Being Mindful at Work

You have been scattered all day.  You haven’t finished a thing.  Your to-do list keeps growing and you are starting to forget even the most minor of things, like feeding your dog. You are caught in the surge of overwhelm.  This is especially true during the holidays.  All the annual items start popping up at the most inappropriate times at like say…2 AM and then again at say…3 AM.  Holiday cards for your co-workers.  Poinsettias for the company party.  That conference in San Antonio that you don’t want to forget to budget in for 2017.  Welcome to year-end overwhelm.

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There are ways to mitigate the annual barrage of holiday, year-end, one off to-do’s without succumbing to it.  Restful nights without waking up to, “Did you remember to budget for the company picnic?”  The secret to getting your head back from the overwhelm is mindfulness.  You probably are skeptical.  You might be thinking, “But Cath, I haven’t got time to be mindful.”  How can 10 minutes of peace actually help me, when all I want to do is dive in and start checking things off my list?  I can’t shut off my head.  There is science behind this.

 

Here are small steps to bring mindfulness to work:

 

  • Take a breath. In Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Peace in Every Step, he recommends taking a mindful breath every time you sit down.  So while at your desk as you sit in your chair, take a breath.  As you sit in your car, driving to work, take a breath.  As you sit at the table to eat, take a breath.  You need to take a breath anyway, right?  So why not pay attention when you take a breath.  Give it a try today.  It’s amazing how one breath can change the trajectory of your day.  Try it now.  Breath in.  Breath out.

 

  • Greet the day with a smile. Nhat Hanh says, “Waking up this morning, I smile.  Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.  I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”  I have tried to do this for the last week.  The very first thought when I wake in the morning is to smile.  Smiling relaxes the muscles in your face.  It brightens the day.  How can anything go wrong when you start it off with a smile?  Try it.  Feel your face relax.  The day just got better, didn’t it?

 

  • The promise of hope. Instead of getting caught up in what will go wrong today, get caught up in what will go right.  Nhat Hanh writes, “Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear.  If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”  Optimism is contagious.  So is negativity.  Be the one that spreads optimism.  So when you are in the meeting, ask what is going right or what does success look like.  It brings it back to hope instead of languishing in negativity.

 

  • Tie it to your roles. I have been teaching the 5 Choices of Extraordinary Productivity for the last 18 months.  I think one of the greatest values of the training is identifying your role and making that extraordinary.  So instead of being a “Coach”, I have recreated that role to be “Inspiration Engineer”.  Instead of being a “Wife”, I have recreated that role to be “Kevin’s Best Friend”.  Recreate your roles to be extraordinary.  It makes everything you do at home and at work into something inspirational.  For me, personally, it makes everything I do have value, whether it’s washing the dishes so my husband and I can get out of the house faster, or taking an extra ten minutes with a client to help them work through an insight.  Create your extraordinary roles.

 

  • Be happy now. I’ve spent a good deal of my career waiting to be happy.  I’ll be happy when I get that promotion.  I’ll be happy when I pay off the car.  I’ll be happy when I have the corner office.  This is futile.  I was putting my life on hold until the next hurdle.  As Naht Hahn says, “The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy.” It’s the small things that I need to take stock in.  My dog curled up asleep on the coach.  The sunshine outside.  The smell of fresh brewed coffee.  Don’t put off happiness until – Be happy now.

 

By being more mindful throughout the day, the little distractions seem to fall away.  I’m able to buoy against the struggles and float over the disagreeable nuisances.  The sea may be roiling but I am floating on top.

Freedom to Choose

I’ve been reading Paul Selig’s book, The Book of Knowing and Worth.  He posits that we are free to choose worth and that no one else can give us worth.  I reflected and realized that I was trying to derive worth from someone else:  my mother, my job, my boss, my spouse, my child.  But it’s just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.  It’s all been within in us,all along.  It’s always been there.  Hmmm.  What a concept.

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I run into this a lot with my coachees.  Many are unwillingly, or unknowingly, buying into their thoughts and aren’t able to see that they can choose how they think about things.  You can feel guilty for not visiting your father or you can feel at peace.  It’s so ingrained to feel the guilt.  But what if you were at peace?  I remember asking a client, “Can you choose to think about that differently?” and she responded, “I don’t know.  Can I?”  Yes.  You are free to choose.  So choose well.

Here are ways to choose good thoughts:

  • Authority.  Paul Selig writes that you have the authority to decide if you are worthy.  It places the responsibility to choose your worth on you.  It’s up to you.  You have the magic wand, so go use it.  There is no blaming others for your lack of confidence, your financial short fall or feeling guilty about your ex.  You get to decide if the glass is half empty or half full.  It’s all within your authority.  So go big and be worthy.
  • Quit rehashing.  Have you ever rehashed an embarrassing situation over and over and over and over and over again?  You think, “Why did I say that to my boss?” or “I’m a dummy for not catching that mistake.”  You cannot change the past.  You can change how you look at it.  I love Andy Dooley’s first step to changing negative thoughts.  You say to yourself, “Stop, cancel, clear and get the fear (he uses a graphic four letter “F” word instead of fear) out of here!”  To claim your worth, you need to stop the negative rehashing.
  • Rewire to the Positive.  You may not realize this but you can rewire your bad memories.  Your brain is so malleable that you can think back to the embarrassing singing solo you did in fourth grade and make it a wonderful success.  False memories affect us all.  As Tara Thaen wrote in Time, “The phenomenon of false memories is common to everybody — the party you’re certain you attended in high school, say, when you were actually home with the flu, but so many people have told you about it over the years that it’s made its way into your own memory cache.”  The trick is to rewire the memory by thinking about it anew.  Throw in a standing ovation when you finished your solo and someone handing you a bouquet of roses.  It’s your story.  Make it as great as you like.
  • Mindfulness.  We end up spending a lot of time and effort either living in the past wishing it were different, or planning our future and hoping nothing will go wrong.  The thing is, neither are possible.  Why not be here right now?  Right now.  Stop right now.  Close our eyes.  Take three deep breaths and be here right now.  Feel your big toe.  Feel your ear lobes. This right now is what matters.  Nothing can be done about the past except forgiveness (for yourself and others).  Nothing can be done about the future except for setting a positive intention.  So be here.  Right now.
  • Be open.  We are currently relocated as our home is being repaired from Hurricane Matthew.  My dog, a Brittany Spaniel named Baci, has been an excellent example of openness.  She is not griping about not having her favorite chair to sit in.  She isn’t frozen by my side waiting for me to show her where the squirrels are.  She is out there living in the moment and being open to all things.  The new smells, the new couch, the new sounds, the new neighbors and the eight new dogs that surround where we are living.  As Dorothy figured out, she was always “home.”  Be open.

Choose the positive thoughts.  You have the freedom to choose.

4 Ways to Disempower Your Negative Thoughts

You stand on the scale and you’ve gain 5 pounds.  You think, “Fatso, why did you have that extra chocolate chip cookie?”  You avoid setting up the meeting with your boss because you are sure your idea will be shot down.  “She doesn’t think I’m smart.  She’ll never like my ideas.”  You gossip about your co-worker because you know they will never get the promotion they want.  “He’s an idiot.  There’s no way he’ll get it.”  All these thoughts are wearing a super highway of negativity in your brain.  The good news is you can change that.

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Your brain is malleable and can be changed–and it doesn’t even involve surgery.  The key to disempowering your negative or unwholesome thoughts is to change your pattern of thinking.  It takes practice.  But when you start creating wholesome thoughts, they beget more thoughts that are wholesome.  Soon, you are a wholesome thought-machine.  As Professor Mark Muesse teaches in the Great Courses: Practicing Mindfulness, “Unwholesome thoughts break down into three areas: selfish desire (I want my neighbor’s car), hatred (I hate that person because they are different from me) and deluded thoughts (I think I’m the greatest or completely unworthy).”

 

Here are Professor Muesse’s four “R’s” of disempowering thoughts:

 

  1. Simply replace the negative or unwholesome thought with something opposite.  If someone cuts you off in traffic, instead of angrily swearing and tailing them, you should instead think, “I’m sure they are in a rush for a good reason.”  I’ve done this when my boss’ door was shut.  I would switch my paranoid thinking: “She’s going to fire me,” to “She must be working on my raise or a new challenging project.”  When I had a four-hour unplanned airport layover a few weeks ago, I replaced my “I hate this airport and this lousy airline” thought (which became my new negative mantra for a few minutes) to “This’ll be a great opportunity to listen to my book and get in 10,000 steps.”  I also cultivate compassion by saying, “Just like me.”  If someone steals my parking space, I say, “They want to be happy, just like me.”  Replace the unwholesome negative thoughts with positive, wholesome ones.

 

  1. Reflecting on results.  Think about the long-term results of this thinking. Contemplate the forward trajectory or consequences of these thoughts.  If I believe that I am a nervous speaker, I will become a nervous speaker.  If think that I am financially insecure, I will become financially insecure.  Seeing the long-term consequences helps squelch the inner critic.  Another way of looking at it is: do you want to be the Grinch?  Even Grinch-like folks were small children at some point.  It took years of unwholesome, greed-filled thoughts to result in the vengeful person they became.  What are you really creating with all those unwholesome thoughts? Your best you?

 

  1. Redirecting attention.  This is where you direct your attention away towards something more wholesome.  Like your breath, your toes or your ear lobes.  I advise my clients to do this when they get angry and have regressed into their lizard brain (the fight-or-flight part of your brain).  When you are hijacked by emotions, it’s important to get out of your head and back into your body.  Especially before you say something you might regret.  Your best thinking is in your prefrontal cortex but it’s impossible to get there as long as you are in a state of fear or anger.  Remember the phrase This too shall pass.  Good or bad, everything is impermanent.  We just need to accept that it is impermanent.  Joy or terror, thoughts pass away, lose power and fade.  Bring it all back to the breath.

 

  1. This is all about challenging your assumptions.  It might be that you’ve become jealous of your co-worker’s new convertible sports car.  You assume that if you had that car, you would be happy.  Examine what you might feel you’re lacking.  Maybe you want some freedom.  Maybe independence.  Look at the underlying assumptions of why you might be envious.  You might be envious of your boss’ new smart phone.  You want to have the latest technology.  But won’t that phone be an out-of-date piece of junk in 3 years?  I recently moved my home office.  I thought about a nice chair I wanted for it.  I realized that I didn’t want to add any more furniture to my already fully-furnished house.  I realized there was a chair and ottoman that was unused in another room.  So instead of feeling like I was lacking, I discovered I already had what I needed.  Challenge your assumptions.

 

Any type of mindfulness is a practice that takes time and consistency.  Habitual thoughts are not easy to break but it can be done with persistence.  I personally journal each evening about how I have reframed my thoughts throughout the day.  I think the reflection helps me hardwire the new positive, wholesome thoughts.  Good luck!

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. —Henry Ford

It’s all between your ears.  All those thoughts.  As a client said to me “It’s a hamster wheel”.  The same thoughts over and over and over and over again.  The I think I can’t, I think I can’t, I think I can’t mantra.  You see your boss’ door closed and you assume you’re in trouble.  Your wife doesn’t respond to your text and you decide she must be mad about something.  You hear your coworkers laughing and you feel shut out.  Guess what.  You get to choose your thoughts.  Really you do.

But, Cathy, I can’t!  I can’t stop my mind chatter.  It’s always negative.  I know.  I’ve been there.  There isn’t a magic wand that is going to turn off that faucet.  What it takes is deliberate practice.  Having a coach (like me) is a really good way to change course.   A good coach will hold up a mirror and help you pick through those thoughts and question their value.  We all have different beliefs around trust, money, love and work.  “If I love, I will be hurt.” “I’ll never get a promotion, so why apply?” “I’m not worth more money than I am making.”  And then that broken record keeps playing over and over and over again.

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Here are some disciplines to begin doing now and so you can throw out the recording:

  • Practice mindfulness. This means stop dwelling on the past or assuming the future.  Be in the moment. Now. And now.  And now.  Feel the chair you are sitting in.  Feel your chest rise with each breath.  Listen to your dog sighing.  Smell the aroma of your coffee cup.  Feel your big toe.  Mindfulness is being in the moment and tapping into all your senses.  It takes you out of your head and into your body.
  • Accept failure. As J. K. Rowling said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” You cannot break out of the status quo unless you are open to failure.  Most of your thoughts are full of “what if” scenarios.  That is a waste of energy.  It’s OK if you fail.  You’ll learn something if you do.
  • Stop worrying.  A quote from Arthur Somers Roche that I love: “Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.” I’ve met a lot of people who view worry as a sort of penance.  If I worry about my son driving to Orlando to meet me, then I am preparing myself for the worst. I’m expending energy and I can assure it is not changing the outcome.  It is futile and exhausting.  Worry does not change the future.
  • Think about positive outcomes. This is the flip side of worry.  So instead of worrying about my twenty-year-old son driving to Orlando safely, I think about embracing him when I see him.  I think about his magnetic smile.  I think about how his reaction times are so much faster than my own.  His flawless driving record.    I feel more upbeat now.  I’m in a much better mind set.
  • Use mantras. I have a mantra that I use in the middle of the night if I wake up from some sort of stress.  “In an easy and relaxed manner in a helpful and positive way, joy comes to me easily in its own perfect time for the benefit of all.”  I put that on a broken loop in my head.  Make your own.  Make sure it is simple and positive.
  • Good enough. So many of my clients are frozen by perfectionism.   Let it be “good enough”.  I’m not suggesting you do sloppy work but let go of it being perfect.   If there is anything blasting thoughts through your head it’s the perfectionism judge.   “I won’t apply for the job until I have that certificate.”  “I’ll sign up after I’ve lost 15 pounds.” “I’ll ask for a raise after I finish that project.”   It’s good enough. Quit being paralyzed.

This is not a quick fix.  Your thoughts have been riding the same railroad track for a while.   Even acknowledging that your thoughts are not the truth can help you slow it down.  Get off the train at the next stop and see the possibilities.

5 Surprising Characteristics of Parisians

As I write this, I have finished my first two days in Paris on my own. Paris is beautiful and enchanting. I encountered many interesting surprises around almost every corner.  I had no idea it would take 45 minutes to get from Charles De Gaulle airport to my hotel. The traffic as you approach the city at 10 in the morning on a Thursday was just crazy. It felt like there was only one way into the city; kind of like everyone in New Jersey trying to get into Manhattan through the Holland tunnel. I was also taken aback by all the graffiti. I’ve thought that the French have it all figured out since Americans don’t seem to. But, alas, we all have our downfalls.

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The best part of the trip in was my taxi driver.   He kept calling me “My Lady”. We had a lovely conversation about his parents immigrating from Cambodia and how much he loves Paris. He explained the good neighborhoods from the bad and constantly complimented me on any French I attempted to speak. I was kind of hoping I could keep him for a few days as my guide. This young man was so polite and open, I had no idea what else was in store for me.  Can’t I just keep him? Is he the friendliest person I will meet in Paris? Who else is going to call me “My Lady”…. like ever?

 

Turns out that Paris revealed these surprises to me:

 

  1. Parisians are gracious. I had a friend advise me before I came to make sure I said “Bon jour” and “Merci.” Parisians are not a fan of the abrupt American. When I arrived at my hotel, two gentlemen opened the door saying “Beinvenue Madame, bon jour!”, with smiling faces. I think every employee in that lobby said “Bon jour, Madame!” You might be thinking, “Well, Cathy, isn’t this a hotel, shouldn’t they be that gracious?” The thing is every brasserie, cafe, shop and museum was the same tune. The sweet lyrical “Bon jour, Madame.” The Parisians graciousness made me feel welcome and humbled me.

 

  1. Parisians have a slower pace. One of my guides for a walking tour of Montmartre explained that if you purchase an espresso at a cafe, you had the right to the table for the entire day.  He wanted us to understand this in case some server tried to brush us off. This slower, you have all day, take a moment to be in the moment attitude was a big adjustment. I still ate my food too fast (especially when dining alone). I’m sure they thought I was an American Speedy Gonzales. This is in juxtaposition to say Manhattan or San Francisco when every minute counts in a race to get through the day. Savor the moment.

 

  1. Many Parisians are animated. On the drive in from the airport, there had been an accident and there in THE MIDDLE of the highway, the two men on opposites ends of the collision were boisterously yelling at each other waving their arms madly. Quite the theatrics. When the woman who was the concierge for the apartment we leased was showing us the place, she didn’t speak English. We didn’t speak French. The language barrier was crossed as she pantomimed how the locks worked, the door to the balcony, and all the various attributes of the apartment. It was hysterical. She bantered on in French stopping to ask “Oui?”…as we echoed back “Oui. Oui.” Enjoy the theatrics; they will often get you through what you need to know

 

  1. Parisians love their city. Parisian pride is even more fierce after the threat to Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Recent terrorist attacks on their own and their neighbor’s soil have fueled that fire.  This kind of pride, Parisian Pride, doesn’t develop overnight. Several guides and drivers I met were incredibly proud of their neighborhood whether it was Montmartre or Rive Gauche. I had the impression that every Parisian felt as if Paris was the center of the universe. It certainly is the center of theirs. The thing is, after 8 days in Paris, I was beginning to think the same thing.  Where else can you experience world class food, wine, art, history and music? ?  When I first arrived, I took pictures from every street corner because it was so beautiful and remarkable. Pretty soon I had WAY too many pictures of rambling cobblestone streets.  Every corner, every niche of Paris has something unique to offer. It’s okay to capture the moment even if you have to edit it later.

 

  1. Parisians are passionate. I’m talking the essence of passion, the pureness of passion. I mean passionate about their interests and what there is to love about life  I went on a walking tour of Montmartre and the guide was enlivened and passionate about Montmartre and the artists who lived there (i.e. Van Gough, Renoir, Monet, Picasso….).  I went on a cheese tasting in a cheese cave from the 1600’s and our guide was passionate about French cheese.  There are over 2,000 types of cheeses made in France, and this guy knew each one, the distinctions between them AND could combine a wine and cheese so that you thought you were eating cauliflower or grapefruit.  My friends and I took a cooking class and our instructor was almost beyond passionate about the food of Paris.  He knew the history of the dish, its origins, it’s modern adaptations and had sourced every product to identify organic and GMO free.  He orchestrated 8 novice cooks to create an amazing three course lunch in a matter of 4 hours. The passion of all these Parisians was contagious.

 

Paris has been on my bucket list for over 30 years.  Ever since my 7th grade French class.  It was an amazing vacation and the thing I learned is that it’s the residents I will remember most.  The Parisians themselves are the heart of the experience.

6 Ways to Calm Your Distracted Brain.

You’re on a conference call and decide to respond to a few emails to “get more done.” Suddenly the leader of the call asks you a question. Huh? What? It’s embarrassing. You have no idea what the question was and you even forgot what the call was about. You are distracted. You’re at a stop light and pick up your phone to see if there is a random email that might be important. Like maybe you won that Powerball lottery for a million or two and it turns out it’s an email with an offer for a low interest rate credit card. Junk mail. Why is the truck behind you honking? The light is green and you were distracted.

6 ways to calm your distracted brain

Technology has turned us into skimmers and task switchers. Information is constantly crawling across the bottom of our television sets, the side bar of our inboxes and notifications are pinging away on our phones. In the meantime, we are losing the connections in our life as we scan the environment for more information. Let me check my phone while I have lunch with my spouse. What is this saying to my spouse? You’re not worth 100% of my attention. Don’t you hate it when you are talking to your boss on the phone and you can hear them tapping away on their keyboard? It’s time to get your attention and life back.

So here are the ways to calm your distracted brain:

1. Setup time zones. A programmer from my 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity class started setting up 90-minute time zones to program for a particular project. He found he was much more focused and the project moved ahead at a faster pace. Put it in your calendar. I know that I always write this blog on a Saturday morning after breakfast for about an hour to 90 minutes. When I write over several days, my editor can tell. The thoughts aren’t as cohesive. Having a hard and fast time schedule helps me do my best work.

2. Eliminate task switching. Task switching is a productivity drain. As Dr. Susan Weinschrenk wrote for Psychology Today, “Each task switch might waste only 1/10th of a second, but if you do a lot of switching in a day it can add up to a loss of 40% of your productivity.” Acknowledging the fallacy that “multi-tasking” is accomplishing more can be half the battle. Realize that you need to mono task and devote the time to do so. So answer emails from 9 until 10 and return phone calls at 11 until noon. Devote your time to one type of work at a time and you will fly through the work. Imagine having 40% of your productivity back.

3. Turn to R mode. I recently read Tony Schwartz’ The Way We Are Working Isn’t Working. He suggests tapping into your right brain (r mode) which is where your intuition and holistic thinking takes place. You probably find yourself in R mode when you are in the shower or as you drift off to sleep. The left brain (l mode) is like your inner control freak and likes to keep things according to a plan whereas r mode is the day dreamer tapping into the unconscious. Insight is in the right brain. Novelty is food for the left brain (i.e. SQUIRREL!). To dampen down the novelty of all these distractions you need to turn on the right brain. So if you need to really think about a project creatively, think about turning off all the distractions, dim the lights and get out a pad of paper (i.e. low tech) to increase your focus.

4. Practice mindfulness. I’ve been using Shirzad Chamine’s 15 mindfulness meditations for almost a year. I have to say it has helped me stay centered. When you come into your body and stay out of your head it’s like stepping behind a waterfall. Distractions are falling in front of you but I have the clarity to step behind. I had several conflicts while I was traveling last week and I stayed clearly in response mode versus react mode. My daughter even commented that she knew I had a lot going on but it didn’t affect my ability to be present with her. Schwartz recommends a meditation or mindfulness practice as well. I’m less likely to fall into the lure of being stressed out. I can sit back and pick my response instead of a knee jerk reaction. It’s quite liberating and keeps many distractions from even creeping in.

5. Take a break. Schwarz recommends mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks. So put in your 90 minutes of super productivity and then go for a walk. Or meditate. Or open a book. Taking a break renews your body and mind. Make sure your employees are doing the same as well. Some type of plan for renewal keeps you going in the long run. Essentially, plan on 4 – 90 minute blocks of time with 15-30 minute renewal breaks in between. Believe it or not, you will get more done than if you work 10 hours straight. And the quality of your work will be better.

6. Work on connecting with others. When you are out to lunch with your coworker, put down your phone. I know a group of folks who have lunch on a regular basis. They all put their phones at the center of the table, and the first one to pick up their phone, pays for the check. Turning off your notifications and putting your phone away is the quickest way to show the folks around you that are there for them. “You are worth my undivided attention.” It will improve your relationships. People feel valued when you’re engaged with them and aren’t staring at your phone.

I’m still guilty of checking my phone in my car. I know one client of mine who said they would put their phone in the back seat to make sure they didn’t check it. Being scattered all day can be a way of life. Now I’m going to take my own advice and take my dog for a walk (see #5).

25 Itzy Bitzy Mindfulness Habits You Can Start Now.

As Shirzad Chamine says in his 15 minute meditation resource (which is free by the way), “We spend so much time in our head, we can forget we even have a body.” When you think about it our head is about 10% of our body mass but we spend most of our resources and time staying up in our head instead of really occupying our body. Whether it’s a worry loop of “did I close the garage door this morning” or “don’t forget to buy ground coriander” or rehashing the disagreement you had with your partner, we spend a lot of time in our heads while our bodies are just going through the motions.

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I love the analogy that Dan Harris uses in his book, 10% Happier, when he experimented in all types of meditation. “Meditation helps you get behind the waterfall (of thoughts).” As I like to say in my workshops, you want to stay out of the back of your head or your limbic system and stay in the front of your head where the prefrontal cortex is. Your best thinking is in the prefrontal cortex. The best way to stay there is to try and be present. Mindful.

So here are the 25 itzy bitzy habits to keep you in the present:

1. Smile when you enter a room.
2. Wiggle and account for your toes.
3. Take three deep breaths.
4. Feel the temperature and texture of the air as it enters and leaves your nostrils.
5. Touch your thumb and index finger to feel the ridges of your fingerprint.
6. Listen for the farthest sound you can hear.
7. Listen for the closest sound you can hear.
8. Feel the weight of your body on the chair as you work.
9. Meditate for 5 minutes in the morning.
10. Do yoga for 5 minutes in the morning.

Being more mindful is also about eliminating distractions. As Dr. Hallowell describes in his book, Crazy Busy, we all just skim through life. We don’t take time to ponder. I skim emails, texts, articles, and Facebook posts. We are in a constant state of distraction which creeps us back into our limbic system and out of our best thinking. So the next few itzy bitzy habits are about eliminating distraction so that we can get back into the present.

11. Turn off all notifications from social media and email.
12. Have a technology sabbatical after 7 pm.
13. Keep your phone in another room (or off) when connecting with others.
14. Set up rules for spam so it goes to your junk folder.
15. Set up blocks of time to work on important projects.
16. Set up blocks of time to answer emails and phone calls three times a day.
17. Set up emails as tasks so that your inbox is not your to-do list.
18. Touch an email once and decide what it is and handle it.
19. Listen to instrumental music while working.
20. Use Luminosity every morning for 5 minutes.

Another key factor with being present is actually being awake and well rested. Getting between 7 to 7 and a half hours of sleep a night is critical to success. Zoning out at work or at home with the folks that you love is not healthy. I’ve worked with a ton of clients around sleep I’ve talked with Executives who aren’t able to work as effectively because they aren’t getting enough sleep. This is not a personal issue, if you have employees coming to work zoned out from lack of sleep, they are not doing their best work. So here are some more itzy bitzy habits around being well rested.

21. Go to bed by a set time 15 minutes earlier than before.
22. Leave your technology in the bathroom or kitchen (not in the bedroom).
23. Set your alarm to wake up 5 minutes earlier.
24. Read a fiction book for 15 minutes before going to bed (it helps create dreams).
25. Write 5 things you are grateful for in a journal at the end or beginning of the day.

You might be wondering about the last two habits. When you are grateful, you are more positive. It’s difficult to be grateful and worry at the same time. By reading a fiction book at the end of the day, it helps kickstart dreams. If you watch the latest from CNN, you are more likely to have restless sleep and start the worry cycle again. Spark some whimsical dreams by reading some classics by Mark Twain or Charles Dickens. Which itzy bitzy habit will you start with?

Take Up the Gauntlet. 7 Strategies to Achieving Challenges.

I ran a marathon last week. This is a crazy notion for a 53 year old mother of two, non-athlete who would rather perfect a bread recipe than get up at 5 AM to run. What possessed me? Why in the world would I even take this up as a personal goal? I realize now, it’s because I am constantly trying to challenge myself. I want to push the envelope. Test my tenacity. Perhaps even surprise myself. I knew the minute I finished a half marathon last year that I was going to have to attempt the full Monty. As a running friend of mine says, “No one wants to run half of anything.” I needed to go the distance and I did! 7 Strategies to Achieving Challenges

Challenging yourself is great for your brain. You build new neuropathways and break out of the ruts of old habits. Whether it’s learning a new programming language, climbing a mountain or playing Rhapsody in Blue on a clarinet, they are all helping build your brain’s plasticity. In Dr. Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain That Changes Itself, there are many examples of how those who have lost brain function due to an accident or illness can rebuild the lost neuropathways. The only way to do that is to try new things. Dr. Doidge compares neuropathways to a slope with snow on it. You can go down any way you like but as you go down repeatedly, if you select the same path you start to build a rut. Good (exercising at 5 AM) or bad (a glass of wine at the end of the work day) either way you are building a path. Challenge yourself by picking a new path.

Here are some strategies to taking on a challenge:

1. Select. Decide which challenge you want to select. I felt like a marathon was the natural selection because I knew it would only get tougher the older I got. If I want to pick up my classical guitar at 60, there’s plenty of time for that. My knees and hips have a limited horizon in comparison to my fingers. My suggestion would be to pick something that is physically challenging if you are under 50 and something more mentally challenging if you are over 50. Either way, you need to decide but research that peak you want to summit, the river you want to raft or that certification you said you wanted ten years ago. Look at your options and make a selection.

2. Schedule. I have had my running scheduled out for the last seven months. I knew when I had to run 17 miles or 6 miles since May. Half if not 90% of the battle with a marathon is the preparation to run it. It’s a bad idea, especially at my age, to not train and show up to run 26.2 miles. In fact, it’s a recipe for disaster and injury. Same goes for learning a new programming language. Set aside 2 hours a week or 10 hours a week to work on learning the language. If you don’t need to spend several hours a week on your challenge, then it’s probably not enough of a challenge. Schedule time into your week to set yourself up for success.

3. Prepare. Prepare for adversity. There were days where I was supposed to run 10 plus miles and it was 30 degrees and raining out. I went to the gym. I started having bursitis in my hip about one month out from the race. I stopped walking my dog as I realized that her tugging on the leash was exasperating the injury in my hip. I was surrounded by folks who had the flu or had kids at home with the flu. I stuck to my office, didn’t shake hands and started using hand sanitizer like hand lotion. The most important thing in any race is to show up injury and illness free. Make sure you save your project or book to the cloud. Update your virus protection, get new strings for your guitar, and investigate the safest route to the summit. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

4. Bumps. There will be bumps in the road (or pot holes or trash bags or discarded cups). On the day of the race, it wasn’t supposed to rain until late in the afternoon, I was rained on for over two hours. I had left my plastic baggie to cover my phone in the hotel room (duh!). My phone survived but I had to let go. If I need a new phone, so what. It’s not like I could stop at a Walgreens to pick up a plastic baggie mid race. Lining up with 26,000 folks for the start of the race at 4:30 AM (yes…AM!), you are basically in the dark. There were discarded garbage bags, jackets, and the ground could be grassy or gravel or roadway. I needed to flow with the crowd and pay attention. Anticipate some bumps in your challenge. Be prepared to take an alternative path or reboot your computer or change a flat tire. Stuff happens. Just roll on past the bumps.

5. Support. Get some support. I had a ton of support for this race. Whether it was another marathon runner asking how my training run was over the weekend, my doctor (who has run 6 marathons) giving me race day advice, texts and messages from family and friends, or my daughter running alongside me at mile 13. We all need a little help from our friends. So if you don’t understand the software or how to string your guitar or which trail is the best to the summit, ask for help. Folks love to help and they really love cheering on an underdog. Get support.

6. Mindfulness. Anything as challenging as a marathon takes some mental fortitude and mindfulness. I abandoned the idea of listening to my own music as there were so many attractions along the run. Why try and zone out when I wanted to experience the “experience”. Whether it was my swollen Mickey Mouse hands, to the rain dripping the salty sweat onto my lips, to the slant of the exit ramps on my exhausted feet, to passing one more port a potty in hopes there would never be a line. I was there. So don’t multi task when you are figuring out that programming code. Don’t try and write the great American novel while watching Downton Abbey. Be present and mindful.

7. Serial. Be a serial challenge setter. I promised myself that I would have another challenge in mind by the end of the race. Many a marathoner warned me about the big letdown after the end of the race. I needed to answer the question of “what’s next”. Sure enough I decided to walk/run 2015 miles in 2015 with my childhood best friend. If you want to participate as well go to http://www.runtheedge.com/ if you would like to give it a shot as well. It’s always nice to know what the next challenge is. It keeps me focused and moving forward. Be a serial goal setter.

So what do you want to take on? How are you going to push the envelope? Don’t push off to “someday” that one thing you’ve always wanted to do. Set up that challenge and go after it.