5 Steps to Happiness Through Xin – Heart & Mind

Heather Edwards HappinessThe quest for health and happiness today seems like an uphill battle. Each day, the national and international issues gracing our headlines challenge the equilibrium of our hearts and soul. Breaking news alerts of yet another terrorist attack, policemen murdered in cold blood, and the battle between Trump and Clinton for the White House burdens our psyche, sending shock waves through our collective central nervous system. It’s unnerving and overtime, with repeated acts of horror and chaos, it depresses our sense of peace, love, and hope for a better tomorrow.

We’re further misaligned by our own personal demons. Whether it’s illness, relationships, or finances each of us has a complexity of individual struggles. At times, it’s overwhelming.

Let’s go back to base camp. Hit the reset button. Clear your mind of the negativity that surrounds you. Refocus. Try these five basic acts of goodness for your body and mind to revisit the quest for health and happiness in the short and long term…

  1. Honor your body. When you need rest, rest. When you need hydration, hydrate. When you need movement, move. Ignoring your basic physical needs leads to illness overtime. Sleep cleanses the neural pathways in your brain. Water cleanses your blood stream of toxins. Healthy meals provide essential nutrients to your organs, muscles, and bones that keep them strong. Don’t skip meals because you’re too busy.
  1. Surround yourself with people who lift you up. Healthy relationships support healthy lives. You need to feel supported, loved, and connected to those around you. Get inspired. People who dream, aspire, and grow help you do the same. Shed the toxic relationships in your life. They will inadvertently kill you through negativity and stress. 
  1. Focus on gratitude. Noticing what you already have creates a sense of peace in your life. When you stay focused on the positive, you naturally shape your entire outlook toward the good around you. The way you think affects the way you feel. The way you feel affects the way to behave. The way you behave affects your character. So who and how do you want to be?Heather Edwards Happiness
  1. Get out into nature. There is evidence that staring at a tree reduces anxiety. It takes you out of your head and into the moment. Nature is awe inspiring. That’s an expansive, open, gracious experience. Go to the beach, look at a flower, google pictures of a mountain. It’s calming and can reset your mindset.
  1. Mindfulness = Heartfulness. Be truly present. In Chinese, heart and mind are the same word – xin. It is believed that if we are functioning with an open mind, we are also functioning from the heart. When you let go of opinions, wants, and judgements you experience freedom. Approach each moment with curiosity, openness, and generosity. Accept the reality of what is, instead of fighting against what you already know to be true.  Just be.

These actions won’t directly change the circumstances of your life, but they will change your relationship to them. Just a moment of peace, love, and joy each day cumulatively strengthens your body and psyche. In the end, it makes a healthy heart and mind. And that makes the world a better place for everyone.

Fear Sucks. Doubt Debilitates. Stress Kills.

Heather Edwards Psychotherapist, Coach, FearFear sucks, doubt debilitates and stress kills. Loneliness isolates and worry permeates. Anger enrages and sorrow depletes. Yearning drives and hope transcends. Joy eases – all or most of the pain, at least for a moment.

Darkness and light. Greatness and shame. Brilliance and defeat. Ecstasy and despair. Two sides of the same coin, right?

They’re separated only by a the velocity of a spin or gravitational pull from our Mother Earth. Unavoidable. Unmanageable. Unimaginable. Or not?

These are the feelings you will inevitably experience as a living, loving, breathing, growing, evolving human being. They’re scary. They’re jarring. They’re life changing. They’re normal.

At times, they force you to look them in the eye and realize the limits of your comfort zone. They reveal the distinction between being passenger and being driver in this ride called life.

Take the wheel. It’s high time we get off our seats and do something to catapult change.

A revolutionary personal change. Hardship isn’t fair, negativity is a travesty, and staying down – well that’s just not an option.

Get up. Notice what lies between the extremes – calm, happy, relaxed, comfortable, satisfied, confident, belonging. Gratitude, appreciation, generosity, affection, sadness, hurt. Disappointment, rejection, insecurity, and confusion. The list goes on.

Welcome to the midrange of your emotional experience. Give those feelings your undivided attention. Place them center stage.

Extremes steal the show. But they’re only one act. Make room for other players. Open the stage door to a full accompaniment of roles. Ones that ground, balance, and compliment the full catastrophe.

This big, beautiful, complex experience deserves your full attention. In doing so, you can become mindful of the moment to moment realities – good, bad, or neutral.

Catch your internal monologue and bring those extremes down a notch – or up. Practice using less inflammatory words to describe your experience and see what happens. Notice how that feels. It can improve your tolerance, modulate your emotions, and open you to a fuller, richer life. Stop wasting time idling and reacting. Put it in drive.

 

 Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by David Castillo Dominici.

10 Tips for Gaining Clarity on ANYTHING

Heather Edwards Psychotherapist Coach

Heather Edwards Psychotherapist CoachIf you’re anything like me you struggle with staying on task.  In this immediate-gratification-digital-world it’s a challenge to sustain focus on anything for any uninterrupted amount of time.

The average attention span is estimated to be about five minutes long for a two year old child, and up to 20 minutes in older children and adults.

Just guessing – but it will probably take you longer than 20 minutes of focused attention to achieve your dreams.  Try out these 10 tips for clearing and clarifying your mind..

  1. Establish a Morning Ritual:  What you do in the morning sets the tone for the day. Begin each day with 10 minutes of nurturing self care.  Stretch, breathe, meditate, or read a few pages of a self improvement book.  See how that “me” time can refocus your mind.
  2. Complete Any Unfinished Business: I LOVE this concept from David Allen in his book Getting Things Done, the art of stress-free productivity.  It applies to any area of your life.  The idea is that “open loops” running in your subconscious mind drain your energy.  Close them by completing unfinished tasks and increase your energy!
  3. Sleep. Eat. Exercise. Repeat.  Yes, you know it!  Get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Eat healthy, balanced meals. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day five days per week. Strengthen your body and mind.Heather Edwards Coach Psychotherapy
  4. Create a Peaceful Place in Your Home or Office That Inspires You: When your space is organized and inspired, so is your mind.  Start reducing the clutter and clean up your space.
  5. Try Mind Mapping: This works especially well with creative types. Tony Buzan describes this in his book, The Mind Map Book – How to Use Radiant Thinking to Maximize Your Brain’s Untapped Potential. Using a combination of words, colors, diagrams, and pictures you can capture more of what’s on your mind and link it to actionable steps.
  6. Practice Gratitude Everyday: It strengthens the neural pathways responsible for positive thinking and an empowered attitude. Take 30 seconds a day to notice what you’re grateful for. Even better – write it down!
  7. Listen to Music:  A study at Penn State University demonstrated that listening to music improved mood, no matter what type of music was heard. Others have shown that upbeat music calms the heart rate, increases happiness, and reduces depression. A positive mood is a clearer one.
  8. Aromatherapy: Smells reportedly meet over 50,000,000 neural receptors located in the upper part of the nasal septum when inhaled.  They send messages to the limbic system via the olfactory bulb. This is the part of the brain that controls emotions, behavior, and basic thought processes. I use Lavender for relaxation and Wild Orange for feeling uplifted.Heather Edwards Coach Psychotherapy
  9. Structure Your Day: Having a schedule in your calendar reduces the amount of things you’re trying to remember.  The more you rely on your memory, the more psychological stress you create.  Once information is out of your brain and on paper, you can forget it until you need to deal with it. Now you can move onto other things.
  10. Manage Your Actions: Time management is a farce.  You can’t change time, but you can change your actions. Practice one or all of these tips and notice your clarity and productivity rise.  Make a choice each moment to engage with your world in an organized, productive way.  Own your choices.  Be empowered.

 

Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net – Stuart Miles, samuiblue, Stoonn

Toolbox for Health and Happiness

happiness toolboxMy excitingly educational cousin, Jessi Haggerty, RD asked me to share my toolbox for happiness and stress management during the cool and blustery months of fall and winter. Schedules, expectations, and priorities change with the waning of the long and happy-go-lucky days of summer. It’s an exciting lifestyle shift for many, and an anxiety provoking one for others.  How does one maintain the relaxed, positive glow of summer throughout the other three seasons?  Follow these tips for a quick tune up when your psychic engine starts to sputter…

10. Positive Affirmations.  

Look out for #1.  Remind yourself of your worth.  Find a mantra that gives you energy and a forward focus.  I like these… I am basically alright as I am.  I am free to make mistakes.  Shoulds, oughts, and musts are irrelevant.  My basic job in life is expanding my awareness. – from Self Esteem by Matthew McKay, PhD & Patrick Fanning.

9.  Friends and Family.  

Nurture bonds with those you love and trust.  Express gratitude.  Develop relationships with the people important to you.  A strong support system can get you through the tough times.   Don’t be afraid to lean on them or seek out their guidance.  Remember that you would do the same for them in their time of need.

8.  Purpose.  

Identify what is most meaningful to your core self.  Define your values.  Find an organization to join that contributes to a higher purpose.  Martin Seligman, PhD and the school of Positive Psychology identified this as one of the necessary components of well-being.

7.  Keep it Simple.  

When feeling overwhelmed by chores and responsibilities, break them down into smaller steps.  Focus on one thing at a time. Make a checklist, organize your calendar, set timers and reminders on your phone.  Relying on your memory can create stress.  Get it out of your head and into a simple system.  Remember the words of Bill Murray in What About Bob, “Baby Steps”.

6.  Accomplishment.  

Notice the hundreds of things you complete in a week. They all count!  Did you make your bed today?  Check.  Feed the cats or kids?  Check.   Got up and went to work?  Check. Give yourself credit for all your accomplishments, large and small.  “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau

5.   Mindfulness.

Awaken your inner Buddhist.  Be aware of your mind, body, spirit connection.  Pay attention to how you feel emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  Acknowledge, validate, and adjust your thinking, feeling, and activities, if needed.  Take five minutes per day to meditate and focus on breath.  Schedule quiet time.

4.  Flexibility.

Beware of the inevitable snafu in your plans!  When it happens, pause and adjust your expectations.  Remind yourself that it will be okay.   Change is good.

happiness toolbox II3. Engagement.  

Get involved in an activity that gives you energy.  Find that sweet spot where time flies by without recognition.   What do you love to do? If you don’t have a hobby or interest outside of work, find one.  Explore the arts, sports, music, or gardening!  Lose yourself in the flow.

2.  Positive Thinking = Positive Feelings.

This is the premise behind neuroplasticity of the brain. Our brains have a negative bias.  Despite this, we can affect our feelings and thoughts by shifting our attention to the positive. According to Rick Hanson, PhD this has a global effect on organizing the brain as a whole.  Take in the good whenever you can.  Soak it up. “The mind is everything. What you think you become.” – Buddha.

1.  Exercise and Diet.

Exercise has a positive chemical effect in our bodies.  It boosts feel-good hormones such as endorphins and reduces the stress related hormones like cortisol. It builds bone density, muscles, and energy.  A healthy diet has similar effects on cholesterol, blood pressure, and organ health.  The two combined increase self esteem, well-being, and stamina.

Use one or all ten of these tips to get through the stressful moments in life. Use them everyday to maintain momentum and keep focused on being your best. It can be tricky deciphering the ebbs and flows of your demanding life, but don’t fret. There are a myriad of resources available to you.  Keep your toolbox within reach.

Putting the Brakes on Stress

man stressedHave you ever had one of those days where nothing seems to go right?  Maybe you’re rushed in the morning and get a flat tire on your way to work, making you late and stuck in traffic.  Perhaps your bicycle chain pops off in a busy intersection and you miss yoga class due to the time spent fixing it on the sidewalk, you’re stressed and your fingers are covered in black grease.  Or much worse, you get the bad news that a friend is sick and facing the uncertainty of an unknown diagnosis and unclear prognosis. You want to help but aren’t sure how.

Sometimes a series of unfortunate events unfold before your eyes, face, and entire being. I won’t bore you with the details of my less than inspiring day – but trust me, I’ve been there and done that.   Nevertheless, we don’t want to carry the negative feelings around with us.  That would make things even worse.  Yet, they seem have a knack for sticking around and exhausting our energy.   Here are a few quick tips for re-centering, rebuilding, and refreshing your optimistic energy…

1.  Tune into your body.  Take time to breathe.  Get comfortable.  Close your eyes.   Feel the new air enter through your nose and fill your belly.  Allow the negative energy leave with every complete exhale.  Visualize it.  Give your breath color, sparkles, or light.  Feel the chair, floor, or bed beneath you, holding you.  Do this 10 times.

2. Refocus your attention on the positive things in life that are important to you.  What’s one small step you can take today to inch a little closer to achieving a goal?  Maybe there’s an important phone call to make, more planning and research to do, or you need a massage. Whether its a career goal or a self care one, take the time to do it.  Your psyche and wellness will thank you. woman lying in field

3.  Regarding thanks, practice gratitude.  Start a gratitude journal.  Name three things you appreciate each day.  Take it a step further by defining your intention for the day. Don’t confuse intentions with expectations.  What kind of energy, awareness, and interaction do you want to have with people and your environment? 

4.  Pet a cat or dog.  There is scientific evidence that your body actually goes through calming physical changes that affect mood when petting an animal.  Cortisol – a stress hormone – is reduced.  Serotonin – a chemical associated with well-being – is increased. Lowered blood pressure, improved circulation, and increased pain management have been demonstrated through petting animals. 

5.  Get physical.  Movement helps build strength, flexibility, and energy.  It strengthens bones and builds muscles.  It reduces stress by requiring focus on exercise rather than the stressors of everyday life.  It increases the feel- good chemicals called endorphins and reduces stress hormones, like cortisol.  Go for a walk, bike ride, or do some yoga.  Choose an activity and make it part of your daily routine.

Most importantly, remember that you are not stuck.  You have power and choices. Consider your options for where to exert your energy and how to best use your time. Your time is valuable and finite.  Make every second count.

“Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” – Bil Keane  

 

 

 

Images courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Empower Your Inner Goddess – Yoga and Coaching Beach Retreat

IMG_3592Stretch your body. Nourish your soul. Free your spirit.

Relax in the quiet seaside retreat of Kismet, Fire Island:

Join a small group of amazing women eager to find their center, build their energy, develop their passion, and empower their spirit.

Realign your body and mind:

Experience Beach Yoga, Coaching for Visualizing Your Ideal Self, De-cluttering Your Mind, Building Energy Sources, Improving Your Mind-Body-Emotion Connection, Embracing Empowering Beliefs, Sunset Yoga, Yoga Dance, Chakra Meditation and Relaxation Exercises. Leave the island feeling invigorated and ready to live an inspired, confident, and passionate life!

DSC_0029Our program features:

Fresh whole foods and juices.  Breakfast x2, Lunch x2, Dinner x2, and healthy snacks. Mealtimes are relaxed.  Enjoy healthy, balanced nutrition and the company of creative, inspired Retreat participants and instructors.

Fall asleep to the sound of waves crashing outside your window.  The two night stay is in a beautiful home 1.5 blocks from the beach.  The house features outdoor decks, bicycles, a grill, umbrellas and beach chairs.  Just bring your clothes, swim suit, and a yoga mat.

Kismet is an easy commute from Manhattan.

Take the LIRR from Penn Station to Bay Shore.  Walk or take a cab to the Kismet Ferry. If you’re driving, take the Long Island Expressway to Exit 53.  Follow the signs to Bay Shore.  Park your car in the LIRR lot for free and walk or cab it to the ferry.  It’s a lovely way to start the get away!

DSC_0052Call or email now to reserve your spot!

We are limited to 10 people.  This will fill up fast!  It is one weekend only from May 30, 2014 to June 1, 2014.  Click here to register now!

About Us:

Pamela Tinkham, LCSW, RYT is a Psychotherapist, Certified Yoga Instructor, and Reiki Master.  She has a Private Practice in Stamford, CT.  See more about Pam here: MindBodyFitnessLLC.com Heather Edwards, LMHC, BCC is a Psychotherapist, Board Certified Coach, and frequent contributor to Psychology Today.  She has a Private Practice in Manhattan, NY.  You are on her website right now!  Thanks for visiting!  🙂

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Yoga and Coaching Beach

The Four Horsemen vs. The Michelangelo Effect

IMG_6987The problems are obvious.  What are the solutions?

Sometimes the key to discovering what works best in a relationship is evaluating and eliminating what we know doesn’t work.  We know there are a few scientifically proven actions that destroy relationships.  John Gottman calls these the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”.  So let’s start there.

The first is Criticism.  Unless this is constructive with the intent of helping, it’s probably hurtful.  In destructive criticism, couples will attack each other’s personality or character in an effort to prove who is right and who is wrong.  It leaves both feeling angry and dissatisfied in the long and short run.  These statements tend to start with generalizations, and include absolute words like “always” and “never”.

The second is Contempt.  In this communication style one partner will attack the other’s sense of self using name-calling, mockery, hostility, and negative or aggressive body language and tone of voice.  It’s intent is to demean and disempower the other person’s position and character. There are no happy endings when contempt enters the room.

The third is Defensiveness.  When one partner feels like a victim, he/she might deny or make excuses for their behavior. They may cross-complain by lodging one of their own complaints in retaliation, or “Yes, but!” the original complaint in refusal of responsibility.  It is a very closed, blaming, and judgemental way of approaching conflicts. And it doesn’t work.

The fourth is Stonewalling.  When one partner stonewalls, he/she has shut down the conversation. The relationship store is closed for business.  There is a stony silence, avoidance, and a withdrawal from communication.  There may be a belief that the avoidance prevents a bigger blow up, but what it really conveys is icy distance, disconnection and smugness.  It actually worsens the problem and sabotages the chance of resolution.

What we know about happy couples:

Happy couples have 5 positive interactions to every negative one.  Gottman calls this the “Five to One Ratio”. Positive interactions are cultivated everyday in successful marriages.  A few examples of easy ways to do this are giving a compliment, showing your appreciation for something big or small, reliving a fun memory, or doing something nice for the other person. The key to the most successful relationships is spending time being together and talking together.  Share your ideas, experiences, and dreams with each other.

More sex = more joy.   In a recent study it was determined that people are 55% more likely to report higher levels of happiness when they have sex two to three times per week.  Having sex at least one time per week makes people 44% more likely to report happiness.  The happiest couples have sex at least 2 to 3 times per month.  The hormones released during sex create stronger bonds, warm fuzzy feelings, and a sense of relaxed satisfaction.  What are you waiting for?  Make sex a priority in your busy life.

Strong relationships have the Michelangelo Effect.  This means that one partner brings out the best in the other.  It creates a sense of esteem and personal satisfaction in actualizing the ideal self. They also share new experiences, celebrate good news, and laugh together.   So go for an evening walk, try a new restaurant, explore new places, relive a funny moment, and show enthusiasm for the other person’s accomplishments.

When in disagreement, the happy couple’s arguing style is open, considerate, and empathic.  It includes active listening, humor, and affection.  They even conceding on certain points their partner makes. After all, one person can’t be right all the time!  Plus, very few things in life occur “always” or “never”.  Except, of course, sunsets and taxes.

Now you have an idea of what empowers relationships, and what destroys them.  You may have recognized some of these positive and negative qualities in yours.  Remember that it’s never too late to make things better.  If you and your partner are invested in enjoying a happy life together, then start employing some of the tips here – and recognize and change the negative ones when they surface.

Psychology Today – Difficult Divorce? 6 ways to get unstuck.

136891-136917This article, “Difficult Divorce? 6 Ways to Get Unstuck. – Divorce can work out for the best.”, was originally published on November 19, 2013 by Mark Banschick, M.D. and Heather Edwards, LMHC in Psychology Today.  It addresses the basic feelings of grief, anger, and fear in divorce followed by self care and planning for a better life. Read further for tips on how to navigate this challenging life transition…

When entering into marital bliss, nobody plans to get divorced. In fact, it’s the farthest thing from mind. The union is meant to be forever – through sickness and health, better or worse, sicker or poorer. Until death do we part… Or do we?

In this guest blog, Heather Edwards, a New York based therapist and life coach, provides six basic tips for getting unstuck from the shifting winds of a divorce.

The decision to get a divorce is a difficult and life changing one. It often comes after years of unhappiness and unending conflict. When a couple finally resigns to the idea of going separate ways, it hurts. And, it only takes one to decide it’s over.

Divorce is a death of sorts, and can initiate a ripple effect beginning with the married couple, traveling their children and families. How does one cope with the massive loss and minimize the collateral damage caused by the parting of the ways? Use these tips to recognize the emotional components of divorce; then consider developing a plan to get yourself to a better place.

Grief: Divorce can feel so sad it hurts.

It’s not what you planned for yourself, nor your family. You’ve lost the future you were counting on and the person you thought would share it with you. This experience deserves time and attention to allow a natural, healthy grief process to unfold. Recognize your pain and work on it. Find time to cry, but also make room for your normal responsibilities. Grief counts, like a tsunami of unhappiness, but it passes and routine still demands. Children, a job, exercise and even the dog, require attention. Grief is part of life, but it need not take over your life.

“… a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.” – Carl Jung

Anger: It is a natural to feel anger as part of grief and loss.

You might feel angry at your spouse for all the reasons the marriage didn’t work out. You might even want revenge. Sometimes “getting even” or “punishing” the spouse plays out in the fight over assets or child custody. Acknowledge your anger but find a way to avoid destructive behaviors. Spending excessive time and energy on it can cause more pain and negatively affect you and your family. Identify the source of the anger and adjust your semantics or expectations to make room for acceptance.

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” – Norman Vincent Peale

Fear: Uncertainty is unnerving.

There’s probably a myriad of questions swirling in your head about your future. Talk to a mediator or a divorce attorney to gain the information you need to protect yourself and your children. Sometimes an ex spouse can be difficult or worse. Knowledge is empowering. Remember that things usually get better. This is not only an ending. It’s a new beginning. Divorce is a difficult transition that leads to better days and happier times. It’s your opportunity to create the life you want with new-found wisdom and strength. Search for what you have learned and how you have grown.

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” – Alan Watts

Develop a Plan: Try planning your new life with everyone’s best interests at heart.

Reach out to professionals with the tools and training required to help you make the best decisions possible. Mediators can be hired to create an “alternative dispute resolution” and help negotiate a settlement. Divorce attorneys can be hired to answer questions and legally execute details about assets and custody issues. Carefully consider your options.

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” – Abraham Lincoln

Self Care: Continue to take care of precious cargo – You.

You need all the same rest, nutrition, exercise, and pampering as always! Go to the gym or take a yoga class. Eat healthy foods. Meet friends for lunch or after work. It’s crucial to feel good in order to continue managing all your normal responsibilities. Make an extra effort to carve out “me” time. Lean on your friends and family. It’s okay to ask for support and feedback about your changing life situation. If you need more support than they can provide – seek out a therapist, counselor, or coach.

Children First: If you have children, pay special attention to their emotions and needs.

Sometimes children feel responsible for the break up. Reassure them the divorce or separationis not their fault and that both parents love them very much. Don’t talk negatively with or about your spouse in front of them. Spend time playing and having fun with them. Their highest priorities are love and safety. And they need to see that you are safe and happy, too!

In the words of Muhammad Ali,

“Inside of a ring or out, ain’t nothing wrong with going down. It’s staying down that’s wrong.”

Take Home Message:

Although it seems your life has been turned upside down, now it’s more important than ever to take good care of yourself and your children. Find a healthy way to grieve so that you can attend to the normal responsibilities beckoning you. Find support, lean on friends, family, and professionals that can provide you with what’s needed to get through these tough times.

Yet, each day that passes gets you closer to the life you want to live. Imagine the long term positive outcomes that will result from your resilience during this transition. And, continue being the best you can be! Recapture your dignity. Your children will notice…and you will feel better.

Design Your Best Life

IMG_9273Each of us has a unique life story. We come from different families, places, and generations. Our circumstances effect and shape who we are and become. Personal experiences are part of us, wherever we go. We use our history to guide us through life. What’s familiar is comfortable and predictable. Sometimes though, it’s not the most helpful. How do we acknowledge and let go of the part of our life story that holds us back? How do we flourish, soothe, and celebrate our truly unique, special, and amazing potential?    Answer the following questions to help clarify your strengths, challenges, and life goals.  Begin to design your best life.

1. When do I shine?
There are times, situations, places, and environments where we shine! Notice when you feel your best, most confident, productive self. Fully absorb the gratifying feelings that happen in those moments. Look for opportunities to experience successes and prosperity more often. Spending a few minutes encoding positive feelings, sensory, and cognitive information can gradually change your brain structure.

Daniel J. Siegel describes this neuroplasticity of the brain in his book, “Interpersonal Neurobiology”.  By choosing to focus on the positive you are managing and regulating your neural firings.  The more you take in the good, the more naturally your brain will spontaneously notice it unfolding around you and reap the benefits of positivity.  Rick Hanson also talks about this in his book, “Buddha’s Brain – The practical neuroscience of happiness, love, and wisdom.”.

2. What are my most difficult moments?
Certain circumstances or challenges seem overwhelming. They take us outside our comfort zone, back to a previous stressful time, and feel unfamiliar thus creating insecurity in our confidence and performance. Being faced with a seemingly impossible task can stop us in our tracks. Here are a few ways to address this situation.
– Take “baby steps” toward your goal and celebrate your progress every step of the way. This will reduce your fear gradually over time with each new successful experience.
– Jump right in! This is a method that typically results in finding out your worst fears didn’t come true and were exaggerated.
– Ask yourself what you are saying to yourself (noticing your internal monologue) about those intimidating situations. Challenging those automatic thoughts by rating their validity on a scale of 1 – 100. Replace negative thoughts with positive, hopeful ones.
– Mindfully notice your body, breath, and surroundings. Breathe. Deliberately shift your attention between your immediate physical sensations and surrounding stimuli – smells, colors, lights, objects, people, temperature, etc.  In doing so, you can become more in control of bodily reactions that feel like panic.
– Notice the inner child holding onto fear in those moments of self doubt. What is he/she experiencing?  Soothe him/her.  Use your wisdom to inform and calm that inner part of yourself.

3. Who brings out the best in me?
Positive energy breeds positive energy. Laughter is contagious. Notice who you are with when you are feeling your best. The more time you spend with positive people in a loving environment, the better you will feel. Positive relationships are one of the elements of well-being in Positive Psychology, according to Martin Seligman. Well-being has been determined to be even more fulfilling than happiness. It’s comprised of positive emotion (pleasure, ecstasy, comfort, etc), engagement (in an activity or moment), positive relationships, meaning (belonging and serving something larger than yourself), and accomplishment. Spend time with those you love and cherish. Participate in meaningful activities in which you are industrious.

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4. What old beliefs cause chaos?
New studies in neuroscience show that we are capable of achieving anything we want. The trick to this achievement is truly wanting to succeed and believing in yourself!  We’re born with an amazing brain capable of learning and mastering more than we even understand. It’s not because we can’t achieve it, but because we don’t fully tap into our brain’s potential. Fears and anxieties might convince us that we can’t do math or we aren’t an artistic type. Brain studies are demonstrating this to be untrue. Now more than ever, it’s evident that practice DOES make perfect! Tony Buzan talks about this in his book, “The Mind Map Book”. The more time you spend repeating the same exercise or thought pattern or challenge, the better you will perform it over time. Each time you practice, you are strengthening the neural pathways responsible for those thought and behavior patterns. So take a painting class or learn a new sport or language! If you believe you can do it, you will.

5. What do I want to get out of life?

You only live once. Make the most of it! Imagine your life as you want it to be. Notice your preferences, hobbies, interests, strengths, talents, and desires. Get started on setting clear, achievable goals. If at first they seem too lofty, then break them down into smaller ones. Establish daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly targets. Remember that everything is a process. If it’s worthwhile, it probably takes a lot of hard work.  In the words of St. Ignatius Loyola, “Go forth and set the world on fire.”.

Making Up For Time Lost: 5 Tips for Getting Back in the Game

Gantry ParkI just lost a week of productivity due to “acute pharyngitis”, which is the medical term for a sore throat. Normally, one would carry on, ignore it, and complete one’s typical activities with minor discomfort. Not me. My sore throat felt like seven samurai swords incessantly scraping my trachea with a splash of hot sauce and 40 grit sand paper for gauze. When experiencing this type of pain, things such as work, exercise, conversations, smiles, and wakefulness all come a bit harder. In fact, the only thing that feels natural is lying down and feeling sorry for yourself. Sleep even hurts. Now it’s Monday, a week later. I’m in panic mode and have a lot of sh*t to get done. Since it’s time to put my own Life Coaching advice into action, here’s what I’ll do:

1. Prioritize:

What is the most urgent activity to get caught up on today? It helps to determine which items are most time sensitive. Is anyone expecting something from me by a certain time this week? Are there any deadlines today? If so, what needs to be completed in order to meet those hard cut offs? I’ll make a list of all appointments, projects, and collaborations due and rate each of them with an “A” for today, “B” for this week, and a “C” for this month. The good news is that it’s Monday and October is just beginning.

2. Set a Schedule:

Now that I know when items are due and where my priorities lie, I will set a daily, weekly, and monthly schedule. So which items need to be completed by COB today? Let’s see – return emails, write new blog, schedule clients, take on-line class, work in studio… You get the picture. Based on the items identified, I’ll set a set a schedule that reflects, in order of priority, what needs to be done by midday, COB, and bedtime for the week. Umhmm, when you work for yourself and/or are a parent, there’s no 9-5 schedule, the workday begins at wake up and ends at sleep time.
South Street Seaport
3. Self Care:

I know that amidst this fury (yes, I said fury and not flurry) of activity, I need some “me” time. Since I lost a week of exercise, which really does balance my hormones, even out my mood, increase my motivation and clarity, and give me energy, I will get back on the bicycle and go for a ride through Central Park today. Since I also know that riding midday through midtown traffic can be a death defying act in-and-of-itself, I will schedule my ride before noon. Easy. I’ll also eat healthily and drink plenty of water.

4. Relax:

When at the doctor, receiving my diagnosis of “acute pharyngitis” last week, my blood pressure crept up toward the higher end of normal. This is very unusual for me and set off alarms, sending it even a bit higher (just guessing!). Was it a manifestation of the illness, or thinking about all the responsibilities that weren’t getting done, the lack of exercise, or simply a result of lamenting the fact that I was lame for a few days? Whatever the cause, I will spend time (five minutes three times each day) mindfully breathing, meditating, and focusing my thoughts on positive outcomes and gratitude for the things that are going right. This automatically activates my parasympathetic nervous system which releases calming hormones throughout my body and improves my general sense of well-being. Ahhh.

5. Get to work!

The week is planned. I feel organized and industrious. The clients aren’t going to schedule themselves, the pottery isn’t going to make itself, the bike isn’t going to ride itself. It’s off to the races! One happy thing is that my blog is done, which being written in the first person has doubled as a journal entry, and I have a sense of accomplishment! You, too can use these helpful tips on Monday’s and everyday to stay focused, calm, and productive.

Gantry Plaza