You Can Take 2 Simple Steps To Bring Gratitude Into Your Life

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This has been a difficult, stressful time for most of us – adults and children. It is easy to understand why the uncertainty and dangers we hear about each day generate feelings like fear, anxiety, frustration, isolation and sadness. And these are precisely the times when starting a daily practice of gratitude can make a big difference in our quality of life, and the peacefulness with which we meet each day. We begin by understanding the difference between gratitude and thankfulness.

 
 

Gratitude is not the same as thankfulness.

 

Gratitude does not come as a response to something you have been given or earned. That is “being thankful.” Gratitude is a much deeper way of living that comes from an awareness of being in the moment. For example, think of the millions of moments and people and circumstances that have come together for you to simply be here, right now, alive in this moment. Stop and consider this for a minute. Look back at this last year and recall a memorable moment. If just one event was slightly different, or one person made a different decision, or one storm had a different trajectory, how would that moment have changed?

 

And, of course, you can go back even further. What if one ancestor made a different choice, or was received by their new country in a different way? Or what if an illness or injury occurred?

It really is quite an amazing miracle that we are who we are, where we are, and doing what we are. Gratitude is the deep feeling we get when we acknowledge that things are pretty amazing, and in response, we choose to meet our life with an open-heartedness and presence that comes from that recognition. A formal gratitude practice helps us cultivate those qualities and pay attention to the many sources of joy and peacefulness that are all around us, even when the day is chaotic.

How do I begin a daily gratitude practice?

The practice steps below are simple and can be done individually or as a family:

  1. Choose a time each day to sit quietly and write down 3 things for which you are grateful. Whatever you notice that day is fine. There is only one rule-you cannot repeat anything. If you notice the beautiful fall leaves or the delicious crunch of a newly-picked apple today, you can not use them again tomorrow. Keep looking. How many days/months can you keep this up? If you are using this practice with your family, create a Family Gratitude Journal and leave it on the table. It may become a treasured keepsake over time!
  2. Pay close attention to your body sensations while you are writing. What are you noticing as you bring your moment to mind? Warmth, lightness, tingling, openness, softening etc.

After you have been practicing gratitude for a few weeks, what do you notice about the way you are meeting your life? Has it affected your choices? Thoughts? Emotions? How might gratitude change your community, organization or family?

Why Am I Feeling Isolated? A 4-Step Mindfulness Reflection

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Connections feed our well-being. And it seems as though we are connected via technology 24/7 to something…our phones, computers, watches, social media. Why then, do we still feel more isolated than ever? Could the answer have something to do with what human beings really need to feel the kind of connection that is nourishing and meaningful? Or, could it be that many of the most popular connections via technology are draining and upsetting, rather than nourishing and meaningful?

 

Rather than presume to tell you the answer to questions like this, I’d like to offer you a mindfulness reflection that might help you discover what is true for you, and then discover what I call a ‘small step’ to begin to experiment with living differently.

 

A mindfulness reflection on connections:

  1. Find a quiet place to sit comfortably and bring an intention to be open and curious about whatever arises for you during your reflection.
  2. Allow your eyes to gently close and bring your attention to your breath for a few minutes.
  3. When you are ready, bring to mind a person who you feel, or have felt, close to in a positive, nourishing way. Pay attention to thoughts, emotions and body sensations that arise. Perhaps you notice a warmth in your body, or a lightness in the center of your chest. Allow yourself to stay with the sensations for a while. Now bring to mind others to whom you feel, or have felt, a positive connection. Again, allow yourself to notice what arises.
  4. The final step is to open your eyes and, with these feelings present in your mind, heart and body, make two conscious, small steps to bring more of these kinds of connections in your life. Specifically, what is one small step I will take today to lessen the ‘connections’ that are draining (e.g put down all tech when I am eating a meal, limit social media to 15 minutes per day) and one small step I will take today to strengthen the nourishing connections (e.g. make a call rather than send a text, plan a lunch, take a new class). Be courageous! Experiment with small steps-what do you notice? When you are ready, choose to take another step.

One small step changes the dance!! Enjoy!

Is Pausing The Key To Becoming A Mindful Leader?

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There is no shortage of advisors, consultants and books that have a system to improve your leadership. And yet, for most of the professionals we meet at the Institute, the most powerful single skill to acquire continues to be the ability to take a Purposeful Pause.

 

When your mind is incessantly busy, it can trigger a ‘fight or flight’ reaction to everyday moments. And that reactivity shows up in ways that does not support you or those around you. Rather than bringing your best self to these moments, you react with impatience, poor decision-making, anger, forgetfulness, exhaustion or sadness. These reactions are understandable but you can begin to meet the stresses of the day more skillfully when you learn to incorporate Purposeful Pauses into your day.

So, what is a Purposeful Pause? It’s a moment in the day when you notice the internal and external chaos and choose to intentionally pay attention to the present moment. Often, a Purposeful Pause is supported by bringing your attention to a physical sensation like your breath or the feeling of your feet grounded to the floor. Pausing the busyness and the distractions allows you to see more clearly what is happening, and how to respond, rather than react.

Here are a few examples of intentional Purposeful Pauses to get you started:

 

  1. Start your day from a place of clarity. Rather than beginning your day by reacting to the alarm by jumping out of bed and indulging your runaway brain from the moment you awaken, try being intentional about the start of your day. Check in with how your body is feeling as you head to the shower-are you still tired, well-rested, achy? And check in with your mind-are you already rehearsing for a meeting before you even get to the shower? Instead, bring your attention to the physical sensations of awakening and getting ready for the day. Let your mind and body feel connected and grounded. When you are ready, see if you can form an intention for the day. What is truly important for you to attend to today?
  2. Stop at midday to reassess. It is important to stop at midday to reassess and to reconnect with your body and mind. When we are in fight or flight mode, reacting to the mind’s runaway train of thoughts, we are likely to begin to live on autopilot. So, at lunchtime, even if you have only 10 minutes, stop and reassess. Unplug from all technology and sit quietly or go for a short walk. How are you doing with your intention for the day. If needed, make some modifications to reset your course.
  3. Transition from work to home by setting boundaries. Leaders often have a hard time setting boundaries so being very intentional about the transition from work to home can be very helpful in getting them set. Whether you work from home or you commute, make the transition from work to personal time clear and routine. Turn off the computer, stay away from the desk, drive home without listening to voicemails, or whatever makes sense for you. Defining a transition helps you to take the needed break so your body and mind get a chance to relax and reset. These boundaries are at the heart of maintaining your resilience.

Practice with these 3 Purposeful Pauses each day to train the runaway brain to be more focused, clear and compassionate.

Do You Want To Sleep Better Tonight? Take 3 Mindful Steps

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When you do not get a good night’s sleep, what do you notice?

In addition to feeling tired, do you notice that you are impatient, make poor choices, feel sad or foggy, and make more mistakes? Sleep is an imperative for your body and mind. And yet, in some work cultures poor sleep has become a ‘badge of honor’ and you hear people brag about how little sleep they get. For others, sleep is sought after and yet remains elusive.

 

Over decades of working with professionals, the Institute has found that the most common culprits interfering with your sleep can be significantly diminished if you are able to take 3 steps:

 

  1. Turn off all electronics at least one hour before you go to bed. The light from computers and phones stimulates the brain preventing it from beginning to relax and prepare for sleep.
  2. Leave all electronics outside the bedroom. Trying to sleep with your phone or laptop inches from your head sends the signal that the brain should stay on ‘high alert’ waiting for the next ding or notification icon. This is true even if it is turned off.
  3. When you are in bed, pay attention to the sensations of your breath. When your mind is pulled away from the breath and begins to go over your ‘to do’ list, or begins replaying a conversation, be consistent about letting it go for now, and returning your attention to your breath. Be patient with yourself but keep practicing in this way. You are training your mind to ease into sleep rather than worrying the night away.

 

These simple mindfulness steps are not easy. You may have conditioned yourself to be connected 24/7 but the toll on your brain and body is not sustainable, and the first place you may begin to notice the effects is in poor sleep. Sleep is when you recharge so you can be at your best-your brain and your cells need this time to cultivate resilience and prepare you for the next day. Sweet dreams!

Do You Possess Wisdom? A Mindfulness Case For Listening To Yourself

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Do you possess wisdom? What is wisdom, anyway?

There are many answers to the latter question. Some common synonyms for wisdom are discernment, insight and perception. Others think of wisdom as something gained through vast experiences and age. For me, it is much simpler, it is the voice inside each of us that helps us understand the choice that is just right for this moment. When you follow your own wisdom, you feel its effect. There is a feeling of calm and peacefulness, even when the choice is difficult and even disruptive.

Learning to listen to your own wisdom is a skill you can cultivate. The process is simple but it is not easy. It requires patience and consistency. And, perhaps hardest of all, it requires that you take time out of your daily busyness to stop, and to learn to be in your own good company for a time.

The first step to cultivating your ability to listen to your own wisdom is to develop a daily mindfulness meditation practice. For basic steps to learn how to meditate, click here. Make a commitment to yourself to meditate for at least 10 minutes each day. This is the beginning of learning to be more present for your life, and to see what is actually here (not what we thought was here or wanted to be here).

The second step is to learn to strengthen your brain’s innate capacity for reflection. You have undoubtedly been taught to use your brain’s capacity for analysis. But that is only part of the story. Reflection is the other part. In reflection, you don’t search for the answer, you practice with sitting with the question for a time (e.g. what do I need to live my best life?, what is the innovative solution?, etc) and then listening to the answers that arise-not just the quick reactive answer that pops up first, but the answers that may live deeper inside…your wisdom.

As is true with all training of innate capacities of your body, strengthening innate capacities of your mind, like reflection, requires practice. You will find that wisdom has always been there, just waiting to be discovered.