How the Motivation Candy Epidemic it is making you fat!

(Reading time 3 minutes)
Picture a beautiful sunset, golden clouds reflecting on the ocean. Or waterfall photographed with a wide angle lens through the mist. Or a climber contemplating the view from mountaintop. Or crystal clear waters washing onto a white sandy beach, complete with a near-cloudless blue sky and leaning palm trees.

In bold, or thin, or delightful cursive writing is a famous motivational quote.

 And right now there are a few hundred, if not thousands of these every two or three posts apart on virtually all of your social media feeds!
Let’s face it, we all feel warm and fuzzy and uplifted when we read these.

Or perhaps not?

Motivational quotes are useful. But like most things, they become extremely harmful when consumed in excess.

And right now I believe we have a motivational quote obesity crisis.
As people go on with their every-day life struggles seeking to gain some reprieve, brightening an otherwise dull day with a inspiring quote or two, the gap between the message and the real-life circumstances progressively widens. The quote looses its potency, its message becomes diluted, and its payload is delivered to a mind that is not ready to act. Instead of becoming high-performance fuel, it is a sugary candy that does little more than mess with their spiritual insulin: their self-confidence.
As the gap widens, a person’s ability to believe the quote, to feel its true power and meaning, becomes eroded. Instead, self-doubt increases, and a lengthy downward spiral of questioning their own ability to convert such a simple truth into a result in their life. They increasingly begin to ask themselves what may be wrong with them, as any wins and accomplishments if any, have been modest. Victories, accomplishments and success becomes something reserved for others better than them. And so the cycle repeats and they sink a little lower.
So what is missing? What is needed to turn that quote from sugary candy to a green-energy smoothie?
I believe that two things are needed.

The first one is a motive. The second is validation.

Most life and success coaching is based on the assumption that these are already known, but in my experience this is precisely the part that keeps people from beginning, let alone achieving. Finding your motive is not easy. Having it validated by peers who are equally unsuccessful is even more difficult. This is affects not just low achievers or high achievers only, in fact great for high achievers the frustration and pain of un-fulfilling and misplaced success is all too common. In fact with that great success also comes a profound and often inescapable dependence on that very thing that has been a success. A change at that level often demands an extraordinary price.
Knowing your life’s purpose is made extraordinarily difficult in our society as the expectation to follow and comply with a social framework is embedded in our thinking from an early age. While those frameworks themselves do not necessarily restrict us from following our passion, the demands of time and energy that tend to envelop us generally overwhelm us, and result in our passion being put in the too hard basket, and eventually promoted to the impossible basket. The tragic consequence of this is that most people end up dis-associating from their real passions, until it becomes a deep sad ache, a frustrated and sorrowful festering memory of a parallel universe that they believe they were never meant to be in.

Before you can be motivated, you must know you true burning deeper purpose. And you must believe it is an absolutely worthy pursuit.

If you have been able to figure it out on your own, you are in an extremely rare minority.
If this still eludes you, know first of all that you are normal! Next, have the courage to ask for help. Most never will, and that act alone sentences them to a life of disappointment, mostly in themselves. No amount of motivational quotes will ever fix that. The motivational quote becomes the sugary candy that only fattens their self-doubt.
You will need to invest time and effort, and possibly even money to get help in discovering your big motive. You may need to get uncomfortable and surround yourself with people who will validate rather than weaken your true vision. Be mindful here that I am not referring to people who have a vested interest in your success in a venture that is not your “own”, but instead the people who will selflessly instill faith, credibility and confidence in you and your aspirations when they have nothing to gain from your success.
As you real motivation takes form, know that almost certainly you will get it completely wrong, several times. You will have false starts. You will make mistakes and it will take some fine-tuning. And once you get going with it, you will face hurdles. Only this time your mind is ready to act, the mix of ingredients is right, and those motivational quotes will truly be your green-energy smoothie.

This time they will all makes sense, and infuse you with strength, belief and confidence, because you know where you are going, and why.

Mindfulness is hip! How science, social media and the GFC triggered the mindful leadership revolution.

(Reading time 5 minutes)

Mindfulness is hip!

Mindfulness is trending in all channels of social media. In 2014 mindfulness was the new buzzword among celebrities from Katy Perry to Sir Richard Branson, from Will Smith’s kids to media magnate Arianna Huffington. And by all signs that was just the beginning. 2015 is the year that will see mindfulness practice become embedded as a fundamental leadership trait in the boardrooms of the early adopters.

So why has this esoteric practice formerly reserved to monastic lifestyles suddenly entered our collective consciousness and infiltrated the hard and serious world of big business?

Enter science, Social Media and the GFC.

While for centuries meditation was exclusively the domain of spiritual practice, often in faraway temples atop misty mountains, and of purple-crystal-worshipping-new-age-hippies, it was not until the last decade that medical imaging technology, in particular MRI’s, has made it possible to study meditation in a controlled scientific context. While the likes of Jon-Kabat Zinn have been promoting the virtues of mindfulness to professionals before then, there was no fully validated evidence that any of this was more than anecdotal. But a series of recent published and ongoing studies conducted in the likes of Harvard University Medical School have not only validated and reinforced the anecdotes of the mystics, but revealed a raft of other remarkable and highly beneficial phenomena.

So far the science has revealed this:

  • Meditation practice turns down the “inner voice” in our mind (a function of our language centre) and reduces self talk, which is overwhelmingly imaginary stuff constructed out of fragments of past experience. Why is this good? Because while pre-emptying dangerous situations is an evolutionary important trait, it has “overstepped” its bounds in our technologically and socially advanced world. By reducing this mental chatter we become more aware of the true context of an experience. Information is not pre-filtered by our emotions, and as a result of this clarity we are able to make better decisions.
  • Meditation increases creativity. This means that as we are able to see problems with more clarity, we are also able to imagine a wider range of possible solutions.
  • Meditation reduces stress. This happens both directly as a result of chemical activity in the brain, but also on a meta level: as we are better able to comprehend, evaluate and engage with a situation, we are also less emotional and more in control, which in turn increases our confidence and unleashes all kind of positive metabolic responses. Which leads to the next point: Health.
  • Meditation makes you healthier. As we become less inclined to emotional responses to stimuli for food, alcohol, drugs and toxic behavioural traits, we are less likely to succumb to those. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Meditation releases happy hormones in your body, which in turn invigorate your immune system making you less succeptible to illness, and more likely to recover quickly. Never mind the fact that feeling good will also benefit how you engage with others. And that brings us to the next benefit: Empathy.
  • Meditation increases your empathy and compassion. While this may sounds like a Buddhist quote, it is actually happens at a chemical neurological level. We become more connected to our sense of life and that of other beings. In simple terms it means you will have much better relationships with people because you will behave kindly towards them. You become more trustworthy and you will be more trustworthy.

While all this may once have sounded too good to be true, it is now understood on a neuro-scientific level to be true. And I have left our a lot, this iss really just the tip of the iceberg. Meditation re-wires and physically reshapes our brain for mindfulness, and physically alters not only how we perceive the world, but how we engage with it. It also alters (and improves) how our bodies function.

So far so good. So how does Social Media fit into the story?

Social media plays two key roles in the mindfulness revolution: The more obvious one is the dispersion of information. As twitter and other platforms shifted from text to images, tiles with happy quotes proliferated and got shared. The second one is curated feeds. Stuff that got shared got seen, the rest of the stuff disappeared from our collective consciousness. Two things got shared frequently: the happy quote and the videos of dramatic incidents (from rescues to beheadings, from extraordinary feats to epic fails). People’s lunch postings faded from view, making many social media channels less personal and more about entretainment. While many demographics have swarmed to new apps that look to overcome that, the general sense of loneliness, meaninglessness and alienation has hit hard across right the connected generations.

Add to this the GFC.

While the glitter of the virtual world of imaginary stardom faded (and still continues to fade) slowly, the discontent, distrust in “the system”, fear and sense of personal failure brought about by the global financial crisis that began in late 2008 was somewhat more sudden, less visible and far more personal. It affected people from all social strata, and continues to do so as its effects are slowly displaced by tectonic shifts in industry and the exponential increase in labour automation.

These three factors were catalysts that made it acceptable for the profound social discontent to become a public conversation.

The secret reality of the 90-plus hour work week and the stratospheric career ladders as being inwardly un-fulfilling is no longer a secret.

The overarching question has now shifted from “How can I get to the top of the career ladder” to “How can I get to the top of my personal fulfillment ladder?” (or in most cases – “Which one is my ladder?”)

Social media has aided the spread of this idea, combined with some timely “seeds” like books such as Tim Ferriss’ disruptively titled “4-hour Work Week”, more recently Arianna Huffington’s “Thrive” written following her sudden and personal crash from corporate life burnout, or one of the most read blogs in the world, Leo Babuta’s “Zen habits”. A plethora of “off-line” and “minimalist living” movements have spawned further legitimising the mindful lifestyle as the logical progression from a high consumption, high demand and high delusion life.

Most principles around mindfulness and meditation are simple. The “practice” in the form of meditation does the “hard rewiring” and makes the process of implementing constructive habits much easier, there is still an perception amongst business leaders and self-declared high performers that sitting still is bad for business, science has now joined the chorus and thoroughly validated the once esoteric claims of meditation and mindful living. Like all things, mindfulness and meditation takes practice and a willingness to learn a few new things.

The innovators have been mindful for a long time. Now the early adopters are jumping on board. There is no question that business leadership is facing a structural transformation. Coupled with the deep shifts underway in global work-culture, automation and mechanisation of tasks, leadership is becoming centered on meaning, on significance, on experience and on adherence to its altruistic foundational values. Mindful Leadership is not a fad, it is the next step in the evolution of leadership. Soon mindless leaders will become irrelevant, and eventually become extinct together with the business they once lead.

Mindfulness has been around for centuries, with the help of science and inevitable social tipping points is now becoming mainstream.

Mindfulness is hip.  But don’t mistake it for a fad.

The future of leadership is mindful, founded on bettering the human condition, including that of the leaders themselves.

The freak that is stopping you from having a great life!

Few people would ever reject the idea that that there is something odd, unconventional or unique about them. It is the pedestal upon which a sense of self-identity is built, and we go to great lengths to defend it, we believe in it, and we know it as our own, in all its weirdness and flaws.

But what if we have made our own pedestal too low?

Few people would ever reject the idea that that there is something odd, unconventional or unique about them. It is the pedestal upon which a sense of self-identity is built, and we go to great lengths to defend it, we believe in it, and we know it as our own, in all its weirdness and flaws.

But what if we have made our own pedestal too low?

What if we have made it just high enough so that we can indulge ourselves in our uniqueness, but low enough to prevent exposure to judgement?.

As teenagers go through their process of self discovery, for a brief time they are not afraid of making those pedestals as high as they can, but the onslaught of public -and often parental- opinion, the requirements to conform to ideals in order to allow career opportunities to flourish, media imagery and peer pressures generally mean that in most cases the level is rapidly reduced to a safe, comfortable height. It is lowered to the level at which you feel you are able to avoid any dangerous exposure, criticism and judgement.

But this comes with a huge price: we launch into life with every intention to remain ordinary.

Quite literally, we disappear into the vast ocean of average, where there is little judgement, criticism and opinion.

We hear story after story of regret from those around us who have abandoned their vision to instead live normal lives. We never hear regrets from those who dared to stand out.

Perhaps the music and entertainment industry is one place where the evidence of this is most visible, but it spans into every human endeavour.
Just imagine for a moment that in 1973 Paul, Gene, Ace and Peter stepped onto the stage without the makeup and outrageous costumes, the pyrotechnics. KISS found out very quickly in the late 90’s that the thing that made them special were their make-up, the outrageous costumes and the huge shows, not just the music. Not only do they love doing their thing 40 years on, today they are worth nearly half a billion dollars US.

Imagine Dr Spock without his unusual haircut, ears and dry logic. Imagine if Master Yoda spoke and looked like you or I, we would not buy into his mysticism, jedi wisdom and magnitude.

Imagine Ghandi without his ascetic lifestle and traditional garb. Imagine Jacques Custeau without his red beret, Sir David Attenborough without the raspy whispering narration, or Russell Brand without his irreverence.

But don’t mistake it for an appearance thing.

Its a being thing.

It’s how you are, how you do what you do.

You have a something inside you that you think of as freakish, odd, perhaps a little undesirable, and you are also completely attached to. Something that even though you have relinquished it publicly, it still defines your identity in some secret way. It is something that you will never relinquish within.

I encourage you to reclaim that inner outcast, to re-acquaint yourself with its weirdness, and to allow it once again to define you. Take that idea, possibly weakened by its time in exile, bathe it, feed it, and give it new clothes.

Allow it to speak, listen carefully to it, and side with it. Side with it in defiance of opinions, of criticism, of attacks no matter how vicious. Defend it with great self belief, not with malice or arrogance, and it will take you towards authenticity, towards integrity, towards living your life’s true purpose. Side with it as your pedestal rises above the average, and wear it with pride and dignity, it is your armour against mediocrity, it is your true self, it is you being someone’s hero.

Go on. You know you want to…!

Can you get as good as you give?

Giving.
Compassion.
Generosity.

The list of words that describe this simple gesture pervades all kinds of teachings, from spiritual and religious to conscientious entrepreneurship to success stories and life habits of extraordinary people.

For most people this concept, even if not necessarily executed in daily life to its full potential, at the very least rings true, and is something that is unanimously understood to be central to good character.

But giving has another side, and it is one that most people are profoundly uncomfortable about – if not completely averse to.

That other side is getting. Receiving.

Sure, when we are grateful when we receive gifts and more formal offerings, but how comfortable are you really with receiving?

The problem is deeply ingrained in most cultures, where the receiver is often plunged into a deep sense of unworthiness, entitlement, guilt, even haunted by resentment and jelaousy from others. We are trained from an early age to feel bad about receiving. It is the barter of good behaviour, it is the currency of appreciation, or more sinisterly, the emotional burden of a debt that expects to be repaid.

But for humanity to function on a simple basis around the principles of giving, compassion and generosity, for each gesture carried out someone necessarily must be a willing and grateful recipient. And sometime we must be that recipient. In fact the more frequently we show generosity and compassion to others, the more we must be prepared to receive it in return.

By refusing someone’s offering, we also do these three things:

  •  We short-cut the entire process of generosity – we effectively neutralise the other persons right and joy of such kind gesture. If we are not receiving, they are unable to give.
  •  We show disrespect towards the giver: we inadvertedly tell them what a poor judge of our character they are, what a looser they are for considering us.
  • We declare ourselves unworthy recipients, and are unable to immerse ourselves fully in the joy of the offering. We can not possibly feel gratitude or respect towards the giver. We make it clear to all that we think as little of ourselves, as we do of the giver.

It also applies to how we conduct ourselves in business, this simple reluctance to be open to receiving has a terrible price: it naturally causes us to undervalue ourselves and what we offer.

Refusing an gift is not a gesture of humility, it is a sign of arrogance, ungratefulness, disrespect and insecurity. To make our world better we must teach oursleves and our kids to be great receivers as well as great givers. We need to teach, and practice receiving with deep gratitude, understanding fully the depth and significance of the offering, emapthising with the giver, and allowing ourselves to feel the true value of what has been offered. We need to teach that with that gratitude and willingness to accept, we are affirming the giver’s right to generosity and compassion.

Give, and get. Yin and Yang. When we are able to receive with reverence, gratitude and respect, we give something profoundly meaningful back to the giver, and allow the entire transaction to become whole. Without it, generosity too is stopped.

Be whole, be wholesome. Get as good as you give.

Why your experience does not matter (and how to make it matter!)

I get many opportunities to meet experts.

Some are openly proclaimed experts, people who are respected by their peers, who have a long trail of recognitions and publicly recognised accomplishments.

Others are people whom I consider to be experts, people who inspire me with their contagiously great attitude and profound ability to contribute wisdom around a specific subject.

Regardless of the credentials, there is a perhaps more profound difference, one that does not necessarily correlate to the level of public recognition or generic idea of success. It is anchored around our attitude towards experience.

The words expert and experience are both founded on the same latin root which can be translated as “derived from testing/observation”.

The key word is not “testing/observation”, the most important word here is “derived”.

It implies that we have acquired something valuable through the process.

A person who has lived through a specific event has experienced it. However that is no assurance that they have learned from it, and that the lesson that they have gained from it have augmented them. In fact for most people the very opposite is true. We all accumulate experiences throughout our life, that is something we have in common with every single other person.

Experience on its own is actually a rather poor representation of a person’s depth of character.

For example, you woke up this morning. You also did that yesterday, and the day before. Perhaps you had to hit the snooze button a few times before extracting yourself from the comfort of your bed. Or perhaps you leap out of bead every day ready to get underway with your day’s activities. Either way you could consider yourself an expert in the art of getting up. Sure, this may look like completely ludicrous example, but here is the catch: Have you ever thought “I need to stop the snooze thing because it makes me late for work”, and not altered your behaviour as a result of this simple insight?

It may not be the snooze button for you, yet I bet some things are immediately coming to mind.

This experience loop goes far beyond getting up: it is how most people live.

Every moment of our lives we experience something, and for the great majority of time it is something that you have experienced before.

The entire work and career industry lives and dies by this idea of expertise. It is not to say that having done something before is not valuable, but beware of the claim that having done something 300 times makes you a master. It does not!.

The question is not how many times we have done something, but how much of what we learned the previous time were we able to apply the next time.

We must set ourselves a new yardstick for expertise. One that gauges not what we have lived through (sometimes repeatedly), but how much of what we have experienced have we used to transform ourselves into a better person.

When someone offers you advice on the basis of their expertise, ask what they have learned from it and how have they used it.

Ask yourself.

Put aside a few minutes to reflect on each day, perhaps even journal it. Every moment of our lives we experience an unfathomable wealth of wisdom.

We need only be mindful, aware, open and grateful for it. Then our experiences will truly become expertise.

The fights we do not have to fight.

Gratitude.

Its a big word, and like many big words, it has become diluted through mis-use by all kinds of motivational and spiritual experts. so perhaps it is appropriate to attempt to reclaim it’s true potency.

It is often said that the character of a person is shaped defined by the challenges he or she has faced. But that is only half the story. The other half is the things that they do not have to face.

I am reminded constantly of this, and you can too. It is simple, just pay attention to those around you.

For example the semi-trailer rig that stood near stood near a local shop this morning: it had a spoiler engraved with white calligraphy words “RIP ZAC” followed by dates. Those dates told me that Zac was 16 when he died. Perhaps this was his father’s truck.
Or a conversation I had yesterday afternoon with a good friend who some years ago was hit by a car and knocked off his bicycle, sustaining nearly fatal physical and some brain injuries. When we talk, I can sense that his world has different limits to mine, and the challenges that I take for granted are sometimes mountains for him.
Or closer to home, our hot-water unit broke, and for a few days we were inconvenienced with hot water rations until it was replaced. This may sound trivial, but we must not take for granted the privileged circumstances that we live in. I mean we as inclusive of you, reading this, and I, writing this.
Every day we wake up in a world where we are faced with challenges. But we also awake into a world where we are spared some pretty severe challenges. Here are some of them:
  • We do not walk two or more hours to collect a drum of water and then walk for two more hours to cook, or perhaps wash ourselves or our baby.
  • We do not wash our only items of clothing by hand every few days.
  • We do not go hungry simply because we have no access to enough food.
  • We do not require (at least not yet) someone to assist us to move around, or perhaps are dependent on a machine in order to stay alive.
  • We do not need to constantly flee from frequent violent attacks, and have to hide to stay safe, or keep ourselves and our families alive.
  • We may not need to mind what is in our food, least we have an allergic reaction that could kill us.
The reason I have made this list, is because I know people whom I respect and admire who have fought or are fighting some of these battles. But the point I wish to make is simple: the list of things that you do not have to deal with is far longer than the troubles that you do have to deal with. And with absolute certainty someone you know is dealing with something that if it were on your list of challenges would crush you.
What does this have to do with gratitude? It’s this: as we wake each day we face challenges that consume us, they are the essence of our day. We curse, we stress, we perhaps let them colour our mood, tarnish how we deal with ourselves, and how we deal with others. How often do we stop to consider what it is that we are being spared from?
Perhaps this is the question we should begin each day with. It is enough to change your perspective, enough to create a genuine deep sense of gratitude for the challenges that face you. It is this deep gratitude that makes it possible for us to take those challenges on with eagerness instead of reluctance, with energy instead of fatigue, with joy instead of resentment, and with courageous authority instead of fear.
Knowing this, and acting on this power is the true essence of gratitude. It is far to rare, but fortunately it is also highly contagious.

I’d like to invite you to become a carrier of true gratitude. What a different day you would have, and what a different day you would be creating for all those fortunate enough to come in contact with you.

10 Ways to Win Back Your Mind.

This is the conclusion to this 4-part series on mindfulness. If you have missed any of the preceding posts, you can read them by clicking on the links at the end of this post.

So, now that you know that mindfulness is a powerfully good thing to practice, let’s get to it.

I have compiled a list of ten simple things that you can do starting at this very moment to begin developing a habit of mindfulness. Pick just one or two and DO IT at least once every day!

Like most things, these are simple enough, but few people will actually do them consistently.

I challenge you to be one of those few, and perhaps to share with me in a month or to me in a month or two if you have experienced any significant improvements in your life.

Before we dive right into mindfulness, I’d like to talk briefly about distractions. Many productivity gurus talk about removing distractions. Sure, it is helpful, but life is full of distractions that are outside of our control, so the only thing we can do about those is to learn to deliberately filter them out. If you can only focus when you are in a perfectly ordered and controlled environment, you have not mastered mindfulness, you have simply created a situation where distractions no longer exist, an environment in which mindlessness becomes difficult. But unfortunately the world in which we live is no such place. So we need to learn to master distractions, not avoid them. The first four items are all about mastering distractions and help you own your space. The rest actively engage a state of mindfulness.

1. Set task timers.

That sounds more like a productivity hack, but what I mean by that is that you set a three, five, or maximum fifteen minute timer in order to do an activity, and during that time your goal is to not allow any other activity to interfere. You are just doing that one thing, nothing else. For a brief period of time (keep it short – match it to the task if possible) give yourself permission to ignore everything else – the phone, email, anything that is not part of your immediate activity. Don’t make it an hour long, just enough to do a meaningful chunk of what needs to be done. If you finish sooner, great. If you go over time, so what, go until you reach the natural stop. The key here is brevity, and trying throughout that time to maintain deliberate awareness about what you are doing, and stop yourself from drifting into autopilot (aka mindlessness!)

2. Turn off all social meadia, TV and news.

Harsh? These rarely contribute something useful to our lives, and they are the ultimate weapon of mindlessness. Set times of the day that are specifically devoted to attending to those if you can’t live without them. Think about this: advertising works. Advertisers know exactly why it works: the moment that the subject matter of your thoughts is determined by someone else, you have “lost” your mind – quite literally –  they own your decision-making process because your story-telling part of the brain has been handed a script. Perhaps somewhat Orwellian, but a fact worth trillions of dollars in sales. Claim some ownership back, give yourself a little space to have your own real experience.

3. Do ONE thing at a time until done.

Nothing fosters mindlessness more than multi-tasking. If you need to interrupt, then break one activity to do another and then come back to it. Science has consistently demonstrated that doing two or more things at once is inefficient and increases the rate of errors exponentially. Finish the coffee or the sandwich, taste it, experience it. Then you can return to checking your email. whatever it is, see, feel, touch, smell, taste, engage, allow yourself to be involved.

4. Turn off your phone when attending meetings.

The fact that our phones have become our forever-ready personal assistant does no mean that we need to have them participate in every one of your human interactions. Besides being a gesture of disrespect by showing that we downgrading the importance of the person or group we are engaging with, it is also very hard to stay attentive when your phone blinks, twinkles, buzzes and fuzzes or suddenly starts singing “I was made for lovin’ you baby…” in the middle of a conversation. Give the people you are with your full undivided attention. Let your heart, your ears and your eyes be absorbed by nothing else than them and their story. Try to feel what they feel. Mindfulness causes your brain to become more empathic. Use this to your advantage, you will become more respected for it.

5. Focus on the food when eating.

We have forgotten to eat properly. This is one of those fundamental biological things that keep us alive, yet we treat it as a mechanical and indulgent anchor for other activities. When you eat, smell the aromas, feel the textures on your tongue, look at the colours on your plate, think about the ingredients, how they nourish. We forget that food is our number one medicine. Chose your foods wisely, and enjoy them, regardless of how humble and simple they are. No two foods taste and smell the same. No two foods nourish us in the same way. And besides water, virtually every mouthful that you eat whether plant or animal comes from something that was once alive. Be grateful, recognise its sacredness, and eat it with the respect it deserves.

6. Break your routine.

This is a both easy and fun way of creating a mindfulness-inducing situation. Take the opportunity to experience the difference with all your senses. Here are some ideas: take a different route to work, or perhaps public transport. Try something adventurous in your lunch-box. Buy at a different store. Set your alarm clock for a different time and get up earlier. Try a different breakfast. Dare to have a cold shower. Go for a walk in the rain. Since you have turned off  off facebook and TV, you will suddenly find time to read a book. Or chat with your family. Take your dog for a walk, and walk in the opposite direction.

7. Journal – and write by hand!.

Handwriting is a mindful activity in its own right – and one that engages our brain far more intensely than typing the same words on a keyboard – so when it comes to mindfulness, typing it does not qualify. Besides the act of writing by hand, reflecting on your day’s experiences is intensely satisfying. Once you begin, it is likely that a page or more will flow effortlessly. Other days just readying past days’ entires can be equally fulfilling. I am very passionate about my papers, pencils and fountain pen inks, but whatever you choose to use, let it be personal and special, and give yourself time and a space to make this special. Just doing this regularly will gradually raise your awareness and presence in all your life experiences.

8. Make TEA, and drink it.

Japanese have refined the act of preparing and sharing tea into one of the most iconic acts of mindfulness in its tea ceremonies. But all rituals aside, there is a simple chemical reason for this: Tea (the kind derived from the Camellia Sinensis, not herbal teas and infusions like rosehip, camomile and rooibos) contains a powerful combination of caffeine, flavonoids and antioxidants. Think this: the best medicinal properties of coffee, chocolate and red wine in that cup. Clear alertness, calm contentedness and healthy antioxidants all at once!. But rather than just jingling a bag in a cup of hot water and then tossing it in the bin, then letting your cuppa slowly go cold while you are back at your desk, take the time out to brew it, pause all things and drink it with all your senses as you would invest your senses into a glass of Penfolds Grange or your favourite single malt.

9. Listen to music  – while doing nothing else.

Really listen, not just have muzak/radio/spotify playing in the background. You don’t have to be a music expert, simply listen, observe how it makes you feel. I recommend instrumental, classical or good meditation music, mainly because music with lyrics can be a distraction. Not only does the act of listening help in clearing the mind of distracting thoughts, listening to music also wires up new connections between your left and right brain. You get smarter while relaxing!

10. Meditate.

This merits a post in its own right. But here is the really simple version: sit quietly, get comfortable. Observe your breath – don’t force it, simply observe. Feel the air entering your lungs, then pausing, then the exhaling. By the time you do this for a few breaths you will have an avalanche of thoughts tumbling through your head. That is normal. The work is in not engaging those thoughts, but keeping your attention on your breathing. As soon as your mind begins to wander, pay attention to your breath again. Do this for five to ten minutes, preferably every day, and ideally not when you are tired or about to go to bed. Meditation should not send you to sleep, it invigorates the mind. In the beginning this will be hard, don’t be discouraged by the seeming difficulty of ignoring your inner voice, but with a little practice and after two or three weeks you will begin to maintain your attention on your breath for longer, and will also be able to re-focus a lot quicker as soon as the distracting thoughts make themselves known.
If you have made it to number 10, congratulations, you may even have experienced mindfulness while reading!

If you wish to know more or have a question about mindfulness practice and meditation please post it in the comments sections and I will do my best to help out.

I hope you have enjoyed reading these posts. Here are the links to the first three parts in case you missed them. Share them, and all the best as you go about reclaiming your mind!

The awesome things that mindfulness does to your brain!

“You can’t run that fast.

He/She is not going to be interested in you.

You look frumpy.

People are not going to like your haircut.

Your voice sounds funny.

OMG is that a wrinkle???

They will never accept those terms.

Blah blah blah.”

 

“Oh, hello, this is your inner voice speaking.

I am going to make sure you second guess yourself.

I will remind you of the impending dangers, and cause you anxiety about an upcoming event or meeting.

I am your personal reminder to worry, stress. assume.

I am here to tell you a story, to pre-emptively inform you of your story.”

Mindfulness.

Your inner voice is silent. Or at least out of hearing range. There is no pre-written plot here. You chose.
Ok, so what was that all about?
Last week I promised to reveal what happens in your brain when you are “mindful”. What you have just read is an example of what actually happens. Many studies have been done to find out what goes on in your brain during and after meditation. Although meditation is not the same as mindfulness, it is one of the most common – and easiest – ways to practice mindfulness, and develop it. From that practice we can then apply it anytime, anywhere. Next week I will go into more detail about how you can easily begin to develop mindfulness as a habit, but for now, lets get back to the brain.

Two important things happen in your brain during and after meditation or mindfulness practice:

First, the inner voice is muted.

Your inner voice, or story-teller uses the information it receives from your reticular activating system (see my post on this here) to develop stories that are strictly speaking fantasy. These stories are generated by our language centre based on past experiences, assumptions, live information that comes in through our senses, and “stuff” that is floating around in our subconscious.
Mindfulness separates and severs this link.
At first that may sound like a bad thing, but it is not. This severing allows the more evolved parts of our mind to engage with the information that comes in through our senses, and effectively bypasses our more primitive flight-or-fight type brain functions and stop the behavior triggers. So what that really means is that instead of second guessing, doubting or deluding ourselves by way of this creative story-telling , our awareness is actually processing the information that comes in “clean”, in other words, without emotional bias, not altered by our past experiences. It does not mean we don’t “feel” emotion, it simply means the made-up story does not undermine our perception with assumptions. Our inner voice is powerful, and our ability to silence it and bypass it means we will worry less, stress less, abstain from passing judgment preemptively, draw foregone conclusions and so on. It means that we are able to work with untampered information and as a result we will make better decisions. Its that simple, and it has a very direct effect on our body and our health.

The second thing that happens is we become more empathic.

This is not some warm-and-fuzzy theoretical thing, the areas of our brain responsible for empathy and compassion are stimulated and become more active. We are able to connect with our surroundings better (not just people) and it increases our awareness as a part of a greater whole. The benefit of this needs no explanation. Because of this, meditation is being used as a highly effective way of helping people recover from depression – meditation instead of medication!
Although significant and lasting physiological changes to the brain take some time to reach, (the first real changes begin to occur after about two months of regular daily meditation), you can quite literally change the experience of your day on the spot by either meditation or mindfulness exercises. And that does not require preparation.

So in summary, your brain will reconfigure itself to reduce stress and increase health, and you will become a nicer, kinder more authentic person.

I deliberately left the heavy science stuff out, but I will post links next week to some relevant scientific publications and media if you wish to immerse yourself the clinical and detailed explanation (no pseudoscience!). Next week I will show you simple ways to tap into this wonderful state of being, and give you a starting point towards a healthier, happier, mindful life.
Enjoy, share, comment…

Winning the Battle for Your Mind – part 2

Sometimes it is simpler to begin communicating a concept by what it is not in order to get to what it is. Mindfulness is one of those concepts.
Mindfulness is a tremendously evocative word, often associated with mystical experiences, ascetic and monastic lifestyles, intense discipline, ritual and seclusion. While all these may be true to some extent, it is not at the exclusion of a great number of other things. Above all however, none of those are relevant to you, because mindfulness is accessible to anyone in any circumstance, right now.

So what is mindfulness NOT?

Mindfulness is not a religion.
Mindfulness is not the same as meditation.
Mindfulness is not related to time.
Mindfulness does not require you to be removed from your surroundings, whatever they are.
Mindfulness is not something that requires you to be in solitude and isolation.
Mindfulness does not require you to stop doing anything, to be passive, to sit in quiet introspective contemplation.
Mindfulness does not require you to renounce your life, or you lifestyle, or your career, or your family, or your hobbies.
Mindfulness does not require you to renounce your belongings, wealth or titles.
Mindfulness is not an activity, its not something you “do”.

So what IS mindfulness then?

Pause.

I mean right now, pause. Let your eyes rest on this sentence for a moment. Stop all other activities, read each word, allow its meaning to really engage you. Be aware of how your body feels as you read. What emotions does it stimulate? Do you like or dislike it?. Pause briefly, just long enough for that idea to fully engage. Feel that engagement. That is all. That is enough. That is mindfulness. It is simply doing what it is you are doing right now, with your full attention. Take this post for example. You could be reading this over breakfast, while trying to type an e-mail, while getting the kids ready for school, while reviewing your schedule for the day. Or you could commit yourself to the few minutes required to reading it mindfully.

Every moment of our day is filled with opportunities to be mindful.

When we listen to our kids share their experiences of their day, are we listening to them and hearing the emotions, the messages? Or are we preoccupied with the sms that just arrived on our phone? Or the fact that they have not put their school-bag in the right place?
When we eat, are we savouring the flavours of what we are eating, smelling the aromas, sensing the textures? Are we conscious of its nutritional and healing power? Or do we simply scoff it down while skimming over the facebook feed instead, almost instantaneously forgetting what it was and what it tasted like? Or perhaps, craving another mouthful to satisfy a craving?
When we work, are we mechanically moving through the actions in a state of trance with a vague awareness that soon we will have completed that task and perhaps obsessing about that next thing, or the 437 unread emails in your inbox?
When we travel, do we allow ourselves to take in the surroundings, feel the temperature, the breeze, the light or shade, the sound of the wind or perhaps the rain and how it feels on our skin, the space we are in and the places we are moving through, the passing of time as we travel? Or do we devote our energy to escalating our frustration at the speed of our journey because perhaps we may be running late for an appointment?

We are always doing something.

We can do it mindlessly, mechanically, automatically, be disengaged. Life becomes unfullfilling, and we spend our time hoping or expecting that a great experience is something that will come up sometime soon, while we miss the one we are currently in.
We can do it mindfully. That simply means we are allowing our five physical senses to participate, as well as our mind and heart – in other words, all parts of our self are active. I like to describe it as occupying your body fully, right down to your fingertips and your toes, rather than just having your sense of awarenes clustered around the most sensory diverse part of our body – our head, in particular the space between our nose, eyes and ears. Again pause for a moment and allow yourself to be aware of all physical parts that comprise you.
 Like all things, it takes practice, but it is not difficult.
If you are wondering how to practice mindfulness, in two weeks I will share simple ways you can practice anywhere and get good at this. Next week I will explain what goes on in our minds when we are mindful, and why that matters.
I will close by highlighting some of the fad and trendy things that often get wrongly associated with mindfulness. Beware of these if they are promoted as a way of becoming more mindful (They may serve other purposes, but these are not relevant in helping you become more mindful):
  • Exotic exercise regimes.
  • Herbal and homeopathic remedies, acupuncture, infusions etc.
  • Talismans, amulets, charms, crystals and accessories in general.
  • Esoteric “cleansings”, treatments, chakral tunings and similar “new-age” activities, vibration and frequency “treatments”.
  • Religious rituals and practices.
  • Psychic readings, tarot and divination.
  • One-minute meditations (this is like expecting to become super-fit by doing one push-up each day).
  • Vegetarian, paleo, or any other diet: What you eat does not make you more or less mindful. How you experience what you eat is what matters.
  • Baths, spas, special locations and places of esoteric or mystical significance.
Mindfulness is a vast subject, but its practice is so simple and its effect powerful. I believe it should be taught to kids in schools. It would change the world. And I hope that you can make it part of your life, and experience a beautiful change your world.

Who is Winning the Battle for Your Mind?

Mindfulness.

Like many others before it, it has become the new buzzword in success circles.
It’s use has progressively surged in the last 5 years, so much in fact that in the last six years it’s Google interest rating has constantly risen from 40 (out of 100) to 92!.
In 2013 it exploded onto the mass media with posts and articles in all major news channels, and celebrities and CEO’s all loudly proclaiming their newly dicovered joy of mindfulness.

Given that the practice of mindfulness has been around for thousands of years (yes that’s not a mistake!), why is it suddenly becoming fashionable? And why should you care?

The first question is answered by two fairly recent changes in our global culture.

One, that more than ever we are seduced into mindlessness, which that is increasingly wreaking havoc with our lives. People are are hurting as a result, and are beginning to notice.
And two, that we have had a greater exposure to this concept through the very same channels that have fostered that mindlessness.
I am talking about our obsession with being “connected” via the web and social media, and our capacity to access information at a whim. We are inadvertently shifting our focus away from what is actually happening around us, while preoccupying ourselves with highly edited and pre-selected information that in reality is of no consequence to our life. We are more disconnected than ever before, and our experience of life is becoming drastically empoverished as a result.

And now, why should You care?

This will take more time to answer, and over the next three weeks I will address each of the following topics in detail, each building on the one before. These are:
  • What mindfulness IS, and what it IS NOT: how to spot a fake.
  • What actually happens in the mindful brain – and why it matters more than you think!
  • How to win the battle for mindfulness: simple practices that will make your every day more awesome.
My goal with these is not to transform you into a remote cave-dwelling enlightend nun or monk in perpetual meditation, but to help you experience a refreshed and deeply satisfying engagement in your life that you have most likely not felt for a long time, or in most cases never before.
Enjoy, and please share if you found this valuable. I look forward to some great conversations in four weeks…
Have a wonderful day.