Celebrating Independence Day

Of course it’s July 4th everywhere, but if you are living in the United States, you know that today is Independence Day.  For most, it’s the first holiday of the summer, marked by picnics, outdoor festivals, ball games and fireworks.  And there are some more solemn ceremonies observing the greater importance of the day and the establishment of a young country which would function independent of the English crown.

All of that came about with a great deal of struggle, idealistic differences of vision, and loss of life.  Certainly our visions and ideals continue to differ, and no shortage of argument and conflict goes on as we continue to shape our governing laws and the environment we live in.

What we can appreciate is that we have the freedom to express our differences, persuade others if we care to, and ultimately decide at the voting booth.  And although I get as aggravated with the endless debates as anyone else, I deeply appreciate that we can argue and vote and change the politicians in play if we choose to, without fear of recrimination or blood in the streets.

There are some other kinds of independence that I celebrate today.  You may notice that while we have these freedoms, we don’t always claim them. What kind of differences would it make in your life if you did?  Maybe you can add some of your own to this list.  I would love to hear them.

  • Independence of thought:  much of our thinking is still intact from our early life; you know the attitudes and beliefs that you absorbed even before your birth from your family.  And we are constantly exposed to beliefs and habits of thought by the media. Some of this may serve your life; but much of it doesn’t.
  • Become independent of the good opinion of others.  This is an empowering one! How much do you wonder what people think of you? How much do you tailor your behavior or speech to being pleasing to others?  Are you wearing camouflage in order not to be noticed?  Do you spend a lot of energy to avoid rocking the boat?
  • Free yourself from your own Inner Critic!  The chronic, perfectionistic, harping voice in the head that most of us carry around with us is responsible for most fear, pessimism, doubt and depression.  And stress, for that matter.  Formed in early life, this voice becomes such a constant companion that we aren’t even aware of it…unless we make an effort to tune in.  Your fourth grade teacher, or your dad might have said some mean things to you, but you have internalized those voices and act it out as if it were true.  It’s not!  Time to declare your independence and live the life you intend and desire.
  • Be courageous and examine your lifestyle; your job, your relationships, your state of physical health and well being; your intellectual life; your spiritual life.  Is it all that you want it to be?  Are you going along out of habit or real choice?  Are you settling for something because it’s easier than shaking your life loose a bit?  Are you having new experiences that stretch your awareness and your sense of being alive?  When was the last time you were filled with joy?  Is it possible that your own fear is holding you captive?
  • Are your habitual patterns limiting your quality of life?  The part of our brains that we have in common with the rest of the animal world likes routine and finds it comforting. Many of us have a routine that takes us from morning to night in a pretty predictable way.  Does that include zoning out in front of the TV every day?  Do you walk in the door from work, go to the fridge, open a beer or pour a glass of wine?  Do you comfort yourself with a big bowl of Ben and Jerry’s even though you aren’t in the least hungry? Do you go shopping even when you don’t really need anything, or it’s not in the budget? If you think that none of your routine is a problem, try changing it by doing without, and simply observe your reactions, thoughts and feelings.  You might want to go talk with someone about what you observe.

The beauty of independence is that when we claim it, we are open to fresh insights and new possibilities and the infusion of new energy that emerges.  Claiming our independence brings with it responsibility and if we can handle that, great empowerment.

Happy Independence Day!

 

 

The Grateful Brain

“If you want to turn your life around, try thankfulness.
It will change your life mightily.”
~Gerald Good~

 

Gratitude is a cornerstone of every major religion, and indeed a part of North American culture.  (I am thinking here of Thanksgiving Day, which is celebrated in the US and Canada). For years we have been hearing from modern thought leaders such as Dr. Wayne Dyer and Joseph Dispenza, that we have the power to create our lives anew, and that gratitude plays a key role in it.

Recently I have been noticing the work of Dr. Daniel Amen, M.D., who is a psychiatrist researching brain functioning.  He uses the modern technology of brain scans to examine the electrical activity and blood flow in the brains of his subjects.

He discovered that gratitude positively and literally changes brain chemistry.  Especially the frontal lobes and cerebellum show increased electrical activity and blood flow. The frontal lobes are responsible for judgment, impulse control and planning. When your frontal lobes are functioning well, you are making high performance decisions that serve you well.

In a study to determine the effects of gratitude, Dr. Amen scanned each subject’s brain twice. One after asking the person to focus on things in life for which she felt grateful, and another after asking her to focus on things that made her angry.  The scans were amazingly different!  Feeling grateful showed a dramatic benefit to her brain.  Blood flow and electrical activity increased in the area of the brain which would result in better decisions, focus and judgment. By contrast, angry or hateful thinking resulted in a draining or restricting of blood flow and overall brain activity!

When we are taught that fear, anger and hatred are constricting and limiting, this is more than “New Age” mumbo-jumbo. And when the ancients indicated the way to expansion and a better spiritual life, we can now see how our human physiology is directly affected by our thoughts and resulting emotions. If you doubted the truth of what you were hearing, now science has demonstrated why they are true!

When you write a gratitude list and focus on the feeling, your pituitary gland releases endorphins and other neurotransmitters that contribute to a feeling of overall well-being.  This is not just your imagination, because we now understand more about the power of that imagination.  Improving your mood leads to improved brain functioning, making it easier to make healthy decisions that will make it possible to create the life of your dreams.

Practicing gratitude is the key.

Gratitude and Attraction

“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things
for granted or take them with gratitude.”
~Gilbert K. Chesterton~

Have you heard of the Law of Attraction?

Over the past few months I have been giving a lot of thought to how the lives people are living often fall short of what they truly desire.  And yet we are all creating our lives every day.  According to the Law of Attraction, our thoughts and the emotions they trigger, and the choices that we then make, bring about the reality we experience.

We can make plans or set goals for taking the necessary steps to getting on track for getting a better job, improving a relationship, making more money or losing weight.  In fact setting goals and taking action steps is an essential part of the process of change.

So why do those plans often fall so miserably short?  What causes the sincere New Year’s Resolutions to fade away like so much dust in the wind?

Maybe it’s because we are attempting to force a change in those things that are external to us.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the desire to have a better job or relationship, or more money or a healthier body.  But all the “positive thinking” in the world won’t do any good if our real underlying beliefs are saying the opposite.

The problem is this:  how can I have a healthier body or bank account or relationship if I don’t BELIEVE that I can?  Or that I don’t DESERVE it? And even though it may be difficult to see and accept that I have such a limiting belief, the proof is apparent.  My life circumstances are the accumulated effect of my choices, and my choices are based on my beliefs about myself and the emotions they create.

 No matter how much I want something, I cannot receive it if on a deep level I believe that I don’t deserve it or that having it is impossible.

Many of these limiting beliefs are unconscious, or are so much in the thread of your daily thinking and feeling that they are like wallpaper you’ve lived with for 30 years…you can’t see it anymore.  You have absorbed them from your family and your culture, repeated them, and while you are certainly affected by them, you may not be aware.

So on a given day are you feeling irritable or grumpy?  Dour and dejected?  Cheerful and optimistic?  How would you rate your energy level on a scale from 1 to 10? This “vibrational level” and your mood will give you a clear indicator that your thoughts are positive or negative.

How can you brighten your mood and bring up your energy level?

The answer may surprise you.  You can do this when you practice gratitude!

And when I say “practice” I really mean practice.  Just as you practice the piano, or practice meditation, or practice doing the New York Times crossword puzzles, this is something that you do over and over again.  Some days it may feel awkward and difficult, and other days it will flow beautifully.  However it is, keep practicing.  The benefits are amazing.

How can I practice gratitude, you ask? 

  • Begin by writing a list of 10 blessings or things or people that you are grateful for.  Yes, write it down and do it every day, preferably first thing in the morning.
  • Write why you are grateful for it.  Don’t skip this step because it will help you feel grateful, and the feeling is the thing we’re going for here.
  • Pay careful attention to the beauty that surrounds you during the day.  Feel and express gratitude for the people who serve your needs every day; notice the beauty of nature in its large and smallness; see the beauty in the face of anyone you meet. Make eye contact and smile.
  • Notice what goes right in your life and express gratitude for it.  If you have a tight roof over your head and food on the table, you have something that a lot of the world’s population doesn’t.
  • Break your habit of complaining. When you catch yourself griping about the weather, the traffic, your spouse, your aggravating kid, your job, etc. just stop it!  You may have a habitual grumble going on in your head, and it forms a dark cloud over you and keeps you from seeing the possibilities that surround you.  Furthermore it contaminates the conversations you have with others and encourages more negativity. Shift your focus again to what is going right. Don’t play “Ain’t it Awful?” with others.
  • Make an effort to hang out with positive, grateful people. You will very quickly be able to see who they are.  Avoid the ones who are always complaining about slow business, or the management or the government or anything else.  This “low vibrational” energy is contagious. Think of how you would avoid someone with a lethal virus, and take similar steps.
  • When you are being challenged by some difficulty or loss; when it seems that things are not going your way, then being grateful might seem out of the question.  But I suggest that you look deeper. Is it possible that a failure or disappointment might bring some benefit to your life? To your growth or development? If we find purpose or meaning in these difficulties, they often help us become better humans, and thus we can be grateful for them.
  • At the end of the day, before you go to sleep, review the events of your day and focus on the best parts of it. It may be something large or very small. It may have been on your gratitude list, or not. Take a few minutes to re-live the positive emotions, and say thank you.

In a short period of time, you will begin to notice an improvement in both your mood and energy level. You do not have to do this perfectly or compulsively. Just make room in your schedule as frequently as you can, and practice.  I’m telling you, gratitude will change your life!

 

Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained

“Confidence is the feeling you sometimes have before
you fully understand the situation.”
~Unknown~


It seems that this is a time for new ventures. A lot of people that I know are starting big projects, some inspired by the arrival of spring such as extensive landscape and gardening redoes. Some are those things that might have been “thought about” for months but not accomplished. And then some are addressing bad habits or behavioral patterns that have been tripping them up for years.

Recently I took the plunge with a big commitment of my own, by signing up for a coaching certification course.  It’s a year-long course of study that involves a big chunk of time in my schedule, money from my budget and a lot of work learning and practicing new skills. Personal development or life coaching is a service that I already offer on a limited basis. Since I enjoy it, I would really like to expand that part of my practice. While being certified is not required, taking this course will help me accomplish my goals.

Like many people, I have been “thinking” and doing a little exploring of this on and off for years, but haven’t taken action. When the opportunity presented itself, I felt some curiosity and excitement as I read about it. Could I manage the time? Was I up to the challenge? It has been a long time since I was in school and training and having my skills evaluated. Some fear came up with that thought.

Then questions came up about the budget and whether I could find the time. What would I have to give up? Certainly something would have to give!  And a year seems like a long time to commit to anything!

After giving myself time to do some writing about the pros and cons, and tapping (EFT) about my fears, and a good night’s sleep, I got up the next morning and decided to sign up.  I still felt some “heebie jeebies” but I had increased clarity about needing structure, help and some accountability. Besides, what kind of coach would I be if I didn’t seek out coaching and teaching myself?!  And so I signed all the application and agreement forms and sent them in.

Since I was still feeling apprehensive and unsettled, I decided that I was in need of support. I also needed to make it known to my friends and family and colleagues that I had made this commitment.  And telling them would build in some accountability. I know that some will be checking in periodically to find out how my new venture is going.

So I composed a message that I sent out by email. And what came back to me has been way past my expectations!  The first reply came from a friend who is an executive coach, working with leadership training for businesses. He has offered to introduce me to coaches that he knows and to be of help in any way he can. Then came a flood of responses that were supportive, loving and truly warmed my heart. I have also received stories about their experiences in “taking a leap” into new ventures, and what that felt like. I feel encouraged by their messages.

Big undertakings always involve baby steps which also bring up fears that we either have to face or walk away from. Confidence only comes about by “talking back” to our fear by moving forward; by feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

Writing this blog post is another way of making my decision “real,” and to hold myself accountable for completing the course. I will keep you posted periodically about my progress. And I would love to hear about your challenges and how you have committed to facing them and moving forward!

 

Taming the Mind

“You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.”
~Albert Einstein~

That quote of Einstein’s has always rung a bell with me. It just makes sense that whatever my mindset was that led me to make certain choices would need to be changed if I wanted to make a different choice. Or, which is more to the point, to clean up a problem that the choice had created.

The problem is that HOW to change your mind to see your way clearly to a better solution isn’t often easy.  The real difficulty becomes apparent when the unconscious mind with its old (sometimes self-defeating or limiting beliefs) teams up with the emotions and creates a real uproar. Imagine a toddler screaming at the top of his lungs while you are trying to make a decision. He may be saying:

Don’t try to get that job! You don’t know enough!
You’d better not ask her/him out!  They won’t like you!
Don’t even try to quit smoking! You’ll never be able to stick it out!
People in our family have never been able to make much money!

Especially when it comes to making life changes, our emotions, particularly FEAR, gets into high gear. And when you consider that different parts of the brain are responsible for different functions, and in a way, “speak different languages,” it seems like a miracle when we pull off meeting our goals.

No matter how stuck in a rut we are, there is comfort in repeating the familiar patterns. In some ways part of our brain functions like any other animal brain. Your dog knows what it means when you reach for the tennis ball on the closet shelf.  He knows just where his food dish is, and where he sleeps and what time of day you come home.

Although you may hate your job, you know how to handle it. Or you may be unhappy in a relationship, but it’s familiar and you know how to negotiate it. And although you are afraid of the consequences of smoking, the thought of going through the discomfort of quitting keeps you lighting up.

The more engrained the limiting belief and the more potent your fear or anger, etc. the more difficult it is to use that part of your brain which is great at imagining a new outcome or solving the problem. Fortunately we all have that rational pre-frontal cortex…the creative, conscious mind. But we have to calm the amygdale, center of emotions, in order to change the limiting beliefs and get to new solutions.

Fortunately there is a method you can use to calm your emotions, change your limiting beliefs and access creative solutions that will serve you. I have been using EFT or tapping for a number of years, and teach it to my coaching and psychotherapy clients. EFT is a scientifically proven acupressure technique that is self administered. It’s simple to do and calms the emotions and reduces stress. In other words, it’s a great way to tame the mind!

Here are some times you may want to consider using tapping:

When feeling very angry or disappointed in someone’s behavior.
When feeling overwhelmed with a big job or something new.
When procrastinating with any task.
When preparing to make a speech or presentation or public performance.
When you are having trouble forgiving yourself or someone else.

You may access information about EFT by clicking on the “Tapping Solutions” widget in the right column on this blog. You may also want to download the free eBook on the website, or order the movie that is featured there. If coaching for EFT interests you, you may contact me through the page at the top of the blog.  I also recommend a  Tapping Into Ultimate Success by Jack Canfield and Pamela Brunner.

I hope you will be empowered in finding solutions to tame your mind and to reach whatever goals you have in your life.

 

 

 

 

Listening: the Key to Connection

Recently I had surgery to remove a cataract from my right eye.  Despite feeling some jitters ahead of time, everything went smoothly.  My ophthalmologist and her staff had explained all the details, and I prepared for the procedure as instructed. Now while my eye heals, I am waiting to have the left eye done in a few weeks.

I’m fortunate in that I have not needed surgery for many years, and was struck by the developments in technology. When I walked into the OR, being in a Star Trek episode came to mind. The smooth and quick procedure reinforced that impression.

Several days later an acquaintance asked me how I was feeling. I opened my mouth to reply, and was startled by her saying, “You probably feel like…” and then went on at great length to tell me about her cataract surgery experience. Without missing a beat, she went on, not seeming to notice that I just nodded and smiled and had never responded to her question before she turned and addressed someone else.

I hadn’t really had a chance to respond. And more to the point, it seemed obvious to me that she wasn’t really interested.

This incident came to mind later when writing a report about building better relationships.  Often when someone tells me that a relationship fell apart because they “can’t communicate,” that may cover a lot of different meanings.

But I suspect from working with couples, that most often it means that someone, and often no one, is really listening.

The power of effective listening cannot be overestimated.

 “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
— 
Henri J.M. NouwenThe Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey

 

Most of us have been guilty of poor listening at some point. You know what I mean; you may see the other person’s lips moving, but you are busy thinking about what you want to say when they stop. Or you’re thinking about what great points or interesting experiences you have been reminded of. Or you have a funny story to tell. Or you can’t wait to tell them how right you are about an argument you are making. Or you’re bored or preoccupied and your mind is wandering and you really don’t have the faintest idea what they are talking about.

Being on the receiving end of that inattention doesn’t feel good.  Whether you intend it or not, what you are really communicating is that you don’t care about the other guy.  You are saying that she/he is unimportant to you. It can be the death knell of a relationship because you have failed to make the connection.

To help you succeed with learning better listening skills and in the process, improve relationships, I would suggest a few simple steps:

  • Maintain good eye contact with the speaker. You don’t have to stare, but look frequently and directly into their eyes.
  • Take care to reflect the expression and body language of the speaker.  Our body language needs to match up with the emotional tone of the conversation.
  • After the person pauses, reflect back to them what you hear them saying. Ask a question to make sure that you are picking up both the meaning of their words as well as their emotional experience.
  • Stay with them without changing the subject until they have finished talking.
  • Avoid the temptation to give advice, fix things, come up with solutions, etc. This is not always easy, especially when you have been reared to be a problem solver or healer. It is not always easy to just “be” with someone who is in emotional pain. Remember this is not your problem to solve!

The greatest gift that we can offer anyone is to be fully present with them.  And the way that we demonstrate that we are, is by careful listening.  As Stephen Covey wrote, “When you really listen to another person from their point of view, and reflect back to them that understanding, it is like giving them emotional oxygen.”

 

Making Connection

“With That Moon Language”
by Hafiz

Admit something

Everyone you see, you say to them
“Love me.”

Of course you do not do this out loud;
Otherwise,
Someone would call the cops.

Still though, think about this,
The great pull in us
To connect.

Why not become the one
Who lives with a full moon in each eye
That is always saying,

With that sweet moon
Language,

What every other eye in this world
Is dying to
Hear.

 

Source:  The Gift