Learn Google’s Secret for Turning Your Dreams into Reality

Motivation to Follow Your Dreams

“What we can or cannot do, what we consider possible or impossible, is rarely a function of our true capability. It is more likely a function of our beliefs about who we are.” – Anthony Robbins

It always seems impossible until it’s done. – Nelson Mandela

Have you ever had someone refer to you as a “dreamer”? Was that intended to be a compliment?

Many times people speak about dreamers as if that is something negative. They seem to imply that you should give up your dreams and live in the “real world.” Yet everything in our “real world” existed first only in the dreams of someone.

Google is well known for being on the cutting edge of technology and creating the tools and ideas of our future. Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots for Google X, shares how Google produces such innovation. The company creates a team that encourages people to develop moonshot projects.

Moonshots are experimental projects focusing on solving some of the world’s biggest challenges. The moonshots team dream up bold ideas to solve these pressing social problems. Then they works to turn today’s moonshot dreams into the realities of tomorrow. In his Ted Talk, Astro Teller identifies four habits contributing to the success of moonshot projects.

I’d like to share how you can incorporate  Google’s secrets of success into your life. By practicing the habits of the Moonshot team, you too can bring your bold dreams into reality.

Dream Big

Dreams are what allow us to create a better future for ourselves and our world. Dreams inspire us to reach beyond ourselves and accomplish more than we have thus far. In fact, dreams promote our personal growth. This is because we often have to learn new skills or habits to fulfill our dreams. Honoring the soft whispers of our hearts is the first step in cultivating a life of greatness.

Our dreams are deeply personal to us. They are the specific longings of our souls and they compel us to explore, learn, and grow. You owe it to yourself and to our world to develop your dreams. They are the vehicle through which you make your unique contribution to our world.

It may not materialize the way you expect; dreams rarely do. But the journey of pursuing your dreams will grow you into the person you are meant to be. It will fill your life with joy and meaning. It will create a meaningful impact on the lives of others.

Couple Your Dreams with a Plan

A dream without a plan is just a wish.”

Dreams inspire us to action. Our motivation to see our dream fulfilled, energizes us to put in the work to do it. If you have dreams that you are not willing to work for, I would argue that those are not “your dreams.” They may be dreams other people have for you or dreams you believe you should want. But they are not yours. Your dreams will inspire you to work to achieve them.

Your dream encourages you to stretch beyond yourself. There’s a quote that says:

If your dream doesn’t scare you, then it isn’t big enough.

Big dreams provoke us to plan how to get from here to there. The planning process requires us to honestly assess where we are currently . It also helps us to identify the additional actions needed to reach our goal.

Celebrate Failure

No one accomplishes her dream on the first try. Remember dreams are much bigger than us. We must grow into them. That increase in skill, knowledge, and maturity takes time and deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice is where you do an action and get feedback on its effectiveness. You then incorporate that feedback into your revised action and reassess your results. This cycles of action-reflection-revision continues until you have reached your goal. So practice itself doesn’t make you better. If you practice doing the same mistake over and over again, you will not get better. But learning from our mistakes does make us better. This is why “failure” is actually a great teacher and critical to us accomplishing our goal.

Celebrating failure helps us to recognize and honor critical moments in our success journey. The fact that we have failed shows that we have tried something new and different. That itself should be celebrated. It means that  we are stepping out of our comfort zone and adding to our knowledge and experiences.

Failure also shows that we were courageous enough to try. It is much easier and safer to stay the same than it is to grow and change. But growth and change are a part of life and whatever does not grow or change dies. There’s a saying:

“If you stop learning today, you stop teaching tomorrow.”

Lifelong learning is important to our development, regardless of our profession. Failing simply means we are learning something new. That is worthy of a celebration.

Another reason to celebrate failure is that failure helps us to learn. This is true whether we are attempting to learn a new skill, habit, or develop a character trait. If we use failure as an opportunity to reflecting on the results of our behavior, we are better able to adjust our behavior to get improved results. Teachers or coaches are useful in providing feedback on how to adjust our behavior to get better results. Yet, the teacher or coach can not give the needed feedback that without observing our failure. When we try our best and miss the mark, we learn what specifically needs to be added to our best. This knowledge should be celebrated. Thanks to failure, we are now better equipped to achieve our goal!

Prioritize

We often have more than one dream. And our dreams are so big that they have many new steps and skills needed to reach the goal. If we are not careful, the knowledge of how much needs to be done to reach our dreams can immobilize us. Our we can switch from one dream to another in a manner that never allows us to make sustained progress on any. Prioritization helps us to avoid these problems.

Prioritization requires us to ask ourselves:

“What is the one goal that can produce the most benefit for achieving my dream?”

Continue asking yourself this question until you’ve drilled down to a specific goal. The goal should be specific enough to begin today and focus all your attention on it. You no longer have to question whether we should be doing this action. You’ve given thought to the big picture and decided that this is the most useful focus of our time. Now, you can give yourself wholeheartedly to accomplishing this goal. This is because you know accomplishing this goal will bring you maximum benefit. It will move you closer to your larger goal. This level of focused action in needed to create forward movement on our dreams.

Try to Kill, and then Save, Your Dreams

Brilliantly, Google X encourages the people most invested in the ideas to be the strongest critics of the project. The Moonshot employees would create a series of test designed to kill the project they’d conceived. The company would then celebrate their failed projects. Why?  Because the employees showed they had courage and integrity.  It takes courage to propose and moonshot idea and integrity to acknowledge it is not workable.

Too often we romanticize our dreams and are unrealistic about the challenges to them. This naivete results in surprise and discouragement when things don’t go as easily as we envisioned. Yet, by actively challenging our own ideas, we can use that information to make our ideas stronger. This is how we kill and resuscitate our dreams.

I encourage you to make a list of all the things that may go wrong and all the reasons why pursuing your dream won’t work. There is a value in listening to your inner critic. She is trying to protect you and warn you about impending danger. Too often we either ignore her insight or use her warnings as a reason not to try. But, you can use her wisdom as a trusted advisor.

Once you have a list of all the potential problems that may prevent you from accomplishing your goal. Thank your inner critic for her insight and dismiss her. Then invite your problem-solving mindset to brainstorm potential solutions to each of those problems.

For every problem, there is a solution.

By bringing a new mindset to your discussion of the problem, you are better prepared to see the solution. Your inner critic is great at seeing the problems. Thus, she is an essential part of crafting your plan for success.

Once you have brainstormed many solutions for each identified problem, you can generate your rules of order. Rules of order is simply a list of what actions you will take when (not if) the problem arrives. This exercise now takes the stress of decision making out of the situation. When the problematic situations occurs, you are well prepared with an appropriate plan of action. Your rules of order will keep you on your success journey.

Launch Your Moonshot Projects

Being called a dreamer is not an insult. Your dreams are the key to your individual, and our collective, success. If you connect your dreams to a concrete plan of action, learn from your failed attempts, prioritize your activities, and try to kill (then resuscitate) your dreams, you too can create the future of tomorrow today. You already have step one accomplished. What else do you need to manifest your dreams? Commit to taking that step today.

 

Part of giving birth to your dreams is to speak them into existence. By publicly stating your commitment and next action steps, you create both the motivation and accountability needed for your success. Use the comment box below to share with our community your courageous commitment to manifest your dreams. Taking yourself and your dreams seriously inspires others to do the same.

 

If there’s anything I can do to help support you in your process, please share that as well. Cheers to you and your moonshot projects!

 

I Never Thought I Could End Procrastination For Good – But I Finally Discovered The Secret! Here’s How…

Causes, consequences, and strategies for overcoming procrastination

Are you a chronic procrastinator? Learn how to eliminate procrastination for good.

Imagine….You’ve successfully completed that important task in half the time you expected. You now have the much desired extra time to spend with family and friends. You even have time to take a leisurely stroll through the park and soak up some rays. As the sun is beaming down on you, you smile at how proud you are of yourself and how you handled this challenge. You also notice that the knot in your stomach is gone and you no longer feel that pressure on your temples. This is your new life, now that you’ve finally conquered procrastination. Procrastination is a habit that many of us develop early in our life and this problematic behavior grows with us.

Merriam-Webster’s definition of procrastinate is “to be slow or late about doing something that should be done : to delay doing something until a later time because you do not want to do it, because you are lazy, etc.”

I used to proclaim that I did my best work through procrastination. I often waited for the night before to begin a paper assignment. I figured that since I still received an A, procrastination was actually helpful for me. As the length and challenges of my writing assignments increased, I quickly learned that this habit was a hindrance rather than a help. Once I became an educator, I realized that getting an A on a paper didn’t mean I was doing my best work. It only meant that my work was relatively better than my peers. Now I know that I did not submit my best work. The feedback from my teachers could have helped to make me an even better writer and thinker. As my academic career progressed, I learned that procrastination is costly. Procrastination created missed opportunities, lowered my productivity, and generated more stress.

Have you struggled with procrastination? Do you want to drop this negative habit from your life?  Let me assure you, this is possible. Understanding procrastination and what it costs you, is a powerful motivator to stop it. In this article, I share a simple, but often overlooked technique to end procrastination for good.

Anxiety and procrastination

I disagree with Merriam-Webster’s characterization of procrastination as laziness. Procrastination is not about being lazy; it is about avoiding a problem. Specifically, it is about avoiding unpleasant emotions. When we procrastinate, we are attempting to avoid negative emotions. These negative emotions are associated with that problematic task. Thus, procrastination is really driven by fear and anxiety.

The decision to put off writing that paper or completing that report until tomorrow is actually an attempt to manage uncomfortable emotions. Those emotions may be fear, embarrassment, insecurity, confusion, or anger. They are often associated with thoughts such as:

  • I don’t think my writing is good enough and now everyone will find out.
  • I am confused about what to do or where to start.”
  • I think it’s unfair that I have to do this task.” 

By avoiding the task, we avoid feeling these unpleasant emotions. Thus, procrastination serves us as an emotion management strategy. But, it is not an effective emotion management strategy. Procrastination often creates extra problems, as well as more stress, frustration, and discomfort.

Procrastination ruins your productivity, health, & happiness

In a long-term study of procrastination, researchers at Case Western University revealed that procrastination has short-term benefits but long-term problems. These researchers document that procrastinators have less stress than non-procrastinators in the short-term. Yet, in the long-term procrastinators show higher levels of stress, more mental illness, and lower academic performance. This data shows that procrastination is an emotion management strategy, albeit an ineffective one. While procrastination provides short-term relief from stress, it creates more long-term stress and lower performance.

Additional research shows that procrastinators have poorer health outcomes than non-procrastinators. Part of these poor health outcomes is because they procrastinate pro-health behaviors. Pro-health behaviors include activities like going to dental and medical check-ups. Even after controlling for check-ups and similar health maintenance activities, procrastinators show more stress and physical illnesses. Thus, procrastination itself seems to create physical health illnesses.

Conquer procrastination for good

You can unblock and end procrastination for good.  First, you must identify the fear that is causing this problematic behavior. Listen to the stories that play in your head when you think about performing the task. Identify the underlying fear. Is the fear the result of thinking that you’re not good enough and others will find you out?

Now that you’ve identified the source of your fear, here’s a way to manage these emotions. People frequently use meditation or mindfulness strategies to enhance one’s emotional intelligence and manage emotions. But I’d like to add a new, often overlooked, strategy to manage the emotions associated with procrastination. Best of all, you already have the tool you need in your kitchen or on your phone.

Use a timer to beat procrastination

Make timers your best friend. Timers are especially useful for activities that are important but difficult to begin. Starting the task is often the most difficult part. This is  because of fears and anxieties about how challenging the task will be. Starting is also difficult because of the uncomfortable feelings that we expect will arise within us as we perform that task.

As I’ve explained procrastination helps us avoid those uncomfortable feelings by avoiding the tasks. Unfortunately, avoiding important tasks limits our success. Procrastination creates more uncomfortable feelings when the things left undone create their own crisis. It also leads to disappointed in ourselves for not fulfilling our personal goals. Thankfully, something as simple as a timer can help us address this quandary.

By setting the timer we have a known ending point. For tasks that have high levels of anxiety, set the timer for short increments of time (2-5 mins). It is easy to convince ourselves that we can live with being uncomfortable for 5 mins. This allows us to begin, knowing that even if it is painful, it will not last long.

They key to the success of this method is allowing yourself to stop at the end of the timer. Beginning is the most difficult part. When the timer goes off, you often feel that it wasn’t as bad as expected. To maintain the integrity of the value of the timer exercise, it is important that you pause at the ringing of the timer. At this pause consider whether you want to continue or to save the rest of the task for the next assigned time. Either choice is a successful outcome.

The focus here is not on the completion of the task. Rather the goal is to build behaviors that will lead to the completion of the task. Minimizing the emotional discomfort and providing an element of choice are acts of self compassion and respect. Compassion and respect works in getting the cooperation of even the stubbornest toddler. You will find that it works on yourself as well. Everyone wants to be respected. We all want to know that our feelings and well being matter. The timer exercise enables you to communicate this compassion and respect to yourself. It also allows you to build the successful track record needed to extend the desired behavior.

The next time you notice yourself procrastinating, identify the source of the anxiety. Then use the timer system to manage your anxiety and get your tasks done!

I’d love to hear about your progress with using timers to manage anxiety. Please comment below. Also share other personal strategies to overcome procrastination.

Boundaries Are Crucial to Your Happiness. Learn Why!

Learn how to set healthy emotional boundaries

At last the secret to healthy emotional boundaries is revealed.

“Every woman that finally figured out her worth, has picked up her suitcases of pride and boarded a flight to freedom, which landed in the valley of change.”
Shannon L. Alder

When you understand your value and power, you develop boundaries to honor yourself and protect your freedom. Emotional boundaries in relationships aren’t a set of legalistic rules that constrain our freedom. Boundaries are the guardrails that protect our happiness and the security of our relationships.

If you are feeling emotionally exhausted, frustrated, or resentful, chances are you need to strengthen your boundaries. Many people are still unclear about what it means to establish boundaries. They’re also unsure about why boundaries are important and how to do it properly. As you read on you will learn the answers to these questions. You will also gain a quick, easy method for setting healthy emotional boundaries. Protecting your boundaries will increase your level of happiness and satisfaction in your relationships.

What are emotional boundaries?

Emotional boundaries are the psychological acceptance of the uniqueness, dignity, and freedom of each individual. Boundaries are what separate us from another person. We recognize that while we may love and strongly identify with another person, we are not the same. Thus, we do not have to feel or act the same.

Through establishing boundaries, we give ourselves and other people the freedom to be unique. People without emotional boundaries need conformity as a demonstration of love. These people often expect you to take responsibility for their emotional state and “fix” their problems. Neither of these interpretations of reality are true or possible. No two people can be exactly the same no matter how much they love each other. No person can fix the emotional state or manage the life of another. Lack of boundaries create unhealthy expectations and behaviors. These unreasonable expectations drain the life energy out of people and their relationships.

Women are particularly vulnerable to ignoring emotional boundaries. We are socialized to think of our identity as primarily determined by our relationships. There’s nothing wrong with valuing relationships. But, this value can easily morph into unhealthy thinking such as:

 “I’m nothing without this relationship”

“I need to do all that I can to remain in this relationship. Even if it includes sacrificing my freedom, dignity and value.”

A subtler expression of unhealthy boundaries is the thought that:

“My biggest contribution to the world is that accomplishments of my child or partner. “

Such distorted thinking places tremendous pressure on your child or partner. You expect them to live out your dreams of success and accomplishment. It also robs them of the freedom to spend their time and energy discovering and living out their own life dreams.

Accepting responsibility for your emotions and behavior without taking responsibility for the feelings and actions of others is a healthy emotional boundary. Emotional boundaries also mean giving others the freedom to not like your feelings or choices. Boundaries are a core component of emotional intelligence.  As such, they contribute to our health and happiness.

If you can not tolerate other’s disapproval of your feelings or choices or if you can not tolerate others possessing emotions and actions with which you disagree, you are in desperate need of setting emotional boundaries. The decision to not set healthy emotional boundaries damages you and your relationships.

Why do you need boundaries?

People without emotional boundaries have a distorted view of their own power. They either understand themselves as completely powerless or all powerful.

People who understand themselves as powerless, play the victim role in their relationships. They rely on others to manage their life and emotions. This is because they consider themselves incapable of making their own dreams come true.  Victims see the relationship as the source of their security and happiness.  Thus, they seek to maintain the relationship and the other person’s favor at all cost. This promotes people pleasing behavior for the victim.

People pleasing sets unrealistic expectations that the victim will (or should) always agree with the martyr. Because the victim does not feel comfortable saying no, s/he often agrees to actions that are personally undesirable. Yet, the victim often does not follow through, or execute well. This inconsistency makes the victim appear even more helpless. The inconsistency is actually the victim’s ineffectual way of acting on his/her own desires.

These “victims” often associate themselves with “martyrs”. Martyrs have an over-inflated view of their own power. Martyrs take on the responsibility of managing their own life as well as the lives of the victim. They accept responsibility for the other person’s emotions and work diligently to “fix” the other person’s life. The martyr denies the victim the freedom to choose and feel differently. This seems appropriate to the martyr because the victim is “clearly” incapable of managing life. That’s why the victim needs to trust the martyr’s judgment over his/her own. The martyr is left feeling overwhelmed with the responsibility of managing two people’s lives. S/he is also frustrated that the victim doesn’t just “go along” with the plan.

Both martyrs and victims eventually feel frustrated and resentful of the other person. This codependency prolongs the unhealthy relationship dynamic. It also promotes physical and psychological dis-ease in both parties.

How do you establish healthy boundaries?

The key to establishing healthy emotional boundaries is to embrace your own power. This is true for setting boundaries in leadership, marriage, parenting, and friendships.

People pleasing is giving away your own power. Playing the role of a martyr is accepting responsibility beyond the constraints of your personal power. As you embrace your personal power, you learn how to say no to things that do not honor you and your life purpose . You also learn the importance of saying  yes to those that do.

There are only two things you need to do to establish healthy boundaries. First create the boundary. Second, give others the freedom not to like them. Many people give up their power out of fear or a misunderstanding of love. But, as you follow the steps below, you reclaim your power by setting healthy boundaries.

  • Get clear on your purpose, vision, and values

Real power comes from focusing on what’s important to you. To exercise control over your life, you must first see yourself as worthy. You need to see your uniqueness as something to be treasured. This perspective helps you to see the value of protecting your difference in the face of social pressures for conformity.

As you get clear on your unique contribution, your motivation for protecting that purpose increases. You recognize that this gift has been invested in you and needs to be advanced by you. Power is acknowledging what you have to offer to the world and behaving in a way that demonstrates your faith in yourself and your gifts. Learn to align your life 100% with what’s important to you.Embrace your ability to act

  • Embrace your ability to act

Real power is a process, not a destination. No one is completely helpless. There is always something that you can do for yourself. When you act in your own best interest, you feel and are powerful.

Power as a destination is understanding power as a finite object. It is something that you have and that can be taken from you. Power as a noun refers to differential amounts of power. Someone may have more or less power than you.

Yet, power as a process describes your capacity to act. Taken from the word Anglo-Norman French word “poeir” and the Latin word “posse”, power means “to be able”. This version of power is something that everyone has and can not be taken away. As you change your understanding of power, you immediately see that you always have the capacity to do something.

Whatever the situation, you can put your gifts into action toward accomplishing your goal. This is your power. As you act in your best interests, you increase your capacity to do so in the future. As long as you are alive, your power is there for you to use.

  • Speak a powerful “yes”

No one else has your gifts or unique combination of experiences. You show your power by embracing your gifts and sharing them with others. You have a role to play in this world that only you with your unique gifts and experiences can play. To downplay your power is to reject your gifts and your purpose in the world. Living out your purpose in the world means that you are willing to show up and embrace your unique contribution. No one else can take your place. If you don’t do it for you, it won’t be done.

The real measure of power is your ability to choose for yourself what’s important to you and ignore the rest. Owning and reclaiming your power means using your power to support your dreams, needs and wants.

Boundaries breathe life into broken relationships.  Reclaim your power and individuality. Acknowledge and respect the power of others. Choosing to establish and maintain your boundaries will increase your happiness and relationship satisfaction.

Comment below your thoughts about boundaries, personal power, and healthy relationships. What shifts occur within you when you see power as the process of living into your gifts rather than a destination?

Listening: The best way to keep your relationship healthy

The best relationship advice for communication issues and relationship problems is to listen effectively.

The best relationship advice for communication issues and relationship problems is to listen effectively.

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” – Bryant H. McGill

Listening is the best way to overcome relationship problems and to keep your relationship healthy. This is easy to say, but difficult to do. We all know that we should listen well, but many times we miss the mark. Poor listening habits create many of the problems we experience in our relationships. In this article, I describe the qualities of effective listening and provide simple techniques to help you listen better.

The willingness to listen is the hallmark of the most successful people and relationships. Effective leaders in businesses and organizations are defined by their strong listening skills. Parents who listen well maintain close relationships with their children throughout the tumultuous teen years and well into adult years.  Romantic relationships with strong listening skills maintain intimacy and commitment across years.

The YouTube video below is a funny example of how important effective listening is to romantic relationships. Even though you may think you know how to fix the problem, what the other person wants most is just for you to listen.

 

Strategies for Effective Listening

Effective listening requires more that just hearing what the other person is saying. It involves seeking to understand the other person’s intent and desire. Understanding the other person’s goal  in the conversation, will create connection, trust, and cooperation.

Here are 8 techniques to help you become a better listener.

  1. Listen for the concern of the speaker.

    What are they telling you? Regardless of the content of the conversation, the speaker is communicating something to you about who they are and what matters to them. Listen for what is NOT being said.

  2. Speak up only to clarify your understanding.

    Use your comments and questions to help you better understand the other person. Do not use this time to make a request or communicate your perspective. There is a time for that, but it follows deep listening. Ask questions or restate what you are hearing in your own words. This reflective listening will allow the speaker to elaborate or correct your understanding.

  3. Listen for the facts.

    Do you know all the parts of the story? Ask for missing information. Build on the facts you know and ask more questions that will help you fill in the blanks. The more shared facts you have, the more shared understanding you experience.

  4. Acknowledge the speaker’s feelings.

    This is critical. The conversation feels cold and distant if you listen for facts without affirming the speaker’s feelings. That would feel like a police interrogation. When we state our observations about the speaker’s feelings, we show our concern for the person and his/her feelings. It also helps others to become more aware of their emotions. Many times people’s behavior is motivated are by feelings that they are not even aware of. By stating the emotions you are observing, you help the other person better connect with and understand their own emotions. It also provides an opportunity for them to clarify or correct your observations about their emotional state.

  5. Prime.

    When you see there’s something that the other person is not comfortable sharing, acknowledge the elephant in the room. Make sure that your suggestion is open and allows the other person to amend or correct your understanding. You might want to say something like “I could be off here, but I have a feeling …..”.

  6. Agree as much as possible.

    Whenever the person says something you agree with, do so. Agree with body language such as a head nod. Agree verbally such as “ummhum” or “yes”. Every time you agree with the other person, you communicate to them that you are on the same side. Of course, you can not agree on everything. But the more you can agree on, the easier it will be to discuss the points on which you don’t agree.

  7. Paraphrase.

    Reflect back what the other person is saying using your own words. This translation allows you to ensure that you actually understand their perspective. After you’ve paraphrased the other person’s point, look to them to confirm that you’ve done it correctly. If they correct some part of your paraphrase, accept that graciously and try again. Keep paraphrasing until the other person’s response is “yes.”

  8. Don’t fill the silence.

    You’ve heard the saying “music is the space between the notes”. Well, emotional connection is the space between the words. There is important emotional work occurring in the silence. You do not want to disrupt this emotion work with unnecessary words. Many times we speak to reduce our anxiety about silence. Take deep breaths, mentally recite an affirmation. Whatever it takes to get you comfortable with silence. The deeper the conversation, the more valuable the silence.

Practice Effective Listening

My grandmother would always tell me “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.”  What an important lesson! How well you listen is much more important than what you say.

Practice strengthening your listening skills this week. Choose at least one conversation each day to practice listening. Focus on better understanding that other person and the feelings they are experiencing. Set aside your own concerns, thoughts, and opinions. Just listen. You will be amazed at the positive results for both you and your conversation partner!

Comment below with questions about effective listening or success stories. What are the times when you have truly felt listened to? How did it make you feel? What are the times when you focused solely on listening to another person? What was the result? How did it make you feel to be a deep listener?

Resolve Relationship Conflict Through Courageous Conversations

Resolve relationship conflict through courageous conversations

The best way to improve your relationships is to improve the quality of your conversations.

Are you looking to resolve relationship conflict and improve the quality of your relationship? Does it take longer than it should to get a task accomplished because the people you are working with don’t trust your intentions? Do you long to experience intimacy and connection in your current relationships? Practicing courageous conversations can address all these relationship problems allowing you to create the intimacy, trust, and cooperation necessary for quality relationships.

Relationships are an important determinate of the quality of our lives. The quality of our relationships predicts our health and mortality. The quality of our relationships with our co-workers determines our productivity and effectiveness. Thus, if we want to improve our health, career, and quality of life, we can begin by improving our relationships.

I’d like to share with you a secret to immediately improving all relationships in your life. You can use this technique to improve any relationship that is important to you. Your relationship with your children. Your romantic partner. Colleagues and business associates. Family and friends. Better yet, you can start this today and it’s totally free. Ready?

The best way to improve your relationship is to improve the quality of your conversations.

 

Why Courageous Conversations Resolve Relationship Conflict

 

The quality of your conversations determine the quality of your relationship.  Superficial and conflict-laden relationships are filled with small talk and one-sided conversations. There is little revealing and sharing of the true self because the person does not feel it is safe to do so. Cooperative relationships are built on trust and need openness and a willingness to truly see the other person. Emotional intelligence, vulnerability, and courage are necessary for effective communication. This is what I call a “courageous conversation”.

Courageous conversations  build trust, cooperation, and intimacy within our relationships. Most people in our culture do not practice courageous conversations. But,  this communication style is seen  among great leaders and people who have high quality relationships.  I’ve listed below the structure of a courageous conversation to help you practice this skill in your relationships.

 

Anatomy of a Courageous Conversation

 

Courageous conversations consist of five distinct parts. 4/5 of a courageous conversation involves listening to yourself and the other person. Only 1/5 of the conversation is actually about speaking. Too often we get this ratio backwards and focus more on speaking than listening. To have a conversation that really builds trust, intimacy, and cooperation, the primary focus needs to be listening.

  1. Own your story.

A courageous conversation first begins with listening to yourself. What are the stories you believe about yourself, the other person, and the situation? Stories are our unique way of understanding the world around us and they included our assumptions, attitudes, biases, and beliefs. The stories we already believe about ourselves and the situation limit the possible outcomes. For example, believing that the other person is unreasonable and irrational, leads us to be defensive. That defensive posture closes off any possibility of cooperation and mutual benefit.

Recognizing the stories that we already hold allows us to shape them to our benefit. We can challenge the stories that are not serving us. We can also develop better stories that will create the opportunities for trust and connection that we seek.

  1. Manage your emotions.

Our emotions are a direct result of our thoughts. Thus, as we reshape our stories to be more in line with our relationship goals, our emotions will follow. But, it takes time to fully internalize our new stories. Meanwhile, our emotions can quickly become activated within the conversation.

Focus on becoming aware of your emotional state.  Making sure that negative emotions do not hijack your goals for courageous conversations. Take responsibility for your feelings. Connect with your highest intention. Practice courage.

Recognize that you alone are responsible for your feelings. You choose how to respond to those feelings. The other person does not “make” you angry or happy. That is your choice.

Connecting with your highest intention focuses you on your goal of building trust. It prevents you from falling into a tit for tat banter. This is particularly important when you are feeling hurt, angry, and frustrated. At these times, ask yourself “What is the highest intention I have for this conversation, this relationship, this person?” Let that highest intention guide your behavior and not your temporary emotions.

Finally, managing your emotions requires practicing courage. We often avoid challenging conversations out of fear.  Fear of rejection, fear of losing the person, fear that they will no longer think highly of us. You can not let fear determine your conversations, your relationships, or your life. Courage is action in the presence of your fear. You must speak up and engage in the conversation, even when you’re afraid to do so.

  1. Understand their story.

Listening is a powerful form of communication . As you listen, practice listening for the other person’s stories. What are their beliefs, assumptions, attitudes? Listening for the other person’s stories helps you better understand their feelings. It will also help you better predict how they might respond to your thoughts or requests.

Listening well also helps the other person to feel better. We all want to be heard and having someone truly listen to us is a great affirmation of our dignity and value.

  1. Respond to their emotions.

You must become aware of your own emotions and learn how to manage them before you can effectively deal with the emotions of others. Managing your emotions and deep listening, equips you to effectively respond to the other person’s emotions. Remember to always be respectful, trustworthy, and curious in your response.

By being respectful, you affirm and protect the dignity of the other person. There is nothing that begins or hardens a conflict more than being disrespected.

Allow the person to share opinions that you don’t agree with or like. This demonstrates trustworthiness and openness.  This communicates that you value the other person, their ideas and perspective.

Finally, responding to the other person’s emotions requires that you get curious. If someone is furious, get curious.  What’s triggered their pain? What value was violated? Anger is a powerful signal of pain resulting from a violation of personal values. We are often so fixated on the anger that we forget to get curious about what’s generating the response.

  1. Speak to their listening.

The meaning of communication is not defined by what you are saying, but rather by what is being heard.  Insights about that person’s stories help you to organize your communication. You can now frame your thoughts, questions, and request in a way that can be heard by that person.

In reflecting on how the person will listen, consider their stories and values. How can you connect your comments to their beliefs and values?

Also reflect on your responsibility in creating the current situation. You are not a helpless victim. Taking responsibility for your role creates new possibilities for the future. It also helps you to resist your ego’s desire to prove your righteousness or their wrongness.

Finally, reflect on your highest intention for that person, your relationship, and this conversation. Let that intention guide your thoughts, words, and responses. It may be helpful to write down key points in advance or practice the conversation.

 

Resolve Relationship Conflict Today

 

Identify a specific person with whom you’d like to have a courageous conversation. Identify the goal of this conversation. This goal becomes your intention. Continually return to your intention throughout the conversation.

In the beginning, focus your intentions on understanding the other person. Don’t start with a goal of trying to tell them something or get them to do something for you.  This will help to distinguish this conversation from the many others before. Previous conversations, when your focus has been on getting your point across, have alienated the other person. This is what has created the conflict and lack of trust you are experiencing now. Setting your intention to understand, lays the groundwork for a different relationship dynamic.

Consider the best time and place to have your courageous conversation. Do not start these conversations when you or the other person is feeling tired, hungry, or pressed for time. If possible, invite the other person for a walk.

Walking will help lower any tension associated with the conversation. It will also give you two a common visual perspective. Many times women assume that the best way to have a conversation is staring into each other’s eyes. But, an unbroken gaze is quite anxiety producing and intimidating. Consider how primates stare down each other to determine who is the alpha male. Walking provides a shared perspective. Each party has the freedom to start and stop eye contact as needed. You become a team rather than opponents.

Before you begin the courageous conversation, take time to reflect on your stories. Consider your stories about communication in general and about this person in particular. What are your assumptions, attitudes, and potential biases? Challenge the validity of your stories. Reflect on whether they are serving you. If needed, create new stories that are more helpful in promoting courageous conversations.

Consider what emotions may emerge for you in this courageous conversation. Identify the emotions and whether it will serve your intention. Consider ways to manage emotions that are inconsistent with your intention. How can you mitigate these negative emotions?  How can you prevent them from subverting your intention in this conversation.

Now you have your strategy for implementing your courageous conversation. You have a plan for managing your emotions. You are ready to begin your courageous conversation. Remember to focus on your intention above all else.

Imagining yourself as a writer may help you in seeking to understand the other person’s story. Imagine you want to be able to represent this person accurately in a biography. What is his/her motivations? Points of pain or struggle? What is his/her desire in this current moment? Remember that the most important answers are rarely spoken so pay attention to body language and what is not said.

Equipped with this knowledge, you are now able to speak to their listening. You can communicate to them that you understand and support them and their goal. This is the most important point for you to communicate. If you are not in support of their most immediate goal, try to find a deeper goal that you can support.

If you can not support your teenager’s desire to spend all day playing video games, support the function that those games serve for the teen. Say something like,

“Friends are an important part of our lives. I understand that these people you meet online are valuable friends to you. I support your motivation to get and maintain quality friendships.”

This allows you to negotiate the strategy of developing friendships. You can now have that conversation without the conflict of your teen feeling misunderstood.  Keep your intentions at the forefront of your consciousness.

When you take the time to practice having courageous conversations, great things happen.  Remember, the quality of the conversations determine the quality of your relationships. Upgrade your conversations and your relationships today!

 

Let me know how practicing courageous conversations improves your relationships. If you need more support strengthening your relationships, sign up for my newsletter. It is  filled with practical tips to help you improve your relationships and improve your life.

Celebrating Mothering: A more inclusive Mother’s Day Tradition

Mothering: A more inclusive Mother's Day Tradition

Current Mother’s Day celebrations alienate millions of women who do not conform to our societal definition of motherhood. Celebrating mothering allows us to include all women (mothers and othermothers) in our cultural celebration.

Why would the woman who founded Mother’s Day spend the rest of her life trying to end this holiday?

Mother’s Day is celebrated all over the world, but the American version was initiated by Anna Jarvis as an attempt to bring reconciliation between the North and the South after the Civil War. Ms. Jarvis started the first Mother’s Day celebration in 1908 and it eventually became a nationally recognized holiday in 1914. Ms. Jarvis was so disappointed with the commercialization of Mother’s Day that she spent much of her wealth and time in legal battles trying to end the national holiday.

It’s also interesting to note that this woman who founded Mother’s Day was herself never married and had no children. Ms. Jarvis founded the day to honor the death of her mother and celebrate the contributions of mothers across the country. Today, many women like Ms. Jarvis (women who are single, women without children, women who’ve lost their mothers) feel excluded and injured from our contemporary celebrations of the holiday.

Rather than working to ban the holiday as Ms. Jarvis did, I propose we adopt a broader view of Mother’s Day that is more inclusive and more in the spirit of Ms. Jarvis’ original intent. This more inclusive view of Mother’s Day focuses on the act of mothering, in stead of the status of motherhood. In this expanded focus we are able to embrace all women in our national celebration.

 

Women Excluded from Mother’s Day Traditions

It’s may be hard to believe that Mother’s Day celebrations can be seen as exclusionary and painful for a number of women, but it’s true. As someone who struggled for years to conceive a child, I know first hand how isolating and painful our Mother’s Day celebrations can be. It seemed as if every woman my age was already a mother and that left me feeling even more alone and like a failure because I was not able to achieve this sacred status of motherhood.

Mother’s Day and the days leading up to it are already an emotional challenge for many of the 6.7 million women struggling with infertility. In the Savvy Auntie® Facebook community, courageous women shared honestly about how they feel being childless on Mother’s Day. These women reported feeling:

  •  “empty”
  • “incomplete
  • “sad”
  • “lonely and left behind”
  • “unimportant”
  • “neglected”
  • “anxious about my ticking clock”
  • “not in the club that I assumed I would be in”
  • “like I’m sitting in a great cloud of sadness — it’s just the most awful day.”

The painful feelings associated with Mother’s Day are not limited only to women who are childless. Women who have lost a child or are separated from their child also report feeling excluded on Mother’s Day. Women who have put a child up for adoption or have children in prison or in the streets struggling with drug addictions are frequently left out of our cultural celebrations of motherhood. These women’s separation from their children is often thought of as examples of bad motherhood and their own moral failings. Women who’ve placed their child up for adoption or who have children in prison or on drugs experience the pain of not living up to what society expects of you as a mother.

Finally, there is the pain of women who have loss their mothers or have emotionally distant relationships with their mothers. For both these groups of women, celebrations of Mother’s Day can remind them of their loss, grief, and anger. The lack of public acknowledgement of these feelings can result in these women feeling even more isolated and alone.

So how do we help to ease the suffering of these women and include them in our cultural celebration?

Focus on Mothering instead of Motherhood

Let’s draw a bigger circle of love that can include all these women in our celebrations of Mother’s Day. We can not change the fact that they do not have a child, or their child is in prison, or their mother is no longer living. However, we can acknowledge that we see them and their pain and that we celebrate them and their generous gifts to our world. This more inclusive celebration of Mother’s Day can be achieved if we switch our focus from the status of motherhood to celebrating mothering.

Mothering focuses on the act of nurturing others.

 

Motherhood focus on the status of having a child. Mothering is more expansive and allows us to celebrate the ways in which we have been nurtured by our mothers and other women in our lives. Mothering also encourages us to reflect upon and celebrate the ways in which we all have nurtured others- regardless of whether they are our biological children.

When we recognize the potential that is in a person and we give both the encouragement and correction necessary to develop that potential, we are mothering. When we generously invest our time, money, and resources for the physical, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional development of person with no expectation of reciprocity or self-benefit, we are mothering. When we affirm and protect the dignity of a person’s life regardless of their social status in the world but simply because we know that this individual is of immeasurable value, we are mothering.

Sometimes we have the opportunity to mother our own children, but all of us have the opportunity to mother other people’s children. In fact, this public mothering (mothering other people’s children) yields the most benefit to our society and merits a public celebration.

In her groundbreaking book, Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins uses the concept of “othermother” to discuss the central role of black women’s activism and community building efforts. Othermothers are sisters, aunts, grandmothers, cousins, neighbors, teachers, or any women who actively cares for the well-being of a child that is not their biological child. These othermothers are a critical source of support for both the child and his/her biological mother. Othermothering includes social activism as a loving action of care and protection of our children. The practice of othermothering builds a network of love and support for children and adults that affirms the value of caring, ethics, teaching, and service.

This connection between mothering and community building was central to the ideas of the original founders of Mother’s Day in our country. Ann Jarvis organized the pre-cursor to Mother’s Day, “Mother’s Friendship Day”, to build community and promote reconciliation between former Union and Confederate soldiers. Another precursor to Mother’s Day, “Mother’s Peace Day”, was organized by abolitionist and suffragist Julia Howe to promote world peace. For these women and many others like them, Mother’s Day provided an opportunity to reach beyond our households, biological families, and narrow group identities to embrace those different from us and to affirm our common connection. This is what we need to reclaim in our current celebrations of Mother’s Day.

Celebrating Mothering

The fact that we are still here implies that we are the beneficiaries of some quality mothering. Someone cared for us when we were unable to care for ourselves. Someone invested in us regardless of our ability to pay or reciprocate. Someone cared for us enough to expect greatness from us and to create opportunities for us to see and develop that within ourselves. These acts did not stop when we turned 18. We are always in need of this mothering. And the best way to say thank you for these tremendous gifts is to literally say thank you to your mother and/or othermothers and to continue to extend this gift to others.

Think about the many women who have and are currently mothering you. Write down the names of your othermothers. List the specific memories you have of moments when you could clearly see their generous gift of mothering to you. As you reflect on this list, say thank you. Express gratitude for each of the women who individually and collectively nurture life within you and within our community.

Reach out to your othermothers and share your gratitude with them. It may surprise them to hear your comments about their mothering and what it has meant to you. Like many people in our culture, they may only associate mothering with motherhood. Help them to see themselves in the celebration of this day. Help them to experience the the warmth of the light they create in the world through their acts of mothering.

Reflect on and renew your commitment to mothering other people’s children. Regardless of whether you have children in your household, we all share responsibility for the children of our world. Mothering provides us to reach beyond the narrow boundaries of ourselves and invest in the care and well-being of others. This is a tremendous privilege and a great responsibility. Our mothering nurtures, protects, and sustains life, dignity, health, and love in this world. Do not limit these valuable gifts to your household, we are all in need of your gift of mothering.

Mothering is hard work. It is unpaid labor and rarely receives the gratitude and appreciation that is due. We would not be able to continue as a species without mothering. Every woman who engages in this critical, life sustaining act should be acknowledged and celebrated this day and every day.

So let me say to each one of you who so generously gives of your time, resources, and attention to lovingly invest in the nurture and development of others, Happy Mother’s Day!

I’d love to hear about the mothers and othermothers you are celebrating, please share their stories below.

How to Get the Perfect Female Body

how to get the perfect female body

Getting the perfect female body requires learning to love, not loathe, your body.

Beach time is quickly approaching and many women are buying diet pills, body wraps, and any other product promising to give us the perfect body. Although Americans spend more than $60 billion annually trying to lose weight,  71% of American adults are obese or overweight. A 2007 report by British researchers found that women in the UK spend about 31 years of there life on a diet. This is not a continuous healthy eating plan, but rather a yo-yo diet with most women giving up in less than six weeks. The reason why our “health obsessions” lead us to even greater levels of poor health is because they are based on loathing our bodies. The secret to getting your perfect body immediately and permanently is learning to love the body you have.

 

Body Loathing vs. Body Loving

Body loathing includes words and actions that insult, harm, and degrade your body. It involves criticizing your body or parts of your body, damaging your body by depriving it of sufficient healthy and nourishing food, and publically insulting your body. In fact, much of our female-female conversation involves the body loathing ritual of trading criticisms about our bodies. All of these body loathing activities harm our physical and emotional well-being and make it difficult for our bodies to be healthy and functional.

While you might consider criticizing your body as motivation to improve, it actually has the opposite effect. Science teaches us that human behavior is improved by a positive encouraging environment, not a negative one. In a 2005 study published in the American Psychologist, researchers documented the critical element in promoting human flourishing. Flourishing is living at the optimal level of functioning and performance. It is associated with perceptions of goodness, creativity, growth, and resilience. It is estimated that less than 20% of Americans are flourishing and this lack of flourishing is linked to a host of physical, emotional, and economic problems.

So what best predicts whether an individual or an organization will flourish? The ratio of positive to negative thoughts. Those with a ratio of at least 2.9, approximately three positive thoughts for every one negative thought, were much more likely to experience flourishing: peak human performance.

As an educator, I know the great importance that my attitude and approach can make in student performance. If my students perceive me as caring about them and their well-being, they are able to take in my instruction and feedback and use it to improve their knowledge and skill. However, if they perceive me as a harsh task master who cares more about my instruction than them, they will resist learning anything from me. This principle underlies all human behavior and performance.

Recall the individuals in your life who have been great teachers and/or coaches. Who were the people that were able to inspire you to work your hardest and get the most improvement in your performance? What did they think of you? How did they treat you?  Most likely these were individuals who had high standards for you and communicated a high regard for you. They valued and respected you and your ability. They knew you were talented and worked diligently to cultivate that talent. And in this context you flourished.

Now compare that experience to the external and internal messages you take in daily about your body. Do these messages affirm the inherent value and beauty of your body? Do they celebrate your body’s function and performance? Do they nurture and cultivate your body in a loving, supportive environment? If you’re like most of us, the answer is no. It’s no wonder that our bodies respond like rebellious children, refusing our explicit instructions to be well and perform.

 

Body Loathing Cannot Produce the Perfect Female Body

When you separate yourself from your body, evaluating it as a set of components, you are objectifying yourself. You are treating your body as an “object” separate from you- the beautiful soul that inhabits your body. It is a mistake to believe that you can demean your body and love yourself. It does not work because there is a permanent connection between our bodies and our souls.

Belittling our bodies diminishes how we feel about ourselves. When we demean our bodies and say explicitly or implicitly that our bodies are not good enough, we are saying to ourselves that we are not good enough. We are not good enough to be loved and respected by others or ourselves. That’s why we believe it’s appropriate to demean and brutalize our bodies with forced deprivation, injurious workouts, or feeding it unhealthy food.

Both the so called “healthy” behaviors and the unhealthy ones come from a place of body loathing and our bodies respond with resistance. Resistance may be in the form of a plateau where your body refuses to release any more weight in spite of your best efforts. Resistance may be in the form of returning to your pre-diet weight with a few extra pounds for support against the task master of self-deprivation. Resistance may be in form of weakened performance and diseases as your body withdraws from the hostile climate you’ve created.

All of these forms of resistance are natural and appropriate responses to assaults on the dignity and worth of the self. Resistance is the natural response to oppression, even when we are the ones creating the oppressive environment.

The way to end this resistance and reconnect with our bodies is to create a body loving environment. A body loving environment will remind us that our bodies are not objects to be controlled, but rather visible extensions of our unique selves. Body loving environments affirm our inherent value and dignity. They operate from the assumption that we are already “good enough” and create an environment to remind us of this truth and encourage us to do our best.

 

A Better Definition of the Perfect Female Body

Perfect comes from the Latin word perfierce, per- meaning “completely” and farcere meaning “do”. Thus saying something is perfect suggests that it is whole, complete, and lacking nothing. You have successfully developed into a full grown woman with all of the curves, lines, rights, and privileges that status entails. You are whole and complete. You are perfect!

Claim your perfect female body today! All it takes is recognition that you already have it.

You are already good enough.

You are already beautiful.

You already perfect.

You do not need to get her eyes, butt, breast, skin in order to be beautiful. Nor do you need to lose, gain, shrink, or enlarge any part of your body to be deserving.

This moment, at this size, is your perfect female body. As you come to understand and accept this truth, you will be able to love and nurture your body (and yourself) in a way that brings out your personal best. You will care for it as you do a newborn infant. Providing it with all the nourishing foods and experiences it needs to grow and flourish. Celebrating its changes and development. Affirming its inherent value and worth.

Loving your body means feeding it nourishing foods out of your care for its well-being. It means being gentle will your body, giving it the rest it needs and deserves. Loving your body involves moving your body, celebrating it’s growing strength and improved functionality. Loving your body also includes protecting it from harmful toxins and emotions that damage its functioning. Finally, loving your body includes speaking loving words of praise, gratitude, and affirmation regularly about your body. As you love your body, it will love you back.

As you do these actions, you and your body will develop a beautiful relationship built on love, respect, and cooperation. In this body loving climate, your body will transform to its optimal performance. You and your body will flourish.

Just as a loving teacher brings out the best in her students, your loving care will bring out your personal physical best. You will look and feel great! Most importantly, these changes will be permanent and built on healthy, respectful actions.

Body Loving Affirmations for the Perfect Female Body

A group of over 1,800 women shared their body loving affirmations on a hypnobirthing blog post. I’ve posted a few of my favorites here to get you started on celebrating and cultivating your perfect female body. I suggest that you practice these affirmations standing in a full view mirror so that you can experience the full impact of learning to “see” yourself differently and learning to love what you see.

    • My mind is clear and open. My face radiates beautiful kindness. My head is held high and proud. My eyes reflect the beauty of the world around me. My shoulders are strong and stable. My arms are open to giving and receiving love. My hands are capable and skilled. My heart is courageous and loving. The roundness of my belly connects me to our Mother Earth. My hips are free and fearless. My legs support and carry me through my life. My feet are always moving me forward towards my goals.

 

  • I see myself with loving eyes, and I love everything I see.

 

  • I am grateful for this body! It allows me to experience the world around me and gives me sensation beyond measure.

 

  • My body is love. My body accepts love. My body gives love.

 

  • My large feet keep me planted firmly on the ground. My thick thighs provide plenty of lap space to sit on. My soft arms create a cushiony pillow for small heads.

 

  • My body cannot be owned. It is not my possession, rather, my body IS myself. I do not look upon it as “other.” As I include my body into my sense of self, empathy for its story is the only thing left to feel, and I accept my wholeness.

 

  • My body is a miracle.

 

  • I am always the perfect age.

 

  • My body and spirit are a perfect team and are always working together.

 

Congratulations on claiming your perfect body! As you celebrate your body, you give other women the permission to do so as well. So please share your insights and your commitment to creating the perfect female body.

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3 Simple Ways to Naturally Boost Your Immune System

natural way to boost your immune system

We can improve the functioning of our immune system by cultivating these three emotional states.

We often look for ways to improve their immune systems; protecting ourselves from being bed-ridden during flu season or or catching every bug that travels through our workplace.. Health food stores sell millions of dollars’ worth of supplements of Vitamin C and other vitamins known to improve your immune functioning. Yet, there’s an overlooked way to strengthen your immune system that is research proven to be effective and it’s FREE.

 

Emotions play a critical role in the functioning of our immune system in both positive and negative ways. Emotions has a significant impact on both our production of antibodies and our natural killer blood cells (NK cells) that serve as our first line of immune strength. Antibodies help to identify and attack foreign germs in our bodies. NK cells work to destroy tumor cells, disease tissue, bacteria as well as to help antibodies fight against infections in their early stages. In this article, I identify emotions that are known to impact our body’s production and operation of antibodies and/or NK cells. We can clearly see the dangerous emotions that weaken the immune system as well as 3 emotions we can practice as a daily boost to our immune system, naturally.

 

Emotions that Destroy the Immune System

Anger

Anger raises our blood pressure, increases our heart beat, gives us headaches and compromises our cognitive function. But did you know that anger can also make it easier for you to get the flu? In a study published by the Journal of Advancement in Medicine, researchers asked people to recall either an angry situation or a loving situation. The participants who recalled an angry situation experienced significantly lower immune antibodies. Moreover, the decrease in antibodies cause by anger lasted for six hours. Anger suppresses the immune functioning long beyond the situation that made us angry has passed.

 

Loneliness

Social isolation and the feelings of loneliness that it produces also works to weaken the functioning of our immune systems. A research study found that infant monkeys caged alone and separate from their mothers generate fewer antibodies in response to viruses. The act of physical and social separate suppresses the power of the immune system, making us vulnerable to a host of minor and major diseases.

 

Fear/Anxiety

Anxiety also known as stress is a primary driver of many health problems, often operating by weakening the immune system. While a short dose of fear can produce a healthy, enhanced physical performance, sustained states of fear for one’s safety a security dramatically reduce the health of the immune system. In fact, the negative impact of social fear is even greater than the impact of physical deprivation on our immune system.

 

In a study reviewed by the Harvard School of Medicine, mice were put into a cage with a highly aggressive mouse two hours a day for six days and repeatedly threatened (but not injured) were twice as likely to die as other mice that were kept in tiny cages without food and water for long periods. The social stressor of fear is a even more powerful impact on immune functioning that the stressor of physical deprivation.

 

Emotions that Naturally Boost Your Immune System

Emotions are produced by thoughts, but they are not isolated in your mind. Your emotional state triggers a cascade of physical reactions in your body. Every time you operate from feelings of anger, loneliness, and fear you are pouring waves of toxicity through your body, damaging your immune system and compromising your overall health. The good news is that the impact of our emotional state on the functioning of body goes in both the positive and negative direction.

 

We have the power to choose our emotional state. Much of our emotional state is a product not of what happens to us, but rather how we think about what happens to us. In a previous article, I review how we can replace the negative thinking that produces unhealthy responses with more positive thoughts that promote our physical and psychological well-being.  As we practice creating positive, healthy emotional states for ourselves, we remove and repair the damage created by anxiety, loneliness, and fear. We can literally make ourselves healthier by intentionally cultivating the following emotional states in our daily lives.

 

Humor

Humor can be a great way to combat the damage created by created by anger and other negative emotions. Humor dramatically improves not only our psychological sense of well-being but our immune system as well. Humor curbs stress hormones and boost our NK cell production.

 

Injecting humor into our lives significantly improves the functioning of our immune system hours after the humorous event and days leading up to a humorous event.  In a research study where men were told three days in advance that they were going to watch a funny video, they experienced a significantly lower drop in stress hormones (as compared to those men who were not anticipating the funny video). Moreover, 12 hours after watching a funny video, the research participants still had higher biological indicators of immunity than those who did not watch the video. Laughter is truly (long-acting) medicine.

 

You can significantly improve your immune system functioning and your overall physical health by injecting more humor into your day. Allow yourself “indulgences” of humor, like a funny 5min youtube clip or a funny movie. Too often when we are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, we remove these activities out of our lives because we “don’t have time” for such frivolous play. But there is nothing frivolous about humor. It is an essential part of a healthy life and will provide you with immediate and long-term benefits to your productivity and physical health. So go ahead and tell a funny joke. Improve your and someone else’s immune system today.

 

Connection

Humans are social creatures and have an inherent need for connection to maintain health and overall well-being. This positive impact of connection includes three dimensions: connection to self, connection to others, and connection to nature. While these three dimensions of connection are distinctive they are interrelated and connection in one area enhances and expands the capacity for connection in the others. Promoting our connectedness strengthens the functioning of our immune system.

 

Research shows a positive correlation between social connectedness and immune functioning. Individuals who have a network of social support produce more disease fighting NK cells than those who don’t. Scholars conclude that increasing social support might provide a “high natural immunity” to disease and infection.  So take the time to connect with your family and friends and visit loved ones who are sick. These emotional bonds strengthen both your and their immune systems.

 

A number of other research studies have shown connecting with nature also enhances your immune functioning. A study that compared men taking 2 hour walks in parks or forest to men walking for the same amount of time in the city found that that visiting parks and forests raised the production of NK cells by 50%.  Another study focused on women found the same effect and noted that the increase in NK cells lasted a week for those women who walked in nature.  Practicing sensory walks in nature is a great way to boost our immune system and become more aware of our connections to the larger world.

 

Happiness

Steven Cole, a UCLA professor of medicine and a member of the UCLA Cousins Center, and his colleagues have spent years studying the impact of happiness and other emotions on gene expression and physical health. They distinguish between two types of happiness: happiness resulting from a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life and happiness focused only on pleasure seeking and self-gratification.  In their report to the National Academy of Sciences, they found that happiness resulting from a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life promotes the gene expression of antiviral and antibody genes. Happiness focused only on self-gratification had the opposite effect, suppressing the health of the immune system.

 

Happy people are healthier and live longer. Yet this relationship between happiness and positive health only exists for those individuals who cultivate happiness from a deep sense of meaning and purpose in life. These are people who are clear on their unique contribution to this world and have developed a life that reflects their personal truth.

 

Thankfully, we all can cultivate this kind of happiness. I’ve provided some free resources on my website (www.yourlifeinfocuscoach.com) to help you in cultivating a life of happiness that reflects and affirms your core values and life purpose. If you’d like more clarity on discovering your life purpose, sign up to receive my free Life Goals Planning Toolkit.

 

Wishing you a life filled with joy, connection, purpose, and health!

References:

Berk LS, Felten DL, Tan SA, Bittman BB, Westengard J, 2001. “Modulation of neuroimmune parameters during the eustress of humor-associated mirthful laughter.” Alternative Therapeutic Health Medicine 7(2).

Christie W. & C. Moore. 2005. “The impact of humor on patients with cancer.” Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing 9:211.

LiQ MK, Kobayashi M., Inagaki H., Katsumata M., Hirata Y., Shimizu T., Li YJ, Wakayama Y., Kawada T., Ohira T., Takayama N., Kagawa T., Mijazaki Y. 2008. “A forest bathing trip increase human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins in female subjects.” Journal of Biological Regulation Homeost Agents 22(1):44-55.

LiQ MK, Nakadai A., Inagaki H., Katsumata M., Shimiza T., Hirata Y., Hirata K., Miyazaki Y., Kagawa T., Koyama Y., Ohira T., Takayama N., Krensky AM, Kawada T. 2007. “Forest bathing enhances natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins.” International Journal of Pharmacology. 20(2):3-8.

Miyazaki T., Ishikawa T, Hirofumi I, Miki A, Wenner M, Fukunishi I, Kawamura N. 2003. “Relationship between perceived social support and immune function.” Stress and Health. 19(1):3-7.

Rein G., Atkinson M, and McCraty R. 1995. “The physiological effects of compassion and anger” Journal of Advancement in Medicine. 8(2).

Sensory Walk: A free gift from nature

Sensory walks improve your physical and emotional wellbeing.

A sensory walk improves your physical and emotional wellbeing.

A sensory walk optimizes one of the best forms of exercise: walking. Walking lowers blood pressure, improves blood circulation, strengthens bones and muscles, and improves sleep. Walking in nature has even more positive physical and emotional health benefits.

 

Research comparing walking in nature versus walking in urban areas showed that individuals who walked in nature experienced lower levels of stressincreased attention span, as well as improved creativity and problem solving. An easy way to optimize the physiological and psychological health benefits associated with walking is to take sensory walks.

 

Sensory walks are a mindfulness practice that enables you to have a whole body experience with nature while walking. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of University of Massachusetts Medical Center’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Sensory walks are an easy way to integrate mindfulness into your daily health and wellness routine.

 

How To Do A Sensory Walk

 

Sensory walks, like many other mindfulness practices, encourage you to use all five of your senses to connect with the natural world. It can be helpful at some points in the walk to stand still and close your eyes. Ending your reliance on sight can heighten your awareness of the other senses. Whether you are walking or standing still, the goal is to notice as much as possible the beauty of the world surrounding you.

 

Here are some questions to ask yourself that can guide your focus as you practice your sensory walk.

 

What are you hearing?

Sound is a powerful sense that activates our emotions, promotes visual imaginations, and strengthens our memory recall. As you engage in your sensory walk, pay attention to the distinctive types of sounds that you hear.

 

Can you hear your footsteps? Are there birds chirping? Can you hear running water? It’s important to take the time to really notice the sounds of your external environment rather than drowning them out with your internal dialogue.

 

What are you feeling?

No, I don’t mean identifying your emotional state. I mean paying attention to the largest organ in your body: your skin. Skin is a primary vehicle through which we experience the world, both sensations of pleasure and pain. Our skin has the most nerve endings that provide us with a fine tuned gradient measure of our environment. We can even sense very subtle changes in the environment with our skin and respond quickly with goose-bumps or having the hair on our necks stand up.

 

As you engage in your sensory walk, pay attention to your skin and the sensations it communicates to you. Depending on the weather, there may not be a lot of your skin exposed to the outside elements. However, even when covered with clothing and shoes your skin is still communicating important sensory information about your environment.

 

Can you feel the sun on your skin? What does the ground feel like under your feet? Is it firm, mushy, rocky? What does the temperature feel like on your skin? Again, stopping to closely your eyes briefly will help you better tune into all this lovely information your body is experiencing.

What can you smell?

Smell is often thought of as one of our most potent senses. It is closely connected to our memory and can quickly recreate feelings associated with a past experience. We are usually aware of smells at the extreme of the spectrum, either very pleasant or very offensive. But as we practice mindfulness we can become aware of all the varieties of smell around us.

 

Practice using your sense of smell to create a “map” of your sensory walk. What smells are associated with the various areas of your map? What smells can you identify? Can you distinguish the distinctive smells among the various flowers? What about the trees?

 

It’s useful to stop and get up close the the objects you are smelling. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Yes, I do want you to stop and smell the roses…and the daffodils….and the pine trees. Allow yourself to fully savor the sensations of the smells of nature.

What can you taste?

Our taste sensations are closely connected to our sense of smell. As you allow yourself to experience more fully the smells associated with nature, you may notice an activation of your taste buds. You may even begin to salivate. Great! Enjoy these tastes of nature.

 

Those of you who are more knowledgeable about the various edible flowers, nuts, and berries that grow freely in nature may want to partake in enjoying these delicious gifts during your sensory walk. My children and I love the smell and taste of wild growing honeysuckle and often snack on these sweet treats. Nature provides us with so many gifts and fully experiencing and enjoying these gifts is one way to say thank you.

How are you moving through space?

This is known as our proprioceptive sense and is often overlooked in our discussions of our sensory experiences. However, proprioception is responsible for our perceptions of our body position, motion, and balance.

 

Without proprioception we wouldn’t experience the excitement of our stomachs dropping when we ride on a roller coaster or the relaxation we feel when sitting in a swing or a rocking chair. Proprioception allows us to know where our body is positioned in space even when our eyes are closed. Our proprioceptive sense also helps us to be more alert when on an unstable or elevated surface.

 

As you practice your sensory walk, vary the surfaces you walk on and notice the changes in your body. Do you feel different walking on a gravel path than walking across a fallen tree? How does it feel when you cross a stream using the river rocks as your bridge? Vary the pace of your walk (fast then slow) and notice the differences in your body.

What do you see?

Sight can be a very pleasurable part of our experience of nature. Just looking at a beautiful nature scene can bring feelings of peace and relaxation. As you engage in your sensory walk, imagine that you are a cinematographer trying to capture footage for National Geographic.

 

Take the time to see what is likely a familiar environment for you with fresh new eyes. What are the “postcard moments” of your walk? What images bring you feelings of warmth, pleasure, relaxation, excitement, or awe?

 

As you notice these sights, stop and focus on them to intensify your experience of the moment. For at least 20 seconds, pause and focus on the image, breathing deeply and enjoying the feelings that are evoked by this sight within you.

 

Remember, what you focus on becomes magnified. As you focus on the pleasure of nature and wonderful feelings you are having at this moment, your joy and gratitude will be magnified. Moreover, these feelings will stay with you and can be brought back to mind long after you are physically removed from this experience.

 

Capture Your Sensory Walk

 

As you complete your sensory walk, reserve time at the end to sit quietly and capture the beauty of these moments. You may want to bring a sketchbook or a journal to record your reflections. Regardless of your artistic skill level, draw at least three items that you noticed on your sensory walk.

 

Although the drawing activity is visual, you do not want to rely only on the sights of your sensory walk. How might you be able to visually represent the smells or physical sensations that you experienced on the walk? What about the tastes and movement sensations?

 

After you’ve captured at least three sensory memories of this walk, write 1-2 sentences of gratitude for what you have just experienced.

 

As you focus on the sensations and emotions produced from the sensory walk, your awareness of the gifts of nature will abound. These gifts of nature are free and always available to you whenever you need them. Even when you can not physically return to the site of this walk, you can review your journal reflections and activate a full sensory recall of the memories of this experience.

 

As we celebrate the beginning of spring and Earth Day, I encourage you to add a 10-15min sensory walk into your routine. You will find that this practice greatly reduces your level of stress, expands your sense of joy and connection to a larger world, as well as increases your energy and feelings of well-being.

 

Today, give yourself a gift of vitality and joy! Take a sensory walk.

 

What are the benefits you received from your sensory walk? Leave a comment below or you can email me directly at [email protected]. If you have pictures from your walk, please share so we can expand the joy!

The Missing Ingredient in Your Weight Loss Program

Your weight loss program may be missing this fat busting secret ingredient.

Your weight loss program may be missing this fat busting secret ingredient.

Many of us have worked hard to lose weight only to find that that scales aren’t turning in the right direction. We are eating a clean diet, exercising three times a week, but  we are still not losing weight. If this is true for you, it may be that an unknown culprit is conspiring against you in your plan for healthy weight loss: stress.

An effective stress management system can be the missing ingredient preventing you from obtaining the strong, good looking, and healthy body you are seeking. Continuing to neglect this vital area of weight loss can be a costly mistake. While we know chronic stress is not good for us, many of us have no idea what it does to our bodies and how it undermines our health. Here I’ve listed some of the biological pathways through which stress promotes weight gain.

How stress promotes weight gain

Stress encourages the body to store fat.

Stress activates our body’s fight or flight response. It produces hormonal changes signaling to our muscles the need for quick energy. The muscles get this energy by increasing insulin production to move sugar from the blood to our muscles. This physiological response makes us more alert and alive in a stressful situation. We are stronger, quicker, and can think faster. All of these responses to stress are helpful in keeping us alive in dangerous situations. However, if our body does not actually use this surge of energy to react, we store this unused energy as fat. In situations of chronic stress or worry, our body produces the same increases in sugar and insulin that creates new layers of fat. Much of the fat tissue that is produced from chronic stress is “visceral fat” that builds up deep in our bellies. This can be seen in the “pot belly” we gain as we age. Visceral fat in the belly is the most life threatening fat and the hardest to get rid of.

Stress encourages emotional eating.

We have all experienced the food cravings that occur when we are feeling stressed out. For me it’s starchy and fatty foods like mac & cheese and fried chicken. This connection is so strong and immediate that we often find ourselves eating before we are even aware of it. When we become aware, we are already eating a bag of chips or in the refrigerator nibbling on left overs. We know that this pattern of mindless eating undermines our health goals and we often blame ourselves for not having enough willpower. Yet, science shows that there is a biological basis to this pattern of mindless emotional eating. Researchers suggest that we might actually have a “flight, flee, or chow down”  response to stress, meaning  that the activity of eating physiologically relieves the stress in the same way as the reactions to flee or fight. Jason Perry Block, MD, an assistant professor of population medicine at Harvard, “This happens, in part, because the body releases chemicals in response to food that might have a direct calming effect.” Thus emotional eating is a learned habit that is connected to biological triggers and rewards.

Stress promotes inactivity.

Chronic stress produces the couch potato syndrome. In the APA study “Stress in America”, 42% of Americans reported watching television more than two hours a day to relieve stress. Unfortunately, this strategy of stress management actually increase weight gain and other health complications that arise from a sedentary lifestyle.

Stress lowers your metabolism.

In their pioneering research, Profs. Annette deKloet and Eric Krause discovered a “fat to brain feedback network”. This study suggests that the density of fat tissue influences the way the brain controls stress, regulates energy and other metabolic activities. It’s not just that stress encourages your body to produce more fat, but that the fat changes the way your brain regulates your metabolismWhile in the short term this is adaptive, the fat to brain feedback network under situations of chronic stress is dangerous.

How to relieve stress and promote healthy weight loss

The good news is that we can reverse the pattern of weight gain directly implementing a stress management system. An effective stress management system will not only reduce your current levels of stress, but will promote healthy weight loss, increase your energy, boost your immune system, and heighten your joy. You will look and feel better and get more enjoyment out of the people and activities in your life. I’ve listed five activities you can do to begin implementing an effective stress management system. These activities will quickly reduce your level of stress and promote healthy weight loss.

Moderate exercise.

Exercise is a great stress reliever because it actually uses the increases in insulin and sugar created by stress in more productive ways. It also promotes the release of endorphins which make us feel good, think “runner’s high”. However, exercising for stress relief should be moderate and not too rigorous. High intensity exercises actually raises cortisol levels, contributing to over eating and increase and fat production. Think a brisk 20 minute walk.

Sleep.

Sleep reduces feelings of stress, promotes healthy weight loss, and increases well-being. Most Americans are sleep deprived. We should strive for 6-8hrs of sleep each night. If worry or anxiety is keeping you from getting a good night of rest, some of the activities below can help.

Relaxation.

Meditation is a powerful relaxation strategy that has been proven to lower stress, improve health, and increase our sense of well being. The wonderful thing about meditation is that you can do it anywhere and you can reap the benefits of meditation with a small investment of time (10-20mins/day). Other relaxation techniques (deep breathing, listening to music, walking in nature, taking a bubble bath) can also be used on a daily basis to reduce stress and promote weight loss. What is most important is that you integrate these behaviors into your daily life.

Mindful eating.

We eat every day, but do we eat mindfully? Mindful eating is a slow sensory experience of food. It encourages us to notice the color, smell, taste, and texture of our food and to eat slow enough to enjoy the experience. Mindful eating is the direct opposite of fast food or tv dinners. A research study of binge eaters showed that participating in mindful eating program produced fewer binges and lower rates of depression. Mindful eating can lower our stress, improve our mood, and prevent our over eating.

Self-exploration.

While the above techniques may help us manage the levels of stress in our lives, we need to engage in structured self-exploration to identify the causes of stress in our lives and actively address them. Living under chronic stress compromises our health, career, relationships and sense of well-being. It is up to us to commit to identifying and eradicating the sources of our stressful lifestyle. Processes of self-exploration that are research-proven to be effective in increasing emotional and physical well-being are: journaling, counseling, and working with a life coach. Choose the method that works best for you, but by all means commit to your personal development. Through your process of self-exploration, you can uncover ways of thinking that are increasing stress and weight gain, as well as develop a plan of action to move you closer to your goals of health, peace, and joy.

You can not change your genetic makeup, but you can create a strong, lean, healthy body. Implementing these five components of a stress management system will permanently transform your body and your life. Most people acknowledge valuable information that could help them achieve their goal, but never act on it. You could be different.

I’d love to hear about the improvements you are seeing in your body and in your life as you implement your stress management system. Leave a comment below or email me.

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