All too often we put pressure on ourselves to achieve the perfect success or happiness. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others, and feeling as if we need to be doing more, getting more, accomplishing more. Ultimately, we are only doing one thing – causing ourselves more unnecessary stress. Constant comparison is a toxic behavior that causes anxiety, depression, and feelings of worthlessness. And at the end of the day, we are not likely to be motivated by this practice either. More often, we are deflated by it and distracted from focusing on the things that can actually help us. So, what should you do instead? Be where your feet are!
What does that mean? Being where your feet are is the practice of being present, in the moment, without judgment and focusing on the task at hand. It means that you are not ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. You are living in the moment and paying attention to whatever needs to be done at that time – whether you are driving, washing dishes, typing an email, or going for a walk. It’s a very simple concept that when practiced regularly, can train the brain to operate out of the more logical and mindful part of the brain – our prefrontal cortex. When activated, this part of the brain helps us to make better decisions, be less impulsive and react less emotionally.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t reflect on the past. Nor does it mean that you can’t think about the future. Being where your feet are while you are thinking about the past or future means you are looking back in an observer way in order to learn from it, and make changes that will improve your life; or reflecting for a moment to realize the gratitude you have for things in your life that are important to you. It means that you are thinking about the future to plan what actions you need to take, or to visualize what you want to create in your future that helps inform your present moment steps and actions. What we want to avoid is getting lost in fantasy, rumination, regret, or fear about the past and future. That is when we get caught up in negativity and lose touch with reality because when in those states of mind, we tend to story tell and develop a narrative that is not based in truth, but more based in emotional reactions to things we are upset about.
Here are 5 simple exercises to help you begin to be more mindful and create a calmer, more peaceful life.
1.Breathing Exercises – Focused breathing helps to connect your mind and body and calms you down. There are many kinds of focused breathing, but one that I like to use is called box breathing. You choose a count for your inhale and exhale (same count for both) and a count for holding your breath at the top of your breath and at the bottom of the breath (same count for both). Here is a sample:
Breath in for a count of five: One…Two…Three…Four…Five
Hold that breath at the top for a count of four: One…Two…Three…Four
Exhale out for a count of five: One…Two…Three…Four…Five
And hold that breath at the end for a count of four: One…Two…Three…Four
Repeat 10 times.
You can explore changing the holds and the breath counts and find a rhythm that works for you. Just make sure that your holds are the same number and your breaths are the same number. For example, you can breathe in and exhale for a count of 10, and your holds can be for a count of 5. See how you feel after finding the combination that works best for you!
2.Monotasking – We email and eat our lunch, drive and talk on the phone, half watch a movie while surfing the net, or go on social media while getting ready for work. We think we are multitasking and being more productive. But research actually shows that we are only rapidly switching our attention from one task to another and instead greatly reducing our focus and productivity. This increases distress and reduces our ability to get things done. So instead, try to pay attention to what you are doing and do nothing else. When you are on the phone, really focus on the conversation and give the person you are talking to your undivided attention. When emailing, focus on the message and what you want to say. Get off your phone and watch the movie with full intent. You will be surprised at what you will pick up or notice when you do that. Your brain also quiets down and feels more at ease when you are monotasking, so you will likely notice your stress level reducing as well. Give it a try!
3.Watch What You Consume! – And I am not talking about food! I am talking about paying attention to how much, and what kind of stimuli you are taking in daily. Research shows that we check our phones over 300 times per day! We are constantly inundated with news, social media, work, advertisements, music, emails, and texts. First, pay attention to how much time you spend on your phone, or watching the news. If you are spending hours and hours a day distracted by those things, you are likely missing out on so much more meaningful events, people and activities that are healthier for you. Take a break from your phone and start living life!
Similarly, pay attention to the quality of what you take in. How much is focused on the negativity of politics or mean-spirited humor? What type of music do you listen to? Are the words uplifting? Or, do they leave you feeling sad, melancholy or even agitated? Are you constantly looking at social media and comparing yourself to others, feeling not good enough or deflated because other people’s lives look so much better than yours? All of this makes a difference in your brain and contributes to your overall mood! So, limit the news, the phone, the negative messaging and elevate your intake to a more positive focus. Go outside, take a walk, enjoy nature, read a good book, journal, call and thank a friend for support, etc. and see the difference in how you feel!
4.Practice Yoga, Tai Chi, or Pilates – These activities are based in mindfulness, and focusing on the present moment. The practice of these on a regular basis not only contributes to your overall physical health and wellbeing, but helps to reduce mental tension, increases focus, and helps to reduce stress and anxiety. Try one or try them all and see how you feel afterward!
5.Meditate For 10 Minutes a Day – Find a quiet space and sit comfortably. Wear comfy clothes and make sure you won’t be interrupted for the next 10 minutes. Put on some calming instrumental music if you like, and sit upright with legs crossed, or if in a chair, with both feet planted on the ground. Rest your hands comfortably in your lap and close your eyes. Sit up straight and notice your breath, the rise and fall of your chest with each inhale and exhale. Notice your body, and gravity gently pulling you into the surface you are on. Then just be. Don’t try to quiet your mind – simply notice when you get distracted, and without judgment, pull yourself back to your breath and the moment. You will get distracted. That’s ok. The important thing is to not get upset or judge the distraction. Keep returning to the breath. The act of noticing the distraction, instead of being the distraction helps to activate a part of the brain that is responsible for calming us down. (E.g. When in meditation and you get distracted you often think to yourself, “This is so frustrating, I just can’t focus at all in meditation!” Instead, try to think this way, “I am noticing that my mind keeps wandering to making lists about all the tasks I need to do, let me come back to my breath and keep refocusing.”) Meditating for just 10-20 minutes a day can have a great impact on our lives. Research has shown that it reduces stress, increases happiness and productivity when practiced daily. Give it a try and see how you feel!
Learning to be where your feet are can be a life changing practice that not only benefits you, but helps you to show up to life – work, family and friendships – with more ease, and less reactivity. Even just a few small changes will make a difference over time. Give yourself the gift of being where your feet are and see what positive changes come into your life!
7 Steps to Developing a Monk Mindset and Creating Inner Calm
Let's face it, the stress of life is not something that we can easily overcome, especially when we feel we are stuck on the hamster wheel of life. I've often heard people say, "I just want a break from life for one day." And the events and state of affairs in the world over the past few years has, in many ways, compounded our stress.
Though in one way, we got a taste of what it was like to slow down, as we were forced to do in the pandemic. Many of us had time to contemplate our purpose and what we want to do with our life. We had time to ponder what was most important to us. In another way, it caused immeasurable stress in the form of financial, career and family stress. We had to worry about keeping ourselves and our families safe. We had to deal with long periods of solitude and isolation. We worried about whether we could provide for ourselves and our families. It was a lot.
Incidences of mental illness increased significantly across the globe and the impact has been devastating for some. People felt as if they had no control over everything that was going on around them, which caused a ton of internal distress.
What is the answer? How do we manage the stressors of life and not get taken on a roller coaster ride of fear, anxiety, frustration and chaos?
Easy. Think like a monk.
When people think of monks, they often picture men in robes meditating all day long without any contact of interaction or connection with the outside world. they are seen as beings living in a protected environment, without any troubles. They are seen as calm, smiling, happy, and seemingly unaware of and disconnected from the chaos in the world around them. And while monks do wear robes and meditate for a large portion of their days (on average about 3-6 hours of seated meditation), they are quite connected with and aware of all that is going on in the world. They have just learned a way of operating that allows them to remain centered, choose their responses, and determine their actions, which leads to a calm and balanced inner energy.
They are not obsessed with the Internet, they are instead focused on the "inner net," their internal web of experiences, sensations, and thoughts. This awareness allows them to be reflective in nature and by default, more in control of their emotions and behaviors. But how do they do this? How does one begin to create that inner calm? Can a layperson create a peaceful inner landscape? Do we have to meditate for 6 hours a day to have a the same experience of equanimity? The simple answer is no.
Monks engage in a series of daily practicies that are actually quite easy to recreate in your own life. You don't have to reinvent your entire life, and move to the mountains of Indonesia to feel more at peace. Here are six things you can do to learn how to think like a monk and be more at ease, less reactive and more content in your life.
Begin your day as the monks do to create success. This is an easy morning routine that I follow. It makes a world of difference in my day. You don't have to spend hours on each one either. It is someting that can be done in a relatively short amount of time, though a monk might suggest otherwise, so that you really get the full benefit of the practice. But even 30 minutes each morning in this state can help prepare you for a great day.
Before we begin, the purpose of a morning routine is not about productivity. It’s about intention. It is a way to train your mind. Now, the outcome might be more productivity, inner peace and stability, but that is not the goal. Though it is what usually happens as a result of operating in an intentional way. Being thoughtful and mindful allows you to become more aware of how you think and feel. It makes you more aware of your assumptions, expectations and ultimately your behaviors. Harnessing that awareness is empowering and freeing, because then you can take charge of how you want to show up to your day. It clears a pathway.
When the mind is bright and stable, it is more healthy. And when it is in that state, you are automatically more productive, inspired, motivated and positive. From that comes relaxation and a letting go because the events/happenings around you no longer control you. You are able to separate yourself from them and choose a different path. This choosing is a way to get results from your day.
This morning routine is a way to train your mind so you can develop wisdom and teach yourself to become aware of your thoughts and habits and then change them to continuously improve and change your life. The main idea here is to do activities where you are not thinking of the past or the future in order to get your mind still and centered. The morning is the perfect, sacred time to do this because you are coming out of a deep sleep and generally have less going on in your head.
STEP 1: Breath, Center and Be Still: Before you even get out of bed, lay on your back, keep your eyes closed and take at least 3 deep breaths while focusing on nothing but the breath - centering your concentration on the mind, body, breath connection. This stills the mind and activates a part of the brain that is responsible for logical and rational thought (your pre-frontal cortex).
STEP 2: Be Grateful: We are not guaranteed 5 seconds ago, nor can we be certain that we have 5 seconds from now. So, come from a place of gratitude for each day you wake up. Each day is a brand new day. Everything in the past is gone and today is another chance to develop yourself and to do more good in the world. Think of at least three things that you are grateful upon waking up each morning. You cannot feel angry and grateful at the same time. You cannot feel anxious and grateful at the same time. So think of these things to get your mind into a positive mindest each morning.
STEP 3: Chanting and Meditation: In the morning the mind has not interacted with the outside world yet, so focusing on this inward attention helps you keep a still mind throughout the day. Chant first, then meditate. Find a video or audio with meditative chanting and follow along for a few minutes. Then follow by meditating. There are many different types of meditation; silent seated, music, mantra, walking, etc. Find one that works for you and meditate each morning, starting with 3-5 minutes, and working your way up to 30 minutes if you can. It is optimal to do at least 20 minutes each day. All the chaos, emotions, heaviness, stories, and thoughts settle down. This grounding process helps cultivate new, pure energy. It clears your vision and makes you focused, grounded and productive.
STEP 4: Make Your Bed. Develop habits that add order and functionality to your day. Making your bed in a mindful way to help you increase your focus and attention to detail. When doing this task, and focus solely on each step, it can help train and purify your mind. This will help you prep yourself for the day. It also gives you a neat and tidy space to retreat to at the end of your day, increasing the likelyhood that you can feel more positively about your nightime routine as well.
STEP 5: Do an Act of Generosity: Each morning think about a way that you can give back and do something good for someone else, and give of your time. Doing so gets you out of your own head and our tendency to over-focus on needless worries and rumination. It can also give you a sense of community and eliminate greed. It can be as simple as putting a quarter in a jar and knowing that at the end of the week, month or year, you will donate that money. Or you can make sure to say something kind to a family member, give a hug, make someone breakfast, or take a pet for a walk. It can be something you already do or some small task that you add to your day. Whatever you choose, giving back gives you a more rich sense of kindness and compassion. That behavior has energy, just as negative behaviors have negative energy. The act of kindness spreads positive feelings to others, making them feel good, and also role models to encourage others to pay it forward.
STEP 6: Set Intentions For Your Day – Each morning, think about what would make you feel successful, not just monetarily or give you power or attention, but rather, in a way that feeds your purpose and what you wish to accomplish in your life. What are your passions? What goals have you desired to accomplish, but have yet to complete or even start? What would feed your soul and bring you true joy? But a word of caution. Do your best to also accept exactly where you are right now. We are always exactly where we need to be, and have all that we need, in order to do all that we need to do. Remember that by accepting where you are now, and who you are now, you are feeding a positive mindset that gives you the energy to also create the life you want and approach each day with focus and determination.
Step 7: Think About Barriers: After you have set your intentions, think about what could potentially get in your way and prevent you from accomplishing your goals. Take a step back, and think about people, things or even patterns of self-talk that could deflate your energy, get in your way and hold you back from achieving your goals. If you can think of a potential barrier, then you can consider a way to combat it as well. You can be mindful in your approach so that you don't get triggered, taken by surprise or thrown off course. You can come up with a plan or preferred way to respond if/when those barriers arise. There may, however, be other events that come up which you did not think about. Even still, you can say to yourself in the morning, "If something comes up today that gets in my way, I will remain calm, I will reflect in the moment with control and determine my best response. I am in control of my destiny."
If you are able to practice these steps every morning, I guarantee that you will begin to notice a shift in your energy, focus and well-being. Your mindset will begin to change and with each passing day, you will be more aligned with your purpose, more calm in your thinking and have greater contentment, happiness and emotional control throughout your day.
The 10 Less Well Known Symptoms of Anxiety
Stress is something we all experience in our lives. For some, it can be intense and lead to anxiety that feels overwhelming and chaotic. Having a bit in the bottom of your stomach, or having a fast heart rate with rapid breathing, and frantic thoughts are some of the more well known symptoms that we associate with anxiety. But did you know that there are a whole host of other symptoms that people experience associated with anxiety and stress?
The fact that they are less well known is a problem not only because we may not know how to manage them, but also because we may not attribute them to anxiety or stress, and then become a victim to these distressing feelings that we carry around with us every day. Being mindful of how stress impacts you is critical to being able to manage it. We all experience stress a bit differently, therefore, our symptoms are unique to our experience and how we treat them should by default, also be a very personal process.
We receive stress in three main ways: Cognitively, emotionally and physcially. The most common cognitive symptoms are racing thoughts, negative thinking, and constant worrying. The most common emotional symptoms include sadness, anxiousness, and frustration. Finally, the most common physical symptoms include trembling hands, fast heart rate, and shortness of breath. We can experience any number of these symptoms on a regular basis.
But there are more symptoms that are not as well known and can perplex anxious people at the very least. Below are the lesser well known symptoms of anxiety so you can be more mindful if you happen to experience them. The mindful you are about what your stress symptoms are, the earlier you can intervene with them, address them and incorporate some kind of self-care activity into your life that can help diminish or even eliminate those symptoms.
Mindful awareness of our stress gives us the power to change our experience in life and gives us the opportunity the create a healthier, happier life!
Let me know in the comments below if you have experienced any of these! Make sure to reach out and get support from a friend, supportive family member or therapist if you need help. And remember to incorporate self-care into your life EVERY DAY! Lack of self-care is not benign and builds up our stress over time. So find coping skills that address your symptoms to help reduce them. Change Your Mind, Change Your Life!
The Rule of 3 For Stress Management
The stress of everyday life can be overwhelming. And all too often, we get swept up in our thoughts, emotions, and our reactions to stress, leaving us feeling as if we have lost all control and are at the mercy of the 'stress monster' living inside us.
Our world has also become a constant barrage of flashing, beeping, yelling, calling, expecting and FOMO. It feels like someone, or something is always vying for our attention. And if we don't take the time to center ourselves, or learn how to distance ourselves from everyday stressors, we are left with stress symptoms that make us feel anxious, sad, frustrated, tired and more. The results of this constant activation are a host of uncomfortable stress symptoms ranging from emotional and cognitive to physical reactions that often lead to unskillful behaviors and keep us from feeling and being our best selves.
When you feel this way, it is very hard to focus. Too much stress increases distraction, confusion, impulsivity, and outbursts of emotion. It reduces productivity and contentment. It creates a sense of unnecessary urgency and frantic reactions. It keeps us from being effective and results in automatic reactions that leave us feeling frustrated and bad about ourselves or blaming others.
Once we are triggered by our stress, our mind is off to the races and we are stuck on the hamster wheel of life, swimming in our own stress. Do you ever remember learning in school how to calm yourself down? How to manage stress? How to recognize stress in your body? Probably not - because schools never taught us what stress and mental illness look like. It just wasn't in their curriculum. Fortunately, many schools are beginning to take the time to understand the importance of mental health and are beginning to incorporate wellness and stress management into the schools.
That will help our children, but it does not exactly help us. So let me give you a quick tip to help you manage your stress so that you can begin to take control back in your life. Whenever we begin to practice something new, we look for results. Have you ever done one push and said, "There! Done with that exercise. Now I am healthy." No, I am sure you don't expect that one sit-up, or one pull-up is going to make you physically fit. It takes time, patience, and practice to do this. The same holds true with the mind.
To create calm on a long-term basis, we need regular and consistent practice to get there. You can meditate once and feel great during and right after. However, it may not carry with you throughout the rest of your day. It is something that needs to become a habit, a lifestyle and way of living.
By incorporating a regular mindful practice into your everyday life, you can build up the part of the brain that is responsible for logical thinking, calming you down, being rational, being compassionate and making good decisions. You will bring blood flow to that part of the brain and reduce blood flow to the area of the brain that is our alarm center, the part that is impulsive and reactive.
By practicing mindfulness and meditative activities you can begin to control how your brain deals stress and learn to choose how you want to respond to it, rather than having automatic reactions. There are many ways to begin building this mindful muscle. But doing so can have a long-lasting and powerful impact on your life!
Here is an easy exercise that I practice to help me find my center, be grateful for the good things in my life and reflect on how I can take action and make good choices to set myself up for success!
3 x 3 x 3 Rule...
You can do this at the end of the day, or when you get up, or whenever you feel your stress building up in your body (the sooner you catch it, the better, so that it doesn't completely take over).
I find it best to close my eyes and take a few deep breathes to get into my body before I begin this exercise.
The First 3 (3 Things in Your Body): Notice three things that you can feel, hear, smell, or just notice about your body. Maybe you feel your heartbeat or listen to your breath. Maybe you feel a sensation in your back or notice the way your spine is aligned as you sit or lie down. Just notice these three things and breathe into each of them for a few deep inhales and exhales.
The Next 3 (3 Grateful Things): Think of three things that you are grateful for in your life right now. These can be overarching things like being grateful for waking up this morning or being able to walk. But they can be small things like finding a good parking spot or having a stranger hold the door open for you. Simply think of three things that you are glad you experienced, have, or get to enjoy in your life.
The Final 3 (3 Things You Can Do): Think of three things that you can do that will make you feel good, effective, or skillful in your life. You can choose things like, "I am going to take good care of my body today by eating fruit and vegetables for breakfast and lunch." You can set a plan for achieving something. "I will talk with my boss about the promotion opportunity and how I can set myself up to be a top candidate." It can be something that will make you feel good. "I will apologize to my sibling or spouse for being grumpy today." Or "I will volunteer at the pet shelter this weekend."
Thinking in these ways helps you to find your center and get away from the chaos of the world around you. This strategy also helps you realize the good things that you have in your life - which brings about feelings of pleasure and contentment. It also helps you let go of focusing on the negative all the time. Finally, you give yourself a boost of energy by focusing on things that you can do, that you have control over. You will begin to feel more effective and autonomous in your world.
When we take control of how our brain operates and practice mindful activities, we can create a world of change that empowers us, calms us, and helps us live a more happy life!
Try these techniques and let me know how they worked for you!