How to Regain and Develop Focus and Productivity at Work and in your Personal Life.

Our minds wander about 50% of the time.* Add to this work and social interruptions and it is no surprise that you would have a hard time staying focused.

There’s another dimension to losing focus. More subtly, as our attention becomes divided and our thoughts fragmented, switching tasks demands more brain power and energy expenditure than concentrating on one thing at a time*.

Switching focus takes only 1/10th of a second, but it might add up to a 40% productivity loss in one day. The switching also results in cognitive overload, which is extremely tiring to the mind and the body. Further, the more you lose focus and turn to distractions, the more you become unable to sift relevant from redundant information. You are no longer able to learn and apply knowledge effectively.

The primary reason for a loss of focus and productivity is nowadays mostly created by the incessant interruptions from digital media. I will use this as an example in showing you how you can regain more focus and increase your productivity.

Are you like me juggling professional activities, family life, and perhaps an active social sporting schedule and a major project on the side (I’m writing a doc thesis)? Somehow your core activities need to fit into your weekly schedule and cannot be abandoned.

  1. Ask yourself “How efficiently do I make use of my time and where do I waste it?” and “What do I want instead?”

Formulate an intention clearly, because motivation gets you started, and motivation arises from the benefit you perceive in pursuing a course of action.
Precise formulation is an important first step to creating a positive frame of mind so that change can occur.* Research shows that behavioral change only happens while in active, positive states. The intention could be something like “Becoming focused and productive by removing needless distractions and only allowing a maximum of one hour a day for social media browsing by April. ” A clear intention states the goal, quantifies it, identifies resources and hurdles, and has a start and end date.

Since I could not answer the question, I began examining how I spent my days.

  1. Start with monitoring how you spend your day.

Set up a recording system. It could be your diary. Start writing everything you do for a week. Do so even if it is only a 15-minute activity. You are observing yourself. Keep yourself motivated by also getting some feedback from others: are you spending too much time facing your phone instead of people?

This exercise helps you determine your attention-grabbing activities or hurdles. The chances are that they have a pattern, such as a time of the day at which they occur most often, or, in particular, situations such as after an upset, or when you are tired.

You will identify the pattern by the end of one week. Gaining this clarity is essential to keep you motivated as you pursue your stated intention or goal.

I recorded my daily activities every 30 minutes and found several time-wasters after one week of self-monitoring. More importantly, I discovered that I would drift up to three hours a day on the web and handling irrelevant emails. I also noticed my pattern. It would start like this: I’d work for a while, and I’d turn to an incoming IM or an email notification flashing on my screen. I would open the mail, follow an online thread, then click on embedded links, find my way through attention-grabbing headlines, and I would then discover who are the 25 celebrities who have aged terribly. One hour later, indeed, my 5 minutes of IM interruption would have become an extended digital wander. I would lose any sense of time, erring through a stream of entertaining but irrelevant information. I added up to 19 hours a week wasted on the internet. I believe to be an average.

This wandering process is addictive because the net and smartphones deliver exactly what our brain craves: novelty, constant stimulation, and immediate gratification.

  1. Process your findings, but don’t implement a radical plan yet. 

As an immediate gut reaction, I tested sheer willpower for a while, restricting access to social media and apps, and scheduling every minute of my day on one of my core activities instead. I lasted three days and spent the fourth on an internet binge.

So much for my ambitious plan to eliminate distractions. I concluded that I needed not to eliminate time-wasters, but create a dynamic balance between the important stuff, my core activities, and the addictive fun of strolling on social medias when I needed a break. I also systematically listed the time wasters, selected the mostly harmless ones, and thought about how many of them I needed to be able to last through my day.

  1. Implement a progressive course of action. Motivation only works so far as you can create new habits.

Habits are formed one at a time, through repetition.

Try this first: when you wake up in the morning, immediately make a mental or written note of the 3 tasks you need to accomplish today to support any one of your core activities.   Then ask yourself “what do I need to do now?” and then, “is this really what I want/need to do?”. Once you have your answer, schedule the most important activities in your calendar, preferably first thing in the morning. Block whatever time you need to complete the whole task or a chunk in your diary. Allow this activity to become all-absorbing for that period. Commit to switching off the phone, the internet and other distractions during that time. Then do it. Notice how long you can last this way. This becomes your baseline.

You are now applying principles often discussed in time management: “one thing at a time” , “batch processing,” “working on what’s important first,” or using “concentrated time.”

My use of a progressive course of action is deliberate. Willpower is an energy that comes in limited supply*.

Discipline is an action that requires moment by moment intention and focus,- the very thing you want to regain and strengthen-, and, like any task, it is tiring to the brain and cannot be sustained through a whole day. Willpower is like a muscle, and growing it happens with the implementation of a rigorous training schedule that makes it stronger over time.

A behavior is a set of habitual actions. Forging a new course implies creating some new habits and only one at a time, so that your daily reservoir of will and discipline is not depleted. A habit, as it becomes an automatic repetition, requires less and less energy to sustain over time. Once seamlessly integrated into your life, you can then move on to the next new habit you want to form. Productivity and focus derive from handling one task at a time,  a wholly different concept to multi-tasking. There is no such thing as multi-tasking: the human brain is wired only for task-switching.*

  1. Add more periods of focus to that initial distraction free activity.

So far you only have one daily activity that is subject to your focus-enhancement goal. You have not yet attempted to disrupt or curtail your distraction pattern. You are allowing for the new routine in step 4 to become ingrained and automatic. It takes up to three weeks for this integration to occur.

At that point, move on to scheduling a new  activity, respecting the no-interruption rule suggested in step 4. Slowly integrate that new task in your day. Allow it to encroach on the distraction pattern you have uncovered in step 3.

  1. Test at which point you can no longer tolerate distraction-free time.

Whether you were able to work without distraction for 1, 3 or 6 hours, there come a point where your attention is exhausted and needs a rest. Take a break, and allow your favorite distraction to take precedence for a while. Monitor yourself and do not allow that break to exceed a given amount of time. You need to set that duration in a realistic way: the length of the break fits the length and intensity of previous work. Stick to the period you set. An alarm is a good way to get started.

  1. Exercise your focus  before you move on to lengthier periods of attention.

Keep scheduling a suitable amount of time for each new task, and repeat steps 4 to 7. Slowly increment your focus time, beyond what you uncovered at step 6. Week after week, you will find that you are flexing your focus muscle with more strength.

Be realistic. If your stamina, health, and other issues do not allow you to exceed more than one, two, five or six hours of focus, do not attempt to push greatly beyond your current limit. You would demotivate yourself. Simply identify what is your optimum, most productive pattern and challenge it from time to time.

  1. Continue building your attention practice.

You do this by creating routines and automatisms, or activities that you do without thinking about them. Although some activities might only be a few minutes in duration, consider treating them like any task you would start in Step 4 above. These micro-tasks are actually going to support decluttering your life, increase your wellbeing, vitality and productivity, and will keep strengthening your ability to focus.

  1. For each goal that you’ve reached……. schedule and set a reward, and give it to yourself.

An alternative is to think about what you have to lose if you don’t get your work done, though it is not as fun!

 

The following are routines that promote productivity and sharpened focus. Remember to only incorporate one at a time into your new routine.

–   Planning activities: taking a few minutes to plan your day and week ahead ; scheduling repeating blocks of your essential or regular activities ; waking up every morning deciding on today’s most relevant activities or/and going to bed and thinking of tomorrow’s important task.

–   Planning short recovery activities during the day. Recovery activities counter stress, even if only a few minutes in duration: meditating, taking a power nap, walking briskly to the coffee machine, using relaxation and mindfulness techniques.

–   Creating an “offline or digital free” zone in your day, in your week, or as a vacation during the year; leaving your digital devices out of the bedroom.

–   Learning to check and change your perspective: focus on what you need to make things happen, as opposed to rationalizing why they did not occur. Take 5 minutes to brainstorm, assess, plan and plot before you start a new task.

–   Ditching drama: review your email list, it might be time to unsubscribe a few senders; think about a conflict you may have with a colleague or a friend and sort it out ASAP (Don’t let the issue gain control of your mind. It is a minefield as any unpleasant thoughts are likely to lead you to seek distractions.)

 

Resources:

*A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21071660

* Research on Multitasking: http://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask.aspx

* Fostering positive emotions for Intentional Change – an introduction: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/intentional-change-theory.htm

 

 

Emotional Resilience – Coping with adversity

Some call it ‘mental toughness’, others will talk about ‘emotional resilience’.  These words describe our capacity to face adversity and to cope with stress, and our ability to bounce back to our usual state of balance after some severe or emotionally challenging events.

“What doesn’t kill you makes your stronger” said Nietzsche.

In other words, each time we experience a stressful event and  we successfully go back to a state of balance , our tolerance, or resilience threshold,  shifts  upward, toward  strength and increased ability to cope with difficult events in the future.

It also means that we develop our ability to handle greater complexity: what seemed insurmountable yesterday was lived through, and hence an experience will become more manageable, though still painful, tomorrow. We’ve learned something from the experience, from its context and intensity, and we’ve shown ability to adapt, learn and grow.

Resilience is dynamic, and built over time; it is not something we are born with. It defines our ability to  positively adapt to  and recover from circumstances   such as deprivation, trauma, loss, threats, illness, accidents, and so on. It allows us to show and build life skills competences.

Some of us get caught in a loop and experience delays in adapting to and growing out of a crisis.  For instance, if a negative circumstance is far too overwhelming for our current capabilities, psychological distress involving grief,  fear, rage, frustration and other emotions,  or mental injury, can occur.  This results in symptoms such as victimization, overwhelm, fatigue, substance abuse, and mental health problems in the form of depression, post traumatic disorders, phobias, anxieties, obsessive-compulsive disorders, etc.

This in turn marks the difference between survivors, who grow out of challenges and transform a situation into one of personal growth and development,   and persons who sustain mental injury and may take longer, to adapt and grow out of their challenge.

Everyone has a different threshold of resilience overall, and resilience levels differ in any one person according to the type of crisis they meet. This in lay terms distinguishes between who is ‘weak’ and who is ‘strong’ and how a person is very ‘strong’ in one situation and ‘weak’ in another.

Since we all react differently to an identical trauma, these words do not account for the severity of circumstances a person must live through. While all of us will experience the loss of a loved one at least once in our life, not all of us experience accidents, tragedies, abuse, natural disasters or war.  Our age too makes a difference. 2/3 of children who  sustain trauma in early childhood may  have all kinds of issues later in life such as social maladjustment and violence* , while an adult may suffer from depression only or simply rebound quickly.

Resilience is also affected by our moods and our physical health at the time of the crisis, and by the length of exposure to the event.

Finally, resilience is not about ‘toughening up’, ‘bearing it like a man’, or ‘chin up, stiff lips’. It requires acknowledging feelings, grief, anger, pain, and  allowing those to be ‘felt’ as opposed to boxed in and ignored or controlled.

Building up/recovering your natural resilience

Your personality traits and your environment are major factors in your ability to deal with stressful situations. This makes it important for you to know what situations you can easily cope with, and the ones you have problems handling.

Support groups, associations of psychologists and other professionals all recommend the following, to implement as a priority, in any order:

  • Commit to recovery from the situation and make it your priority for a while.
  • Delay making life decisions (change of job or  residence, separation or marriage etc, until you feel your emotional stability has returned, whether this takes days, weeks or months after the event)
  • Spend time developing, improving, maintaining relationship with partner, kids, family members, friends and other acquaintances. The closer and more meaningful your relationships are, the better your ability to cope when distressed or stressed.
  • Talk about your feelings with people who are close to you. Let some steam off in safe settings. Vent it out, in safety. You may find that people around you have lived similar circumstances and they can guide you and support you as they share your burden.
  • Gain understanding, seek knowledge about the situation. This helps you view the crisis not as an unbearable problem, but as a situation you can act upon decisively, because you know the facts.  It also helps reduce fear, which tends to exaggerate as stress levels rise.
  • Accept that circumstances sometimes can’t be changed; in this case, walk out of the situation if you can, or develop your other coping skills if you can’t.
  • As you come out and recover from the event, develop a set of recovery goals (e.g., spending time with close friends) and carry them out, slowly. Delay making big decisions.
  • Improve your physical health, with nutritional choices, physical exercise, relaxation, and enough sleep. These steps will ease the stress you are under.
  • Implement a daily routine and stick to it – show the world that you are stating that life goes on as usual, regardless of whatever scare comes your way.
  • Develop a hobby, an interest which can absorb you, something you enjoy doing.
  • Help others, volunteer to help.  Being a support to others is documented to increase ability to cope with difficulties. It makes you feel more capable.
  • Look at learning from the past, review how you handled the events, as this becomes an opportunity for self discovery and acceptance, and will help you develop confidence in your ability to handle future events.
  • Keep a long-term perspective on the events; see them in the broader context of your life, and life span.
  • Cultivate hopefulness and optimism. Visualize what positive outcome you expect further down the line. As the saying goes, ‘there’s light at the end of the tunnel’
  • Wonder what the meaning of your life is, in this situation and in your future.
  • Call for professional assistance, medical doctors for medication, and therapists for counselling and psychological support, pastoral counsel for spiritual support.

 

If you wish to discuss some troublesome event and find ways to move forward, please contact me to schedule your obligation free, 30 minute consultation.

Sources and Resources:
An excellent book is “Man’s Search for Meaning “by Viktor Frankl, the father of Logotherapy. Various printed and online resources are available on topics such as trauma, PTSD, depression, OCD, etc, with coping tips and strategies.

 *see online references on the work of Emmy E. Werner, Developmental Psychologist

Transforming Our Internal Universe – Part 2 : The Feedback Loop

This post revisits the  topic  of my previous blog, Transforming Our Internal Universe on changing our brains and how we can release encoded memories and break old habits in order to rewire our minds for greater performance and overall enjoyment of life.

To summarize, in order to change, grow and develop ourselves, we need to demonstrate a will greater than our circumstances and then adopt new habits by initially breaking old ones. Being provided with instant feedback from the responses of our environment as we act and do things greatly assists our personal understanding of the consequences of our actions, for example, as a child when you first touched fire, the feedback was immediate: a burn.

Similar principles apply in more sophisticated forms later in life: as we apply a method of relating to others, at work or at home, their reactions teach us how to adapt our responses to various persons, for the best possible outcome in our communication. The same applies to our work and living habits: a certain way of doing things, such as handling our pile of documents on our desk or setting up a schedule of appointment for the week, may be efficient in which case the outcome (feedback) is immediate and positive: the way we organized ourselves saved us time and effort while fostering a sense of achievement. This type of feedback is self -reinforcing: the more we do of the same, the more we reinforce a habitual way of doing things.

At times, the feedback is less successful or can even be disastrous. If our communication is not well received or not understood, it potentially leads to tense moments when interacting with others. The way we keep organizing our desk leads to the loss of needed documents, generally at the very time they are needed, or we keep our schedule in such way that we miss an appointment.

This type of feedback, after it happens a number of times and doesn’t lead to a desired outcome, tells us that it is time to change the way we are handling things.

We seek to create new behaviors and ways to do things to create the outcome we desire. Accordingly we look for positive feedback. This in turn reinforces our idea that we can adopt this new strategy and it gives us the motivation to pursue it and refine it.

Change requires first that we become aware that something is not working and not serving us. It then requires that the discomfort is great enough for us to want to take steps to get back to a state of satisfaction. It then requires intent. The matter moves from “ something’s wrong “ to “what” to change to “how “ to change it.
The question “how” happens often as we are feeling the full impact of discomfort, stress or even distress about our current condition or issue. It is generally at that stage that we start educating ourselves through self-help or various educational books or any methods on the topic relevant to our issue. Because we are exploring brand new ways to do things, the question now moves from “can I change it” to “how can I change it”, as we become more aware of the issue and grasp ways to solve the issue.

At that point, intent and will power come into play. We consider will as the ability to choose a course and stick to it, no matter what. A simple example would be the decision to stop smoking or lose weight. With will, we believe we can quit cold turkey, or stick to a low calorie diet for the weeks or months it takes to reach ideal weight. We build up our resolve through positive words, creation of a plan, enlisting friends’ support, and many other devices.

“Sticking to it” is the key. This method works for many but not all. Along the way, a cigarette will be smoked and a chocolate cake will be eaten. This may lead to a sense of failure, with the thoughts “ I am weak”, “I can’t do it”. Some will then give up and return to smoking and high calorie diets, while others will persist and give another try at “sticking to it”. The issue becomes that as ‘failures’ pile up, we become much less motivated to give it another try. What can we do then, except for giving up?

There is another approach to using our will and intent: it involves being realistic and expecting failures along the way, and in doing so, we can make the failures more manageable. This requires being aware that what has been wired into our brain for months if not years (e.g., a smoking habit) can not be undone through a statement “just like that, I can will” (please see my previous blog: Transforming Our Internal Universe) for information about how we create and keep habits not only at the thought level, but also how our whole body sets a “normal” threshold of arousal through our biological systems’ operations and creation of chemical cocktail releases, as well as wiring of our neural pathways).

In essence, all our behaviors are not simply the result of habits and mental processes. We have to take into account that we have neurologically wired ourselves to maintain those habits and that not only mental, but also physiological process within our bodies must be taken into account. If behavior and bodily responses are changed, it can re-align thoughts and emotions that are repetitive and habitual, and all those in turn lead us to repeat behaviors of which we are no longer aware, because we are on auto-pilot.

So how to achieve change? It will not happen merely by discounting the strength of our wiring and implementing a new behavior through will alone and which we stack upon old wiring. If this were the case, we would end up with competing drives. Instead, we have to undo the current wiring of our synapses in order to create new wiring, along a new path and then make that path habitual so that associated chemical releases in our bodies change too, until we have developed strong mental connections that lead to a new habit of doing, thinking and feeling.

The key to the will element is to stick to a realistic expectation as we go and in our decision to use a number of tools to reach this goal, one tool being REPETITION of a desired new behavior or pattern of thinking and its associated emotions. Some other tools are: developing awareness of our current wiring, and learning simple techniques to develop such awareness, so we can catch ourselves in the moment and undo the wiring while also implementing, right here, right now, an alternative response. Finally, we need awareness to observe the feedback and draw lessons from it.

If the feedback seems to be the outcome we seek, then we have a new path to pursue by reinforcing our wiring build-up and fostering new cocktails of chemical releases in our bodies. If the outcome is not what we sought, we can seek a brand new path or a slightly different one so we can tweak the responses, or feedback we get.

It is a slow process, made of trials and errors, and hence exercising will is not to “quit smoking” (this is our goal) but to stick to steps that allow us to build our will, and as we become more proficient, leading us toward our goal.

In doing this, we consistently align body and mind and observe our emotions, to foster change, because our being is congruent, without pulls and pushes from one part of ourselves against the other. This ‘consistent’ observation of self and alignment is not a difficult technique to learn and takes no time to implement. It consists in replacing outdated and no longer useful thoughts with new ones. Once such method as been applied to one area of your life, it becomes ‘wired’ too, as memory, thought and behavior, and also as body sensations and physiological and chemical processes, and finally as emotions. You can then draw on this knowledge, where you whole self is ‘aligned’ to now tackle other aspects of yourself that you want to improve, using this same technique over and over again.

In essence, we learn to notice and analyze the feedback we get before and as we change, apply some techniques to develop greater awareness of the various processes going on in our bodies as beacons and compass, do the same with learning to accurately define our emotions, use tools to defuse our thoughts as they relate to what we want to change, learn to operate in the now, moment by moment, and rest our chattering mind and in doing this using our intent or will to REPEAT a new pattern, which in turn creates new neural pathways in our minds.

Those tools and techniques will be the topic of my next blog.

Link to Wired Article on line:
http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/06/ff_feedbackloop/

Give your confidence a boost!

September has arrived! Holidays are over, we’re back to work, the kids are in school, and in Hong Kong we’re heading right toward the busiest quarter of the year––the rush before Xmas and Mid Autumn break….

And before that next holiday break, there’s a lot to do. As we return to the demands of our work lives, we may be taking on new projects and reopening tasks left pending prior to our holidays. For some of us, a good rest or stimulating vacation may be encouraging us to seek new directions in our personal lives. We may also encounter unexpected situations that add to our loads. It can be daunting to watch your schedule filling up so rapidly and wonder––“am I up to this?” “Can I handle it?”

If you are finding yourself somewhat vulnerable and overwhelmed at the moment, I have some practical ideas that can give your confidence a boost.

We all encounter situations where we think we may not be able to rise up to that particular challenge or that we lack the resources to meet it successfully. Uncertainty, insecurity and anxiety creep in as we question our ability or preparedness to handle the event.

If you find this happening, cast your mind back to the past. Have you been in situations such as:

  • A presentation to important clients?
  • Meeting your girl- or boy-friend’s parents for the first time and wondering if they will approve of you?
  • Starting a new job and being asked to complete a task you’ve never handled before?
  • Taking your first driving lesson?
  • Being interviewed?
  • Taking a test and wondering if you’ll remember your study material or if you will fail?

Track back to those memories and identify the situations where you felt no confidence in yourself.

Now, think about times when you felt confident about what you were doing. All of us have situations, areas and activities where we are very capable, as well as those where we’re not.

Looking back at all these past experiences, write them down as your remember them. Ask yourself:

What were my thoughts at that moment? My feelings? My physical responses? Write these down too and compare your responses.

Lack of confidence is first expressed in the mind as a thought such as “I won’t be able to meet this.” That thought becomes a feeling––“I’m anxious about this.” And finally these emotions express themselves externally in your body language––your posture, facial expressions, voice pitch, actions such as distancing, hesitant speech, etc. As these external cues are picked up by the people around you, you are likely to feel even worse and give off even stronger visible signals of no confidence.

Returning to a state of confidence involves three things:

  • learning to change your body responses
  • learning to stop the thought becoming a feeling
  • learning to break the association between thought and feeling

Next, complete the following statements for each of the situations you have identified as ones of low confidence. Be as detailed as you can:

  • If I were more confident about …… I would………………………………….
  • If I were more confident about ……, I wouldn’t …………………………….
  • What I want in [situation], is ………………………………………………………

For example:

“If I were more confident about my social skills, I would engage in conversation easily with people. I wouldn’t avoid new people. I want to confidently engage and approach strangers and start a conversation with them.”

Now, think of the behaviour of a confident person: What is their posture like? Their tone of voice? Their breathing? Do they smile? Jot down your answers, or visualise in your mind all the details of the external appearance of a confident person. This person is you. Once again, be detailed!

Take 1 to 3 of the attributes just listed and for the next couple of days, practice them! If you selected “make eye contact and smile,” why not do so yourself with people you meet at work and don’t know well or in the street with perfect strangers?

The key is: practice! Do so consciously for 2 to 3 days. Then choose another 2 or 3 items in your list, and practice again.

There is more to this process, and you can build your confidence skill over time. For a few more confidence-building practices, look for Part Two of this article next week on wwww.pascalealine.com

Self Care….not just a holiday activity

It’s midsummer and there’s still plenty of time to plan a break from work and enjoy some well-deserved rest. While you’re at it, you might also take some time to think about ways you can maintain some of that relaxation and self-care in your everyday life even after you go back to your usual routine.

How often do you treat yourself and do something just for you? What things do you do for yourself to stay physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally fit?

Taking time to care for yourself is a mark of self-respect and an affirmation that you value and love yourself! Self-care routines and activities are the supporting framework within which you create and maintain balance in your life. When you take the time to relax, build and preserve your energy, you will find that you are more able to tend to the needs of your loved ones and dedicate effective time to all your various activities and challenges–whether social or emotional. So many factors––healthy self esteem, relationships, and enjoyment of your life––depend on how well you take care of yourself.

The time and space you devote to this self-care is a necessary period of selfishness, which in turn multiplies your ability to give back. Think of it: what kind of support can you offer your partner, kids, friends, or colleagues, if you are ill, fatigued, or depressed? Now think, if you take the time to nurture your health, take some time on your own and dedicate it to uplifting activities, won’t you be stronger and happier and have more resources to share with them?

Here are a few tips for how to take some of that summer holiday spirit and transform it into everyday habits of self-care:

Identify your needs

Ideally, self-care balances out the effects of daily stressors such as office politics, queues at the bank, disagreements with close ones, and the daily activities and obligations––childcare, work, housework, social interactions, etc.

As you go through your day, pay attention to how often you oscillate between states of tension and relaxation. Try to identify the things that make you feel

  • interested
  • engrossed
  • happy
  • calm
  • relaxed

Why not make a list? These do not have to be activities! It may be as simple as the color of your clothing or your bedroom wall, fresh-cut flowers in the living room, a piece of music, a moment of daydreaming by the window, the smell of essential oils. Looking at a drawing, the arrangement of furniture in the dining room, or colorful and shapely utensils in the kitchen. This exercise is about becoming aware of how your environment and activities engage all your senses.

Understand that self-care is not a chore

We all have an intrinsic need for enjoyment in the things we do for ourselves. Whether your self-care activity merely consists in brushing your teeth or deciding to forego sugar in your tea today, enjoy and appreciate that you are doing something healthy for yourself. Guilt and procrastination have no place here.

Start slow, one nurturing activity at a time

Maybe you have never spent much time or thought looking after your own physical and emotional health. The less time you have spent so far taking care of your body, health and mind, the more you have to do now!!!! For some people, self-care may involve nothing short of completely re-engineering your life!

New habits take 3 weeks to anchor and up to 8 weeks to become permanent, especially when you are making a conscious decision to exchange an old habit for another more nurturing one. So, as you decide to start your self-care commitment––whether it’s during your holidays or within your daily routine–– remember that if you start with too ambitious a schedule, you meet with resistance from your own mind. Before you begin, you need not only to explore what good things your new habit will do for you, but also to break down your attachment to an old habit. You will also need to simplify your life by assessing what current activity and behaviour to replace, before you fit in the new one.

But self-care is not just about your daily routine. It is also the decision to act sometimes without planning, on the spur of the moment––for instance getting in the water even though you only intended to walk on the beach, or passing by the massage parlour and deciding to delay your next appointment! Get some spontaneity in your life!

Types of self-care

Self-care involves all aspects of your life–physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. It can take many forms, including general fitness and exercise, health, hygiene, nutrition and vitamins, sleep and stress management, life skills, activities and people who bring you pleasure, fun and positive energy, and giving yourself the time and space for quietness and contemplation.

The possibilities are truly endless, and these are but a few suggestions:

Ideas for how to nurture yourself

Physical health –

  • Choose a sport such as biking and swimming or exercising at the gym.
  • Take on yoga or a stretch routine.
  • Sometimes a brisk or leisurely walk will do!
  • Soak in a bath, book a massage, take a nap
  • Sit in the sun for a few minutes

Emotional grounding –

  • Practice yoga breathing exercises
  • Listen to soft, pleasing music
  • Sing, hug someone, share your feelings with a friend
  • Pet your dog or cat
  • Talk to someone as you pretend they are facing you on an empty chair
  • Call a friend

Mental health –

  • Say a positive affirmation
  • Read a book
  • Start writing a diary
  • Express your feelings by  writing a poem or letter
  • Make a to-do list
  • Take practical steps to simplify your life

Spiritual health –

  • Spend a day outdoors connecting with the nature world
  • Meditate on the flame of a candle
  • Pray or talk to your guardian angel
  • Listen to a guided meditation tape

The list is endless!

If you feel that self-care is lacking in your daily schedule, why not book a few coaching sessions to help you examine your values, goals and desires to figure out the steps you can take to develop the foundation of a rewarding self-care routine? Now that’s nurture!

6 negative, 3 positive— the daily spectrum of our emotions

we have 6 words for negative emotions, and only two for positive, a third would be ‘curiosity’.

But that’s our choice.

That fact is observable.

But it is no more ‘true’ than using a single word for “snow”, when we all know there are so many subtle distinctions that can be articulated in Inuit.  And it is no more ‘true’ than French having a single word for grass, or English having six.

Why is this important?

Consider for example there is only one word for “love” … a fact that could probably be one of the biggest travesties we do to ourselves.

The ancient Greeks were much smarter: they have 4 words for love – creating important distinctions, communicating choices, creating new possibilities, and minimising miscommunications.  But a moment’s reflection shows that even 4 is not sufficient – contemplating the 4 in the context of our personal experience quickly shows more could be found.  And what happens when we give something a name?

Language is creative.  It is definitive.  Nothing exists in our minds in the absence of a label to hang it on – we are dependent on words and on using words to make sense of our experience.  With a new label in place, we become equipped to achieve breakthroughs in new fields of endeavour that were previously impossible and – quite literally – unthinkable.  Space travel, electronics, medicine, and much more, in all fields the necessary vocabulary precedes mastery.  In the absence of vocabulary to process positive, uplifting experience, it is hardly surprising the richness of our experience is reflected in the complex vocabulary we have for processing uncomfortable and undesirable experiences.

So …

What if we could come up with 6 words for positive emotions?  6 distinct, independent dimensions of good feelings?  6 counterparties to the 6 negative emotions?

Would that make a difference?

Every physical particle in the Universe has an anti-particle.  Every ‘down’ has it’s relative ‘up’.  Where are those blind-spots in our experience that are illuminated by the imbalance in our emotional vocabulary?

what do you think?

Me, I think that particular intervention could be an evolutionary step above the “get used to it and get on with it” intervention, and TWO evolutionary steps above “positive thinking”.  The downside of positive thinking is in the way it intends to banish negative feelings and negative thinking.  But rather, becoming equally present to both positive and negative experiences allows us greater flexibility in thinking, and in action.

Maybe when we complete the canvas of alternatives by creating the missing definitions, we move closer to a state of acceptance and peace …

* BLOG courtesy of JB

Transitions

Whenever we change jobs, relationships, homes, countries, or any familiar state, and we move from an old to a new situation, we lose the security of the known and as we let go, we have not yet attained the benefit of the new. It can be an uncomfortable feeling, that of taking a leap of faith without knowing if we’re going to have a happy landing. The transition point is that split-second when we step forward. Before it, there’s frustration as all starts changing, and often fear, even if tempered with expectation and mixed with elation.  This can lead to a lot of circling around until the situation gets too unbearable and we simply at one point propel ourselves out of it. A slingshot effect.   The next effect is normal, we feel loss as we say good bye to that which we leave. Leaving is an action and a choice we make for ourselves. As we land into our new situations, our beliefs are challenged, and we may find our whole set of old habits need rethinking, as they may no longer work in our new situation. Resistance to change is the next effect we experience in a transition, and some of us get and remain stuck in this process. Next follows transformation, as we decide to adapt and experience the new. There’s a possibility at this stage to totally let go and reject the memory and learnings of the old, choosing instead to redefine ourselves as ‘new’ persons.  Getting struck at any of those two stages –resistance and transformation – is maladaptive and unbalanced. Ideally, transformation leads to integration, when there is a bridge between old and new, consisting of memories and learnings, with full adjustment to the new situation. Balance is reestablished  with a new state of awareness.