Growing Gratitude

Fall at Arboretum copy_edited-1Practicing gratitude is like yoga for the heart; it stretches, lengthens, and expands our capacity to be appreciative, thankful, and ultimately happier.   I think of gratitude as a state of being that arises when we find ourselves appreciating more things then not.  What nudges a smile from you?  Brings you joy? Makes your day feel like it was a good one?

There is significant benefit to consciously cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Being grateful builds up a sort of psychological immune system, and helps us mitigate stress and negative emotions.  Living with an awareness of gratitude in our daily lives has also been shown lower blood pressure, improve the quality of sleep and promote an overall sense of well being.  In the midst of our busy, often over scheduled days how can we increase this sense of gratefulness?

Here are some steps you can take to bring a sense of gratitude into your daily experience:

  1. When you first wake up in the morning, list 3 things you are grateful for in your life. (This really sets the stage for a good day!)
  2. Start a gratitude journal and write down things you are grateful for every day. Review this often!  It can help us move out of negative thinking.
  3. Work at really noticing the good stuff in your life. Next time you go to the grocery store for instance, look at the huge variety of fresh produce you can select.
  4. Focus on what you DO have instead of what you don’t have. Remove your conditions under which you will be happy.  For example “I will be happy when X/Y/Z happens”.
  5. Practice living truly in the present moment. We tend to spend untold hours replaying events of our past or imaging our future and often this is negative.  (i.e.” I should have/would have/could have done things differently” or, we dwell on the “What if’s?” of the future.)
  6. Think bigger than yourself! Get involved with a cause or a community and do some good works. It helps us get perspective and appreciate our own life more when you come face to face with others less fortunate.
  7. Express your appreciation for friends and family in your life. Nothing jolts us out of negative thinking faster than love.

“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”  Eckhart Tolle

“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

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more.  If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”  Oprah Winfrey

The quotes above and 37 more are from “40 Inspiring and Motivational Quotes”  posted on Inc.com.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving and Holiday Season!

 

How to Be Your Best Self

Be Your Best SelfHolidays aren’t always “Jolly” days.  There are more errands to run, tasks to do, lists to make and follow through. We get stressed out trying to “get it all done” so that we can actually enjoy the season. Then there are the social gatherings, some mandatory and not always pleasant.  Sometimes it’s our own family interactions that put a damper on our best intentions to have a “Happy Holiday”.  

How can you shift this scenario and bring the “Happy” back into the holidays?  Try being your “Best Self”.

Carolyn Hax, a columnist for the Washington Post was recently asked how to define “Best Self”.  Here is how she answered that question in her column of Dec. 13th. “It’s when you like yourself. Or, when you’re getting the most out of your strengths and succumbing the least to your weaknesses.  It’s highly personal, but here are some ideas for cultivating strength:

  • Are you doing things that are meaningful to you; well suited to your interests, skills and talents; and challenging enough to keep you humble?”  (This is also the key to joy in your chosen work)
  • “Are you with people to whom you want to be kind; who reinforce your good choices; and who don’t inspire persistent doubts about whether they’re dependable, genuinely fond of you, free of ulterior motives, honest with you?  Are you that person to those you love?
  • When you are impressed by, grateful, or concerned about someone, do you show it?
  • Do you take responsibility for your choices and their consequences?”  (This is hard for many, but if you can consistently operate this way, you will stop blaming others/external circumstances for your life as it is, you stop being or feeling like a victim and instead begin feeling and being empowered)

Don Miguel Ruiz says in his book, The Four Agreements; “Be impeccable with your word” and “Always do your best”.   Similarly, Hax asks the reader; “Do you honor your promises and commitments, to yourself and others?” and “Are you representing yourself honestly, to yourself and others?”

How about dealing with your weaknesses so that you can be “your best self”?  Here are some of the questions Carolyn asks her readers to consider:

  • “Do you resist the impulse to blame others when things go wrong?
  • Do you understand the boundary between you and others’ business, and stay on your side?
  • When you’re unsure, do you admit that and seek help?
  • When you’re about to express negativity or a criticism, do you ask yourself whether it needs expressing?  And imagine how its target will feel?”
I challenge you to consider these questions and be honest with yourself in your answers. This doesn’t mean berating yourself or wallowing in regret.   Forgiveness is a powerful activator for positive change.  Forgive yourself and others for not being their “best selves” and move on.  In every moment we can choose to be our “best self” and by doing so, we become more mindful and sometimes even “JOLLY”.
 
Wishing you and your loved ones a wonderful Holiday Season and a Happy New Year!  — Dee

(To view Carolyn’s full article in the Washington Post on 12.13.2013 click here

How to Have More Mindful Moments

Mindful blogLast week I facilitated two workshops on mindfulness for employees of John Deere Financial.  I was struck by how earnestly engaged the participants were in the process.  It was like they were hungry to explore mindfulness.  What a gift it is to give ourselves “time out”, to allow our busy brains to re-focus on the present moment as we did during those workshops.

For the most part, we move through our days on autopilot.  Scientists tell us that the average human brain thinks 70,000 thoughts a day.  Now if those were all empowering positive thoughts, imagine how different our lives might be.  

Unfortunately, we humans tend to ruminate on the past and imagine and plan for the future. We also tend to get in loops of repeating memories or patterns of thinking. Consider the times you have re-played a situation in your head and thought about what you could have, should have, or would have done differently if given a chance to “do it over.” The nice thing about using mindfulness techniques, is that every time you awake to the present moment, you have the opportunity to consciously choose how to move forward to the next one.

When you consider career paths, choosing wisely can make all the difference in whether you experience a job that is boring or stressful vs having work that is interesting and enjoyable.   The more consciously aware we are, the more control we have over the course of our lives.  Instead of being at the mercy of our mental default programs, we can start to wake-up to each moment, each choice point.  So how do we become more “mindful”? Here are some exercises you might try:

1.  Watch the mind move in time.  Take a piece of paper and draw a horizontal line.  At one end is the future at the other, the past.  In the center of the line make a circle and write in the word NOW.  Start with your finger on the circle and simply observe your thoughts for 5 minutes.  Every time you realize you are thinking about the future, move your finger on the scale.  Do the same thing when you realize you are thinking about the past.  Don’t try to stop the thoughts, just observe how your mind wanders in time.

2.  Focus your senses.  Pick up an object you find interesting and study it for 5 minutes.  Really look at it, touch it, observe every detail of color, weight,  shape, even whether or not it has an odor.  This is one method to bring you into the present moment.  It offers the additional benefit of increasing your power of sensory perception.

3.  Set wake up calls.  When I was in grad school, I was also a student in The Fourth Way work which was based on the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff.  One of the most interesting homework assignments we were given was called the doorway exercise.   Every time you pass through a doorway say to yourself “I am here now”.  When you realize you have sailed through a doorway without remembering your statement (in essence being on autopilot or asleep at the switch), go back through the doorway and say it.  While it may not be practical to actually go back through every doorway, for instance exiting an airplane, it is remarkable to see how often we are unaware.  

All these moments of mindfulness add up.  You start to realize how much of life you’ve missed because you have been riding around on your own thought train.   Increase your mindful moments and your life begins to change in some interesting ways.  Who knows?  That dream career, that ideal life, may be just around the corner…

 

Merging Work and Play

I love the sense of playfulness the artist captured in the movement and sheer delight of the two children in this picture.   I took this shot while waiting for my plane in the Greenville-Spartenburg airport in SC.  It is a reminder to have fun, to find time to play in our lives, and to experience light hearted moments.   I am heading there again this week and remembered this photo.  I got to thinking that the average person spends an inordinate amount of time at work and not enough time in play.

The traditional American work ethic is to indulge in leisure pursuits or “play” only when our work is done.  There is a common belief that work requires self discipline, long hours, and sacrifices.  As a career coach I often ask people what the word “work” means to them.  I get answers like; “boring, drudgery, wage slave, too many hours, frustrating, exhausting, routine, hard, meaningless, etc.”   I remember asking my daughter as a new college grad what came to mind when she hears people talking about getting a job and going to work.  She thought for a moment and then said:  “I see a sweaty bald guy in overalls dragging a ball and chain in a warehouse with a concrete floor and small windows and it’s raining outside and the water is dripping on the floor.”  I wonder how many other people have such dour imagery around the concept of work!  (FYI my daughter is an entrepreneur at heart and is enjoying being a freelance writer and social media consultant in Denver as I write this)

We are taught that we must strive for success and be our best, and work hard to get ahead.  Well meaning parents  teachers, and  other authority figures tell us to “keep your nose to the grindstone” and “pay your dues” and “climb the ladder to success.”  This doesn’t sound like much fun to me.  Does this advice motivate you to go out there and get a job?  Surely there is a way to make a living and be happy at the same time, a way to merge work and play.

What if we shift our perspective and start bringing a sense of  playfulness into our jobs?  Wouldn’t our workday be more pleasurable?  Absolutely!  Let’s look at the concept of play.  As in this photo, the children appear to be alive in the moment, are having fun and seem to be exhilarated.  (Considering they are sculptures that’s kudos to the artist.) How can we bring this joy, this sense of fun and being present into our daily work lives?  A good place to start is by looking at your situation with “new eyes”.  Here are some questions to consider:

  • Does your work environment support you or deplete you?  
  • Are you doing work you enjoy and find satisfying?  
  • Do you feel valued and appreciated at work by peers and management?
  • If freedom and flexibility are important values for you does your current work provide these?

Think of play as an activity in which you are fully present, enjoying the moment, feeling free, valued and appreciated by the other players.  Whether you work for somebody else or are self employed there are ways to bring more playfulness into your life.  For starters, if your work environment doesn’t support you, change it.  This is easier to do if you are the boss but even as am employee there are often options to personalize your work situation.  Would you be more comfortable (and potentially more productive) with an ergonomic chair or an office with a window?  How about suggesting flex time or job sharing to balance your work and leisure time? 

What are you passionate about?  Can you create a livelihood doing things you are passionate about?  (See The $100 Startup for guidance on this.) Is there a way to bring passion into your work?  If you work with a team, do you mutually appreciate and value the other “players”?  What might you do to contribute to the well being of co-workers?   What needs to happen in order for you to have more fun at work, to feel energized and yes, playful?  Sometimes it is as simple as shifting your perspective and changing your attitude.

“Work and play are words used to describe the same thing under differing conditions.”  Mark Twain