Meditation, Mindfulness, Negative Habits of Mind, Self-Awareness, Striving Styles

Cultivating Happiness: Understanding your Negativity Bias

“If you can extract happiness out of common, everyday moments you will have captured the art of happiness.” ~ Elle Sommer

Do you find yourself dwelling on bad memories and experiences?  Do you tend to fixate on one little negative comment, criticism or feedback? When you’re hurt, upset, or angry with someone, do you fixate on everything you don’t like about them or focus on their flaws? It’s so much easier to focus on the laundry list of bad things about them and why they pissed you off. Thinking about that persons good points takes a lot of energy, and it’s easier to think of all the things you don’t like about them. Maybe you find that you often ignore all the positive events that are happening (or have happened) and focus primarily on the negative or what didn’t happen? We can become consumed with our negative qualities or on negative experiences while ignoring our positive characteristics and experiences.

If you can relate to this, you might get some comfort in knowing that you are not alone.  It comes down to human evolution. Our brains have been programmed over thousands of years to focus on the negative, which was once helpful in protecting us from being eaten by wild animals or eating poisonous plants. Our survival was dependent upon remembering those negative experiences so we didn’t die. This default in our brain is referred to as a negativity bias and causes us to remember or focus more on negative memories than good ones. These automatic negative thoughts can trigger our self protective system (SPS) which can have a powerful effect on our behaviour, our decisions, and our relationships.  Today, this negativity bias is less useful and is ultimately damaging to our overall sense of happiness and well being. It often results in us focusing on unnecessary worries and fears and having a less optimistic outlook on life. 

These negative memories are stored and recalled in our emotional brain, known as the basal ganglia, the strongest part of our brain that recognizes and repeats patterns until told otherwise.  While the basal ganglia is the strongest part of the brain, our prefrontal cortex, or the logical “manager”, understands long term benefits and consequences. The good news is, because of the brains plasticity, our prefrontal cortex can override the basal ganglia.

Cultivating your inner strengths

Understanding how you think and how your brain works is key to cultivating your inner strengths and changing your automatic negative habits of mind. Reprogramming your brain starts when you become aware of how often you think the same negative thoughts about your self or make situations worse by making up stories about what is going on. Recognizing your automatic negative thought patterns and focusing on the positive takes a conscious effort and lot of work. Mindfully refocusing your thinking and responding to events with greater awareness and consciousness will help to build your inner strengths, thus allowing you to feel stronger, more secure and resilient.

To cultivate your inner strengths you must begin to orient yourself and your awareness towards those everyday moments of happiness and satisfaction. To linger in them, savor them, allowing them to touch you and soak into the fabric of who you are. When you allow yourself to linger in these everyday moments of happiness and satisfaction, you not only experience happiness in that moment, but you’re also strengthening the neuropathways in your mind, which leads to greater happiness and well-being.

This is not as easy as it sounds thought. Especially when we add busyness, stress, anxiety or  a sense of overwhelm of everyday modern life. We may find ourselves going through our day seeing life as a whole lot of little challenges to be overcome, mishaps to be avoided, fires to be put out, rather than as a series of opportunities for happiness, fulfillment, connection, meaning, and satisfaction. Modern day life coupled with our negativity bias means we move through our days allowing our negative experiences to really stick while those positive experiences slide off without having the opportunity to become absorbed into our awareness. 

Let’s take a moment to think about this.  Can you think back to a time when you let a small inconvenience taint your day or really get to you? Such as bad traffic, a slow driver, a chaotic morning, or an uncomfortable conversation with a colleague or friend. Or maybe you can think back to a time at work when you received some overall positive feedback about your performance with just one suggestion for improvement. Instead of seeing this for what it really was you only focused on the suggestion for improvement, taking it as a personal criticism or even as insult. Or perhaps you enjoyed a lovely weekend with family and friends but let one slightly critical comment made by a friend or relative really sink in and take over the overall feeling of happiness and connection that was actually present during this time together.  Or what about all the small acts of kindness that you receive each day that go by largely unnoticed such as  when you partner brings you a coffee or when the person serving you at the restaurant serves you with extra attention.  Or what about when a colleague holds the door for you, when a stranger smiles at you in the street, or when another driver lets you in.  What about all the good decisions you make, the movements in your day that go by without a hitch, the times when life just runs smoothly.  These are the moments that we let slide right off without being absorbed into our awareness, or into our minds and hearts.  Yet these are the everyday opportunities that hold the seeds of our happiness and fulfillment. 

How can you turn ordinary everyday moments into an opportunity for happiness?

According to Neuroscientist Dr. Rick Hanson “every time you take in the good you build a little bit of neurostructure… doing this a few times a day will gradually change your brain and how you feel and act in far reaching ways.” Firstly, we need to wake up from the modern day trance of busyness and move from our minds into our bodies, hearts, and the present moment and turn our attention to the moments of good that are right in front of us.  From here we become more open and receptive to the everyday opportunities for happiness that exist for each of us throughout our days. 

“Every time you take in the good you build a little bit of neurostructure… doing this a few times a day will gradually change your brain and how you feel and act in far reaching ways.”

Dr. Rick Hanson

These moments will look and feel different to each of us.  Then we must linger in these moments of happiness using our breath and attention to help transform these experiences from passing states into enduring traits. Recent studies in neuroscience suggest that in order create these new neuropathways we need to stay with these experiences for at least 15-20 seconds or about  4 to 5 breaths.  Amazingly, we can also build this neuropathway by focusing our attention on past or present experiences of happiness and fulfillment. By taking the time to recall a happy experience, allowing it to land in your body, mind and heart, you are helping to strengthen these pathways. 

Meditation is a powerful way to strengthen our neuropathways as the very act of meditation allows for a focused awareness, for a natural presence, a slowing down.  During meditations, spend time recalling past experiences as well as enjoying present moments experiences of happiness.  Meditation allows us to experience things in our minds, bodies, and hearts. 

Now, it’s your turn

What happened this week that was good? Describe something that you are excited about. Tell us what makes you happy. What’s going well? What are you grateful for? Share in the comments.

Photo Source: Pinterest

Communication, Mindfulness, React vs Respond

Are you listening?

“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen.  Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention…A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.”


Rachel Naomi Remen

Becoming a better listener takes a lot of effort, practice, and patience but one of the best gifts we can give a partner, friend, child, or colleague is taking the time to truly listen to them.  We derive some of our greatest joy and life lessons from our relationships and being a really good listener is one of the keys to supporting great relationships of all kinds.

While some people seem to be born with the gift of listening, most of us need a little (or a lot of) practice to develop listening skills, and mindfulness can help. Mindfulness is a way of paying attention with empathy and openness without judgement. When you listen mindfully, you are fully present and able to take in what the other person is saying. You aren’t formulating an opinion or judgment about what they are saying or distracted by your phone. You are simply giving them the gift of your undivided attention.

Ask yourself: How often are you truly listening when you’re in a conversation? As humans, our minds are constantly absorbed by our own thoughts, and this can significantly impact how well we listen. Listening is something we’ve been conditioned to do our whole lives—but there are levels of it. Listening is a conscious act that we must decide to do. Listening without judgment, assumptions, and distractions is a choice.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.”

Stephen R. Covey

I’m sure you’ll agree with Stephen R. Covey’s well known quote that “most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.”   I’m also fairly confident that we’ve all met people in our lives who do this.  In fact, we’ve most likely been that person – jumping in, butting in, or telling them how much their experience is so similar to the experience we’ve had.  Or, wanting to jump in and fix things.  Our brains are hard-wired to fix things and so we look for problems we can fix.  But sometimes we don’t need or want someone to fix our problems – sometimes we just want someone to listen to them.  In any relationship, whether at work, at school, and especially at home, listening is a powerful act of presence and love. We can listen to the words that they are saying, and we can listen to the words that they are not saying, but conveying with their bodies.  In any situation, being able to be there, with presence and deep listening, is a powerful act. 

In a study published in a journal of family psychology in 2012, researchers found that partners’ relationships satisfaction increased when they perceived that their partner was making an effort to read what they were thinking and feeling regardless of the level accuracy.  On the flip side, a lack of empathy can make a relationship feel like it lacks intimacy and connection, as well as increase the amount of conflict and negativity between partners. 

What is Empathic Listening? 

Instead of projecting your own autobiography and assuming thoughts, feelings, motives, and interpretations, you’re listening to understand . Empathetic listening is essentially listening to another and putting ourselves in their shoes.  You remain empathically connected to yourself and the other, rather than triggered and defensive. When we feel safe enough to be present, we are more likely to express ourselves authentically, and thus more likely to be listened to, validated and valued in return.   

“A relationship is about having a dedicated person to make you feel seen and heard. You will rarely feel seen and heard by someone who lacks empathy.”

Kyle D. Jones

Why empathic listening is important?

Communication is the cornerstone of everything that’s important in life. Whether it’s building your career, being a great spouse, or learning to be an awesome parent, if you don’t communicate well, you will struggle in all those areas.  Empathic listening is just a better way to listen.

Don’t confuse empathy with sympathy, however. We aren’t trying to feel sorry for the other person. We are trying to relate and understand where they are coming from.  Sympathy has a way of making us feel superior. In this situation, it’s vital to remain equals. It’s putting ourselves in the shoes of others, not so we can feel sorry for them or offer constructive feedback. Instead, it simply allows us to fully understand what they are going through so they feel heard and supported.

Empathic listening is very powerful.  People hunger all their lives to express what’s on their mind, be heard, and to be acknowledged—but rarely get enough.This is especially evident if something really good or bad happens in life.  A bad listener conveys that you don’t matter. Equally, if you tell an important story and the other person’s response is to tell their own, you feel dismissed and trivialized. In the process of being listened to we experience that what we feel matters, what we’re saying is legitimate, it counts, and that someone understands us. If someone understands us, in turn, we feel like our experience means something and is real.

Now Your Turn

Try this powerful exercise: Ask someone you are close with a question and simply listen to them.  LISTEN without trying to fix anything.  Listen with the only purpose to understand how they are feeling and what they are saying.  Begin to notice how this transforms the interaction. Share your experience in the comments below.

Meditation, Mindfulness, Self-Awareness

Just Breathe!

“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unties your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to hold of your mind again.”

Thich Nhut Hanh

Words like mindfulness and meditation are rapidly becoming everyday terms in modern Western society. Are you like me and just getting on the meditation bandwagon? Or maybe you’ve been practicing meditation for a while. According to a Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, within the past 5 years meditation has become one of the fastest growing trends in the US. So, why is mindfulness meditation becoming so popular?

It’s safe to say that in this fast paced, information outcomes driven world that most of us live in, we are probably feeling out of balance, leaning a bit too heavily towards doing. While finding a healthy balance between doing and being will look and feel differently for each of us, be curious about this balance and how it’s effecting your personal levels of happiness and well-being.   A growing body of research in the field of mindfulness meditation is proving to have significant benefits for our mental, emotional, and physical health. Mindfulness exercises can improve our mood and increase optimism, boost our confidence, enhance our emotional intelligence and improve our relationships with other people. Sign me up!

With the hectic pace and demands of modern life, many people feel stressed and over-worked. It often feels like there is just not enough time in the day to get everything done. Our stress and tiredness make us unhappy, impatient and frustrated. When the balance shifts from too much doing and not enough being we encounter problems such as stress, anxiety and overwhelm. Our current culture of fast paced busyness and culture of doing is affecting our health. Yet, we’re often so busy we think there is no time to stop and meditate! But meditating will actually give you more time by relaxing your mind, making your mind calmer and more focused. A simple five to ten minute breathing meditation as explained below can help you to overcome your stress and find some inner peace and balance.

Meditation can also help us understand our own mind. We can learn how to transform our mind from negative to positive, from disturbed to peaceful, from unhappy to happy. Overcoming negative minds and cultivating constructive thoughts is the purpose of the transforming meditations. But, very simply and at the core of all meditation is learning how to focus on the breathe.

“Let your breath untie the knots in your body and mind.”

Marie-Francoise Mariette

A Simple Breathing Meditation

The first stage of meditation is to stop distractions and make our mind clearer and more lucid. This breathing meditation is an invitation into the world of being. By practicing this simple breathing meditation and taking the time to shape your breath, you will trigger your parasympathetic nervous system, or relaxation response.   You can do this any time in the day or night. In this breathing meditation, the exhale is longer than the inhale.  We allow the exhale to leave our body slowly. We also pause a moment at the end of the inhale, and the end of the exhale

If your mind wanders that’s ok. Remember, our eyes are designed to see, our minds are designed to think.  Thinking in meditation is perfectly natural.  If you notice yourself thinking during your meditation, don’t’ worry, simply notice, perhaps even smile, offer your thoughts what they need in a gentle way, then return to the gentle flow of your breath.  No need to push your thoughts away, just notice, be curious, be open.  Notice your breaths natural ebb and flow.

At first, our mind will be very busy, and we might even feel that the meditation is making our mind busier; but in reality we are just becoming more aware of how busy our mind actually is. There will be a great temptation to follow the different thoughts as they arise, but we should resist this and remain focused single-pointedly on the sensation of the breath. If we discover that our mind has wandered and is following our thoughts, we should immediately return it to the breath. We should repeat this as many times as necessary until the mind settles on the breath.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Choose a quiet place to meditate and settle into a comfortable position. You can sit in the traditional cross-legged posture or in any other position that is comfortable. If you wish, you can sit in a chair. The most important thing is to keep your back straight to prevent your mind from becoming sluggish or sleepy (strong back, soft front).
  2. With eyes closed, or partially closed, gently guide your awareness to your breathing. Breathe naturally, preferably through the nostrils, without attempting to control your breath, and try to become aware of the sensation of your breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils. This sensation is your object of meditation. Be curious of your breath right now. What words would you use to describe your breath? Does it feel deep, shallow, smooth, warm, cool?
  3. Then, begin the 4 part breathing cycle, as follows:
    1. inhale through your nostrils (count to 3), then pause (1 count) at the top of the inhale; exhale through your mouth (count to 5), then pause (1 count) at the bottom.  If you’re able, try and smooth out the edges of your breath.
  4. Repeat this breathing cycle 5 times.
  5. Then continue to breath naturally.  Enjoy this feeling of relaxment, peace, and contentment. Rest in this presence, of being.
  6. Take a moment to notice the quality of your mind, of your thoughts .  Perhaps you are noticing that has a quietness has spread across your mind, or your thoughts seem more far away, smaller, or more gentle.  This is the power and beauty of presence or being
  7. Gently start moving your fingers, toes, and open eyes to the space you are in. 

Now You!

Did you give it a try? How did it make you feel?

Do YOU have a regular meditation practice? Do you use breathing meditations when you are stressed or feel overwhelmed ?

How do you shift from doing to being? Share in the comments.

 

Emotional Intelligence, Mindfulness, Reacting vs Responding, Self-Awareness, Striving Styles

Be Mindful: Respond rather than React

“Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is power to choose our response” – Viktor Frankl

No doubt all of us, including me, have reacted at times in our lives when we should have responded.  Upon reflection, we can often identify those events based on how we felt afterwards. We may have wished we hadn’t said something, or chosen a different tone, or had simply removed ourselves from the situation until we knew how to respond well.  As adults, we all know the right thing to do.  Yet, often our emotions get the best of us and we react – at work, at home, in the car, on social media, etc.  Until we are shown, taught, or learn something different, we often don’t know how to control our reactions, or even recognize our behaviour.  

So what is the difference between reacting vs responding?

A reaction is instinctive, based in the moment and doesn’t take the long term effects of what we do or say into consideration. While reacting in an emergency involving life and death where your survival is at stake is important, it’s when we react in everyday situations that we damage our relationships, and potential for a positive outcome.  A reaction is typically quick, tense and aggressive, while a response is thoughtful, calm and non-threatening.  A reaction typically provokes and perpetuates negative reactions.

When we react, we aren’t choosing.  Rather we are allowing our reptilian (or instinctual brain), the oldest part of our brain, to take control. The reptilian brain is all about survival: movement, breathing, circulation, hunger and reproduction, territory, and social dominance. A reaction uses our reptilian brain, which is survival-oriented.  Based on what your emotions trigger you to do, you act without really thinking through the consequences.  This might turn out okay but often a reaction is something you regret later. When we choose to simply react to what occurs in our lives, we often behave defensively, such as bating or taking revenge, blame, scapegoating, etc.  Stephen Covey defines the difference between reactive and responsive individuals as follows: “Reactive people are often affected by their physical environment. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and performance. Proactive people carry their own weather with them.” 

“Respond don’t react.  When you react to a person’s negative comments or actions in an angry, overly emotional or aggressive way, then you are giving that person power over you.  If a person can easily get a rise from you, then you are no longer in control.  If you take a moment and respond in a calm, healthy, honest and real way, then you are in control.  You are not allowing anyone to take your power away, or invoke a reaction from you.” Maria Consiglio

A reaction is usually quick and typically:

  • involves the reptilian/instinctual and the limbic/emotional brain.
  • is emotional.
  • involves speaking without thinking.
  • is often tense and aggressive.
  • creates conflict.
  • perpetuates discontentment and disagreement.
  • others are in control.

However, as highly evolved mammals, we have three brains: the reptilian brain or survival-oriented brain; the emotional or limbic brain; and the neocortex brain.  While our limbic/emotional brain is highly reactive and subconsciously involves our emotions and feelings, the neocortex is the thinking part of the brain, and where we have the capability to respond rather than react derives itself.  

It is the neocortex where we develop thoughtful responses.   This is where we gather and digest the necessary information, where we decipher what we are seeing and feeling, and where we put it into context. It’s future-focused, and where we understand the world so we are capable of making sound decisions.  It is why when thinking about how you might respond in a more mindful fashion, you can plan your future responses and strengthen your ability to take action that is in your best interest.

A response is a conscious decision that usually comes more slowly, and:

  • involves your neocortex or rational brain.
  • isn’t based on your emotional trigger.
  • involves acting by really thinking through consequences.
  • it includes a plan for future responses.
  • it’s non-threatening.
  • it takes time.
  • allows for assertiveness without aggression.
  • resolves conflict.
  • you are in control of your life.

While it’s not always easy to know how to respond best in every situation, being self-aware and emotionally intelligent help tremendously (topics I’ve discussed in my earlier posts). Like self-awareness and emotional intelligence, knowing how respond is a skill that can be developed.  When we know first-hand the negative experience that can result from reacting, we are far more motivated to make sure we respond in a similar situation.  It takes practice and requires us to be able to pause in nearly any situation before speaking or acting. 

To achieve our full potential, and become more successful both personally, and professionally, we need to be more aware of, and have more influence over our responses.  From recent brain research, we know that our brains are plastic and has the ability to develop connections with the other parts.   According to Dr. Bill Crawford, a psychologist who studies the brain, and concepts of responding and reacting, our brains are constantly rewiring with every thought, emotion, and/or behavior. He says that “when we respond to life in a way that is more effective… the brain creates and reinforces neural pathways from our limbic system up to our neocortex”.

How Mindfulness helps reprogram your brain

“Mindfulness give you time. Time give you choices. Choices, skillfully made, lead to freedom. You don’t have to be swept away by your feeling. You can respond with wisdom and kindness rather than habit and reactivity.” – Bhante H. Gunaratana

Your thoughts (beliefs) create your feelings; your feelings create your actions; your actions create your results.  Mindfulness is awareness of what is happening in the present moment, including awareness of thoughts, without any attachment to whatever you notice.  Mindfulness is helpful because it creates space between thoughts and actions.  By increasing your awareness of your thoughts, you can begin to break old automatic or habitual chain reactions between your triggers, thoughts, feelings and actions.  Each time you choose to not to activate your old trigger-thought-feeling-action-result sequence, you weaken the connections.  Furthermore, each time you choose a different action, you program new connections.  With repetition and practice, you hardwire these new programs so your new thoughts and responses become your new habits.

When we respond to life, we:

  • become the directors, rather than the followers
  • establish stronger relationships
  • become better communicators
  • minimize confrontations
  • find more peace
  • reduce regret
  • build a confidence that we can handle any situation we come up against
  • we thrive!

In essence, when choosing to respond versus react, you are taking charge of your life.  Choosing to be responsive is taking responsibility of our lives. Recognizing the power of our words, our behavior, our tone, our delivery, etc. will make a positive difference to those in our lives. 

“Instead of asking others to change their behaviour, your power is in your changing your reaction to their behaviour.  You have no control over their behaviour, but you do have complete control over your reaction to it.” – Abraham Hicks

How you can build a response habit:

Think of a time or situation that always causes conflict for you.  What are the things you tell yourself about the situation? How do you usually react to it? Record your answers. 

Practice responding to challenging situations until these responses become reactions.

Each time you enter into a situation that you know tends to cause you to react, take a few minutes to write down how you normally react and how you want to respond instead.  What will it look like? What will you say differently? How will you act differently?

Mindfulness

The Gift of Presence

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“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

I feel extremely fortunate to have had people in my life who have made me feel special.  While we all want to be liked, loved, and happy, there are some people who have made or make us feel valued.  They make us feel special.  My grandmother was one of those people.  Although she passed away thirty years ago, there is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t think about her.  What a gift and legacy she left!  I think about this a lot because I’d also like to leave that legacy with the people that I love.  But if the past few weeks are any indication, I have a lot of work to do.  So with this lofty goal in mind, I’m prompted to ask:  How can I be a better mother, spouse, sister, aunt, daughter, and friend?

Once again, I find the words in Maya Angelou, who sums it up so well “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  What was it about my grandma that made me feel so special?  How do I (or we) do this? The answer is – by being present.

How we nurture relationships by being present.

So many of our lives are filled with making lists, checking them off, all the while thinking about the next thing we have to do. We’re constantly busy in doing mode and it can sometimes feel like a burden or an annoyance to have to stop, even momentarily, for the people we love.  And this can be really difficult sometimes, at least for me it is.  With juggling my business, my family, and all of the other responsibilities I have, I often have a difficult time being fully present. I am guilty of daydreaming when I should be focused on tasks, looking at my phone while also having a conversation, getting caught up in multitasking and rushing through my to-do list. More often than not, I’m not 100% engaged in any given moment.  Yet, there are so many advantages that come from living in the moment.

Getting present requires a certain level of self-awareness. It’s about putting aside your own thoughts, worries, fears, and insecurities and genuinely taking an interest in what that person is saying.  There’s a saying that how you make others feel about themselves says a lot about you.  When you lack the ability to make people feel good about themselves it does nothing more than highlight your own inadequacies.

Whether you’re a parent, spouse, friend, or leader, if you believe that people matter, you must become good at making people feel great.  If you want to build and maintain lasting relationships, to consistently positively influence people, to make people feel good about themselves, and to be the kind of people everyone wants to be around, you must make them feel good.  When you press pause—physically and mentally—and hold a space for a person to fully express themselves, that person feels valued, heard, seen, and loved.  Isn’t that what all us ever really want?

How we become more present in our relationships.

  • Be intentional . Start with setting an intention to be more present. It sounds simple and it is. Yet most of us don’t think about how we want to show up in our relationships.  As you begin to engage with the people, having an intention to be more present acts as a reminder, anchors you in the present. You become aware of those times when you are the most present and those times when you’re not. Start to notice what distracts you from the present moment. Phone calls, to-do lists, busyness overload, social media—whatever it is. When you become aware of this stuff, you can work with it or eliminate it so it doesn’t keep distracting you.
  • Create boundaries around your time. Make sure you factor in yourself when organizing your day.  Be sure to schedule your time to include getting your needs met, physically, mentally or emotionally.  Schedule time to get your work done and focus on your priorities during that time.  Then be sure to schedule the time to be present for others.  Say no if it doesn’t fit with your goals or priorities.  I like the expression “if it’s not a hell yes, then it’s a no”.  It’s can become very easy to drop what you’re doing and focus on others’ priorities, but we all know that we can’t take care of others if we don’t take care of ourselves first.
  • Pay attention to how you feel around certain people. Unfortunately, there are people in our lives who do not make us feel good about ourselves, who can take up a lot of our time with negative energy, and can bring us down.  Next time you’re engaging with that person, take a moment to check in with where you’re at and ask if you’re supporting yourself. For example, are you feeling centered, confident, and calm? What story are you telling yourself about this situation?
  • Put your stuff away. My personal pet peeve is when I’m with someone, in a meeting, having a conversation, or at a dinner, etc. and they are constantly looking at their phone, or prioritizing answering a text or call (unless they have expressed they are expecting a call). Doing this suggests that they you are not their priority.  At least turn off the sound.  Be sure to put your phone away when you walk in the door, especially if you have kids.  And please, don’t walk in the door on a call – finish the call before you come in.  It’s a good practice to put your phone or computer away while in a conversation.
  • Be authentically interested. Lean in, keep eye contact, and listen more than you talk.  One of our deepest human needs is to be understood, valued, and respected for who we are.  However, most people seek to get their point across and be understood first.  In Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Principles of Highly Effective People”, the 5th principle is to “seek first to understand, then be understood”.  Here are the three steps he suggests:
    1. First, listen with your eyes, heart, and ears – listening with your ears isn’t enough. Only 7% of communication comes from our words.  The rest comes from body language (53%) and the tone of our voice (40%).  To hear what other people are really saying, you need to listen to what they are not saying.
    2. Second, stand in their shoes. Try to see the world as others see it and feel as they feel.
    3. Third, practice mirroring. Repeat back to the person what they just said.  It is not mimicking.  Put it in your own words.  This lets the person know you understand what they are saying without judging or giving advice.  Mirroring phrases “so, as I see it…”; “I can see that you’re feeling…”; “So, what you’re saying is…”
  • Practice mindfulness and learn to meditate.  I started my practice a few years ago as part of the Striving Styles certification process, not only because is it part of the curriculum I teach, but because I realized it’s a vital step in becoming more self-aware and personal growth.   It’s pretty difficult to be present in our relationships if we aren’t present with ourselves. For example,  I was away a lot over the past month and wasn’t meditating or practicing mindfulness regularly. I really noticed how this negatively affected my patience and presence in my relationships.   Being mindful and practicing meditation has so many benefits, not only for ourselves but also for those close to us.  I encourage you to watch the TEDx talk: The Power of Mindfulness: What You Practice Grows Stronger, by Shauna Shapiro if you would like to learn more about the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  But really, practicing mindfulness is really very simple.

What is mindfulness?

“Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment.”   – Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Mindfulness is our ability to pay attention to the present moment with curiosity and without judgement.  Mindfulness can be cultivated through a formal practice like meditation…and we can bring mindful attention to our daily activities.

Here are five simple ways to practice mindfulness in your daily life:

  1. Focus on your breath. Take a few really deep, controlled breaths. Deep breathing helps reduce stress, a source of fatique, and increases the level of oxygen in the blood.  Techniques can be as simple as inhaling for five seconds, holding your breath for four seconds and slowly exhaling for four seconds.  You can also try other techniques, which require different positions.
  2. Go for a walk outside. Being in nature can both invigorate you and make you feel more focused.  Here is a simple walking meditation:
    1. Simply close your eyes and listen to the sounds of nature. Stand solidly on the ground and spend several moments noticing how your body feels. Start with the soles of the feet and work upward, relaxing each body part as you become aware of it.  Then, open your eyes and begin to walk slowly, focusing on your surroundings and what you see, hear, smell and feel. Pay close attention to the sensations of the sun, wind and grass on your feet and skin.
  3. Use a meditation app. I really like guided meditations. I enjoy listening to the messages and I like the instruction and structure.  You can decide on the length of time (5, 10 minutes), choose your topic (relax, sleep, focus, anxiety, self-compassion, manifestation, morning, etc.).  Here are a few apps you might like to check out:  Calm, Insight Timer, Headspace, Deepak Chopra.  You can also search guided meditations on Youtube.
  4. Focus intently on the task at hand. I can get easily distracted and overwhelmed when I have a lot of different tasks and things I’m juggling, so picking just one and focusing on completing it helps me be more mindful.
  5. Observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them. Notice when your mind is in the past or future, and gently return to the present. Ideally write them down.  Even if you’re not a writer, giving yourself the freedom to put pen to paper, without judgment, can be a helpful emotional release as well, freeing up your mind to focus on what’s happening in the current moment.

Advantages of being fully present in relationships.

Calmness.  There’s a real sense of peacefulness that comes when I’m not all agitated thinking about everything I need to do, and instead just focus on being with that person, enjoying the here and now.

Increased empathy and compassion.  Having empathy improves relationships.  Brene’ Brown explains,

“If we want people to fully show up, to bring their whole selves including their unarmored, whole hearts—so that we can innovate, solve problems, and serve people—we have to be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected.” – Brene’ Brown

So having empathy helps us understand others when they communicate with us. Plus, it can reduce the amount of conflict in the individual’s life. The most common reason why other people become angry is they feel misunderstood.

Clarity and focus.   I do a better job and enjoy the process more when I give my full attention to whatever I’m working or on whom I’m working with, whether that’s spending time with my kids, writing my blog, working, gardening, etc.

Increased happiness and optimism.  When I’m more aware of my actions and more engaged, no matter the task I’m performing, it improves my outlook on life. Feeling more gratitude and focusing on the positive develops stronger emotional bonds with others.   I adopt more of an abundance mindset when I’m more self-confident.

More meaningful conversations. When I’m actively participating in a conversation and truly taking the time to listen to what the other person has to say, I find that I always take something important away from the discussion. Whether it’s a lesson or something I learned about the person, there is a lot to be gained from being present and actively engaged.

Appreciating the little things more.  It’s easy to overlook all of the simple pleasures in life when we are trying to do too many things at once. It’s really a shame, because sometimes we can be so fixated on creating our ideal, happy life, that we forget to see the happiness and pleasure that are already right in front of us.

“Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic.” – Stephen R. Covey

What Do YOU Think?

Do you struggle with being fully present? What are some ways that you’ve found are helpful in being more present?  What are the biggest challenges to staying in the moment? Let us know in the comments!

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