How to Practice Gratitude Without Saying One Word

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Over the past 2,00 years, the Nguni tribe have lived on the soil of Southern Africa. For the Nguni tribe, non-verbal communication is an integral part of their daily interactions and way of life.

For example, interacting with someone whilst keeping your hands in your pocket, is considered to be impolite. Conversely, presenting a gift to a host who has invited you to visit their home is a polite gesture. [1]


Within the context of practicing gratitude, we often emphasize the importance of words in expressing gratitude i.e saying thank you, stating what you are grateful for etc. However, non-verbal communication, gestures and actions, also play a crucial role in practicing and expressing gratitude. Here’s how.

Practicing gratitude as a habit

“Your actions speak so loud, that I can’t hear what you say” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of the most important ways the Nguni people practice gratitude is through gestures. For example, when receiving a gift, both hands are held out in a cupped position.

According to communications professor at DePauw University, Melanie Finney, this gesture means that “the gift you give me means so much that I must hold it in two hands.” [1]

This powerful gesture is an example of practicing gratitude, highlighting that it’s not just what you say; it’s what you do that matters more.

Here are some ways this can be applied in everyday life:

  • As a Manager or Leader: It’s not just about telling your team how great a leader you are, it’s about showing them by listening to their needs and leading by example.
  • As an Entrepreneur: It’s not just about telling your customers how much you care about them, it’s about innovating new ideas to solve their pain points.
  • As a Friend: It’s not just about telling your friend that you value the friendship, it’s about consistently showing up to support your friend in times of need.
  • As a Partner: It’s not just about telling your partner that you love them, it’s about consistently expressing this love as a habit, regardless of whether you feel like it or not.
  • As a Fellow Human Being: It’s not just about expressing sympathy for the poor, needy and those in desperate need for help, it’s about investing time and money into improving the quality of the lives of impoverished people.

There are many more ways gratitude could be practiced in your life. The key lesson here from the Nguni people is that gratitude is a lifestyle of doing and giving not just talking and receiving.

In the words of Albert Einstein, “The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving.”

How are you going to practice your gratitude this week?

Mayo Oshin writes at MayoOshin.com, where he shares practical self-improvement ideas and proven science for better health, productivity and creativity. To get practical ideas on how to stop procrastinating and build healthy habits, you can join his free weekly newsletter here.

A version of this article originally appeared at mayooshin.com as “How How to Practice Gratitude Without Saying One Word”

5 Easy Ways You Change The Way You Look At Your Life

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The word “can’t” is probably the only four letter word I never heard in my 24 years as an FBI agent. I learned early in my career that negativity would impair my ability to analyze a tough case that looked impossible to crack.Once you allow a negative thought to take root, it can change the way you look at your life. Everything from business to relationships can become affected by your negativity if you allow it to raise its ugly head.

It might not be a lack of talent that holds you back in your business. It might not be a lack of personality that holds you back in your relationships. Instead, it might be the way you look at your life and relationships that prevents you from moving ahead.

Witnesses are always important in FBI investigations because they observe first-hand the sequence of events. In the same way, you need to witness your thoughts and observe them so you are in a better position to identify and eliminate their negative influence.

Here are 5 easy ways you can change the way you look at your life:

1. Avoid Use Words Like “Always” and “Never”

Absolutes like always and never are rarely correct. If you use these words when confronted with an obstacle or barrier, you activate the limbic brain system. This produces emotions like fear and anger.

“My children never listen to me.”
“I never get recognized for my hard work.”
“Everyone always takes advantage of me.”
“I always end up on the short end of the deal.”
How To Make It Work For You: Think about how many times you use an absolute to describe a negative event. Have a trusted friend repeat how many times they heard you use absolutes like always and never in a conversation. Whenever you catch yourself thinking in terms of absolutes, stop and find a different way to express your disappointment.

2. Pay Attention To Your Self-Talk

Studies have shown that our mental chatter is 70% negative. Deep down, we are more self-critical, pessimistic, and fearful than we convey in our conscious thoughts. We are wired for survival, and our aversion to pain can distort our judgement and the way we look at our life.

The brain’s negativity bias produces a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news. The bias is so automatic that it can be detected at the earliest stages when the brain processes information.

How To Make It Work For You: Question your negative feelings; don’t act on them without thinking them through. For example, when you feel guilty about something, be skeptical. Is the guilt trying to teach you something rational and helpful about your behavior? Or, is it an irrational response to a situation?

3. Change Your Memory Of A Negative Event

Once you draw a conclusion about yourself and your abilities, all you will notice is information that reinforces your beliefs. This is called a confirmation bias, and your brain will discount new or different information that contradicts the way you look at your life.

For example, if you believe you’re a failure, that’s all you’ll remember about a specific incident or event—how you failed. The way you look at your life will become your reality. If you’ve drawn inaccurate conclusions about your talents and skills, you create self-limiting beliefs about what you can achieve in life. 

Research shows that new memories remain unstable for a short period of time after the event. During the unstable period, memories are being coded and consolidated into your consciousness.

We can erase our fear if we can alter our memory of it, and the best time to do that is during the unstable period which usually lasts a couple of hours. If we can interrupt the coding and consolidating, we can change our memory about an unpleasant event.

How To Make It Work For You: If you experience a terrifying event or situation, the best thing you can do is replace that memory with a better one—right away. Take the opportunity to update and transform your memory. It is important, however, that you make sure your environment is safe before trying to extinguish your fear-conditioned memory.

4. Keep It Positive

Optimism is a soft and fluffy term that is seldom taken seriously by leaders, entrepreneurs, and business owners. Much like the term happiness, it conjures images of toothy smiles and a Pollyanna attitude about life.

Positive thinking, however, has deep roots in serious research. Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher, discusses how positive thinking can change the way you think about your life.

According to Fredrickson, a healthy balance of positive and negative emotions is essential to overall health. People should cultivate positive thinking in themselves and those around them because it not only nurtures psychological growth, it also fuels resiliency. Resilient people have energetic approaches to life, are curious and open to new experiences, and are positive thinkers.

How To Make It Work For You: As an adult, we need to give ourselves permission to play, and yes—smile! Play produces a sense of adventure, and that leads to to contentment and joy as we build new skills. The upward spiral leads to new success, which leads to more positive thinking, and on it goes….

5. Stop Seeing Yourself As A Victim

Victimhood has become an American epidemic. If something goes wrong, we claim victimhood and blame someone else for our situation. We don’t like what someone says, or the way they look at us, we scream “micro-aggression” and seek a safe place where we know we’ll be coddled until our little tantrum ends. In the real world, not everyone is a winner and nothing is free.

We are mentally tough when we acknowledge and accept responsibility for our life. We cannot dodge responsibility for it. The worst thing we can do is take on the role of victim, make excuses, or blame others. This is a lie we tell ourselves, and it prevents us from reaching success.

How To Make It Work For You: It’s your choice if you let the actions of other people affect you in a negative way. If you always take things personally, you make yourself a victim of what others think and do. All this does is to give people power over you, and quite frankly, it’s self-absorbed to live this way. Do you really believe that everything is always about you?

This article was originally published on LaRaeQuy.

7 Ways Couples Can Practice Self-Care Together

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Self-care is often defined by taking a step away from loved ones to focus entirely on yourself. But carving out moments for well-being doesn’t always necessarily have to be a solo routine. In fact, practicing self-care rituals with your partner has double the reward: Not only are you reaping the individual benefits, but you are also deepening your relationship and connection as a couple. Past research has shown engaging in personal-growth-related activities as a couple actually makes the relationship more satisfying andimproves one’s sex life. (A pretty sweet bonus!)

Here are seven ways to incorporate “couple’s care” together, as recommended by self-care experts:

1. Set aside time each day to talk about your goals together.

Setting and reviewing goals on a regular basis is generally a great way to make sure you’re always working toward your long-term vision for your life, and it can be a great way to feel in control of your present and future. Sharing this habit with your partner, however, can make you all the more efficient and dedicated to those goals because you have someone holding you accountable. Moreover, setting goals together lets your partner know what your vision is and allows your partner the opportunity to be your biggest support system, which in turn creates intimacy.

“You can work on setting your goals together, or set them separately and then share,” says certified life coach Melissa Snow. “This invites conversation about what they are excited about, what their fears are, and how you can help.”

When your partner is involved in your personal development, you’ll feel that much more connected to each other and able to understand each other in much deeper, more nuanced ways.

2. Always have a project you’re working on together.

Whether refinishing a dresser, picking out photos for a new family collage, or practicing a foreign language together, always having a project or hobby in motion allows for a sense of accomplishment as a team. Not to mention, it pulls you away from the habit of plopping down on the couch with Netflix.

“Learning something new is fun, and it also keeps the brain active,” says mindset coach Melissa Wolak. “When you share a project together as a couple, it cultivates teamwork but also an experience where you can learn together, create something new, and you laugh at mistakes.”

3. Read a personal development book together.

Sometimes, to overcome an obstacle or work toward a common goal, outside guidance provides a fresh perspective that a couple can learn together. Reading is a great way to reduce stress and build new skills, and sharing that experience together allows couples to bond over new materials at the same time.

“Reading provides new intellectual stimulation and a conversation topic outside of work and home life,” said Wolak. “On the cognitive side, reading, remembering the details, and discussing the book together are great brain exercises.”

And just imagine how sweet it is to read in bed with your partner.

4. Research your next vacation.

When the going gets tough, you can always daydream about your next getaway–and talking about it with your loved one can make that daydreaming even sweeter.

Whether a staycation, weekend getaway, or monthlong backpacking stint across Europe, life coach Vicky Shilling recommends physically writing down the plans and brainstorms in a notebook to make them more of a reality. “Many of us learn and are stimulated visually and absorb information much better when it’s visually presented,” she says. “Keeping a notebook with your plans will ensure you’re both creating the holiday you want, seeing a combined plan of where you’ll be going and what you’ll be doing so no one is disappointed. Writing down your brainstorms also means you’re not going back to square one every time you discuss it!”

Shilling also adds that keeping your notes will be a great memento, which you can build into a travel journal or scrapbook after your trip.

5. Sit back-to-back and breathe.

Meditation is a tried-and-true way of soothing the mind, finding inner balance, and releasing negative emotions. “When couples take the time and make the commitment to share their meditation practice, they strengthen their relationship and improve their overall well-being,” says executive wellness coach Naz Beheshti. Meditating together also helps an individual become more in touch with their intuition, which can allow them to become more in touch with their partner’s needs without anything being said.

Pick a time, either early morning or just before bed, to sit as a couple and breathe or meditate together. Feeling this stillness as one is powerful. Beheshti recommends a back-to-back position, which allows couples to easily synchronize their breathing because of the physical contact.

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6. Get outside.

While it may be hard to coordinate a trip to the gym together, couples can usually find the time to move their bodies by strolling around the neighborhood. While the endorphins are great, they’re actually the bonus in this situation. Simply being outside has been found to ease stress, as nature has a way of keeping incessant thoughts at bay. Research suggests it can be a particularly connective experience for couples, with the potential to boost trust and even arousal.

“Regardless of whether you have a dog to exercise, getting outside together is an ideal opportunity to combine exercise and fresh air,” said Karen Tindall, a certified life coach in Arkansas. “It creates a time when you can have undistracted conversations away from technology and prying ears of family.”

7. Express gratitude.

Research suggests even thinking about gratitude can have a positive impact, but writing it down can even help you sleep better and aids in reducing depression. When you’re more aware of the things you’re thankful for, you tend to be more mindful of them as they happen throughout the day (“This makes me happy; I’m going to write it in my journal tonight”), thus making your daily gratitude more apparent in your life.

While many people keep gratitude journals, it’s more commonly an individual practice. But why not share this beautiful habit with your partner? Adding this to your regular routine allows for the chance to communicate with your partner in a sometimes vulnerable way.

Marriage and family therapist Erica Basso recommends writing down three things you love about your partner and three things you’re grateful for that you’ve noticed them do recently; then share them with your partner to turn that gratitude into a shared experience. You can do this weekly or even daily.

Everyone needs a little self-care in their week, and bringing your partner into these practices can be a great way to not only share these benefits with another person but to create the added bonus of creating intimacy—which is itself something that will improve your well-being. So the next time you’re carving out a date night, consider incorporating activities that do both: allow for a sense of closeness and personal wellness.

Stevie Nicks, my beautiful rescue pup. For the way that she loves and trusts me a little bit more each day. For the perspective and empathy I’ve gained since I brought her home. For the opportunity to look back on months of feeling frustrated, stressed, in over my head, and like things might never improve…

via A Cozy List Of Things I’m Thankful For Tonight — Thought Catalog

9 Unexpected Things That Are Good For Your Mental Health

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There are so many conventional ways to improve your mental health, such as eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and seeing a therapist — among other important things. But it never hurts to add in a few habits that are “outside the box,” as a way to take your mental health in an even more positive direction.

“If we are only doing the same things we usually do, with the same point of view, it’s harder to emerge out of depression or release anxiety,” therapist Rev. Connie L. Habash MA, LMFT, tells Bustle. “Sometimes, the best thing to create positive shifts in our mood is to get out of our ingrained habits and try new things.”

That’s not to say you should stop what you’re already doing, especially if it’s working, or if it’s part of a plan designed by your therapist. But you might want to consider adding to your overall mental health routine, in a few small ways. This might include trying new foods, getting dirty, or doing something unconventional, such as jumping on your bed.

“These kind of practices help us step out of the mold, have new experiences, and change our mindset,” Habash says. Anything that’s fun, new, or even slightly uncomfortable, like the things listed below, can be a great supplement to your daily life. And experts say it can even be good for your mental health.

Jump On The Bed

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“Many of us have lost connection with the playful part of ourselves,” Habash says. “We all have an inner child that wants to be silly and spontaneous.” So ask yourself, when was the last time you jumped on the bed?

In some small way, doing fun things like this can help break you out of your usual routine, since you’ll be shaking off your stressful adult life for a while. You can also try riding a bike, playing a game in the park, drawing — the list is endless.

“This is how we access joy,” Habash says. “It’s almost certain to lift your mood.”

Give Your Bathroom A Thorough Scrub

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When you’re feeling anxious or stressed, sometimes nothing’s more relaxing than getting down on your hands and knees, and scrubbing around the toilet.

“The bathroom is a small and contained space, so it’s not an overwhelming room to clean and the benefits are amazing,” therapist Rachel Wright, MA, LMFT, tells Bustle. “Yes, it’s gross to clean toilets sometimes and yes, you will be amazed at the grime that comes off of the bottom of your sink or the shelves in your bathroom, but the feeling of completing it and the feeling of seeing a clean bathroom will help with your mental health and your mood.”

Apply A Mud Mask

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If you have a go-to skincare routine, it may be beneficial to try something new — and possibly even add in some mud — in order to reap a few benefits.

“Applying a mud treatment on your skin certainly improves your mental health,” licensed psychotherapist Adamaris Mendoza, LPC, MA, tells Bustle. “It relieves muscle and joint aches and pains, helps […] improve circulation, relaxes you, and relieves stress.”

Applying a mud mask at home can be super relaxing, as can simply soaking in a hot bath — especially if you’ve been feeling sore, stressed, or depressed. As Mendoza says, “When your body is operating efficiently you feel good and your mood is enhanced.” And taking time for self-care doesn’t hurt, either.

Eat Something New

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Everyone’s different when it comes to how they feel about trying new foods. “The texture of some foods can be off- putting,” Mendoza says, “but [many are] packed with amazing benefits.”

Take mussels and oysters, for example. “Mussels contain a high level of vitamin B-12, which has been found to positively affect mood and other brain functions,” she says. “Oysters are high in zinc, a nutrient that helps ease anxiety and also improve sleep the quality of your sleep.”

But even the act of trying a new food, whether it has a weird texture or not, can be beneficial. “Waking up our taste buds to foods we don’t normally eat can be invigorating to our senses and help us out of [a rut],” therapist Shannon Thomas, LCSW, tells Bustle.

Sing In Public

Hannah Burton/Bustle

If the idea of singing in public terrifies you, then it may be exactly what you need to do. “It may sound counterintuitive, but singing in public is one way for people whostruggle with social anxiety to work on feeling more relaxed around others,” Matt Smith, licensed therapist at Modern Era Counseling, tells Bustle. “This is basically aform of exposure therapy, so the more embarrassing the song the better.”

You can start off by humming, just to get a feel for it. Then work up to bigger songs as your confidence grows. “Singing in public forces you to confront your specific fear — others judging you, public humiliation, etc. — and in the process retrains your brain to stop firing up its built-in fear response in the absence of actual danger,” Smith says. Over time, you might even start to think it’s fun.

Hold A Big Rock

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While it might sound strange, holding something natural in your hands — like a rock — can be quite relaxing. “When you’re feeling anxious, agitated, like you’re spinning around and overloaded with stress, you probably need to get grounded,” Habash says. “A great way to do this is to find a large river rock, or any kind of sizable stone.”

Maybe you pick one up on a hike, or find one in the local park. “Hold it in your hands or lap, and feel its weight,” she says. “Let all the stresses and agitation be pulled down into the earth and release them. You, as the solid and steady rock, remain more calm and peaceful.”

Scream Into A Pillow

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If you’ve been bottling up your emotions, there’s a good chance you’ll find it quite therapeutic to scream into a pillow.

“Being able to express that pent up emotion is important in working through it,” Jovica Grey, licensed mental health counselor and founder of Grey’s Counseling Services, tells Bustle. “Screaming into a pillow helps to release that pent up emotion by allowing [you] to express it in a less harmful way.”

Of course, it’s also OK to share those emotions with others, or vent it all to a therapist. But sometimes you just need a moment alone, and that’s when a pillow scream can come in handy.

Skip Your Shower

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If you have a strict morning routine that includes taking a shower, try skipping it one day as a way of changing things up — just see how it feels.

“Sometimes not going through the motions of our normal hygiene routine can be helpful to our mental health,” Thomas says.

It’s all about allowing yourself the freedom to do something different, which can give you a break from your everyday routine. And that, Thomas says, can be good for your mental health.

Sweat It Out

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Sweating is a great way to boost your overall wellbeing, whether it’s by exercising, going outside on a warm day, or sitting in a sauna. Saunas, for instance, may leave you drenched in sweat. But the benefits are pretty amazing.

As Wright says, saunas have been shown to help with sleep, anger management, and even depression. So if you can track one down — possibly at a gym or spa — it may be worth it.

“Even if you’re in therapy, these things can supplement the work you’re doing because their more action-oriented,” Wright says. “Plus, some people just like to do things outside of the box.”

If you find that any of these tips boost your mood, or help improve your overall mental health, don’t be ashamed to do them more often — however odd they may seem.

How Journaling Can Teach You to Love Your Body

Author ArticleJournaling can transform not only my physical health, but also emotional and spiritual health.

I didn’t always love my body. In fact, for years, I hardly thought about it at all.

My body was a machine that I worked relentlessly and neglected constantly. It was simply a tool that my brain used to get where it needed to go. I paid no mind to aching muscles, searing headaches and other signs of stress and exhaustion. I ignored my body’s needs until a major health challenge forced me to stop and recognize the obvious: my body isn’t a machine at all. It’s an integral part of me that requires love, care and respect.

I began journaling every day as a way to get back in touch with my body. This practice has transformed not only my physical health but also my emotional and spiritual health. I started listening to what my body was telling me and making decisions to embrace a full, healthy and balanced life.

Why Journaling?

Researchers have been tracking the positive effects of journaling for decades.

Over the years, studies have found that expressive writing can lead to significant benefits, including short- and long-term health outcomesbetter immune system performancestress and anxiety reduction and relief from chronic illnesses, such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.

And a 2017 study from the University of Arizona showed that for people going through a divorce, narrative writing exercises – telling the story of their divorce, not just documenting their feelings about it – improved how their bodies responded to cardiovascular stress.

Journaling helps us strengthen the mind-body connection that we often neglect. Putting pen to paper supports us in large and small ways, making room for our thoughts, feelings and experiences in a tangible way.

How to Start Journaling

  • Start small.
  • Make it a daily habit.
  • Feel free.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. You may want to write lengthy entries every day, but start with a smaller, more manageable goal. Commit to writing for five minutes or a few lines, and congratulate yourself when you reach that goal. If you want to keep writing, go for it (and celebrate that victory too).

Build on your gradual start, and make your small journaling goal a part of your daily life. Find a time of day that works best for you – such as when you’re drinking your morning coffee or you’re about to get ready for bed. Don’t debate whether you should journal or not; just make it a daily habit.

If you can’t figure out what to journal about, try free-writing. Simply jot down anything that comes to mind without filtering or editing it. Keep your pen moving until you reach your writing goal.

5 Journaling Prompts

  1. Take several deep breaths, and do a mental scan of your body from head to toe. What feels good? What feels off? What is your body telling you?
  2. Imagine you have an entire day to pamper yourself. What do you do? How does each part of the day rejuvenate you?
  3. Write a love letter to your body. What do you appreciate about it? What are you thankful for? How can you express your gratitude?
  4. Describe a sensory experience that has stuck with you – a meal, a smell, a hike, a physical activity. What did it feel like throughout your body? Why did it make such an impression on you?
  5. Write about a time you felt wonderful in your own skin. What was happening? Why did you feel strong, beautiful, capable or empowered? How can you recreate that feeling?

Journaling is a powerful way to care for your body, as well as your mind and spirit. Make daily journaling an essential part of your journey to total aliveness.

This post courtesy of Spirituality & Health.

Daily Success Habits: 12 Habits I Try To Do Everyday

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  1. Working out or stretching: Do something active every day. Ideally going to the gym, taking a class. I try to get it in before lunchtime these days with a newborn.
  2. Read personal development book: Something positive and encouraging so I can learn something.
  3. Review goals: I review my annual goals so I know where I am headed. This will impact what I do that day and the ideas I have. My best ideas come while driving and while in the shower. Not working is when I have the best ideas. Reviewing my goals helps get those ideas flowing.
  4. Gratitude journal: Everyday I write down three things I am grateful for in my gratitude journal. When you’re grateful for the things you have, those things instantly increase. The more gratitude you feel, the happier you will be. Studies show people who practice gratitude have closer relationships, are more connected to family and friends and have people look upon them more favorably.  Even being thankful for your boss will give you more patience, understanding, compassion, and kindness. You will forget about the things you use to complain about them if you are thankful for them. I once had a very tough client in my previous corporate consulting job who was not nice to me AT ALL, but I was and still am SO THANKFUL to her for showing me how to handle difficult clients and situations with class. This is exactly why I make it a habit in my morning routine to write down three things I am grateful for each day. It just makes me happier and gives me a better outlook for the day.
  5. Affirmations: If you listen to last week’s podcast, you know how much I believe in affirmations. Repeating positive statements every single day. I’ve been doing this with my daughter lately and we’ve been saying, I choose to make today the best day of my life.
  6. Journal/write: write a blog post or write in my 5-year journals for my daughter memories of our days. This is another form of gratitude for myself and my writing my blog helps me help others and that makes me happy. Sometimes its just writing an Instagram post on my @annarunyan account. As long as I’m doing this daily I feel better.
  7. Drink water: Fill up four bottles of water in the fridge the night before and try to drink them throughout the day.
  8. Work on my top priority: I have three priorities every week so every day I try to do something that will help me complete that priority.
  9. Vitamins: Gotta take them!
  10. Meditation: Even if its 30 seconds of shutting my eyes. Quiet is really hard to find in my house!
  11. Green smoothie: Spinach every day!
  12. Devotional: Reading my bible or daily devotionals that I get sent to me every day. Habits make them easy for you.

Come follow my Instagram accounts, Classy Career Girl and Anna Runyan to see the behind the scenes of me doing these habits each and every day!

One last thing: Remember this. You can create your future! You are in control of your calendar, your day, your response to what happens in your life. You can make your dreams happen. I believe in you! Let’s make do it!

Have a great day and I’ll see you next time!

How Self-Help Can Help The World

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Many meditators, yogis, and other spiritual practitioners will answer this question with a resounding yes. Critics – ranging from religious studies and management scholars to serious Buddhist practitioners – may disagree.

Mindfulness meditation, which has grown exponentially in popularity in recent years, is commonly associated with a wide-ranging set of contemplative practices aimed at training oneself to pay “attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally,” as defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society.

Early leaders in the mindfulness movement, many of whom came of age in the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, had a more activist bent; they hoped that mindfulness would lead to a wave of self-actualization, increased compassion for others, and democratic decision-making. With these tools, humanity would be able to collectively address the many complex social problems we collectively face, such as racism, overconsumption, economic inequality, and environmental degradation.

To investigate the spread of mindfulness across powerful social institutions in science, healthcare, education, business, and the military, I travelled around the country from 2010-2012, and again in 2015, talking with leaders of the mindfulness movement. The passionate, inspiring mindfulness advocates at top Ivy League and flagship universities, at Fortune 500 companies like Google and General Mills, at K-12 schools, and the U.S. military had personally benefited from meditating and felt bolstered by a wave of scientific evidence which has supported the practices’ beneficial effects on well-being, memory, attention, meta-awareness, cognitive flexibility, and emotional regulation. Above all, by sharing mindfulness, meditators believed they not only transformed themselves, but the world around them.

Yet, most meditators I spoke with revealed more self-centered effects from spending time in quiet contemplation. This was not surprising to some of mindfulness’ leaders.

Sitting in his office at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society in January of 2015 in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, Executive Director Saki Santorelli told me that people loved to do mindfulness because they learned about who they were, and through the practice, they transcended who they previously were, and who they had thought they were. This process was intrinsically rewarding and exhilarating.

People come to their mindfulness program, he said, because they have “a Real. Life. Problem. Something is just not right,” he said. “And what keeps people engaged is . . . the most interesting topic in the world.” He paused and turned toward me.

“What is this most interesting topic in the world?” He paused again, waiting.

“The most interesting topic in the world,” he responded, “is me.” He continued, “People come here because they are interested in me. Meaning themselves. And something’s not quite right about me or I want to learn more about me including “how am I going to live with this condition for the next 20 or 30 or 40 years?”
In teaching mindfulness at the Center, they seek to “draw out,” rather than “pour in” knowledge. They seek to ignite “a fire with people to know more about ‘who’ or ‘what’ I actually am,” he said. He explained:

They start with practice. Practice reveals not because I say so, but because they discover it. They discover that they have a breath, they discover that it feels a particular way, they discover something about the relative present moment, whatever that is. They discover something about what happens in their viscera when they have a particular thought or a particular emotion . . . They discover the ways that they’re conditioned or limiting themselves or living today out of yesterday’s memory, about whom or what I am or what I’m capable of. And they love it. . . . And whenever people discover a little bit more about who they are, they transcend. And ultimately, I think that’s what’s transformative—is that sense of transcending. Transcend some idea about who you think they are, even if it’s a tiny little idea, and then you feel more room.

Others found meditation useful for different reasons. Neuroscientist Ravi Chaudhary (pseudonym used upon request) thought mindfulness practice provided him with a critical cognitive distance that enabled him to pause, reflect, and ultimately, have greater self-control in facing the challenges that arose in his life. He has learned “not be super reactive to unpleasant situations,” he said. “There’s difficult situations no matter what,” but with mindfulness, he now can take “a moment, sit back and accept that . . . I am not part of it, but rather it is there and I am here.” This helps him make decisions “as if it’s a presumed situation,” and he feels less entangled with difficult situations.

These effects of mindfulness meditation are no doubt important: they help people learn about themselves and, hopefully, engage in more thoughtful decision-making. Mindfulness meditation can also have a therapeutic effect for many people, helping them de-stress, calm themselves and provide openings to experience a sense of peace.

However, mindfulness’s impact off the cushion of the larger organizations and communities where it is practiced largely remains to be seen. Most mindfulness programs have never gotten around to confronting the many larger-scale social problems we face as a society; in fact many newer practitioners might be surprised to learn that founders of early mindfulness programs had sought out such activist-minded ends. In speaking with dozens of program leaders and mindfulness teachers, only a handful had any evidence at all that their programs’ impacts extended beyond the program’s direct participants and into the larger organizations they were a part of.

The impact of mindfulness practice, even among top CEOs and corporate leaders, is largely not trickling down into their larger companies and causing them to cut down expected work hours or loads or increase wages, which are the fundamental causes of the stress many Americans face today. While meditation practices may individually improve the lives of practitioners, and perhaps even those they regularly interact with, it is less clear how the practices lead to the collective action needed to address the complex social problems we face daily in our workplaces and in our democracy.

Yet, the myth that mindfulness will lead to a more progressive, utopian world continues to linger, as a mirage, that might appear just around the bend.

Featured image credit: “Take a seat photo” by Simon Wilkes. Public Domain via Unsplash.

Dispositional Mindfulness: Noticing What You Notice

Author Article

Many forms therapy and spiritual practice speak of mindfulness. Dispositional mindfulness (sometimes known as trait mindfulness) is a type of consciousness that has only recently been given serious research considerations.

It is defined as a keen awareness and attention to our thoughts and feelings in the present moment, and the research shows that the ability to engage in this prime intention has many physical, psychological, and cognitive benefits.

Mindfulness meditation is different. It has taken the Buddhist practice of mindfulness and introduced it to the western world as a form of preparing and training. Those who practice mindfulness meditation are often encouraged to have a “sitting practice,” where they have set aside time to meditate.

In the West, this practice is considered a means to an end. We will be calmer, have lower blood pressure, better relationships, and less stress if we use this practice. While all this is true, the mindfulness aspect of this practice — the essence of this style of meditation was not designed as a means to an end — it was designed to be a way of conscious living.

Mindfulness, when viewed in this way, becomes a quality in our life — a trait, not a state we enter into during practice.

Don’t get me wrong — mindfulness meditation and the wide variety of training programs and opportunities are all valuable exercises. But the original intention of mindfulness and the science now surrounding dispositional mindfulness may be at the very root of how we maintain hope, perseverance, and mental health.

Here is a sample of the research outcomes from nearly 100 studies using dispositional mindfulness:

  • Lower levels of perceived stress
  • Lower use of avoidance coping strategies
  • Fewer depressive symptoms
  • Greater perseverance
  • Less anxiety
  • More hope
  • Reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Improved adaptive coping strategies
  • Reduced rumination
  • Less catastrophizing about pain
  • Diminished neuroticism
  • Improved executive function
  • Decreased impulsivity
  • Increased emotional stability
Proof Positive

This is an impressive list as the intervention we are talking about is a non-judging awareness of our thoughts and actions. The non-judgment is an important aspect of this practice. Cultivating a witness, a self that views our own experience with a benevolent prospective, has importance and impact.

This means that even before we attempt to change our thoughts, there is value — exceptional value — in simply noticing them.

This wobbly space between perception and response becomes clearer once we are given permission to examine the gap. Dispositional mindfulness is an invitation to widen that gap simply by noticing it exists. As we step back from our moment-to-moment experience we are cultivating our mindfulness, which then opens the way to responsiveness and the possibility and potential to shift our perceptions for the better.

As the Beat poet Alan Ginsberg suggested, one way to enter this gap is to “notice what you notice.” The practice is simple enough. As you survey your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a present moment try to do so without judgment. This pause for thought is, in itself, the very dispositional mindfulness that research is showing has so many benefits.

In essence, the practice is strengthened when we catch ourselves thinking.

The Authentic Self versus the False Self

Author Article

The Authentic Self Versus the False Self

In my new book, Live True: A Mindfulness Guide to Authenticity, I write that it is the present moment that matters the most, and if we value the moments of our lives, we will want to make the most of each one, and not let any moment go by without having lived it as truthfully and authentically as we can.

But what does it mean to live “authentically”? The definition of authentic is “genuine” and “real,” or in other words, the combination of all your true qualities and characteristics. However, I like to describe authentic as “living your truth in the present moment.”

I know, it’s easy to want to hide or conceal certain aspects of ourselves we may not love, but once we start to hide who we really are, it can slip away from us to the point that we are living dishonestly to our true nature, and why would we want to do that?

Fear, insecurity, doubt.

Those are some of the emotions that strip us of our true nature. And before we know it, we are not living our truth in the present moment, or any of the moments of our life if we are not aware of the traps of our mind, which are the lies we tell ourselves that keep us stuck in self-deception.

Mindfulness, which is living in the present moment with total awareness, keeps us honest, and true to who we are. It reminds us when we slip out of the moment of authenticity, and try and hide or replace it with a false image of ourselves. But we don’t always practice the valuable skill of mindfulness or remember how important it is to stay present and authentic. To our detriment, we choose to present a false image or persona to others, and this can be one of the greatest causes of our pain and suffering.

As I note in Live True, it’s a lot harder to be who we’re not than who we are, and takes a tremendous amount of work to keep the inauthentic, or false-self, going. This means that you have to keep presenting yourself as who you’re not, and after a while it can be exhausting; both mentally and physically to keep the lie alive.

If you feel that you are living inauthentically and are reluctant or afraid to show who you really are to others, ask yourself what is your greatest fear about revealing your authentic self. Is it that you’re afraid you won’t be liked or loved, or judged for not being enough as your true self? And, if that’s the case, ask yourself if you want people to like and accept you for who you are, or would you prefer them liking you for someone that you’re not?

Living authentically means you’re being honest with yourself, and your honesty is what you have to live with. Even if you take a step back from it out of fear or insecurity, or for whatever reasons, know that you can step right back into the flow of your deepest “authentic truth,” which is the greatest honesty to realize.

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