5 Minutes to Inner Peace

Sunrise

Early last month I received an invitation to participate in an unusual study.  Its purpose was to determine the impact on participants’ fears and feelings of well-being of a simple, five-minute daily practice called, “The Three Treasures Practice.”

Because one of the designers of the study was a former mentor and instructor of mine, Ann-Marie McKelvey, whom I like very much and trust deeply, and because I only had to invest five minutes a day for two weeks, I agreed.  Who can’t clear five minutes in their day?

The practice is called “The Three Treasures Practice,” by the way, because it draws on the disciplines of loving-kindness meditation, EMDR (a therapy technique for reducing the effects of trauma), and positive psychology.

My immediate response to the practice, after I received the instructions and did my first session, was, “Wow!  That was easy –  and do I feel great!”   But it was only after the first full week of doing my daily sessions that I began to see the incredible power of the practice.

Before beginning it, we participants took a brief survey that had us identify one of our biggest fears and to rate it, and the negative feelings that went with it, on a scale of 1-10.  I rated my fear at a 5.  But my feelings of grief and sadness over it scored a 9.  To my surprise, by the end of the first week, all my scores dropped dramatically.  I was looking at the situation from an altogether different perspective.

By the end of the second week, my fear and the sadness and grief were hardly at play at all in my life.  I felt free from my concerns and saw clearly that if the situation I had feared did materialize, I would be able to deal with it as if unfolded.  I thought about the old adage that most of what we worry about never happens.  And even when it does, it rarely takes any of the forms we imagined.  All my apprehensions had done nothing but waste time I could have spent enjoying life in the present.

I ‘knew’ all of that about worry before I began the practice.  But I worried anyway, and was deeply attached to my concerns.    What you know in theory is far from the things you learn from experience.  The Practice simply melted my worries away.  Life became lovelier and more vibrant again.  Day by day, I was effortlessly moving into a broader, easier world.

It’s been six weeks now since I started The Three Treasures Practice, and my understanding of its beauty and power has only deepened in that time.

I won’t know for a little while what the final results of the study were.  I’m eager to discover whether the experience of the other participants mirrored mine.  And when I find out, I’ll share the news.

My own experience with the practice has been so profound that I wanted to share it with you.  And I’m delighted to say that the developers of the practice and of the study have given all the participants full permission to share it.

So consider this happy invitation to try it yourself.  Make a commitment to give it a full two-week try.  And you, too, may want to write down what you biggest fear is and rate its intensity from 1-10, where 10 is complete, abject fear, and 0 is no worry.  Then think about the feelings that accompany your fear.  Does it make you feel any of these emotions:  Loss?  Anxiety? Grief? Sadness?  Anger?  Loneliness?  Which ones?  Rate those, too, so you can see the changes in your life at the end of the first week and at the end of the second.

Remember that the practice is designed not only to ease your fears, but to heighten your sense of well-being, too.  So write down the following feelings and rate each of them from 1-10 as you’re experiencing them right now:  Joy, Peace, Openness, Love, Connection, Kindness, Trust, and Happiness.

You don’t have to do that part.  But if you do, it will give you a way to evaluate how the practice is working for you.

Now here are the actual instructions for the practice, as given to those of us who engaged in the study:

Instructions for The Three Treasures Practice

1. Sit comfortably in a quiet environment.  Take deep inhales and deep exhales as you settle.

2. Cross your arms over your chest and place your hands on alternate shoulders like a pharaoh.  [Right hand on left shoulder; left hand on right shoulder.]

3. In a determined way, gently and slowly tap each shoulder one at a time.  Tap so that it is loud enough to hear.  This is called the EMDR Butterfly Hug.

4. As you perform the Butterfly Hug, silently or out loud say to yourself for five minutes:

“May I now be filled with loving kindness.”

“May I now be safe and protected.”

“May I now be resilient in mind and body.”

“May I now live with ease and joy.”

 The Loving-Kindness Meditation is an ancient tradition that goes back thousands of years.  Although the phrases may differ from culture to culture, the basic principle is to alleviate suffering.  Please use the positive LKM phrases above for the next 14 days* along with the Butterfly Hug for five consecutive minutes each day.

If you have trouble remembering the words, please print them on a card to look at during you initial repetitions.

Should you find yourself become drowsy, please stand up to do the practice until the five minutes have transpired.

* The 14 day part was for participants in the study.  Two weeks of daily practice will provide you with enough experience to judge whether the practice is something you want to continue.  If you’re like me, your inner answer will be a definite “Yes!”

That’s it!

Try it, and then come back and leave your comments.  I would love to know what your experience is with this beautiful and, in my view, very powerful exercise.

 

 

Photo credit: photo credit: http://www.rgbstock.com/photo/miL159C/~+Winter+Sunrise+2

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Sharing the Love: The Power of Guerrilla Positivity

Love-BombsMy friend Deb, the self-designated “Amygdala Whisperer,”  believes in guerrilla positivity.  Not content with mere random acts of kindness, she’s on a mission to love-bomb her city with tiny gifts designed to renew her neighbors’ perspective and sense of self-worth.

Actually, she hasn’t limited her gifts to her neighbors; she’s mailed a few of her love-bombs to friends, too.  I know.  I was surprised by the arrival of one in my own mailbox last week.

It couldn’t have arrived on a better day.  A whole boat-load of factors had combined to put me into full-grump mode.  But then the mail brought an unexpected package.  “What’s this?” I wondered as I opened the small cardboard box.

Inside, snuggled in air pillows, I found a small, glossy paper box, obviously hand-made and cut from a magazine cover.   The words “Open Me!” were penned in silver ink on each of its sides.  Who could resist?

Inside, I found a letter, folded into a tiny square, a plastic monkey, a card with the words “It’s not true” printed on it, and a rolled scroll.  What on earth?  I unfolded the letter and it explained what the other gifts were all about.  The “not true” card was to remind me that my negative thoughts had no validity.  The monkey represented my self-critic.   “See how silly it is?” the letter suggested.  And the scroll, which was stamped with tiny footprints, was a tool for me to use to record the baby steps I made toward my goals.

How fun!  The package turned my whole day around, replacing my grumpiness with laughter.  I was touched that my friend chose to send this gift to me.  She had told me earlier that she was putting these little packages, which she calls “love-bombs” in random places around St. Paul, where she lives.  I imagined people finding them on bus seats, on a table in a lunch room, on a shelf in a neighborhood store.   What a powerful tool for brightening someone’s day!

I called Deb to thank her and to talk with her about her project.  “Why Amygdala Whisperer?”  I asked her.  “Where did that come from?”

She explained that the amygdala was the part of the brain responsible for pumping stress chemicals into our system in response to perceived threats.  In our modern environment, perceived threats bombard us all day long.  Most of these threats don’t represent genuine dangers for us, but they stress us nonetheless.

The Amygdala Whisperer’s mission is to remind us that many of our negative thoughts aren’t true, that in reality things are just fine.

Deb told me that her study of positive psychology led her to focus on the biological mechanisms of unhappiness and to harness the power of humor to counteract its effects.  When we’re happy, after all,  our world opens up and we perceive more of its possibilities.
Remembering our childhood play with the Monkeys-in-a-Barrel® game, coupled with the silliness of a monkey representing our inner critic, brings out that happiness-producing humor.

Leaving love-bombs around town has been a spirit-lifter for Deb as well as for the people who find her gifts, more proof that expressions of generosity contribute to our own well-being.

Deb’s scattered gifts reminded me of the positive post-it notes that J.J. Penn leaves around Singapore – and shares on his “Things We Forget” website.   He, too, freely spreads good will in the world, brightening the days of random people with humor or encouragement or support in the form a quick phrase and cartoon drawn on a post-it note.

In addition to the messages these kinds of gifts offer, the gifts themselves are reminders that people out there care about each other.  They suggest, in their own subliminal way, that maybe strangers aren’t people to be feared, but, as Will Rogers said, friends we haven’t met yet.

Deb told me that she’d love for her “love bombs” idea to go viral.  If you think you might enjoy making some to leave around your neighborhood, grab a copy of the Positive-Living-Now  Do-It-Yourself Love Bomb Guide, with easy, complete instructions and ideas.

Hey, it’s spring!  What better time to get out there and do some guerrilla positivity of your own?  Get your kids involved.  Share the love!

You can instantly download the fun Do-It-Yourself Guide here.

 

Photo by Deb Schanilec

 

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What’s Your Personal Happiness Style?

Personal Happiness StyleOne man’s happiness is another’s  ho-hum.  I learned that lesson forcefully when I was helping my friend Jan redefine her personal happiness style.

Jan was recovering from major surgery.  She was depressed because she didn’t have the energy to enjoy her previous active lifestyle.

Jan loves to be on the go.  She’s always meeting friends for golf, for lunch and shopping, for an hour at the gym, an afternoon at the movies.  She takes classes and attends workshops and loves to entertain.   And now it was all she could do to get dressed in the morning and stroll around the block.  She was frustrated and bored.

As we played with finding a way to reframe her situation so she could more easily embrace it, I asked her how she felt about the trying to adopt a mindset of contentment.

“I hate it!” she spat out such vehemence that I laughed in stunned surprise.  Personally, I love contentment.  It’s one of my favorite feelings.  It had never dawned on me that anyone could find it as distasteful as Jan apparently did.

Eventually we came up with the phrase “joyful ease” to represent a mindset she could enjoy cultivating.  She could learn to go slowly buoyantly, she decided, floating with ease on her way to greater stamina and strength.

The Flavors of Happiness

That experience with Jan showed me that, just as we all have our own set of personal strengths, we have our personal preferences for particular flavors of happiness, too.

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson In her landmark book, Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life identifies ten primary positive emotions.  Each of them has the power to make us feel upbeat or uplifted.  In other words, they’re the different flavors that we group together in the big category, “Happiness.”

Read through the following list of the primary positive emotions slowly, and as you do, try to sense how each one feels in your body.  Notice which ones seem to hold a special attraction for you, which ones shine more brightly or resonate more clearly with you.  Which ones make your happiness taste buds tingle?

  • Gratitude
  • Serenity
  • Interest
  • Hope
  • Pride
  • Amusement
  • Inspiration
  • Awe
  • Love
  • Joy

Finding Your Own Brand of Happiness

Your happiness preferences aren’t inborn, fixed traits, and you’re capable of enjoying every one of the positive emotions.   But you’re likely to experience some of them more frequently or more deeply than others.

I have a cousin, for example, who meets life with enormous humor.  He has a real talent for finding fun in almost any situation.  And he creates fun in unexpected ways, too.   At a family wedding, he once gave a loud wolf-whistle right in church as the mother of the bride walked down the aisle.

No doubt, he would find himself strongly identifying with the emotions of amusement and joy.

Identifying which flavors of happiness feel most natural or familiar to you will help you notice them more often.

All of the positive emotions have in common that they don’t linger long.  They’re like brief passages of music that play on our inner radios and then float away.   They may impact our mood and color the feel of our day, but they’re fleeting in themselves, all too often gone and forgotten before we consciously registered their presence.

However, when we notice them as they’re happening, we can choose to savor them, to give them our full attention and to immerse ourselves in them.  That makes them more vivid and allows their particular harmony to reverberate inside us with greater richness.

When you know what kinds of happiness you most enjoy, you’re also in a better position to create experiences that will produce them.  You can intentionally make time to spend doing the kinds of things you’ll genuinely enjoy.

How to Build More Happiness

The key to experiencing more happiness is to simply pay more attention to those times when it dances into your life.

Start by deciding which of the ten primary flavors are your “signature” happiness feelings.   Focus on those for a while, using as many of the activities below as you like. Then, over time, experiment with  adding more flavors, one or two at a time, until you’re fully aware of them all.

  • Try beginning each day with a conscious intention to notice when you’re experiencing one of your signature flavors of happiness.   Notice what triggered it.  And in the evening, take a moment to replay your happiness moments, savoring the memory of them.
  • After you’ve identified your preferred flavors of happiness, pick one or two to focus on for the next week or so.   Focusing on one of them at a time, think of a time when you were feeling that feeling.  Let yourself recall as many details of the situation as possible—the physical surroundings, who was with you, what the weather was like or what the room was like, the colors and sounds around you.   Make your focus feeling as intense as you can.  Then notice how it feels in your body, and say to yourself, “This is [name the feeling].”   Pay special attention to how your face feels.   Then, as you go through the week, let your body signal you when it is feeling the same way and you’ll be able to enjoy the current happiness more fully.
  • To broaden your awareness of your signature happiness feelings, you may want to look each of them up in a thesaurus (thesaurus.com) and scout out other feelings that fall in the same family.  My favorite, “contentment,” for instance, is a member of the “serenity” family.
  • If you want some variety in your happiness practice, write each of the ten primary emotions on a slip of paper, fold it, and put it in small basket or bowl.   Draw one out at random each morning and let it be your focus of the day.  Watch for it, and enjoy it when it appears.
  • Play with keeping a happiness log or journal where you jot down what positive emotions you experienced during the day and what triggered them.
  • Create a family ritual where each member shares his or her happiness stories with each other over a meal.  Or enlist a friend to be your happiness buddy and exchange happiness stories on a regular basis.  (Research shows that simply sharing happy stories increases happiness, by the way.  This one is truly a win-win.)
  • Share a happiness experience on your favorite social media site every day

Expanding Happiness

What we focus on expands in our experience.   Let yourself play with your signature happiness feelings daily and they’ll grow by leaps and bounds.

Research shows that happiness is contagious by at least three degrees.  When you’re happier, so are your friends, and your friends’ friends, and their friends.  So by expanding your own experience of happiness, you’re literally making the world a happier place.  You can rightly consider being happy a public service.

Most of all, expand your happiness because it adds richness and health and well-being to your life –in all the flavors that are most delicious for you.   As Houston auto dealer Tommie Vaughn says, “You only get one go at it… might as well Rock it.”

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Remember, sharing happy stories boosts your level!  If you enjoyed this article, pass it along to your network.

You might also enjoy:

Scavenger Hunting for Positivity Souvenirs
and
Why Happiness is Job #1

photo by hortongrou

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Onward and Upward: Toward a Life Worth Living

A Life Worth Living
What makes life worth living?  It’s one of the Big Questions that has haunted both mankind’s great thinkers and ordinary men and women down through the ages.

But only in the past couple decades has science begun to embrace it as a problem worthy of study.

What gives life meaning?  What promotes happiness, well-being, and thriving?  What motivates us to get out of bed in the morning?  To reach toward our ideals?  To persevere in the face of life’s difficulties and challenges?

How can we, both individually and collectively, learn to live better lives?

Peering through the lens of science (with occasional ventures into additional sources of wisdom, experience and thought), those are the questions this blog has set out to explore.  As we begin a new year, I’ve doubled my dedication to bringing you the clues I find to their answers.

What We Know

Before you can ask how to move your life in a more fulfilling, happier direction, you need to ask a more fundamental question:  Is it possible to change my life?

The resounding answer to that was stated back in the 19th Century by William James, the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States according to Wikipedia, and one most influential philosophers the United States has ever produced.  Here’s his famous proclamation:

 “The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”

Zoom forward to the 21st Century and we find psychologists talking about the neuroplasticity of the brain, and the multitude of ways that we can indeed alter our lives.  Vast waves of studies from psychology , psychobiology and social psychology labs gush into the journals to tell us what works and what doesn’t.  We’re on the brink of wonderful new breakthroughs.  We have much to discover and learn.

But the one fabulous certainty is that change is possible.  Of that there is no doubt.

How to Change Your Life

The second thing we know for sure is that we human beings are messy, often unpredictable critters, living in a fast-paced, ever-changing world.   There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the puzzle of how best to change your life.  We can know what works for many, but it may not work for you.

The only firm ground in the “how to change your life” field is this:  You have to know what it is that you want to change, and you need to want it with great fervor.

What you’ll find here at Positive-Living-Now is a smorgasbord of things you can try, of practices that work for many.

Then, as Kathryn Britton, Associate Editor for Positive Psychology News Daily suggests:

“Try something. Then contemplate what happened. If it worked, great! You’ve got something to practice and make into a habit. If it didn’t, great! You’ve got a chance to learn more about your own particular way of living in the world, something that nobody is going to capture in a book. Just as good science requires being ready to learn from ideas that fail, good living benefits as well.”

Begin at the Beginning

The place to start is to think about the areas of your life that you want to take to greater heights.  What do you want more of in your life?  What do you want to eliminate?  What do you think would bring you the most lasting sense of fulfillment?

Take time to sit down and actually write out a list of your desires.  Then refine it; narrow it down to the two or three things that you want the most, and devote yourself to making these your focus.

Once you know what you want, you can search through the Article Index here for resources.  Or drop me a line and let me know what you’re interested in and I’ll consider it for a future article.

You can contact me, too, for affordable personal coaching  in your area of focus and move forward faster with the encouragement, support, and enhanced insights that personal coaching offers.

And keep checking back here for new ways to move forward.  I post new articles about every ten days.

Onward and Upward

What’s important to remember is that you do have the power to change your life, to live with more zest, health, happiness, achievement, love, and meaning.

All it takes is deciding what you genuinely want and then doing the things that will move you in that direction—one experimental little step at a time.

And I only have one question to ask you:  Why not?

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If you found this article valuable, please remember that “sharing is caring,” and pass it on.

You might also enjoy:

8 Power Questions for Discovering What You Really Want

Finding Meaning in Life

Illustration by duchesssa

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7 Ways that New Year’s Resolutions Can Sabotage Your Success

Failed ResolutionsThinking about making some resolutions for the New Year?

Unless you’ve been seriously planning and preparing for the change you have in mind, making New Year’s resolution can sabotage your success.

Here’s why, and what to do instead.

1.Hastily formed resolutions tend to be counterfeit goals.  The goals you’re most likely to reach are the ones that come from your heart.   Too often, when we set resolutions just because it’s the New Year, we’re basing them on the “shoulds,” the things we think we ought to do.  We end up choosing the goals that our culture, or that a partner or parent, child or boss thinks we ought to adopt.

2.The timing is faulty.  However fun they may be, the holidays take us away from our comfortable patterns and routines.  They create stress—whether it’s of the positive or negative variety—and burn up a lot of energy.  Trying to jump headlong into a whole new pattern of behavior plunges us into more stress and sets us up for failure.

3.They don’t allow time for thinking things through.  Successful  life change needs to be built on a foundation of thoughtful visualization, preparation and planning.  What will you need in order to make it happen?  What resources? Time? Support?  Information? Where will you start?  Adopting a goal to change a fundamental part of your life without this kind of preparation is like building a sand castle at the ocean’s edge.  It’s sure to wash away the moment the tide turns.

4.They prompt you to take drastic action.  New Year’s resolutions tend to come with a big bag of magical thinking.  We expect that we’ll wake up January 1 with the power to accomplish whatever we set out minds to.  Yesterday you craved chocolate.  Today you can easily let it go.  Yesterday you spent three hours on Facebook.  Today you’ll read a book instead.  You expect to be able to leap from couch potato to exercise fanatic in a single bound.  But real change happens in tiny increments, one small, consistent action at a time.

5.They don’t give you a chance to form a complete picture.  When you pick a resolution out of a hat at the last minute, you don’t have time to think about all the ways your life will be different or how it will effect and involve key relationships in your life.  The ability to hold in your mind a vivid, well-crafted image of what it is you want to be or do is a key success factor in life change.

6.They rely too heavily on will power.  Analysis of thousands of surveys of personal strengths name will power as the strength most likely to come in at the very bottom of the list.  Even people who are gifted with a big helping of it need to apply additional abilities in order to achieve significant personal transformations.

7.They undermine future efforts.  Because, on some level, you know our resolutions aren’t really going to work, making them is a kind of sneaky way to let yourself off the hook for planning real changes that could benefit your life.  “I tried that last January,” you’ll be able to say. “It’s no use; I can’t do it.”

What to Do Instead

The New Year is a wonderful time to review your life and consider what you could do to bring more zest, joy, satisfaction and meaning to it.

The essential question to ask, of course, is “What do I really want?” And while you may not know exactly what that is or what form you would want it to take, chances are you have a general sense its direction.  And that general sense is what you can profitably adopt as your guideline for the new year.

Identify what you aspire to, rather than what, specifically, you will achieve.

How to Set a Direction

In the past couple of years, I’ve experimented with choosing a key word for my year instead of setting goals.  It’s an idea that I’ve noticed is catching on.   It keeps you focused while allowing you a measure of spontaneity.  It lets serendipity enter into the picture.

Personally, last year I decided that I wanted to encourage myself to take more risks, to be more daring.  So I adopted the phrase “Why not!”  And it has served me well.  It’s let me try new things and to push past procrastination, fear and hesitancy when I didn’t know if I could master a challenge.

One increasingly successful man I know shared that he chose the word “Leadership” for his guide word last year.  The year before, he’d chosen “Business Education.”

The word that I’ve chosen for 2014 is “mindful,” and I’m excited to see what new vistas will open for me as I let it remind me how I want to be.

You can use the list below to help you hone in on your own preferred direction, and then come up with your personal guide word from there.

When I reviewed lists of the most popular New Year’s resolutions, I discovered that they fell into twelve main categories.  As you read through them, notice which ones set off a spark for you.  Which ones seem to be calling to you most strongly?

  • Adventure/Recreation: Have More Fun; Travel; Explore; Sports; Play
  • Business/Career Development: Leadership, Productivity, Creativity, Career Change
  • Community/Service: Volunteering, Political Action, Participation in Clubs, Organizations
  • Family: Spend More Time With Spouse/Partner/Family
  • Finances: Reduce Debt; Save More; Earn More
  • Happiness: Enjoy Life More, More Down Time
  • Health/Fitness: Better Diet/Exercise/Sleep/Drop Harmful Habits
  • Home: Beautify/Organize
  • Learning: Read More, Take Classes
  • Image: Improve Wardrobe, Grooming
  • Personal Development/Spirituality: Develop self-knowledge, practice self-growth techniques/enhanced spiritual awareness, spiritual/religious practice
  • Social Life/Relationships: Build more, deeper friendships/More Time Enjoying with Others

Narrow your list down to about three, then choose the one that draws you most strongly.  A year from now, how would you feel if you had let that category shape your life, if you had let it be your focus for the entire year?  What word or phrase can you use to represent that idea for you, to set your direction for the year ahead?

Devotion, Not Discipline

“People think I’m disciplined,” said world-famous opera star Luciano Pavarotti.   “It is not discipline. It is devotion. There is a great difference.”

Discipline arises from your will.  Devotion comes from your heart.

When you choose a direction because it sings to you, because it shines so brightly in your mind, you can give yourself to it with a sort of consecration, a dedication based in its deep meaning for you. In the face of the inevitable setbacks and deviations from your path, devotion to your chosen direction will call you back to it.

It will bring you joy in your efforts and make your sense of purpose strong.

So if you must make a resolution at all, resolve to identify a direction to follow.  Then carve out the time to discover which path most clearly calls from your heart.  It can make all the difference in the world.

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Would you like some support in finding and following your direction?  Let’s talk!  My specialty is coaching people get to the heart of their dreams and then to make them come true.

If you enjoyed this article, do share!

You may also enjoy: If Wishes Were Horses: How to Make Real Change Happen in Your Life and If You Want to Change Your Life

Illustration by guitargoa

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