Archive for November 2009

How to Stay Grounded During the Holidays

November 30, 2009

The holiday season is now in full swing. If you’re anything like me you probably have mixed feelings about the holidays. I love the excitement, parties, decorations, rituals, music, gifts, connections, and more. However, even these fun things can wear on me. And, the stress, drama, consumption, obligation, expense, and more that often come along with this time of year are not on my list of “favorite things.”

In addition, I often feel like I’m not doing enough, not on top of my “list,” and I sometimes worry that I won’t get everything done in time to make the people in my life happy the way I want to. Can you relate?

This year, especially with all that’s going on around us in the economy and the world, what if we each made a commitment to appreciate the holiday season and enjoy the whole experience – regardless of our circumstances or any external pressure we may feel? Appreciating the holiday season, as with anything in life, will make it much more enjoyable and much less stressful.

Instead of rushing around in a high state of anxiety and worry about crossing every item off of our never-ending to-do list, we could choose another way – one which will make this holiday season enjoyable, fun, and peaceful for us and those around us.

Here are a few things we can remember this holiday season to make things more fulfilling and less overwhelming:

1) Take Responsibility for Your Experience. It’s important to remember that the stress we experience during the holiday season does not come from the holidays themselves, but from us. We’re always the creators of our own experience and the more we can remember this and live our lives from this perspective, the more empowered we are. When we stop thinking, speaking, and acting as if we’re mere victims of holiday madness (or anything else in our lives for that matter), we can dramatically enhance our enjoyment and lower our stress.

2) Remember That You Are at Choice. We always have a choice about how we engage with anything. This holiday season we can choose to be annoyed by family members, obligations, forced work gatherings, crowds, prices, or anything else. Or, we can choose to enjoy the magic and fun of this time of year. We may not always get to choose the people and circumstances around us, but we always have a choice about how we relate to them. Our experience of the holidays (and of life) is up to us, as it always is.

3) Focus on What You Appreciate About the Holidays. Consciously choose to focus on the things that you appreciate about the holiday season the most. Tell the truth about this to yourself and to those around you. If at all possible, don’t participate in work or family gatherings out of obligation. But, regardless of where you are, what you do, or whom you are with – make a commitment to appreciate what’s happening, the people around you, and the many blessings of this season and in your life right now.

Even and especially when things are challenging, we always have so much to be grateful for. At this time of the year, we can take a step back, breathe deeply, and experience the gratitude we have for our lives, the people in it, and for ourselves. If not now, then when?

While there are always things for us to do, gifts to buy, gatherings to attend, and much more going on at this time of year; we can choose to have this holiday season be one that is filled with authentic peace, gratitude, and joy – if we’re willing to look for, find, and focus on what we appreciate.

How do you relate to the holidays? What can you do or shift to have this holiday season be one you truly enjoy and appreciate?  Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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The Power of Gratitude

November 23, 2009

I’ve been speaking and writing about gratitude for almost ten years now – and I’m still amazed at how challenging it can be for me to focus on what I’m grateful for at times (especially when I’m feeling sorry for myself or complaining). I’m also blown away by how powerful and transformative gratitude is when we choose to pay attention to it, experience it, and express it.

I met a man recently who had been in prison for almost thirty years. When he was asked what he appreciated most about being out of jail he said, “Seeing the stars, listening to children laugh, and hearing dogs bark.” Wow – think of all of the simple things we take for granted that we could choose to be grateful for each day.

What are you grateful for? How often do you ask yourself and others this powerful question? Sadly, many of us don’t take the time to ask or answer this question on a regular basis – especially in the midst of these difficult times.

Hopefully, you and your family will spend some time acknowledging what you’re grateful for this week on Thanksgiving and over the next few weeks during the holiday season. However, focusing on gratitude is something that we can do all the time, not just on special occasions or during the holidays.

There are many reasons (i.e. excuses) we have for not focusing on what we’re grateful for:

– We’re too busy and stressed out

– We’re waiting for things to work out “perfectly” (which they almost never do)

– We don’t want to brag (especially these days with lots of people going through tough times)

– We focus on what needs improvement, the many things we still have to get done, and all of the “bad stuff” in our lives, about others, and in the world

– We feel funny about it or get embarrassed expressing our appreciation

While all of these “reasons” make sense and are understandable, they simply and sadly get in our way of tapping into one of the most powerful emotions and states of beings we have access to the power of gratitude.

I saw Jack Canfield, author of The Success Principles and co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, on Larry King Live a few years ago. He said that gratitude is the single most important ingredient to living a successful and fulfilled life.

Gratitude not only makes us feel good, it’s also one of the greatest attractors of abundance, love, peace, success, health, connection, and more. The more we focus on what we already have, the wonderful aspects of our lives, and what we appreciate; the more we end up having to be grateful for.

Stop for a moment right now and think about some of the things that you’re grateful for in your own life. Make a list – either in your head or on paper. We each have so much. When we take the time to acknowledge our many blessings, we utilize the power of gratitude in a way that benefits us and those around us in a profound way.

Create gratitude practices

We can expand our capacity for gratitude in our lives by creating simple and genuine practices. It doesn’t really matter what we do or how we do it, just that we come up with easy and meaningful ways to focus on what we’re grateful for all the time. Below is a short list of some different possible gratitude practices. Pick one, use many, or choose something else:

– Write cards or emails expressing your gratitude for others – and do this for no specific reason or occasion

– Meditate/pray and focus on what you’re grateful for

– Have everyone at the dinner table share something they’re grateful before you eat (or go around in the car or other times you’re together with your family and play this “grateful game”)

– Ask people what they’re grateful for (and/or ask this question as part of your outgoing voice mail message)

– Use a “gratitude journal” and write in it regularly

While so many of us understand and know about the power of gratitude, it’s the practice and expression of it that really has impact. When we take the time to think about, feel, and express our gratitude and appreciation for life, others, and ourselves – we can literally transform our lives and relationships in a beautiful way.

What are you grateful for right now? How can you expand your capacity for gratitude in your life – for Thanksgiving and in general? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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Have a Great Thanksgiving

November 15, 2009

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I’ve been thinking about my own love/hate relationship to this great holiday. It can be a wonderful celebration of gratitude, appreciation, and family connection. Unfortunately, Thanksgiving also tends to be about feeling obligated to spend time with the people we’re “supposed” to, eating too much food and feeling guilty about it, and pretending to be grateful when we’re actually annoyed and stressed out.

What if we could make this Thanksgiving less stressful, more fun, and actually be able to enjoy ourselves, appreciate our family and friends (even the ones who drive us nuts), and focus on what we’re grateful for in a genuine way?

Here are some important tips you can use to make this year’s Thanksgiving one you truly enjoy and remember (in a good way):

1) Be you – Instead of trying to be who you think you “should” be with your family, friends, in-laws, or guests – just relax and be yourself! So often we put undue pressure on ourselves to be a certain way, impress people (even those we know well), or do or say the things we think others want us to. When we let go of trying to please everyone and we’re able to be true to ourselves, we create a genuine sense of freedom and peace. This also means that we think about what would be fun for us and our immediate family to do for Thanksgiving and communicate this to everyone else (in-laws, extended family, etc.), even if it may upset or disappoint some of the people involved.

2) Look for the good – Make a commitment to focus on the things you like and appreciate about your friends and family members, instead of obsessing about the things that annoy or upset you about them. We almost always find what we look for in others and in situations. When we let go of past resentments, we’re able to see people with new eyes. As the saying goes, “holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Whatever we choose to do on Thanksgiving and whomever we choose to spend our holiday with, if we make a conscious decision to enjoy ourselves and to look for the good stuff in an authentic way, we dramatically increase our chances of having a positive and pleasurable experience.

3) Make it fun and easy – Do whatever you can for yourself and those around you to make the planning, food preparation, clean up, and the whole Thanksgiving experience as easy, fun, and stress-free as possible. This means we keep it light, share the responsibilities, ask others for help, and do the things that we enjoy doing – instead of burdening ourselves and feeling like a victim about it all. Too often we spend and waste our time and energy being uptight, doing things we don’t truly want to do, feeling resentful towards others, and creating a lot of unnecessary stress and frustration. Thanksgiving can be lots of fun, if we’re willing to go with the flow and make it easy on ourselves and for others.

4) Express your appreciation for others – One of best things we can do for other people (on Thanksgiving or at any time) is to let them know what we appreciate about them in a genuine way. Acknowledging others is a true “win-win,” as we always get to keep what we give away to others when we appreciate them (i.e. the good feelings are shared by us and those we acknowledge). There are many ways we can appreciate people on Thanksgiving:

  • Write “I’m thankful for you” cards and give them out on Thanksgiving (or mail them beforehand)
  • Pick someone at the dinner table to acknowledge, and then ask them to “pay it forward” and appreciate someone else in the group – go around until everyone has been appreciated
  • Pull people aside on Thanksgiving (or give them a call) and let them know what you appreciate about them specifically and genuinely

5) Count your blessings – Remember that in the midst of all the commotion, stress, and activity of the holiday season, Thanksgiving really is a time for us to reflect on what we’re grateful for – in life, about others, and especially about ourselves. Take some time on Thanksgiving to focus on what you’re grateful for, the many blessings in your life, and the things you appreciate about yourself. A great way for us to remember and to celebrate the many blessings in our life, especially on Thanksgiving, is to take some time during our meal and allow each person at the table to talk about what they’re grateful for in a genuine, specific, and personal way.

This year, especially given all that has been going on in the world, the economy, and our personal lives, let’s challenge ourselves to make Thanksgiving more than just something we get through or even simply a nice holiday; let’s have it be a time of reflection, connection, and a celebration of the great fullness of life.

What are you doing for Thanksgiving this year? Are you willing to do what it takes to make it a fun, meaningful, and positive experience? If so, what will that take? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more down below.

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Worry Never Works

November 11, 2009

I was talking to a friend of mine last week and she said, “If worrying worked, I’d weigh 115 pounds and be a millionaire by now.” I laughed out loud – appreciating her humor and insight.

Worrying, which is something I’ve spent and wasted a lot of time and energy on throughout my life, never seems to work, does it? Worry is actually detrimental to our health, well-being, and our ability to manifest both the things and feelings we truly want in life. When we worry, we’re simply preparing to be upset in the future – assuming that something “bad” will happen.

I’ve recently become even more aware of my own obsession with worry and have realized for me, as is true for many of us, it has simply become a habituated and unconscious behavior. At some level, I find myself justifying my own worrying – thinking that it proves I really care, helps keep me focused, or allows me to stay on top of things in a responsible way. While this all makes sense, on a deeper level I’ve realized that worrying is just my erroneous attempt to control the uncontrollable – life.

Given that we all know, at least to some degree, that worrying doesn’t really work and actually makes things worse – why do we do it?

First of all, we’ve been trained to worry – by our parents, teachers, friends, family members, co-workers, the media, our culture, and more. From the time we were kids and to this day, we’re taught (directly and indirectly) that we’re supposed to worry about lots of things – crime, illness, money, our children, being taken advantage of, pollution, and so much more. While some may argue that there are many things we should be concerned and aware about, “worrying” about any of these things doesn’t make them better or help us address them in a specific way.

Second of all, we’re not usually encouraged or even all that good at acknowledging, addressing, and expressing our real emotions. Worry is often a suppressed form of fear, anger, shame, or other emotions we find difficult to deal with. Because worrying is much more socially acceptable than expressing our authentic fear (or anger, guilt, helplessness, shame, sadness, etc.), we tend to actively worry about things all the time. Our inability to express our real emotions, which is usually the source, is what keeps worry in place.

Finally, we worry that if we stop worrying, something really bad will happen. As ironic and odd as it may seem, we continue to worry somehow thinking we are protecting ourselves. In actuality, when we worry we’re just setting ourselves up for more stress and fear.

Here are a few things you can do to let go of worry and live with a deeper sense of peace and freedom:

– Notice what you worry about – Like most aspects of life and growth, the first step is authentic awareness. When we become conscious about our own habits, thoughts, and patterns as it relates to worrying, we can start to make some healthy choices and changes. As you notice your own tendency to worry, have compassion with yourself and see if you’re willing to let it go.

– Identify and express your real emotions – The root cause of all worry is an emotion or set of emotions. If we can identify how we really feel (scared, angry, sad, ashamed, helpless, etc.) and we’re willing to express our emotions with passion and authenticity, we will move through the emotion and release its energy, thus transforming it and letting go of our worry.

– Take conscious and courageous action – Worry often renders us inactive; stuck in a state of negative thinking or fear based reactions. Taking conscious and courageous actions in the face of our fear and worry can be one of the most empowering things for us to do. This is not about frantic, random, erroneous activity (just for the sake of doing something), this is about us taking deliberate action as a way of moving through our fear in a direct and confident way.

There’s nothing wrong with us for worrying – it is part of being human, especially in our world today. We don’t need to judge ourselves for it, but it is important for us to acknowledge our worry when it shows up, as it can be quite detrimental to our success, well-being, and fulfillment in life. When we remember that worrying never works and we’re willing to dive deeper into what is really going on within us, we can transform our worry and use it as a catalyst for positive change.

What do you worry about most? Are you willing to let go of worry? If so, what will that take? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more below.

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Love Your Body, Love Your Life

November 3, 2009

How do you feel about your body?  More specifically, how do you feel about your physical appearance?

For many of us, especially me, these are not easy or fun questions to answer.  Most people I know have issues, concerns, or complaints about their body and about how they look.  I often struggle, and have for much of my life, with a negative view and feeling about my own body – thinking it isn’t fit enough, obsessing about certain features and aspects of my appearance that I don’t like, and simply feeling flawed in various ways physically.

While this has ebbed and flowed for me throughout my life – based on certain stages, various injuries, and other factors and obsessions – for the most part, feeling bad about my body and appearance is something I’ve dealt with for a long time.  I continue to struggle with body image issues, even though I pretend I’m “too evolved” to be concerned with such “superficial” insecurities and erroneously think that with all of the personal growth work I’ve done I should be past this by now.

There’s nothing wrong with us wanting to look our best, take care of ourselves, be fit, and more. However, when I tell the truth about it, so much of my own desire to be “healthy” and to take care of myself physically, has more to do with me not wanting to not get fat, look bad, or be viewed (by myself and others) as unhealthy, ugly, diminished, or flawed.
We live in a culture that is obsessed with “body beautiful.”  Billions of dollars are spent each year by advertisers telling us we don’t look good enough and need improvement.  In return, we spend billions of our own dollars collectively on various products which are supposed to reverse our aging process, re-grow our hair, smooth out our wrinkles, whiten our teeth, help us lose weight, make us look and feel better, and much more.  I’ve spent my own money on these types of products, usually with a sense of embarrassment for doing so, as well as disappointment with the ultimate result (or lack thereof).

While all of this is not that easy for me to admit, especially given the work that I do, I know that I’m not alone and that this is a big issue for many of us.  This isn’t something that only affects teens, celebrities, or women – it’s something that people of all ages, races, genders, backgrounds, professions, and more struggle with.  Many of us, including us men, often don’t admit our body image issues, fearing the judgment of others as well as our own personal shame.

I’ve recently decided to address my own appearance issues directly.  I feel ready to both deal with this honestly and heal it genuinely, although I find myself feeling scared, embarrassed, and vulnerable about it at the same time.

In this process, I’ve come across a powerful new book called Love Your Body, Love Your Life, by an amazing woman named Sarah Maria.  This book has had a profound impact on my own life already (and I just picked it up two weeks ago).  Sarah Maria, a prominent body image expert and spiritual teacher, teaches us that we are not alone in our “Negative Body Obsession” (NBO).  So many of us, especially in our culture, struggle with varying degrees of NBO which negatively impacts our lives, our work, our relationships, and how we feel about ourselves in a significant way.

In reading this book and practicing some of the techniques, however, I’m really starting to see and understand (in a real, not simply theoretical, way) that how we feel about our bodies has a lot to do with how we feel about ourselves and our lives.  And, at the same time, NBO is not as much about how we feel about our bodies; it’s about how we feel about ourselves.

What if we could truly love, accept, and appreciate our bodies and how we look, right now?  Imagine what life would be like without NBO?  Sarah Maria calls it “befriending” our body.  So often, we treat our body like an “enemy” we’re trying to beat, conquer, or at least keep at bay.

The key to all of this is not about losing more weight, finding the right workout program, getting the best products, or buying better clothes.  It’s really about us making peace with our bodies, and on a deeper level making peace with ourselves.  Loving our body can give us access to loving ourselves more deeply.  And, paradoxically, how we can really begin to love our body and let go of NBO in a genuine way, is to practice loving ourselves authentically.

While there is no “quick fix” to all of this (as is the case for most important things in life), there are some things we can think about and practice as we enhance our capacity to love our bodies, ourselves, and our lives more genuinely.

1) Forgive – It’s essential for us to forgive ourselves and to also forgive our body.  In many cases we have done, said, and thought really negative and damaging things to and about our body over the years.  With a sense of healthy remorse and a deep sense of empathy, we can begin to forgive ourselves for how we have treated our body in the past.  At the same time, we can practice forgiving our body for not being “perfect.”

2) Accept – Making peace with our body and appearance is an important step in our process to love and heal ourselves in a genuine way.  What if we could accept, appreciate, and love our body as it is right now – whether or not we’re at our ideal weight (which most of us aren’t) and even if we don’t love every feature of our body (which most of us don’t).  Acceptance leads to peace, peace leads to healing, and healing leads to love.  Accepting our body and our appearance are fundamental aspects of loving ourselves and our lives.

3) Get Real – How we truly feel about our body and appearance is something that many of us aren’t comfortable thinking about or talking about with others in an honest, real, and vulnerable way.  However, for us to shift how we feel about our body, our appearance, and our life in a genuine way, we have to be willing to address this at a deeper level than food, exercise, cosmetics, etc.  Body image issues cut to the core of how we feel about ourselves as human beings.  Our issues with our body often reflect the deeper issues we have with ourselves.  When we’re willing to get real about this, like with anything else in life, we have an expanded capacity to learn, grow, and heal.  Getting real about how we truly feel about our body also reminds us that we’re not alone in this, that there’s a lot of support around us, and that there’s nothing “wrong” with us for feeling this way – it’s part of being human.

As you think about and talk about your honest relationship to your body and your appearance, be kind to yourself.  Many of us have a lifetime filled with negative thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about ourselves physically.  And, as we’re able to forgive ourselves, accept ourselves, and get real about this, we give ourselves access to transforming our relationship to our body and our life in a profound and positive way!

How do you feel about your body? How can you start to love your body in a more healthy and authentic way? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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