What was the name of that new restaurant?

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What was the name of that new restaurant?

The Top 10 Ways to Boost Your Memory

You know that feeling when you get a new laptop – when everything about it is lightning fast?

My mind used to be that way.

I knew, in a flash, where absolutely everything was in my office. (Even the things that weren’t where they should’ve have been.)

I was able to keep track of where everyone in my family needed to be, when they needed to be there and what they needed to have with them.

In fact, I could have told you what I wore every day of my life from age 6 to 36.

Things have gotten progressively muddier since then. (My brother, who has complained of a poor memory his entire life, thinks it’s hilarious.)

I rely on my phone for everything. I take pictures of the label when I like a wine, I keep scores of lists in notes and I use Google keywords until I happen upon the name of that new restaurant I forgot to write down.

Whether like me, your data bank isn’t what it used to be, or like my brother, retrieval never really was your thing, there are some really simple ways you can improve your memory.

And the number one way? Mindfulness.

This Week: 
10 ways to boost your memory.

  1. Pay attention to the moment you’re in. Sometimes what we think we’ve forgotten, we never properly learned in the first place. When your mind is jumping from the person you’re talking with, to your phone, to the list in your head about what you need to do next, your brain won’t properly file what you’ve heard.
  2. Make associations. Link what you want to remember to something that you already know.
  3. Create pictures. Whenever you visualize something, you are much more likely to remember it accurately.
  4. Write it down. This may sound like a cheat, but the act of writing something down (especially with pen and paper rather than typing) greatly improves your retention.
  5. Reduce the overload. Just like your tired laptop, when you bombard your brain with tons of information and fill it with unneeded data, it s l o w s down.
  6. Repeat, practice, repeat. That’s right, old school. The more you practice or repeat something, the more likely you’ll remember.
  7. Time travel. When you’re trying to remember something, allow your mind to recreate the space where you learned it in the first place.
  8. Get sleep. Sometimes poor memory and overload are merely a function of your brain needing a bit more time to re-boot. And powering down for humans means sleep.
  9. Create a rhyme or a song. As every child of the 70's knows, (we can all perfectly recite the Preamble to the US Constitution – thank you, Schoolhouse Rock) you’ll never forget something if you sing it enough times. If you’re not a child of the 70's – or if you are and want a bit of nostalgia, here’s Schoolhouse Rock, Preamble. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_NzZvdsbWI
  10. RELAX. Sometimes you just need to stop forcing the memory and let your brain work on it for you. If it’s in there, the answer will come to you.

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Bored? Go Bizzaro.

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Bored? Go Bizzaro.

If you’ve ever been a fan of either superheroes or Seinfeld, (as this geeky girl clearly is) you already know about Bizzaro World.

An invention of DC Comics, Bizarro World is a planet where everything is the opposite of what you might expect. Superman (called Bizarro) is a super villain, the planet is cube shaped, hello is goodbye and vice versa…you get the idea.

In one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, Elaine makes some new friends. Each is a doppelganger for one of her usual gang but his exact opposite in demeanor and personality. In effect, she’s met a Bizzaro Jerry, George and Kramer.

Not surprisingly, (the human brain absolutely loves the combination of familiarity and newness), she gets drawn in to the Bizarro group.

The point here is that, although we all find comfort in consistency and routine, we also crave novelty. When you experience boredom, it’s actually a cue that your brain wants you to shake things up a bit.

Am I suggesting you watch Seinfeld to cure your boredom? Well, no, but if you decide to anyway (you’ll notice I’ve avoided spoilers), it’s the “Man Hands” episode you’re looking for. ; )

This Week: 
Finding the novelty in your day to day routine.

Each day this week, pull yourself into the present moment (and out of the rut) by trying one of these:

  • Take a completely different path to work.
  • Sit in a different chair than the one you normally sit in at your kitchen table.
  • Stop for coffee at a place other than your usual or go inside instead of driving through.
  • Invite a colleague to lunch that you know little about.
  • Get dressed up. Or if you dress up every day, go casual.
  • Cook an exciting recipe for dinner and put candles and cloth napkins on the table.
  • Try a new form of exercise.
  • Hang out in that room in your house that you rarely go in.
  • Make a plan to do something this weekend that you never do (go to a farmer’s market, get tickets for a play, go hear some live music, take a picnic to the park…).
  • Spice it up in the bedroom by trying something new.
  • Shut down all of your electronics for the evening.
  • Hang out in a bookstore after work.
  • Make up your own!

Here’s to having a a Bizzaro week.

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 Overcomplicating Things?

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Overcomplicating Things?

I bet you are.

We humans are nothing if not logical – big challenges require big solutions. After all, if there were a simple solution, wouldn’t we have solved this already?

Enter the Wile E Coyote planning process.

We love to match every nuance of a problem with its solution counterpart and map out every step from beginning to end.

This makes us feel good – the complexity makes the solution feel credible and proportional to the problem. “Eureka! THIS is going to work!

It makes it feel like a done deal – every possibility has been covered. “YES! I’ve got this.”

It makes us feel smart. “Wile E. Coyote, SUPER genius!”

Except Wile E. Coyote never does catch that Road Runner, and most of our best laid plans end up falling apart (sometimes before they even get started).

Why?

Complex and complicated plans may feel good to create, but they’re a bear to execute. They’re overwhelming. There are a too many places for unforeseen obstacles to creep in and interfere. Their rigidity prohibits us from seeing what’s right in front of us, blinding us to other choices and opportunities along the way.

Most of the time, solutions that work (on both the small and large scale) are simple, not complex.

Unfortunately, we automatically associate simple with easy and we get turned off because:

As in the example above, "…so simple a solution could never change my very difficult problem“.

Or

We think simple means easy and easy means quick fix – then we give up too hastily, frustrated when nothing appears to change. 

My favorite example of this is Nike’s Just DO it campaign. The answer to personal fitness is exercise – incredibly simple – you just have to do it. But you have to do it every day. And that, as we exercise-impaired understand, is not easy.

And so, how do we embrace simple but not easy? And how can a long term, complicated goal be achieved this way?

This Week: 
3 Ways to Keep It Simple

  1. THINK SMALL, THINK NOW
    Rather than attempting to figure out everything at once, choose one small thing that you can do to get yourself started today. A favorable outcome (even a tiny one) will give you the energy and inspiration you need to take the next small step.

    In fact, by keeping yourself from looking too far ahead you'll not only avoid overwhelm, but also keep your mind open to new ideas that emerge from the incremental successes along the way.
     
  2. USE WHAT YOU'VE GOT
    We spend a lot of time and energy reinventing the wheel. 

    Make a list of all the things you're good at. Then add things you've accomplished that you've proud of. Look around you for others who have already solved your problem (or under similar circumstances to yours, never had it in the first place). Add any that resonate to the list.

    Search the list for hints on how you can attack your current dilemma simply. Your first step is probably right in front of you.
     
  3. LET IT FLOW
    Avoid judging yourself or your progress each step of the way. Practice looking at this process as a continuous flow from which you will learn and shift as you move forward rather than a series of starts and stops.

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Grrrrrrrr…

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Grrrrrrrr…

Did you ever wake up a bit out of sorts? Something just feels slightly off from the moment you open your eyes?

And then there’s no coffee.

And Apple (or Google) has decided that you’re not actually you and begins to pull you down the long, dark, tunnel of password restoration.

And you need your computer because you have a client meeting over Zoom in 30 minutes.

And…

Well, you get the point. Some days it feels like the world is working against you.

Clearly, I’m describing the start to my day today and it’s probably pretty obvious that I’m a bit grumpy about it.

Anger, like all of our emotions, is fed by the story we’re telling ourselves about what’s happening. When it comes to anger, the story always features BLAME in a starring role.

  • “I’m mad at myself for forgetting to pick up more coffee when I was out yesterday.”
  • “I’m frustrated by Apple password quagmire and furious that they don’t have a simpler fix.” (It turns out that they do. I was just too aggravated to see it at first.)
  • “I want to throttle my son for loading his Skype account onto my laptop because I’m sure that’s the reason I’ll be missing my client meeting.”

Lots and lots of BLAME.

Which leads me to feel like a VICTIM.

And there you have it - the looping Dynamic Duo of virtually every bad day.

WARNING: These super-villains rarely go away on their own. A bad day can stretch into a bad week or longer. For some, the BLAME-VICTIM loop can even become a way of life.

So what to do?

This Week: 
The Secret is in the Story.

Believe it or not, it’s never the circumstance that gets (and keeps) you riled up, it’s the story you’re telling yourself about that circumstance.

For example, the password situation on my computer fueled my bad mood because of the running story I was telling myself.

Ugh! Several days to restore?!

What did he do to my computer?

I’m going to miss my meeting.

My new client will think I’m a flake.

She’s going to fire me.

My reputation will be trashed.

If I had stayed in that story, chances are it would have taken up quite a bit of my morning and probably caused me to postpone my client meeting.

Hint: Thinking clearly, being creative, and problem solving are impossible when we’re stuck in a story.

3 ½ STEPS to Shifting Your Story (and saving your day)

  1. b r e a t h e – step away for a moment clear your head and your mind with a few deep breaths
  2. Reframe – what other stories might be equally true here? 
    My laptop just needs a reboot.
    I can use my iPhone for my client meeting if I need to.
    If I do need to reschedule, I can handle it in such a way that it enhances my new relationship.
    I’ve gotten out of MUCH tighter spots than this one. How silly that I’m getting all riled up
  3. Act – do something. Get out of your head and into positive action. This can be problem solving, working, exercising, reading, listening to music, etc… The idea is to get out of the story and into the present moment. Practice mindfulness.
    . Repeat any time the story creeps back in.

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Game Changer

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Game Changer

Did you know that your brain has a natural negativity bias?

It’s designed to remember and embed the bad stuff to keep you safe from encountering it again in the future. More specifically, to keep you safe enough to have a future.

That’s a good thing when it means you won’t be stepping out into traffic or putting your hands on any more hot stoves. When it means you can easily recall every painful experience, self-effacing thought, and set-back while the wins, kudos and proud moments fade into the ether, it isn’t.

Unfortunately, most of the negative things we remember have very little to do with keeping us safe and a lot to do with keeping us stressed out.

Your negativity bias also affects every decision you make.

When you draw on the experiences stored in your memory banks, only part of your reality shows up. The data is flawed. Your memory is skewed negative and that profoundly affects the way you see opportunity, calculate risk and choose what you should and shouldn’t do.

Fortunately, you can begin shifting your negativity bias to create a more balanced, more accurate memory bank.

I’m not talking hearts and ponies here.

This is about noticing the good things that are 100% real. By embedding your positive experiences into your memory in the same way your brain embeds the bad ones, you’re actually growing a new brain – one that will help you stay present, feel better, see new opportunities and make choices to keep you moving forward.

And the way in?

Gratitude.

This Week's Tip:

Three simple steps to balancing your brain.

Start a Gratitude Journal:

  1. Pick a particular time of day you’ll do it. (An anchor is always helpful in making it a habit.) At your chosen time each day, write down three things you are grateful for in that moment.
     
  2. They can be big or small. They can be as simple as “mmmmm, I smell coffee,” or as profound as the universe itself.

    All that matters is that you feel truly grateful for it in the moment that you write it down – that it is 100% real. No rose-colored glasses or false optimism here.

    Never lie to yourself – if you’re not feeling particularly grateful for those messy teenagers today, it’s not the day to put them on the list. Maybe ice cream or wine?
     
  3. Now, remember that your brain is not designed to hard wire these types of thoughts, (the delightful smell of freshly brewed coffee has little to do with your immediate safety or survival).

We can trick your brain into embedding these positive experiences in a way that is similar to the way it embeds the negative ones.

Read over the three things you’ve written down. Notice (and name) any positive feelings that arise when you read them back to yourself. Notice (and name) any sensations you feel in your body.

Try to experience each item on your list with as many of your senses as possible.

In the few seconds it took you to create a sensory experience about the things you wrote, you activated several parts of your brain and embedded your good experiences. You’re on the road to a more balanced database.

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 beep beep beep beep beep . . .

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beep beep beep beep beep . . .

The alarm seemed to go off earlier and earlier.

I’d grab my phone to stop the noise. The one barely opened eye it took to complete the task would manage to see the long list of social media, email and text notifications that poured in while I was sleeping.

I’d disconnect the thing from the charger and take it with me to scan while I made coffee.

So began each day.

On a good day, by the time I hit the meditation cushion I’d be wide awake and feeling accomplished.

With the birds still chirping their early-morning repertoire, I’d already have had my coffee, gotten two grumpy teens off to school, and knocked out the morning’s email, text, FB and LinkedIn responses.

On a not so good day, however, I’d be amped up, frenzied, and find it difficult to settle into meditation (or anything else for that matter).

There were lots of not-so-good days.

And truth be told, I never even noticed the chirping birds. Each day began on auto-pilot. Without ease or intention, my mood by 7:30 am was determined by external factors – whether my kids got up on time, how many things were sitting in my inbox, the tone of the social media feeds…

Sound familiar?

If it does, know that it doesn’t have to be that way. You can have a much more pleasant morning, set yourself up for a productive day, and still get a jump on things.

This Week

Begin your day with ease and intention (it only takes a few minutes).

  1. Get the phone away from the nightstand or turn off notifications at night.
  2. Curate the sounds you wake up to. In this digital age, there is no reason to wake to harsh, tinny or unpleasant sounds.
  3. Take a few deep breaths and stretch as soon as you stand up. I mean it, really stretch - like the exaggerated stretches of silent movies and cartoons.
  4. Hydrate before your morning joe. Down a glass of water while you’re prepping your coffee (your body will love you for it).
  5. Get presentEnjoy that coffee (or tea). Take in the experience of starting your day with this happy little ritual.
  6. Set your intention for the day. Before you dive into everything that’s waiting for you, take a moment and choose how you want to show up and what you would like to have accomplished by the day’s end. Close your eyes, take a deep breathe (or 2 or 3) and see your intention.

And if you’ve got a second or two to spare – listen to those birds chirp. ; )

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The Prize is the Present

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The Prize is the Present

I teach people about mindfulness, I practice it every day. Naturally every day offers something new to learn, but some days (or in this case, some weeks) offer more of a “back to the drawing board-refresher course” opportunity.

If you follow me on social media, you may know that I hosted a live event last week to start promoting my new book, Reclaiming Muchness, which is going to be released in September.

I was really excited about it.

As you can imagine, hosting an event like this takes quite a bit of planning and work. Especially when you like things to be just right. As my mother would always say, “the devil is in the details.”

And I’m meticulous about the details.

Only… in the days leading up to my event, I got sick. Really sick. Can’t think straight, too weak to function sick. The stomach bug lasted days.

Feeling stressed out and depleted, my mind kept dragging me to the dark place. The voices there whispering that I was bound to fail.

I had to pull out every tool in my toolbox.

I meditated. I breathed. I reframed.

I rallied little by little – calculating the days and hours remaining – reconfiguring my to-do lists.

That’s when the tornado hit. Not a metaphorical tornado, an actual tornado. And, of course, the power went out.

By the time I was feeling better and the power was back on, there were a mere 21 hours left before my event (and I needed at least a few of those for sleeping).

There was no way that this was going to be what I pictured. The dark place loomed.

Meditate. Breathe. Reframe.

It helped, and something clicked.

What would happen if I spent the next 21 hours 100% in the present moment? I already had a list to keep me focused. I looked it over and pared it down to what could be accomplished in that amount of time.

I stuck to it.

I thought about only what was in front of me. When the shadows began to creep in, I focused on my breath for a few moments and then carried on. I got quite a bit done, the event was a success, and I’m happy about that.

But what I’m really happy about, what I’m really proud of, is that I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the prep, I enjoyed the set-up, I enjoyed the women.

After an absolutely awful week, after confronting the dark place, after almost giving up … I actually got to enjoy the thing I had been so excited about.

This Week’s Tip:

Find the present in the worst moments.

When the dark place looms, don’t despair. You’ve been here before. You’ve gotten out before.

  • Breathe
  • Meditate
  • Reframe
  • Get present
“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

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I Hope I Get This Wrong…

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I Hope I Get This Wrong…

…said nobody, ever.

Have you ever made a choice or decision hoping things go badly?

Of course not.

Even in those all too familiar moments of, “I know I shouldn’t, but…” you probably weren’t going for a negative outcome.

The fact is, we’re all doing our very best with what we have in that moment. And yet, we beat ourselves up (over and over again) for the “mistakes” we make.

If a good-old self thrashing were a useful learning tool, I’d say go for it. No pain no gain, right?

Wrong.

In truth, beating yourself up is pretty darn counter-productive. It makes you feel bad without offering any real learning or motivation to do things differently the next time.

What can you do instead?

You can change your thinking-habit. Actually, you can create a completely new way of thinking about mistakes that will help you move forward, even when things have just gone terribly wrong.

This Week: 
7 steps to turn “mistakes” into opportunities for growth.

As a Mindful Monday reader, I’m sure you know to always begin by bringing yourself into the present moment:

  1. Pause, and take a few deep breaths.
  2. Focus on your breath for a moment. Gently direct your attention to the air as it flows in and out of your body.
  3. Next, allow your mind to notice and name any painful emotions that you’re be feeling. They may be significant, or they may be subtle. (anger, embarrassment, fear, blame…)
  4. If your mind begins to wander into any stories about those feelings, gently direct your attention back to the emotion without judging it, by silently repeating “I am feeling (name the emotions) and I am okay” a few times.
  5. Repeat these steps until you feel calmer and a bit more centered. 

    Now you’re ready to learn from what happened: 
     
  6. Ask yourself the following questions. 
    - What specifically is the result that I am unhappy with? 
    - What specific actions led to that result? 
    - What result would I like in the future? 
    - Why is that result important to me? (The honest answer to this question is often not the initial, logical answer that comes to mind. Take some time to explore this question until you’re confident that you understand what you’re really after.) 
    - What actions might you take in the future to produce the result you’re looking for?
  7. Using your answers to the questions above, set an intention for what you’d like to try the next time a similar circumstance arises.
  8. Visualize your intention.

If, at any point, the stories about what you got wrong reemerge, bring yourself back to the present moment by repeating steps 1-5.

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The Surprise About Suffering

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The Surprise About Suffering

I remember the first time I heard that pain is inevitable, but suffering is an option.
 
I absolutely didn’t buy it. In fact, I was incensed.
 
In my Italian Catholic family, suffering is simply what you do when something horrible happens.  Or even, when something horrible might happen.  We are a family overflowing with empathy. We love deeply, and fear for the well-being of everyone.
 
How could we not – that’s what love is, isn’t it?
 
I thought so.
 
In fact, just considering not suffering over something tragic that happened to someone I loved felt like a betrayal.  Thinking about it flooded me with guilt.
 
It was Rick Hansen’s book, Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom, (which I highly recommend) that finally made it click.
 
Simply put, pain is that thing that happens in the present moment. 
 
In the case of physical pain, it is the moment(s) of OUCH. In the case of emotional pain, like grief, it’s in those visceral moments when the grief stops you in your tracks and washes over you.
 
It is always now.
 
Suffering, on the other hand, is the story we tell ourselves in response to that pain.  It is never in the present moment – always in the past or the future.
 
When we experience physical pain, our minds descend quickly into thoughts like, “How long is this pain going to last?” or “I hope it goes away – that it’s not going to get worse – that it’s not going to…” or “Why do things like this always happen to me?”
 
Emotional pain is no different.  The moment after that gut-punch of grief, thoughts like “It should never have happened…” or “If it hadn’t happened, right now we would be…” or “I could have done …” flood our minds and hijack our emotions.
 
Those thoughts are stories that never serve us.  They do not help the people we love.  They in no way make things better or move us forward.  There is nothing noble about them.
 
The good news is that you actually have more control than you think.  You can choose not to suffer.

 
This Week:
Shifting away from suffering thoughts back into the present moment.
 
Try this simple technique to strengthen your ability to focus on the thoughts you choose and shift away from those that don’t serve you:

  • When you notice yourself moving into a story of suffering, direct your attention to any tangible thing –  a pencil, a ring, a flower – anything will work.
  • Begin with three, slow, deep, cleansing breaths.
  • As you continue to breathe, focus your attention on the thing you’ve selected. Think anything you’d like about the thing.
  • When other thoughts (thoughts of suffering or other distractions) arise, simply notice them without judgement, and make your very next thought about the thing.
  • Continue focusing your breath and attention in this way for what feels to be about a minute.

For my favorite way to practice this exercise, try this quick Mp3!

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Perpetual Spring

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Perpetual Spring

It’s the end of April and it finally feels like spring in Connecticut.

Truth be told, I’ve never really understood why people around here are so big on spring. To me it’s always seemed grey, wet, and muddy.

It’s different this year though.

Maybe it’s because of the long/late winter, or the fact that I’ve been holed up in my office too much – but this week, things seem a bit brighter, a bit greener, a bit fresher.

The deep, red buds of the maple trees, the haze of chartreuse across the barberry bushes, the spring peepers, the bold, warm sun on my face…it all feels new and bursting with promise.

OK, Spring, I get it – you’re not so bad after all.

Wouldn’t it be cool if everything else in life felt like that?

Believe it or not, it can. But first, you’ve got to get around your wiring.

Our survival driven brains are wired to notice things that are new or unfamiliar – like movement in the dark corner of a seemingly deserted parking lot, or smoke coming from a place it shouldn’t. It’s just a bonus that lovely things like birds chirping on spring mornings draw that same attention because of their relative newness.

Conversely, our brains tend to gloss over the things that we see, hear, and feel every day as expected, safe, and therefore not worthy of the energetic expense of our attention.

The catch?

The more you practice being in the present moment, the more you’ll be able to direct your attention to what you choose rather than being at the mercy of that old, default wiring.

This Week: 
Use mindfulness to experience your world as fresh and new.

Try this…

  1. When arriving at home, stop at the door and take a few centering breaths. Pretend you’re walking into a museum. Walk through your house with curiosity. Notice everything around you without judgement. Allow your mind to focus on each thing you look at as if seeing it for the very first time.
  2. Choose something that you consume daily – tea, coffee, an apple… and try to experience it as if you’d never imagined such a thing existed. Be curious. Draw your attention to every element of it. What it looks like, what it smells like, what it feels like, and finally what it tastes like. Take your time and savor the experience.
  3. This one’s my favorite. Pick a person you see every day – a friend, your spouse, your child – and notice them as if they were someone you’ve never encountered. Leave all expectation and judgement behind. Notice the ways they are the same as you. Notice the qualities that make them unique. Notice the way they make you feel.
  4. Try it with anything you may no longer “see” – the supermarket, the coffee shop, the shower.

Happy Mindful Spring!

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It's No Joke

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It's No Joke

Ok.  I admit it.
 
I have spent hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours watching completely horrible, ridiculously sophomoric, absolutely inane comedy movies. 

It’s not something I’m proud of.  Truth be told, I’ve denied it more than once.
 
I can’t stop myself – I crave the laughter.  So much so that I’ll sit through even the stupidest movie if it offers the hope (or even the slightest promise) of one of those all out, sidesplitting, tear-streaming belly laughs.
 
And guess what?  Countless peer reviewed studies say that’s a good thing!
 
In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, laugher can:

  • Improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. In contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
  • Relieve pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
  • Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.
  • Improve your mood. Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier.

 
HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!  I love it!
 
And, my mindful friends, guess where laughter exists?  You know this one.
 
It exists in the present moment!  Just like your senses, laughter occurs in the here and now – making laughter a mindful practice.
 
 
I know sometimes you don’t feel like laughing.  I totally get it.  But that’s when we need it the most. 

And where this week’s tip comes in.

 
This Week:
Laugh your way to peace and health…even when you’re not in the mood.
 

1.  Just smile. 
Weird, I know, but faking a smile can go a long way to improving your mood. 

Smiling is a neurological trigger that gets those neuropeptides the Mayo Clinic was mentioning pumping through your body. 

Give it a try.  Hold a smile for 30 seconds and see how you feel. 

Try doing it with a friend, and I dare you not to start laughing, no matter what your mood.

2.  Try laughter yoga.
Yup, it’s a real thing.  Put your hands on your hips, take a long, deep, breath and pound out the biggest, loudest belly laugh you can.

Again, this is a fake it for your own good technique.  Think Santa - how do you think he stays so jolly under all that pressure?

3.  Go old school. 
Movies, books, knock-knock jokes.  No matter what your mood is going in, chances are you’ll crack a smile - maybe you’ll even chuckle a few times. 

And maybe, just maybe, you’ll hit the jackpot and laugh your head off!

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Making Fists with Your Feet

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Making Fists with Your Feet

You know those movies that you’ve seen a million times? 
 
The ones you saw in the theater when they first came out and then again and again because they were in the HBO rotation forever? 
 
If you’re under 40, you’ll have to trust me here.

Die Hard is one of those movies for me, and last week, when it came up on Netflix, Paul and I decided to watch it for old times' sake. 

Oddly, I didn’t remember the beginning of the movie at all.  I probably hadn’t seen that part since it was first released in – gasp – 1988. 
 
For those of you who’ve never seen it, Bruce Willis is barefoot through most of the film. It’s a bit of a plot point so I remembered that part, but I hadn’t remembered why. 
 
I laughed out loud when I realized that he was practicing mindfulness (although he had no idea that that’s what he was doing).
 
Here’s what happens: 
 
His seat-mate, on a flight to LA, notices that he’s a bit uptight about flying.  The guy tells him that whenever he gets anxious, his therapist recommends that he take off his shoes and socks and make “fists with his feet” in the carpet.  “Sounds crazy,” he says, “but it really works.”
 
Willis, when he reaches his destination, has a conversation with his ex-wife that goes south quickly, and in an effort to calm himself down, decides to give it a try.  It starts to work...(I'll stop the story here, before the spoiler.)
 
So why does it work?
 
And what does it have to do with mindfulness?
 
Making fists with your bare feet in the carpet (or sand, or grass) is a highly sensory experience. Those of you who’ve been following MindfulMonday for a while now, know that intentionally focusing on your senses is one of the easiest ways to bring yourself into the present moment.
 
And, when you’re focused on the moment you’re in, it quiets the noise in your head, calms you down and helps you to re-focus.
 
It’s not magic, there’s some really cool stuff happening in your brain when you practice Mindfulness, but for now, we’ll just stick with the tips…

 
This Week:
Making fists with your feet and other ways to tap into touch…

Try this for a moment or two whenever you need a bit of calm or clarity:

  1. As with every mindfulness technique, begin by noticing your own breathing. 
    • You don’t need breathe in any particular way, just notice.
    • Notice where it feels most obvious (the nostrils, the lungs or the belly) for a few cycles in and out.
  2. Now choose one of these sensory experiences – or make up your own.
    • Take off your shoes and socks and make fists with your feet in the carpet (or sand or grass)
    • Simply scrunch your toes inside of your shoes (a much better choice if you’re in a meeting)
    • Rub your fingers and thumb together in a circular pattern
    • Tap the outside of your knees
    • Brush your hair
  3. Focus your full attention on the sensation.  Try to notice every aspect of what it feels like.
  4. When a distracting thought or story pops up, it’s ok.  Simply notice it and redirect your attention back to the sensory experience.
    • This may happen many times – no worries – it’s actually useful.  The practice of intentionally re-directing your thoughts helps build a stronger network of neural pathways in your brain giving you access to greater focus overall.
  5. When you’re ready, direct your attention back to your breath for a few seconds. 

Notice the way you feel at the end of this 60 second respite.

 

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Audio Peace

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Audio Peace

Noise.  Just the word can up-level your stress – yet interestingly, silence can have the same effect. 
 
It’s not what’s happening on the outside of your head that’s creating the problem – it’s the endless swirl of thoughts inside. 

The noise, or lack of it, simply complicates your thinking process and adds to your feeling of overwhelm.
 
It doesn’t have to be that way.
 
You can use the sounds that surround you (even when there appear not to be any) to calm your body and mind.
 
It’s like having a personal meditation space with you wherever you are – and tapping in to it for a mere 60 seconds can have lasting effects.
 
Like all mindfulness activities, this one is designed to pull you away from your thoughts (which are likely jumping between the past and the future) and into the present moment.  The easiest way to do this is to intentionally experience something sensory.  Your senses are always picking up on what is present and real. 
 
This Week:
Use your ears to find respite from your thoughts...
 

  1. You can do this absolutely anywhere that is safe to pause for 60 seconds.  (Meaning yes to doing it in a car but no to while you’re driving.) 
     
  2. Close your eyes if you’re in a place that it’s comfortable to do so, if not simply fix your gaze slightly downward.
     
  3. Begin by noticing your own breathing.  You don’t need to do anything with your breath, just notice that it’s there. Notice where it feels most obvious (usually the nostrils, the lungs or the belly).  Just notice your breathing for a few cycles in and out.
     
  4. Now direct your attention to the sounds around you.  If there is music or language, try to experience it without assigning any meaning – just listen to the sounds you hear for their own sake, independent of their significance.
     
  5. Notice all of the sound – try to reach out to the very edges of it.
     
  6. Now focus. Zero in on one specific sound – allow it to come forward, try to hear every element of that particular sound.
     
  7. You can zoom in and out in this way as many times as you like. (I recommend at least three.)
     
  8. When you’re ready, direct your attention back to your breath for a few seconds. 


Notice the way you feel at the end of this 60 second respite.

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I HEAR You.

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I HEAR You.

Mindful Listening Improves Relationships and Boosts Opportunity

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who appears to be listening but is really just waiting to deliver their opinion?

How about with someone who insists that they are listening even though they’re simultaneously responding to an email?

Maybe you’ve had a conversation that went absolutely nowhere because one or more parties simply needed to be right.

Or the trickiest faux listener of all, the one who nods along and repeats a few key phrases, but is actually constructing a to-do list in their head.

These conversations never result in anything innovative, creative or exciting.  They are a barrier to opportunity.  And they feel lousy – making them a barrier to connection and intimacy.

The Wait-to-Talker, The Multi-Tasker, The Bully, and the Zombie are listening personas that we’ve all exhibited– probably more often than we care to admit – not because we intend to, but because we’re not intentional at all.

These are default behaviors that protect us from getting caught when we’re unprepared, unfocused or uninterested. 

Makes sense, right?  Maybe they even seem useful now?

There’s a tradeoff to that protection. It only exists when you are focused on the past or future tense. It’s causing you to miss the moment that you’re in.

And 100% of everything real exists only in the present moment.  
 

This Week:

Practice Mindful Listening by using these 3 simple tips.


BE PRESENT – Put away your phone, look up from what you’re doing and really SEE and HEAR the person in front of you.

WITHHOLD OPINION AND JUDGEMENT – This is a really difficult one for most people.  After all, our opinions and judgments are based on our experiences and they’re what we use to navigate the world. By putting them aside for a few moments, you’ll be better able to listen without your lens filtering or skewing what’s being said – leaving you free to notice opportunities, insights, and connections you otherwise may have missed.  And don’t worry, if they’re useful, your opinions and judgments will be right there where you left them.

CONNECTING MEANS NOT FIXING – Make sure you leave the advice for occasions where it’s being requested.  Much of the venting people do is a way of simply thinking things aloud or untangling some emotion that’s getting in their way.  When we jump in to offer them our fix, it impedes that process and can hurt rather than help.

Try remaining detached from the outcome and simply acknowledging that you hear them. “Wow!  I can see why you’re so fired up, it sounds like a complicated situation!” will create a lot more trust than, ”Why don’t you just….?” Or “I think you should…”

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Mindful Sweeping

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Mindful Sweeping

I recently happened upon a headline that read “Mindful Sweeping.” I didn’t read the article, but the idea flew around my head for a bit.

Last night, coming home from an all day event, it finally made sense.

This week had a number of long days. Driven by back to back trainings, client sessions, and meetings, the tiny tidbits of time left in between were filled with rushed attempts to meet deadlines.

I felt exhausted, but couldn’t seem to settle in. My mind whirled with all the things I should be doing – could be doing. None of it seemed possible, I was simply too tired and scattered.

Paul, my husband, poured me a glass of wine and told me it was time to call it a day – it was 7:00 pm. I sat down next to him, but I just couldn’t relax.

b r e a t h e

b r e a t h e

b r e a t h e


A bit better. Maybe, I needed to cross a few things off the list?

I opened my computer and stared. I swirled the cursor around the screen.

Nothing.

I shut the lid, put my glass on the table, and paced around the house.

Someone had made nachos and there were bits of chips all over the kitchen floor. And I mean all over – do teenagers not notice?!

I grabbed the broom.

I fell into a rhythm. Sweeping. Everything else melted away. Thoughts, physical exhaustion, emotional turmoil…gone. Before I knew it, I had swept the entire first floor.

As I put the broom away, I noticed that everything had settled. The task had been an intensely mindful experience, it drew me completely into the moment, leaving room for nothing but what was.

THIS WEEK’S TIP:

When you find yourself feeling scattered or unsettled, rather than trying to force either productivity or rest, try taking up a simple task (I highly recommend sweeping) and allow yourself to be drawn into the moment at hand.

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Mindful Eating

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Mindful Eating

While driving home from an event last week, my 18 year old son and I shared an order of cajun fries. Max strategically pushes all of my buttons while simultaneously cracking me up. Needless to say, the banter was lively.

Before we knew it, the fries, something we both consider a treat and an indulgence, were gone.

He looked over at me and said, "Weird, I don't even remember eating them."

I hadn't either.

How much of the food you eat do you really enjoy or notice?

Whether you're concerned about weight, health, or simply want to savor, learning to eat a bit more mindfully will go a long way.

THIS WEEK'S TIP
Mindful Eating


Eating Alone
This is great opportunity to enhance your mindfulness practice.  

  • Start with a few deep breaths...notice the aroma of your food.
  • Before you tuck in, take a moment to observe the colors and textures. Allow your eyes to feast!
  • Savor. Direct your thinking to the way the food feels in your mouth and the array of flavors you sense as you chew and swallow each bite.
  • When you're finished eating, reflect for a moment on the full sensory experience of your meal.


Eating with Others
As Max and I discovered, it's easy to allow conversation and companionship distract us from experiencing and enjoying our food.  

Conversely, sharing a meal is an excellent way to be truly present with the people we care about.

Try using the five points listed above but by sharing and communicating with your dining partner.

Eating on the Run
This is by far, the most difficult time to practice mindful eating.  In fact, eating on the run is something we should all try to avoid. 

But let's be realistic.  When we're busy, it happens.  

You can lessen the stress and frenzy by choosing any one of the five points listed in Eating Alone above and taking just a few seconds to pause, breathe and experience a little more of the moment you're in.

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Use Mindfulness When Anxiety Is Knocking (or banging down the door)

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Use Mindfulness When Anxiety Is Knocking (or banging down the door)

We all experience anxiety. It’s a natural emotion.

And sometimes, it’s even useful.

Those anxious moments can light a fire in you to take action, move forward and get things done.

Except when they don’t.

More often than not, anxiety (or anxious thinking) is an obstacle to action and an impediment to growth. It can feel like a spider’s web that sticks to more and more of you the harder you struggle to free yourself from it.

Anxious thinking is the thought story you create based on something that happened to you or based on a feeling you're experiencing.

It’s a story filled with negative self-talk, blame, and catastrophizing.  It can be so automatic that you don’t even realize you’re doing it until after the anxiety has set in.

There’s good news.

You can learn to recognize anxious thinking early in the process and use mindfulness to nip it in the bud. (Before it takes hold of your day, your night, or your week!)

The answer is in self-compassion.

A 2010 meta-study on anxiety and depression showed that participants who reported higher levels of self-compassion were much less likely to report feelings of anxiety and depression.

THIS WEEK'S TIP
Shifting From Anxious Thinking to Self-Compassion:


1. NOTICE – When you hear yourself self-criticize, blame, or catastrophize, pause and make note of:

  • the words you use
  • the feelings they evoke
  • the places in your body that feel tense or uncomfortable

2. B R E A T H E – Now direct your attention to your breath

  • Pay attention to your breath as you inhale and exhale normally
  • Direct your thinking to the place where your breath feels the most obvious (lungs, nostrils, belly, etc…)

3. SOFTEN – Come back into your mind

  • Notice where any anxious thinking exists
  • Soften into it, without judging your thoughts or yourself, without adding to the story, simply allow the anxious thoughts to be there

4. RELEASE – Let go of any tension in your body

  • As you inhale, notice the way your body straightens and expands
  • As you exhale, notice the way your body relaxes, melting into its natural state.

5. B R E A T H E – End by directing your attention back to your breath. Notice any shifts in the way you feel.

Repeat whenever you hear that self-critical inner voice. ; )

Want me to walk you through it? 
Click the audio link below:

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Mind Your Mani

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Mind Your Mani

Last week I was getting a mani-pedi – a yummy, indulgent, experience to be sure.

And yet…

As I looked around, I noticed that every single woman in a pedicure chair was looking at her phone. Every. Single. One. (That means me too.)

I started up a conversation.

It turned out that we were all quite a bit alike. We all complain about how busy our lives are. 
We all agreed that we are more (much more) stressed than we want to be most of the time.
We all yearn for a couple of “free spaces” in our weeks where we can truly recharge.

And there we were…

On the phone, in our email, scrolling Facebook, etc.… and completely missing out on the fact that we were in one of those spaces. Even for those of us who thought of a mani-pedi as a treat, we admitted that we never dialed it back enough when we were in there to actually appreciate the experience.

We put away the phones.

We took a couple of deep breaths, closed our eyes and focused on the amazing sensory
experience we were having.

One by one, we waddled over to the drying bar. The room was silent. The energy was calm
and soothing.

The silence broke as the first of us got up to leave. “Wow,” she said. "I feel like I just came back from vacation.' We all agreed. It had been a completely different experience. It wasn’t any longer or any more luxurious than any other time we had been there.

We had simply been present.

This week’s tip is a challenge: Find a moment each day that you would normally let slip through your fingers, take a deep breath and experience it.

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Mindful Kindness

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Mindful Kindness

We could all use the world to be a bit kinder. Use this little technique when your out and
about: at a stop light, on the bus or train, in the supermarket, at the movies, etc…

  • Pause and take a deep breath.
  • With eyes focused forward, allow yourself to become aware of the other people around you.
  • Take another deep breath and offer the following thought to those whom fall within your awareness:
    May you be happy
    May you be safe
    May you be at peace
  • Take a third and final inhale and exhale and resume what you were doing.
  • Notice how using this mindful kindness meditation makes you feel

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