Living Intentionally in 2018

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’

– Mary Oliver

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Are you a New Year’s Resolution kind of person? Do you set new goals and resolutions at the beginning of each year.  I explored this concept in my latest Thrive Global article.

I usually tend to be a goal-setter in the beginning of each year, sitting down quite purposely to set my goals as the new year unfolds. This year however, I decided to try something different and focus on intentions rather than goals.

Admittedly, goals are important, but I know personally that I can become much too goal-oriented and forget to be present in the moment. I have found that living intentionally is more peaceful and fulfilling than living in a goal-obsessed way.

Being more intentional helps me to focus on how I want to be in any given moment, no matter what else is going on around me. By focusing on my intentions, I am better able to stay centered; I don’t get as caught up in the roller coaster of whether I am getting things done and if I’m doing them ‘right’. It helps me to enjoy the journey and not get lost in getting to the destination.

David Emerald, author of TED — The Empowerment Dynamic, beautifully describes the differences between goals and intentions:

Goals are focused on the future. Intentions are in the present moment.

Goals are a destination or specific achievement. Intentions are lived each day, independent of reaching the goal or destination.

Goals are external achievements. Intentions are your inner-relationships with yourself and others.

As I thought about this new focus, I received an email from my publicist, Joanne McCall. In her email, she quoted Rabbi Daniel Cohen’s book, and put forth 5 questions:

 1. If you only had 24 hours to live, what would you do and why?
2. How would the world be different without you?
3. What values do you stand for and what is worth fighting for?
4. What five words would you want written on your headstone?
5. What will you do this year that is worthy of future memory?

The timing was perfect. I got out my journal and wrote; focusing not on what I

wanted to achieve, but rather on what I feel most passionate about; about my values rather than what I wanted to accomplish. These questions helped me focus on ideas that excite my spirit.

“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”
— Oprah Winfrey

So what will Living Intentionally look like for me?

1. Being quiet and focusing inward, checking in on how I feel rather than what I need to do.

What do I need, how do I feel? Focus in, don’t just react to what I should be doing, or what others expect me to do.

2. Trying to understand why

Look at what I’m doing and ask myself why I’m doing it. Ask myself what my intention is for each activity. Am I doing things out of obligation or love? When I understand my intention, it will help me do things with more joy and hopefully less fear.

3. Trying to live in flow rather than reaction

Finding flow is not always easy, it takes space and is usually intuitive. My intuition always guides me better than trying to reason my way, or worse, react my way through life. When I am in flow, life feels spacious and creative.

4. Moving away from micro-managing my life

When I’m feeling stressed and fearful, I tend to micro-manage my life (and often other people’s lives as well!) When I’m in flow and not trying to control, I can relax and not spend my time trying to figure out every detail. When I can move into a place of flow, I am so much more creative and open, and life just seems to go better.

 

So as 2018 unfolds, I invite you to take time to think about your intentions. Perhaps grab your journal and write about Rabbi Cohen’s five questions. Give yourself the space to listen to the call of your spirit.

“Respond to every call that excites your spirit.”
— Rumi

I’ll close with a wonderful video about The Power of Intention by the incomparable Deepak Chopra.

I’d love to hear about your goals and intentions for the new year.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.
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Practicing Conscious Gratitude

“The root of joy is gratefulness…It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” 
― David Steindl-Rast

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In the Muppets’ Christmas Carol Movie, Kermit sings: “Tis the season to be jolly and joyous” . . . But what if you’re not feeling overly joyous? As we enter the holiday season this year, many people are feeling less than joyful. The political scene is grim and there is a lot to feel anxious and unhappy about. And for many, the idea of spending more time with family during the holidays does not fill the heart with glee. How you feel is your choice, daily. But if you want to feel more joy, not only this holiday season, but in general, there is an answer.

Science tells us that happiness and joy are things we can cultivate. Thanks to the advent of fMRI machines (functional magnetic resonance imaging), we can now watch our brains in real time and see which areas of the brain light up when we’re angry, frustrated, or joyful, and we can also watch the brain change depending on what we focus on. The idea that our brain architecture can change has been termed “neuroplasticity.”

We can literally rewire the neural pathways that regulate our emotions, thoughts, and reactions. This means we can create new neural pathways that lead us to compassion, gratitude, and joy instead of anxiety, fear, and anger. We can reprogram our brains’ automatic response with a conscious effort to build new pathways.

 

In a study done by The National Center for Biotechnology Information, Neural Correlates of Gratitude, it was found that gratitude can be a natural antidepressant. When we consciously focus on what we are grateful for, certain neural circuits are activated; when activated, an increase of dopamine and serotonin is produced, which is similar to how many antidepressants work.

Building new neural pathways may not come easily at first. A good analogy is bushwhacking through a jungle. Imagine trying to walk through a jungle in a dense rain forest. It requires a machete every step of the way to clear the path the first time through. After a few more times, you might lay down some stones to keep the path clear and eventually the path becomes a road and soon it becomes easily travelled. As you walk the path more and more, you continue to reinforce it and make it even stronger. Eventually, this new neural pathway becomes a habit.

To add to the strengthening of some pathways, our brain also has a way to ‘prune’ the pathways used less often. Scientists call this “use-dependent cortical reorganization,” meaning that we strengthen whichever neural pathways we use most often, and lose the ones we use the least. Hebb’s Lawstates “neurons that fire together, wire together.”

                    Neurons that fire together, wire together

 

So how do we do this? How do we create these new neural pathways and start to rewire our brain towards happiness, compassion, and joy? Many studieshave shown that cultivating gratitude, or practicing Conscious Gratitude, is the most powerful way to start building new pathways.

Seth Godin, best selling author, recently stated in an interview: “I think that gratitude is a profound choice. It is not just something that some people do. There is a way to look at life as either “have to” or a “get to”. There are all these things in life we could do because we have to do them, or there are things in life we do because we get to do them.”

Godin goes on to explain that this has nothing to do with the truth of what is going on in the world around you. It has to do with our narrative about what is going on.

Living life knowing you “get to” do something is better than constantly feeling like you have to. Godin poses the question: “What is the opposite of gratitude?” And he believes the opposite of gratitude is entitlement. “People who believe they are entitled to something, walk around expecting that the world owes them something, whereas the people who are grateful for something are eager to share that gratitude with others, and that lines up exactly with “have to” and “get to.”

So if we agree that being grateful can lead to joy, then how can we start feeling more grateful?

“Look closely and you will find that people are happy because they are grateful. The opposite of gratefulness is just taking everything for granted. ” ― David Steindl-Rast,

David Steindl-Rast, the highly-respected Benedictine monk, author and spiritual leader, explains his methodology for staying in a gratitude mindset in Anatomy of Gratitude:

“There is a very simple kind of methodology to it: stop, look, go. Most of us are caught up in schedules, and deadlines, and rushing around. And so the first thing is that we have to stop, because otherwise we are not really coming into this present moment at all. And we can’t even appreciate the opportunity that is given to us because we rush by. So stopping is the first thing … and finding something in that moment … I don’t speak of this moment as a ‘gift’, because you cannot be grateful for everything. You can’t be grateful for war, violence, domestic violence, or sickness, things like that. There are many things for which you cannot be grateful. But in every moment, you can be grateful. For instance, the opportunity to learn something from a very difficult experience. So opportunity is really the key when people ask, can you be grateful for everything? No, not for everything, but yes you can be grateful in every moment.”

Seth Godin believes that acting “as if” is underrated. “If you start acting as if you are grateful, you start feeling more grateful and you will become more grateful.”

Here are some things you can do right now to start practicing Conscious Gratitude:

1. Choose a time and focus on gratitude

Choose a specific time everyday where you will stop for a moment and focus on what you are grateful for in that particular moment.
I use 11:11. I have an alarm set on my phone to go off every day at 11:11. I stop whatever I’m doing (within reason- if I’m driving on a highway obviously I don’t stop) and I silently focus on what I am grateful for in that moment. Even if I’m stuck in traffic, I can be grateful for my car or a good sound system or enough money for gas to get me where I am going.

2. First thing in the morning, before your feet hit the floor, be grateful

Before you hop out of bed in the morning, take 30 seconds, (it really does not take more than that) to think about 3 things you are grateful for. This can be done silently in your head. Or better yet, if you have a partner that you share your bed with, ask each other to list those 3 things. It can be as simple as gratitude for a comfortable bed, a warm house, and a good nights sleep. It’s been shown that starting your day in gratitude positively impacts you for the rest of the day.

3. Start a Gratitude Journal

Choose a journal that you like the feel and the look of, and make sure that it is used solely for writing about things your are grateful for. How you write this is up to you; it can be as simple as list making. I like using colorful pens playing in my journal, but use what ever works for you. Make it a routine, try to write in it daily, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day.

4. Start new traditions in your family — like gratitude at meals

This may feel uncomfortable at first; but with time, the practice of going around the table and saying one thing you are grateful for that happened that day, can become a cherished family tradition. It’s a great conversation starter and a wonderful way to lift the energy at any meal time. Another tradition can be saying one thing you are grateful for before going off to sleep. If you have children, it is a wonderful way to end the day just before they go to sleep. Another tradition to reinforce gratitude in relationships is texting to a loved one in the middle of the day, one thing you appreciate about them. This works well with teens and couples with busy schedules.

So this holiday season, if you are hoping to embody Kermit’s words . . .

Tis the season to be jolly and joyous
With a burst of pleasure, we feel it arrive
Tis the season when the saints can employ us
To spread the news about peace and to keep love alive

. . . You can start by practicing gratitude consciously today. And if that doesn’t come naturally, start by ‘acting as if’ you are grateful. And pretty soon, what was once an act will become a habit.

 

I’ll close with a great interview with Brené Brown talking about Active Gratitude.

 

I’d love to hear how you practice conscious gratitude.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

 

Happy 2017 – A Year for Cultivating Gratitude

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”
― Thornton Wilder

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Happy New Year! I think the general consensus is that 2016 was a rough year for most people, on so many levels.  But in this post I don’t want to focus on politics or difficulties, but instead on cultivating gratitude. A new year is the perfect time to be cultivating gratitude and a renewed focus on what you appreciate. And 2017 is in particular a great place to start because from a numerological perspective, 2017 is a “one” year. (In short: 2+0+1+7 = 10 = 1+0 = 1.) Numerology looks at time in nine-year cycles, in which a “one” year begins a new nine-year cycle of creativity, learning and growth. It is a time of intentions and planning for the next phase. The intentions and foundations you build in 2017 can help shape the upcoming years. A “one” year is the perfect time to set intentions and goals for yourself.  It’s an important year to take time for yourself and clarify the direction you want to travel. And a perfect time to focus on gratitude for what you have.  My new years message talks about this and about the importance of silence in your routine. You can read more about that here in my newsletter.  And if you want to read more about the science of silence, you can read about that in my article in Thrive.

Cultivating gratitude is so important as we enter 2017.  Psychology Today defines the benefits of gratitude as:

Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has—as opposed to, for example, a consumer-driven emphasis on what one wants. Gratitude is getting a great deal of attention as a facet of positive psychology: Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude, and can increase our well-being and happiness by doing so. In addition, gratefulness—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with increased energy, optimism, and empathy.

Another good reason to cultivate gratitude is:

“Your experience of life is not based on your life, but what you pay attention to.”

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And when you pay attention to what you are grateful for, that becomes your experience. It becomes your experience that life is good and full and wonderful.

I have often quoted Melody Beattie here but it is so appropriate, I have to do it again.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

 

In Japanese Psychology, on a wonderful site, The ToDo Institute,  seven principals for cultivating gratitude are given:

  1. Gratitude is independent of our objective life circumstances
  2. Gratitude is a function of attention
  3. Entitlement precludes gratitude
  4. We often take for granted that which we receive on a regular basis
  5. Gratitude can be cultivated through sincere self-reflection
  6. Expressing gratitude, through words and deeds, enhances our experience of gratitude
  7. Our deepest sense of gratitude comes through grace, with the awareness that we have not earned, nor do we deserve all that we’ve been given.

If you are looking for a way to focus on gratitude as 2017 unfolds, I suggest getting a ‘Gratitude Journal’ – and start by just writing down 3 things you are grateful for every morning before you even get out of bed. And if that feels too hard, then just think of 3 things you are grateful for before you get up. That’s a great start!

If you are feeling more ambitious, I can suggest a wonderful course on Daily Om! It’s a new course I have authored and it’s available here.  The course is offered with the option of selecting how much you want to pay. No matter how much you pay, you’ll be getting the same course as everybody else. Daily Om believes that people are honest and will support the course with whatever they can afford. And if you are not 100% satisfied, they will refund your money.  So what have you got to lose? It’s a great way to start the year.

I’ll close with a YouTube clip describing the course so you can get a better idea of what it is about.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about how you cultivate gratitude and it’s impact on you.  And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.