Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Three Ways to Mix Mindfulness into Your Life

Three Ways to Mix Mindfulness into Your Life

At the risk of stating the obvious, in order for Balancer to keep us balanced, it’s helpful to do activities that explicitly promote … balance.

Mindfulness-based activities are at the top of the list. The term mindfulness, the state of being focused on the present moment, without judgement, has become part of the zeitgeist in the past several years, and for good reason.

The benefits of mindfulness-based activities are physical, emotional, and psychological. Mindfulness has been demonstrated to:

  • Relax muscles and decrease blood pressure
  • Reduce rumination, stress, anxiety, and emotional reactivity
  • Promote empathy and self-compassion
  • Improve working memory, focus, self-insight, and intuition

Mindfulness works, in part, because of changes that occur in the body and the brain. But over time, mindfulness also reminds us that we don’t have to keep riding every mental train we find ourselves on. When we notice we’ve been kidnapped by a thought, worry, emotion, physical sensation, or distraction, we can get off that train and return to the station.

Three basic ways to develop mindfulness include:

  1. Mindfulness-based activities. Imported from Eastern cultures, practices specifically developed to increase mindfulness include sitting and walking meditation, yoga, tai chi, and chi-gong.
  2. Recreational activities with a mindfulness intention. When practiced with a mindful, in-the-moment intention, activities such as running, working out, gardening, bicycling, and even motorcycling can promote mindfulness.
  3. Approaching mundane tasks with a mindfulness intention. Household chores such as washing the dishes, vacuuming, or folding laundry become a form of meditation when we allow ourselves to pay attention to the process of the task itself and our in-the-moment responses, rather than hurrying through it to get to the next thing.

Meditation is the easiest to describe fully in writing, but much of what I say here applies to other Eastern-based mindfulness practices, too

Many people think meditation is complicated or difficult, but it isn’t. It’s literally as simple as breathing, and a good place to begin meditating is with a three-breath meditation repeated throughout the day.

At a retreat I attended years ago, I was introduced to the concept of the Mindfulness Bell. At random times throughout each day, someone sounded a bell, and we all had to stop what we were doing and take three slow, abdominal breaths. (When you take an abdominal breath, your belly goes out when you inhale and in when you exhale, the opposite of how most of us breathe. The result is slower, deeper, more concentrated breathing.)

When the bell rang, we halted in mid-sentence, mid-stride, mid-chew, as if we were in a big game of freeze tag. At first this interruption annoyed me. I was in the midst of spiritual evolution, damn it! But by the time the retreat ended, I’d embraced these “interruptions.” Each time the bell sounded, I was able to stop what I was doing, saying, or thinking and reset. Did I need to be thinking or feeling what I was thinking and feeling? Did I want to do what I was about to do? Learning to be still in the midst of life, even briefly, helped me reevaluate these choices.

I have often recommended this three-breath meditation to clients, suggesting that they use any interrupting sound, such as a car horn or a phone’s ringing, as a substitute for the Mindfulness Bell.

The effects of this simple change can be revolutionary.

One client whose life was ruled by chaos found this practice to be more valuable than anything else we had done in therapy. At a street corner on the way to work, hearing the Mindfulness Bell of a car horn, she could think, “I don’t really want to waste my time partying tonight.” About to leave for a bar, pausing on the first ring of her cell phone, she could see how the evening would play out and decide, “Not this time.” Hearing a siren blare in the midst of pangs of guilt or shame, she could choose to forgive herself.

An anxious client found a Mindfulness Bell app for his smartphone and programmed it to ring randomly throughout the day. He was often on the road for his job, and while driving his mind inevitably went to worrying. When the bell rang, he took three breaths and allowed himself to return to a more centered place. Over time, not only did his anxiety lessen, but tuned in to his true desires and made major positive changes in his career and relationships.

I also continue this practice. When I step into my office and turn on my computer, I hear its Mindfulness Bell, pause for a moment, and imagine putting on an invisible jacket worn only by my best self. Brief meditations throughout the day help me shift gears between clients, return to center, and reinhabit that best self again and again.

Once you get the hang of the three-breath meditation, consider adding other forms of meditation to your day.

Sitting meditation is usually done with eyes closed, seated on a cushion or chair, in a quiet space. A breath-oriented meditation is one simple, time-honored approach. Focus on the intake and exhalation of each breath, imagining the air entering your body, expanding your lungs, and then leaving it as you exhale. If your attention drifts to something else, just gently bring it back to your breath. Sitting in the morning for 10-20 minutes helps to start the day in a more centered way, but if the mornings won’t work for you, any time of the day is okay.

Walking meditation is another way to reinforce mindfulness. Traditionally, it’s practiced by walking slowly back and forth or in a circle while focusing on the breath, the feeling of your feet touching and lifting from the ground, and the physical sensations you take in from your surroundings. However, if you have a regular walk you take recreationally, or even a short walk from the parking lot to your job, you can do these in the same mindful manner with the same centering effects.

Mindful recreation. Applying mindful attention to an activity like swimming or running can generate the same restorative and balance-enhancing effects as walking meditation. I recommend starting first with mindful walking, and then, when you feel comfortable with the cycle of losing attention and restoring it, experiment with translating this mindful approach to your chosen activity.

Mindful attitude. Another easy way to incorporate mindfulness into you life is to perform daily tasks with a mindful attitude. Taking a shower, brushing your teeth, and eating, if done without distraction and with a focus on your actual actions, can become a regular mindfulness practice. Even chores, done mindfully, can become centering meditations.

The “washing the dishes” meditation is often suggested by meditation teachers and is one I do myself. As a child, my brother Mike and I did most of the household chores, including washing dishes and putting them away, and as a result I’ve never much liked that task. So I’ve turned it into a meditation. I let the dishes pile up during the day and then wash them deliberately at night. I pay attention to the sound of the running water, the feel of the soap and sponge, the transformation of each dish from dirty to clean. The dish washing takes the same few minutes as it would if I were listening to music, thinking about what else I wanted to do that evening, or just pushing through an unpleasant chore. But instead of feeling slightly agitated during or afterward, as I once did, now I feel relaxed and refreshed.

Not long ago, I discovered that this specific meditation had potential side benefits. I was working with an anxious 12-year-old boy, the oldest of several siblings. His parents wanted me to teach him to meditate. So we tried sitting meditation, but he couldn’t sit still. We tried walking meditation, but he found it boring. Then I thought of dish-washing meditation. I gathered up the few cups and dishes in my office and put them in the sink, and I had him toss in a few of the washable toys. “Now,” I said, “squirt some dish soap on the sponge, and I’ll show you how to do dish-washing meditation.” I explained the process and for about five minutes he carefully and attentively washed the dishes and the toys. As he dried the last dish, he turned to me and said he felt much calmer. Then he added, gleefully, “And my mother will love this! I have a big family, and we have a lot of dirty dishes!”

Try turning any chore you regularly have to do, but don’t much care for, into a meditation and you may experience the same mini-transformation – and perhaps also the same glee!

What to do:

  • Mindfulness practices. Try an Eastern-based practice designed to enhance mindfulness such as sitting or walking meditation, yoga, tai chi, or chi-gong. These practices have been demonstrated to reduce stress and anxiety, improve focus, relax the body, and increase resilience. Consider starting with a simple three-breath meditation, as described above.
  • Mindful recreation. If you are already a runner, swimmer, walker, bicyclist, or participate in another recreational activity, approaching what you already do with a mindfulness attitude will generate many of the same beneficial effects as a mindfulness practice such as walking meditation. Pay attention to each moment and, if you find yourself drifting, bring your attention back to the present. Then rinse, lather, and repeat (as they used to say on shampoo bottles).
  • Mindful chores. Instead of just powering through daily tasks and chores, practice mindful dish washing, vacuuming, laundry folding, tooth brushing, and notice the subtle benefits, both in the moment and over time.

COMING NEXT: Keep Your Sanity with the Personal Craziness Index

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
The Experiment
How to Design an Experiment
Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps
How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps
How to Boost Connections and Support
How to Handle Change with Ease
Three Ways to Mix Mindfulness into Your Life

Books:
From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
DREAMS: “None of us has the nine lives of the proverbial cat, but we can fully exploit this one’s possibilities by remembering the dreams of our youth and using them as a beacon to show us who we really are and what we can look forward to becoming.

PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

NOTE: Paths to Wholeness is now available at the following Boston-area bookstores and libraries:

Cabot Street Books & Cards, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA 01915
The Bookshop, 40 West Street, Beverly Farms, MA 01915
Boston Public Library (main branch)
Brookline Public Library (main branch)
NOBLE Public Libraries (Beverly Farms and Salem)
MVLC Public Libraries (Hamilton-Wenham)

Please let me know if you find it in other locations!

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
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http://ift.tt/2ospoC2
http://ift.tt/2osp7Pj

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

How to Handle Change with Ease

How to Handle Change with Ease

Emotional adaptability is the ability to respond to changing circumstances and events without being unduly shaken by these changes. It’s a Balancer characteristic and a key component of resilience. Those of us who are emotionally adaptable can bend with the wind, like saplings. Those of us who are less adaptable are likely to strain and crack as we struggle to maintain equilibrium.

Emotional adaptability varies from person to person and can also be impacted by life events. Most of us are less emotionally adaptable when we are under constant or unusual stress. Those of us raised in a rigid environment, with fixed ideas of how we or the world works, may also be less adaptable. Being attached to expectations of ourselves, others, or how things ought to be also limits emotional adaptability.

The good news is that there are many ways to become more adept at responding to change.

Some of the best strategies for enhancing emotional adaptability include practices that promote an accepting attitude, increase compassion and self-compassion, and enable forgiveness and self-forgiveness. Creative activities and an experimental attitude are also helpful in increasing our adaptability to change.

Radical Acceptance

Although chronic stress, adversity, and other actions of the UnBalancer can sometimes make us more emotionally rigid, for many of us the most persistent obstacle to emotional adaptability is difficulty with accepting things as they are.

When we don’t accept how things really are, we live in a false reality that we must constantly defend against the evidence. We may become preoccupied with a hypothetical future, worried that things won’t turn out the way we hope, or stuck in the past, consumed by resentments over things not turning out as we wanted them to.

When we’re struggling to defend this alternate reality, we have fewer resources to deal with what’s actually at hand. We’re too busy rebuilding our imagined reality to go with the flow, respond with compassion, or see the humor in our own situation.

In the absence of acceptance, there can be little or no forward movement. We grow older, and the external circumstances of our lives still change, but we can’t embrace them. As the Talking Heads put it, inside our heads it’s “the same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was.”

Buddhist teacher Tara Brach recommends what she calls Radical Acceptance as a way to open ourselves to present reality. Radical acceptance means fully accepting our situations, feelings, limitations, and strengths. Radical acceptance is a prerequisite to meaningful change. As pioneering psychologist Carl Rogers observed, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” Tara Brach adds, “When we can meet our experience with Radical Acceptance, we discover the wholeness, wisdom and love that are our deepest nature.”

When we accept things as they are, we don’t have to struggle against their reality. We can radically accept our bodies, our pasts, our peers, our partners, our children, and the strengths and limitations of our own personalities, and then we can choose to try to change what can be changed, and to embrace what cannot.

Radical acceptance is a balm for difficult emotions such as envy, resentment, and frustration. We accept our present circumstances and what has led up to them, and we understand that railing against them won’t change anything. Radical acceptance is also an antidote to the lingering pain of misfortune. When we radically accept our losses, we are more open to the possible gains that may come from them. Then we can move on, recovered.

Radical acceptance can be as complex as accepting a traumatic loss or catastrophic event, or as simple as accepting the weather.

An example: I’ve lived in the U.S. Northeast most of my life. Here, the winters can be harsh. I have never liked cold weather or snow, and I’ve never been drawn to winter sports. Each year, as the days shorten and the nights grow longer, I have felt a sense of dread as winter approaches and a great sense of relief when I finally put away the snow shovel and hang up my winter coat. But this past winter just was. Autumn flowed into winter as it always does, and this time I was fine with it.

The weather acceptance switch flipped the previous summer during a meeting of the Buddhist study group I belong to. On an extraordinarily hot and humid evening, as we began our walking meditation, I was struggling with the discomfort of my shirt sticking to my back and the sweat beading on my forehead. Then our teacher said, “This is heat.” As we walked in silence, I pondered his observation, feeling into the reality of the present moment, and something shifted. The rest of that evening, and for all the other hot days that summer, heat was simply heat, not something to be dreaded or avoided. When the cold set in this winter, I thought, “This is cold.” When the snow fell, “This is snow.” When it melted, “This is Spring.” And as the summer heat approaches again, I remember, “This is heat.”

When we radically accept something, we don’t judge it. We don’t get angry, we don’t try to fight it, and we don’t resent it. We simply recognize that this is how it is, freeing up all the energy we might otherwise have expended on judging, fighting, anger, or resentment. Then we can take in, with renewed openness, whatever comes our way.

For more on Radical Acceptance, see Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha.

Compassion and Self-Compassion

Like Radical Acceptance, developing a compassionate attitude toward ourselves and others promotes emotional adaptability and increases responsiveness to our present reality.

Self-compassion is a term coined by psychologist Kristin Neff to describe extending to yourself the compassion you would feel for a good friend or someone you love.

Dr. Neff’s description of compassion and self-compassion is as eloquent and complete as any I have seen. “Having compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others,” she writes. “Think about what the experience of compassion feels like. First, to have compassion for others you must notice that they are suffering. If you ignore that homeless person on the street, you can’t feel compassion for how difficult his or her experience is. Second, compassion involves feeling moved by others’ suffering so that your heart responds to their pain (the word compassion literally means to ‘suffer with’). When this occurs, you feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way. Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Finally, when you feel compassion for another (rather than mere pity), it means that you realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience. ‘There but for fortune go I.’

“Self-compassion,” she continues, “involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality, you stop to tell yourself ‘this is really difficult right now, how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?’”

Self-compassion is one of the most powerful tools for reducing critical self-talk. When we are compassionate toward ourselves, we don’t give ourselves a hard time and we don’t push our vulnerable feelings aside and “suck it up.” Instead, we treat our difficult emotions as if they were a baby crying inside us and do whatever we need in order to attend to it.

Practicing self-compassion helps us become more responsive not only to our own needs, but also to the needs of others. Released from the tyranny of our inner critics, we become more able to blossom into our full selves and, ironically, less self-centered and more compassionate toward others. We have more of ourselves to give away.

Extending compassion to others also enhances our emotional adaptability. Giving to others lets us become our best selves, even when we feel depleted. This principle underlies healing practices in many indigenous cultures, where the shaman chooses a sickly boy to become his apprentice. The boy becomes strong through healing his people, but he must continue to heal others in order to stay healthy himself.

In my work as a psychotherapist, I have found this healing/healer link also to be true. Regardless of what is going on in my life, when I get to my office and put on my imaginary “therapist jacket,” I become my best self, doing what I can to attend to the needs of my clients. Because I have been that best self all day, by evening the troubles of the morning have become smaller and more manageable. And the next day, I often awaken a little more emotionally adaptable, not only to my clients, but also to myself.

For more on self-compassion, including a quick test of your level of self-compassion, see Kristin Neff’s site self-compassion.org.

Forgiveness and Self-Forgiveness

Like acceptance and compassion, the ability to forgive ourselves and others can free us from what Romantic poet William Blake called “mind-forged manacles” – in this case, feelings such as anger, hatred, resentment, guilt, shame, and victimization. Liberation from these feelings through forgiveness can help us be more available in the present moment and more adaptable to its ever-changing conditions.

Forgiveness, however is sometimes difficult to achieve.

Some obstacles to forgiving are easy to understand. Forgiveness is hardest when there is ongoing harm. Before we can offer forgiveness, we must be safe; before we can ask to be forgiven, we must stop doing harm. Forgiveness is also challenging when injuries haven’t healed. Unhealed wounds can lock us into a pattern of attracting others who hurt us again, or they can imprison us in a self-protective shell that keeps out not only potential harm, but also healing.

But for many of us, the chief impediment to forgiveness is unwillingness. Our culture glorifies an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” tradition that spans millennia. Forgiveness – forgiving others, seeking forgiveness, even forgiving ourselves – is seen as weakness. If we have been hurt, we may feel, we should punish those who harmed us, and if we cannot, we should at least punish them in our hearts. If we have harmed others, we may feel that we should punish ourselves, hoping that self-punishment will prevent us from harming again.

Releasing ourselves from these vengeful emotions through forgiveness may seem unfamiliar and unsafe. But actually, refusing to forgive ourselves doesn’t guarantee we will not harm again, nor does refusing to forgive others punish those who have harmed us. Withholding forgiveness merely uses up energy that could be put to more life-affirming purposes.

Forgiving my father for our lifelong estrangement began with a dream I had several years after his death and concluded when I realized, finally, that I was no longer afflicted by what had been damaging in our relationship. I could then regard him with compassion, understand how his difficulties and limitations had shaped him, and forgive him for his part in our conflicts – and myself, for mine.

The most helpful tool I’ve encountered for fostering forgiveness is a Buddhist meditation popularized by psychologist and teacher Jack Kornfield. Within the safety of the meditation, it instructs us first to feel the pain of keeping our hearts closed and then offers gentle steps for opening them just enough to ask for forgiveness from those we have harmed, to forgive ourselves, and to forgive those who have harmed us. Cautioning that forgiveness may come slowly and cannot be forced, the meditation encourages a gradual letting go of the burdens of unforgiven acts, with each iteration lightening our load just a little, like a sigh of relief.

For more on forgiveness and self-forgiveness, see the “Forgiveness” chapter in my book Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas and Jack Kornfield’s Forgiveness Mediation.

Creative Approach

Creative activities – and the creative approach to life that often accompanies them – can also help us become more emotionally adaptable.

Creative activities are rewarding as outlets for self-expression. They feel good, they are centering, and they give us a sense of accomplishment. And they’re often fun! But besides these more obvious benefits, creative activities can also change the way we approach our lives.

When we work creatively, we dive deep. We pause, look at what we are making, check inside and ask “Is this working?” and then bring up something of value that we might otherwise never have discovered. As we pause/look/check/incorporate, we create something new and authentic.

Because our brains get better at doing whatever they do, the more we practice diving deep, the better we get at it. Regularly doing creative activities often leads to a more general diving deep, allowing us to become more proficient at sensing and incorporating the less obvious aspects of ourselves and the world around us. This increased facility for sensing and responding to the whole of our present circumstances makes us more aware of ourselves and our surroundings, and more adept at adapting to change.

When we make the effort to check in with our deeper natures, we also tend to forge ahead more surely. If we look only at our superficial thoughts and feelings, and we try to make a change, it’s as if we are trying to move an iceberg by pushing on the tip. We may manage to lean it over, but it will eventually spring back. Diving deep allows us to travel below the water’s surface in our mental/emotional submarine, where we can take in the whole iceberg, home in on its center of gravity, and exert our efforts exactly there. The movement that results may be smaller, but what moves stays moved.

I see this dive-deep/move-forward-surely process often in therapy. Clients who tend to make the most profound changes may begin a session by simply describing a situation. But then they pause, check in with some murkier, less clear part of themselves, and bring to the surface what they find. For instance, they may begin by describing a situation that made them angry. “When he did that,” they might say, “I was so mad that…” And then they pause. “Well, it wasn’t just that I was mad. I got mad, but really, I was hurt.” Then we can deal not only with the surface feeling of anger, but also with the deeper feeling of hurt that triggered it.

Engaging in a creative hobby can not only train the brain, but can lead to changes in what we do with our lives. A friend in the construction business for most of his career began to create small oil paintings a couple of years ago. He found the practice centering, calming, and self-reflective, so much so that now he is taking the necessary steps to become a professional artist – a reinvention.

If you’re already doing something creative, keep doing it! If not, experiment with different art forms. Begin with the forms of creativity you enjoy taking in. If you like to read, consider writing. If you like to listen to music, consider learning to play an instrument and/or composing. If you like to look at art, consider painting, photography, sculpture, pottery. If you like movies, consider acting – or making movies yourself. If you enjoy walking in gardens, consider starting one.

One of the best books on living more creatively is Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. For specific training in diving deep, both in life and in creative activities, see Eugene Gendlin’s work with Focusing at focusing.org and his concise handbook on the technique of Focusing, Focusing.

Experimental Attitude

As discussed in more depth in another post, maintaining an experimental attitude toward life keeps us more open to experiences and to other people and helps us be more resilient in the face of difficulties.

Acceptance frees us from unrealistic hope and unwarranted anxiety, self-compassion from self-criticism, and forgiveness from the weight of unforgiving.

Relieved of these burdens, we are more able to adopt an experimental attitude. We can face our lives with open minds, seeing them as ongoing experiments. When things shift in unanticipated ways, we can say, “That was my path, but this is my path now,” adapting to the present moment as it arrives. Instead of conforming to the limits of past patterns, we can try things out, see what happens, and adjust our view of reality – and our next steps – accordingly.

An experimental attitude gives our ReBalancers the power to craft new strategies on the fly whenever new challenges occur. These new strategies, once created, cannot be uncreated. They are always there, ready whenever we need them, helping us to feel confident that we can handle whatever unknowns life (and UnBalancer) hands us with curiosity, resourcefulness, and equanimity.

For more on the experimental attitude, see the blog posts The Experiment and How to Design an Experiment.

What to do:

  • Radically accept. The most essential step to adapting to change is to accept the change itself and your own responses to it. Accept who you are and your present circumstances and free up the energy that might otherwise be exhausted through struggling against reality. See Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha to more fully explore Radical Acceptance as a way of life.
  • Be compassionate and self-compassionate. Treat yourself with the compassion you would have for a dear friend and you will quiet your inner critic and also find yourself more able to respond authentically to change and to the needs of others. See Kristin Neff’s website self-compassion.org for more on self-compassion, and take her quick test to check out your own self-compassion level.
  • Forgive and self-forgive. To break free of the burden of what Romantic poet William Blake called “mind-forged manacles” such as anger, hatred, resentment, guilt, shame, and victimization, practice slowly forgiving yourself and others with Jack Kornfield’s Forgiveness Mediation. For more on forgiveness and self-forgiveness, see the “Forgiveness” chapter in my book Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas.
  • Create and dive deep. To train your brain to respond more fully to yourself and your surroundings, do something creative on a regular basis, then practice applying the dive-deep/move-forward-surely process of creative work to your daily life. See Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity for more on living creatively and Eugene Gendlin’s book Focusing for a way to integrate subconscious needs, wants, and desires into your conscious self.
  • Experiment. Maintain an experimental attitude toward life to stay open to experiences and to other people, and to grow ever more resilient in the face of difficulties. Experience your life as an ongoing experiment, rather than as a fixed path. For more on experiments and the experimental attitude, see the blog posts The Experiment and How to Design an Experiment.

COMING NEXT: 

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
The Experiment
How to Design an Experiment
Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps
How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps
How to Boost Connections and Support
How to Handle Change with Ease

Books:
From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
COURAGE: “The difference between those who successfully reach the end of their Hero’s Journeys and those who do not isn’t better opportunities, more strength, or superior allies, but the courage to get up and try again, even when the odds seem insurmountable and discouragement feels overwhelming.”

PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

NOTE: Paths to Wholeness is now available at the following Boston-area bookstores and libraries:

Cabot Street Books & Cards, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA 01915
The Bookshop, 40 West Street, Beverly Farms, MA 01915
Boston Public Library (main branch)
Brookline Public Library (main branch)
NOBLE Public Libraries (Beverly Farms and Salem)
MVLC Public Libraries (Hamilton-Wenham)

Please let me know if you find it in other locations!

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://ift.tt/2oskRQ1
http://ift.tt/2ospoC2
http://ift.tt/2osp7Pj

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Strive for Excellence, Not Perfection

The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

 

My father was a storekeeper and the son of working-class immigrants. He wanted his children to do better than he had, and he believed the gateway to a successful life was education. Consequently, he held me, his firstborn, to high academic standards. This meant I had to get A’s, and to earn my father’s approval I abandoned many other activities so I could focus on schoolwork. By the time I completed high school, I had achieved a perfect average and was class valedictorian, but I’d learned very little about many other important aspects of life.

The roots of the drive for perfection are spread wide and go deep. The ancient Greeks saw perfection as necessary for beauty and high art. Buddhists are encouraged to practice the Six Perfections as part of the path to enlightenment. St. Matthew exhorted, “Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Our culture’s idealization of perfection extends beyond religion, philosophy, and art. Our leaders should be perfect (George Washington never told a lie, Abe Lincoln walked miles to return a penny). The media projects images of perfect skin, perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect bodies, and perfect lives, and offers us products to attain them.

Many of us see perfectionism as a motivator. Certainly, striving for excellence has characterized people who have made important contributions in the arts, sciences, philosophy, law, spirituality, athletics, and many other fields. But striving for excellence and perfectionism are not synonymous. Those who strive for excellence do their best and see setbacks as challenges, defeats as learning opportunities. Perfectionists, on the other hand, get their self-esteem from “perfect” behavior, appearance, and accomplishments. When they fail to achieve a goal or to conform to often unrealistic standards, they feel defective and ashamed.

Perfectionists are more often paralyzed, not motivated, by perfectionism. They can be plagued by envy when they see someone doing “better” than they’re doing, or they can languish in a state of potential, hating themselves for failing to achieve anything “important” but unable to choose a path because they might be unsuccessful.

A less extreme symptom of perfectionism afflicts people who avoid being seen in public unless their appearance is “perfect.” When they do find a spot on their clothing, a mark on their face, or some other “defect,” they may spend hours, even days, reviewing every contact they had that day, worrying that someone might have noticed this “imperfection.”

If you see a tendency toward perfectionism – you work too hard at something that may be impossible, worry excessively about how others might perceive you, beat yourself up for minor missteps, avoid challenges because you’re afraid you won’t handle them perfectly – try the following:

1. Record the thought. Write a sentence that captures your basic perfectionistic belief. For example, “If I’m not perfect, I am nothing,” or “If I make a mistake, I’ll lose everything.”

2. Question the belief. Is this belief always true, not only for you but also for other people? Where did this belief come from? Does it contribute to your well-being?

3. Create an affirmation. Create a counter-statement that more accurately describes your reality. Effective affirmations ring true, but they come from a gentler, more sympathetic place. For example, if you catch yourself thinking “If I’m not perfect, I’m nothing,” you can substitute an affirmation such as “I don’t have to be perfect to be loved and happy.” If your initial try at an affirmation doesn’t feel credible, change it to something that does. For instance, “I’m not perfect, but I’m still okay, and I’m working on getting better” carries a hint of perfectionism, but it also has an optimistic spin. A little different is enough to disrupt the perfectionist pattern and make an opening for change.

The ultimate antidote to perfectionism is self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is taking stock of things as they are and allowing them to just be. It is letting go of strivings, regrets, and self-recrimination. It is saying, “Whatever is, is. Whatever has been, has been. This is who and where I am now.” With self-acceptance, we can comfortably follow Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice: “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could.”

Those of us who tend toward perfectionism may not want to give it up entirely. Choosing to do a few things “perfectly” can be satisfying in ways that trying to wholly conform to perfectionistic standards is not. For example, I freely indulge my desire to keep my computer functioning “perfectly” and to tinker with a photograph until it’s “perfect.” I know that perfecting these things takes more of the limited time I have on the planet than is really necessary, but I’m okay with that. We don’t have to avoid perfectionism… perfectly.

From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

NOTE: Paths to Wholeness is now available at the following Boston-area bookstores and libraries:

Cabot Street Books & Cards, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA 01915
The Bookshop, 40 West Street, Beverly Farms, MA 01915
Boston Public Library (main branch)
Brookline Public Library (main branch)
NOBLE Public Libraries (Beverly Farms and Salem)
MVLC Public Libraries (Hamilton-Wenham)

Please let me know if you find it in other locations!

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://ift.tt/2oskRQ1
http://ift.tt/2ospoC2
http://ift.tt/2osp7Pj

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

How to Boost Connections and Support

How to Boost Connections and Support

For most of us, UnBalancer flourishes when we’re isolated. We are social animals, and separation from others weakens our ability not only to thrive, but sometimes even to survive.

Ostracism – being ignored and excluded – threatens our basic need for belonging. In other mammals, being ostracized removes the individual from the protection of the pack and usually results in death from predators or starvation. Human beings are hard-wired to fear ostracism, so much so that in experiments where researchers create games in which the participants’ avatars are rejected by the other players’ avatars, participants feel anxiety and depression even when they know that the other avatars are actually computer simulations.

Establishing and maintaining close relationships, on the other hand, makes us more resilient. A network of connections – friendships, family, support groups, spiritual groups, and group activities that validate our interests and identities – not only enrich our day-to-day lives, but they also keep us steady when things get rough. It’s as if each connection is a guy wire, bracing us when UnBalancer huffs and puffs and tries to blow our houses down.

However, connections are not just a numbers game. It’s important that our relationships are actually supportive. For many of us, that’s a no-brainer. But for others, a crucial component of building a more resilient environment is discerning who, in our circles of friends, family, and associates, is an ally of our true selves, and who may actually be an ally of the UnBalancer.

Those of us who grew up with strong social supports and positive mirroring of who we are tend to recreate these positive-reinforcing relationships throughout our teenage and adult years. We almost automatically choose friends and romantic partners who are reciprocal in their relationships with us, and we feel buoyed up by our affinity groups.

But those of us who grew up with dysfunction in our relationships with family or friends may subtly replicate this dysfunction in later relationships. It’s as if, instead of being surrounded by mirrors that accurately inform us of who we are as individuals and in relationship to others, our views of ourselves were shaped by circus mirrors. This distorted mirroring then, unconsciously, shapes our future connections.

For example, people who grow up with a narcissistic parent who offers only conditional love may choose narcissistic friends, employers, or romantic partners who treat them the same way, leaving them always feeling “never good enough” no matter how hard they try. Or they may become “people pleasers,” always doing for others but seldom letting others know what they, themselves, need. Those who grow up isolated from their peers due to prejudice, economic disadvantage, temperament, or other differences often come to see themselves as “outsiders.” Later in life, they often continue to find it hard to integrate themselves into groups.

As we grow aware that we may be repeating old, dysfunctional patterns in our newer relationships, we need to redefine them, if possible – or end them, if they can’t change. We may need to assert our needs more directly, set our boundaries more explicitly, and reconsider the relative benefits and costs of maintaining some of our friendships and family connections. We may also need to build new relationships with people who support our true selves and to learn to discern whether we’re repeating an old relationship pattern or experiencing something new and life-affirming.

What to do:

  • Get rid of the crazy makers in your life. Notice whether some of the people you have surrounded yourself with are more of a drain than they are a support. See if you can shift the balance, and if you can’t, consider distancing yourself from these relationships.
  • Water the seeds of connection. We all get busy, but a quick text, email, or phone call keeps the lines of connection open and increases the pull of nurturing, face-to-face reunions with friends and family.
  • Reevaluate people who are on the sidelines, but who possess a generous, helpful nature. See if you can deepen these relationships. Arrange to spend more time together and explore the potential of these connections.
  • Participate in activities you enjoy doing. Current friends not interested in the things you love, such as hiking, photography, travel? Head out on your own, and open yourself to meeting new people who share your interests. Meetup.com groups, spiritual communities such as churches and temples, and recreational groups all provide opportunities for expanding connection. Look into physical fitness classes or day trips sponsored by town recreation departments or community centers. Take a cooking class at the local Adult Education organization. Check out lectures and presentations at public libraries or community colleges in your own or surrounding towns. Join a camera club. Choose activities that you’ll enjoy on your own but also may attract like-minded, like-spirited potential friends.
  • Create affinity groups. Can’t find a group that is interested in something you’d rather not do alone? Create one! Reach out to your friends and social media contacts and see who else shares your interest, or start a Meetup.com group of your own. Anything goes! One friend mentioned her interest in cribbage on her Facebook page and several people outside her inner circle responded with enthusiasm, whether or not they had played the game before. Another started a monthly “gaming night.” I began an artist group that’s still running strong. The next step is easy – schedule a time, a place, and the snack! You only need a few participants to form a core group.

COMING NEXT: How to Be More Emotionally Adaptable

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
The Experiment
How to Design an Experiment
Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps
How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps
How to Boost Connections and Support

Books:
From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
COURAGE: “The most profound form of courage is the willingness to face deeply entrenched fears and self-limiting beliefs and to move beyond them: to see obstacles not as roadblocks but as opportunities for growth. This is how we transition from surviving to thriving, victim to victor.”

PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

NOTE: Paths to Wholeness is now available at the following Boston-area bookstores and libraries:

Cabot Street Books & Cards, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA 01915
The Bookshop, 40 West Street, Beverly Farms, MA 01915
Boston Public Library (main branch)
Brookline Public Library (main branch)
NOBLE Public Libraries (Beverly Farms and Salem)
MVLC Public Libraries (Hamilton-Wenham)

Please let me know if you find it in other locations!

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://ift.tt/2oskRQ1
http://ift.tt/2ospoC2
http://ift.tt/2osp7Pj

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps

How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps


One of the most powerful resilience-building, Balancer-enhancing strategies is to consciously look for growth opportunities in experiences – to seek the silver lining in the cloud.

Looking for the growth opportunity in the struggle makes it possible for us to find it. Difficulties become, as a friend of mine puts it, “just an AFGOAnother F***ing Growth Opportunity.” Thinking of struggles as AFGOs allows us to accept, in a tongue-in-cheek but still meaningful way, that positive change can emerge from negative experiences.

When we go through difficult times asking questions like “What can I learn from this?” and “How can going through this make me a better person?” we gain leverage on our problems, and it becomes much harder for UnBalancer to unseat us. Instead of being knocked off course, we see obstacles as challenges and grow more resilient by overcoming them.

A close cousin of the AFGO is learning to condition our minds to pay equal attention to the positive.

Neuroscientists have determined that our brains contain twice as many cells that respond to threats as they do cells that process positive experiences, and that these threat-detecting cells respond about 10 times as quickly. Consequently, a stimulus we perceive as threatening has a disproportionately strong impact. Powerful experiences form much stronger memories, and the repetition of stronger responses and more vivid memories of perceived threats creates a cycle that reinforces a negative bias.

Our negative bias was once essential for survival. All protohumans could safely eat something that tasted good and could ignore the movements of familiar creatures. But if something tasted rotten, only those who immediately spit it out were likely to escape food poisoning, and only those who responded swiftly to a rustling in the brush avoided being eaten by predators. Our negatively biased early ancestors survived to produce offspring, while those who failed to react quickly enough to possible threats didn’t make it.

Our modern brains respond similarly to those of our ancestors. We, too, immediately sense when something tastes off, but we can eat an entire meal without even realizing we’ve consumed it. And we, too, quickly react to our modern-day predators – other drivers – but can miss our turnpike exit when we are lost in thought or absorbed in music or conversation.

Were it limited only to quick responses to actual threats, this negative bias would still serve us reasonably well as an aid to survival. The problem, however, is that our negative bias also makes it difficult to fully take in the positive aspects of our much safer world, and it can prevent us from fully enjoying it. If a toe hurts, we may not notice that we are otherwise healthy. If we suffer a loss, we can lose track not only of all we still have, but also of what we are continuing to receive. Our hard-wired, “better safe than sorry” bias often contributes to low-level pessimism. Even when things are going well, we may think, “Things are okay now, but wait until the other shoe drops.”

To recalibrate our brains, we need to update our programming to take into account the relative safety of our present surroundings. By training ourselves to pay as much attention to the positives as we do to the negatives, we can rewire the brain to have a more positive, and more satisfying, bias.

The difference between a negative and a more balanced bias came to me most clearly during a brief conversation with one of the monks who led a Buddhist retreat I went to many years ago.

We sat together on a hillside overlooking the dining hall and ate our lunches while I talked with him about feelings of hurt, betrayal, and despair that followed the difficult ending of a long relationship. My UnBalancer was having a field day with the attention I’d been giving these events and the injuries that resulted from them.

“I understand your feelings,” the young monk said, “but this way of looking at love is too limited. You think it comes only from these people, and now it is gone. But love comes from many places.” He held out his sandwich. “The baker who made this bread shows us love. Yes, it is his business, but the bread is very good and there is love in it. And there are the trees and the grass. They give us oxygen – without them we could not live.” He looked up at the sky. “And the sun gives us warmth.”

As he continued to point out human and non-human sources of love, I felt a shift inside. Until that moment, the idea that “the universe loves us” had seemed so abstract it was meaningless. But now, listening to this young man as he took in the love of the cosmos, I vicariously experienced his gratitude, and I carry these feelings with me to this day.

Because it goes against the grain of our innate wiring, watering the seeds of a more balanced bias takes work – but it’s worth the effort. Simple everyday practices can help. We can start to focus only on eating our food instead of looking at social media or the newspaper while we dine. We can turn off the radio on a long trip and experience the world we’re passing through. We can pause long enough, when we receive a compliment, to let the positive feedback settle into our being. Small changes such as these help us to move beyond the programming that our ancestors evolved in their more hazardous world so we can thrive in the one we live in now.

What to do:

  • Smell the roses. Eat the raisin. Literally. Negative stimuli hit us 10 times as fast and twice as hard as positive ones. To even things out, take the time to fully absorb the things that taste or smell good, feel nice, sound pleasing. Literally take in the smells of flowers, fragrances, foods. Pay attention to the sound of a friend’s laugh. Feel the textures of the objects you touch throughout the day – a partner’s skin, the glassy screen of your smartphone, your own hair. An exercise: Eat a single raisin as slowly as you can. Feel its texture, notice its color, smell its scent, and chew it slowly until it liquefies, savoring the flavor and the mouth feel. Then try this again, but with something in your refrigerator.
  • Look for the growth opportunities in everything. See difficulties as teachers. Whether we like it or not, all difficult experiences can become AFGOs. Develop the habit of evaluating the growth opportunities in everything that comes your way. The path from victim to victor is through seeking out and embracing opportunities for growth. Crazy traffic on the commute to work? A learning opportunity for patience. An illness that could be serious? An opportunity to learn to deal with uncertainty. An annoying co-worker who can’t stop talking? Another opportunity for learning patience – or for honing your assertiveness skills. And so on, with experiences from the most trivial to the most challenging.
  • Create gratitude lists. Frequently. Grateful people are generally more satisfied with their lives and relationships, cope better with difficulties, and are more generous, empathetic, and self-accepting. A simple but effective tool for promoting a grateful perspective is the gratitude list. It’s a way to reinforce the reality that whatever we may lack, we also have many things for which to be grateful. We may not have all the wealth we want, the health we want, the relationships we want, the things we want, but when we list what we do have, we have a lot. When you make a gratitude list, be open to including anything at all that you feel grateful for. A 50-item gratitude list I created for a chapter in my book Paths to Wholeness starts with “Being alive” and ends with “Popsicles!”

COMING NEXT: How to Boost Connections and Support

P.S. Paths to Wholeness is now available at the following Boston-area bookstores and libraries:

Cabot Street Books & Cards, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA 01915
The Bookshop, 40 West Street, Beverly Farms, MA 01915
Boston Public Library (main branch)
Brookline Public Library (main branch)
NOBLE Public Libraries (Beverly Farms and Salem)
MVLC Public Libraries (Hamilton-Wenham)

Please let me know if you find it in other libraries!

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
The Experiment
How to Design an Experiment
Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps
How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps

Books:
From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
“At times I still hover at the threshold of positive change, uncertain which way to go. Yet I also continue to deeply sense parts of myself that have been waiting for a lifetime to be listened to and acted on. When these parts awaken from their slumber, the effect is as breathtaking as the sun rising on a new day.”
– “Change”
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://ift.tt/2oskRQ1
http://ift.tt/2ospoC2
http://ift.tt/2osp7Pj