Personal Growth

Is It Better Today?

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I read an article recently about how to stay motivated to stick with long-term goals.

It can be daunting to think about the end result you wish to achieve, and if you’re not seeing (or appreciation) the incremental progress because the steps seem too small to matter, it’s easy to get discouraged.

So, this author recommended adopting this mantra: Is it better today?

His particular question was: is it better today than it was yesterday? He deliberately tried to keep it vague enough to use in any situation. Whether it’s a work goal or a weight loss goal, was your effort better today than the effort you made yesterday? Was the tiny step you took today a little better than the tiny step you took yesterday?

I like the idea, but I would change one thing. My question would it be: Is it better today than the day that you started?

Let’s say you’re trying to lose weight, or trying to eat healthier or work out more. It’s possible that you had a “bad” day today, right? So if you asked yourself: is it better today than it was yesterday, your answer could conceivably be “no.”

But if you look back to when you started, even if you had a “bad” day today, I bet if you asked yourself—is it better today than it was the day that I started?—the answer would be yes!

Even if you slipped up in your plan today, you’re still way better off than you would’ve been had you not started at all! You’ve probably lost some pounds that one “bad” day is not going to affect. You’re probably building muscle and burning fat—you probably have better endurance and more muscle definition than when you started. You’ve probably eaten far more vegetables and far less junk overall since you set out to do so—even if today was a “bad” day.

And the best part is that tomorrow can be even better! If today was a “bad” day, then for sure if tomorrow you ask yourself “Is it better today?” the answer will be yes!!

So try to remember if you’re feeling like you’ll never make it to the finish line, you are getting there. You are better off and further along today than you were when you started.

Category : Blog &Health &Personal Growth

Old Years Absolutions

Are you making New Years Resolutions this year?

I think most people do make plans for the “new year.” Maybe flipping the calendar over to a crisp, fresh new year is a good time to start (or renew) our resolve to meet our goals.

But is January really a “blank” page? Don’t you already have some appointments set up? Aren’t most plans ongoing—such that January doesn’t really look all that different from December in terms of taking one step after the next in an effort to reach a desired outcome?

People all seem very busy to me. I see a lot of effects of stress in my office!! So maybe this year, instead of ADDING more things to do, maybe we can endeavor to subtract some things instead.

What baggage can we let go of?

Is there anything that’s no longer serving us—something blocking us from achieving the goals we already have—that we can offload?

Can we forgive ourselves for something (including not keeping last year’s resolutions!)? Is there something we can forgive others for? Can we let go of fear—maybe fear of failure? Or maybe fear of success! Can we let go of worry? Or any other mental or physical clutter?

Can we absolve ourselves of guilt or doubt or resentment or regret?

I have a feeling the resolutions are already there. This year, instead of being stuck in a repeating loop of not keeping resolutions made because of some arbitrary timetable, maybe we just need to free ourselves of whatever it is that’s holding us back.

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Category : Blog &Health &Personal Growth

Thinking Vs. Feeling

In a conversation the other day, a gentleman reminded me of something I learned from Eckhart Tolle’s book “The Power of Now.”

This particular conversation had to do with food choices—specifically, that this gentleman had purchased a delicious doughnut during a weak moment, but after a quick, clear-headed reflection on his weight loss goals, he ultimately decided to throw away 50% of the delicacy and enjoy eating just half of it.

But the technique he used was a really good one, and is applicable to any situation in life. It’s along the lines of “act, don’t react.”

He described imagining himself up on a balcony, literally looking down on himself with his coffee and doughnut. Up on the balcony, he just observes without emotion. He allows his higher-thinking self to assess the situation.

The part of him sitting with the doughnut was caught up in the drama of WANTING the pleasure of indulging. Don’t we all have that one voice in our head that cries out for instant gratification?

But we have other voices in our head, too, constantly. One is always the voice of reason.

One is the inner critic, insisting on negative self-talk. One is the inner cheerleader, encouraging us as we go.

One voice is the judge, continuously making judgments. Sometimes we really need that voice to save us from doing something regrettable! Other times, it’s entirely appropriate to shut that voice down.

I like thinking about the voice of the observer, the one who notices without judgment. Like when I’m trying to meditate, and focus on my breath, and some random thought pops into my head. I just notice it. Mm hmm, that’s me having a thought. Not good timing, thought! Just float on by now, and I’ll revisit you later. Breathe……

Or when I’m tempted to eat some empty calories like a doughnut. I can step back (or up to “the balcony”) and think, Mm hmm, that’s my inner three-year-old demanding gratification. I acknowledge that she wants some attention. What else would help her feel nurtured? Does she really “need” a doughnut? Or does she really need a hug? A bubble bath? An adventure? Someone to talk with to sort something out?

Oh, that’s the inquisitive voice!

Have you ever had a conversation with yourself about getting out of exercise? I’m just not feeling it today. I don’t have time. I’m really tired. I think a little headache is coming on.

Try stepping back and observing. What is really going on? What are you feeling? (I feel like skipping it today!) What are you thinking? (I think it would be a good idea for me to get my heart rate up, and then I think I will feel a lot better afterward. In fact, I think I’ll feel proud of myself! And that’s a really good feeling! I can do this!!)

The great news is that we get to decide which voice in our head to listen to. We get to climb up to the balcony and observe before we make a decision. We don’t have to “react” to the emotion. (This is true, too, for confrontations—in person and on social media!)

I was so happy to have this reminder the other day. I’ve been “thinking” about it a lot ever since!

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Category : Blog &Health &Personal Growth

A Tale of Thanks Giving

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A few days before Thanksgiving, a friend of mine posted on Facebook that food and volunteers were needed for a massive feast being served for free on Thanksgiving Day for anyone in need—the homeless, the struggling, the folks who lost their homes to Hurricane Matthew and have no where to cook or gather.

I called the event organizer and volunteered to bring a dish and help serve or wipe down tables, or pick up trash or whatever was needed. I decided to bring a deli-style macaroni salad that didn’t need to be reheated to be enjoyed.

On Wednesday, in between clients, I went grocery shopping for supplies. That evening, before and after dinner with friends, I boiled macaroni and chopped fresh celery, peppers, parsley and a summer sausage, made the dressing and tossed it all together before I went to bed. (Everyone knows these things taste better if they “meld” overnight!)

The set-up started at 7 am! On a holiday!! I had promised to arrive by 10:30 to help with any last-minute preparations and deliver my big tray of food, as the luncheon was scheduled to begin at 11:00. A friend gave me a ride to the site—a greenspace downtown that had been borrowed with permission from the school board—so that I wouldn’t have to lug a giant, heavy aluminum foil tray across town from public parking.

Here’s what I found when I arrived:

A dozen or more tables and chairs set up under the trees—all covered with Thanksgiving themed tablecloths with a basket of bread or crackers in the center—and rows and rows of folding chairs beyond the tables.

Musicians and sound system ready to entertain.

Serving tables under tents LOADED with food, with holders and sterno warmers and tray after tray after tray of hot food—turkeys and hams and all the sides, and more sides, and breads and baked goods like pies and brownies and cookies—and even more food stored on tables behind the main serving tables. And helpers lined up behind the serving tables, with gloved hands and smiling faces. I recognized some serial volunteers I had seen at other events in our community—cultural events sponsored by Romanza, for example, or fund raisers for cancer. We have many kind-hearted, service-minded people in our town!

At first there were more helpers than there were people wanting to partake. The main event organizer thanked everyone for coming, a minister said grace, and then the few people who were there to eat lined up peacefully and started through the line.

Soon more people came. Many went through the line twice—once to eat then and there, and once to take something home to eat later or to share with someone unable to make it. Volunteers had brought blankets and socks and bags of canned goods that people could take with them as needed.

One woman shared her story with me as she came through the line. She had lost everything except some clothes to Hurricane Matthew. She couldn’t find a place to rent, so she was staying in a hotel that had cost her $3,000 so far—which she could ill afford. She had to give up her beloved dog. It was overwhelming. She looked drained and said she was just fixing a plate to take with her to work. She said at times she felt like just giving up. I asked if I could give her a hug, and she accepted. I encouraged her don’t give up—hang in there, it will get better! I hoped I was telling her the truth; that things really would get better for her.

As I looked out over the grateful feasters, it occurred to me that many of these people would not be sitting together at a shared table under any other circumstance. How nice, I thought, that people could find common ground and maybe even make a new friend in the face of tragedy and hardship.

I had a long talk with one of the event organizers, who looked exhausted yet shared the pride he felt in working at the commercial kitchen at the St. Francis house, cooking, slicing and shredding turkey after turkey, and ham after ham. I saw the other main event organizer dabbing at her eyes a lot as she thanked volunteer after volunteer for coming, for bringing food to share, for helping.

It had seemed at first like there was SO much food, but just before noon, I noticed that the first round was being depleted, and the stock from behind the serving table was being pulled forward. “I don’t know if they’re going to be able to serve until 2:00 as planned,” I was thinking to myself. And just then, just exactly as I was having that thought, a van pulled up and a woman wearing oven mitts walked up to the tents with two big trays of food and asked, “Where can I set these? They’re super hot!” And the stock was at least partially replenished.

Two things (at least!) struck me about this particular feast. First, it took just two weeks to pull it together! And volunteers came from all over town, like me, just wanting to help. People focusing on others rather than their own Thanksgiving meal. What a great community we live in! It really was kind of unbelievable how much food was prepared, how many tables and chairs and food warmers were somehow collected and employed, how many were willing to give of their time and talents on a holiday, on short notice.

The other thing that struck me is how the event organizers just sort of put an idea out into the universe, and trusted. It really was pretty loose in a pot-luck sort of way—whoever could bring food brought food, and whoever needed to eat showed up to eat, and it all just sort of worked itself out. No one micro-managed. When I arrived at 10:30, people were adding to the serving tables on the fly—put main course here, side dish there, we need one more volunteer to serve water/tea over there. It was controlled chaos, a lot of “we don’t know where to set this, we might need one more table here,” and… poof! Another folding table appeared.

It was nothing short of a miracle. A generous, glorious, selfless miracle. Even the weather was picture-perfect. And remember—there were live musicians serenading people as they worked and ate! It couldn’t have been more pleasant.

I left before it was over. But I am truly thankful to have been a part of it, to have witnessed the very best in people. People willing to give, and people willing to receive. People happy to hang out with folks they probably wouldn’t have had an opportunity to hang out with ordinarily.

But this was no ordinary day. It was an extraordinary day set aside to appreciate our abundance—of food, kindness, gratitude and fellowship.

 

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Category : Blog &Events &Personal Growth

Gratitude Every Day

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Isn’t it wonderful that we set aside a holiday to gather together with loved ones, and feast and relax and reflect on giving thanks?

While overindulging on Thanksgiving may not be the healthiest thing for us, it turns out that feeling grateful really is good for our health! Study after study shows that our attitude affects our health just as much as—or maybe even more than—our habits do.

Every year it seems that people enjoy getting in the “holiday spirit,” and we all express how much we wish that spirit could last throughout the year.

Well, maybe it can! At least prioritizing our focus on gratitude is something that can be practiced all year. Here are seven tips for practicing gratitude every day:

Keep a Gratitude Journal. For whatever reason(s), we tend to focus on what goes wrong in life. The simple act of committing to paper all the little, commonplace things we’re thankful for can help us focus on the positive. Spending just a few minutes each day counting our blessings helps shift us out of stressed out, bummed out mode into a happier, healthier state of mind. Even writing every other day is good!

Acknowledge Negative Feelings, Too. While focusing on gratitude does increase feelings of wellbeing, it’s not all about avoiding the “bad” stuff in an effort to stay optimistic 100% of the time. Setbacks are a part of life, and negative experiences and emotions need to be dealt with and processed. In fact, once we get through a hard time, looking back on how we felt and how we handled that part of our journey can actually help us feel more grateful for our current situation!

“Shower the People You Love with Love” (a la James Taylor). Having a sense of connection with others is one of the key ingredients of good health. Dr. Robert Emmons, gratitude researcher and psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, says that “Gratitude really helps us connect to other people. It actually strengthens relationships, and relationships are the strongest predictors of happiness and coping with stress.” He says gratitude, more than any other, is the emotion of friendship.

 When we express appreciation for loved ones, it creates closeness as we allow them to see how much we value them. And it’s a non-vicious cycle, because when others let us know how much they value us, it increases our happiness and gratitude!

Use Social Media Wisely. Thankful people use social media networks mindfully. Dr. Emmons says those who practice gratitude “use whatever cues exist in everyday environments to trigger grateful thoughts. Pictures and information on social media” are very instruments to do so. In fact, research has found that positive images on social media spread faster than negative messages do! 

Of course, it’s very easy to get sucked in to the drama and negative noise. So, Emmons suggests creating a file of uplifting posts that can trigger happy feelings when you need help feeling grateful. We can also use social media networks to reach out to supportive friends when we need to connect.

Remember Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. To practice gratitude every day, it’s important to acknowledge every act of kindness, no matter how small—and pay it forward. Even just a smile or a compliment from you can make someone’s day. And remembering to be thankful for a smile or compliment can make your day.

One study showed that “everyday” gratitude gave romantic relationships a better chance for success, because “daily gratitude interactions” increased the sense of connection and overall satisfaction for both women and men. (It’s pretty nice to be appreciated, isn’t it? It also feels nice to be appreciative!)

Volunteer. It seems it truly is better to give than to receive. Research shows that volunteering can result in lessening depression and increasing feelings of wellbeing. This might be because service to others helps us get in touch with our own inner spirituality, and we feel grateful for the experience. Interestingly, giving helps people feel more gratitude than receiving.

Exercise. In a symbiotic cycle, people who practice gratitude tend to exercise more (and smoke and abuse alcohol less), and because exercise clears our mind and reduces stress, it sets us up to experience more gratitude. Grateful people who exercise have healthier minds and bodies!

I hope you have a very Happy Thanksgiving. And if you enjoy a day of thanks with loved ones, compliments, exercise and so on, I hope it inspires you to consider practicing gratitude every day.

Source: “7 Habits of Grateful People” by Lindsay Holmes on Huffington Post.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/27/gratitude-habits_n_4343934.html

Category : Blog &Health &Personal Growth

The Healing Power of Awe

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Imagine the sense of wonder you feel when you see something like Niagra Falls for the first time, or feel a newborn baby wrap her tiny hand around one of your fingers, or see a truly astonishing human feat of bravery, or compassion, or athletic or artistic perfection.

Awe is an emotion that has not gotten much attention. (The “big six” emotions that, until recently, have been scientifically studied the most are: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, and surprise.)

Maybe that’s because awe is sort of difficult to pinpoint and define, or maybe it’s because it was considered to be a luxury item—nice to have, but not as accessible as the common day feelings of fear and happy and sad and mad.

But in 2013, the University of California, Berkeley’s Social Interaction Lab started “Project Awe,” a three-year research project that is finding out how awe is just as basic and important to our existence as the other emotions. In fact, awe is proving to be vital to our health and happiness!

How? First, awe brings us fully into the present moment. Where fear or excitement trip our “fight of flight” response and all the stress hormones that come with it, awe brings us into an attentive state of stillness and appreciation. Studies show that this emotional state makes us more receptive to details and new information, and it causes people to act more generously and ethically.

Second, awe can reduce the level of cytokines, a marker of inflammation that is linked to depression. Many studies are showing that being wowed by the beauty in nature lowers blood pressure and boosts the immune system.

And it doesn’t even have to be a major “wow” moment. Studies are showing that awe IS accessible to all of us, and that the benefits are felt even after “small” transformative moments—looking up at a marvelous starry sky or at the Grand Canyon, feeling genuinely touched by the generosity of others, or hearing a moving piece of music.

Third, awe inspires a feeling of connectedness. We get the sense that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves.

These ideas are shared in an article called “Feeling Awe May Be the Secret to Health and Happiness,” by Paula Spencer Scott (“Parade” Magazine, October 9, 2016).

Here are six things Scott suggests we can do to find awe in everyday life:
Step away from our devices and go outside—gaze at the sky!
Visit a local, state or national park.
Recall a time you felt wonder—describe it to a friend or write about it.
Visit a museum or planetarium.
Get up early to watch the sun rise.
Listen to amazing music, like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony or a live version of Santana’s “Europa.” Or whatever inspires you, of course!

Much has been written about the benefits of being in nature. I know when I hike or kayak with others, we always comment on the wonder of seeing a majestic bird or breeching dolphin. Haven’t you ever gazed at the beautiful patterns of light and shadows in the trees, or the sparkle of sunlight on water, or taken in a deep breath filled with earthy scents on a not-too-hot breezy day, and just marveled at the glory of nature?

In his article “What Science Taught Me About Compassion, Gratitude and Awe,” Dacher Keltner expands on that:

“What we know is that awe really happens when you transcend the human scale, big or small, and when you’re around things that challenge your current knowledge structures. You go, ‘Oh, I didn’t imagine trees could be so big, or a baby could be so funny, or this person could be so generous, or music could sound like that.’

“We know … that just brief experiences of awe as short as a minute or two [like walking out in the woods] make you more generous, make you more humble, make you more empathetic, make you better at science. We have findings showing that it actually calms down the branch of your immune system called the cytokine system. The cytokine response is the inflammation response, when cells attack pathogens in your body and you feel like you have the flu. It’s good in the short term if you have toxins in your body, but if your cytokine system is always active, it is very bad news for human health. Awe quiets down that system, which is really incredible.”

How about that—awe is incredible!

We know stress is bad for us, and awe is kind of like a switch that can flip us out of fight-or-flight mode and into mindful awareness of something bigger than ourselves. And now we know we can actually cultivate a feeling of awe.

Here’s a link to Keltner’s whole article if you’d like to read more:http://www.dailygood.org/story/1321/what-science-taught-me-about-compassion-gratitude-and-awe-dacher-keltner/

Category : Blog &Health &Personal Growth

Art Abandonment—Random Acts of Beauty

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Today I placed a beautiful bracelet in a baggie—a piece I consider to be of real value because it’s unique, and because I made it with genuine semi-precious stones and sterling silver—and I took it to the Mission de Nombre Dios, set it down next to a big statue, and walked away.

I “abandoned” it.

Why? Because I’m part of a movement called Art Abandonment, a phenomenon started in June 2012 by Michael deMeng and his wife Andrea Matus deMeng. They published a book entitled “The Art Abandonment Project: Create and Share Random Acts of Art,” and started a Facebook group that grew quickly and now boasts more than 33,000 members worldwide. Including me.

Abandoners simply create something for the joy of making it, and then leave it for an unsuspecting person to find. You put a tag on it stating you are leaving the art as a gift to whomever finds it. They can take it, pass it along to someone else they know would love it, or simply leave it there for someone else to find if they don’t care for it. The tag has directions for how to email or post on the Facebook page telling about their experience of finding free art, if they choose to do so. But it’s anonymous—the finder never knows who the abandoner is.

I’ve done two “art drops,” and so far I haven’t heard from anyone who’s found one of my pieces. But it makes me smile to think about how it might make someone’s day a little brighter.

Recently I read a story on the group’s Facebook page about how a woman found a little painting of a cheerful flower at the hospital on her way out of a breast biopsy. She was so filled with happiness, and was so touched that someone would be generous enough to simply give something handmade and beautiful away with love, that she didn’t have any room left in her heart or mind to be worried about her biopsy results. She posted on the group’s page, and soon dozens of strangers were wishing her well, sending her prayers and words of support that she would never have accessed had it not been for Art Abandonment. Her gratitude kept growing, and I was moved by the abundance of encouragement and kindness.

And that’s really what it’s all about—random acts of kindness in a world that desperately needs more of it.

You don’t have to be a “good artist” to get in on the goodness of the movement. Some people paint designs on stones and leave them out in nature near natural rocks. Some people might color a pre-printed design and cut the pictures to make bookmarks or greeting cards. A few fiber artists are crocheting little Pokemon characters and leaving them where players are known to hunt for the virtual counterparts. The art can be almost anything. The intention of creating and sharing is more important than the “value” of the finished work. Who knows what someone else will find beautiful or valuable anyway? These are lucky, random “finders,” not art critics!

Do you think you’d like to join the fun? Here’s a link to the Facebook page: www.facebook.com/groups/ArtAbandonment/

Happy Abandoning!

Category : Blog &Health &Personal Growth