I, like many of you, spend the majority of my week sitting in a cubicle, typing on my computer and going to meetings. Don’t worry… this isn’t going to devolve into an anti-corporate rant or anything. For the most part, I actually like my job. I work with nice people, my boss is smart and doesn’t micro-manage me, and my work is challenging without being too stressful. Granted, I wish I was getting paid to do something that I was absolutely passionate about (don’t we all?), but since I haven’t fully figured out what that even looks like yet, this is as good as anything.
Even so corporate life; with its process and procedure, long stretches of sitting, and work assignments that aren’t always exotic or thrilling, can sometimes feel a little flat and soulless. To combat feeling uninspired, years ago some friends and I started a little tradition we call “Zen Wednesday”. Mid-week, we send each other random emails with whatever thoughts and ideas are currently inspiring us. It could be a quote we read that stuck in our head, a link to a blog on creativity or mindfulness, a thought for guided meditation, or a snippet from an article on beating procrastination…whatever. The source material didn’t really matter; the point was to take a moment in the middle of the work week to bring awareness back into what we were doing. To think, to be aware, to feel happy or grateful, to breathe, to make something simpler, or maybe to just let go of the bad experience we had when that guy cut us off in traffic that morning. The point was to pause for a moment, remember to live in the present and not take things so darn seriously.
I started to realize that a Zen Wednesday email could completely change my mindset and/or my mood. I had a little extra spring in my step when heading to the copy machine (which, by the way, totally freaks out your coworkers, thereby totally increasing the awesomeness). I listened better to the people around me. I got out of my own head and started paying attention to what was actually happening, instead of worrying about what might happen, or agonizing over some incident that happened last week. Zen Wednesday made me a more happy and engaged person. And I liked feeling that way.
In addition, my lovely, glitter-soaked, leopard-print fabulous friend Kristy Edwards introduced me to the concept of “Favorite Things Friday”, a sort of gratitude journal where you end the week reflecting on the all the things and experiences that made you happy. Another great recalibration tool I use to remind myself of all the extraordinary love and joy in my life.
Suddenly, I thought…..why keep these traditions locked up just amongst my little inner circle? Why not throw the magic of Zen Wednesday and Favorite Things Friday out into the Universe? Can’t we all use a little more mindfulness and gratitude in our lives??
“I change my thoughts, I change my world.”
Norman Vincent Peale
The idea for this post came from my friend Shellie who recounted a story to me the other day about driving to work. As she was heading in to the office (at a ridiculously early hour) to face what she anticipated would be a very stressful day, her jaw already tightening with the pressure, she found herself starting to repeat a little mantra over and over in the quiet dark of her car “I am happy….I am happy….I am happy…” After a few minutes of repeated focus on a positive feeling, she found that she was actually starting to smile. By the time she pulled into the parking lot, the sun was rising and the stressed-out, anxious feeling was gone. She felt upbeat and, dare we say, actually happy. Shellie said the entire tone of her day changed from one of perceived stress and general dread, to an attitude of “I am on it! I can get this done.”
It is amazing how just a few moments of thinking positively in the morning can transform your entire day. When you first wake up, your mind is supremely receptive to suggestion and ideas. Why not use this knowledge to your advantage?! Morning mantras (or affirmations) can reset the neural pathways in your brain and set you on the path of positive energy before your day officially kicks into gear. Positive thoughts attract positive actions, which means with a few minutes of focused attention each morning you can literally set yourself up for a more positive day.
Do you really want to start your day with worried thoughts of your to-do list? By rehashing past arguments? Of course not, yet so many of us do. And the thing to remember is, the law of attraction also works in reverse; negativity breeds more negativity. If your first thoughts are of busyness, lack, worry, etc., you’re laying the groundwork for an anxiety ridden day.
“Every sixty seconds you spend upset, is a minute of happiness you can never get back.” -unknown
Are you feeling busy? Stressed Out? Overwhelmed? Unfocused? Dissatisfied? Angry? Lost?
Rather than getting stuck and focusing on these negative feelings, ask yourself a couple of questions to help get yourself unstuck and move forward…..
Happy Friday! ¿Qué pasa calabazas? Are you feeling the blissful promise of the weekend just beginning to shine over the horizon? I know I am! Here are the things I am happy about, or grateful for this week:
1) Marching to the Beat of Your Own Drum – I work in a fairly conservative office environment, so it was a happy yet surprising turn of events when they started allowing us to go casual on Fridays. I bought some great new jeans to celebrate! But that’s not really the point of the story. There is a quiet older gentleman that sits a few desks over from me who showed up today wearing slacks that I can only describe as being the color of electric fruit punch. They are bright, they are shocking, and they are fabulous! He is walking around like the King of Siam and its obvious he doesn’t care what anyone thinks, he is happy. Every time I see him walking down the hall or into a conference room I cannot help but crack a smile. Be yourself people! Its’ so much more fun than trying to be anyone else.
2) Champagne Brunch – I don’t know who first came up with the concept of putting two great things together like breakfast and booze, but if I knew who it was I would shake their hand and award them the Medal of Awesomeness. Kristy E., swanky gal about town, is taking me to the champagne brunch aboard the Queen Mary this Sunday as a belated birthday present. This is supposed to be one of the best brunches is Los Angeles (according to Open Table) and I am so looking forward to it! Some brunch advice from your Auntie Sel…..the good stuff is always at the end. Be strategic. Do some recon and circle the entire spread to identify your top targets; crab legs, prime rib, lobster, sushi, etc., before you engage in the melee. A successful brunch battle takes good planning. And keep the bubbly coming!
3) Dinner & Divergent Date Night - I love date night. I’ve been with my husband for 7 years, but I still totally look forward to evenings slated just for the two of us to relax and enjoy each other’s company. I still get all googly when he walks into a room dressed up and looking good. And yes haters I know, “Divergent” is a young adult book….but I loved it! I am looking forward to the movie. And the fact that my husband actually agreed to come see said movie with me on opening weekend is a testament to his love.
TGIF! What’s rocking your world this week? Tell me your happy stuff.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” The Buddha
Recently I was talking to an old friend and I commented on how great she looked. Her response was something like “maybe on the outside, but I’ve really been struggling lately.” Whoa. Not what I was expecting, but I did appreciate the honesty of the reply and it led to a good discussion. It also got me thinking about the difference between appearance and reality, and the dangers of comparison.
Shortly following the above exchange, someone said to me that they liked reading my blog and FB posts, but sometimes it was hard because things seem to be going so well for me and they were going through some rough times. Whoa again. I explained that I try to keep my posts upbeat and share mostly good experiences because I think there’s enough negativity in the world and I want to spread positive vibes. But I hadn’t considered how this might make me come across as Pollyanna-ish, which isn’t my intention. I have bad days, just like anyone else, but I usually address my troubles off-line, with the people directly involved, rather than throwing more misery out into the blogosphere.
While mulling over ideas about outward appearance versus internal state, I came across the following quote “never compare your inside to someone else’s outside.” This concept really hit home for me. Think about it; comparing how you feel about your life to how someone else’s life looks to you is a dangerous proposition. There is no way you can know the whole story. The comparison will always be inaccurate at some level and may make you feel worse about your current circumstances, or inadequate in some way, when YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY GOOD ENOUGH.
The fact that someone else is thin and fit is not the reason you don’t feel good in your own skin. Just like the fact that someone makes more money than you is not the reason you make less. These things are not correlated, but we humans have a bad habit of trying to make connections in our minds. I have been guilty of this, and it can lead to envy or jealousy which isn’t how I want to spend my limited time in this world.
Happy Zen Wednesday everyone! This week, I have been thinking about presence, or more accurately, what it means to be “present”. But in order to contemplate the present, I found myself also considering the past and the future…..and some interesting revelations occurred to me that I wanted to share.
First off, we humans spend a hell of a lot of time thinking about the past and the future. I mean, how often are we running some past incident over in our minds, again and again, trying to figure out “what did they mean by that? “ Or “Why did I do that?” or thinking about some future event that hasn’t happened yet, “gee, wouldn’t it be great if….? Next month, I wish I could..” These types of thoughts are a normal part of the human condition, and pretty much unavoidable. But what struck me is that when you talk about past or future, the verb associated with it is “thinking”. I am “thinking” about the past…..I am “thinking” about the future…. And why is that? It’s because you cannot actually experience either one. The past is done, it’s over – and the future hasn’t and may not ever happen. So really, the only way to experience the past or the future is through the filter of your own mind. Which we all know is riddled with beliefs, opinions, subjective perceptions….all in all, not a very reliable medium. Which leads to this mind-blowing insight, the past and the future, as seen by your mind, are not real, and they can therefore never be true. What you’re really getting is your mind’s story of the past or the future. This story can, and will change over time, and it will be different from person to person. Whoa! Then why are we spending so much of our precious time on this Earth thinking about things that aren’t real, and telling ourselves stories that aren’t true? Why indeed?
Here’s why I think that trying to cultivate a mindful life is worth the effort; It’s because the present moment…that is real. What is happening right now, what you can see, and hear, and feel, and experience…that is the truth. Hugging your spouse or your kids, playing with your dog, running in the rain…this is real life. And I don’t want to miss my life. I want to experience it. You hear people say that time seems to go by faster and faster as we get older, well I find this to be true, but more so when I am spending time agonizing over past mistakes, or worrying over future outcomes. When I bring awareness to where I am now, and pay attention to what I am actually doing, time slows down. Or it seems to at least. In fact when I am really in the flow and present with a task, time doesn’t seem relevant at all. I don’t even pay attention to it. This is when I feel truly alive and happy. Have you ever had the experience where you’re so engrossed and focused on what you’re doing that you have no concept of time? That’s being in the present moment.
We all suffer every day: procrastination, feeling overwhelmed, irritated, or frustrated, wishing things were different, comparing ourselves to others, worried we’re missing out, wishing other people would be different, feeling offended, fearing failure, not wanting to do something, wishing we were skinnier, wishing our partner was more perfect, not liking our jobs, feeling wronged by someone, wishing our family would accept us. What’s interesting about these types of problems is that the issues are mostly self-created by our own minds. Unless we are actively faced with a threatening situation or in real physical pain, most human suffering comes from worry, fear and anxiety about things that have already happened, and we can’t change, or things we fear may happen, but haven’t yet. So much energy we waste stressing over imagined dragons and the stories we tell ourselves.
This is why trying to be present is so important, even though it’s difficult in our culture of distractions. The present is where real life happens. It’s where we awaken from the dream state we’re most often lost in. Being awake means we’re conscious of what’s going on inside us, as it happens, and we can therefore make more conscious choices rather than acting on our impulses all the time. It means we are truly living.
It’s that magical time again… the dawning of a new weekend! It’s also the time I like to reflect back on the past week and think about the things I am happy about, or grateful for:
1) Health Insurance – In a time where companies are rolling back health care coverage, my company actually instituted a better plan this year. This past week I had my first physical with my new primary care doctor and she was amazing. She listened to me! And I feel like she is more focused on preventative measures to keep me healthy, rather than just treating me if I get sick. I am really grateful to work for a company that cares enough about their employees to invest in their well-being, and to have a doctor who works with me as a partner in maintaining my overall health. I wish everyone had access to quality health care, and it is definitely something I do not take for granted.
2) Friends – I was looking over my social calendar today, and I have so many great things planned in the coming months with some really terrific people; dinners, spa days, Disneyland, book club, musicals, fundraisers, movies, Hollywood night out….yay! And it’s not just the events that I’m happy about; it’s the company that makes it all so special. Someone once told me that friends are the family you choose for yourself, and I believe that. I am blessed to have amazing friends. I am grateful every day that you guys are a part of my life, and I love you all.
3) Sushi – I love it. I’m craving it. I’m taking my man out tonight to make it happen!
So friends, tell me….what awesomeness touched your life this past week? What puts a smile on your face, and a song in your heart? TGIF!
Sometimes it’s the little things that make you smile. Small kindnesses, a sincere thank you or some nifty gadget that makes your day go more smoothly. It’s easy to take these small items for granted, but today I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the little things that made my life better this past week, and for which I am grateful.
What little things are you grateful for this week? Have an amazing weekend…TGIF!
This past week I’ve been thinking about feelings. It sounds counter-intuitive to focus the analytical brain on the emotional heart, but I think that our feelings are signals that can tell us a lot about ourselves if we take the time to understand them. How many times have you heard the following expression….”You make me so _______!”. Feel free to fill in the blank with the emotion of the day such as angry, sad, confused, or hurt. We’ve all been involved in interactions with other people that result in our reacting with a multitude of feelings; this is part of the human experience.
What’s interesting to me is that when the resulting emotion is a negative one, we tend to blame the other person for having caused it. You make me so mad, you make me so crazy. I used to accept my feelings as the ultimate truth. If I was experiencing an emotion, then it must be “real” and if the emotion was in reaction to something you did or said, then you must have caused it. Sounds logical, right? I never would have been mad if you had just been on time. I never would have been hurt if you hadn’t lied to me. But lately, as I’ve spent more time meditating and looking at my feelings from the perspective of an impartial witness, the concept of “you make me” doesn’t ring true anymore. If I am not in control of my own emotions and thoughts, then who is? Actual physical pain aside, can another person’s actions or words really MAKE ME do anything? Granted, they can certainly point me in a particular direction. And I am not saying that any initial negative emotional reaction I have to a situation is wrong, it is true for me at that moment…but I also see that I have the choice to see the emotion as a starting point, rather than the end game.
I think feelings are valuable signals and it’s important to really examine and understand them in order to know who we are. What I am beginning to understand is that when a situation produces a negative emotional response, behind the feeling is usually some kind of ideal that my mind is attached to, something that my ego wants that it is grasping on to. I want a situation to go a certain way, or a person to behave a certain way, and when they don’t - my resulting frustration or anger comes from my expectations not being met.
When I turn inward, I realize I am holding on to ideals like; people should be fair, people should be positive and not complain, I should always be successful at what I do, people should be there when I need them, etc. and this is often the underlying cause of my feeling slighted, or shamed, or rejected. Not all ideals are a bad thing; some cause us to feel compassion, kindness, and love. I think if the ideals are causing us to do good in the world, then we don’t need to let go of them. It’s when the ideals are harming us or others that we could benefit from releasing them.
Here’s where the cool part happens. Now that you’ve experienced the negative emotion, and figured out what ideal you are holding on to, you have the option of letting the ideal go. And letting go isn’t about giving up on standards of human decency, it’s about letting go of the ideal that everyone else will live up to your standards all of the time. Once you understand the ideal triggering your feelings, you can move past the negative emotion and start to heal. It gives you choices. YOU can decide if you want to forgive, or let go of a toxic relationship, or quit a stressful job, or simply agree to disagree. Letting go puts the ball back in your court so you don’t have to feel bad every time someone does something against your expectations. It changes the mental pattern from “you make me” to “I choose to”.
The things I am happy about, or grateful for, this week:
Doctors that Listen: I have had chronic foot pain for years and was referred to a specialist this week that actually spent the time to understand my history, observe me in motion, get x-rays, etc. What a revelation! I feel confident I am close to finally unlocking the mystery and solving the problem. YAY!
Outdoor Movies: I love that in CA we have so many outdoor movie venues this time of year. Nothing says summer fun like setting up a picnic on the grass, opening a nice bottle of wine and enjoying a film with friends. My first outdoor movie of the season is this Saturday. I’ve got my picnic basket ready!
Husbands that do the dishes, fold the laundry, and take out the trash when you went to bed early because you had a headache.
Seeing high school kids all decked out in their formal wear out having dinner before heading to the prom. Ahhhhh nostalgia….sigh.