Tuesday, September 24, 2013

3 Ways to Lift Your Mood Right Now

Today I'm reading an article about positive emotions by Barbara Fredrickson, positive psychologist and author of Love 2.0.  As I read it, I'm reminded how important it is for all of us to develop the ability, as Fredrickson calls it, "shift sets," which is to say, shift our mood and mindset.  Fredrickson's research has shown that positive emotions increase our resilience because they are accompanied by broader perspective and more flexible thinking (unlike negative emotions which tend to narrow our point of view and shut down our ability to generate options).

So whether you wake up on the wrong side of the bed one morning or find yourself dealing with a major life stressor, it's important to have a set of skills that you use to bring some positive emotion online.  Here are three little practices I like to do to shift my mood.

1.  Locate Five Beautiful Things:  Wherever you are right now, identify five instances of beauty.  These things can be very small.  I'm not in a particularly majestic location at the moment, so here's what's in my view as an example:  a splash of deeply saturated aqua blue on a book cover, the curling grain of the wood in my table, fresh green leaves that tip up toward the sky, glitter on the face of my watch, and my dog's velvety brown ears.  I blogged about this boost after I read versions by Tara Mohr and Laurel Holman.  This practice shifts your attention.

2.  Look Up:  Go outside and look up at the sky.  The movement of standing on your own two feet, and tilting your head up toward the sky is naturally heart-opening.  A little and sunshine or blue sky can be an added bonus.  There is ample evidence that body posture impacts mood, so it's great to get in the habit of taking advantage of this quick boost (a great TED talk by Amy Cuddy discusses how body posture can impact who you become).  This practice shifts your position.

3.  Ask Yourself "What else can I enjoy?"  Ask this question silently to yourself.  Perhaps you can enjoy the cooling sensation of your breath passing by the tip of your nose.  Perhaps you can enjoy the soft texture of the shirt you are wearing, or perhaps you can enjoy the smell of coffee brewing.  Notice the subtle but important mind shift that accompanies the "what else" aspect of this question.  According to Steve Andreas, neuro-linguist and author of Transforming Negative Self-Talk, the assumption that you were enjoying something before you asked yourself this question, even if you don't believe it, is a powerful cognitive shift.  In my experience, when I ask myself this question, the assumption seems to prove itself over and over.  This practice shifts your cognition.

PS I hope that if you practice with these skills you'll see that the idea here is not to aim toward becoming relentlessly and cloyingly cheerful.  Instead, the invitation is to experiment with these little in the moment practices, and see for yourself if they introduce access to energy or options you might not have noticed before.  I'd love to hear how it goes for you.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Book Review :: The Way of Transition

Sometimes life hands me a book that is just what I needed.  This summer, by way of a good friend, that book was The Way of Transition by William Bridges.  

If you've been following the blog, you may remember this post from early summer, recounting a moment in the grocery store during which I distinctly felt that something had changed for me. Nothing outside me had changed, but inside I felt a shift.

This book named that moment for me and helped me get oriented to the phase I now find myself in.  Here are the three most important things I received from the book.

1.  Bridges identifies the moment of internal shift as a developmental transition (as a parent I see this frequently with my children, and it was relieving and freeing to allow myself to be in one of these phases).

2.  He notes that even if a change is good, it can be accompanied by a feeling of grief when familiar parts of our lives or identities change, which was another point that normalized some of the less sunny feelings I had over the summer.

3.  He claims there is a "neutral zone" in all transitions, a phase in which aspects of life are in motion, but an external reality has not solidified.  The uncertainty of this phase can be disorienting and the temptation can be to make quick decisions to end the phase of uncertainty.  However, if the "neutral zone" is embraced it has the potential for exploration and experimentation can make it a deeply creative phase for people.

Here's to creative exploration and experimentation!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Listening as an act of love

I was asleep in bed when the phone rang.  I picked up the phone and Graham's friend Joe said to me, "America has been attacked."  I thought he was joking.

That is how I learned about the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  

Over the past few years I have been following a classmate of mine as he leads a team that is creating the 9/11 Museum.  His TED presentation describing his work is full of beauty, lyricism, and kindness.  He talks about "the poetry of reflection," "meaningful adjacency," and the "literature inside all of us."

Watch the video.  Remember the day.  Tell me where were you when you heard the news?  I'd like to know.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Celebrate :: 40 is Fabulous

I went to a "40 is Fabulous" Birthday Party this weekend.  And I loved it.  The display of fancy shoes alone was celebration of glitter, sass, style and pure fun.  But that was not all, there was dancing to cheesy music from the nineties, amazing ice cream sandwiches from Bi-Rite creamery in San Francisco, and tequila shots.  That's right, tequila shots.  I did it all, tipping a little farther backwards, as my heels sunk deeper and deeper into the lawn with each passing hour.

One of the things I loved the most about this party though, was the frame for this celebration.  The hostess had gathered us all together to celebrate 40 years of life, by sharing a little bit of all of her favorite things with us.  So on various tables around the party there was a list in a silver frame of the hostess's "Top 40."  You can see the bottom of it in this picture below:

Reading the list made me closer to the Birthday friend, confirming what I already knew, but also adding to the picture.  I had no idea "early morning" was one of her favorite things.  Now I do.  By sharing so generously she deepened our friendship in a sweet, light hearted way.  And so to say thanks, I'm offering my own "Top 40" in no particular order.  Actually, since I'm 41, I indulged in 41 items.  Forgive me.  Here it goes:

morning frisbee with Chicca (the dog)
the ocean
ice cream
villa san michele
mothers symposium 
monday dish walks
my mother's floating island
getting there by bike
rainy days
post ranch inn
outdoor fires
friday sitting
my wedding dress
momma zen
aqua blue
hanalei bay
date night
the sunshine smell of girl hair
my weber grill
my bed
sunday jogs
homemade gnocchi
productive team meetings
a good bagel
the golden gate bridge
my girls schools
family dinners
shawn colvin

What's on your list?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Am I doing this right?

If you've been following the blog for awhile, you may know that on Fridays I get together with a group of friends.  We usually light a candle and sit together in a circle for twenty minutes--it's our version of meditation practice.  Recently, we've connected with some other friends who want to share in this exploration, who want to find out for themselves what meditation is and how it might have a place in their lives.  And so, starting a couple of Fridays from now, we'll be sitting together again.

I'm really looking forward to it, but I'm also finding myself feeling shaky and wondering how to proceed.  I've had a practice for a long time, but sharing it is much newer.  I feel shy.  I feel uncomfortable, and sometimes afraid.  I find myself asking the question that I've asked myself many, many times before, "Am I doing this right?"  

For better or for worse, this seems to be a learned mantra that swarms incessantly around me and people I know.  It's useful to a point, but after that point, this question can become a kind of bizarre, ubiquitous, shaming background noise that is around us so much we barely notice it.  Until we sit our butts down on a cushion, and sure enough, there it is, predictable in its ubiquity.  Right up front, one of the first things that flies by the observing mind.

So what do I make of this question...well, I could think a lot of things about it, but for now, today, I think I will hear the question like the chime of a meditation bell, indicating that something new has begun.  Nothing more, nothing less, just the habit my mind falls into when I encounter something new.  

Am I doing this right?


The session begins...