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Why Power-Play & Politics In Extended Families Can Sabotage Relationships

Understanding Extended Families

The funny thing about extended families …

… is that  the further you diverge from your nuclear family, the crazier things get. If you’ve ever been to a Christmas eve gathering with your maternal aunt complaining about the tacky gift she received from her sister-in-law last year, or your second cousin getting drunk and inappropriately boisterous, you know what I’m talking about.

Because of the emotional bond that holds our families together,  any conflict that occurs is usually loaded with past grievances and hurts. This is why holidays like thanksgiving and Christmas Eve are both the most dreaded and the most cherished part of our working year.

There is a sense of obligation to attend that holds us together. In a society where loneliness has risen to epidemic portions, mandatory family gatherings may be the only situation in which many of us put ourselves out there and step out of our comfort zone.

The lack of annoying people that you have to put up with, has eroded our sense of patience and ability to stay calm, committed and resilient in conflict situations. So naturally when there is conflict among extended family, our first gut instinct is to back away and cut that person off from our life.

Then when people get lonely, they look for superficial thrills, posting about their paragliding adventure on Facebook or taking constant selfies on instagram, just to feel like they are connected to the outside world, that they belong someplace, that they are part of a group. Do you see the irony in this?

I’m asking you today: to embrace the annoying people, the critics, the people that make you feel uncomfortable. A lot of times, this comes in the form of relatives and extended family. Nothing will inspire personal growth like an annoying aunt’s criticism. Nothing like grandma’s encouragement to help you get through growing pains with your toddler. Nothing like being compared to an obnoxiously successful cousin to inspire you to focus on advancing your career. In order to learn and grow, we must force ourselves to face uncomfortable situations. And nothing is more uncomfortable than a family gathering…

The role of power

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Power is the undercurrent that runs through all human conflict. The way human beings (or any other biological/animal  societies) function socially is through power play. We learn early and often about the different roles of power that people hold. We also learn that power is fluid. That it can be given and taken based on the perceptions of those around us. You either find where you fit in, or for the more ambitious, you seize power by manipulating or controlling other people. Power is just as universal as conflict in this regard.

If both power and conflict are universal, then it stands to reason that power lays and conflicts are inherent in the family dynamic. In fact, the family and/or extended family dynamic is there we first encounter  the ebb and flow of power and conflict. Some of us grow up feeling that our parents have wrongly manipulated us using threats, punishments and harsh words to discipline us.  This ‘betrayal’  can lead to destructive patterns of resolving conflict, often with one or both parties striving to regain the lost ‘power’ at any cost. This is a pattern of conflict resolution many of us carry beyond our birth families and into our own later lives.

Another thing to note about this power-play inherent to family conflicts is that it stems from a fundamental, two-pronged fear:

1. Those with more power than us can harm or control us, leaving us unable to defend ourselves.
2. Those with less power than us are just waiting to pounce on us at the first sign of weakness, making us more likely to fail.

Even in intimate and family situations, this fear-induced power-play is often hidden. As a society, we are also conditioned to value honesty, strength and courage, so anyone feeling these insecurities will naturally try to hide it. However, such covert insecurities can lead us further into destructive patterns of conflict resolution when everyone involved denies the problem, or worse, refuses to accept their role in creating the conflict, blaming others instead. This creates a vicious cycle of conflict, lack of  ownership and a deep, festering mistrust.

So what would you do to bridge conflicts and set the stage for positive resolution?

Two things are essential in order to answer this question:

1. Building solid alliances with your family mediators
2. Finding common interests

Forging strong relationships with the peace-keepers in your family will help you thwart conflicts and redirect the family’s focus on positive things early, often, even before the conflict starts. Also, finding common goals can help you survive a difficult family gathering by uniting you to solve a mutual problem rather than dispersing alliances and pushing everyone apart. For people you know you will have to repeatedly interact with, you can choose whether you want to make things even more miserable –  or find a way to co-exist.

And this choice will make all the difference between making your family gatherings a source of joy, or a source of heartache.

In our soon to be published e-book you will find tools to help you build alliances with your family members and find common interests which may help you ward off difficult situations. Stay tuned!

 

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The One Thing that Separates Loved Ones From Strangers

 

A few years ago I frequently took the GO train to downtown Toronto for work. It was mostly a pleasant ride. However, this one lady would push everyone in her frenzy to disembark every time the train pulled into Union Station. Mostly I stayed out of it but one day, she pushed me. I decided to call her out on it. Right there, on the platform, she started screaming out threats about pushing me down the stairs. A security guard caught my eye and came over. We explained the situation to him with several other passengers confirming that this lady had been very aggressive for the past few weeks. The security guard let her go with a warning. That lady was a total stranger. My only concern in this situation was to speak out against her aggression and do what I thought was “right” in defending myself. I did not care at all about whether our relationship would suffer as a result of my speaking out.

In contrast, when I moved to a new country, I saw a lot of things that were not “right”. Living with five other people, conflict was both healthy and inevitable. The difference was that I actually cared about my relationship with these people. So I had to force myself to look past huge hurdles like emotional extremes, power imbalances and a starkly different worldview and find a way to get along with them. I learned an important lesson – from siblings to parents to spouses to kids, our closest relationships are the trickiest to handle.

Strangers VS Loved Ones

When it comes to our closest relationships, unresolved conflicts can lead to an ongoing skirmishes and resentment. When this everyday stress becomes pervasive, it not only damages your relationship and self-esteem but also robs you of a potentially powerful support system (your loved ones). Conflict with people you care about is very different form conflict with people who are transient in your life like the cashier at your local drugstore or the rude lady pushing you on your commute to work.

Conflict with loved ones is trickier to handle because we usually DO care about our relationship enough to want to make it last. It is also likely that your affection for your loved one(s) compels you to keep their best interests in mind. So mutual trust and affection are essential to establishing and maintaining healthy long term relationships. However, in times of conflict, mutual understanding is the first facet of your relationship to be dismissed.

Impact of Different Conflict Management Styles

In a conflict situation with a loved one, your relationship will take the brunt of the damage especially if one of both of you are constantly minimizing the other person’s feelings. We have all fallen into patterns of aggression, lack of sensitivity or lack of courtesy in a domestic argument at one point or another. Unconsciously or even on purpose, we all tend to do it. However, not many of us are aware that these toxic patterns of interaction set up a dangerous power play dynamic – the effects of which can linger for a long time after the conflict has been resolved.

While displays of insensitivity, aggression and power struggles are damaging to your relationships with loved ones, avoidance of conflict is also equally, if not more damaging to your relationship. Always striving to smooth things over and please the other person inevitably breeds resentment if you are always bending over backwards for your loved one. Ironically, the family member you are trying to accommodate is simultaneously being conditioned to be selfish and insensitive to your preferences because you are always putting their needs ahead of yours. When this happens, the trust in your relationship is damaged as well as your own personal sense of self-worth. Rather than engaging in patterns of aggression or accommodation, an honest, respectful (both to yourself and to the other person) and non-manipulative approach can strengthen your relationship even in times of conflict.

However, in order to reach a respectful, honest and non-manipulative relationship dynamic, both parties need to do certain internal work first. Experts of often talk about open communication, negotiation and compromise but in order to act on these peace-keeping values, you need to create the emotional and mental space for them first. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts of overcoming conflict with your loved ones:

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What You Need To Do When Fighting With A Friend

Has anyone else noticed how friendships are becoming more and more transient in our hyper-connected lives?

Instead of a big fight, argument or heated discussion, friendships now fizzle out because of tiny little falling outs – your friend didn’t call or you forgot to wish them on their birthday or you simply stopped calling, writing or meeting. Most of the time, the issue just festers, unaddressed. IF you want to be more proactive in your social relationships, try the following suggestions whenever you are in an awkward situation with a friend:

Avoid Gossip

I used to be a straight shooter until I was plunged into the middle of a million strange people and forced to interact with them. I noticed how some people would gossip incessantly. Repelled at first, I eventually began to see how they would get short-term positive results, as the two gossiping people became “friends”. So I started doing it too. Much to my surprise, the initial ‘bonding’ your experience when you gossip with someone quickly turns into an acute sense of mistrust. If a person can spread negativity about someone else, who knows what they will be sewing behind your back about you?

It took me a while to figure out that gossip actually harms you the most – not the person you are gossiping about who is likely oblivious to your back-biting. So when you fight with friend, avoid gossiping or talking about them to another person in a complaining way. Just don’t go down that slippery slope.

See Others’ perspective

In any fight, the challenge is to try to understand it from the other person’s perspective. What if they’re wrong, you say?  Even if they are wrong, understanding their perspective will help you understand how to approach the issue with them. This is especially true when you have a fight and someone is sending negative energy to you. When someone sends you negative every, instead of sending them negative energy back, try sending them positive energy instead. Thwart the vicious cycle of mistrust.

One way you can send them positive energy is to try to understand their situation and empathize with them. This doesn’t mean you give up your views and parrot theirs. Instead, show them compassion and they will be that much more willing to return that sense of understanding.

Initiate resolution

Ever get into a power struggle with a friend? You’re arguing, you’re sure they’re wrong and you’re waiting for that apology so you can forgive them? And wanting. And waiting. They never reach out to you because they feel equally strongly that you were wrong and they were right.

Be that powerful person who initiates resolution. Even if it intimidates you a little bit. Be that powerful person who says “I know we don’t agree on some things and may even be angry at each other, but lets make this work!”

Give them space

If your friend is too angry to talk, don’t hound them.  Give them space to calm down. Reach out and let them know once that you’re willing to talk it out. If they genuinely care about the friendship, they will eventually reach out to you when they are ready.

Listen Actively

When they do reach out to you, don’t start tooting your own grievances right away. Listen patiently. When I first got married, my husband’s infinite patience with errant employees, friends and even relatives drove me crazy. The other person would be spewing heated nonsense in his face that was none of his fault, and all he would do is nod, ask questions and entertain that load of nonsense like it was the most important thing ever.  I thought he was being timid and unassuming, but in retrospect, I noticed something wonderful. Although he was not aggressive in that heated moment, people always apologized sheepishly afterwards. And boy, did they respect him. His ability to stay calm in the moment and listen to people thoroughly so they felt heard made him more powerful than any aggressive, fist-waving, red-faced human being.

Never Accuse

Its natural in any conflict to get fixated on all the things the other person is doing wrong. But pointing fingers and accusing someone does nothing other than further alienate you. No, spewing those caustic words hovering in your head will not “set them straight”. Accusing someone, even if its their fault will only make the conflict fester and close off communication.

 

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How To Get What You Want In Any Conflict

Conflicts are temporary. Children know intrinsically that conflicts are inevitable and transient in our lives. We adults often forget.

The other day I watched my daughter fight with another child on the playground over a couple of sand toys. The battle for the sand bucket and spade was fierce and brutal – punches flew, screams emerged until we broke them apart.

The adults around were all nervous for a long time after, watching for a fight that needed any intervention, meanwhile the kids had long forgotten about it. Once we broke them apart, they promptly proceeded to hold hands, climb up the big blue slide backwards and then tumbling back down down, giggling, as we adults watched nervously.

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Many of us have learned to hold on to conflicts, grudges, hurts and disagreements long after the inciting incident has dissipated. A lot of this emotional baggage clogs up our consciousness and hampers our ability to think, learn, function and live.

It also hampers our ability to let go of the negativity that often surrounds conflicts. Most importantly, it costs us the opportunity to take advantage of the learning that ensues whenever we are caught up in the middle of a conflict.

Adversity has the effect of eliciting

Opportunity for change

Conflicts aren’t just opportunities for learning, they are also opportunities to bring about change. Often, we put up with things that we don’t necessarily agree with or enjoy.

When a conflict arises, that’s probably the first thing that comes to our mind. We recount the reasons why the person is wrong or why the situation makes us unhappy. But rather than merely complaining, what if we use that interaction as a medium of communication in order to change that thing we don’t like, or to improve something we think could be done better?

In order to use conflicts as an opportunity for change, however, we need to think about how we will position ourselves.

The art of success is mainly centred on

3 Proven Steps to Positioning Yourself Right

 

Think. Anticipate. Execute.

An unnamed entity in my family is really good at positioning themselves whenever they anticipate that a conflict will arise out of a particular situation. While the rest of us go into any conflict situation unarmed, often unaware, this person is able to anticipate the events with such acquity that it almost looked like magic to me. Until I tried it.

The first few times this happened, I was awkward and unsure, but the more I did it, I realized how this was a learned skill like any other. So how exactly does it work?

Think:

Assess the situation and brainstorm the outcomes that could happen.

The first few times, you might have to sit down and list all the possibilities with actual pen and paper. As you get better with it however, you will be able to do it promptly in your head.

The purpose of this step is to train your brain to hone in on the possibilities of the situation as they relate to the outcome that you want.

Anticipate:

Anticipation is not just anticipating the other’s actions, but also finding a common thread that ties your own goal into the situation.

Going back to my family member, they  often word their proposals in a very careful, planned way so as to sound like the course of action they want is in our mutual interest even though it may be benefiting them the most. While some may consider this manipulative, the fact remains, that not many of us want to hear the cold, hard, conflict-ridden and harsh truth. Most of us would rather get along and avoid conflict.

Afterall, what is more important-  to get along and resolve the issue in an amicable way (that also happens to benefits you), or to feel a sense of empowerment because you were “right” and you showed the other person a ‘truth’ or two about life.

Remember, truth and correctness are subjective. In any human interaction, your truth will always be slightly different from mine. Your sense of right and wrong will be different too. Your truth is just as true to you as mine is to me.

So instead of being hard headed about what you perceive to be “true” why not focus on a solution that is both amicable and beneficial?

Execute:

Once you’ve done the mental work of preparing for an imminent conflict, it is time to execute.

In order to overcome conflict, your delivery must be authentic, if nothing else. Often, this above mentioned family member will try so hard to convince me that helping them or doing something is in my own interest, that it turns me off from the whole sordid affair and I end up saying no just for the principle of it.

No one likes to be manipulated. If people see through your ruse to get them to do something you don’t want to do, its game over. You’ve lost their precious trust because everything you say, for the rest of the interaction, they will view through a lens of suspicion.

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You want to position yourself in the best way possible so when conflict arises, you’re armed and ready to get the outcome that you desire.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series.

 

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3 Sensational Tricks to Strengthen Personal Boundaries

Challenge yourself today

So here’s your challenge for today – come up with a plan to create and maintain strong, healthy boundaries. Setting boundaries is so much more than just learning to say no. People with healthy boundaries not only identify and nurture their own boundaries, they also respect and advocate for others’ boundaries. For when you create an environment where others can empower themselves, it invariably also strengthens your own personal power.

To get you started on your “Healthy Boundaries” challenge, here are three ways in which you can strengthen your boundaries:

Mind Your Choice of Words

Sometimes all it takes to set clear boundaries is your subtle choice of words. You don’t have to negotiate, argue or stand your ground every time. Just being clear with your words can solve a lot of boundary problems without having to change any other aspect of your relationship.
When I went back to my clinical placement the following week, I still had to answer call bells. Setting boundaries for myself in that situation meant that I let the patient know that I will pass on the message to their nurse. With the nurses, I delivered the message with a phrase like “Okay, so you’ll take it from here right?” Or “Ok so I’ll leave you to it” or “Just wanted to draw your attention”. That sent a very direct message. Not only did it demonstrate that we were on the same team and that I was happy to help, but phrasing it like that also allowed me to draw a clear line of responsibility and pass the issue back to the primary person responsible for the patient – the nurse. Sometimes, you don’t even have to put up a fight or explain why you won’t do something. If you are clear about your agenda for the situation, setting explicit boundaries can help you come to mutual decisions without having to butt heads with other people even though they may have different a personal agenda.

Number Your Acts of Kindness

Sometimes, our conditioning runs so deep that we don’t even notice how many times a day we are breaching our own boundaries in our need to please and help others. A strategy that helped me gain back my power was toset a limit for how many freebie acts of kindness I will execute on any given day day. At clinical, if someone catches me free after the two bed baths I have decided I will do for the day, I’ll be clear, honest and just neutrally state that I actually have a lot of tasks pending that I haven’t been able to get around to because of the two bed baths I’ve already done. Then, I wish that nurse luck saying “I hope you find someone else to help you”. You will find over time that even though initially this sort of language and firmness feels awkward at first, the more you practice this sort of healthy communication, people come to expect and appreciate such frankness from you. The first time I said this politely, the floor nurse just stared at me. Over time though, she learned to catch me early on in the day for any help she needed and was infinitely more grateful for my help compared to when I used to help with bed baths all day. So limit your acts of kindness. The scarcity alone will make your help seem like a precious commodity. When people respect your time and effort, they also appreciate your boundaries and honour them.

Give yourself credit

Sometimes, we keep ‘helping’ people to the point that they take us for granted. Obviously family members are the most guilty of this habit, but often, even at work this dynamic comes into play. After a while, people stop noticing how much you’re going out of your way to help them. In order to make it clear to the other person that I am doing them a favour, I’ve learned to voice the benefits they are deriving from my company and support in a positive way like “I hope my effort helped you, I know how rough its been for you lately”. I recently went all the way after a social event to drop a friend home. Not that I minded, but since I wanted her to realize how for out of my way I went to drop her, I added something subtle into the conversation like “I’m glad you didn’t take the crowded subway at this time, it would have taken you an hour and a half to get home.” To some, it may seem like digging for compliments. The more you do this though, you will start to notice the positive air of balance in most of your relationships. The best part is that after you do this for a while, you start to notice yourself how much you’re helping others. That does two things – raise your self-esteem, and also helps you appreciate how valuable your help is to others. Someone with high self-esteem and a personal sense of worth is less likely to have his or her boundaries violated and personal agenda hijacked.

Once you set an example, others will tend to follow your footsteps and appreciate you more. Often, subtle change is more than enough to turn the tides in your personal life and nudge you towards healthier ways of working, playing and interacting with others.

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The importance of personal boundaries and how you can maintain good ones

How boundaries cultivate symbiotic relationships

The ultimate key to staying in control of your agenda while still maintaining genuine working relationships is to set and enforce clear boundaries. Personal boundaries are tricky because human expectations are constantly changing. As a result, boundaries expectations not only pervade our relationships with other people, but also with ourselves.

How many times have you set unrealistic expectations for yourself and promptly gotten upset when you failed? How many times has have your (or others’) perfectionist expectations and need for control sabotaged a work project or personal relationship? Take a look at the graphic below to see how many of these ‘violations’ you frequently participate in – both for your own boundaries and those of others.

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Most of us struggle with setting boundaries and saying “No” on an ongoing basis. Not wanting to hurt feelings of others, not wanting to seem irresponsible or worse apathetic, we continue to let people invade our boundaries. And inevitably this leads to burnout. Whether we are pushing our boundaries to impress our colleagues and seniors or merely ourselves, there can be dire consequences for breaching your sacred boundaries over and over.

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When your boundaries are breached repeatedly (burnout, feeling incompetent, self-sabotage)

Our boundaries, both personal and professional, are meant to create a sense of security. They exist so that we may value and appreciate our own existence. They literally define who we are. How many times have you heard words like, she’s a pushover, he’s passive-aggressive or she’s too bossy?

People view others and themselves in the light of the boundaries they set. By allowing people to breach our boundaries time and again, we risk feeling burnout, incompetence and even self-loathing. If we are continually sidetracked by other people’s agenda, we lose sight of our own. In this tug-of-war with competing agendas, we rarely win – and believe it or not, the other person doesn’t win either.

Consequences of living with unhealthy boundaries can range from minor irritations to full-blown physiological problems. People with unhealthy boundaries:
•    Are unable to say no for fear of rejection or abandonment
•    Have a weak sense of identity often living to serve others
•    Feel disempowered – giving their power and responsibility to others
•    Let others make decisions for them
•    Are unable to protect their physical and emotional space from intrusion
•    Feel responsible for other’s happiness and satisfaction
•    Expect others to read their minds and anticipate their needs
•    May frequently breach others’ boundaries themselves

Healthy boundaries on the other hand lead to empowerment, strong limits and mutually beneficial relationships. People with healthy boundaries:
•    Are assertive and vocal with their opinions, thoughts, feelings and needs
•    Convey their point of contention in a respectful manner
•    Freely say yes or no and also are okay when others say no
•    Recognize that they have separate needs, thoughts, feelings and desires from others
•    Make healthy choices and take responsibility for themselves
•    Have high self-esteem and self respect
•    Share personal information gradually, in a mutually sharing/trusting relationship
•    Protect physical and emotional space from invasion or intrusion
•    Create equal partnerships with shared responsibility and power

Do you need to make changes? What changes could you make to help prevent further boundary violations?

Continue to Part 4 of the Staying True to Your Personal Vision series.

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What you need to identify your personal vision and stop others from sidetracking you

Identifying your personal vision

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Steve Jobs’ productivity was legendary, but it wasn’t accidental. According to Jobs’ biographer, Walter Isaacson, Jobs annually walked Apple’s leaders through the following exercise: He would ask ‘What are the 10 things we should be doing next?’ After all the brainstorming they would come up with a list of top10 priorities. Jobs then slashed the bottom seven saying ‘We can only do three.’
The beauty of this is that by focusing on the top two or three priorities, you, like Jobs have the power to create whatever reality it is that you aspire to with a laser-focus. In a to-do list of twenty items , you may lose track of the most significant or impactful captivities, but when you only focus on a couple, you know exactly what to do in order to move your vision forward.

Know when other people are intercepting (consciously or unconsciously ) sidetracking you

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Though it sure may seem like it sometimes, people are not intentionally trying to screw us over. They have their own stressors and they cope by offloading or throwing their tasks and responsibilities onto others. Considering the fact that they are literally taking advantage of you, how can it be anything but conscious malice?

Its hard to wrap your head around this concept but try this: Think back to a time when you asked someone for help out of desperation. Try to imagine how they felt about picking up your task. Maybe they never said anything to you but they felt extremely cornered and being taken advantage of.

Putting yourself into someone else’s shoes for a while may help you see their point and see how it aligns with your vision OR it may allow you to empathize with their differing perspective and identify what points of conflict you can work through in order to ensure that your agenda isn’t being sacrificed when assisting someone in fulfilling their vision.

Personal and professional relationships are the catch-22 of success. They can hinder, sidetrack or ruin your plans. They can also be incredibly powerful agents that propel you in the right direction when they help you to fulfill your vision.

No matter how rich or poor, educated or illiterate, socially endowed or painfully awkward we live, work and play among other human beings. These human agents of change are all around us all of the time. Just as other people tend to use you in achieving their ends, you can ask others for help in achieving yours.

Try to think of it from a perspective of symbiotic assistance the next time you groan as a superior dumps an awful task on you. So when that nurse asks me to do the sixth bed bath for the morning, I get up with a genuine smile instead, reminding myself that once I am done helping HER, how much more willing she will be to allow me to practice my wound care skills on the same patient.

Helping others and expecting help in return is not opportunistic or inconsiderate of other people’s agenda, it is the cornerstone of all human interactions, innovations and personal success.

Continue to Part 3 of the Staying True to Your Personal Vision Series.

 

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Goals are misleading- this the only tool you’ll ever need to get things done

I recently started a new clinical placement. As nursing students still learning the trade, we are the very bottom of the hospital hierarchy.

We are treated well, don’t get me wrong. Still, there are instances where we are overworked and hijacked to meet other peoples’ agenda. Tasks that the nurses are either too busy to do or don’t want to do are often delegated to us lowly students. Not wanting to rub them the wrong way, we often take on the unsavoury chore with a smiling face.

Now this is all well and good, until these chores start taking over our time on the floor and impinging our own ultimate goal – learning clinical skills. When this work starts to affect students’ personal mindset and self-worth, it becomes less conducive to the rapid learning that we are expected to undertake in order to blossom into competent nurses.

There’s only so many bed baths we can do and only so many call bells we can answer before we start feeling undervalued. While the subtle pressure to please our nurse preceptors may not be intentional, it is pervasive, nonetheless, as a consequence of being at the bottom.

On the long drive home, up Toronto’s picturesque Don Valley Parkway, I thought hard about this phenomenon of hijacked agendas and how they affect us mentally.

It struck me that this so-called ‘runt of the litter’ problem isn’t just limited to healthcare. It is universal regardless of the line of work that you are in. In every profession, there will always be superiors giving away their tasks as if they were presents – and its hard to say no.

An over-loaded senior staff member decides to bite off more than they can chew, who ends up doing the job? The junior of course. I guess with experience, and the climbing of the proverbial ladder, it probably gets easier to say no and set clear boundaries over time. For the newbie navigating the murky waters of professionalism though, sticking to your own agenda is not just difficult – it is imperative in order to succeed in our increasingly chaotic workplaces.

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Goals vs. Agendas

Even if you don’t work in an environment where you are constantly interacting with other people, it is very, very likely that other people’s agendas often intersect, support or hinder your own. The first step in staying true to the direction you want your life to take is to understand the difference between a goal and an agenda. Notice how we’re using the word agenda here. For decades, personal management experts have touted goals as the holy grail of success and productivity.

Goals are misleading.

With goals, you think that once you have the entire plan set-up, and you follow it, you will get what you want. Bam! Instant gratification.

Life is rarely straightforward though.

There are always curveballs. Delays. Interruptions. Setbacks.

Goals make you think that work is always linear. Achieving goals requires you to make a plan and stick to it. But its really not that simple, is it? A personal agenda is a non-linear system that allows for unexpected changes, interruptions and the vagaries of life.

Oddly enough, after we wrote the first draft of this article, we found the following excerpt by James Clear.

“You can’t predict the future. (I know, shocking.) But every time we set a goal, we try to do it…”

He suggests instead that you should build feedback loops. Sound advice for a world in which we are overwhelmed with an influx of relevant and irrelevant information.

“Feedback loops are important for building good systems because they allow you to keep track of many different pieces without feeling the pressure to predict what is going to happen with everything. Forget about predicting the future and build a system that can signal when you need to make adjustments.”

You can find the original article here.

Your life process is rarely ever linear, and your working systems shouldn’t be either, especially where other people are involved in the work that you do. It is human to get sidetracked from your personal vision or agenda.

To move forward unfazed however, you need to keep reminding yourself of what it is that you are working towards.

Continue to Part 2 of the Staying True to Your Personal Vision series.

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Day 14 -I am grateful for the everyday opportunities to express gratitude through my actions

While researching for this Gratitude Challenge last week, I stumbled upon a group of bloggers who had taken part in a similar challenge in 2009. One of them was Ana Picazo of Bonggamom. I followed the links back to her fun, tip-filled blog and came across a ‘gratitude alphabet’ post she had written in 2009. Her observations were a mix of astute, relatable and funny. Check them out below:

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D — Okay, I admit it: I’m one of those women who’s ecstatic that she has a daughter. Not that having sons isn’t wonderful. But you know what I mean.

I — I’ve got the best in-laws ever; you’ll get no monster-in-law stories from me!

N — Our little computer nook on the upstairs landing has the best view in the whole house, and it’s my favorite place to be.

S — The public school system in Palo Alto is blessed with dedicated teachers and involved parents (the fact that so many of them are also internet millionaires with big hearts and big checkbooks is an added bonus!)

T — My son ThreePo needs constant love and affection, but gives it in return.

Y — I don’t have my youth anymore, but the memories are great!

[/quote] Ana Picazo, blogger, freelance writer, mom.

You can read the rest of her gratitude alphabet here.

What I really liked about Ana was the authenticity and playfulness that came across in her posts. So I reached out to her for an interview. Check it out:

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Love the Filipino word ‘bongga’ and your fun food and lifestyle updates. Briefly tell us about how you got started blogging.

In 2006 I was a mom of a 5 year old girl and twin 2 year old boys…. and I was drowning. I needed an outlet, so when a friend from school invited me to write for the Silicon Valley Moms blog, I jumped at the chance. Silicon Valley Moms blog went on to become one of the most successful collaborative blogs of its time, and I went on to start a personal blog and a review blog.  I fell in love with blogging and never looked back.

What current or recent project are you working on, and what is your role?

I still maintain both my personal and review blogs, but the bulk of my work as a blogger consists of freelance writing. I am currently a contributor to the Savvy Source, Silicon Valley Mamas, and Bedtime Math.

Tell us more about the gratitude challenge you took in 2009.

In August of 2009, I was invited to join a group of bloggers in blogging every day about the things we were grateful for. We were given specific writing prompts and activities for each day of the 21-day challenge.  I welcomed the challenge of blogging each and every day. I also wanted to be a better role model for my kids, and do less yelling and more hugging.  I thought that taking the time to reflect upon my blessings was a good way to start.

What was the best part of the gratitude project for you personally?

Remembering and listing down everything that I have to be grateful for.

What was the most difficult challenge you had in maintaining a gratitude practice?

Maintaining the discipline to blog every day.

What’s the biggest thing you learned from the gratitude project?

Being grateful is easy, but acknowledging it and thanking those responsible takes work.

Gratitude is more than an attitude, it’s a habit-tude.

What’s one piece of advice would you give to someone considering a gratitude practice?

When you think about it, you can be grateful even for little things. Look at the little things in your life that make your life easier or make you happy, and think about what your life would be like if they weren’t there.

What’s next for you?

My kids are moving on from elementary school to middle school and beyond. They are getting more independent, which gives me more flexibility to pursue more freelance contracts. I’ve taken a position as a social media manager for a nonprofit, and I’ve begun dabbling in web design.  I don’t have as much time for personal blogging, but I’ll always be a blogger at heart!

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Ana also talks about “the little things in your life that make your life easier or make you happy”. Gratitude has one of the strongest links to mental health and life satisfaction. More than any other personality trait. More than even optimism, hope or compassion.

According to researchers, Ana’s tip to “think about what your life would be like if they weren’t there.” is actually effective in inspiring gratitude and happiness.

In his book “Gratitude works : A 21 day program for creating emotional prosperity.”, UC Davis professor and researcher Robert Emmons writes that “thinking about the absence of  something positive in your life produces more gratitude and happiness than imagining its presence.” These findings (a result off controlled research experiments) show that gratitude works in ways that we can barely begin to comprehend.

How this changes YOUR life

The biggest take-away for me from Ana Picazo’s was her advice about gratitude being more of a habit-tude than an attitude. Its the little things in your life that add up to make the bulk of your lived experience. The smallest of things can inspire gratitude in us. While its relatively easier to sit down in the comfort of your home and write down little lists of gratitude in your journal, the real work – and especially the rewards come from acknowledging your gratitude through actions. By thanking people who have helped you, by performing random acts of kindness, by reaching out to those that are less fortunate and helping them.

Last week, a friend posted on her Facebook status that she was blown away by a simple act of kindness at the drive-thru.  The guy who drove up before her had paid for her order in advance. She seemed thrilled with the experience and talking about how she hoped to pay it forward someday. You can imagine the gratitude a stranger’s simple act inspired in her. A small bill paid at the drive-thru – he didn’t even have to go out of his everyday routine to show this simple kindness.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4acb58″] A gratitude practice is more effective when you take concrete steps to increase your ‘gratitude awareness’ and to infect other people with feelings of thankfulness by setting an example of giving without expecting anything in return. [/quote]

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8r8qYyeMMWI&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

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I am grateful for the ability to nurture a grateful disposition through my thoughts, actions and convictions. I am grateful for the ability to deeply ingrain this practice into my everyday struggles so that ‘giving thanks’ can germinate in the fertile ground of my inner being. I am grateful not only for the ability to contemplate on all the things I am grateful for, but also for the ability to act, express and release my gratitude in order to change the world around me.  Gratitude felt and more importantly, expressed through our actions can radically change the nature of a relationship, journey or goal. I am grateful for the everyday opportunities to express gratitude through my words and actions.

Inspired by Robert Emmons’ powerful metaphor of ‘growing gratitude’

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Today’s Task

Today’s task is as simple as going out there and sowing your seeds of gratitude in the world around you. Get up right now and go do any of the following five:

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  • Write a letter to an old teacher, professor or mentor about how they changed your life. If they heaped you through a particularly challenging experience, let them know. Go out and mail it.
  • Call your mother, father, sibling or spouse randomly. Talk about how much you love them and how much richer your life is because they are around to support you.
  • Perform a random act of kindness.
  • Help someone in need – volunteer at a shelter, help an old lady with the groceries, donate your old clothes.[/list]

 
Now, go out and make the world a better place!

 

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Day 13 – I am grateful that I have access to healthy, delicious, nutritious food

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22JT4Vn1lcg&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

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Every weekend, our cook goes into town to buy fresh vegetables and fruits. There is a farmer’s market in the heart of Old Ahmedabad City to which she travels. In the midst of a cacophony of vendors selling everything to fruits to vegetables to nuts to meat and fish, she picks out the freshest, healthiest produce to last us for the rest of the week.

I order healthy and delicious produce from a list of my choice. I am grateful that I can afford such a wide variety of nutritious food. I am grateful for my cook for painstakingly picking out the freshest produce for us to eat.

I am also grateful  for the realization that food is literally fuel to my body. I am grateful that I no longer eat as much junk as I used to I am grateful that eating healthy food clears my mind. I am grateful for my daily green smoothies they keep me energized and feeling powerful. I am grateful for the awareness that my body works best when nurtured with healthy clean diet and not mindless oily, unhealthy junk.

I am grateful for the means to afford this healthy food and the luxury of feeding myself high quality produce. I am grateful for a healthy and functioning body that can enjoy such nutritious food. I am grateful for the awareness that enables me to make healthy dietary choices.

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Wholesome fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein are essential to eating well and maintaining a healthy body but most of us have no time or patience to follow complicated diets. So I’ve tried to set up a better way to feed myself  healthier meals. Below are some of the practices that help me everyday:

Portion control

We actually do not need to eat as much as we think we do. Except veggies, of course. A simple way to eat healthy and still feel satisfied is to eat your veggies at the beginning of your meal. That way, you will be full when you get to the higher calorie foods. Studies show that Americans are not only eating more high calorie foods outside the home, but also that portions are slowly getting larger. Larger portion sizes coupled with sedentary lifestyles are a potent time-bomb waiting to detonate into a slew of health problems – obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, even joint and muscle problems from lugging all that extra weight around. To combat this, save high calorie foods for the end of your meal when you will be fuller from the veggies and more able to resist gorging yourself because of hunger pangs.

Pantry control

Restricting yourself to home-cooked meals also means you have to commit to eating low-calorie but nutrient laden meals in the home. So raid your pantry. It may sound extreme and wasteful but throwing out unhealthy foods will not only get rid of all the temptation, it will also help you avoid healthcare bills in the long run. Produce, lean protein, meat, whole grains – anything that looks like it came out of the ground can stay. The rest of the stuff? Dump it.

Dress up your veggies

If you’re going to eat them over the long term, your veggies need to taste great. If you can practice moderation, there is nothing wrong with using a table spoon of ranch, a few shreds of cheese, raisins, nuts, soy sauce or anything else that tickles your tastebuds. Dress up your veggie platter so it looks enticing. Flavorful herbs, colorful fruits and unusual spices can add adventure and novelty to otherwise bland vegetables without the burden of extra calories. Do what you need to do in order for your fruits and veggies to taste great. Make them the highlight of your meal.

Smart snacking

Some experts say that your snacks ( especially the less healthy ones) must be no larger than the size of your fist. Veggies, of course, are an exception. I am a certified junk food addict, so instead of snack time being a starvation struggle, I treat myself to a tiny (no cheating here!) portion of my favourite snack and enjoy it without beating myself up.

Manage your eating environment

Take a look at where you eat. Is everyone around you munching on cheesecake and chips? Are your friends laughing at your failed attempts lose weight? Do you watch tv while eating? get yourself out of these toxic situations. Find a new, fresh, clean and inspiring place to eat. In the summer, go out to the patio to enjoy the scenery and fresh air. In winter, find a cozy spot near the fireplace. Make your dining area your sacred shrine.

Sustainable food habits take much more effort than just going through the motions until you are so desperate for a bag of Cheetos that you drool in your sleep when you dream about them. Every meal is a choice – not a battle! Experiment to make your healthy food taste good so that you actually look forward to eating it. Think of it at as a love affair – keep it fresh and exciting, throwing in some new flavours here and there. Most of all, remember that food is not about comfort, stress-relief, reward or stuffing yourself just because it tastes so great.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4acb58″]Food is fuel.[/quote]

Go ahead. Tattoo that on the inside of your wrist. I’m joking!

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Day 12 – I am grateful to my sister for dragging me to Yoga class

Growing up in an East Indian household, Yoga was something reserved for crummy old uncles and aunties trying to lose weight. Any Indian kid I knew, any Indian kid worth their salt steered clear of anything yoga-related. My grandmother did yoga, so did my aunt. They made me do it sometimes with them. I kind of thought it was fun – but I wouldn’t be caught dead doing it.

So imagine my surprise when my sister insisted we sign up for a month of unlimited hot yoga (unlimited?!?) at the local yoga centre when I returned home for a visit this summer. Not only was she literally dragging me to yoga. It sounded like some torturous new fad. What the hell was hot yoga???

I went reluctantly, almost ran away again when I realized hot yoga was literally HOT… We were practicing inside of a sweltering room heated to unnatural degrees by a heater and humidifier rolled into one hideous looking machine. It was supposed to be good for your joints… or something.

Anyway, I started the session skeptically, but by the end of it I was like WOW! The workouts were gruelling, but there was nothing new about that. I’d done gruelling workouts before. What blew me away was that the entire time I was contorting my body into impossible positions in that dark, infernal studio, my mind was quiet. No anxieties surfacing, no fears, no thinking just a soft, worm void like a womb. Instead, I felt a sense of relief at not having to think. I’m a worry wart. My mind is constantly whirring, even when I’m trying to relax. The evil side of my brain is constantly whispering silent poison into my internal ear about ALL the things that are going to go wrong with my life if I take risks. I take risks anyway – and boy, do I pay the price listening to my inner devil.

Our instructor closed the practice with a few lines of gratitude for the support we take for granted – the ability to have been there in that room, the circumstances in our lives that make it possible to engage in leisure activities like this. She asked us to release all hurts, self inflicted and by others, to release our fears and let the universe take care of them. As corny as it sounds, the meditation had me sobbing uncontrollably by the end. The combination of moving muscles I had long ago forgotten how to, with the gruelling physical conditions and the utter mental peace gave me an overwhelming sense of relief that I had not felt in a long, long time.

Back in the real world, I felt rejuvenated, empowered and ready to take on anything that life throws at me. That month of hot yoga has long been over, but I’ve rediscovered a new sense of freedom in the practice of yoga that grounds me everyday. I’ve possibly turned into a crummy old aunty and I can’t believe how good it feels!

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaPWdvDiPaE&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

[message_box title=”Affirmation” color=”beige”]I’m grateful for a sister that pushed me to join yoga class. I am grateful for my old folks that took care of my little one while I indulged in daily hot yoga sessions. I am grateful for the luxury of time and money that allows me to afford such leisure practices that rejuvenate me. I am grateful for the physical and mental benefits of discovering this yoga practice. I am grateful for the amazing instructors at Moksha Yoga whose words had a bigger impact on me then they will ever know. Their words moved me to tears, they allowed me to introspect and think the scary thoughts that I was repressing. Their gentle support allowed me to think these scary thoughts in the safe-womb of that dark studio. I am grateful for the strong and supple body that allows me to continue to practice everyday. I am grateful for the steady mind that allows me to focus my thoughts. I am grateful for the breath that allows me to centre myself. I am grateful for the lungs that draw in oxygen and give me strength. I am grateful for the change in my food habits as a result of my yoga practice that allows me to nourish myself with clean, healthy food that keeps me nimble. I am grateful for the burst of energy I feel after a practice session. I am grateful for the increased mindfulness I experience as a result of practice that allows me to be fully present with my two year old. Most of all, I am grateful for this beautiful life I’ve been blessed with where I feel free, joyous and excited to begin each day with my daily practice.[/message_box]

 

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Day 11 – I am grateful for the people that make my life comfortable

I am grateful for the people that make my life comfortable

How many people make your life possible the way as it is? How many of them do you take the time to thank?

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYKOlVqaeew&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

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It is Diwali in India and while most of India is exploding with designer sweets and consumer culture and firecrackers, I see some quiet acts of kindness too. Some people are quietly tipping, thanking and wishing the people that serve us.

I am grateful for the ability to afford so much help with maintaining my lifestyle. I am grateful for the support of so many wonderful people that show up everyday cheerful to do their job. Even on days where they may feel sick or dread work, they show up and do a good job of doing it. I am grateful for the cook that provides kind childcare even though it is not part of her job description. I am grateful for the security guards that guard our community. I am grateful for the kind old man guarding my little girl’s school who always spares a smile for her as she gets dropped off and picked up everyday. I am grateful for the pre-school staff that nurture my child everyday and allow me the luxury of a couple of hours to work on this website. I am grateful for the chauffeurs that drive me around the chaotic Indian roads so I don’t have to deal with that hassle.  I am grateful for the gardener that keeps our outdoor space manicured and beautiful. I am grateful for the government staff who work hard to process papers that allow me and my child to stay here. I am grateful for the farmers that toil under the harsh sun so that we may eat fresh fruits and vegetables to nurture our bodies. I am grateful that so many people rally to make my comfortable lifestyle a reality.

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This is for the one who drives the big bus, up and down the road.
Or the one out in the warehouse, bringing in the load.
Or the health aide, the mechanic, the campus supervisor on patrol.
For everyone who works behind the scenes.
With a spirit you can’t replace with no machine.

by Chris Gdowski, Adams District School Superintendent[/quote]

 

When you think about it, there are a ton of people that work hard everyday to make your comfortable lifestyle a reality:

[list type=”check”]

  • Cashiers who cash out my groceries quickly and with my smile. They make grocery shopping enjoyable and convenient.
  • Janitors who clean up after me at work and at home. They save me time and make my surroundings comfortable, clean and livable.
  • Garbagemen – who take away the garbage every week. Without them I would be surrounded by streets that are a stinking, disease harbouring mess.
  • Local Barristas who fuel my writing with their delicious beverages. They allow me to sit in a public place, watch people that inspire my writing.
  • Bank tellers who allow me to keep my money and valuables secure and who help me access these resources when the fancy strikes. They allow me the freedom to stop worrying about the security of my valuable possessions.
  • Housekeeper who cooks for us, cleans after us, watches our kids and serves us healthy, delicious meals. She allows me to work from home. Because if her, I  have the luxury to go out everyday without worrying about putting food on the table. Because of her, I can go on dates with my husband without worrying about my daughter’s dinner. Because she spends all day in the kitchen, I get to eat delicious, elaborate meals every day.
  • Chauffeurs who drive me around so I don’t have to deal with the crazy Indian traffic. They take me to play dates, lunch meet-ups, to my daughter’s school, to doctors’s appointments, to the office and even to visit friends and family. Because of these chauffeurs, I can travel without the hassles of driving myself everywhere.
  • Gardener who toils in the sweltering Indian afternoons, planting beautiful herbs, flowers and watering the soil so that my garden is always landscaped, beautiful and pristine. Because of him, I am able to enjoy the lush gardens on my property. Because of him, I’m able to dabble in my little Potager garden growing herbs, greens and edible flowers without having to lift heavy soil.
  • Preschool teachers who take care of my child everyday so I can have two hours of peace and quiet to do the work I need to go in order to keep this website running. They allow me to drop off my child guilt-free, secure in the knowledge that while I’m away from her, the teachers are kind role models to her, teaching her new, useful and interesting things about the world around her.
  • Security staff who guard the residential area I live in. They allow us to sleep at night, keeping us safe from thieves, hoodlums and robbers by staying up all night to watch out for our safety. Because of them, I feel secure, confident and protected from crime in our gated community.
  • Physicians who treat my family when we are sick. Because of them we enjoy quick recoveries, spending most of our time healthy, worry free and enjoying life to the fullest.
  • Farmers who work all year round to nurture crops of fruits and vegetables, then sell them to me for less than the price of most unhealthy, packaged goods. These incredible human beings undertake hard labor just so the rest of us can eat a clean, healthy diet.
  • Subway musicians who have always made my commute pleasant and interesting. There is one man in particular that has been embedded in my psyche. When I used to work in Oncology, there was a bearded, middle aged man who played beautiful, soulful violin tunes every morning and evening as I passed him by. Everytime I pass by Queen’s Park subway station, I remember him with fondness. I don’t know where he is, but I hope he’s still cranking out some badass music.

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This is just a cross-section of the people that help me in my life.

Today’s Task

Think about your life. Who is helping you in your everyday struggles? Have you thanked any of them lately? Maybe you’re not quite sure where to begin. Try looking through the list below for something that seems comfortable for you. Which of these words can you share with a service person that is helping you today:

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  • From friendship to mentorship to leadership, you have given this company a warm kinship in every possible form. Thanks.
  • I am sending you thank you note for your excellent services. My appreciation to your job is greater than the words I could express in this note.
  • I am very fortunate to avail your services and I am really happy that I had you for carrying out this difficult work. Thank you very much.
  • My words can never be enough to praise your actions because your work always meets my expectations. Thank you.
  • Thank you for all your efforts and dedication. Your sincere service needs all our encouragement and appreciation.
  • Thank you for being so committed.
  • Thank you for bringing your positive attitude to work every day.
  • Thank you for your excellent work and your support. You have really made my life more comfortable and have taken my worries away.
  • Thank you for your hard work and honesty.
  • Your enthusiasm is a personality trait that cannot be learnt and a skill which cannot be taught.
  • Your job was timely and very helpful. It deserves all my appreciation.

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You can find the entire list here.

 

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Day 10 – I am grateful for the daughter who reminds me everyday of the beauty that exists in the simple, non-material things

I am grateful for the daughter who reminds me everyday of the beauty that exists in the simple, non-material things.

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayJoUPyDQGQ&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]
[message_box title=”Affirmation Day 10″ color=”beige”]I learned this the difficult way. Although I have never been much of a shopper or consumer, I started buying clothes, toys and little knick knacks for my little one the moment I found out I was pregnant. I’d buy her stuff, especially toys and to my dismay, she never played with them. She didn’t so much as cast a second glance at them. She was more interested in my smiles, the cooing from other people, from banging pots and pans we already had to looking at my clothes and playing with my jewellery. It took me a long time to take the cue from her and stop buying toys. I have a cupboard full of play doh, barbies, stuffed toys, music toys, kitchen sets and a million craft activities from a time when I had yet to realize a fundamental truth that this little child already knew – the best things in life are often the simplest. A lot of times, they are also free.

So I started focusing instead on the funny faces, the hugs, the piggy back rides, the messy dough parties, counting and sorting beans, watching butterflies, growing a herb garden instead. And she started flourishing! Where before she was bored and cranky, she is now engaged and excited. She reminds me everyday to do the dusting by picking up the duster herself. She helps me sort laundry, she helps me water plants. She even helps me put her toys away. All of this without much prompting from me.

I am grateful for the simple lessons children impart. I am grateful for the insight that though she may be little in size, my daughter has wisdom that is far beyond her years, far beyond mine. I am grateful for when she calls me out on having double standards and being a hypocrite. Like when I force her to wear her indoor slippers when she comes home and wash her hands and feet before bed but forget to do it myself. Like when I eat junky cookies while telling her to eat her veggies. I am grateful she stops me in my tracks and forces change my behaviour so I’m closer to the person I want to be.

I am grateful for her sunny smile even when she’s hurt or sick. I am grateful for the unconditional love she gives me even on days when I am cranky, irritable, not at my best. I am grateful for the blessing of a beautiful child that reminds me every time of what’s most sacred in life.

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Teaching the right things to our kids is something I’ve seen a lot of parents struggle with. No matter how scrupulous you are, you always make a few parenting mistakes that you end up regretting. Often, these things may be issues we were struggling with ourselves while growing up. Melissa Fagan wrote a very thought provoking post about The (Super) Power of Gratitude:

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Lately, I’ve been coming to terms with my most worn-out childhood belief, the one that keeps me stuck time and again: the belief that I’ll never have or ultimately be enough. So when the ‘never enough’ tape started to play, I’d drown it out with gratitude.

Gratitude is fundamental to being ok with ourselves and who we are.

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Gratitude may be the antidote to feeling crappy about ourselves but there is a fundamental truth that I’m only just starting to realize:

We think we are the ones who raise our kids, nurture them and perhaps most importantly, teach them about the world. It is actually the other way around.  As much as we teach them to walk and talk, they teach us about life. No other human role inspires as much personal growth as that of a parent. In the end, we learn and benefit the most from our kids. Not the other way around. Our kids don’t need us. We need them.

That is something I want to keep in mind the next time I am feeling like I have to sacrifice a lot of personal and career opportunities to raise my daughter at home.

 

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Day 9 – I am Grateful for My Faith and Spiritual Beliefs

I’m grateful for my spiritual beliefs

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJ18xCZyEYk&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

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I spent the better part of my teens believing I was an atheist. I was well into my twenties when I looked back and realized that all along, with my head in the sand, I’d been praying, believing, ritualizing my way through the good times and the bad.

I don’t believe in ‘a’ religion. I do believe in intangible things. I’m grateful for that. Which shocked me to no end when I first had that realization, but at 28, I’m starting to realize that in a world shredded by disbelief, skepticism, negativity, loss of human connection,  the belief in something you can’t see hear touch or smell – is at once beautiful and thought provoking.

I am grateful for the belief in something beyond myself and the human world I know. However founded, unfounded, scientifically or wishfully based these beliefs may be, they get me through the day. I am grateful for the security of believing that there is a force out there that is watching out for me, supporting me and cradling me even in the most difficult of times. I am grateful that in the good times, this force is rejoicing in my happiness and sharing my excitement. I am grateful for the freedom to believe these things and not being forced into a box of subscribing to particular religious or dogmatic beliefs. I am grateful for the freedom to pick from different faiths as I wish. I am grateful that I live in a free world where I am not forced to supplicate to spiritual systems that make no sense to me. I am grateful for the comfort of the belief in a higher power. I am grateful for the ability to feel gratitude and the moral responsibility of sharing what I have with those that are less fortunate.  I now realize that those who believe in organized religion are not all that different for me. Like me, they too are looking for a strengthening set of beliefs that supports them, encourages them and gives them faith as they go about their lives. I am grateful for the realization that perhaps, spiritual beliefs are just a way for us to feel supported in our human existence, no more, no less. And I am okay with that. [/message_box]

What are spiritual beliefs?

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“A set of mutually supportive beliefs. These beliefs may be religious, philosophical, ideological or a combination of these… the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.”
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I read an interesting musing over at Live Laugh love mentioned above. In it, Life Coach, Vedam Clementi scrutinizes the meaning of spiritual beliefs.  He explains a simple (but very effective) concept of how our belief systems are made. Simply put, your mind keeps recording every situation, every experience that you encounter, how you reacted to it, what happened as a resold and over time, these cumulative thoughts, cause-and-effect-scenarios, rationalizations and experiences become your belief systems. Clementi further points out that  these repetitive thoughts need not be yours in order to be internalized and turned into beliefs, they can be inherited from others – friends, family, media, religious authorities. The very act of  repetition makes your mind believe these ideas to be true.

“Belief systems govern our lives. They determine how we look at something, how we perceive it, how we judge something, and our expectations about situations, experiences and life in general.”

Sometimes we get so stuck in these patterns of being that its difficult for us to look at these systems objectively and see if they’re actually true for us in that moment. In school, I had a teacher who described her religious beliefs in this very distinct manner.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4acb58″]My religion is over a thousand years old. Its resilient because its been passed down over and over through countless generations. Many of its beliefs are logical, even desirable,  but these are old beliefs. Do the truths of shepherds, nomads and hunter-gatherers apply to me living in the 21st century today? Most of them don’t. I just take what makes sense to me and treat the others like interesting stories[/quote]

 Going back to Clementi’s observations, “any belief system is nothing more than a bunch of thought forms”. The thing about thoughts is that they only have the power you give to them. If you pay them no heed, thoughts by themselves are nothing. If you feed and nurture them however, thoughts can become powerful vehicles for action and change – both good and bad.

Which thoughts would you feed – the ones that serve you, or the ones that don’t? 

The answer to that question explains why  “spiritual but not religious” is such a popular term today. Below, I’ve highlighted insightful quotes from two writers that I thought had some interesting things to say on the matter:

John Cannon from Another Perspective put it very aptly:

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If one decides that the evidence proves the non-existence of a supreme being, then one must scrutinize their beliefs as to what, if anything at all, we have to look forward to once that wee spark of life within us is extinguished by age or hate or disease.

Every act that we each perform which creates a kinder, more loving and co-operative and hopeful future is the greatest act that mankind is capable of. The spiritual sensitivity that I seek is one in which we all behave with love and charity and decency towards one another. I seek a time when we learn just how much is truly “enough” and to share that excess with all.

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Another Blogger, Tracey Jackson from Gratitude and Trust puts it this way:

[quote align=”center” color=”#4acb58″]I believe in belief. And when I am enveloped by it, I let its power overwhelm me. Whatever you believe – for many this [Easter] is your week.  Love. Pray. Cry. Laugh. Feast. Rejoice. And then take that feeling with you, try and bottle it up, or tuck it deep in your heart.  And then on those days when one is not celebrating major religious holidays you can draw on it.  Take a sip from your belief cup.  Draw on that belief for sustenance love, and strength.  Give back, Be grateful. Trust. Because belief in any form is just that – trust. [/quote]

If you’re still skeptical and want more authoritative information on why engaging in spiritual practices is good for you, check our the following benefits of good quality spiritual care as prescribed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists:

  • Improved self-control, self-esteem and confidence
  • Faster and easier recovery from illness,
  • Maximized personal potential
  • Improved relationships—with self, others and our environment
  •  new sense of meaning, resulting in reawakening of hope and peace of mind
  • Increased ability to accept and live with unresolved problems

 

Today’s Task

Reflect on the following questions:

  1. What does spirituality mean to me?
  2. What are the formative sources in my environment what shaped my spiritual beliefs growing up?
  3. Do these spiritual beliefs inspire and uplift or frighten and bind me?
  4. For the beliefs that uplift you,
  5. What internal resources are strengthened by my spiritual practices?
  6. What external support am I able to access as a result of participating in spiritual practices?

 

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Day 8 – I am grateful for the luxury of following my passion.

I am grateful for the luxury of following my passion.

Many people don’t have the luxury of following their passions. They have a family to feed, bills to pay. I have none of those things. It may sound old fashioned but my husband takes care of all of these things. I love what I do. I love lifter, I love writing and waking up everyday to work sounds like more of a treat than work. In fact, its what I do when I want to break from child rearing. And I always end up feeling refreshed. But things weren’t always this way.

When I worked as a resource nurse, we rotated around different hospital units on different days. Some places were great, the work was exciting and the pace challenging yet fun. Some places on the other hand, I literally dragged my feet to. When I started realizing that I was actually dreading going to work on some days, I switched to a job I enjoyed more. I’d seen too many old and bitter nurses angry for having wasted their lives in a field they didn’t love – and guess what – their patients, colleagues and managers didn’t enjoy having them around much either because they were always complaining. So if you dread going to work everyday, go find yourself new work that inspires you.

Of course, not every moment of the workday is so beautifully engaging. Obviously, anything of value takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to build. However, the difference between toiling to build something you aspire to and something that you do for the sake of doing lies in the amount of engagement that you experience while working.

If you’re just there for the money, sooner or later you will burnout. You may even start to hate yourself and your job because you know that is not where you belong. I’ve seen it happen over and over again in the healthcare arena.   When you know you don’t like what you are doing, perhaps, you even know deep down inside that you’re not doing a particularly good job either, it creates a cognitive dissonance that will leave you restless. You risk becoming a bitter and resentful machine.   Find something to look forward to in your work day. If you can’t, then get out as fast as you can. There is better work elsewhere that desperately needs your skills and enthusiasm.

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3C738R4sLw&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

[message_box title=”Affirmation Day 8″ color=”beige”]I am grateful for the luxury and freedom to follow my passions. I am grateful that I do not have to worry about making ends meet, putting my child through school or putting food on the table. I am grateful for a husband who takes care of these things so that I don’t have to. I am grateful for the ability to learn, write and create so that I can come up with new ideas and pursue them. I am grateful for an education that has shown me a new path when my old means of earning money were no longer feasible. Most of all, I am grateful for the blessing everyday of waking up excited, fired up and passionate about whatever project it is that I am doing today. I am grateful that I don’t have to drag myself to work every morning. I am grateful that I don’t have to worry about child care because I get to work alongside my toddler while she is playing. I am grateful that everyday of working on the lifter website feels like such a treat that I often use it as a way to relax. I am grateful that I have been blessed with work I love so much.[/message_box]

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Day 7 – I am Grateful for the Gift of Human Connection

I am grateful for the gift of human connection.

Loneliness is an epidemic in today’s world. From kids to teens to adults and the elderly, we are all suffering silently in our private worlds of disconnection. As technology replaces a lot of our human functions, as we are drawn deeper into the world of automated messages and snapchats, we are slowly losing our ability to have a deep face-to-face connection.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I sat side by side for an hour and a half while our toddler slept beside us. Silently. Without uttering a single word. When I managed to look up front the novel I was reading on my iPad, I realized how equally engrossed he was in reading the Times of India on his iPhone. Then a thought occurred to me: If we were locked into a room together for an hour without any gadgets, would we be able to hold a decent conversation? What scared me was that I didn’t know if we could. Where I expected myself to rebut with a resounding yes, my mind came up with a doubtful blank. Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband. I get along with him. Those of you who have been with your partner or spouse for a while may be able to relate. The conversations don’t have the sparkle they used to.

Then I got to thinking about other people. Can I find one person I can have a deep, long conversation with? Siblings don’t count, by the way. I tried to think of people in my life I could sit down with one-on-one and proceed to talk about an issue that mattered without giving in to the urge to fidget, check my iPhone or turn on the TV. Yes, there were a few people, but my list came up woefully shorter than I thought was healthy.

Nurturing Human Connections

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ME5priGOWHU[/youtube]

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The other day, I was looking for something to help my preschooler deal with tantrums by teaching the concept of mindfulness. I ended up buying Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh

The book tells many stories – one of these is the story of James, a little boy in Plum Village (France). In a group of children learning mindfulness, James and two of his friends are rebels. They’re always engaging in disruptive activities when the other kids are meditating. Instead of yelling and disciplining them, the spiritual teacher keeps inviting them to join and making them feel welcome time after time. They never join in, but on the last evening of the retreat, James comes tagging along behind his mother, asking the teacher for a hug. As time goes on James becomes attached to the teacher, his spiritual understanding deeper, his hugs warmer.

The power of this story lies in its simple lesson that disconnected though we may be in our human interactions today, there is still hope. In a situation where it feels like your efforts are going to waste, the little things you do may affect the other person in ways that you may not even notice. So instead of getting overwhelmed by the impossibility of forging deep connections in today’s world, get out there and sow your seeds of kindness. You never know which of these can germinate into a tree of genuine love and friendship.

I am grateful for the human ability to forge connections. I am grateful for the close connections I already have – those unconditional relationships where I can do anything, say anything, be anything. I am grateful for the close connections I have yet to form, that are yet to germinate. I am grateful for the ability to think, to listen to respond, I am grateful that despite awkward conversations, difficult circumstances and emotional hardships, many of my important relationships continue to thrive and grow. I am grateful for the redeeming and forgiving nature of these genuine relationships. When your underlying foundation is solid, no matter how big a rift your relationship experiences, there will always be a way to heal, to make amends. I am grateful for the gift of peering into the soul of another human being, and being able to bare mine for another to see.[/message_box]

Today’s Task

There’s a beautiful exercise in Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh called “Building Anew” that can prevent feelings of hurt form building up and diffuses conflicts in order to restore emotional safety in your relationships. Find a friend, partner or a small group to do this activity with. This is also a great family activity to increase bonding and express gratitude.

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  • This simple practice begins with something called ‘flower watering’ where you essentially speak truthfully about the positive qualities of others without any flattery.  You take as much time as you need while the other person practices deep listening, resisting the urge to interrupt.
  • Once you finish, you express regret for anything u have done to hurt others. This requires a reg=cognition of the fact that sometimes, it only takes a small thought, action or word to  hurt someone. Whether you hurt someone consciously or unconsciously, you can undo this damage by acknowledging that the other person has been hurt by your actions, and sharing your regret with the person you have hurt.
  • When you have finished expressing your regret, you can express ways in which others have hurt you. Use loving speech.  Goal is to heal your relationship and not a content for who is right or wrong. As the listener, you would show compassion by listening to another’s pain and showing willingness to relieve their emotional suffering.Even if you disagree with something they are saying, listen deeply. In doing so, you give the other person the gift of freely expressing their pain and allowing them to release the tension within. This is a rare and precious gift – the gift of allowing a free release of pent up emotions. Give it unconditionally.
  • End the practice with a soothing song or mindful breathing together.

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Inspired from Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh

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Day 6 – I am Grateful for the Ability to Release All Bitterness, Resentment and Dissatisfaction and Emerge Resilient

I am grateful for the ability to release all bitterness, resentment, dissatisfaction, so that I may see the blessings I miss while taking part in the everyday busy-making of life.

Sometimes we are so focused on the things that are wrong in our lives that we barely notice the good things that we are right under out noses. It takes a chance encounter, a life changing experience, a thought provoking conversation before you open your eyes and look around you with a different lens. When you do look around with a fresh perspective, you realize the beauty you were searching so desperately for, the one that you have been taking for granted, has been with you all along. You were just too caught up in the drama, the bitterness of things that didn’t go our way.

Resentment and bitterness can cloud your vision. Bitterness is a vice that holds you in its grip long after the offending incident has passed. Here’s the interesting part. When bitterness festers into resentment, it pollutes your entire being. Often, it also pollutes your relationships, your aspirations, your environment.

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4VbVNg7F3U[/youtube]

I once cared for a terminal cancer patient who had lost it all. I mean this in a literal sense. When he was diagnosed, he lost his job, his physical abilities, his beloved garden, even his wife who left him for a more physically able man. Yet, every time I saw him, he was polite, even kind, always trying to make others feel comfortable. When I asked him how he stays so positive, he replied with words that I will never forget.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4acb58″]“I have a few days left to live.  I refuse to let cancer win by spending those precious moments checking off the things that didn’t go right for me. Wherever my wife is, I hope she is happy. We don’t need two people suffering through this horrible illness.”[/quote]

His generosity of spirit brought tears to my eyes – but it was his utter lack of bitterness that left me stunned. This man who had been served the worst imaginable circumstances, was sending cosmic goodwill to the one person who should have been by his side but had deserted him in his worst time of need.

[message_box title=”AFFIRMATION” color=”beige”]I am grateful for the human ability to forgive and move on. I am grateful for the release of bitterness, for dissatisfaction , grudges, and resentment. Releasing pent up bitterness not only frees the other person from the shackles of your negative energy, it also ironically frees you , releases you and cleanses you from whatever pain you are holding in your heart. I solemnly resolve to release all bitterness from my mind. I choose to remember instead the liberating power of a joyful mind. Regardless of the awful things I’ve been through, the heartache that loved ones have inflicted upon me. Regardless of the countless personal dreams I’ve seen crash and burn, I promise myself that from this moment forward, I will release the failures – both mine and those of other people. Starting from this moment until my last breath, I resolve to choose freedom. Freedom from bitterness. Freedom from resentment. Freedom to focus on positive things that will drive me in the direction of my dreams instead. [/message_box]

So here’s the thing…

In order to turn your disappointments into learning opportunities,  you need to nurture a mindset of resilience. Resilient people bounce back from disappointments and failures, using these setbacks as rungs on the ladder to success. Resilient people:

Remain accountable.  They own up to their part in the problem. They make no excuses. They never play the victim card.

Remain optimistic.  In the best-selling book, Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain, author Elaine Fox talks about the fear-seeking brain and the pleasure seeking brain. Those that have a sunny disposition are optimistic, friendlier and also likely to get more of what they want out of life. This is based off of actual research. So remain optimistic – it might just make the difference between achieving our dreams – or not.

Have strong boundaries. Many people confuse being a people-pleaser with being compassionate. Resilient people create and exercise strong boundaries for themselves. When people walk all over them, they react by reinforcing their boundaries, clarifying what is acceptable to them, and what they will not stand for. They do not react with complying and then feeling bitter or resentful.

Avoid self-bashing.  As important as it is to not let people walk all over you, resilient people realize that it is also unacceptable to beat yourself down. Whatever mistakes you may have made in the past, forgive yourself.

Ask for help. Resilient people know when they are in need of help and seek it. They recognize the fact that if they do not tend to their issue, it will only get bigger and take more energy to resolve.

Learn from challenges. Resilient people don’t dread challenges. They relish them. Opportunities to learn, grow and to refine their methods in their quest for success. Challenges are just learning opportunities in the grand scheme of things.

Stop seeking control. Resilient people recognize that everything in life will not be under their control. They learn to be flexible and roll with the punches life throws at them. They learn to let go of the petty things and choose to focus instead on what matters to them.

Embrace change. Resilient people welcome change. They know that change, both good and bad presents opportunities for personal growth. They learn to accept change and even thrive in it.

This list was inspired from (but not exactly the same as) ’10 ways to be better, not bitter, through deep challenge’ by Kathy Caprino

Today’s Task

I want you to start noticing how you feel inside. Start noticing how incidents throughout your day make you feel either positive or negative. Grab a piece of paper, make three columns:

Column 1: Notice the events that trigger feelings towards the negative end of your emotional spectrum. Simply make a note of them without analyzing, making inferences or judgements

Column 2: Write down your reactions. Did you react with your gut? Did you think about it first? Do you believe that negative statement in your head or one someone else has said is true? Is your reaction external (verbal communication, physical action) or internal (introspection, anxiety, brooding)? How does your reaction impact your thoughts.

Column 3: Identify the underlying issues. Did the comment about your weight strike a nerve with you because of larger body image issues. Did your brother’s comment about getting a ‘real’ job make you feel inadequate? Rank each incident from 1 to 10. 1 being very important, 10 being  not so important. How important is this issue in your life. Which ones align with your goals? How much energy should you expend on it?

 

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Day 5- I am Grateful for my Body, Just the Way it is

Our body is the vehicle through which we experience the world. And yet, so many of us are unsatisfied with our bodies. We are caught up more in its structure, than its function.

The other day, I witnessed my neighbour’s nine year old daughter complain about her legs looking fat. I was shocked inside out. She was, in fact, genuinely distressed about getting too fat. I tried to think back to when I was nine.  All I worried about was running round, peering into bird nests, collecting flowers, leaves and building little model houses.

Another time, a mother at my toddler’s preschool complained about her three year old saying “these clothes are too tight on me mommy, am I getting fat?” I’m willing to bet that this came from her child having heard an adult say it before. Kids are like a blank canvas that mirror our insecurities. So I wonder, what unconscious messages are we sending to the future generation?

I’m not judging. I’ve been struggling in the same rabid waters of self-doubt and loathing. When you and yours are looking at photos of airbrushed celebrities and dangerous images of ‘thinspiration’, maintaining a healthy body-image can become an ongoing uphill battle. Our bodies are somewhat of a engineering masterpiece to be celebrated rather than a source of negativity to worry about.

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZW-lJpA7-wE&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

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I am grateful for the flawed, imperfect body I’ve been blessed with. As flawed as it may be, my body allows me to move, run, jump, and walk. It also allows me to feel sensory pleasure, to travel, to grow and to learn new things about the world everyday. My imperfect body allows me to enjoy difficult workouts, soothing massages and even to do things like driving, cooking and playing with my daughter. There are so many things we take for granted with our body. For a long time, I’d look at the stretch marks, the sagging skin, and see nothing but the loss of a strong, youthful body. But I’ve learned to appreciate the body I have – exactly as it is right now.

Rather than an object to be used, abused, loathed and criticized, I choose to view my body as a temple, a shrine. A monument to my life. Each scar, each stretch mark telling a beautiful story about my life. These scars give my life meaning. These imperfections make my body beautiful.

When all is said and done, I am grateful that I look like no one but myself. I am grateful for the ability to nourish my body with healthy foods. I embrace my flaws. I embrace my scars. For it is the flaws, the scars, the imperfections that make my body so exquisitely perfect.

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Extra Resources

We’ve rounded up some extra resources to support you in today’s gratitude journey of appreciating your body and cultivating a healthier body image.

Affirmations

Affirmations are powerful. Use them frequently, and you will subtly alter your thought patterns to bring you over from negativity about your body into a more positive, imperfect body-loving state of mind. Check out the following affirmations from Happy Life Circle

  • Today I love my body fully, deeply and joyfully.
  • My body has its own wisdom and I trust that wisdom completely.
  • My body is simply a projection of my beliefs about myself.
  • I am growing more beautiful and luminous day by day.
  • I choose to see the divine perfection in every cell of my body.
  • As I love myself, I allow others to love me too.
  • Flaws are transformed by love and acceptance.
  • Today I choose to honor my beauty, my strength and my uniqueness.
  • I love the way I feel when I take good care of myself.
  • Today my own well-being is my top priority.

 

Dialogue

If affirmations are powerful, dialogues are doubly powerful. They have the power to spread, to educate and perhaps even go viral, both online and offline. That’s how societal change happens – and what better way to start a dialogue about body image than with your own child. Read the following excerpt from a powerful letter written by mommy blogger Gemma Hartley to her little girl. I highly recommend that you read the rest of the letter. If you are a parent, it will move you, change you and inspire you. Its that powerful.

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There is beauty in the fact that your body is strong and able—that you can run and jump and swim and dance and cartwheel and kick and whatever else you choose to do. Your body is powerful and amazing. Appreciate all it does for you. Embrace it as it is. Love it. Love yourself.

My body is strong. Amazing. It has brought life into this world. It has housed you and your brother, kept you safe and warm and healthy even before I knew you existed. These scars and marks on my stomach tell a story. A story of love. If that is not beauty, I do not know what is. My body has nourished you and comforted you. This stomach which is not lean and flat, this face which has aged so quickly; all these things sing of my love for you. How could I not celebrate this body? How could I not think it beautiful?

-Gemma Hartley, author of Journey of Love blog
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Will Powers

Finally, here’s an authoritative list of ten ‘will powers’ from National Eating Disorders Association by Michael Levine, PhD and Linda Smolak, PhD to help you improve your body image.

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  • I WILL ask myself: “Am I benefiting from focusing on what I believe are flaws in my body weight or shape?”
  • I WILL think of three reasons why it is ridiculous for me to believe that thinner people are happier or “better.” I will repeat these reasons to myself whenever I feel the urge to compare my body shape to someone else’s.
  • I WILL spend less and less time in front of mirrors—especially when they are making me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious about my body.
  • I WILL exercise for the joy of feeling my body move and grow stronger. I will not exercise simply to lose weight, purge fat from my body, or to “make-up” for calories I have eaten.
  • I WILL participate in activities that I enjoy, even if they call attention to my weight and shape.I will constantly remind myself that I deserve to do things I enjoy, like dancing, swimming, etc., no matter what my shape or size is!
  • I WILL refuse to wear clothes that are uncomfortable or that I do not like but wear simply because they divert attention from my weight or shape. I will wear clothes that are comfortable and that make me feel at home in my body.
  • I WILL list 5 to10 good qualities that I have, such as understanding, intelligence, or creativity. I will repeat these to myself whenever I start to feel bad about my body.
  • I WILL practice taking people seriously for what they say, feel, and do. Not for how slender, or “well put together” they appear.
  • I WILL surround myself with people and things that make me feel good about myself and my abilities. When I am around people and things that support me and make me feel good, I will be less likely to base my self-esteem on the way my body looks.
  • I WILL treat my body with respect and kindness. I will feed it, keep it active, and listen to its needs. I will remember that my body is the vehicle that will carry me to my dreams!

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Today’s Task

Reflection is a powerful tool for when you are stuck in  a self-destructive body-hating thought pattern. Consider your responses to the following questions. Write them down in your gratitude journal.

  1. What makes you proud of yourself?  It could be about your body, it could be about anything else. The point is to see that you are a person that is much more than a sum of his/her body parts.
  2. Start noticing the good things about other people. Their body, their actions, no matter how flawed, start noticing, rather than judging other people that you encounter, observe or interact with during your day. If the opportunity presents itself, take the initiative to compliment them on it.

 

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Day 4 – I am Grateful that I Can Think and That I Have Free Will to Use Those Thoughts to Change My Life

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence. – Rober Frost [/quote]

The ability to think. Such a precious faculty.

When you think of people like Malala Yousafzai, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last week as an activist for female education in the Taliban-ruled Swat Valley, you begin to realize that education is a privilege that is denied to millions of people around the globe.

Millions of people so far removed from our comfortable western world educational institutions. Where nobody has to fight everyday for the right to learn, to question to think. The free will to think and to be inspired by revolutionary ideas is indeed a precious privilege that we take for granted.

Yet, in our high-tech world, we see thinking as such an obsessive activity reserved for the over-sensitive, the nerds, the writers, the misfits. You think too much. Stop Over-thinking. Don’t think. Don’t think. Don’t think. This basic mental faculty has earned a bad reputation over the years as relationships have moved from the ‘engaged’ end of the spectrum to the more superficial. The ability to think critically and clearly is a privilege if you think about it. For a long time, I didn’t think that way though. When I moved to India, I was suddenly among people of varying educational, aesthetic and intellectual backgrounds. All so different from mine.

Peter Clemens, author of The Change Blog (www.thechangeblog.com) writes that people around us have the free will to help or ignore us. I say the opposite is true too. I’ve turned his words around with the thought that we also have the free will to help or ignore others. We have the free will to embrace or reject others’ visions; to be rude or kind; to kill or cure; to love or hate; to be genuine or to manipulate; to treat them like kindred beings or to use them; to be honest or lie; to be grateful to them or to resent them. We have the free will to choose all of those things for everyone from our loved ones to the janitor that opens the door for us.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4acb48″]The good that we strive to attract as well as the evil we hope to avoid are both, nine times out of ten, the result of interactions with our fellow human beings.[/quote] Peter Clemens, Author of the Change Blog.

Prayers, meditations and affirmations are essential. According to Clemens, this introspection has the power to transform our gratitude from an internal endeavour to one that is manifested in the real world. One can do this by letting the people in our lives, from the most important, to the ones on the periphery know of the ways in which they inspire gratitude in us.

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6EG1R1lewE[/youtube]
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At first, it was a huge cultural shock when I encountered different types of people. India is a country of extremes. There are extremely rich and extremely poor people living side by side. There are people who have no concept of the basic politeness, social intelligence and thought processes that run our lives in the western world. Some people have no verbal filters, blurting out rude observations – all unsolicited. At first, I was repulsed by such crassness. I used to look down upon these people for their ignorance, rudeness and superstitious beliefs. Until I realized that my ability to think and to set lofty goals are a result of a privilege. A privilege that is rarer than most people realize: access to higher education. it took me a long time to realize that my education does not make me superior to these so-called illiterate people. My cook is far more intelligent than some of my college classmates. She has not attended a single day of university. I realize now that the ability to think critically and articulate sophisticated thoughts is a blessing – not something I have earned.

I am grateful for a world class education. I am grateful for parents’ generosity in helping me pay for grad school. I am grateful I grew up in a country where education was freely available. A friend of mine put herself through school by working part-time jobs and relying heavily on student loans. She came from a single parent family of seven kids, all of whom were in Africa. Where I live now, there are people so far below the poverty line that even primary school is a pipe dream. I am grateful that I’ve been exposed to ideas that have expanded my understanding if these people. I am grateful all my schools had comfortable desks, air conditioning and heating facilities. These are schools in India where kids sit in the infernal heat, studying with crude writing tools, far, far away form the tech-oriented, internet-ruled classrooms that I know. I am grateful that at the ripe old age of 28, I can go back to school for another Masters or Doctorate degree if I choose. I’ve seen seven year old girls who are pulled our of school to sweep floors of rich peoples’ homes. I’m grateful that I have the privilege of holding pen in my hand, not a broom. I am grateful that I can think and that I have free will to use those thoughts to change my life.

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Today’s Task

Make a list of five people in your life (doesn’t have to be loves ones or friends, just people you interact with everyday) that have impacted for in a positive way. Write them a note saying why they are important to you. Add in how they’ve changed your life. Then pick up the phone, call them and tell them.

This exercise was inspired by the following video from Soul Pancake:

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHv6vTKD6lg[/youtube]

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Day 3 – I Am Grateful I Have The Power To Initiate Change

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]The essence of all great art, all beautiful art, is gratitude. -Friedrich Nietzsche[/quote]

Keeping a gratitude journal can help you feel powerful. The act of writing down things you are grateful  for can have a powerful effect on your life and relationships. Think of these things that come form maintaining a daily focus on gratitude.

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Helps the negativity vanish for a brief moment.

Brings you back to the here and now.

Makes you feel lucky rather than sorry for yourself

In times of stress and fear, it reminds you that you have support

Reminds you that things could be a lot worse.

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Inspired by Gratitude Works : A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity by Robert Emmons

In his book, A Simple Act of Gratitude, author John Kralik opens his book with a thank-you note to his son. He goes on to write 365 notes in total and that’s what his book is about. Anyway, Kralik goes talks about how the thank-you note set off a series of interactions that began to heal his rocky relationship with his son. No matter how broken, hopeless things are, you always have the power to make amends and turn things around. In fact, instead of sitting around thinking things are ruined and too far down the wrong path to change – if you just put one foot ahead of the other, surprising things will happen, as Kralik discovered in his journey. Things that you may never have considered or thought possible.

We often think of power as aggressive and money-based – perhaps even corporate, political or hard-nosed.

But there is a subtle kind of power too.

One that is much more effective. One that heals, convinces and supports. The aggressive kind of power is one that rifts people apart, establishes competition and one-upmanship. This subtle power, on the other hand,  joins, encourages and builds things together. For a long time, I used to think that the aggressive kind of power is more powerful because its so vocal, visual and seems to have dramatic effects. Slowly, I’m starting to realize that this other subtle power is far more effective, far more intense, and far more impactful. And it lasts a long, long time. Even today, through social media, people are starting to realize that being aggressive and vocal doesn’t always get you the audience you crave. Instead, its the subtle helping kind of power (the one which gives without asking), that ends up more powerful.

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bMm_CEiWOo[/youtube]
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Each and everyone of us has power. Even the most disadvantaged of us. Helplessness is a state of mind – not a physical or mental condition. I once had a paraplegic patient who was more empowered than any other soul. She may have been trapped in her immobile body, but if you came anywhere within hearing distance, you’d be left in awe. Even when asking for help, she was quick, witty, unapologetic, vocal and incredibly intelligent without being pushy.

Suffice to say that with my four working appendages, she was more powerful than I was, in that moment.

I am grateful for the ability to think, to recognize the need for change and distinguish between things I like and don’t like. I am grateful for the flawed, but perfectly functional physical body that helps me move, work, run and stretch. I am grateful for the often straying but perfectly functioning mind that helps me stay strong, decisive and sure-footed even in the most unusual and frightening situations. I am grateful for an education which helps me make my point in a sophisticated manner. I am grateful to my old folks for an upbringing that gave me the unshakable confidence in myself so I could take colossal leaps of faith and giant risks –  and for the perseverance to stick to my decisions despite unsurmountable odds.  I am grateful for having moved half a world away from one set of roots to another. I am grateful for the wider perspective I have on life now. I am grateful for the reassurance that no matter where I go or what I do, I have power to initiate lasting change.

I am grateful for the realization that power comes in many different forms. I am grateful that I am no longer limited in my recognition of power. Most of all, I am grateful that despite the occasional harshness of life, I have the power to change things in the world around me.

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Today’s Task

On The Change Blog, Paul Clemens talks about the three benefits of keeping a gratitude journal. Reflecting on gratitude through a journal provides insights into our busy lives that we may not even begin to notice as we go about our day. Reflecting on gratitude cultivates the discipline necessary for any type of successful endeavour – long before we succeed, we need the ability to sit down everyday and reflect on our actions and reactions so that we can do things better tomorrow. Reflecting in gratitude also leaves a legacy – whether it is for yourself fifteen years from now, or for your kids fifty years from now, your gratitude journal can tell a deeply personal story about your life’s journey.

So sit down today and pick out a simple notebook to fill up with daily gratitude reflections.

Here are some excellent tips for successful journaling

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  • Make a commitment to write in your journal for 5-10 mins everyday. Honor it.
  • If you’re too lazy to use pen and paper, an easy way is to use the voice dictation in your smartphone
  • Write in specific details. Have less points but make them real, deep, specific. Journalling is more than a list of stuff.
  • Write about the unexpected blessings that improved your day or the horrible thing you were expecting that didn’t happen.
  • Call these unexpected blessings gifts. Relish and savour them.
  • Who has helped you today, who are you grateful to, and why?
  • Think about things you take for granted. Talk about why you appreciate them.
  • Repeat your blessings everyday if they are meaningful, as long as you keep adding details and layers to them
  • Think about people that you overlook – people who have helped people you love.

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Inspired from Robert Emmons’ book Gratitude Works: A 21-Day Program For Creating Emotional Prosperity

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Day 2 – I am Grateful that Though I May Stumble, I Always Find My Way Back Up Again

I started today’s gratitude practice by reading Robert Emmons’s “Gratitude Works : A 21-Day Program For Creating Emotional Prosperity“. He opens with the story of a 98 years ‘young’ woman who stays mentally and physically healthy with a simple gratitude practice. She wrote him a poem called “I Choose“, which made me think hard about the little things that can inspire gratitude in us. Stop for a moment in your busy day and find moments like these where you release the tension that you are holding in. Sometimes the tension is physical like a dull ache radiating through your shoulders. Often, the tension is subtle, only recognized in the way your breath hitches with every passing hassle. The tightness in your chest that makes you feel simultaneously irritated and trapped.

The funny thing about gratitude is that you can start where you are. No matter how bad your situation is, you can start exactly where you are.

Emmons writes, “Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life. It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, promote happiness and well being and spur acts of helpfulness, generosity and cooperation.”

Gratitude is far more powerful than you think. Try it today. Instead of focussing on the dark clouds, pay attention to the breathtaking mornings. Notice the little things that make the world around you beautiful. The mischievous laugh of a toddler. The smell of the earth after rain. The taste of perfectly brewed coffee rolling over your tongue.

Have that faith in yourself and the Universe around you that no matter how bad things get, no matter how badly you stumble, you will always be able to pick yourself back up. I’d like to leave you with the beautiful poem that I referred to at the beginning of this post:

I Choose

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I choose to be happy

I choose to be grateful

I choose to be caring

And always be thoughtful

I choose to be well

I choose to be fine

I choose to be healthy

All of the time

I choose to be patient

I choose to be strong

I choose to be calm

All the day long

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Excerpted form “Gratitude Works : A 21-Day Program For Creating Emotional Prosperity.” by Robert Emmons

 

Affirmation Of The Day

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I’m not addicted to anything. I have no illnesses. I am not poor or disadvantaged. But I have bad days too. Days where I want to curl up under a rock and never see a single human being again. Days where I am angry, hateful depressed. Days where I feel like human existence is just an exercise in greed, stupidity and slyness.

Affirmation: I am grateful that thought I may stumble, I always find my way back up again. Every. Single. Time. I am grateful that there is so much to live for that I always have my faith in humanity restored after an internal storm.  I am grateful that I have the mental faculties to crawl out from under the dark cloud even on the worst of days. I am grateful that no matter how bad it is, there are reminders littered through my physical, mental, emotional space of the fantastic life I’ve been blazed with. I am grateful for a spouse, for loved ones who always recognize my need for space or my need for encouragement – whatever the case may be.

I am grateful that there is beauty in every single morning that draws me out of my bubble on the dark days and help me engage with real life again. I am grateful for the little hands that hold me and the little pink mouth that kisses all my boo-boos away.

I am grateful that every time I stumble, there’s a universal force that cradles me and brings me back up again.

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Today’s task:  Pick a person or event that makes you hurt, angry or uncomfortable. Spend a few minutes thinking about ONE good thing that came out of that situation.
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Gratitude Challenge Day 1 – I am Grateful I Have a Place to Live

The #21daygratitudechallenge is about making your life positive, vibrant, worthwhile. This challenge features a daily multimedia recording of affirmations, daily pictures of things that inspire gratitude, an action challenge and personal reflections.

Why you need gratitude

There are numerous benefits to practicing gratitude. Our List is inspired by Robert Emmons’ (world’s leading gratitude expert) article on the Greater Good website.

Physical
  • Stronger immune system
  • Fewer muscular aches and pains
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Less stress-induced heartburn
  • Increased awareness of physical health
  • Increased physical activity
  • Longer and deeper sleep
  • More refreshed in the mornings
  • Better postures and parasympathetic responses

 

Psychological
  • Increase in positive emotions
  • Increased alertness
  • Increased feelings of joy, pleasure, optimism and happiness
  • Feeling “alive”
  • Higher self esteem
  • Blocks toxic emotions
  • Increased presence and attentiveness
  • Refreshed by positive thoughts regularly
  • Reduced stress

 

Social
  • Engaged relationships
  • Increased positive behaviour (helpfulness, generosity, compassion)
  • Increased social interaction
  • Reduced feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Less superficial relationships
  • Authentic interactions with others
  • Less compulsion to put on a “front”
  • Reduced feelings of hostility and fear of others

 

Studies show that happiness strongly linked to gratitude. More than material possessions, marital status or age. Later in this challenge, we will share a video of people engaging in acts of gratitude and how it changed their perspective.

Robert Emmons, a professor at UC Davis and an authority in gratitude research has conducted numerous studies and written textbooks on the topic of gratitude. In fact, his studies show that practicing gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25%.  He talks about the concept of a happiness ‘set-point’ – your baseline level of happiness.  Good or bad events temporarily raise or lower your happiness but you always returns to your set-point once the effect of the external stimulus has passed. Practicing gratitude raises your happiness set-point so that regardless of external circumstances, you stay at a higher baseline of happiness. Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Emmons’ website:

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“In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events” (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).

“A related benefit was observed in the realm of personal goal attainment: Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.”

“A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others). There was no difference in levels of unpleasant emotions reported in the three groups.

“Participants in the daily gratitude condition were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another, relative to the hassles or social comparison condition.”

“In a sample of adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in greater amounts of high energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of one’s life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality, relative to a control group.”

Children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families (Froh, Sefick, & Emmons, 2008).

Those who practice gratitude tend to be more creative, bounce back more quickly from adversity, have a stronger immune system, and have stronger social relationships.

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For the next 21 days, we want you to look at the people, challenges, personal tragedies, daily hardships and pet peeves in your life with a gratitude filter on your eyes. Whether you are materially blessed or just getting by, we want you to cultivate the habit of seeking gratitude and positivity in every life experience. One thing we promise, the more you practice living in gratitude, the more natural it will become.

Some of our exercises and activities will include:

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  • taking the 365 gratitude photo challenge
  • writing letters that you may or may not share
  • reflecting on situations in your life
  • journalling
  • keeping a gratitude diary
  • random acts of kindness
  • refocussing on the positive things
  • ignoring negative energies

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Obviously there will be many more as we delve deeper into this month’s intensive.

It is our hope that as we approach Thanksgiving festivities this month, you will join us in focussing on personal growth rather than material things. Rather than stuffing yourself full of leftovers, we ask you to join us in our practice of mindfulness. Your belly will thank you,  so will your mind.

If you want to join us on our journey, simply use the hashtag #21daygratitudechallenge on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.  You can connect with us on these social media platforms by clicking on the icons at the top right of this page.

We want to leave you with the following affirmation to kick off the first day of our #21daygratitudechallenge:

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There are scores of people all over the world who cannot boast this basic luxury.  Check out this powerful article about the lives of homeless people by John Hwang, who started the “Being Kind is Cool Project

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Today’s Task: Give the money you would normally spend on a dinner to a homeless person in need.

Finally, here’s a transcript of our multimedia recording for those of you who are watching this at work, beside a sleeping baby, on the subway or anywhere you need some silent reading.

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As I get chauffeured home everyday, I pass by scores of homeless people. The reality of living in a developing country. There are naked toddlers. There are little girls with ragged dresses. Mothers breastfeeding their kids on the infernal streets of the dusty,  arid city I call home. Finally, there are boys that look barely above ten. Labouring at construction sites with pickaxes almost their size.

Affirmation: I am grateful I have a place to live. I am grateful I have running water, electricity, a house made of stone and glass. I am grateful I have the security of a gated community and the luxury of privacy. I am grateful my child never has to experience the harsher realities of life. I am grateful she not only has a big house to live in, but also a big garden where she can safely romp. Where the biggest danger she faces is to get thirsty, tired or tanned. There are kids out there whose playground is a dirty, dangerous, high-traffic road. I am grateful that with or without these material luxuries, I am alive, loved, fed and sheltered. I am grateful for things that I used to think were a scourge: a mortgage, car loans, having to mow the lawn. I am grateful because these ‘problems’ mean that I have a roof over my head. I am sheltered from the heat, the noise, the pollution. I am even sheltered from other people. I am grateful that as a result of a random, perhaps divine lottery, I have been blessed with things that these street people I would consider unimaginable luxury. 
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11 Things I Learned from Reflecting on Last Month’s Productivity Challenge

This past month was an amazing whirlwind of work, promotion and finally taking the first steps to realize our dream. The soft-launch of the Liftree Community finally saw us through turning a pipe dream into something concrete that we could share with our friends, family and co-workers.
 
Its been a long road to get here, juggle personal commitments and still stay productive and churn out quality work in a regular basis. So we kicked off the first month with our August Productivity Challenge – and here’s what we learned about being productive:
  1. Productivity needs structure
  2. Productivity cannot be planned
  3. Productivity needs faith and reverence
  4. Sometimes you need a drill sergeant
  5. Productivity needs controlled doses of stress
  6. Productivity thrives on variety
  7. Productivity is both an art and a science
  8. Productivity needs singular focus
  9. Life will always get in the way
  10. There are no shortcuts to productivity
  11. Get in the best shape of your life (BONUS)

 

Productivity needs structure

You have no hope in hell of achieving your dreams and working productively if you don’t even have a road map for where you are going.  Here’s a simple idea: create some structure in your workday. No, not the OCD kind with 50 post-it notes accounting for every moment of your day. More like a subway map that shows you the direction and redirects you if you miss your stop. With no plan you will be as productive as a chicken trying to find a kernel of corn in the dark it’s impossible.
 

 

Productivity cannot be planned

For all the talk about productivity and planning, the simple truth remains – productivity cannot be planned. you can train yourself over time , maybe . to be honest, it did get easier to work and get in the zone faster towards the end of the month, but there are still days when the enthusiasm falters, the work is boring as hell and we just lose our mojo. The concept that was the most difficult to wrap our head around was this: Some days you will sit down to work and realize that its just not happening. If you falter, don’t get upset and beat yourself up about it. stressing about productivity actually makes you *surprise* less productive. On the particularly bad days, it is easier to just step away form the rat race and enjoy the beautiful chaos of ordinary everyday life.

 

Productivity needs faith and reverence

Your work is important – like life and death important. If you can’t find a single cell in your body that believes this down to its cytoplasm, then quietly hand in your resignation, shut down your business and walk away. Find work that doesn’t make you want to gouge your eyes out, murder your co-workers and clients. Work that you actually enjoy. Life is too short to be stuck in a job you don’t like.
 
When I worked as a resource nurse, we rotated around different hospital units on different days. Some places were great, the work was exciting and the pace challenging yet fun. Some places on the other hand, I literally dragged my feet to. When I started realizing that I was actually dreading going to work on some days, I switched to a job I enjoyed more. I’d seen too many old and bitter nurses angry for having wasted their lives in a field they didn’t love – and guess what – their patients, colleagues and managers didn’t enjoy having them around much either because they were always complaining. So if you dread going to work everyday, go find yourself new work that inspires you.
 
That is not to say that work should be enjoyable every moment of the day otherwise its not worth doing. Obviously, anything of value takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to build. However, the difference between toiling to build something you aspire to and something that you do for the sake of doing lies in the amount of engagement that you experience while working.
 
If you’re just there for the money, sooner or later you will burnout. You may even start to hate yourself and your job because you know that is not where you belong. I’ve seen it happen over and over again in the healthcare arena.
 
When you know you don’t like what you are doing, perhaps, you even know deep down inside that you’re not doing a particularly good job either, it creates a cognitive dissonance that will leave you restless. You risk becoming a bitter and resentful machine.
 
Find something to look forward to in your work day. If you can’t, then get out as fast as you can. There is better work elsewhere that desperately needs your skills and enthusiasm.

 

Sometimes you need a drill sergeant

Sometimes, despite loving your work, you cant seem to actually sit down and get the work done. At some point, you might have to admit to yourself that without external motivation you probably wont get anything done. That’s why crazy apps like WriteorDie; Zombies, Run and even Fitsby are so popular.
 
While apps are great, having a real, live person to hold you accountable is unbeatable. Having someone check in with you can be as pressure laden as you want it to be- or not. I used to hate having to report to someone or be told what to do until I quit my job.
 
When we first started Liftree, I began to realize how motivating it can be to have someone breathing down your neck. In fact, I missed that external motivation so much, I actually considered appointing my mom as the drill-sergeant in residence! Don’t worry, I chickened out before I actually did that.
 
If you don’t want to appoint a parent of spouse whose reminders can grate at you real quick, pick a friend or a colleague. Make a group, if you can gather enough people.
 
If you can’t find people, be your own drill sergeant. This one is more difficult though unless you’re super disciplined. When push comes to shove, you will have find it within yourself to start working and keep yourself going.
 
Inspiration comes and goes but productivity is something you can control,measure and improve. In order to maintain a successful and regular practice, consistency is key. Pick a time slot everyday to work on your craft whether you feel like it or not. Writers use this technique a lot. As do Yoga practitioners. Even on days where you do not feel inspired at all to sit down at your desk, coffee table or balcony – wherever it is that you sit down to work (Check out this post about ditching your desk), you still sit down consistently, and devote yourself to the practice with the faith that you will get something valuable accomplished. Over time, you will.
 
In work and in life, people seldom get anywhere without constantly pushing themselves to their limits and beyond. We were juggling other full-time commitments when we started working on this website. In fact, we still are. I am currently raising a two year old, living in a house with nine people, travelling frequently and writing for local publications as a columnist. Finding time to work on this website while juggling personal, professional and social commitments takes that extra mile every single day. Every single day.

 

Productivity thrives on variety

In order to keep yourself interested, you need to keep the novelty factor up. The only way to keep things interesting is to pepper your work with a variety of tasks and approaches. If you’re a writer, sketch out your story board by hand one day. If you’re  graphic artist, try listening to music for inspiration the next time you sit down to design a logo. Slaving through a day’s work doesn’t mean you have to torture yourself. Using a variety of approaches can help you stay interested and inspired.

 

Productivity is both an art and a science

Many of us think we work better under pressure. The truth is, we work better when we have clear, quantifiable, relatively-rigid deadlines. Why does productivity come so easily to us when we have a looming deadline? When our short-lived, limited dose of stress over-rides our internal critical editor, we’re able to mentally climb out of the box and work freely (check out our earlier post about working under pressure). The art of working under pressure entails knowing how to get yourself into the zone by shutting out your internal editor. The science involves knowing and analyzing your strengths and weaknesses well enough that you don’t beat yourself up when something doesn’t with and you don’t end up being as productive as you expected to be. Its a fine balance – and one that we often overlook in our zeal to work like a ninja warrior.

 

Maintain singular focus

In today’s arena of social media and new media distractions, we tend to lose focus because we are trying to engage in multiple activities at one time. We end up doing even less and being less productive even though we were involved in various busy-making tasks all day. We think we are getting lots done, but when we look back at our day and realize how little we’ve struck off our to-do lists, we get mad at ourselves. The most notorious of these is internet ‘research’. A close second is running a social media campaign. Beware of tasks that make you feel like you’re doing valuable research, but in reality, just lead out of one internet rabbit hole and down another. Pick a task and run with it until it is completed. Set a timer if you have to. You’ll be surprised at how fast this old-fashioned method gets you off your behind to do some serious work.

 

Life will always get in the way

Sad but true. Even last month, when we were setting up the beta-version of this website, you’d think that we had the time to focus and be free of distractions. Not true. Something or the other always came up that seemed more urgent, more important, that took us away from the work that needed to be done. Sometimes, its okay (even desirable) to accept that life happens and just take setbacks in stride. It is more about finding a workable balance between the work you want to do and the other important priorities in your life than about blazing through the work like a maniac and burning yourself out. For me, I ended up dividing my time between family (whom I was visiting) and working on the website. I realized that I did not want to work exclusively on the website at the cost of missing out on precious time with my old folks.

 

There are no shortcuts to productivity

When all is said and done, there is no substitute for hard work. At the end of the day, the work is not going to materialize out of nowhere. it will take a lot of toiling, frustrations, working and elbow grease to build something valuable and profitable. If you work for someone, you will have to show some real initiative and effort before people start to recognize your skill and ability. No matter what your field of work is, you will need to log some serious hours in order to become an expert at it and succeed.

 

Bonus: Get in the best shape of your life

Good health makes other areas of your life function more smoothly. When you are well-fed, well-rested, well-hydrated and active. Your alertness, quality of life and ability to work brilliantly, creatively and efficiently all depend on having an agile body and mind.  How well you work is directly proportional to the physical, mental emotional shape you are in. Focusing on your health will help you clear the cobwebs from your mind, shed emotional baggage, get rid of fatigue and completely focus on the dreams that you want so badly to achieve.

 

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Exercise For Productivity – How Exercising Regularly Can Give You Insight Into Being Productive

At the advice of this superhuman friend of mine, I started doing Tabata workouts.

I’d been struggling to lose weight for the past two years, both in terms of motivation as well as trying to find the time to work out after I had my baby. I ran sporadically 30-60 minutes a day and lost a significant amount of weight last year, but I’d hit a plateau. So over a dinner reunion with an old friend who happens to be a certified fitness coach, a world-class dragon boating champion, a medical student and an incredible powerhouse of energy (that’s the superhuman part), I posed the question:  What is the most efficient way to lose weight? 

Definitely not running, she said. Try Tabata instead.

So I went home and hunted down some Tabata circuits from Pinterest.

They were hard, monstrously, heart pumpingly hard but the thrill I got after doing them, the sense of accomplishment was phenomenal. Kind of like when I tried Insanity to lose weight before my wedding. It works, but only if you give it all you’ve got.

Anyway, while working out, I got this huge brain-wave that had me itching to finish the workout so I could run to the notepad, the sweat still dripping off my nose, to pen down the epiphany that just rocked my grey matter:

 

There are so many parallels between working out and increasing your productivity.

Both require:

    •    Planning
    •    Discipline
    •    Singular focus
    •    Solitude
    •    Decluttering of the mind

 

Planning

In order for your workout to be effective and to prevent injury, you need to have the skills and knowledge to  plan out an effective workout. Now, I’m no purist, planning can be as simple as picking a pre-designed workup dvd or video program. In that case, Shaun T or Jillian Michaels will have already done most of the planning for you. What’s important is for you to give it some thought and plan the kind of work (or workout) that you intend to do and the results that you expect to get.

Similarly, you need a road map to your end goals in work as well.If you want to work productively and see results, you will need to plan, gather resources and learn the skills necessary to succeed in your task.

Discipline

Intense workouts require discipline. You need to be able to roll your sleeves up and focus. When I started my workout, I had a lot of reserve energy and motivation to bludgeon through the difficult moves, but as the workout progressed, the only way I was able to go on was by powering through with sheer force of will.

I am not saying that your work should always be dependent on whether or not your will power is strong that day. After all, if you don’t love the work you do, you will end up burning out at some point by forcing yourself to do it day in and day out.

More often than not, however, there will be days where you have to force yourself to sit down and work when you don’t feel like it – that is where discipline comes in. Contrary to what most people think, discipline is not the same as torturing yourself to finish a project when you really don’t want to. Its more about building a habit or practice over time, where regardless of the external and internal factors affecting you, you are able to sit down and give your work the attention it deserves on a regular basis.

Singular focus

Effective workouts, like productive work, requires you to focus solely on what you are trying to accomplish. You can’t succeed if your attention is flying in all directions and you’re trying to accomplish several things at once. Self help gurus like Leo Babauta talk about focusing on one thing at a time. We nod our heads to concepts like these but then go right back to checking our iPhones, answering emails and watching youtube videos simultaneously.

Step back and focus on one task at a time. Say you’re doing a squat challenge. In order to do it properly, you have to be in the present – to tighten and engage your core, to breathe evenly, to keep your back straight, shoulders down and to slowly lower yourself into a squat without losing your balance or damaging your knees by extending them beyond your toes. If you’re wholly present within you’re body while you’re doing this squat, you don’t have much mental space left over to think about other things, do you? If a simple squat is more effective because if such singular focus, imagine the difference focusing can make to your work projects.

Solitude

Some tasks require social participation and interaction. This is not necessarily true for working out or working productively. It sounds counter intuitive (group work, and group workouts are so much more fun right?), but really, it isn’t.

Collaboration may be fun, but in order for the system to work, at some point, you will have to go inside yourself and on your own to complete the core requirements to accomplish your goal. Even in group workouts, we are seldom interacting with others during the more intense bits. Instead, we are focused internally on ourselves. This also means that we are no where near our gadgets, tablets or social media accounts.

Being alone forces you to mentally check off your priorities and focus on what’s important to you at this moment, free form external pressures and influences. Being alone can make you incredibly productive. Being alone, you also don’t have any distractions. Many of us relish working in groups, especially if we are working form home and do not get a lot of human interaction through out the day. It is important to remember that there is a balance between working with others and working alone, and working alone in solitude is not just  important, it is essential to stepping away from mediocrity and doing extraordinary work.

 

Decluttering

Working out both promotes and stems from a decluttered mind. Like an endless loop. We already talked about how important it is to have a clean mental slate in order to function at the optimal level. The beauty of it is, once you declutter your mind and start to work in solitude – once you get into the “flow” of your work (or workout), your monkey mind automatically settles down and switches to a thought process that helps you calm down and focus deeply.

The following three things follow when you declutter your mind:

You are not a slave to random thoughts.
The car needs a wash, garbage needs to be put out, you forgot to pay the telephone bills. These thoughts slowly slip off your radar as you do deeper into an intense workout or focus on your work. The deeper you get into the ‘zone’, the less frequent these random thoughts become. If it worries you so much write it down and go back to working – you can always deal with non-urgent things an hour later when you’re done your work.

You don’t get bogged down by worries and negativity.
When I’m upset of angry, I sit down to work. No you didn’t read that wrong. Working as an anger management strategy works incredibly well because when I get into the flow,  I automatically check-out of every day life and into a cleaner, more positive, worry-free mental space.

Try it, concentrate hard when you sit down to work today. Overtime, it will become a habit. Negativity feeds off our brooding and focusing on our problems. Getting into a working rhythm can help you manage your emotions and liberate you from the stress and worry that hounds you. That’s how people get addicted to working out. It gives you such a huge mental break from your daily worries and hassles. You worry less when you’re taking active steps towards solving a problem. It empowers you and puts you in the position of a leader, rather than a victim.

It gives you clarity of mind.
The focus and freedom that comes from working or exercising are a corollary to maintaining a clear mind. When you sit down to work with a clear mind you tackle it, finish faster and often eliminate the entire cycle of worry and negativity that comes from procrastinating about a job.

Exercising it before during or after work can be very conducive to a productive work session. These two activities are mutually compatible in the context of getting things done. More than its physical benefits, those of you that need to get a lot of work done in a short period of time will appreciate this technique for its ability to (ironically) tackle several problems at the same time – procrastination, sedentary lifestyle, lack of physical activity, lack of focus, worry, stress negativity as well as not getting things done on time.

 

[message_box title=”Try this exercise:” color=”beige”]I’m a big fan of the focus booster app. No, I don’t get paid by them. It has a timer that counts 25 minutes ON and 5 minutes OFF. When its ON –  work hard and blaze through the project you’re working on. When the timer turns to the blue OFF section, put everything down and do a few pushups, burpees or anything other physical activity (Try Tabata!). The Focus-booster app is based on the proven and popular pomodoro technique which is really effective because your mind stays fresh and active while you work in short, sharp bursts and maintain regular breaks.

Try it the next time you are looking to ramp up your productivity. See what a huge difference it makes in the quality and quantaty of your work. And – Tell us about it in the comments below!
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Why You Need to Become a Morning Person and How to Do It

Mornings are sacred.

There was a time when humans rose and retired with the sun. For us, that meant better health, more energy, and more importantly for those of us concerned with productivity, more time early in the mornings to plan and work. We are no longer forced to follow the daily cycle of the sun, but the simple act of waking up early in the morning can literally revolutionize your work-life.

Mornings are the singular uninterrupted time during the day when you can do whatever you like, uninterrupted. Its like a mini-vacation during which you have the power, the energy, the drive and the resources to accomplish the most difficult tasks of your day.

Why, then are so many of us struggling with waking up late, squandering our mornings and not living up to our potential? A lot of it comes down to planning.

If you don’t plan for work in advance (check out this post on using planning) then you end up just going with the flow and most times the flow means you are just lounging around being ridiculously unproductive. Using your mornings wisely can make all the difference between staying on task throughout the day and fumbling about without any apparent purpose.

 

Benefits of being an early bird

Clarity of thought. Your mind isn’t bogged down, distracted or confused with worldly things first thing in the morning. You can use that focus and momentum to knock out a huge chunk of your work first thing in the morning.

No interruptions. No colleagues emailing you or calling you  with “urgent” queries, no employees coming to you for more budget allocations, no friends inviting you to random events on Facebook

More will power.  Will power is highest at the beginning of the day and goes down as the day goes by, so focusing on your health and productivity first thing in the morning makes inherent sense.

Increased motivation. If you wake up in the morning and accomplish important tasks even before others are starting to wake up, that motivation carries you through the workday and gives you an energy boost better than coffee or redbull would.

More time in the day to do what you need to do. This is self explanatory.

Peace and quiet. Experiencing the solitude of the early morning hours helps ground you and put problems in to perspective. Your whole day starts on a calm note.

Setting an example for others. Getting to work early in the morning with a positive attitude shows how seriously u take your work. As a boss and employer, that speaks louder than any training. You don’t need to pay someone a ton  of money to motivate your employees, you just have to be a role model for the behaviours you want to promote.

 

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[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]You can always strive to get out of bed a little earlier.  you could get right to work, or for something personal like working out. Use commutes wisely – no one is competing for your attention. Tim Cook, Apple[/quote]

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]Working out early on monday (even if it seems too busy). It’s a way of making yourself a priority when you otherwise wouldn’t. Plus, you’ll have a clear head and the accompanying endorphin rush, which always helps make otherwise dreadful Monday mornings cheerier. Barack Obama[/quote]

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]If you eat a frog first thing in the morning, you’ll have it behind you for the rest of the day.  Mark Twain[/quote]

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]I normally walk her for about an hour in the morning. It’s the only time of day I get to myself. Joanna Coles, the Editor in Chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine[/quote]

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]I’m really not a morning person at all. It’s just sheer determination. I’m very strict with myself. When I practice six days a week and eat clean food, I feel much better. Gwyneth Paltrow[/quote]

For more quotes like these, check out the original articles they were excerpted from.

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So how exactly do successful people use mornings to stay on top of their game and power through the rest of the day?

Emails.

Some experts say you should tackle your email the first thing in the morning. Some say don’t. I say do what works for you. If you’re the type of person that gets derailed when someone jumps in with an item on their agenda, where you quickly give up your own to help the other person, then definitely, don’t check your emails. But if you’re the kind of person that can shut out other people and look at your priorities effectively, then starting the day with an email is a perfectly natural way to plan for the hurdles you will be up against later in the day. By checking your email you are alerting and preparing brain for the things to come. For years I used to avoid checking emails because I always ended up getting side tracked by someone else’s demands. Until I realized that every time I missed an important memo and a colleague asked me about it, I risked looking like an incompetent baboon. So check your emails. Just don’t get so engrossed that you forget to do your work.

Calendar.

You can use email to plan your day out, or you can skip it altogether by penciling in your most important priorities first. This way, when you are bombarded by external demands and gripes, you always have that perspective on what your priorities are. Planning is also important in helping you pace yourself so you’re not burned out, or taking it too easy.

Doing difficult things first.

If its good enough for Mark Twain (see the quote below), its good enough for you. Start the day with the most difficult tasks. Laura Vanderkam, author of What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, talks about experts and millionaires with morning habits and how they impact their lives. She cites a study by a Florida State University professor named Roy Baumeister. They found in this study that will power is like a muscle that becomes fatigued from overuse.  So make the most of your reserve of will-power in the morning to blast through some of those giant tasks that you’re afraid to touch, but you know you have to at some point. In fact, the sense of achievement from having dealt with that monster first thing in the morning will keep you powered through the rest of the day, breezing through it because the headrest part is, literally, already behind you.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]”Diets come undone in the evening, just as poor self-control and lapses in decision-making often come later in the day. On the other hand, early mornings offer a fresh supply of willpower, and people tend to be more optimistic and ready to tackle challenging tasks.” -Prof. Roy Baumeister as cited in What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast[/quote]

Rejuvenation.

If you don’t take care of your physical and mental needs, you will burn out at some point. Its so obvious on paper (or screen), isn’t it?

If powering through the crummiest tasks of the week is too much of a herculean feat for you in the morning, try relaxing instead. Go for a walk, indulge in some yoga or meditation which, incidentally, is also good for regulating your hormones and really getting into the optimum physical and mental space for working.

Last summer, I visited my family in Toronto where my sister dragged me to a hot yoga class. I loved it so much, that every morning, I’d hover over her bed and wake her up unceremoniously to go attend the 7 am class. We were working on this start-up at the time and I found that after yoga, a shower a light meal, I was totally primed for some marathon writing and creative action. I got so much more done when I took an hour out for myself in the morning. More than I had in the last two years of trying (and failing) to get content up on this website. Go on. Try it yourself.

Labor of love.

Do something you love. A side project. That dream book you plan to write. The guitar lessons you’ve been putting off. Whatever your passion is that you’ve saved up for the proverbial ‘someday’. Starting the morning with something you love can have the same motivating effect as tackling an unsavoury task first thing in the morning. What you’re aiming for is that sense of achievement when you do something you don’t normally do.

Food.

Mornings are a perfect time to plan out healthy meals. Of all the things we know are good for us, this is the one that falls to the way-side when we are busy getting through the buzz of life. I once knew a girl who had a tattoo on her arm that said “food is fuel”. Indeed, food is fuel. You don’t expect your car or lawn mower to run on the wrong kind of fuel. Why would you expect that of yourself? Greens, beans, fruits, grains, vegetables and lean protein. If you’re upto it, use your mornings for a quick mental check for what healthy meals you will be eating for the rest of the day.

 

Here is an excellent excerpt from Personal Development Guru Robin Sharma’s website on how to wake up earlier in the day:

1) Don’t eat too late in the day, it will help you sleep more soundly.
2) Jump out of the bed and start your day as soon as the alarm clock goes off.
3) Get into the best shape of your life. When you’re working out, you sleep better, wake up fresher, and getting our of bed earlier gets easier.
4) I love this one – Set Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Raising the bar and striving for a personal dream will fire u up and give you something to look forward to in the morning.
5) Set your alarm 30 minutes earlier than your usual wake up time.

Robin Sharma ends his post with the following words:

“Get up early. I dare you to do it for a few weeks. Your life is too precious a thing to waste. You know you were meant for your own unique form of greatness. You know you can do more, have more and be more. You know that you can be bigger than you currently are. So join The 5 O’Clock Club. Win The Battle of The Bed. Put mind over mattress. Get up early.  And as Benjamin Franklin once noted: “there will be plenty of time to sleep when you are dead.” Smart guy.”
How’s that for some early morning inspiration?

 

 

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42 Reasons Why You Are Slacking

  1. You wake up at the last minute, then rush out the door to work, disorganized.
  2. You check emails like an obsessive chimpanzee.
  3. You watch way too much TV. You think you deserve a few moments of relaxation, but few moments easily turn into many.
  4. You put off the challenging tasks for till tomorrow.
  5. You create self-fulfilling prophecies of failure.
  6. You work long periods without rejuvenating breaks.
  7. You take breaks but don’t get back to work as planned.
  8. If you work at home, you make no clear demarcations between work time and family/chore time.
  9. You let other people’s agendas rule your day.
  10. You let other people distract you into gossip, chit-chat or unproductive banter.
  11. You chomp on chips while you work. Not only are you unproductive, you’re also getting fatter.
  12. You stay up late. You’re partying or waffling or watching all-night Harry Potter marathons. Or all of the above.
  13. You make horrible meal choices. They may taste heavenly but leave you drowsy, bloated and distracted.
  14. You don’t take care of your physical health. Physical exercise helps you think clearer and feel more active and inspired.
  15. You are bored out of your mind. If you’re in a line of work that ceased to inspire you a long time ago, you won’t exactly be bursting to churn out quality work.
  16. You are waffling around on the internet. You’re not really doing any “research” are you?
  17. You are lost in a sea of social media updates.
  18. You are secretly stalking your niece’s sister’s best friend’s aunt’s vacation pictures from Costa Rica on Facebook.
  19. You are secretly pinning the awesomest wardrobe of life on Pinterest at work.
  20. You are scheming about the rewards you will give yourself even before you complete the measly taks at hand. Get your hand out of the chocolate jar!
  21. The people in the cubicle next to yours are talking loudly about the concert they are attending this weekend.
  22. Your boss keeps interrupting you with useless instructions.
  23. Your colleague keeps stopping by to chafe office gossip, you, of course indulge.
  24. The phone keeps ringing with clients making random inquiries.
  25. You are bogged down with numerous, irrelevant company memos and meeting minutes.
  26. You have three meetings in the morning, none of which have any conclusive results.
  27. You are waffling around on your coffee break, trying to squeeze that one last spare minute before you have to get back to that boring report.
  28. You don’t know how to say no when someone dumps an unwanted project on you.
  29. You are making plans for dinner with your friends after work.
  30. You don’t push yourself hard enough.
  31. You don’t have all the tools you need.
  32. You don’t have the right tools for the job.
  33. You don’t have the necessary training for the job.
  34. Your team isn’t working as a coherent whole.
  35. Conference calls without a purpose that seem to meander on forever.
  36. You’re exhausted and frustrated from your daily commute by the time you reach the office.
  37. Your lack of familiarity with the technologies you use for your work.
  38. You are way-sided by a million shiny apps that really hinder your productivity rather than enhance it.
  39. You don’t set priorities and optimize your workflow. Working without priorities is like firing a shot in the dark. You don’t really know if you will get the intended target or not.
  40. You are disorganized and your workspace is cluttered.
  41. You are a perfectionist. Learn to be comfortable with work that is “good enough” and you will get a lot more done when you sit down to work.
  42. You are constantly checking, sending and receiving texts from friends, family and co-workers.

 

 

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Squash the Negative Thoughts that Are Destroying Your Productivity

In a haze of exhaustion, anger, PMS and the stresses of child-rearing the other day, I completely lost it while trying to get this project done.

It started with my toddler refusing to have her omlette and demanding cookies for breakfast and quickly snowballed into a full-blown cascade of negativity.

Problem is, it had nothing to do with my toddler or breakfast or even child-rearing. There is this tape that keeps playing over and over in my head whenever I get upset. Its like a continuous refrain that crescendoes into self-doubt and tears. What am I doing half a world away from family and friends trying to raise a child when I can barely take care of myself? How long did I think I could keep up this charade of domestic bliss living in an extended family of eight? Yes , eight. What am I, with my professional degrees and independent rearing doing depending on my husband for everything like some 19th century stay-at-home wife?

I became so fixated on these “issues” that I started bawling right alongside my two year old. The project I was working on? Straight out the window.

Funny thing is, on the whole I am genuinely happy. I chose to live half a world away from family and friends and raise my child with my husband. I actually like living in a huge family, not the least because it gives me so much more support in raising my two year old but also because I am a better mom for it. And not to piss the feminists off, but I actually enjoy having a capable, strong and protective man take care of me emotionally and financially for this brief period in my life while I devote myself to the first few years of our child’s life. Contrary to popular belief (and to my own) I am blessed to have the kind of life that I do.

So why do these same old thoughts cycle through my head when I’m struggling to be productive – like some well-worn belt of a treadmill that goes nowhere? Because I think too much.

Although new mothers are often ones who over-think and mire themselves in a pattern of negative self-talk, I am pretty sure we aren’t the only ones with a penchant for brooding over an issue until everything explodes around us and we lose track of what it was that we are actually trying to accomplish.

Do you over think things too? What if you nipped these seeds of negativity in the bud? Negative thoughts often trigger a chain reaction with one dark thought roping in another and before you know it, you find yourself in the throes of anger, resentment and depression.  What if you could declutter your mind and streamline your thoughts?

Sometimes its better to just let experiences wash over you without analyzing, judging, inferring or processing at all. Experiences, after all, are the primary products of life, and you cannot completely avoid unwanted situations. What you can control, however, is whether or not you fuel these unproductive feelings with your thoughts. The way you think influences your productivity. Do you want to live a positive life or a negative one?

Just how do you clip your negative thoughts anyway?

I had this crazy clinical instructor in university. The kind that told you quirky stories that you thought went nowhere but you listened because they were interesting. Then BOOM! You realized that they applied to your life and your learning goals. Some of them weren’t just interesting anecdotes but practical, engaging learning tools.

This one time in my freshman year, I was close to tears dealing with a particularly difficult patient when she pulled me aside and told me about the acronym ‘STOP’. I listened politely until she went:

“You need to STOP”

“Slow down, you mean”

“No STOP, you think too much and get yourself worked up”

I looked at her trying to figure out if it was a random story or one with a moral. You never knew with her.

She went on to tell me about a concept that I have been coming back to over the years when I’m wrangling with a particularly challenging situation or emotional problem. Or when I’m looking to make a quick, impactful decision.

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Stop. The deciding factor in how most situations turn out for us is how we react to them. The S in the STOP acronym stands for disengaging from a situation before you react. Gut reactions are great in fight or flight situations but we no longer live in the caveman days of running away from the carnivorous beast that wants to devour us. We live in a social world and staying calm in an upsetting situation is a skill we can only master by stepping back before we react emotionally. Not only do rash decisions clip our productivity, they may also cause us to make mistakes that we may regret later. Some mistakes are much harder to undo and it is much more productive to just take a moment to step back and make a rational decision rather than try to patch up a crappy decision later.

Take a Breath. In fight or flight, the adrenaline seeping into your system makes you breathe rapid and shallow.  The oxygen in your brain drops as your brain shunts the blood to your limbs for fight or flight. Take a deep breath in. Smooth and slow. Take your time breathing it out it out. Breathing deeply tells your brain that you are not preparing to fight or flee.

Observe. Not all thinking leads to negativity. When you react instinctively, you are often focussing on how wrong or unwanted the instigating event or behaviour is. If you are in conflict with another person, observe how they are feeling, try to see what has caused them to behave I  a way that has upset you. A little empathy goes a long way in human interactions. If the conflict is self-imposed or internal like mine was, try to step back and look at the whole picture. Observe how your body feels when you are upset. Observe what events or thoughts may have triggered your response. Perhaps naming this emotion may help you understand and resolve the situation in a rational manner. At this stage, your observation is as objective and detached as you can possibly manage.

Proceed. This is where you step back into the situation at hand, preferably calmer, with a bigger picture in your mind. When I put my toddler situation into perspective, it wasn’t such a big deal after all. Just because my toddler asked for cookies at breakfast doesn’t mean I failed as a mother or as a human being. Rather than focussing on my overwhelming self-doubt, I ended up calming my baby down with crayons so I could carry on working on my project. Stepping back and putting the situation into context will help you be an effective problem-solver when you come back to resolve it.

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At first using STOP may feel awkward. Lets face it, that’s a lot of steps to go through in the split second between getting upset and thinking negatively. Avoiding a downward spiral of negative thoughts takes practice especially if you (like me) have been thinking negatively for a long time. Difficult thought it may be, learning this skill of putting things into perspective will do wonders for your productivity in a stressful situation.

Try the STOP strategy the next time you are upset – and let us know how it went for you. Leave a comment below!

 

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How your perfectionism is killing your productivity

The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection. -George Orwell

Who are Perfectionists?

Perfectionists are people who strive to meet very high, often unrealistic, standards in all aspects of their life.

Dr. Randy Frost of Smith College, Massachusetts has designed a scale to measure perfectionism. Six different dimensions have been identified: concerns over mistakes, personal standards, parent expectations, parental criticism, doubting of actions, organization.

Expectations of reality are often idealized and the practicality aspect is ignored. When these expectations of how things should be ideally fall out of sync with what the reality is, a surge of negative emotions overwhelms these people.

The higher your expectations, the more the chances of disappointment or failure.

Perfectionists who criticize themselves excessively are prone to psychological and physical illnesses such as depression, alcoholism, coronary heart disease, obsessive-compulsive disorder, suicide, anorexia nervosa, writer’s block. It’s a life filled with misery.

I used to be one. Sometimes, I still find myself having perfectionist thoughts and behaviours. But at some point 3 years ago, I realized my perfectionistic ideals had gone too far. It had become a compulsion, it was hindering my everyday activities and consequent success.

I would not hand in assignments (worth a good 10%-20% of course weight), because I felt I couldn’t do it “justice”, which was just my way of convincing myself that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I didn’t have time to make it perfect, so I justified my actions by thinking “it’s better not to hand in anything at all than to hand in average work”.

Then there were the personal feelings of failure or disappointment that accompanied any minor setbacks. Over the years, I would gave up on many dreams and tasks at the first signs of trouble. I believed that in this way, I hadn’t actually “failed” from achieving my goals in the “perfect way” that I expected or wanted to.

Other times, I caught myself trying to micro-manage other peoples actions and lives. I feared becoming a control freak. If I’d let it carry on, I have no doubts that it would have resulted in ruined relationships. Afterall, no one likes people who step on their toes or interfere with their lives for their personal neurotic insecurities and needs.

I also suffered from extreme procrastination. Why? I told myself that “it had to be just perfect, and often that meant I’d save it for later when I could perform my best”. This time often didn’t approach until the last minute case, in which case it wasn’t my best work anyway. It was a perfect excuse to be lazy and non productive.

But I didn’t realize the negative influences my ideologies were having on my life for a very long time. And admitting that I had this problem was the most important and difficult step. Thankfully though, once I did accept it, working on a better ideology of “productivity” only got easier.

 

What is Productivity?

Productivity is the state or quality of producing something, used especially in agriculture or industries. It is a term rarely used to gauge personal progress.

But I am a strong advocate for defining a productivist as a person who strives toward “achieving results” in all aspects of their lives. This person is focused on getting things done. They believe that having something is better than having nothing at all.

This “something” doesn’t mean that they are sub-par achievements. But even if they were, I would argue that average yet tangible products or results are better than above-average ideal imaginary ones.

 

Why seeing results is better than incomplete idealized expectations?

If unhealthy personality traits (such as self-criticism, intolerance) don’t get in the way, there is an inherent sense of accomplishment and pride with all personal creations and achievements.

Ever since I started working on the cause, I’ve found myself feeling liberated, like a heavy bag of potatoes has been taken off a mule’s back. I don’t have these unrealistically high expectations and standards that I constantly have to keep trying to meet.

I accepted the reality that nothing and nobody is perfect.

And there is no point trying to achieve ideas of perfection because they do a lot more harm than any good. Perfect is a subjective unattainable state. You end up draining out all your energy, positivity and efficiency.

It’s like chasing after a mirage in a desert.

Be practical, seek productive goals and results.

You’ll find yourself a much happier and carefree person. You’ll actually be much more likely to achieve success because you can focus all your energy and time on doing your best without the negative self-criticism and self-doubt.

Try it! You’ll thank yourself, first for taking an active step and also for doing it sooner rather than later.

You don’t want to be on your deathbed thinking you could have lived a better, more “perfect” life.

Instead, take the time now to change your thinking. Learn to let go of idealized versions of reality. Stop being afraid of making the wrong decisions and not achieving perfection. You will feel more empowered and less regretful.

A much better way to live life, in my opinion.

 

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Plan. Plan. Plan. Then Live One Day At A Time For Stellar Productivity

If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan – not the goal.

 

I’ve learnt, the hard way, that the absence of goals leads to disappointment and eventually failure. Without a self determined benchmark to aspire towards, your daily actions just become meaningless and your life, a confusing mess. I discovered this when I chose to “live one day at a time”. I was under a lot of stress and was extremely unsure of the future. My education and career path, my relationships were all up in the air. So my smart brain decided it was time to employ the well known plan of action. But in all honesty, looking back now, I was only using that as an escape, as a way out of the indecision I was facing. I couldn’t make up my mind on what I wanted, on what my dreams and goals really were. So instead of spending time to reevaluate, I chose to avoid the true problem and started focusing on the daily events of each day.

My aim every morning was merely to get through whatever happens, and then rinse & repeat. I did this for almost 2 years before I was forced out of this rut by a coming-of-age ceremony called convocation. I am so thankful for that rude awakening. Though I had been anticipating graduation for such a long time, when it came, it was a shock. Suddenly, I no longer had assignments or textbooks to keep me busy. My schedule was completely open and empty, and I began to resemble a bum. But it was blessing in disguise. At first I felt hopeless and lazy, but soon I realized I was actually relieved and at peace with myself more than I had been in the past few years. I had no real plans for the future because I didn’t think I was capable enough to achieve what I wanted. How foolish of me. I hadn’t applied for grad school, not for jobs. I spent the first little while regretting that, but soon enough I formed goals that were not only real but also meaningful. I started applying for jobs because I wanted to, not because I had to. I focused on those applications that interested me. Within a month after finishing my last semester, I had a job in a field that I wanted.

So I took a long, hard a look at the pros and cons of being a meticulous planner:

Pros

You are more organized. Planning gives you the ability to organize not just your time but also your space and social commitments so that when you’re doing a certain activity, you can focus on it and perhaps also work more effectively.

You put things in perspective. When you plan for the future, you are forced to look at the big picture and determine what your priorities are. Putting things into perspective this way ensures that you’re always working towards a goal that is important to you and not catering to someone else’s agenda.

Allows for preparation. Planning allows you to indulge in future-thinking. This can actually be a good thing because it often prompts you to get things ready in advance so you waste less time prepping when you’re ready to settle down to business.

You are clear about expectations. How many times have people you work with gotten away with the worst because you didn’t have the forethought to define your expectations in the beginning. This is especially true if you have people working under you or if you run a start-up. In order to stay on track , you need to be able to  define early on to other people what your expectations are. Planning in advance allows you to see the big picture and articulate clearly to toehr people what kind of work it is that you need from them. In turn, it makes things easier for the other perseon as well because they don’t have to keep guessing at what it is that you want.

 Makes you reach for loftier goals. We have a tendency to be easy on our selves. We may be rough with all the negative self talk, but when it comes down to actually doing something, we are as lazy as donkeys on a summer morning. Planning ahead gives you proper insight into what you’re capable of and if you’re like me, it also motivates you to reach just a little further to achieve something that you think is beyond your grasp. That striving, in my opinion, makes all the difference between mediocre work, and creating something exceptional.

You have peace of mind. You know that nagging feeling when you know you advent sat down in a while to do your homework? I don’t mean the kind of homework they give you in kinder garten. I mean the planning kind of homework that makes you list down all the concerns and priorities that are pressing down upon you at the moment, and turning it into something actionable and productive. When you plan, when you do your homework, there is less room for worrying about things you think you can’t do and more focus on taking practical steps to achieve whatever it is that you’re setting out to do. Not only does planning make you feel empowered, it also helps you maintain peace of mind and stay calm so you can work without getting distracted by your worries. Include link bat calm down article.

Cons

You don’t live spontaneously. Sometimes when you’re heavy on the planning, you tend to develop this loyalty to the original plan that can actually hamper your selse of freedom and productivity. You become a slave to the plan , afraid to veer form the planned course for fear that you will lose track of the bigger picture and far away fem your most important goals.

You restrict yourself from experiencing novelty. When you’re so committed to a plan that you tend to dismiss any novel, more attractive options that are presented in front of you, that’s  a problem. Sometimes, our plans blind us to the possibilities that are right under our noses.

You get bored. Sticking to a routine or a monotonous plan day- in and day-out, it is human nature to get bored and seek novelty. Why do you think so many people are opting out of office jobs and working for themselves these days? Even though you still have to plan your days and work, these is a sense of freedom and novelty in working by yourself, from random locations  and on your own terms that you would never be able to experience from the caged comfort of your 9-5 cubicle.

You get lost in the details. Sometimes you’re so caught up in following the nitty gritty details of your previously laid out plans tat you lose sight of the opportunities in front of you. I went on an epic trip to Jaipur this year. As I disembarked form the first ever rickshaw trip of my life, shaking from the adrenaline, I was so caught up in following my itinerary and the map on my ipnone to the last detail, that I didn’t even notice that it was raining. I got off in the downpour trying to negotiate with the rickshaw guy, only to realize that the hotel guard had been tapping me for five minutes trying to alert me to the rain waking up my sleepy baby, telling me that if I needed to look over my map and haggle further, I could slide over to the safety and dryness of the hotel lobby. When you’re planning, don’t miss the forest for the trees.

You become rigid. A corollary to the above point about getting lost in the details is that some of is are obstinate. I know I am. Once I decide upon a course of action, I have this urge to see it through at all costs. Sometimes, having the flexibility to change course or even edit defeat can mean the difference between being a struggling entrepreneur and a successful one that knows when to cut losses and try something more effective.

You become stuck in planning. When you’re stuck in the planning phase, you tend to pour over the plan and edit and re-edit –  but you don’t actually take any action or do anything. By the time you come to the point where you do something, you’ve expended so much energy and anticipation on the planning phase that you’re already bored before the project even begins.

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Goals are what drive and motivates humans. Every person has individual motivations, but I’ll leave that discussion for another time. That is why they say set high goals, dream big. If you have no goals. You won’t achieve anything. If you strive high, you will reach somewhere there depending on how much of an effort accompanies that dream.

Essentially this is the recipe for success, to be added in the order listed:

1. Dream big and set goals, know what you want (I mean it), make them extravagant and don’t allow your mind to wander or convince you otherwise.

2. Make a plan of action, know how you are planning on achieving them

3. Take it as it comes one day at a time, don’t allow setbacks or happenings to get you down and reevaluating your goals. Don’t get too phased by things & think your goals are no longer realistic and achievable because X happened. You don’t need to over think things because often when you are under stress you have odd ideas and make stupid decisions. So deal with anything calmly and logically, now is not the time to reevaluate or worry. That is the next step.

4. On a particularly calm day, when there is no tension or pressure on your shoulders and in your head, maybe once a week take a few hours and rethink and evaluate the week. What things happened that worried you, how did you react with them, have your ideas and values changed, are you goals still what they were, do you wish to alter them a little bit. Never scrap an idea/goal because you never know when it could work out. If you think things have changed and I no longer wish to achieve that because it’s unrealistic and foolish, let me tell you it’s NOT! Because you had thought long and hard about it, that is exactly what you wanted at one point in your life. So don’t undermine it’s value, and don’t give up on it just because you haven’t been able to achieve it yet or because you have already achieved it and now it doesn’t mean anything to you.

Being a planner doesn’t hamper you from a journey of self discovery and improvement, thinking critically about your plans and choices can help you start a personal revolution to stay eager, motivated and productive.

How do you handle the planning phase? Reply in the comments below to share your planning dilemmas and hacks with us. We love hearing form you!

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Invoking Calm Productivity in the Middle of a Crisis

“A mind at peace, a mind centered and not focused on harming others, is stronger than any physical force in the universe.” – Wayne Dyer

Difficult boss. Screaming kids. Looming deadlines. Relationship problems.

Whatever your stressor, it will leave you feeling overwhelmed, powerless and unproductive. Turbulent emotions often mean that you pay less attention to working creatively, productively and efficiently. Take charge and empower yourself to deal with these feelings so they don’t get in the way of your goals. Learning to calm yourself effectively and immediately will give you clarity of thought and the conviction to take sound decisions.

In fact, the ability to resist emotional urges and outbursts actually improves your performance and productivity. One of the best ways to keep your mind stable and calm, especially when you’re looking to focus on getting back to productive work is to centre yourself by meditating.

 

The next time you’re in a blank state of unproductively, fixed in-place by stress, try this chanting meditation:

Select an appropriate phrase, prayer or affirmation that inspires and uplifts you. Examples of affirmations you can chant include:

I believe in myself and my decisions.

I accept the challenges of the world.

I can change my world.

I have unlimited potential

I am destined to succeed.

 

Sit comfortably on a mat or chair, or even lie down. Keep your shoulders and body relaxes. Close your eyes, take a few breaths to ground and centre yourself.

Repeat your chant slowly, pay close attention to the sounds you make as you chant. Keep a steady beat as you inhale or exhale as you chant.

Redirect stray thoughts and try to bring them gently back to the affirmation.

When you are ready, come out of the meditation by taking a few deep breaths. Observe your internal landscape. How do you feel?

 

Practical Strategies to Help You Calm Down

When you focus on staying calm, a funny thing happens. Your brain starts zooming out of the problem and putting it into context. Readjusting your perspective helps you gauge the problem rationally instead of blowing it out of proportion. When you come back to a situation with a clear perspective about what you want, you get back some of that control you lost when you were overwhelmed.

Disengage.

Step back. Get away from the aggravating situation or person. Focus on something else. Meditate. Breathe. The extra oxygen will do you a world of good. Experts say that in times of stress, the reduced oxygen to your brain drives your brain to freeze and trigger a primitive fight or flight response. Breathing deeply will replenish your brain supplies allowing you to look at the situation more rationally. And force yourself to smile – a fake smile will make you feel better just as a real one will.

Absorb yourself.

Do something else. It could be as simple as a shower. Do mundane things. Some people clean as a way to get their heads in order. Cook, if you like. Go do some yard work. Doodle – it’s a wonderful stress reliever. A change of pace, activity or scenery will instantly take your mind off whatever is bothering you.

Stop Multitasking.

A study at Stanford found that people who multitask are prone to distractions and decreased focus when working on a task. The “busy” feeling of multi tasking is just a facade. The constant distraction may make you feel like you’re getting more done, but in reality, you are far less productive than you hope to be.

Use music.

Blast some music. Sing along if you’re feeling bold – the louder the better. It is no secret that music helps people calm down. Sing loud, off key and do the chicken dance. There is no way you can be upset while you’re being that silly.

 Get moving.

Speaking of the chicken dance, a dance workout is an excellent way to improve your mood. So is running. Moving vigorously will clear your mind, pump some endorphins and have you feeling better in no time. Another great way to get moving is to do a walking meditation. Go to a local park or green spot. As you walk, breathe in the fresh air and drink in the sights and sounds of nature.

Engage a friend.

Have a “bitchin’ buddy”. A girlfriend of mine and I made a pact years ago. Instead of harassing our family members, significant other or random friends who may or may not want to listen to us raging, we would reach out to each other to vent. The mutually beneficial arrangement kept our other relationships sane and lending a sympathetic ear to each other drew us closer as friends.

Reflect.

Grab a piece of paper, set a timer to five and write whatever comes to your mind. Don’t censor or edit. Don’t try to make sense of what you are writing, just keep the pen moving on the paper. Julia Cameron, author of “The Artists Way” suggests writing three pages every morning to free up your creative energy and help you think without inhibitions. For those of you that prefer typing to writing, try 750 words.

 

Staying calm in the middle of a difficult situation can give you the insight that someone who is worked up may not have. It makes you productive, focussed and gives you clarity of thought to put your larger goals into perspective so that you’re winning the war, not just the battle.

Quite frankly, staying calm makes you very powerful.