Embracing Kindness

I’ve been traveling a bunch in the last two weeks and it’s come to my attention that there is a whole lot of kindness out there. I wonder if part of it is due to the various natural disasters as of late. There is nothing like being without power or being displaced from home to humble us and move the heart. I was displaced for seven months after Hurricane Matthew hit (over a year ago) and it was awe inspiring to have countless people come to my aid with both financial and emotional support. It gave and continues to give me great hope.

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Kindness is actually good for both the giver and receiver. Isn’t that awesome? We are hard wired to be kind and it actually helps us feel good. It’s so easy to fall into the negativity bias that looks for constant danger. Try looking for kindness and your day will get that much better.

Here is why you should embrace kindness:

Health. As Bruce Cryer wrote for Project Happiness, “Sincere kindness from the heart triggers a cascade of vitality and health-inducing biochemicals in our body, at least 1400, which re-energizes both giver and receiver. Now research has shown that at least 600 genes are designed to protect our health and longevity are actually triggered to express when we are feeling kind and compassionate.” So, take two tablets of kindness and feel healthy. You are biochemically built for it.

Connected. Kindness connects us. I was in Scottsdale last week on business. I knew that breakfast at the hotel didn’t open until 6:30 AM but I arrived 10 minutes early hoping I could grab a quick bite before heading to the airport. The server let me in early. I was so appreciative. She didn’t have to but it connected us. I felt like she was on the same wavelength of, “Let’s make sure Cathy eats AND arrives at the airport on time”. For this act of kindness, she was on Team Cathy.

Younger. Yep. It makes you younger than your stressed out counter parts. Worry and stress, no surprise, ages you. Embracing kindness slows down the process. As Cryer writes, “Those worry lines that can become deep grooves on someone’s’ forehead or around the eyes don’t have to be there! It’s in our power to change it. The stressful emotions we all experience separate us from the kindness and love of others. They create walls of a prison we are now the inhabitant of. No one wins.” Leave the Botox behind and elect kindness instead.

Armor. I assume you have heard the term, kill them with kindness. Having a long service background including cocktail waitressing at the San Francisco Airport and running the cash register at the Sizzler franchise I owned, I ran into my share of grumpy folks. I remember thinking that my smile and compassion could win anyone over. It didn’t work every time, but it worked on most. Armoring up with kindness was almost like throwing down the gauntlet. Let me see if I can turn this grumpy guy around. And when it works and they leave feeling better than they came in? Priceless.

Home. Kindness starts at home. I remember a guy who was friendly with everyone he met and knew but an absolute jerk with his own kids. Don’t be that guy. Kiss your spouse on the cheek, hug your child and give a few extra scratches to Fido. Home should be the center of kindness and compassion. Just because it’s out of view doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. It matters that you are always welcome and loved by your family. That starts and ends with you.

Work. You know who is approachable and who is not. Who is kind and who is not. Who would you rather work with? So be that person. The one who listens. The one who doesn’t judge. The one who doesn’t keep score. I know who my go-to people are at work. Make sure you are some one’s go-to person. The kind person that your coworker actually feels better after experiencing “you”. Be the kind person at work.

So, think about it as you go about your day. Find the kindness that is out in the world and pay it forward to someone else. Where is there kindness in your world?

Returning to Assateague Island

I had the great fortune to attend a lovely wedding in Dewey Beach, Delaware recently. It was a long 7-hour drive from my home in North Carolina, so I decided to stop off in Chincoteague, Virginia for a night’s stay. Assateague and Chincoteague are very foggy memories for me. I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware and we took many trips when I was a child along the eastern seaboard. I faintly remembering the trip to Assateague and wanting to see the fabled ponies but it was a lingering memory of disappointment. I don’t remember seeing the ponies. So, this was a trip to recapture something I simply could not remember. It did not disappoint.

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I made a reservation on the highest rated boat excursion on Trip Advisor called Daisey’s Island Cruises. When I called, the guy recommended a 9 AM ride, so I made the reservation. I was relieved to not be going on the trip the afternoon I arrived because I was road weary and wanted a good night’s sleep.

These were the highlights of the trip:

Small boat.  Daisey apparently operates several large and small boats but we were on a pontoon boat that sat about ten people. There were seven of us including Captain Nate on the boat. I had expected a larger boat and a slew of people much like a boat ride around Manhattan with a prerecorded tape pointing out the sights. This was much more intimate and there was no preset destination. Kind of like a road trip on a boat with no particular agenda; an open book for discovery. If you can choose, get on the smaller boat as it will be more of an adventure.

 

Dolphins. Captain Nate was on his radio as soon as we left the marina. He said he had a surprise for us as soon as we left the port. Sure enough there ten to twenty dolphins swimming in the channel right outside the marina. It was amazing. We must have sat out there for some thirty minutes as a whole pod of dolphins wrestled in the water. I felt like Jacque Cousteau observing these friendly creatures. Just seeing the dolphins was enough for me but there was so much more.

 

NASA.  We passed Wallops Island and saw all the launch pads for unmanned missions to resupply Spacelab and a host of other missions. There have been over 1,500 launches since the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport was developed back in 1947. So you don’t need to travel all the way to Florida to see rockets take off. Apparently, you can check out the scheduled launches on the NOAA website. All this on a six-square mile island off the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

 

Chincoteague Ponies.  As mentioned earlier, I had it in my mind that looking for ponies would be a letdown. As we traveled across the water at a fair clip, I assumed that we would be staring at vacant marsh land. But Captain Nate and the other Daisey boats were in constant communication. There were two ponies spotted and we were off to find them. As we sped towards the coast there were two ponies eating marsh grass oblivious to us encroaching on their space. Captain Nate pointed out into the distance at three other ponies and the Stallion off in the trees. Because we were on a small boat we were able to travel up a shallow creek bed to be less than ten feet from the ponies. There were the unseen ponies from my childhood only feet away. Absolutely magical.

 

Birds.  There were all manner of birds on the trip. There was a whole set of cormorants drying off their wings as they sat atop moorings in the middle of the water. We rode by only feet away but they sat regally benign to our presence. White crane were fishing in the marshy shallows. Seagulls were flecked among the sky. It felt like nature was conspiring to impress me at every turn.

 

Shellfish.  We passed by countless oyster beds. Apparently, the beds are leased by fishmongers and we happened to see one group out among the beds harvesting oysters. We came up on one bed and Captain Nate laid down and picked out a mass of oysters. Apparently, they grow on each other’s shells, so the one handful was several oysters, some 5 years old and others less than a year depending on size. He shucked the oyster to reveal an enormous thumb size oyster meat which he promptly ate when everyone on the boat turned it down. We also rode by clams resting in the sea water in crates; apparently, a catch being kept for future shipment.

 

I never imagined that there would be so much so much to see and take in. If you ever get to the eastern shore of Virginia, I highly recommend a boat trip to Assateague Island.

Silent Simplicity

I’ve written about the silence retreat I attended over Labor Day weekend not once, but twice. I had several people ask me about the more long-term effects of the retreat. I’m going to address what I believe to be the long-term effects, but I also found I have put other routines into place that have caused a change in my life. In fact, a bigger change in my life has been my daily kriya meditation practice, which lasts about 25 to 30 minutes. It’s hard to identify exclusively what impact the retreat had, but there is still insight to be gained.

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Most people that I know are scared off by meditation. They believe it’s only for monks, yogis and gurus. They don’t think they can ever “quiet their mind”. I have been practicing one form of meditation or another for over five years. I have done everything from a body scan, where you tighten and relax various parts of your body; a loving kindness meditation, a meditation where you send out loving kindness to loved ones, enemies, and acquaintances; and now, I practice Sudarshan Kriya Focus, which is a breathing meditation where you put your body in certain positions to increase energy. The main difference with my current practice is that it lasts upwards of 30 minutes, whereas my prior meditation practices were ten minutes or less.

 

So this is what I believe the long term effects of a silence retreat are:

 

  1. Focus.  I feel like I am much better able to focus. During the retreat, we were not allowed to use our phones, read books or watch television. With distractions gone, I discovered I was able to focus quicker and have carried that forward in my daily life. I’ve made a concerted effort, like right now on a Sunday morning, to have my phone in another room. Out of sight, out of mind. Distractions are the roadblock to focus. They eat up valuable time. Perhaps it’s the daily meditation, or the fact that I am in a completely quiet room with nothing to lure me away, but I am able to write and focus more quickly. There are no bings, pings or beeps to entice me away. I am now more focused.

 

  1. Technology-free.  I realize I am writing this on a computer, but there is nothing open on my desktop, and my phone is some 50 feet away. During the silence retreat, I left my phone in the vestibule of the ashram. When you part with technology for the better part of two and half days, it makes it easier to part with it going forward. I remember a speaker I saw recently who said that just the mere presence of a phone at a meeting or appointment is distracting. It shows a sign of disrespect. Like something more important and urgent could invade the space at any moment. I definitely think through when I bring my phone with me now. Being more technology free allows me to be present.

 

 

  1. Peaceful.  Part of what brought me to the retreat and the kriya practice was the aftermath of putting my house back together post Hurricane Matthew. It was and is an enormous stress both physically and financially. It’s still not “finished.” The practice has helped me through the ebbs and flows of the decisions, as well as the patience required to get through a most challenging time. I think of the metaphor “water off a duck’s back”. I’m better able to let things roll off and be at peace.

 

  1. Cope.  I almost feel like I have shock absorbers attached to my brain. I don’t want to bore you with the litany of disruptions and unexpected turns over the last twelve months but it’s been monumental. Whether it’s requests for help, a loss of a business opportunity and an end to a partnership, I’ve weathered it all. I don’t get as rattled and I certainly don’t react in the same manner. I have the view that “this too shall pass.” Everything that can be bad has a flip side that can be good. Even if your power is out, you will have a lower power bill. And you’ve gained silence from the roar of daily life. There is a silver lining to everything. Finding that silver lining has helped me cope.

 

  1. Simplicity.  In the past, I had a way of making everything more complicated that it had to be. Over the last month, I have been decluttering my house. If it’s not an absolute “yes”, it’s a “no.” I have been boxing up family heirlooms and sending them to those who will truly appreciate it. So far, I have an empty attic (yes, empty), empty linen closet and my spice drawer is still alphabetized. There is order, but it is beautiful in its simplicity. I continue to cull out the non-crucial items every day. I still have the Lego airplane my son built some thirteen years ago and a pillow painted by daughter that says “I love you.” There are still treasures I hold onto. But the extra set of china, the unmatched socks and Sizzler training manuals from twenty years ago are now either trash or someone else’s treasure. I continue to lighten the load from the silence retreat going forward. I’m embracing simplicity.

 

It’s the chicken and the egg scenario. Which came first? Did I seek out a new meditation practice and silence retreat? Or was I hardwired for it to find me? Regardless of the answer, it has made a profound difference. Is there a change you need to make?

How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

You’re driving to work and forget you had to go to the dry cleaners. You end up missing the exit. You’re fifteen minutes late for work and you can’t figure out where the morning went. You are in a fog for most of the morning and blow off that spin class you’ve promised yourself you’d attend for the last two months. All of this anxiety is likely due to your sleep cycle or lack thereof.

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Not getting a good night’s sleep is related to so many consequences. You would think that we would have a class in high school on how to get a good night’s sleep rather than world history or calculus. Want to know what the result can be? Here are a few: depression, weight gain, poor cognitive processing, lower sex drive, quicker aging, forgetfulness, and poor judgement. Hmmm. Sounds like we all need a good quality night’s sleep.

So here are some suggestions:

  • Detach from your phone. I actually plug in my phone to charge in the kitchen at 7 PM, rather than charging it in my bedroom. I will make sure that it’s set to ring, just in case. My kitchen is about 50 feet from my pillow but if someone REALLY wants to reach me for an emergency, I can hear the phone from there. My son was driving home to Miami the other night and my phone was in the kitchen as usual. I got up to go to the bathroom and walked into the kitchen to check his progress. Then I went back to bed and, yes, went to sleep. The last thing your mind needs is unnecessary pings and pongs in the middle of the night.

 

  • Wait until morning to send the email. If you send an email right before you head off to bed, what do you think happens? For one thing, you are likely to think about that email for a good part of the night. In addition, you are keeping someone else, the receiver of that email, awake (unless they are reading this post and following the first bullet). It’s like being at a bar after midnight: not much good from writing emails, drinking, or anything else late at night. Wait until morning when you can execute your best thinking.

 

  • Keep it cool.  You ideally want to sleep in a room that is between 60 to 69 degrees Fahrenheit. I turn a fan on in my bedroom. It keeps the room cool and the white noise from the fan drowns out any noises that might wake me. Your body needs to drop its core temperature to sleep properly. If you think about it from a caveman’s perspective, they were sleeping at night in cooler temperatures. So turn down the thermostat and get some better, quality shut eye.

 

  • Make it dark.  One of the best things I did while repairing my home after Hurricane Matthew was to put in blinds on my French doors in my bedroom. It completely shut out any external light. I felt the quality of my sleep improve. I remember going to my brother’s home in Albuquerque, New Mexico and he had aluminum foil on his bedroom windows. He has always worked graveyard shifts, so blocking the sunlight is imperative. In addition, I don’t have anything in my room that typically lights up at night, like a clock, television, or computer. There is one small night light in the bathroom so that I don’t need to turn on a light (and wake completely up) if I need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.

 

  • Dim the lights.  Bright light is understood as the sun in your mind, in the sky which is code for, “It’s daylight, let’s get to work.” I make a concerted effort to keep my lighting to a minimum in the evening, especially an hour or so before bed. So put a forty or twenty watt bulb, or a dimmer switch next to your bed so that you can ease yourself into a good night’s sleep.

 

  • Don’t hit the snooze button.  Apparently about a third of the population are addicted to snoozing in the morning. It’s about the worst thing you can do. I’ve been reading Mel Robbin’s 5 Second Rule, and she suffered for years by hitting the snooze button. You sleep in 90-minute intervals. Mel says that in the last two hours before you wake up, your body is preparing to wake up. So if you don’t have a 90-minute sleep cycle coming, you need to get out of bed. Ironically, I woke up this morning at 4:20 AM and my alarm goes off at 5 AM. I knew I couldn’t squeeze in another 90-minute cycle, so I got out of bed. If I had stayed in bed and tried to sleep, I would have been woken up mid-cycle and been groggy the rest of the morning. Snooze does the same thing. It perpetuates grogginess.

 

  • Caffeine and alcohol. Stay away from caffeine after 2 PM and alcohol after 6 PM. Caffeine seems obvious since it’s a stimulant. I personally need to stay away from it after noon. Alcohol is more deceptive. It lulls you into thinking you are going right to sleep, but it actually causes disruption in your REM sleep. So if you are drinking into the evening, your sleep won’t be as restful and of poorer quality.

 

I put these habits into place over the last three months and my sleep has dramatically improved. I have also increased my quality and quantity of mediation but that is for another post. Try one or two of these and see if your sleep doesn’t improve. What are your secrets to a good night’s sleep?

The Anatomy of a Silence Retreat

I posted last week about a Silence Retreat I went to over Labor Day Weekend. It sparked a lot of feedback and some faithful readers want to know more! I admit, I was a bit surprised. So this, is that more. To start off, when I arrived at the retreat, I had an expectation that everyone there, including all the employees and other guests, would be silent. I was anticipating as I drove up that I would need to zip my lip. And I also assumed we would all communicate via sign language and gestures going forward. Not so. There were other events and participants going on. The “silence” portion didn’t start for another 36 hours and the employees of the center were active, communicating with participants like anyone else would on the job.

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The silence itself focused on the participant not communicating versus everyone else not communicating. When I think of silence, I think of a church on a weekday where there is little if any noise and folks kneeling to pray. Very hushed and quiet. In reality, the silence is not about outside or even participatory communication; it’s all about silencing your mind through meditation and relaxation. The silence is internal and that silence can be a bit  allusive to start. Kind of like trying to hold onto Jell-O through finger tips.

 

So, this is the anatomy of a Silence Retreat:

 

  • Reception. Upon arrival, I was expecting the aura of a monastery combined with pantomime. Not so. I parked and followed the signs to the reception desk. The gentleman greeting me was quite friendly and gregarious. I was taken aback, as I figured silence was from the get go. He immediately established which program I was with; so this was my first sign that there was more than just us Silencers here at the retreat center. And, since they didn’t duct tape my mouth or tell me to shush the silence portion might start as the event kicked off after dinner. I was really surprised when he gave me not one but two Wifi codes, “You know; for two devices.” I didn’t bother bringing more than my trusty smart phone but I didn’t imagine I would be streaming Netflix House of Cards on a silence retreat. No silent reception. Who knew?

 

  • Accommodations.  Essentially my room had three single beds, a desk and a bathroom. I was a little apprehensive that, even though I had asked for a private room, someone might show up for one of the bunks. I didn’t feel like sharing my space with anyone. I had imagined myself being in the fetal position in the middle of the night, sucking my thumb and crying for my mommy. Ok. Well that didn’t happen and neither did any roommates pop up as well. In fact, I think all of us silencers were in the same far flung building; they wanted us to be silent together instead of mixed in with all the folks who weren’t silent and more likely to be playing Metallica after midnight. There were property rules that I be quiet after 10pm but my impression was that all the Silencers were in the same building.

 

  • Food.  The thing I did once I dropped my bag off, made my bed – sheets and blankets provided – make your own bed; I headed to the dining hall. I was still thinking that at some point someone was going to tell me to not talk. Nope. I knew the menu was vegetarian but almost all of food was gluten free and vegan. This meant no scrambled eggs, cheese or fresh baked bread. In addition, our instructor, Mona, told us that during the retreat, they were cooking lighter food so that it was easier to meditate. I’m not sure if it was vegan menu, buffet style service or that my enlightened mind wasn’t up for much food, but I barely ate at meals. I was rarely hungry. Or perhaps my carnivore mind knew to be on strike.

 

  • Monkey brain.  I didn’t realize this at the time but since returning, I have read that the pain and anguish I was feeling in the first twenty-four hours of silence was my monkey brain. Imagine all your thoughts flying through your head like a pack of orangutans jumping from vine to vine to vine. Your thoughts start going haywire with no distractions such as conversations, Facebook notifications or sitting for hours at a time. Literally, I thought I was going “bananas”…how appropriate, right? Apparently, it takes about twenty four hours of silence for those orangutans to settle down. And once they do? It’s beautiful.

 

  • Nature.  This retreat center is on the top of a mountain in western North Carolina. Once my mind was silent and the monkeys were finally relaxed and quiet; I was able to focus in on the spectacular scenery. The smallest of details came into focus as I noticed butterflies, the breeze through the trees, the stones on the ground, the path through the forest. Each intimate detail; I was enthralled with it all. Turning off all the hustle and bustle of everyday life, let me wake up my senses to what was going on around me. There was so much going on around me that I normally would never have paid attention to. It was mesmerizing.

 

  • Inward.  Introspection is the end result of two and half days of silence. THIS is the ULTIMATE prize – it is like shining a light inside yourself, after the monkeys have calmed down, and being able to be with yourself and truly appreciate just being in the present moment. No agenda. No to-do list. No planning. No rumination. Just to be. I honestly think that the last time I was in the present moment with myself was when I was four years old and my mother would force me to take a nap I was alone in my bedroom with no distractions but my own present moment. It’s incredibly powerful to be with yourself. Taking a break from all the helter-skelter of everyday life is an enormous gift. It’s almost like unplugging yourself and letting the batteries run dry only in order to be completely rejuvenated. Hollow and empty but profoundly peaceful and enriching.

I highly recommend a silent retreat, especially if you are facing a major life change like retiring, changing jobs or leaving a relationship. There is deep clarity once all the distractions are gone and the monkeys have gone to bed.

5 Insights from a Silence Retreat

I cannot tell you how many people (especially women) looked at me in sheer terror when I said I was going to a silence retreat over Labor Day weekend. “There is NO WAY I could do that!” “I wouldn’t survive even an hour.” “What is wrong with you?” This is just a smattering of the reactions I received. I have to say, I was a bit terrified myself, and if I wasn’t going through an enormous pivot in my life, I probably would not have devoted an entire holiday weekend to meditation and silence with a total group of strangers. In retrospect, I was glad it was strangers and that I only had to be responsible for myself.

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The Art of Living has become a way of life for me now and it is fantastic. I began on this path in June and attended the Happiness Program. It coincided with my huge life pivot. I learned of a Silence Retreat that is offered at their retreat center in Boone, North Carolina. My curiosity got the better of me. After all, the Happiness Program had changed my life! In the end, the program was the best thing I could have ever done and it was the most arduous. The silence wasn’t the arduous part–it was facing my own thoughts through meditation. But in the end, the sweet, glorious clarity was worth all the pain.

 

So here are my insights from my silence retreat:

 

  • Authenticity. During the first 24 hours communication is allowed. Most of the group were complete strangers. Everyone I came in contact with were truly present and authentic. We did activities like sharing our life story in ten minutes (it’s amazing how at 56 years of age, I ran out of material) or sharing our top ten qualities and weaknesses with a complete stranger can break down our façades. It’s impossible to share an idyllic “Leave it to Beaver” childhood when your partner just shared their father was an alcoholic and their mother psychotic. It’s humbling, real and raw.

 

  • Childhood. There were several activities that were rejuvenating, like dancing with our eyes closed and coloring with crayons like we were eight-years-old again. When was the last time you made a smiley face on blank white paper with purple crayon or swayed freely to music without worrying that someone was watching. There is joy. There is freedom. There is connecting with yourself without the parameters of adulting. I learned to embrace my inner child.

 

  • Relax. When we entered the silence portion of the program on Saturday afternoon, we were not allowed to read, write, text or use our phones. As our instructor Mona said: “This is a time of relaxation.” So relax. It might have been the altitude or perhaps the lack of constant distraction of being “connected” to the outside world, but I was exhausted. Perhaps it was from the lack of cortisol constantly spiking from text and Facebook notifications, but I really relaxed. I am not a nap taker, but I can tell you that every free moment I had was back in the television free room, laying on my twin bed “relaxing.” Perhaps even better, I didn’t feel guilty in the least about relaxing. This was my weekend, and I was going to relax.

 

  • Clarity. We spent probably ten hours a day in meditation. Yes. Ten long freaking hours, mostly in silence or in periodic “focus on your nostrils.” This was the arduous part. There were several times where all I wanted to do was to run screaming from the room. There were parts of my body I didn’t know could hurt from sitting in meditation for an extensive period. BUT – the moments of clarity? When my mind was completely and utterly free of thought (which is rare for me, even though I meditate daily), that was complete nirvana. It may have been for just ten seconds. It may have lasted a minute. But to be completely detached and in full consciousness was completely liberating. I learned how to find clarity.

 

  • Humanity. The final activity after we had broken our silence was completely life affirming. There were some fifty people on this silence retreat (including four – yes, four – married couples). Even after the first day of interacting with folks, I didn’t know the majority. For some 60 hours, no one said “please”, “thank you” or “sorry”. Perhaps a smile or holding the door for someone, but besides that, we were all islands. In the final activity, I was seated across from a woman I didn’t know. I was told to look into her eyes as if she were a child. She smiled. I smiled. Her eyes welled up. My eyes welled up. In silence, I was completely connected to this woman and her face is forever etched in my memory. We don’t need words to connect to each other. Sometimes we just need to look into someone’s eyes to see their humanity – to feel them and to feel as one.

By Sunday morning at the retreat, I swore I would never do it again. But now that I am home and in such a state of peace and balance, I know I can and will do it again. The metaphor that is frequently used is the snow globe no longer has the flakes swimming around. The clarity and peace is priceless.

4 Ways to Unplug Negative Thoughts

You stand on the scale and you’ve gained 5 pounds. You think, “Fatso, why did you have that extra chocolate chip cookie?” You avoid setting up the meeting with your boss because you are sure your idea will be shot down. “She doesn’t think I’m smart. She’ll never like my ideas.” You gossip about your co-worker because you know they will never get the promotion they want. “He’s an idiot. There’s no way he’ll get it.” All these thoughts are wearing a super highway of negativity in your brain. The good news is you can change that.

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Your brain is malleable and can be changed–and it doesn’t even involve surgery. The key to disempowering your negative or unwholesome thoughts is to change your pattern of thinking. It takes practice. But when you start creating wholesome thoughts, they beget more wholesome thoughts. Soon, you are a wholesome thought-machine. As Professor Mark Muesse taught in the Great Courses: Practicing Mindfulness, “Unwholesome thoughts break down into three areas: selfish desire (I want my neighbor’s car), hatred (I hate that person because they are different from me) and deluded thoughts (I think I’m the greatest or completely unworthy).”

 

Here are Professor Muesse’s four “R’s” of disempowering thoughts:

 

  1. Simply replace the negative or unwholesome thought with something opposite.  If someone cuts you off in traffic, instead of angrily swearing and tailing them, you should instead think, “I’m sure they are in a rush for a good reason.” I’ve done this when my boss’ door was shut. I would switch my paranoid thinking: “She’s going to fire me” to “She must be working on my raise or a new challenging project.” When I had a four-hour unplanned airport layover a few weeks ago, I replaced my “I hate this airport and this lousy airline” thought (which became my new negative mantra for a few minutes) to “This’ll be a great opportunity to listen to my book and get in 10,000 steps.” I also cultivate compassion by saying, “Just like me.” If someone steals my parking space, I say, “They want to be happy, just like me.” Replace the unwholesome negative thoughts with positive, wholesome ones.

 

  1. Reflecting on results.  Think about the long-term results of this thinking. Contemplate the forward trajectory or consequences of these thoughts. If I believe that I am a nervous speaker, I will become a nervous speaker. If I think that I am financially insecure, I will become financially insecure. Seeing the long-term consequences helps squelch the inner critic. Another way of looking at it is: do you want to be the Grinch? Even Grinch-like folks were small children at some point. It took years of unwholesome, greed-filled thoughts to result in the vengeful person they became. What are you really creating with all those unwholesome thoughts? Your best you?

 

  1. Redirecting attention.  This is where you direct your attention away towards something more wholesome. Like your breath, your toes or your ear lobes. I advise my clients to do this when they get angry and have regressed into their lizard brain (the fight-or-flight part of your brain). When you are hijacked by emotions, it’s important to get out of your head and back into your body. Especially before you say something you might regret. Your best thinking is in your prefrontal cortex but it’s impossible to get there as long as you are in a state of fear or anger. Remember the phrase This too shall pass. Good or bad, everything is impermanent. We just need to accept that it is impermanent. Joy or terror, thoughts pass away, lose power and fade. Bring it all back to the breath.

 

  1. This is all about challenging your assumptions.  It might be that you’ve become jealous of your co-worker’s new convertible sports car. You assume that if you had that car, you would be happy. Examine what you might feel you’re lacking. Maybe you want some freedom. Maybe independence. Look at the underlying assumptions of why you might be envious. You might be envious of your boss’ new smart phone. You want to have the latest technology. But won’t that phone be an out-of-date piece of junk in three years? I recently moved my home office. I thought about a nice chair I wanted for it. I realized that I didn’t want to add any more furniture to my already fully-furnished house. I realized there was a chair and ottoman that was unused in another room. So instead of feeling like I was lacking, I discovered I already had what I needed. Challenge your assumptions.

 

Any type of mindfulness is a practice that takes time and consistency. Habitual thoughts are not easy to break but it can be done with persistence. I personally journal each evening about how I have reframed my thoughts throughout the day. I think the reflection helps me hardwire the new positive, wholesome thoughts. Good luck!

Challenging the Unknown Unknowns.

I was recently at the International Coaching Foundation’s Converge conference in Washington D.C. The keynote speaker was Hal Gregersen from MIT. Considering it was a keynote (which can generally be pretty much a fire hose of information with little or no interaction), this keynote was quite thought-provoking and we ended up with a list of fifteen plus questions for a personal dilemma. Very informative and action-oriented.

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The premise of the speech was what Hal referred to as the “leadership dilemma”. It’s so easy for leaders of small and large companies to be ensconced in what Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of Infosys, calls “the good news cocoon.” No one wants to deliver the bad news, and everyone around the leader is nodding their head in agreement, instead of challenging the status quo. This leaves nobody ever trying to get to the bottom of the “unknown unknowns”, especially the leader. This is why the great innovative leaders are out scanning the environment to find out what they don’t know.

So how do you do that? Figure out what you don’t know you don’t know? Here are some ideas:

  • De-insulate. Break out of your cocoon. This works for all of us who aren’t CEOs as well. I can remember owning a restaurant several decades ago. Generally, I ended up eating in my own restaurant or at a franchise of the same restaurant. This was not going to open my eyes to the latest trends. In fact, it gave me a false sense of satisfaction. “Hmmm. Well, we do the Malibu Chicken so much better than that Sizzler across town.” What is the latest food trend coming down the pike? Who is delivering customer service that goes above and beyond? Break out of your insulation and find new horizons to uncover the unknown.

 

  • Break barriers. How many hoops or folks do your people go through to get to you? Even if it’s one person, according to Hal, it’s too many. This encourages leaders and CEOs to do what Jonathan Bechen recommends: “Manage by walking around.” If you are out and about, or in the lunch room, or by the water cooler or dropping by your employees’ cubicle, there are less barriers to talk to you. I spent 3 years working for a tortilla manufacturer. I can speak from experience that the person who knows the most about the quality and issues with a tortilla is the person hand packing it into a plastic bag. Not the machine operator, not the lead, not the supervisor, or the production manager, or the plant manager, or the engineer. It’s the tortilla packer who knows that the oven is too hot, the masa is too moist, or that the machine is spitting out tortillas too fast. Go pack tortillas with the tortilla packer if you want your finger on the pulse. Get out of your ivory tower.

 

  • Let go of being right. Hal asked us to ask ourselves, “How many things am I dead wrong about?” Geez. I’m not even sure I can admit that I’m ever wrong. How is the CEO of a fortune 500 company going to do that? Won’t that appear weak? But admit it. Think about it. What have you been dead wrong about in the last week?  I, for one, was pretty sure my son was not going to be able to surmount a recent huge obstacle. He did. I stand corrected. My assumption was dead wrong. And if you can’t seem to detect anything that you were dead wrong about, maybe you aren’t scanning your environment enough to be challenged. This takes humility, but it also breaks you out of your “good news cocoon.”

 

  • Get uncomfortable. How often do people ask you uncomfortable questions? And if your circle of influence is not asking you uncomfortable questions, maybe you need a new circle. This is why leaders join peer group circles, which can be beneficial, so long as it’s not some big competition to outshine each other on the balance and income sheets. If you’re not getting uncomfortable questions, it may be attributed to the way you react to uncomfortable questions. You may shut down or stonewall. If you aren’t approachable, you never get uncomfortable. You will continue to be unknowing of the unknown.

 

  • Find different. Hal asked how often do you talk to different people. We all get comfy in our own sphere of friends and co-workers. How often do you try to change up that sphere? I recently joined a meditation group in a town an 80-mile drive away. I don’t look like anyone else in the meditation group. Most of the people in the group were not born in the U.S. This has opened my horizons to difficult-to-pronounce names, unfamiliar food and a different take on my meditation practice (for the good). It’s changed me as a person and has opened my horizons to get to know the unknown. Seek out different folks.

Hal called this “Bursting the CEO Bubble.” But don’t we all have a bubble around us? What bubble do you have? How can you burst it?

“What other people think of me is none of my business” – Wayne Dyer

Are you having trouble wrapping your head around that title quote? I did. I still do. I’m not sure if it’s my upbringing. The Wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident and What will the neighbors think? kind of upbringing. My parents are always passing judgment on whether or not so and so is too thin or too fat, or spending their money unwisely. I know when I dress in the morning, I’m wondering what people will think. Is the skirt too short? Is the blouse too tight? I’m not paralyzed by this, but as I read that statement, I realize it’s a monologue that goes on in my head unconsciously.

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Actually, the source of this valuing other’s opinions above all else is Junior High School life at its finest. I was in 7th grade in the 70’s. Bell bottoms and corduroy were the rage. I had purchased 10 pairs of corduroys in 10 different shades with all my hard earned babysitting money. I cared a lot about blending in. God forbid I walk into the cafeteria and stand out by wearing a dress. My world centered on what others thought about me;  if I gained weight or lost weight, had an opinion different than theirs, had a bad hair day…the list goes on and on. Heck, I do that today. Has anyone noticed I lost 5 pounds? Should I point it out? Am I expecting too much? Do people really notice me? I realize I spend a lot of time and energy wondering about others’ opinions.

 

Here are some ways to let go of the importance of others’ opinions:

  1. Realize that this is self-inflicted pain. Bryon Katie’s book, Love What Is, posits that the suffering is in your head. The first question of “The Work” is “Is it true?” When I work with clients, I hear all kinds of statements that are causing the client pain. “She doesn’t like me,” “He wants me off the project,” and “They think I’m incompetent.” How can you verify that it is true? Realize that believing it is true is in your own head. You are suffering from your own beliefs and thoughts.
  1. Beware of how you accept both criticism and compliments. These are two sides to the very same coin. Someone can be validating you and giving you feedback that sounds like or is actually a critique. Whether it’s positive or negative it is an opinion that you could potentially benefit from and has no bearing on who you are. You are still you. If you are focused and enamored only with praise. When you are criticized, you will roll down the other side of the hill and be thrown off your game. I believe a simple “Thank you” for either is just fine. Temper your reactions and how you internalize feedback. Find a way to benefit from the critique of those whose opinions you trust.
  1. Let go of the battle. In Jack Kornfield’s A Path with Heart, he writes, “Let go of the battle. Breathe quietly and let it be. Let your body relax and your heart soften. Open to whatever you experience without fighting.” Fighting requires a lot of energy. It’s exhausting to spend your day worrying about what everyone else is thinking. Put down your armor and let go.
  1. Be skeptical. As written in Don Miguel Ruiz’ book, The Fifth Agreement: A Practical Guide to Self-Mastery, “Doubt takes us behind the words we hear to the intent behind them. By being skeptical, we don’t believe every message we hear; we don’t put our faith in lies, and when our faith is not in lies, we quickly move beyond emotional drama, victimization, and the limiting belief systems our ‘domestication’ has programmed us with.” When you find the truth for yourself, you are free to live without regret and fear.
  1. Let go of attachment. Kornfield has some wonderful meditations in his book. One of them is letting go of anger. He writes, “The strength of our anger reveals the strength of our attachment.” It’s amazing how many things I am attached to and how much suffering it causes. It’s my control freak inside who doesn’t want to let go. But this constant striving to control the thoughts of others is unobtainable. This is a huge insight for me. It’s futile. Don’t attach.
  1. Be careful of your own language. My daughter made me aware of this. I would say, “Have you lost weight?” She asked that I say, “You look healthy.” You might think that it’s a compliment but as she explained, it’s also a value judgment. It is essentially saying that you were or weren’t thin enough before.
  1. Give up the idea of perfection. I think about this when I meditate. I feel like when my thoughts wander (and they always do) that I am not being perfect at meditation. So what? It’s the same with your self-dialogue. When you are trying out #1-#6, let go of being perfect. So when you start worrying that your boss thinks you’re incompetent, acknowledge that you let that thought slip in and maybe you can avoid it the next time. Perfection is exhausting.

All of this can be difficult to try and implement. It’s a habit that you’ve likely been doing since you were a child. Changing your thoughts takes patience and trial and error. We are all just works in progress. How wonderful it is that we have others to help us!

Quit Awfulizing

Do you want to procrastinate? Do you like to procrastinate? Do want to come to a complete stop? Start worrying? Worry about the what ifs? Dwell on all the things that could happen? Might happen? Could happen? Should happen? It sucks the life out of you. Quit awfulizing.

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I had a client recently gnashing her teeth because her child was going overseas for a month. Her biggest issue was the not knowing. How would they communicate? What is Skype? Where would he be living? So my question to her was: “How is all this worrying working for you?” Well, it’s not. It’s paralyzing, sleep depriving…a waste. Worrying or not worrying will not change the outcome.

 

I’m not saying I don’t understand. I have two young adult children who have been more than an hours drive away for the last two months (one 11 hours south and one 2 hours west). They are making their own decisions, their own plans and their own mistakes. My worrying or lack of worrying won’t change the outcome. But at least I sleep. This has not always been my M.O. (modus operandi). It’s taken me years to back off the Ledge of Worry.

How to get to worry-free in 5 not-so-easy steps:

1. Decide.  You need to simply get on board or not. Unless you really enjoy thinking of the endless amount of ways your child, parent or spouse could be in a car accident. If this is your fuel, then join the fretters club. But if you’re ready to do the mental dump and start living in the moment, then you need to make the commitment. This can’t work unless you do.

2. Optimism. You will need to be optimistic. This will be difficult for the glass-half-empty people out there. What if everything is going to be better than expected? Maybe the plane is getting in early. Maybe your team will go to the NCAA finals. Maybe the boss’s office door is shut because they are working on your raise. Everything is possible, including the windfall, the referral and the next project. Expect the best.

3. Turn it off.  The news that is. I was just in Atlanta and my friend had the evening news on. OMG. Shootings. Drownings. Murder. Car accidents. My blood pressure went up. My mind started wandering down horrible trails. What if that was my kid, friend, or coworker? Nothing good can come from the news. 98% is sensationalized and depressing. I’ve taken a clue from my daughter. She gets caught in rain storms without an umbrella or in freezing temperatures with flip flops on. She doesn’t watch the news or the weather. She takes is as it comes. Why ruin the surprise?

4. Moment.  As in, Ya Gotta Live in the Moment. This is the most difficult. There is always a certain  amount of reflection and planning in life. We just need to stop dwelling on embarrassments, back stabbing and finger pointing. We need to quit anticipating the worst outcome. So your friend has cancer. Worrying for them is not going to help them. Praying for them can. Assuming they will be cured is a much more positive approach. Being with them in the moment is a gift.

5. Alert.  Pay attention to your thoughts. No one else will. You need to be vigilant. Pessimism has a way of seeping into our heads. When you get caught in your fourth red light in a row, chill out. It’s going to be fine. Sometimes I fantasize that if I didn’t get caught at the red light, I would have been some place three minutes earlier and caused a car accident. This was meant to be. Just make sure you’re staying in charge of those fretting thoughts. You are your own sheriff. Clean out the riff raff.

So the next time your spouse/partner is late, imagine that they’re picking up your favorite coffee or scoring a new project. It will send out positive energy and you will sleep so much better.

What would you do?