Along my driveway there are several cracks in the concrete and in those cracks, blades of grass have popped up. It’s pretty amazing that grass has managed to grow in a tiny area that is surrounded by a material meant to suffocate the natural ground underneath. If you’ve never seen concrete or asphalt being laid for a road or sidewalk, typically they dig up the sod until it’s just soil and then lay gravel or other material before pouring on the concrete. It seems like any ability for a plant to survive underneath seems really slim. Yet, if a seed were to reach the soil underneath through a crack, it is able to grow. That is one courageous plant! Staying in our safe zone is like being a seed. The seed has all the potential to grow into a beautiful plant but it has to take the risk of breaking out of its protected casing and expose itself to the elements. If the seed stays safe and protected, the potential remains in the casing, nothing changes, and the seed could still perish without it ever reaching its full potential. We need to be like seeds; knowing that our full potential can only exist if we are courageous enough to get out of our comfort zone.
Ponder this: You have a pot of boiling water on the stove that you need to cool down, so you dump in ice cubes to cool it. It does the trick. But then it starts to heat back up again and you find yourself having to constantly add more ice cubes. This a “symptoms approach” to problems. By just focusing on the symptoms, you find a short term solution, but in the long term the problem is still there. A “roots approach” to problem solving gets at the underlying cause. How would the roots approach solve the boiling water problem? Turn off the stove. Take a look at how you are approaching different problems in your life. Are you taking a symptoms approach or are you addressing the problem at its roots?
Our minds can handle about 4 hours of “deep work” or “tightly focused attention” in a day before we start to experience mental fatigue. It is that point in our studying or working where we start to feel less effective and productive, and we may start to feel easily distracted and irritable. This is usually the sign that the mental effort you have been exerting has depleted the glucose that feeds neural energy. In the same way that we give our body a rest when we feel tired, we also need to give our brains a rest. What can we do to rest our brain? First, here is what does NOT rest the brain: checking emails, surfing the internet, looking at social media, or playing video games. These activities will not give your brain a deep recovery. We need to engage in activities that allow our brain to “just be” without continued distractions. Meditation and spending time in nature are the best ways to give your brain the deep relaxation it needs. Logistically, most people can’t leave their workplace to drive to a nature preserve, but you don’t need to go very far. Take a walk around your building and enjoy the fresh air, or maybe there’s a patch of trees in the parking lot you can sit under. If you work in a concrete jungle, focus your attention up into the sky and admire the clouds and sunshine. If you want to be more productive, you need to give your brain a rest.
Visualizations can be powerful. Many star athletes and big time presenters use visualization before a big game or presentation to help them perform better. Can visualization replace the hard work, preparation, and practice? Not at all! But visualization is one extra tool you can use to enhance your performance, especially if it’s something anxiety producing. An important key element of visualizations: you want to engage all of your senses as your visualizing yourself in the situation. This is not just imagining a fantasy in your mind where you have the ability to fly 10 feet into the air. You are walking through the situation as if it is actually happening and you’re aim is to walk through the scenario without anxiety and with a calm, centered mind and body.
Here is an example of how to do a visualization if you have to give a presentation or speech that you are nervous about. First, close your eyes and take a few deep breathes to help center and calm your mind. Now visualize the actual setting where you will be giving the presentation (if you’re going somewhere new and don’t know what it will look like, visualize your best guess of what it would look like). Continue to breathe slowly and deeply, taking note of any anxiety that starts to creep up. See if you can fully engage your senses; smell what the room might smell like, notice the details of anything else that may be in the room, feel the temperature of the room. If any time you start to feel anxiety, pause the visualization and continue breathing until you feel the anxiety fade away, then continue. Visualize yourself walking up the podium/stage/front of the room, again, engaging the senses. Feel your feet walking, feel the temperature of the air, notice what else may be in the room, and most importantly, feel yourself feeling confident and prepared. Now visualize yourself getting to center stage and actually going through your speech/presentation in your mind. Again, if you start to feel anxiety, pause and breathe deeply until the anxiety fades away before continuing. Feel yourself feeling confident and comfortable. Finally, visualize yourself ending your presentation with a big smile and the sense that you nailed it. Sit with that moment as you continue to breathe deeply. Then open your eyes when you feel ready.
Now go and nail that presentation!
As spring approaches, many of us may be thinking about lawn care. Our yards have had the winter to be dormant and to rest, but now we need to think about giving it the care it needs if we want it to be healthy. Lawns are much like our life, we can’t expect to spend a few hours one day taking care of it and expect that it will stay green and lush the rest of the year. Lawns require consistent maintenance. In the spring we may do a lawn “detox” by raking up dead grass exposing the earth underneath so when we add fertilizer, the nutrients can get into the soil, rather than stay at the surface. We may also sprinkle grass seeds to bare patches that were damaged by high foot traffic or animals. Then throughout spring and summer, the grass needs to be mowed regularly. I’m sure many of you have had the experience of waiting too long before mowing and the grass becomes too long for the mower to cut. It ends up being more work for you and it’s usually not healthy for the grass either. Like anything else in our lives, if we form healthy habits, we end up creating less work for ourselves over time and we reap a lot of benefits. Whether your “life care” is a healthy diet and exercise routine, or making your work-from-home job as productive as possible each day, remember that it will benefit from consistent maintenance.
Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is. ~Mark Twain
This quote by Mark Twain reminded me of a recent book I picked up written by researcher Brene Brown titled Daring Greatly. In this book, Brene Brown talks about stepping outside comfort zones, thinking outside the proverbial box, to set out on new journeys. A quote from her book reads, “When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make,” says Brown. “Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.” Will you go out on a limb?
Think about your childhood self. What were you like? How did you imagine your life would turn out? Who did you picture yourself to be as an adult? Think about your adult self. Did you live up to your expectations? Surpass them? If you could write a letter from your adult self to your childhood self, how would you describe the person you have become? What personality characteristics would you describe? What accomplishments would you highlight? Are there any failures or disasters you would want to warn yourself about?
by Chanie Gorkin
Today was the absolute worst day ever
And don’t try to convince me that
There’s something good in every day
Because, when you take a closer look,
This world is a pretty evil place.
Some goodness does shine through once in a while
Satisfaction and happiness don’t last.
And it’s not true that
It’s all in the mind and heart
True happiness can be attained
Only if one’s surroundings are good
It’s not true that good exists
I’m sure you can agree that
It’s all beyond my control
And you’ll never in a million years hear me say
Today was a very good day
**Now read it from bottom to top, the other way,
And see what I really feel about my day. Perspective is everything.
How many words are in your vocabulary? You probably don’t actually know, but I’d like you to consider the vocabulary you use to describe your emotions. Is it basic (happy, sad, mad) or more complex (exuberant, despondent, infuriated)? Try practicing mindfulness in terms of recognizing the language you use to describe your current mood state. Do any of these feels ever apply to you?
“The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” – Unknown.
What do you do when you are listening to someone? Are you waiting for the person to stop talking so you can talk about your own ideas and opinions? Or do you pause your own inner thoughts to focus on the speaker? Most of us listen to reply and if we’ve already formulated what we want to say in response, it is highly unlikely that you have fully listened to the speaker. I’m betting most of us also know what it feels like to not be listened to. For example, you just finished telling your partner about your stressful day and how you’re not sure about how you want to handle a certain situation, and then he/she immediately starts talking about their own stressful day. It doesn’t feel good does it? Most of us have been in both positions. Let’s be more mindful about listening to understand, not to just reply.