comes to goal-setting. I don’t know how accurate this statistic is, but I once heard that more than 80% of people fail in sticking to their New Year’s resolutions, especially within the first two to three weeks of January.
Do we actually need a new beginning to set goals? How might we look at goal-setting differently?
It is so common for people to set goals at new beginnings. Be it the beginning of a new school year, the start of the new year itself, the first day after our birthday or the start of a new season. However, the process of creating positive change in our personal and professional lives does not require new beginnings to set goals. It just requires a reset and reframe in the way that we choose to pursue our goals.
Rather than this endless cycle of using new beginnings to set goals or resolutions, we can become more focused on reflecting on our own journey of learning about ourselves and the habits and routines that we have in place that are serving us well or holding us back from achieving the goals that we have set. This can better lead us to make the necessary adjustments and modifications to stay on track with our goals. Deepening our learning about ourselves can be a very mindful act that requires both presence and patience.
- Where are we at?
- What have we done well?
- Where might we have fallen short?
- What might we be carrying with us that may be hindering or derailing our efforts to become a better version of ourselves?
To illustrate his point, Murphy uses the example of truck weigh stations. These stations are commonly located at several different points along long haul expressways. Truck drivers are required by law, to pull over and to get their trucks weighed at different weigh stations along their journey.
Murphy believes that the ‘truck weigh station’ is a perfect metaphor for pulling over in our own lives and genuinely evaluating where we’ve come from and where we are going to. At several points throughout the year, we should be taking the necessary time to stop and assess where we are at in regards to the personal and professional goals that we have set for ourselves and the direction we are headed in our lives.
As well, these check ins are a perfect time to also reflect on our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.
Rather than a continuous cycle of setting goals, failing to meet these goals, kicking ourselves when we have failed, then waiting for a new beginning to set new goals or resolutions, we can create the time and space needed to develop more self-forgiveness and deeper self-learning. When we choose to look at goal-setting differently and instead focus more on our own journey of learning, we can better identify the self-imposed roadblocks and obstacles that get in the way of our own growth and improvement.
Setting goals is such an important part of growth and improvement. Without goals, we can wander aimlessly with no specific vision or hopes for ourselves. We must be able to clearly articulate what our goals are and document these goals in order to hold ourselves accountable.
Constant Check Ins
Creating the time needed to assess and reflect on our goals. As Murphy says, think of it as a truck weigh station. We must take time to pull over and stop, in order to genuinely assess where we are at in regards to our personal and professional goals. Are we moving toward them or away from them? What do we need to do to stay on track? These check ins can be done informally as well. For example, a long walk or run or even through a chat with a close friend. The key is to build in time to check in with ourselves and our goals.
Rather than beating ourselves up if we fall off track, it is essential to be kind to ourselves and to create more self-compassion in our lives. We must try to develop a better relationship with ourselves by accepting that mistakes will happen. However, we must be willing to identify how we are self-sabotaging ourselves in order to break the habit of giving up on our goals too early or too often.
Always be willing to identify our successes as we move toward our goals. No matter how small these successes are, they are worthy of recognizing. Being able to identify our successes helps us to understand that we can progress and improve when we set our minds to it. Making the commitments needed to move closer to achieving our goals in an important part of this process.
The act of goal-setting requires us to be mindful and present in order to stay focused on our own growth. Through a self-reflective process, we can learn to approach our goals differently to free up space and time to deepen our learning.
What are your goals for 2020? How will you hold yourself accountable? And finally, how will you ensure that you put more self-compassion into action in order to push you closer to achieving the goals that you have set for yourself. Happy New Year and best of luck in 2020 folks.
Thanks for reading.
Neila Steele & Andy Vasily
Passionate about making a difference in this world through mindfulness and education.