Tag Archives: self-awareness

Responding vs reacting

One of the benefits of practicing meditation and yoga consistently is that it teaches you the difference between response versus reaction.

To me, I define the difference in these as temporal, relating to time, and emotional, relating to reactivity. When we slow things down, in our breathing, our movement and our thinking, we can often realize when our reaction to a stimulus may be out of proportion.

For example, when someone make a remark I may perceive as offensive, my first reaction may be to get angry. However, if I give the words a moment to sit there, without immediately responding, I may consider the perspective of the speaker. I may pause and realize that they words they have said are not about me (or someone I love) but they are about them.

In fact, this practice has been so powerful for me, because I know my tendency has been to react, to say something back, or to at least indulge in anger or negativity. But as I have started to consider what I can do to act with more love and less fear in every situation, I realize I have a choice about how I respond.

This is true in meditation and yoga. When we realize there is a little discomfort in the body, maybe in the lower back or neck, we have a choice about how to respond. We can observe and watch the feeling. Sometimes it intensifies momentarily, and then dissipates. We can move and adjust if needed or try to breathe into that area.

This is contrary to the speed of our culture right now. We want more, we want faster, we do not wait to wait for things. Everything is available on demand, and we get frustrated when we have to wait for more than a few moments for a download. So we become conditioned to react, not to wait a moment and respond. Hey, I get it! I am the same way.

But what if we tried to move a little counter to what the culture tells us and we move more slowly and deliberately? We say no to having too many options open, and we take more time to respond mindfully instead of reacting. We improve our relationships, because we may ask clarifying questions instead of getting upset over a remark someone made.

It is worth trying, just taking a breath or two when something seems to “trigger” a response in you. Notice where the emotion lands in your body. Decide if you want to respond or let it go. I am far from perfect at this but I am playing with it more, and forgiving myself for the times when I did not have this skill.

It may have a radical impact on how you interact with the world. Let me know how it goes!

 

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The damn ORDER button

Does anyone else have a little trouble resisting the ease and comfort of internet shopping? I can use my phone, browse my wishlist or do a quick search and place an order from the comfort of my bed. Bang, done!

Amazon shopping cart

You’ll see my shopping cart is currently empty. But it would only be a matter of a few clicks to get the latest book I heard about on a favorite podcast. Or to order the planner that someone recommended to me. Darn you, Amazon!

I say this all while being extremely grateful that online shopping exists, of course. I hate store shopping. I was really excited when I read Sonia Sotomayor’s autobiography and realized she (like me) has no sense of fashion either. The act of shopping for clothes in particular sets me on edge. But shopping in stores generally is something I do not enjoy.

The fabulous array of things I can acquire simply at the click of a button is a smorgasbord of temptation. No trip to the store, no need to interact with anyone, no pushy salespeople to hover over me and try to tell me about their sales and specials.

The problem is that when it comes to something like books, I have very low resistance to clicking the order button. It is something I am working on. I tell myself I should go to the library and check out books instead. I love libraries. But it’s so much more WORK to have to go and search for the books I want!

Amazon prime

They say time is money, but actually time is a lot more precious to me than money, because time is a finite resource. Money is something I can get if I work a little more, or save a little better. So when I calculate the cost of spending $10-15 at the click of a button and have Amazon deliver me in just a couple of days the book I want? Well, let’s just say my hourly rate for my day job means the low cost of online ordering is just too tempting sometimes.

This gets to something I will work on in the new year, with my husband because he has similar online shopping behavior. BUDGETING. Yes, it is an odious task, but we need to do it. Making a plan ahead of time, and then sticking to that plan is a much better way to live your life than looking back at the credit card statements and thinking: Hmm, so THAT’s where my money went last month.

The fact that we are double income no kids people and do not own a house means that we live a pretty carefree existence financially. Not that it was easy to get here, by any means. I’ve worked my tail off to pay off past debts, and get the kind of job where I am putting away a fairly large chunk into retirement each year.

townhome

I have bought and sold two homes, one which made quite a tidy sum and one which barely broke even right before the real estate bubble burst. Since 2007 I have been a renter, and I do not mind that. Hubby really wants a workshop though and a bigger garage than our 1-car “tuck under townhome” space (pictured here).

At some point, I would like a yard again. I do not particularly like living under a homeowner’s association regime about specific rules regarding paint colors and not leaving the Christmas lights up beyond January 5th. The neighborhood is lovely, but we will be ready for our own place in 1-2 years, perhaps.

Anyway, I have been thinking and reflecting upon the year (as one does this month) and anticipating what I may want to change in 2018. I have never been one to make resolutions for January 1st – the date seems too arbitrary to me. I typically like to start new things in the fall, because it is the start of a “school year” and I have always loved school.

This year though, I am getting my head around possibly leaving my job for a new one, and/or starting a side hustle and planning to buy a house again someday.  It is different, now that I am married rather than just living with my honey. We had (and still have) our own bank accounts, along with a joint account.

We need to plan some goals together, and that involves being really honest about where we spend our money now, and being willing to figure out what kind of plan works for us. I will have to figure out how to quash the impulse to click the DAMN ORDER BUTTON when that impulse arises, rather than just nickle and diming myself with low-cost “book treats.”

We will need to work together as a team to figure these things out. Money has always been a difficult issue for me in past relationships. I am fiercely independent and have been the main breadwinner in my long-term relationships. I tend to be generous, and others have taken advantage of that before. But I want to be brave, and face up to my money issues, and have conversations about what we want for the future.

In general, I have a believe in abundance, and I value people over things. I believe I will always have enough. So it’s not about the things I have. Life is about the good people in my life, and living in a way that expresses my values.

In that spirit, and in understanding the way I spend my time and my money, I have a resolution for next year: to become more mindful of how I spend my money, and to work as a team with my husband to make more of those money decisions together.

If my wise readers have any advice for me on this topic, please share! In the meantime, I am going to try to meditate for at least 5 minutes before hitting the damn “order” or “buy” button and see how it goes.

Me too. And unlike any.

I have been reading posts from roughly 80% of my women friends on facebook and some men too on their experiences with sexual assault and sexual harassment. By some miracle I have never endured the former, but I have endured the latter, as I think perhaps 98% of women have experienced. This is why, for so many of us, it was a shock, a slap in the face when the country elected a man who has bragged about assaulting women. He has openly demeaned women and belittled them for their appearance and their attitude, when it did not suit him.

So many courageous and beautiful women have had to endure insults, or sometimes just being ignored because we are women. So many outstanding, over-qualified and amazing leaders have endured criticisms, unwanted invitations and other much worse conditions. My heart goes out to all the women and men who have endured unnecessary and unjustified pressure, due to someone in power over them. Because that is all of us, and we are in this together. The violation that occurred was real. And it is wrong. And in the end, it will give you the fuel to stand up for yourself and for others.

We will not tolerate this behavior. It is wrong. It is unacceptable and we all join together to speak out against it. The tide of history is moving, once again. It moves in waves, it moves in cycles, and according to the gravity of the moon. But nothing ever stays constant in this universe. All is evolving.

I was introduced yesterday to an awesome video of Misty Copeland for the Under Armour campaign but it has such beautiful poetry by Saul Williams. It is part of the UNLIKE ANY campaign and there are 5 other women athletes. These are short 1-minute videos that I recommend to any women needing a reminder of how strong we can be, how our challenges and our stories determine our heroism. Nobody can tell us what we are worth, and yet we find it within.

Unlike Any

I have no idea whether any of these women would be part of the “Me too” campaign. Since 80% of my women friends are, it is likely that there are a few would join. But the beauty of that fact is that our strength goes so far beyond. There is a graceful WILL underneath all of these experiences, a strength that is divine, that is feminine. That rises above.  From Saul Williams (in the Misty Copeland video):

The oppressor’s gaze

ain’t all eye-seeing

I’m unlike any.

Driven to distraction

I am in the midst of preparing for a presentation I will give today so this post will be short(ish). It may serve as a reminder to myself about how to deal with distractions, and it may also be a distraction from the work I planned to do today… In any case, because I choose to write a blog, and I also choose to keep my day job in order to take care of myself and family, and writing helps keep me sane for the other, I shall proceed.

Sometimes my internal “mental clutter” provides as much or more distraction as the outside influences of the world.  Thoughts, emotions, stories I spin about “what ifs” and “this means that” are part of my consciousness can be a challenge. Then the outside: Facebook, social media, two different email boxes (one personal, one at work, and I know most people have more). Messenger apps, WhatsApp (which my international colleagues all tend to use), notifications about “likes” and comments, they are all a constant. Until we stop letting them constantly intrude, and turn them off.

It’s no wonder some of us start our days feeling like we are spinning almost the first moment we wake up. A year ago or so, I realized I had an unhealthy addiction to my phone, notifications, and other electronic brain candy. It began interfering with my sleep and my overall sense of wellbeing and balance, I began to work on setting healthy limits for myself. I no longer check the FB and the socials as soon as I wake up.

I typically enjoy my coffee, my journal and some meditation before opening up the deluge of incoming. Some days I aspire to do this, but I find that a light-hearted podcast, or some other written or auditory inspiration helps me find my center or makes me laugh before I face the challenges of the day. I try to return to the meditation and journal before the workday starts because I notice a distinct difference in the quality of the days in which I give myself this time, and the days I do not.

Orig works cdlc - distraction post

Art can be a distraction, or a nice mind-cleansing, depending on the day and the priorities.

Most of us have to use a number of communication tools for work, so it can be even more challenging to set aside the distractions and just attend to the task at hand. For those of us who struggle with attention issues, we have to develop strategies to help us focus when that is difficult. It can meaning turning off the Cisco Jabber messaging at work, realizing it is just a tad harder for people to reach me, but helping them understand I need chunks of time to finish a project. It can mean turning off my work email notifications (even harder for me during the workday) or stepping away to take a walk when my brain is buzzing but I am not moving forward.

I think this is one reason the minimalists are getting so much attention these days. What most of us crave is not MORE, it is LESS. We crave quality, not quantity. We crave focus, we crave purpose, we crave not a huge group of friends, but people we can truly trust and who truly move us. We crave less STUFF but more high quality things that help us live our lives peacefully and well. All of these aspirations require healthy boundaries around our space, our time, and our energy. These goals require us to say NO more often, to things that do not serve us, and to make commitments to the activities that give us long-term fulfillment.

Easy in theory, much more difficult in practice. Thus, this may become a theme for a series of posts.

I am interested in what tools or strategies you have used to eliminate distractions in your life, and to focus on what you truly want. If you have some advice for a mexi-minnesotana chica who is just starting to figure this out, I would love to hear it. Please add your comments below. Grateful for your support and your thoughts.

 

Fat rocks! Yes, more butter please

Really, it does! One of the most important discoveries I have made in the past 14 months that has led to a sustained 18 pound weight loss is that eating more healthy fats in my diet keeps me feeling more energetic, more calm, less distracted and less anxious. I grew up drinking skim milk and clinging to a low-fat diet notion that was in vogue at the time, based on dietary guidelines set in 1970’s that were based on an untested ideas devoid of scientific research. I thought it was really fascinating to read about the evolution of this understanding in Dr. Jason Fung’s book The Obesity Code, a well-researched look at how obesity is driven by our hormones, not by how many calories we eat.

The low-fat, low-calorie diet has already been proven to fail. This is the cruel hoax. Eating less does not result in lasting weight loss. It. Just. Does. Not. Work.

Dr. Fung takes apart the studies that have been completed on obesity, most of them focusing on time frames of less and a year. But obesity typically develops over decades, not in one year. He provides a compelling case for the hormonal obesity theory. Basically, obesity is not caused by an excess of calories, but instead by a body set weight that is too high because of a hormonal imbalance within the body. He goes into great depth about how insulin, cortison, leptin and ghrelin are the major chemical messengers that help determine how our body fat is kept regulated by the body. Please consult his book if this interests you; the science behind this is fascinating and he writes at a level that you do not have to be a clinical researcher to understand.

Insulin is a storage hormone. When we eat, the body releases insulin to store excess glucose from the blood stream into the liver as glycogen, where it can easily be accessed for energy. When there is no intake of food, insulin levels fall and the burning of sugar and fat is turned on. It is quite an elegant “homeostatic” mechanism that keeps our body in balance, and our weight stable. Most people’s weight remains relatively stable, and even people who gain weight tend to do so gradually over time, 1-2 pounds per year.

However, our diets, which have moved away from healthy naturally-occurring fats, toward highly refined carbohydrates (sugar and flour) tend to raise insulin levels to an artificially high level. This results in greater fat storage and a long-term propensity for weight gain. Combine this with the stress hormone cortisol, which also raises insulin levels, we begin to see how these factors contribute to a condition known as insulin resistance. There are some disturbing findings reported about how treatments for diabetes type 2 usually require insulin, and how, even though the blood sugars are better, after standard medical treatment the diabetes actually gets worse. I urge you to read The Obesity Code if you struggle with obesity or type 2 diabetes. I am not a health expert, but I found the research to be helpful in understanding nutritional and lifestyle interventions that lead to reversals in insulin resistance and sustainable weight loss.

For this post I will focus on the recommendation to increase consumption of natural and unprocessed fats in our diet. These include olive oil, butter, coconut oil, beef tallow and avocado. Nuts are also a healthy option, and full-fat dairy can be enjoyed without guilt. We must be careful to avoid inflammatory fats (aka “trans” fats) that are processed such as vegetable, canola, peanut oils, or margarine which are high in omega-6 fatty acids and may have detrimental health effects. Basically, we need to eat “real food” that is minimally processed and balanced in terms of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. It is actually simpler than it seems. If we shop mostly on the outside perimeter of grocery stores, typically we can find those vegetables, meats, full-fat dairy products, eggs and other fresh, healthy options.

butter

I realize some readers may be vegetarian, and while I tried to become vegetarian multiple times in my life, I now believe my tendency toward a.d.d. and anxiety probably do not lend themselves to a vegetarian diet in the long term. One positive side effect I have noticed from eating fat more freely is a sense of calm, satiety, focus on a more regular basis. This contrasts with my struggle with moods starting in my teens, and a cycle of being down, anxious, and more emotionally volatile when I was eating more sugar and flour in my diet. Sadly, so many people struggle with mood issues such as depression or anxiety, and healthy fats may be a key to helping our brains regulate and manufacture healthy neurotransmitters.

One helpful resource if you want to learn more is Nutritional Weight and Wellness and their podcast, Dishing Up Nutrition. As registered dietitians and licensed nutritionists, this team stays very up-to-date on the latest research about dietary interventions to help a variety of conditions. They explain in easy terms how to improve your overall health through dietary interventions. While you may also work with your primary care provider, please know that doctors do not receive much training in nutrition in medical school. Unfortunately, so many of the proactive things we can do to help our overall wellness are not a focus of the medical profession, and they often treat the effects rather than the cause of illnesses.

I work with outstanding nurse practitioner, who is open to supporting my personal experiments with nutrition, especially when based on sound research. She ordered blood tests every 6 months as I was making these adjustments and we both found that, contrary to popular belief, my high-fat diet did not lead to higher cholesterol. Actually my blood pressure was lower, my weight was down, triglycerides were normal and other numbers in the normal range.

Obviously, you need to find what works for you, not take my experience as gospel. Please work with professionals who have the experience and expertise to help you optimize your own health and wellness. For example, if you have nutritional deficiencies such as low Vitamin D (which almost all of us in Minnesota experience in fall/winter) or magnesium deficiency, there may be factors that would benefit from more personalized consultation. Also, getting pro-biotic supplement may help fight sugar cravings and balance your gut, making it easier to switch your diet to more healthy options.

Being willing to experiment with foods you once thought were forbidden, and realizing that you are actually allowed to enjoy food is a beautiful discovery.  Full-fat dairy added to my coffee in the morning is delicious! Knowing I can put half an avocado in salad, add butter to my vegetables, and be liberal with the olive oil has made all of my meals taste better and led to more satisfaction. I no longer have gnawing hunger between meals, and thus I do not have a tendency to overindulge on junk food or to snack. My sleep quality and quantity has improved as well.

Fat is a beautiful thing. I say that as I happily note the spare tire around my middle has been steadily shrinking and my body fat has been reduced. Since my body is no longer “starved” for this important nutrient, I do not hang onto extra fat, and my brain is so much happier and less anxious. Granted, the meditation, yoga and running do also help. But nutrition cannot be underestimated when it comes to keeping our overall moods balanced and our energy high. It has been life-changing for me to realize this, and I am a big proponent of doing a few experiments and mindfully noting how you feel when you make these changes.

Since everyone’s body is different (some people with a dairy sensitivity for example, should not opt for cream in their coffee), please be mindful and intentional with your personal experiments. Seek help for the any major health issues and have confidence that your body, when regulated normally, has wisdom within it. It will give you signals to help know what is nourishing and what is toxic. That said: enjoy the journey!

 

WellBeing tools

Back in April of 2016 I attended a leadership development conference for Latino/as at my company in which we had a wonderful speaker, Scott Eblin. He spoke with us about the world we now experience, the constantly connected, over-scheduled, somewhat frenzied workplace, to which we all could relate. He spoke about the need to show up at our best every day as leaders, despite all these challenges. His message resonated with me and I eagerly listened to the audio version of his book Overworked and Overwhelmed: the Mindfulness Alternative. Life-changing for me. No exaggeration. During his talk he explained how our inability to breathe deeply, take breaks and re-engage our parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” response) was leading to some big health problems. His own personal story, about a diagnosis of MS, which led him to explore yoga as a way to deal with stress was a huge motivator for me to get more serious about my practice, going from 1-2 times a week up to 3-4 times a week on a regular basis.

Around the same time, I picked up a book by Tom Rath and Jim Harter called WellBeing: The Five Essential Elements. It was a time I did not feel particularly well, even though I was not exactly “sick.” I felt stressed, I felt overwhelmed and I was questioning whether the role I had taken the year before that as the clinical operations manager for an international team, was actually killing me. My weight was going up, and I was suffering from insomnia quite often. I was having a hard time figuring out how to manage it all. So I was doing what I know best: researching and reading all of the information I could get my hands on about how to make it better. I had also going to therapy every other week to get a handle on the stress and anxiety, and to work on other issues which I may write about at a later time.

The WellBeing book cited extensive Gallup data to look at various measures of quality of life that they determined are key to a life well lived and they found five broad categories that are essential to most people around the world. They are: Career WellBeing, Social WellBeing, Financial WellBeing, Physical WellBeing and Community WellBeing. If we are struggling in any one of these domains, as many of us do at some time in our lives, it damages our overall WellBeing and wears on our daily life. Though they do measure it specifically (probably because they are not so simple to measure), spirituality and faith often folds into these all aspects of WellBeing, because meaning and purpose drive aspects of all of these areas, in different ways across cultures and nationalities.

What I liked about the WellBeing book, probably because I am a Questioner, and I love data. I am a clinical researcher, so I collect data and analyze for a living. I loved that there was an assessment I could take to assess WellBeing in each of these areas. The premise of the book is that we can improve each of these areas by focusing on our daily activities and habits in a personalized way to make an impact on all of these aspects. There is also a daily tracker, and a monthly tracker to assess progress over time toward goals over a period of 6 months.

It is a very nice tool, and I decided to commit to raising my baseline WellBeing and paying particular attention to areas rated less than 70. The tool uses a scale for distinguishing degrees within zones of Thriving (70-100), Struggling (40-69) and Suffering (0-39). So tracking in each of these 5 categories over time, and paying attention to the areas that need work, one can actively work on their WellBeing with a reliable set of measures over time. There is a space on the daily tracker to record a “journal” entry, and there is also a reminder function to do the regular check-ins on a monthly cadence and to track daily (or every other day, weekly, etc). The daily tracker takes 2-3 minutes to complete.

Those of you familiar with Gretchen Rubin’s habit strategy of monitoring know that this can be a helpful way to make progress on a goal, and for a questioner like me,  it is important. Someone told me once that you get more of what you focus on – so if you focus on WellBeing, you probably will be able to develop more of it. Conversely, if you focus on what you lack in your life, you may find yourself stuck. But I digress. That is for another post.

Waterfall

What I notice looking back on 12 months of data from April 2016 to April 2017 (you can renew the subscription for tracking beyond the 6 months if you are a data geek like me) I find it fascinating because I notice 2 distinct jumps from the original baseline. Full disclosure: I started in the low to mid 70’s. One might think I was thriving, but I had a couple of areas in the “6” range and that revealed why I felt I was struggling in terms of overall WellBeing. The first jump occurred in August 2017 about three weeks after I decided to take a break from drinking alcohol.

I was not a heavy drinker, and usually had 1-2 glasses of wine in the evenings, but I was not happy that I seemed to desire a drink immediately upon getting home after work. It was becoming a daily occurrence rather than a occasional treat. So I felt it was an indicator that I was buffering some kind of discomfort or stress, rather than dealing with the cause of that stress. I decided I did not need to quit forever, but I definitely wanted to take a break from it. Interestingly, my monthly scores immediately shot up to the high 80’s in terms of overall WellBeing.

The next big break-through happened after going from high 80’s to low 80’s in December 2016 and then shooting up to low 90’s in January of 2017. That may correlate to work stress at year-end and then a vacation I took with my husband (then fiance) to Hawaii which was a lovely, restful and restorative vacation. It also correlated to having established more dedicated practices of meditation, yoga and journal-writing, all which I found contributed to the type of personal awareness and self-reflection that seems a key to my personal WellBeing. A focus on getting adequate rest and sleep daily have also been key, and weight loss has been a side-effect, and perhaps another barometer for my WellBeing. For everyone these factors are different, but these practices have been the most relevant for me, and have led to better eating, sleeping and overall commitment to self-care that allows me to take care of the other people in my life as well.

I stopped tracking in April 2017, not because it was was no longer helpful, but because I felt a year of practice and attention helped me understand and develop the skills to know what specific elements were most critical to my WellBeing. I took the assessment again today out of curiosity because I wanted to see where I am after time away from tracking. I am happy to see I am still in the 90’s although a few points lower than my last mid-90’s assessment. I may try tuning in for another 6 months to monitor and see if I can increase my levels of WellBeing even further, since I am curious and since the winter can be a struggle for those of us who enjoy the light of Spring and Summer.

This may be the first of a series, because I find it helpful to reflect on my own experience, and I am eager to share tools that may be helpful for others. Questions to you, my dear readers: What do you believe contributes most to your own WellBeing? Are there small changes you can make today in order to increase your overall WellBeing? Please comment below if you wish. I really enjoy getting your feedback.