"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."
~John F. Kennedy
The act of gratitude is an act of self-love. On the surface it may appear as an act of love towards something or someone else but in reality the benefit is ours. Being grateful is the quickest way to pull ourselves out of a negative mindset, a poor attitude, a feeling of hopelessness or a general outlook of despair. A changed outlook can happen instantaneously through the practice of gratitude. The light bulb of gratitude brings with it an instant awareness of what is good in our life. Hopelessness, negativity, and despair cannot exist in one's thoughts at the same moment of gratefulness.
In this regard, mindfulness and gratefulness are very similar. In most cases one cannot be mindful and stressed at the same time unless you perceive the moment you are being pulled into as stressful. Most stress happens because of our perception of an event that has already occurred or one that might occur. Being present in the moment eliminates both possibilities. A grateful mind cannot exist in peace with a desperate one and a negative outlook cannot share space with a grateful one.
But this takes practice and momentum. It takes practice to become grateful when your mind is telling you how many things are going wrong. It takes practice to be grateful when you find yourself in conditions which your mind would perceive as harsh, negative or stressful. That is why you might consider making gratefulness a habit. There are always things to be grateful for. Did you know that 3 in 10 people on this earth lack access to safe drinking water at home? Or that 6 in 10 lack safely managed sanitation (World Health Organization)? If you are reading this, my guess is that you have access to both. But when is the last time you thought about how clean water is available to us and who is responsible for it? That is something to be very thankful for every day. You only need to look at all that surrounds you to find things to be grateful for and being in a grateful state brings peace and a much less stressed existence.
Gratitude does take daily practice. It takes no time at all to be grateful for the shower, razor, shaving cream, soap, deodorant, clothing, car, roads, train, bus, plane and all the systems that go with it to make your daily routine possible to create your professional life.
"Reflect upon your present blessings of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes of which all men have some."
Making gratitude upon rising your priority can create a dynamic day and a different way of living. Choosing just 5 things to be grateful for everyday and listing the reasons why - this is where the emotion comes in - has the power to transform your life. Creating the habit of being grateful in the morning will lead you to be grateful for more and more throughout the day and you will notice a difference in how you feel. For now, the next time you feel out of sorts and stressed, find something of which you feel grateful for. You will be grateful you did.
Follow Mike on Twitter at: @kinestheticlass
Consider two people who may be be experiencing the same predicament. Let’s call them Person A and Person B. Both are at work needing to get stuff done. Both need to print off a bunch of copies of a document for an important meeting they need to be at. Both go into the copy room and even though there are multiple photocopiers in the room, all of them are not working properly, so no copying can be done.
Person A responds by letting out a noticeably loud sigh of frustration and anger making it obvious how incredibly inconvenient and untimely this situation is for them. They go on to mumble profanities under their breath and even try pounding down on the buttons of the photocopier thinking that this will magically solve this problem.
When this doesn’t work, Person A storms out of the room and angrily heads back to their office or wherever it was they came from. On the way, they can’t help but think about other injustices that they have experienced that week. Their mind floods with recent memories of people who have annoyed and irritated them or treated them disrespectfully. With every one of these negative thoughts, their level of frustration and anxiety deepens which unknowingly begins to increase their heart rate and spike levels of cortisol in their bodies, triggering a cascade of neurological responses that only complicate and cloud their ability to think rationally in that moment. For the rest of the day, no matter what happens to them, everything that Person A experiences will just confirm the negative emotions they are experiencing. As much as they want to stop feeling this way, no relief is in sight for them as they are hooked into a negative loop of emotional response.
Now, consider Person B. Upon finding out that the photocopier is broken, they immediately feel a surge in frustration levels and can’t help but think how bad this timing is. They recognize that it’s the last thing that they need in this moment. Their day has not gone particularly well, so this certainly doesn’t help.
Instead of beginning to rage and go into emotional overdrive, Person B understands that doing so will serve no purpose. Over the past year, they have made a strong commitment to themselves to live more mindfully and to learn and practice specific mindfulness techniques with more consistently in their day-to-day life. One of the things that they’ve really worked on is breath control, particularly in difficult and stressful moments. Recognizing that the broken photocopiers have caused them to feel quite stressed and anxious, there’s no better time than now to tap into the breath.
Person B makes a conscious decision to just stand there and be present in this moment. They choose a specific technique called the 7-11 breath. They commit themselves to practicing this breath, in silence, for the next 2 minutes accepting all of the sensations that they are experiencing.
They inhale for a slow count of 7 full seconds and exhale for an even slower count of 11 seconds. They repeat this cycle of breath for the entire two minutes without trying to solve their problem or think about what they need to do next. After a few inhalations and exhalations, they begin to feel a slightly calmer state starting to reveal itself. What’s actually happening below the surface is that their focused breath work is having a direct impact on reducing levels of cortisol in their body. Cortisol is a hormone in our body that is activated when we are stressed. It serves an important purpose to us, but when too much cortisol is released, it can impact our ability to think and respond rationally to stressful situations that arise.
After the 2 minutes of focused breath work, the reality is that the photocopier issue has not been resolved. Person B still needs to figure out what to do next, however, they are in a much calmer and more rationale state in order to problem solve and identify actionable next steps.
Mindfulness and breath work are not about solving difficult problems that we experience or making stress and anxiety suddenly go away. Mindfulness and breath work can be used as our anchor points to better deal with difficult emotions when confronted with challenging experiences in our lives. Mindfulness and breath work can be practiced and over time we can improve on our ability to apply these skills and techniques in our personal and professional lives.
Are you the first person described in this story or the second person? If you are the first person, rest assured in knowing that we’ve all been there, felt that way, and responded to difficult situations in the same way. However, practicing mindfulness with regularity is a great way to learn to respond differently. The 7-11 breath described in this blog post is just one of many breath techniques that can be applied in our life.
The point is that nobody consciously chooses to be the first person described in this story. Nobody consciously sets out to have a terrible day and to seek out stressful situations. However, every one of us does have the ability to prepare ourselves for days and situations such as this. We can choose to be more mindful and to practice specific techniques and skills that can be improved on in order to allow us to respond more rationally to these experiences.
Living more mindfully can change our for the better if we are willing to take the plunge and try it out.
You can follow Andy on Twitter @andyvasily
An anonymous source once said, “If you really do put a small value upon yourself, rest assured that the world will not raise your price.” I could not agree more, but continuously watch people put their own health near the bottom of their personal to-do list. This not only impacts the quality of their life but the quality of what they can provide others.
Satchel Paige said, “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.” If you’ve not quite made it to the bottom of your to-do list, what is gaining is not pretty. With one simple decision, today, you can change all that.
"It’s an act of love to take care of your body."
Simply stated, the greatest gift is one of loving yourself. Whether you realize it or not, this gift impacts everything you do, every action you take, every conversation you have, and every person you meet. People often put everything else ahead of their health and well-being only to be not as effective at life. We take care of our children, spouses, employment, pets, finances, friendships, homes, cars, and lawns but often pay little mind to our bodies and health. If you want to be more effective, loving, productive and useful, you must begin today by putting yourself at the top of the list.
The case for wellness in a purposeful life cannot be overstated. Realizing that everything flows back to how we feel can change your life in an instant. There is no denying that maintaining health and wellness can seem overwhelming and that it is a daily practice, but once we raise our level of living, living raises us. Think of it as “getting on the front end of things” because usually we work from the back end, where everything is a bit more difficult; frankly, a lot more difficult.
Once you get on the front end of things, life flows. What once seemed like a chore is accomplished with vigor. The end of the day no longer brings exhaustion but a rested, peaceful feeling of accomplishment and balance. More gets done and less energy is expended. What used to be tiring is now energizing. What a relief. You can be on that track. It is a choice. Change your mind, change your life. The greatest gift is one of health, wellness, energy, and vitality that you give yourself. Move yourself to top of the list right now and everyone around you will say, “thank you.”
The greatest personal gift is also a consideration, examination and implementation of the benefits of a well lifestyle. In doing so you have the potential to:
At the end of your life, all you will have is the person you’ve become. That individual will not be realized to your fullest potential if the needs of your mind and body are ignored. You are inherently well-equipped for every wellness challenge that lies ahead. With a clear destination, a lighted path and the proper tools for the trip, you will match your journey with eagerness and a new outlook which will empower your way. Here's to changing your life forever.
Follow Mike on Twitter at: @kinestheticlass
Inspiration today comes from the English poet David Whyte.
Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
Do you ever ask yourself when is it enough?
Why is that I’ve finished everything on my plate and I’m still looking for something more to eat?
Isn’t it enough that I have a full belly?
Why is it that I’ve been at work all day and I’m still on the computer answering and sending emails in the evening?
Can’t it wait till tomorrow when I am back at work?
Isn’t it enough that I’ve put in an 8-hour day?
Why is that when I find myself arguing with my loved ones, why do I still feel the need to get the last word in?
Isn’t it enough that I have communicated my perspective?
Isn’t that enough?
Will I ever be satisfied with enough?
This poem is a great reminder to all of us to reflect on what we have ‘enough’ of in our life and to seek comfort in knowing that we are enough, as ourselves, in any given moment. If we are to live authentically, what we bring to the world is enough. Be aware of what our ‘enough’ is and stand by it. Understand and accept when we’ve done enough, said enough, listened enough, loved enough, eaten enough, and have been kind enough to others.
If our reflections help us to understand that we genuinely haven’t loved enough, been kind enough, listened enough, worked hard enough, paid attention enough, etc., then we must change our ways. At least reflect on our 'enoughs' and be satisfied when we've done enough to make a difference to ourselves and to others.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh
On average, a person at rest takes about 16 breaths per minute. This means we breathe about 960 breaths an hour, and 23,040 breaths a day.
Thousands of opportunities per day to focus on our breathing, if even for just a few minutes, but how often do we actually spend any time at all paying attention to the breath?
There are countless breath techniques out there that can be put into practice in our lives. We will be sharing a number of these techniques and strategies on this blog over the next few weeks. However, as a basic starting point, a great breath awareness practice that you can put into action right away is this:
The act of creating a longer exhale than inhale allows us to tap into a more relaxed state. It won’t necessarily take away anxiety or stress, but it can help to lessen the intensity of an anxious and stressed state in that moment. The purpose isn’t to completely eliminate anxiety and stress or emotions that may be negatively impacting us, but drawing more attention to the breath and consciously investing even 1-2 minutes into some type of breath work is a healthy practice for all of us.
At minimum, try this out at least once a day for the next week and note whether or not it has any impact at all on how you feel and/or think. Just 1-2 minutes! That’s all it takes.
A thing intended; an aim or plan.
The act or power of carefully thinking about, listening to, or watching someone or something.
Drawing more awareness to our habitual thought patterns allows us to become more familiar with how we operate in different environments throughout the day. Instead of randomly letting our day-to-day actions (and interactions) pass blindly before us or not being fully present in these moments, we can choose to act and think differently.
Gary Nicol and Karl Morris, authors of the book, The Lost Art of Putting, share a simple, yet profoundly important piece of advice when working with their clients and it has to do with intention and attention.
Although this is a golf book and most of the work that Gary and Karl do falls within the capacity of coaching golfers, there is much greater meaning attached to the advice that they offer that is applicable across a wide range of contexts, not just in golf, but in life.
Asking ourselves two simple, but important questions can create a new kind of momentum for us that can shift our thinking. The two questions are:
What is my intention?
Where will I place my attention?
Having a specific intention allows us to focus on what we want to happen. For example, my intention is to genuinely connect with my children today or my intention is to be more patient with my students. Whatever your intention is doesn’t matter, the most important thing is being specific with what this intention actually is.
The second question, “Where will I place my attention.”, is an important reminder to be present with our intention and wholeheartedly place our attention on what it is we set out to do. Being present requires us to tune into the sensations, feelings, thoughts, and words we use in the moment. If we set specific intentions and then let our minds wander and lose attention, our focus is shot and chances are very high that we will not succeed in meeting the intention we had set forth.
As Gary and Karl state on pg. 37 in their book:
“You will either have your attention on something useful to you, or you will allow your attention to drift off in the direction of something useless. Attention on something useful to the task you want to perform or useless to that task.”
Gary and Karl emphasize the need to become aware of where our attention is.
Whether you play golf or not, paying very close attention to where our actual attention is requires a great degree of presence and self-awareness. Two essential skills that can be developed with daily practice.
However, we must first begin by setting meaningful intentions in order to practice the art of paying attention more closely.
A great, go-to podcast that promotes deep learning about mindfulness is 10% Happier with Dan Harris. Dan's list of interviewees includes well-known meditation teachers, neuroscientists, psychologists, and mental health experts from around the world.
A recent Dan Harris interview with Frank Ostaseski, a Buddhist teacher, dives into the importance of creating space and time to reflect at the end of each day. Frank and his wife always ask each other 4 questions before they go to bed:
What or who inspired you today?
What a great way to train your brain to reflect on the outstanding and creative moments in our day. This question will keep you scanning for the exceptional moments in your day
What challenged you today?
Growth and learning requires us to be challenged and knocked out of our comfort zone if we are to deepen our understanding of the things that we need to focus on.
What surprised you today?
Looking at life through a different lens and identifying ‘wow’ moments or times that we were surprised keeps us on point and more aware of those moment-to-moment life experiences throughout the day.
What did you learn about love?
Love comes in many forms. Drawing awareness to these many forms expands our ability to learn something new about love every day.
Daily routines and rituals can and should look differently for each person. The most important things about developing a unique mindfulness practice that addresses your own personal needs is that you take the time to try different things out. See what sticks, analyze what you need to get rid of, and lastly, commit to creating a mindfulness practice that helps to cultivate habits that serve you well each and every day you are blessed to be on this earth. Why not give the above 4 questions a try for just one week. You never know the impact it may have on your life.
There are times that there is an unexplainable heaviness that can descend on us that leaves us feeling confused and unable to figure out why we are wrestling with such emotions. At a gut level, we can totally detect that we are off track and something needs fixing, but cannot figure out exactly what it is that needs to be worked on.
When something is feeling off, chances are high that we may be experiencing some form of being emotionally scrambled. The tendency can be that we just try to disregard these moments and fight through the confusion, but we don’t have to let this be our default setting when dealing with being emotionally scrambled.
Tara Brach, an American psychologist and proponent of Buddhist meditation, believes that a key strategy for dealing with difficult emotions is to, as she says, “Invite these emotions in to have tea with you”.
She clearly means that we need to sit with these emotions, in silence, and to genuinely reflect on them. The act of not pushing them away or ignoring them, can help us sort through our scrambled emotions in an effort to better understand them.
So, what can you do when you might be feeling ‘emotionally scrambled’?
Take 5, 10 or 15
It is so worth it to take 5, 10, or 15 minutes of complete solitude to reflect on the feelings you are having. Sitting with them or, as Tara Brach says, inviting them in to have tea with you, allows you to begin to separate and untangle these emotions so that you can better identify each one.
As these emotions are individually revealed, you can begin the process of prioritizing them in order of the impact they are having on you.
For example, during your 5, 10 or 15 minutes of reflection time, the emotions of frustration, anger, and jealousy might pop up for you. Now, you are in a perfect position to ask yourself these 3 questions:
Which of these three emotions stands out the most? Jealousy
Which of these emotions falls second and third on the list? Anger, Frustration
Chances are the the number one ranking emotion is what you need to get to the bottom of, so a final couple of questions you might reflect on are:
What is it within myself that is causing the jealousy I am experiencing?
What actions do I need to take in order to better understand myself and the steps needed to lessen the impact that jealousy is having on me?
Taking just 5, 10 or 15 minutes to reflect on our scrambled emotions is not only worth the effort and the time, we can also create actionable steps to better deal with these emotions and move forward in much more empowering ways. Better yet, take a few extra minutes to journal out some of these thoughts and the action steps you came up with. Journalling is an excellent way to hold yourself more accountable and to get things out of your head and on paper.
Emotional regulation requires us to put self-awareness into practice in our lives. Trying out the 5, 10 or 15-minute exercise is a great way to better regulate our emotions and learn from them rather than divert, deflect, or push them away.
How aligned were you today?
Imagine a time, either recently or in the past, when you were functioning and performing at your optimal best. Take a few minutes to reflect on this moment. As you reflect back on that time, what are the first thoughts that come to your mind? What exactly was it that you were doing? Was it an individual pursuit or were you surrounded by others? What time of day was it? What emotions were you experiencing at the time? How did it feel to be performing at such a high level? Where were you? What preparation may have gone into you being able to perform in this way?
As you think about these questions and sort through the answers that come to mind, you are tapping into some neurological hardwiring that allows you to re-experience what it felt like to be in that moment and recalling these events is a healthy exercise to remind us that it is moments such as this that we want to create with more consistency in our lives.
Performing at our best is not a chance happening. It is a direct result of connecting with our strengths and the specific states of mind or dispositions that allow us to thrive in ways that lead to more personal and professional satisfaction.
What words come to mind when you think of a specific time that you were functioning at your optimal best? Here are some words below that may resonate with you.
It’s important to align ourselves in a way that allows us to tap into our strengths and create the conditions that help us to experience more optimal states of performance. The challenge of aligning ourselves requires us to do a daily reflection of where we are at with accessing and putting into action our strengths. It’s imperative that we don’t let our strengths go to waste.
For example, let’s say your 3 words were Empathetic, Inspired, and Intentional. Reflective questions you might ask yourself at the end of the day are:
How empathetic was I today?
How inspired did I feel today?
How intentional were my actions today?
What do I need to do tomorrow in order to be more empathetic, more inspired, and more intentional?
Investing the time in identifying your 3-5 words that describe you when you are at your best and reflecting at the end of each day can be the constant reminder you need to stay on track in order to be the very best version of yourself possible. Keep at it!
Am I going to practice peace of go to war?
What a great question to consider as you go about your daily business. With certainty we can expect that on most days we will come up against struggles and obstacles when dealing with certain people who cross our path.
Our pre-programmed default setting can cause us to respond to these situations with much higher levels of stress and aggression that are often triggered by our autonomic nervous system. However, when building greater self-awareness of our habitual response patterns, we can choose to tap into the breath and literally breathe our way to a calmer state when being in these situations.
As the passage states, when things get edgy, we have the ability to ask ourselves this question, “Am I going to practice peace, or am I going to war?”
The question alone is not enough though as specific mindfulness strategies such as focused breath work can and will help us remain more present and calm in these edgy situations allowing us to choose to practice peace with more regularity, especially when stakes are high.
In a world plagued by spiking levels of depression, addiction, and other forms of mental illness, it is more important than ever to deepen the art or practicing peace with others rather than going to war with them.
Neila Steele & Andy Vasily