Tag Archives: mind body soul

The Pursuit of Mindfulness: How to Get Out of Your Head and Into the Present

Today it’s increasingly viewed as normal to have a mind that’s always “on.” Our lives are busy, we face plenty of stress, and many of us spend our days in a bearable but unpleasant state of inner turmoil. When your mind is working overtime to deal with these factors, it’s very easy to slip out of a healthy and present state. Unfortunately, most of us are unable to retire to a remote mountaintop or a deserted beach in order to escape from the pressures of the modern world. Instead, we must maintain a healthy inner sanctuary by dwelling in the present instead of worrying about the future and the past. Tapping into mindfulness is a great way to re-center yourself when you’re coping with stress, uncertainty, conflict, and chaos.

Mindfulness is the state of paying attention to the present so you can truly live in the moment. Though it may seem elusive right now, mindfulness is easily accessible and allows you to experience, enjoy, and co-create a better life for yourself. In fact, you can slip into mindfulness in just a few seconds and continue reaping the benefits for the rest of your day.

Ready to give mindfulness a try and reap its many benefits? Here are six of my favorite techniques to help you get “out of your head” and access mindfulness easily and quickly.

Take 60 seconds just to breathe. You don’t have to adopt an extensive meditation practice to get real results in your life (although you certainly can if you wish!). Mindfulness can be achieved in just a few seconds with my favorite breathing exercise. You can practice this anywhere, like a busy restaurant, an elevator, or even in a bathroom stall. Give yourself 60 seconds of silence and during this time focus on your breathing. In this brief amount of time, you can actually stop negative thoughts and calm yourself down when your thoughts start racing. You can do this exercise several times a day to instantly get back into the present.

Get off the worry wheel. If you are a habitual worrier, like so many people are, you may not initially notice when your thoughts and fears begin spiraling out of control. And before you know it, anxiety takes over and starts running the show. In order to break a worry cycle, you must first realize that you are in one! Throughout the day, take a moment to assess your inner state. Ask yourself, What am I really feeling right now? Does it feel good or am I coming from a place of fear? If you discover you are feeling anxious or fretful, take a deep breath and pause. Remind yourself that you are in control of your thoughts and that you have the power to calm yourself down and reset your mind to dwell in a place of peace. Then create the intention to carry on in the present.

Put a positive affirmation on “repeat.” Whenever a worrisome thought (or a whole collection of them!) creeps in, be ready to counteract it with a positive affirmation. Affirmations really work to help you stop negative thoughts in their tracks. Disrupt negative thoughts and feelings of self-doubt with a grounding phrase you can repeat to yourself anytime you need centering. Some examples I like include I am a kind and loving person and I am capable and strong.

 Simplify your life. Sometimes a simpler approach is best for helping you tune in to the present. Take a look at your calendar—and your life in general—to determine if you need to audit and reduce your daily activities. Have you taken on too many obligations? Do any of your commitments give you an unpleasant gut reaction? Ask yourself if there are any simplifications that you can make that will give you more time to tune into your needs. When you do cut out unnecessary activities, take the time you have gained and spend it on improving your inner state.

Eat a mindful meal. Think back to the last time you really tasted and savored your food. Has it been far too long? Many people rush to eat every meal so they can get back to work or on to the next task. But mindful eating is much better for your digestion and your mental state. Try to have at least one mindful meal a day, or if that simply isn’t possible, aim for a few mindful meals a week. To eat a mindful meal, take time to really experience your food. Chew each bite carefully and focus on the beautiful flavors on your plate. You will enjoy your food more and may even find that you don’t need to eat as much to feel satisfied. And to be fully present for your meal, be sure to put aside any newspapers, magazines, iPads, and iPhones until after you have finished eating.

Get some fresh air and sunlight. I believe we are designed to spend time in nature and that doing so is restorative and helps us stay peaceful and clear-minded. Make sure that you are getting enough outdoor time in natural settings to help you calm your inner noise and become more mindful overall. Head outdoors for a dose of Mother Nature every day, if possible. Visit parks, ocean or lake shorelines, grassy fields, and forest trails to connect to the earth and gain some much-needed calm and presence.

Remember that when life feels overwhelming, you will be okay the moment you find your way back to the present through mindfulness. You don’t have to stay in a place of suffering; a healthier and happier version of you is always just a few deep breaths away. By practicing these steps daily, you will learn to recognize the triggers that pull you out of the now and can take gentle action to become present once again. In time, you will quickly be able to return to your center and dwell in a place of peace and awareness.

 

Seven Reasons to Become a Quitter in 2016 (and Why Ditching These Bad Habits Can Make This Your Happiest Year Yet)

Life is built on routines. It’s easy to go years—or even decades—without consciously assessing what’s working and what’s not. As a result, many of us are surrounded by people, obligations, objects, and habits that aren’t exactly making our lives better (far from it!). Well, no more. With a new year upon us, it’s the perfect time to take a fresh look at your daily existence—and drop all the dead weight that’s holding you back.

We tend to think of “quitting” as a bad thing, but the fact is, the things that used to fit well into your life may not be honoring who you are now. It’s very important to live on purpose, not by accident. So instead of piling even more responsibilities onto your plate in the form of overly ambitious New Year’s resolutions, resolve to become a quitter in 2016. Here are seven habits and behaviors you might want to consider leaving behind:

Quit making excuses about your health. Have you been meaning to lose a few pounds (for the last 10 years)? It’s so easy to bump exercise and healthy eating to the bottom of your to-do list. There are usually so many other tasks that seem more pressing: Get that report to the boss. Set up a time to get the car inspected. Make sure the kids get to cello lessons on time. Meanwhile, you tell yourself, I’ll start going to spin class next week. Problem is, “next week” never arrives.

If you don’t like the number you see on the scale, it’s time for the excuses to stop, regardless of how legitimate they are. And there’s a good reason for this tough love: Your weight isn’t just about your silhouette—it’s about your health, your energy level, and your confidence, too.

Quit burning the candle at both ends. Do you pack your days too full and get too little sleep in order to accomplish everything you want to? You may think you’re getting ahead, but in reality, you’re hurting your quality of life. There are more studies coming out each year that affirm the health benefits of getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

If you make taking care of yourself more of a priority, you’ll feel better about taking care of other people and have more energy throughout the day. Taking time for yourself isn’t selfish; it’s healthy and necessary. Whether you spend a day at the spa or simply take ten minutes to purchase and enjoy a cup of hot tea in the midst of running errands, investing in yourself will make you more resilient and will also reduce your stress and tension.

Quit spending so much time with people who don’t enrich your life. How many people do you regularly spend time with—even though you don’t really want to? You know the ones: Perhaps your sister-in-law constantly asks to get together, but spends the entire time criticizing everything from your clothes to your career to your parenting. Or maybe a certain frenemy peppers the conversation with backhanded compliments and one-upmanship, making you feel like your whole life has been one long series of bad decisions.

People with whom you feel obligated to spend time can suck up your energy and positive outlook, dragging down an otherwise great day or week. Often it’s impossible to back out of the relationship entirely, but there are things you can do to minimize its negative impact on your life. First, make sure you have set up clear boundaries. In some cases, people might not realize how bad they’re making you feel! And second, remember that you can gracefully say no to one social activity while accepting another, more positive one.

Quit saying yes to everything. Many of us have trouble saying no for a variety of reasons: We don’t want to let others down, we don’t want to be seen as weak, we’re afraid to refuse, etc. However, until you learn to say no when you need to, you’ll never be in the driver’s seat of your own life.

You don’t have to chair every event, take on every project, host every party, participate in every activity, and accept every invitation. Remember, you—not your boss, your friend, or your child’s teacher—are in charge of your calendar. Right now, as 2016 is just beginning, decide ahead of time what’s most important to you and prioritize those things. Then you can feel okay about saying no to some of the rest.

Quit at least one bad habit. Maybe you’re always running late, or you’ve been overspending lately. Perhaps you tend to procrastinate on big projects until the last minute, or you stuff yourself with junk food when you’re stressed.

To start, pick one bad habit—something that causes you a lot of stress would be a good choice. Then design a game plan that will enable you to kick it once and for all. For instance, if you’re always dragging into work late, you might set out your clothes and pack your lunch the night before, wake up 15 minutes earlier, and refrain from turning on the TV until after you’re showered and dressed. You’ll probably find that in most instances, summoning the motivation to change and taking that first step are the hardest parts!

Quit looking “good enough.” Most of us will never be runway models, but that’s no reason to settle for a humdrum, forgettable appearance. Wearing clothes (or a haircut, or makeup) that are dated, not flattering, or “good enough” isn’t doing your self-image any favors. And like it or not, people really do judge a book by its cover. Don’t you want to make an impression that clearly communicates your drive, personality, and confidence?

Get clear on colors and styles that are most flattering for your age, coloring, and body type, and stick with those guidelines whenever you make a new purchase. You might also want to ask a trusted friend for honest advice. But if you want more personalized results, I recommend working with an image consultant whose trained eye can help you to look your absolute best.

Quit spending so much time inside. This year, make a resolution to get more fresh air. Take a walk, run, or bike ride a few times each week—or just sit in a local park or on your back porch while reading a book. Getting out of your office or living room will help you think about yourself and your life from a whole new perspective.

Spending time outside helps you clear your mind, makes you feel more energized, and improves your health. What’s more, doing even the most minimal exercise outdoors helps emphasize the need to drink more water and take care of your skin with sunscreen and moisturizer. And if you’re anything like me, seeing the beautiful pictures that only nature can paint will put you in a great mood for the whole day. It’s a totally different experience than sitting on the couch to watch a movie.
The beginning of a brand new year is the perfect time to reassess your life. Instead of adding more things to your 2016 to-do list, do yourself a favor and jettison what’s no longer working for you. When you get rid of habits, mindsets, and behaviors that are dragging you down, you’ll make room for new things that make you feel good and help you grow.

The Year of Thoughtfulness: Six Simple Actions to Show Others You Care in 2015

Have you ever heard someone comment that thoughtfulness seems to be going the way of the dinosaurs? Perhaps you’ve had the same thought yourself from time to time. We’ve all experienced an every-man-for-himself attitude at work, given gifts that weren’t acknowledged, walked down streets that seemed full of bad attitudes…and much more.

I think that as a society, we might be becoming less considerate to others than we were in the past. But let me be clear: The problem isn’t that we don’t care or that we’re trying to be rude. We’re simply busier, more stressed, and more overwhelmed than ever before! As we navigate our hectic everyday lives to the best of our ability, going out of our way to make others feel good simply doesn’t cross our minds. We’re so focused on checking all the boxes on our growing to-do lists that we don’t have extra mental bandwidth to devote to anyone else. Believe me, I get it!

Fortunately, acknowledging others in a positive way doesn’t require very much of your time and energy—which means that being more thoughtful is a New Year’s resolution that will be easy to keep! Taking one or two minutes to engage with someone else won’t set you back very far on your to-do list, but it can completely change the tone of that person’s day (and improve your own mood, too!).

In 2015, I hope you’ll join me in committing regular acts of thoughtfulness. Here are six simple ways to do just that:

Remember birthdays. In the age of smartphones, electronic calendars, and automated alerts, it has never been easier to remember when a friend’s, loved one’s, or colleague’s birthday is coming up. And even though many of us downplay the significance of this occasion, deep down, it feels nice when someone else acknowledges us on our special day.

I have always enjoyed wishing people in my life a happy birthday. To me, birthdays are a very important day of the year, and no matter how many candles are on the cake, I believe they’re occasions to celebrate. Sometimes I call the person. Sometimes I mail a card with a personal note, or do both. These actions take only a few minutes to accomplish, and they make such a wonderful impression. They make me feel great, too!

Ask, “How are you doing?”…and mean it. We all have challenges. We’re all dealing with various issues in our lives that most other people have no idea exist. That’s why it’s so meaningful to sincerely ask others how they’re doing and what’s happening in their lives.

If someone doesn’t want to share the details of his or her life with you, it’s easy for that person to say, “I’m fine” and leave it at that. But many times, the other person will be grateful for a sympathetic ear and perhaps some advice. Devoting a few minutes of your time solely to someone else can make a huge difference in letting that person know he or she is not alone and that others care.

Pass compliments along. Picture this: You’re talking to a friend, and she mentions how much she loves your mutual hairstylist. The next time you have an appointment, don’t just describe the cut and color you’d like; make a point to let the stylist know how much your friend appreciates her.

When I hear something nice about someone, I love to pass along the compliment. Recently, I worked with a client who has cancer and is going through chemo. She was always cheerful, upbeat, and inspiring to the designer, salesperson, and me. When I called to see how she was feeling before a big family event to which she was wearing one of her new outfits, she was so touched that I had called. She thanked me and mentioned how nice the designer and salesperson had been to her. I couldn’t wait to pass along the compliment. The salesperson and designer were thrilled to hear that our client was doing well and were so grateful that I’d passed along her kind words.

Send handwritten thank-you notes. We’ve all heard this suggestion before—and for good reason. Handwritten notes are so much more meaningful than texts or emails. They’re a tangible reminder to the recipient that you are grateful.

It’s so nice to receive and open a thank-you card. I love knowing that someone else truly appreciated the present, dinner, or weekend visiting our home, for example. Remember, handwritten thank-you notes don’t have to be literary masterpieces. A few sentences that take less than five minutes to write can make someone’s day!

Smile. The next time you’re out in public—taking the bus to work, picking up groceries, or walking your dog in the park, for instance—take notice of other people’s demeanors. How many of them look happy? How many of them smile at you in greeting? Chances are, you’ll find that most people go about their business with single-minded purpose, avoiding eye contact and connection with others. Their faces look closed-off and serious—some of them may even be scowling!

That’s why a simple smile can be so meaningful. Smiles can lift the moods of strangers and friends alike, whether you’re engaged in conversation or not. Try to make it a habit to smile at everyone you encounter: your boss, the cashier at the store, the people you pass on the street. Trust me; you will make a positive impression. You’ll start to feel better too, because genuine smiles open your heart and cause your body to release mood-boosting endorphins!

Acknowledge good news that you hear. When you read about someone you know winning an award, publishing a book or article, or hear news of a birth or a promotion, take the time to send a note of congratulations or mention it the next time you see that person.

Those are just a few examples of the good news that is all around us. Unfortunately, we mostly tend to talk about bad news instead. It is much more gratifying to talk about and share good news than to share unhappy news or gossip. If you’re going to engage with someone, make it a positive interaction.

 

Give it a try. Resolve to commit regular acts of thoughtfulness in 2015. You’ll have a positive effect on other people’s lives and on your own outlook. There’s no reason why our to-do lists should dictate our moods and relationships!

The Art of Listening: Eight Tips to Help You Truly Hear Others

If you were asked, “Are you a good listener?” chances are you’d answer “yes.” Maybe you pride yourself on your ability to stay quiet even when you really want to interject, or maybe you believe that you give sound advice after hearing another person’s problem or dilemma. But as I was reminded recently, you might not be listening as well as you think!

While taking a mindfulness course, I participated in an exercise that required each individual and a partner to take turns telling one another a story. The catch was that the listener couldn’t react at all. No smiling, nodding, changes in facial expression, hand gestures, verbal responses, etc. I was surprised by the impact this exercise had on me. I really felt heard, that my words were being fully considered but not judged. Not having to “play” to the other person was incredibly freeing!

The truth is, there’s a lot more to listening than “just” letting people talk. Listening is actually a powerful skill that must be mindfully developed. When you truly listen to others, you give them the valuable gifts of respect, compassion, and acknowledgment. Becoming a good listener is an enhancement for your life, too, because it strengthens your relationships, helps you to learn more, keeps you in the moment, and shows others how to effectively listen to you.

Here are eight tips to help you cultivate the art of listening:

Eliminate distractions. Your physical environment can play a large role in how well you’re able to listen to other people. For instance, the hustle and bustle of a crowded restaurant might impact your focus and even your ability to hear your companion clearly. It’s not always possible, of course, but if you know that a conversation is important, be proactive about removing anything that might distract you from being totally present. Go to a quiet place, mute your cell phone, and turn off the television.

Turn off your mental track. Try to turn off the constant chatter in your head while the other person speaks. Don’t think ahead to formulate a response or try to figure out how to “fix” his problem, as this will distract you from being in the moment. Just listen. This will take some practice, since it probably goes against your habits and instincts! Try to engage not only your ears, but also your heart and mind, in fully understanding what is being said. Remember, a conversation in which you are primarily a listener is not about your own needs and desires, but the other person’s.

Be still. We are all familiar with the concept of an “animated speaker.” Most of us don’t think about animated listeners, but they exist too! Over the course of your next few conversations, pay attention to the other person’s body language as you talk: arm movements, facial expressions, shifting positions, etc. These things aren’t always, but can be, distracting. So especially when the conversation is serious or important, try to keep your nonverbal reactions to a minimum. You may find it helpful to clasp your hands in your lap and keep your eyes focused on a particular spot, such as the speaker’s face.

Restate what you heard. Especially when something important is being discussed, make sure that you understood (as opposed to simply heard) what was said. Once the other person has stopped speaking, confirm that you are both on the same page. For example, you might say, “So, what you’re telling me is that you think your boss has been avoiding you and you’re afraid you might be laid off, correct?” Or, “You aren’t sure how to resolve the argument you’re having with your spouse and you would like to hear my insights, is that right?”

Save your stories. When someone tells you a story, it’s human nature to want to fire back with your own. You know how it goes: “That’s so funny, because the same thing happened to my cousin one time…” Or, “I know exactly what you mean, because I was in a similar situation several years ago at my former job…” However, you need to suppress the impulse to respond this way, because it swings the conversation back to you. You may think you are connecting by finding common ground, but from the other person’s perspective, you’re downplaying the issues or concerns she has just laid on the table. Instead, stay focused on the point your companion is trying to make or the problem she is experiencing.

Ask how you can help. Especially if you’re talking to a friend or loved one who is going through a difficult time, you may want to find a solution or lessen the other person’s pain. However, keep in mind that sometimes what people need most is to unload and be heard, not to be fixed. That’s why I recommend explicitly asking the other person what he wants from you after he has finished talking. If your companion asks for your help or advice, give it. But don’t be surprised if you hear, “I just needed someone to listen. Thank you.” The fact is, engaging with other people’s feedback, especially when you’re upset, worried, or emotional, is exhausting. In my personal life, I find that I’m most honest and transparent with friends who just listen.

Be honest. From time to time, you may find yourself listening to someone who has the facts wrong or who is out of line. If this person asks for your feedback, how should you respond, knowing that she won’t like what you have to say? It’s not always easy, but part of being a good listener is being honest. You can’t condone the other person’s bad behavior or lie to them just to keep the peace. Be gentle, but tell the truth. In most cases, the other person will ultimately respect you for your honesty.

Keep it to yourself. Even if you think a conversation wasn’t important, be careful about whom you share it with. One of the most important aspects of listening is being trustworthy. This point may seem obvious, but the truth is, it’s often all too easy for your mouth to get ahead of your mind in conversations. And once you’ve developed a reputation as a gossip, it’s hard to repair. That’s why it’s important to stay mindful even after you’ve finished speaking with a particular person. You need to demonstrate that your friends and loved ones can feel safe with you, that you won’t spread their concerns around your social circle or judge them.

Overall, keep in mind that the art of listening revolves around being interested, not interesting. When another person is confiding in you, your primary role is not to be entertaining or even to offer solutions—it’s to show your companion consideration and respect.