Keeping on Track: Tools for the Road

Three cool tools for expanding your positivity . . . Free for the taking.

Where’s Your Positivity Ratio Today?

The magic number is 3:1 – three positive experiences for every negative one. Achieve that and you pass the tipping point where you begin to move in a continuous upward spiral toward ever more positive living. Surpass it and you’re begin to soar.

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, whose research uncovered the positivity ratio, has a 2-minute online test you can take that will give you your score for the day.

If you use it consistently for awhile, you will not only get a sense of your level of positivity, but increase your awareness of the kinds of emotions you’re feeling throughout the day and gently incline your mind toward those activities that bring you more joyous living.

For a wealth of insight into the benefits of positivity and solid, scientific methods for achieving it, I whole heartedly recommend Dr. Fredrickson’s vibrant, joyfully written book,  Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive

You can listen to Dr. Fredrickson talk about her book here:

Are You Staying on Course?

How strong is your commitment to positivity? Did you intentionally use a positivity practice today?  Did you:

  • Remember to smile?
  • Extend kindness?
  • Take time to notice the goodness in your life?
  • Get in touch with your gratitude?
  • Engage in interesting work, or an absorbing hobby, sport or creative activity?
  • Practice mindfulness?
  • Work toward doing more of a beneficial activity, or less of a detrimental one?

Keep track of how many days in a row you practiced by using this free online tracker: Don’t Break the Chain. Or, for a free tracker that will also send you email and Twitter reminders, enroll at Create New Habits.

Need a Mindfulness Nudge?

Hop on over to Wayne C. Allen’s blog, The Pathless Path,  and pick up a free online timer that will remind you at random intervals to pause and center yourself in the here and now.

Wayne describes himself as “a simple Zen guy [who] writes about living and relating elegantly.” In 2007, as he was writing about paying attention, he remembered that a bell is rung at random intervals in zen monasteries. When they hear its sound, the monks pause to evaluate their level of presence. He had the timer created so that all of us could participate in remembering to be present as well.

Just go to the link above to download the small program and easy installation instructions.  And while you’re there, treat yourself to some of Wayne’s lively, heartfelt, and thought-provoking posts.

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Mindfulness as a Political Act: The Wisdom of Willie Horton

“You gotta see this guy, Willie Horton. What a hard-hitting, tell-it-like-it-is approach!” my friend said. And he sent me a link to one of Willie’s videos.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend told me, “You gotta see this guy, Willie Horton.  What a hard-hitting, tell-it-like-it-is approach!”  And he sent me a link to one of Willie’s videos.

According to his website, “Willie Horton works with Fortune 500 companies – including Pfizer, Deloitte, Merrill Lynch, KPMG, Wyeth, PwC, Nestlé and Allergan – enabling their top people to become super-effective, super-successful. Author, world-class speaker and mentor to leading figures, Willie’s Irish charm and wit masks a deep and encyclopaedic mind that can impart life-changing wisdom in the space of five minutes.”

I signed up for his mailing list and last week, synchronistically enough, his mid-week article was about mindfulness – just as I was writing about it – and how it relates to success in our economically challenging times.

Willie urges people to stop being “normal.”  The norm is mad, mediocre and mindless, he says.  To give you a taste of Willie’s style, here are some excerpts from his June 9 article, “Forget the Recession – Here’s How to Succeed:”

“If you want to see things change, you can’t expect other normal people to effect that change, it has to start with you and me.  It has to start within, with a change of heart.   Hard factual evidence from the US Federal Government proves that the state of mind of a small group has a ripple effect.   Hard evidence from the world of quantum physics proves conclusively that energy – yours and mine – has an effect on the energy of the universe.  In other words, it is up to you and me to change the world – a change that cannot and never will take place until we change ourselves. . .

“The cards are stacked against you – not only is your default state of mind negative, but you are surrounded by people who share the same default settings.   It’s up to you to change, to pull yourself together and call a halt to the nonsense of so-called normal living.  You need to rise above all that and become abnormal.   Unlike normal people, you need to develop your innate ability to be mindful, to pay full attention to what is actually possible – you have to stop feeding the negative frenzy.

“Mindfulness is simply about paying attention – not to what you think is going on, but to what is actually happening in the present moment.   We are alive, we are living and breathing.  And each breath that we take we are presented with a once in a lifetime opportunity to behave outside the sad norm of the negative.   Each moment provides us with a unique opportunity to take control of our state of mind and do the right thing – because perpetuating the negative is clearly the wrong thing.

“You develop mindfulness by clearing your mind, by taking one step back from the negative circus in which so many people seem to be taking a perverse pleasure.   You need to start each day by ensuring that your mind is within your own control.  This is done by taking a few minutes – only five or ten minutes will do – to pay attention before the challenges of the day or cares of the world come seeking your acquiescence.  So, tomorrow morning, slow down.  Take time to experience shaving, showering, brushing your teeth, chatting with your family – before the day starts.  It is in these few moments that we can change our minds – and change our lives.”

The same ezine issue features a wonderful video on “How to be Inspired – and Inspirational,” that’s well-worth the investment of five minutes of your time.  In addition to his insights, you get the added treat of hearing his delightful Irish brogue.

Mr. Horton’s website is chockfull of free articles and videos on a wide range of self-development topics.  Sign up for his free ezine and you’ll receive one of his inspiring, no-nonsense videos each Monday and an article on Wednesdays.  Take some time to explore it and you’re guaranteed to find more than a few things that will be of personal value to you.

 

 

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Making Ants Dance, Part II: Breathe Your Troubles Away

The one aim of mindfulness is to center your attention in the immediate present. But because countless things are happening in every single moment, even within the boundaries of our personal selves, we need a way to narrow our attention to just one slice of what’s going on.

Making Ants DanceIn Making Ants Dance, Part I, we talked about two practices for dealing with our Automatic Negative Thoughts.  First, in the Interrogation Method, we looked at disputing them by looking at them impartially and questioning their validity.  Then we looked at Diversions as a means of setting them aside when they swarmed us.

Today we’ll look at a way that both dispels and prevents ANTS using the practice of Mindfulness.

The Power of Mindfulness

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the first Western scientist to adapt the ancient Buddhist practice of mindfulness for use by medical patients, defines the technique this way:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

In other words, it means you focus your attention on what is going on inside and around you from an impartial vantage point.  Without wanting it to be any different than it is, you simply observe whatever is happening.

Its power lies in its immediate short-circuiting of the downward spiral where negative thoughts feed negative feelings that feed negative thoughts, and so on.  In a way, it incorporates both the Interrogation and Diversion practices.  On the one hand, you look squarely at your negative thoughts from an impartial perspective.  And on the other, you distance yourself from them by focusing your attention on other things that are happening along with the negative thoughts.

One Aim, Countless Paths

The one aim of mindfulness is to center your attention in the immediate present.  But because countless things are happening in every single moment, even within the boundaries of our personal selves, we need a way to narrow our attention to just one slice of what’s going on.

What Am I Doing?

One of the simplest ways is simply to begin noticing what you are doing in any given moment and to describe it to yourself in detail, paying attention to what your senses are telling you:  I am sitting at my desk, reading an article.  I see my monitor, and with my peripheral vision I notice my book shelf, the artwork on the wall, the scene out the window.  I hear the hum of the computer and the sounds drifting up from the street.  The room is warm and I am sitting up straight and comfortably.  I can feel the chair beneath me.  And so on.  It takes only seconds; it’s just a quick check-in that you do from time to time to practice pulling yourself back to your immediate reality.

My friend Cristina Diaz, at The Benefits of Positive Thinking, suggests maintaining a self-observing dialogue as you go through your day, saying, “This is me, getting out of bed.”  “This is me, walking to the bathroom.”  “This is me, brushing my teeth.”  And so on.  It’s fun to see how long you can keep your attention on what you often do on automatic pilot.  Read Cristina’s article, and give it a try!

Coming to Your Senses

Droplet on a Small BranchA favorite mindfulness practice for many is stopping now and then to pay attention to what your senses are telling you.  Again, you simply observe, without judgment.

Sight: What are you seeing?  What can you notice in a familiar setting that you haven’t paid attention to before?  Look for patterns of light and shadow, at reflections, at textures and varying shades of color.

Sound: Listen to all the sounds a moment holds.  How many can you hear? Each passing moment has its own music, and beneath the sounds, and between them, hear the silence.

Feeling: What is your skin feeling?  How balanced is your posture?  How tense or relaxed are your muscles?  What parts of your body are warm or cool?  Relaxed or contracted?  What textures are your fingertips detecting?  In what part of your body are you feeling an emotion?  Your stomach?  Your chest?  Your throat?

Taste and Smell: Especially use these senses when you are eating.  Pay attention to the tastes, textures, and fragrances of food.  Notice the smell as you bring food to your mouth.  Notice how the taste of something changes as you chew it.

The Ultimate Mindfulness Practice

Mindful BreathingBut beyond all others, the central and ultimate mindfulness practice involves becoming aware of your breathing.   Master this, and your awareness of the details of every action you perform will come alive and astonish you with their richness and beauty.  Even long before your get anywhere near mastery—for mastery takes a long while—you will see how attention to your breathing makes everything else clearer, sharper, brighter, more exquisite.

How to Practice

In the beginning, you simply pay attention as your lungs move the air in and out of your body:

  • Sit in a comfortable position.
  • Inhale easily and deeply, feeling the air entering your body, expanding your lungs, raising your abdomen.
  • When your lungs are comfortably full, pause for a slight bit, then exhale, feeling the air moving out of your body as your lungs contract and your abdomen lowers.
  • If thoughts enter your mind, simply notice them and turn your attention back to your breathing.

Continue the practice for five minutes in the morning and it will help you stay centered all day.  Use it throughout the day whenever you want a little vacation from the day’s stress.

I found a beautiful video that will take you through this process as a kind of guided meditation, allowing you to taste the fullness of peace and relaxation it can bring you.  I highly recommend that you allow yourself the pleasure of experiencing it.  It will root the practice in you so you can call on it in times of stress, or when you simply want to experience the delicious sensations it creates.

Advancing Your Practice

After you have practiced paying attention to your breathing for awhile, you can advance your practice by taking it into your daily activities.  Begin practicing mindful breathing as you do routine tasks, paying attention to the details of how you do them and what your senses are telling you while you continue to breathe.

In his awesomely beautiful classic, The Miracle of Mindfulness,  Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, suggests learning to count your breaths, even as you are performing your normal activities.  Each cycle of in-breath and out-breath counts as one.  You count to ten, then begin over again.  I have been practicing this on my daily commute and am surprised at how aware and relaxed I am behind the wheel.

The Benefits of Mindfulness

As you practice mindfulness, you learn to look at your thoughts as simply thoughts, to watch them rise, just as does your breath, and to let them pass, as easily as you exhale.  You do not need to cling to them or follow them down the road.  You simply watch them, mere thoughts, without judgment, rise and pass, rise and pass.  They lose their power to stir or excite you.  You see them as mere thoughts and nothing more.

But beyond that, as remarkable as it is, increasing mindfulness has been shown to:

  • Reduce stress;
  • Lessen pain;
  • Reduce anxiety;
  • Produce clearer skin;
  • Improve immune functioning;
  • Lessen the stress of your own or a loved one’s chronic disability;
  • Prevent depression relapse, and more.

The Power of Now

Now, of course, is the only time that actually exists.  The past is memory; the future is imagination.  Now is your point of power, the only time in which you really exist.  When you bring your attention to it, to now, you inhabit your actual life.  Otherwise, you’re just dreaming.

The more mindful you are in the moment, the more fully alive you are, the more you experience the richness and fullness and beauty of life, the more clearly and compassionately you see its opportunities and challenges.  Mindfulness gives your life depth and zest; it enriches your senses of wonder, purpose and meaning.   It’s one of the great keys to building genuine positivity, and for making the best in you even better.

Play with some of the practices here.  Put them to work for you and watch how they impact your awareness.

And, as always, I invite you to leave your comments and let the other members of the Positive-Living-Now family know how these practices are working for you.

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What's It All About, Alfie?

We want to be sensual and responsive, aware, bringing our presence to the game, experiencing every facet of life with as much openness as we can muster. . .

So what’s the goal, really?  What is this “positivity” stuff really all about?  Does it mean I want to be happier?  Well, yes.  Who could not want more happiness!  But there’s more to it than that.

Happiness is sort of like life’s candy.  It’s a sweet treat, and sometimes a whole bowl of ice cream.  But it’s not the only taste we ever want to have.  We want it all.  All the good stuff, and if we’re honest, some of the bad, too, to make it all real.  We want it all.  That’s the bottom line: we want it all.

Fully Awake, Fully Alive

We want to be alive in our lives, feeling the exquisite, raw, unfiltered reality of every single moment, sucking the juice of it, letting it trickle stickily down our chins.  We want to be sensual and responsive, aware, bringing our presence to the game, experiencing every facet of life with as much openness as we can muster.  We want to be awake, awed, connected, fluid and flowing.

And for me, that’s what positive living is truly all about: being fully awake, fully alive, and fully open; being alert to new possibilities for expansion and expression, and possessed of a spirit that propels you fearlessly into the heights and depths and breadth of it all.    It’s about immersing yourself in what I call the Grand Yes to life, and letting it become your signature song.

“Awake.  Alert.  Alive.  Enthusiastic.”  That’s my motto and mantra.  It’s what’s driving things here at PLN.  Everything else is just a description of paths for getting there, for being there more deeply, for staying there most of the time.  And I’m delighted to have you as a companion on the journey.  It wouldn’t be nearly as juicy without you.

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Making Ants Dance: The Practice of Overcoming Negative Thoughts

See, the goal of the ants is to gobble all the goodies, and to carry you off into their tunnel of darkness, into a landscape of anxiety, hopelessness, anger and fear that leads nowhere but to depression and despair.

Yipes! Who needs that?! Bring on the Ant Tamers! Let’s teach these buggers to dance!

ANTS!  Beware!

Ants at the PicnicWhat They Are:

1) Insidious armies of Automatic Negative Thoughts that can swarm all over your day and ruin your perfectly good picnic;

2) Evil little wizards that capture you with their  hypnotic negative spells.

What They Do:

Ants follow well-established trails inside your mind.  In her wonderful book, Happy for No Reason, Marci Shimoff says that we each think about 60,000 thoughts every day.  Of those, a whopping 95% are the same thoughts you had yesterday and the day before and the day before.  And even more startling, 80% –or roughly 48,000–are negative!

According to positivity expert Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, the tipping point, where you launch onto an upward spiral of experiencing increasing positivity, comes when reach a positivity ration of 3:1.  That is, you enjoy three positive experiences for every negative experience.

Because we experience such a preponderance of negative thoughts, one of the best ways to begin pumping up our positivity ratios is by allowing fewer ants to tromp across our minds.

See, the goal of the ants is to gobble all the goodies, and to carry you off into their tunnel of darkness, into a landscape of  anxiety, hopelessness, anger and fear that leads nowhere but to depression and despair.

Yipes! Who needs that?! Bring on the Ant Tamers!  Let’s teach these buggers to dance!

Ant Taming 101

The first step to taming the ants is to notice you’re in their hypnotic trance.  You can tell by how glum you’re feeling.  Dull, down, anxious, tense, hopeless, maybe even nauseated.  As soon as you consciously notice it, congratulate yourself.  Noticing is the first step to taking control.

The second step is to decide that you will take control.  So you pull on your Inner Ant-Tamer boots, face the swarm, and cracking your whip loudly, issue your command:  “Stop!”  You’re in authority now, and you freeze them right in their tracks.

Quickly, while they’re all freeze-dried and motionless from the shock of your taking charge, scoop them up, put them in an ant cage and set them aside.  Before you can work with them effectively, you need to fully claim your ant tamer role, to shake off the residue from their spell and to accept that you are now in control.  Then, while they’re in their cage, you can grab your manual of ant taming strategies and get to work.

Clearing the Trance and Claiming Control

Face it, confronting an ant swarm can be a little daunting.  You’re not sure how long your command to stop will freeze them, or whether the cage will hold.  Maybe some of them escaped and will set the others free.  These lingering feelings of doubt and anxiety are the trance residue.  The way to shake it off is to get fully grounded in the present.

(You can find a quick trick here that will wake you up and put you instantly in the present.  Go ahead and try it right now and you’ll see its surprising power for giving you a quick, clear space smack dab in the middle of the present moment.  Then come back and keep reading.)

See?  You can control your mind. As monstrous as they may seem when they’re swarming, ants are nothing but thoughts after all.  And you can always choose to think a different, more positive thought.

Sometimes stopping the ants in their tracks – releasing your attention from their hypnotic spell – can seem like a daunting task.  In later articles here we’ll focus on release techniques specifically.  But for now, put the ant-tamers below to work for you.  They’re proven strategies and with practice they’ll work better and better and better for you.

The Strategies

We’ll look at two of the major ant-taming strategies today and tackle more later on.  Put these to work the next time ants threaten to overwhelm your picnic.

Strategy One: The Interrogation Squad

Listening for the FactsTry unleashing a team of fact finders to do a reality check on the story the ants are telling.  Dispute their statements.  Call them into question.  For every statement they make, call in an impartial expert and ask, “Is this really true?”

Is it true that . . .

She doesn’t love me?
I’ll never make it?
I always screw up?
My boss is a jerk?
Diets never work?
I’m a fake?

Make the ants show factual evidence for their claims—with an emphasis on facts.

Propose alternative explanations for the scenarios they present.  Ask your impartial witness what other ways you could look at events?  What could you change that would move things onto a different course? How likely is the worst case scenario?  What good does it do me to look at it this way?  What if I didn’t buy this story?  What if I chose to believe something else?

The point is to show the ants that you’re not going to take their arguments at face value any more.  The facts they present aren’t the only facts of the case, and you are going to be on the outlook for different explanations from now on.

Strategy Two: Diversionary Techniques

Sometimes the ants swarm in so furiously and in such numbers that you can’t round them all up to put in the cage.  That’s when you switch to diversionary techniques.  In other words, you relocate your picnic.

When you find that you keep repeating the same arguments in your head, or replaying the same disturbing mental movie, it’s time to find a new picnic spot—somewhere that you can enjoy some goodies in peace.  Do something that takes your attention off your troubles:

  • Get Active – Go for a walk, a jog, a swim, a bike ride.  Go to the gym.  Haul out your trampoline.  Cut the grass.  Rake the yard.  Wash the car.  Put on some music and dance.  Do some yoga or Tai C’hi.
  • Play with Your Toys —  Get out your favorite hobby.  Break out your crayons, your guitar, your hammer and saw.  Organize your collection.  Build something. Do puzzles.  Crochet.  Finish putting that model together.  Bake a pan of cookies.  Repot a flower.  Pull some weeds.
  • Clean Something —  Organize a drawer.  Clear off your desk.  Clean your toaster.  Fix a bike tire.  Tackle a corner of the garage.  Mop the floor.  Scrub the tub.  Delete old emails.  Do your nails.  Wash a window.
  • Call in an Ant-Buster Friend —  Connect with somebody whose company you enjoy and see what they’re up to.  How are the kids?  How did that date turn out?  How are your vacation plans shaping up?  How’s your project coming along?

The point is to keep yourself from thinking too much about your unresolved troubles. (Choose healthy diversions, though.  Steer clear of violent or depressing TV, or over-eating, or deciding you need a couple beers or a handful of drugs.)

Once you have lifted your negative mood, you’ll be in a better frame of mind to dispute the ants with a fresh state of mind and address your problems with new strengths.

Your Turn

Do you have a favorite ant-taming strategy of your own?  What do you do when the the ants start marching in?

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