Facing 2019 with a Sense of Purpose

“I believe we’re all put on this planet for a purpose, and we all have a different purpose… When you connect with that purpose, and move forward with love and compassion, that’s when everything unfolds.“
― Ellen DeGeneres
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This year I choose to be the mountain, not the grain of sand!

I don’t know about you, but with the new year, my email was bombarded with suggestions about how to gain clarity this year and what to do to ‘unclutter’ and find peace. So as I meditated on what I want to focus on for 2019, what became clear for me was that it wasn’t how to unclutter or which new app I could buy to find peace, but instead I wanted to hone in on my purpose for this year. That sounds grandiose and overwhelming as I write it, but with so much ‘stuff’ out there, so much info and paths that I could take, I need to narrow my focus and check in with what really resonates for me.

Buddha has been quoted as saying:

Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.

And this has been adapted and misquoted as:

Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it.

I don’t think there would be many people who disagree that finding one’s purpose is essential in one’s life. And I think finding purpose in my mid to later life is much different than when I was younger. In youth, there was a sense of spaciousness, a sense that I could trial different pathways and see what I liked, what made me feel alive. These days, there is much less time to waste. I’m 61 (still young enough… but don’t want to waste the time I do have) and I feel more of a sense of urgency. As Bonnie Raitt so succinctly puts it:

Life gets mighty precious
When there’s less of it to waste

It’s not just that having a sense of purpose adds to one’s well being, although research shows that that is true. It’s more than that. Having a sense of purpose improves health, fulfilment, and can even help you live longer. In a nutshell, finding your sense of purpose has the potential to change everything!
So Ok, we can all agree, it’s an important mission. But it’s huge! How do we even start? Is there a signpost or light to follow?

Here is one interesting take on Purpose and how to find it. The founders of ConsciousED’s best advice is to ‘Follow Your Heart’:

The best advice I’ve ever gotten in my life is to follow my heart. I think of it like, there’s a guiding compass inside of me that always knows which direction to go. An inner voice that knows what’s right. I just need to tune into it and trust it.

I agree, that is great advice . . . but how exactly do we do that? I researched this and came across a lot of articles so tried to synthesise the info into the top 3 suggestions:

READ – The most common suggestion that came through is to read. Read as much as you can about as many things that interest you as you can. Read books by people that you admire, read about things that you are curious about. Books are so readily available; choose reading over digital distraction.

SERVE – So many studies suggest that service to others is one of the best ways to find a sense of purpose. Helping others is associated with a meaningful, purposeful life. In one study, Daryl Van Tongeren et al found that people, who volunteer and/or donate money, tend to have a greater sense of purpose in their lives. Professor Anne Colby has researched and written about purpose and well being for many years. And she has found that one’s well being increases when one is purposeful beyond oneself.
There is significantly higher well being in people who were involved in pursuing beyond-the-self goals, compared to those who were pursuing other types of goals. In other words, engaging in prosocial goals had more impact on well being than engaging in non-prosocial goals.

CULTIVATE awe and gratitude. The research is clear, cultivating awe, and gratitude absolutely connects us to our sense of purpose. Several studies conducted by the Greater Good Science Center’s Dacher Keltner have shown that the experience of awe makes us feel connected to something larger than ourselves—and so can provide the emotional foundation for a sense of purpose. And research on gratitude consistently shows a correlation between feeling grateful and well-being and a stronger sense of purpose.
But it’s important that we don’t just plan and think about it, but to focus and take action!

“The dynamic process of aligning yourself with your life purpose requires energy and willpower: wind in your sails to move you forward, and a strong rudder to prevent being blown off course.”

I believe as Og Mandino puts it:

I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to grow into a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand.

So taking action . . . I decided that 2019 is my year to start and to focus on my next book. The idea scares me; I know how much energy the process of writing takes, and even more, the energy and work that is required getting the book out there. It is daunting, but I know it is a huge part of my purpose – to write and connect with others. And so I am committed to grow into that mountain, not shrink to a grain of sand, so I shall commit to this focus for this year.

I am curious, how shall you move toward your sense of purpose this year? What are you doing to grow into the mountain you are meant to be?

I’ll close with a powerful interview between Oprah and Eckhart Tolle – Life Purpose

I’d love to hear about your purpose for 2019. I really am curious – What are you doing to grow into the mountain you are meant to be?
And as always, thank you for stopping by, I appreciate it.

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Always Cultivating Gratitude

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Thanksgiving is upon us. And although I live in New Zealand, where Thanksgiving itself is not celebrated, I acknowledge the day anyway as a day to cultivate gratitude. Daily I have so much to be grateful for… my Gratitude Journal today reflected:

Today I am Grateful for:

My beautiful sons – so grateful for the delicious relationship I have with both of them and the close relationship they have with one another
My husband – we’ve been together for so many years, seen so many ups and downs and grown together. So grateful for our bond.
My friends – people to share my life with
My sister – such a gift to have a sister in life
My wonderful home – warm in the winter, cool in the summer, a deck with a view of the sea and a stream in the backyard. Incredible sunsets over the water from my bedroom, a walk to the beach to swim when it’s hot. I love my home!
My work – I love the work I do and the people I meet doing it.
My health – at 60 still feeling fit and healthy
Yoga – I love my yoga practice
Books – I get such joy from reading! And there are still so many books that I look forward to reading. It’s so soothing for an addict to know that I’ll never run out!
My spiritual practice – so grateful for my relationship with my higher power and the soothing response I get from meditation
Writing – I love to write and journal. So grateful I have found a creative outlet where I can play.
My Recovery and Sobriety – without which so much of my life would not be as it is.

If you are looking for ways to actively practice more gratitude, here are a few ideas. There is a great Gratitude Journal Research Project you can join: – Thnx4:

Thnx4 is a sharable gratitude journal. Take the 14-day gratitude challenge, learn more about yourself, and add to the growing body of research on the benefits of saying thanks!

Keeping a Gratitude Journal is one of the “Ten Ways to Become More Grateful.” This is a wonderful article by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. – the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. He is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology.

Today I’m also grateful for the amazing master class that my friend Alexis Cohen is running:
AWAKENING THROUGH ART

There is no doubt about it, we’re going through a transformational time on the planet. We’re waking up to our awesome ability to create our reality and a new vision of the planet is emerging.
That’s why Alexis, visionary artist, creativity mentor, and shamanic practitioner has created Awakening Through Art Online Masterclass. It’s a Free interview series, starting December 3rd 2018.

It brings together more than 25 artists, healers, teachers and visionaries, including me! We will share our creative wisdom, tools and hand-on-techniques to activate healing, inspire connection and amplify love all around the world.

Reserve your spot Now.

To close, I want to share one of the videos by Robert Emmons from The Greater Good Site, The Benefits of Gratitude.

The Benefits of Gratitude

Please share some of your recent Gratitude Stories, I always love to hear them.
And as always, thank you for stopping by, I appreciate it.

The Path to Well-Being . . . Yes you can get there from here!

“The ultimate end of all revolutionary social change is to establish the sanctity of human life, the dignity of man, the right of every human being to liberty and well-being.”
– Emma Goldman
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What do you want? No honestly, what do you really truly want in your one wild and precious life? to mis-quote Mary Oliver. Most studies show that happiness and well-being are at the top of this list. But that is often immediately followed by but I don’t know what to do to get there. The good news is that there is a path to well-being, and you can start travelling this path today.

 

Well-being is actually a skill that can be learned and practiced and improved. Well-being can be achieved by focusing on four main keys. One of my heroes that I’ve written about is Dr. Richard Davidson. Dr. Davidson is the founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and he has studied and discovered the four science-based keys to well-being.

Davidson explains that well-being is a skill and it boils down to four main attributes:

Resilience, Outlook, Attention and Generosity.

From his research, he and his colleagues have learned that:

Each of these four is rooted in neural circuits, and each of these neural circuits exhibits plasticity—so we know that if we exercise these circuits, they will strengthen. Practicing these four skills can provide the substrate for enduring change, which can help to promote higher levels of well-being in our lives.

1. Resilience

Yes it’s true ‘Shit Happens.’ It happens to all of us and we can’t always stop it or avoid it, but we can change the way we react to it. Davidson explains that:

Resilience is the rapidity with which we recover from adversity; some people recover slowly and other people recover more quickly. We know that individuals who show a more rapid recovery in certain key neural circuits have higher levels of well-being. They are protected in many ways from the adverse consequences of life’s slings and arrows.

Recent research that Davidson conducted at UW Madison asked whether resilience could be improved and if so, how. The good news is that answer is yes; resilience can be improved by regular practice of mindfulness meditation. … The bad news is that it takes thousands of hours of practice before you see real change. But hey, it can be done.

2. Outlook

The second key to well-being is one’s outlook on life. Davidson explains:

Outlook refers to the ability to see the positive in others, the ability to savor positive experiences, the ability to see another human being as a human being who has innate basic goodness.

The good news regarding outlook is that unlike resilience, research indicates that simple practices of lovingkindness and / or compassion meditation may alter this circuitry quite quickly.
There was a study done in 2013 where individuals who had never meditated before were randomly assigned to one of two groups.

One group received a secular form of compassion training and the other received cognitive reappraisal training, an emotion-regulation strategy that comes from cognitive therapy. We scanned people’s brains before and after two weeks of training, and we found that in the compassion group, brain circuits that are important for this positive outlook were strengthened. After just seven hours—30 minutes of practice a day for two weeks—we not only saw changes in the brain, but these changes also predicted kind and helpful behavior.

3. Attention

The third key to well-being is paying attention. Research has shown that most people do not pay close attention to what they’re doing about forty-seven percent of the time. The quality of attention that you pay to what you are doing is vital.

William James in The Principals of Psychology explains that:

The ability to voluntarily bring back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgment, character, and will. An education that sharpens attention would be education par excellence.

Davidson explains that educating attention can be done through a contemplative practice.

4. Generosity

It is well known now that when individuals engage in generous and altruistic behavior, they actually activate circuits in the brain that are key to fostering well-being. Davidson believes that:

Human beings come into the world with innate, basic goodness. When we engage in practices that are designed to cultivate kindness and compassion, we’re not actually creating something de novo—we’re not actually creating something that didn’t already exist. What we’re doing is recognizing, strengthening, and nurturing a quality that was there from the outset.

In addition to the four keys that Davidson outlines, science has also shown that gratitude hugely increases our feelings of well-being. Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present. It magnifies positive emotions. With gratitude, we become greater participants in our lives as opposed to spectators. You can become more responsible for creating more well-being in your life by the simple act of being grateful for what you are experiencing in this present moment.

By practicing gratitude and focusing on these four keys, Davidson assures us that:

Our brains are constantly being shaped wittingly or unwittingly—most of the time unwittingly. Through the intentional shaping of our minds, we can shape our brains in ways that would enable these four fundamental constituents of well-being to be strengthened. In that way, we can take responsibility for our own minds.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, no one explains it better than Dr. Richie Davidson himself!

I’d love to know if you have found that a meditation practice impacts your well-being.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit. I appreciate it.

This Way Up Six Week Online Live Interactive Workshop!

““Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
— George Bernard Shaw
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There are still a few spaces left for the This Way Up Six Week Online Live Interactive Workshop.
The six-week series begins on Tuesday 23 October at 5pm PDT and runs for six weeks:
Tuesday 23 October – Tuesday 27 November.

Here is some info about the workshop:

The workshop is completely free. There is no set fee at all. At the end of the six weeks, if you decide you want to donate something, you are welcome, but there is no expectation.
Each workshop is live, and videoed. If you miss a day in the series, you can go to our private You Tube page and watch what you’ve missed and do the day’s visualization. There is time for questions and discussions during each workshop. The shared community of women from around the world is wonderful!

This video will answer some questions for you, and if you have any other question, you can contact me at
patti@thiswayupbook.com

I hope to see you there!

Altruism – Why it’s so good to do good

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr
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It’s true that we are hard-wired toward negativity, that we have a ‘built-in negativity bias.’ Rick Hanson explains that as we evolved over millions of years, dodging sticks and chasing carrots, it was a lot more important to notice, react to, and remember sticks than it was for carrots. That’s because — in the tough environments in which our ancestors lived — if they missed out on a carrot, they usually had a shot at another one later on. But if they failed to avoid a stick — a predator, a natural hazard, or aggression from others of their species — then there may be no more chances to pass on their genes.

However, studies have also shown that we are hard-wired for empathy and altruism as well. This is because cooperative behaviour worked on our behalf and helped our ancestors to survive under harsh conditions. So we reap psychological and physiological benefits when we practice altruism, when we do good things for others. In other words, doing good is good for you.

First of all, what exactly is altruism? It is defined as:

A voluntary, sometimes costly behaviour motivated by the desire to help another individual; a selfless act intended to benefit only the other.

So why would we do something that is of no benefit to ourselves?

Karen Salmansohn explains it like this:

Altruism raises your mood because it raises your self-esteem, which increases happiness. Plus, giving to others gets you outside of yourself and distracts you from your problems.

Here are a few good reasons to practice altruism:

It promotes positive physiological changes in the brain associated with happiness

Giving to and helping other people releases endorphins, which then activate parts of our brain that are associated with trust, pleasure and social connection. This chemical reaction in the brain increases the chance that we will be altruistic and do good deeds in the future, thus creating a positive feedback loop of generosity and happiness.

It brings a sense of belonging and reduces isolation

Being a part of a positive charitable social network leads to feelings of belonging and lessens isolation.

It helps to keep things in perspective

Helping others, especially those who are less fortunate, can provide a sense of perspective, enabling us to stop focusing on what we may feel is missing in our own life.

It reduces stress and improves our health

Evidence suggests that helping others can boost our health. Compassion has been shown to help stabilise the immune system against immunosuppressing effects of stress. Altruistic acts may also stimulate the brain to release endorphins, which are powerful natural painkillers. One study found that participating in charitable activities can be better for our health than lowering cholesterol or stopping smoking

It helps reduce negative feelings

People who are altruistic tend to see life as more meaningful. Altruism is associated with better marital relationships, increased physical health, and enhanced self-esteem. Acts of altruism decrease feelings of hopelessness and decrease depression. It may also neutralise negative emotions that affect immune, endocrine and cardiovascular function.

It may actually help us live longer

Helping others has actually been shown to increase our life span. Studies on older people show that those who give support to others live longer than those who don’t.

Quite simply, altruism feels good and is good for you. When you help others, it promotes positive physiological changes in the brain associated with happiness. So although it is true that we are hard-wired to notice the negative, we are also hard-wired toward compassion and altruism. So the next time you have a choice between acting from fear or acting from caring and compassion, choose the latter, it’s better for you in every way.

I’ll close with a wonderful TED Talk by Abigail Marsh entitled: Why Some People Are More Altruistic Than Others.

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

Overcoming the Trance of Unworthiness

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”
– Jack Kornfield.”

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There is a trance that is overtaking many of us these days. It seems to be present in most women I talk to. It is the Trance of Unworthiness. We seem to be champions at berating ourselves for our perceived failures – for not being good enough at our jobs or at parenting, for not exercising enough or for eating too much. We have convinced ourselves that we are unworthy of the kindness that we show most other people. And that unkindness and self-criticism is making us sick!

Research shows that accepting our imperfections and being kinder to ourselves can lessen feelings of depression and anxiety, and can also lessen feelings of shame and fear of failure.

People who have greater self-compassion also tend to be happier and more optimistic.
Quieting the nagging self-critic and practicing self-compassion can lead to a healthier immune system and a much better sense of well-being.

Psychologist Kristin Neff describes self-compassion as kindness toward the self, which entails being gentle and supportive. “Rather than harshly judging oneself for personal shortcomings, the self is offered warmth and unconditional acceptance.”

But after years of relentless negative self-talk, how can we break out of this trance of unworthiness? How can we cultivate more self-compassion?

It needs to be intentional – set the intention daily to be kinder to yourself.

Here are some guidelines:

1. Practice Imperfection:

Self-compassion means that we give ourselves the space to be human. And that means we can be flawed sometimes, but we don’t have to define ourselves as being ‘completely flawed and a hopeless case.’ We get to practice imperfection sometimes and not lose sight of our own potential.

2. Practice Mindfulness:

Jon Kabat-Zinn explains that mindfulness has been found to have a positive impact on self-compassion because it has the tendency to lessen self-judgement. When we are stuck in a negative spiral of self-criticism, it’s quite often because we are engaged in ‘negative story-lines’ —stories that we repeat in our heads, criticizing self about past mistakes and failures. This playground of our internal critic, plays on repeat and creates a negative spiral that we can easily get stuck in. Mindfulness, or the state of non-judgmental awareness, can be the antidote.

3. Practice Forgiveness

Refer back to number one, being human means that you sometimes make mistakes. Shit happens. We don’t have to punish ourselves for making mistakes. We get to accept that we’re not perfect and move on. Remember what Anne Lamott says:
“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”
That goes for self-forgiveness as well.

4. Practice Gratitude

By focussing on gratitude, we over-ride our inner critic and can hear a kinder voice in our head. We can then shift the lazar-focus away from all of our perceived shortcomings and instead appreciate what we can contribute to the world. Robert Emmons reminds us that gratitude is powerful and by focusing on gratitude instead of criticism, we can learn to be more self-compassionate.

Remember self-compassion has to be learned for most of us. I have to remember to practice it daily. It has to be intentional and mindful. But it can be done, and I’ve decided that I’m worth it. And I think you are too.

I’d like to close with a beautiful meditation called ‘Awakening Self-Compassion’ by Tara Brach.
She also has a two part meditation on her own site called “The Healing Power of Self-Compassion” which is also wonderful when you have the time.

I’d love to hear about how you manage to overcome the Trance of Unworthiness.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit. I appreciate it.

Pause . . . to Help Joy Stick

Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.”
– Joseph Campbell 

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Following on from my last post – What Makes You Happy?  – I decided to explore the concept of Joy.  Many people, including myself, tend to use the terms happiness and joy interchangeably, but one psychology website describes the difference as:
Joy and happiness are wonderful feelings to experience, but are very different. Joy is more consistent and is cultivated internally. It comes when you make peace with who you are, why you are and how you are, whereas happiness tends to be externally triggered and is often based on other people, things, places, thoughts and events.

 

Tara Brach describes joy as the aliveness and openness that occurs when we let ourselves be available to the whole play of existence. It’s a natural capacity, in our wiring, and it can be cultivated.

Joy comes from a habit of thinking and can be a contributor to our bio chemistry. We sustain a joy set point, as it were, based on what we think about and focus on.

Deepak Chopra explains that when you activate a positive belief, your cells get the message.

 

One way to cultivate joy, is through gratitude. Studies have shown that gratitude changes the body/mind chemistry. So when you have an experience and you feel good because of that experience, take time and allow yourself to feel good; PAUSE and let it sink in — ‘install it.’

Rick Hanson suggests that we try to take in the good and make it stick. He explains that in order to create the trait — make it ‘stickier.’ Taking that time to pause gives it this stickiness.
“Scientists believe that your brain has a built-in “negativity bias.” In other words, as we evolved over millions of years, dodging sticks and chasing carrots, it was a lot more important to notice, react to, and remember sticks than it was for carrots.

That’s because — in the tough environments in which our ancestors lived — if they missed out on a carrot, they usually had a shot at another one later on. But if they failed to avoid a stick — a predator, a natural hazard, or aggression from others of their species — WHAM, no more chances to pass on their genes.

The negativity bias shows up in lots of ways. For example, studies have found that:

1. In a relationship, it typically takes five good interactions to make up for a single bad one.

2. People will work much harder to avoid losing $100 than they will work to gain the same amount of money.

3. Painful experiences are much more memorable than pleasurable ones.

In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. That shades “implicit memory” — your underlying expectations, beliefs, action strategies, and mood — in an increasingly negative direction.”

So with that negative bias in mind, we have to work a bit harder to push positivity into our implicit memory. But it is absolutely possible.

Some people quote Buddha as saying: “I wouldn’t be teaching this if genuine joy and happiness were not possible” I’m not sure if Buddha actually said that, but in the Karaniya Metta Sutta, Buddha did say

“Whatever living beings there may be — feeble or strong, long, stout, or of medium size, short, small, large —

may all beings have happy minds.”

So today, let’s work toward that happy mind, let’s choose joy and make it stickier.

I’ll close this post with a wonderful talk and meditation about Joy by Tara Brach. It’s a longer video, almost an hour, but well worth the time.  If you don’t have time to listen now, at least listen to her opening joke in the first couple of minutes.  It made me laugh.

 

I’d love to hear what brings you joy, and how you differentiate between happiness and joy.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

Practice Some Mindful Self-Compassion this Holiday Season!

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”

― Jack Kornfield

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The holidays are upon us. Tis the season to be jolly and all that. But for many people, this is the season of stress and depression. People tend to push themselves beyond their limits. Overspending is rampant; people overindulge in food and drink; there is increased stress due to travel and obligatory family get togethers. And often, our sleep suffers and we have less time to recharge our batteries. And then to top it all off, most of us beat ourselves up because we haven’t done enough or haven’t done it right. “Are the presents just right?” “Did I make enough pies?” “Did I make a fool of myself at that party?”

This holiday season, I am committing to a whole new approach. In order to be fully present for my loved ones, I need to take care of me. My plan centers around Mindful Self-Compassion; with an added focus of paying attention to what my body needs.  I describe this plan in my latest article in Thrive Global.

 

 

Thrive Global, by the way, turned One Year Old this month!  Congratulations to the founder Arianna Huffington!  I have been a contributor since the inaugural edition.  If you missed my first article in Thrive Global in December 2016 on Forgiveness, you can read it here.

But back to practicing Mindful Self-Compassion.  If you want to learn about this wonderful topic, look no further than Dr. Kristin Neff. Kristin Neff Phd is one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion. She explains that with self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend. This quote by Neff sums it up pretty well:

“You don’t want to beat yourself up for beating yourself up in the vain hope that it will somehow make you stop beating yourself up. Just as hate can’t conquer hate — but only strengthens and reinforces it — self-judgment can’t stop self-judgment.”

This holiday season, by treating myself like I’d treat a loved one, I’m hoping to increase my emotional well-being and resilience. Here’s my plan:

  1. Take time for myself

During the holidays, we are so quick to give our time and energy that we can end up feeling completely depleted. This holiday season, I plan to take the time each day to check in with myself: “How am I feeling?” “Have I done something good for me today?” This will require setting boundaries with others as well as myself. I don’t have to do everything for everyone these holidays. I commit to taking time to just be; to go on walks and to read. I don’t have to bake the cookies and host the community carolling party. I can choose to stay home and read with a cup of tea instead of joining one more holiday party. Self-care and self-compassion bring me peace and joy, which in turn will allow me to bring peace and joy to those around me.

2. Slow down and meditate

Part of my plan to take care of myself will include making sure I have plenty of time for me, and just plenty of time period. The holiday season tends to be a time of rushing around, hurrying from one event to the next. This year I plan to focus on many mini moments of mindfulness as Andy Puddicombe refers to it in his program, Headspace. And I’ll make sure I make time in my busy schedule to meditate. I know that those 15–20 minutes in the morning make all the difference to the other 23 + hours in the day.

3. Gratitude

I know from experience that when I’m in a place of gratitude everything in my life just works and feels better. Neuroscience has proven that actively practicing gratitude protects your brain from stress and depression. Recent research shows that even just thinking about what I am grateful for increases dopamine and serotonin. But, I’m not just going to think about what I’m grateful for, I commit to writing down three positive things that I’m thankful for every morning in my journal. I have learned that this simple activity trains my brain to be more positive by looking for the good in life rather than the bad. And I plan to share my appreciation too, to articulate my gratitude to others. These simple statements of gratitude to others for who they are and what they are doing are like small gifts, often appreciated more than that box of chocolates.

4. Eat well and not overindulge

We all know it’s common to put on weight during the holiday season, and then to beat oneself up mercilessly for the next few months. I know when I eat healthier, I feel better. I don’t plan to deprive myself of holiday treats, but I will eat in moderation. And when I do put on those extra holiday pounds, I will be kind to myself in the new year, just like I would a good friend. Instead of berating myself and calling myself fat, I will suggest that perhaps a long walk would be a great idea.

5. Stay Active

And speaking of long walks, I know that exercise is essential to my well being. I will make time this holiday season to go on long walks and do plenty of yoga. I know that physical activity reduces stress, improves my mood and prevents depression. I know this from experience, but the research shows it as well; exercise triggers the same hormones (dopamine and serotonin) in my brain that are targeted by anti-depressant medication. So I know that exercise won’t just help me with those few extra pounds this holiday season, but it will greatly help my mood as well. But you know what, if I miss a couple of days of exercise, I won’t beat myself up about it either!

6. Sleep

Finally, this holiday season I commit to protecting my sleep. There are few things that mess up my health and well-being like poor sleep. I know that not sleeping well leads to stress, irritability and just feeling like crap. A lot of us lose sleep around the holidays, whether it’s from staying out late, overindulging in food, drink and sugar, or over-caffeinating. But I know that the best way for me to be cheerful this holiday season is to get enough sleep.

So this holiday season, I invite you to follow my plan and make a commitment to yourself. Take care of yourself over the holidays and practice some self-compassion. Let’s all remember Soren Kierkegaard’s wise words:

“Don’t forget to love yourself.”

If you want to learn more about how to practice Mindful Self-Compassion, you can find many videos by Kristin Neff on YouTube.

I’ll close this post with one of my favorite videos by her:  Overcoming Objections to Self-Compassion

 

I’d love to hear about how you plan to take care of yourself this holiday season.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

Gratitude to You All!

““Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

― Marcel Proust

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Thank you to all of you who have followed this blog and have taken the time to read the posts and comment along the way.  I am sincerely grateful that all of you are in my life, however removed.

I hope that those of you who live in the US and celebrate Thanksgiving in whatever form enjoy a day of peace and giving.  And those of you who live in places that don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, will take a moment to pause and express gratitude to the people who make you happy today.

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.