Procrastination

Procrastination usually comes with feeling overwhelmed. It is easy to feel overwhelmed in our culture where we try to fit too many things into one hour, day, month, year, etc. Is there a cure for procrastination? In my experience, if I pick one task and begin, all other tasks fall into place. However, picking that one task is more complicated.

This is the formula I like to use to determine where to begin when I feel overwhelmed. To me there are four arenas of a person’s life that need to be tended to regularly to achieve moments of balance: physical, spiritual, emotional and mental. I always start with the physical.

In the physical realm, we attend to our bodies needs for food, water, sleep, movement, sex, and elimination. If this first realm is not satisfied then it is hard to move onto the needs of the three other realms of our lives. Often, we overlook the physical realm saying to ourselves, “I will get water as soon as I finish this one email.” or “I will get to bed after I read this one chapter.” or if you are like me right now, “I will exercise after I make my list of things to do…”

Well, I took my own advice and tended to my physical self. I feel more focused already: a nice 30 minute run and a steamed fresh juice concoction. I did use up an hour of my time, but I also exercised for the day and have a healthy snack to drink. What gave me the get-up-and-go? A strong desire to meet my physical need. Over time, I have observed that if I do not meet my basic needs, guilt and shoulds creep in and hold me down. They erode my confidence and I feel lesser than I could be if only I….got up and went.

My advice to you, get up, get away from your computer and try something new, something physical. Begin to create a new neural pathway in your brain. Start slowly without putting too much pressure on yourself. Just start by getting out of your chair and stretching your arms way up in the air, taking a deep breath in and exhaling all the air out. Repeat four times. After this exercise you will feel more grounded, trust me. Who cares what people think, you may even inspire them to do the same. Try this out for a few days and see what a difference movement and breath make in your ability to get things done.

Breakfast: The Most Important Meal of the Day

When I was in high school and college, I LOVED giving speeches. I took as many speech classes as I could. One of my most talked about speeches was on the importance of eating breakfast. This speech was relentlessly quoted by my family members because it was videotaped and I brought it home to show my family what I do in college. They thought it was hilarious! And to this day, I bet they all eat breakfast every day!

Twenty years later, this speech still defines my life. Breakfast is important. Not only because if you do NOT eat first thing in the morning your adrenal glands release cortisol, or stress hormones, increasing your bodies fight or flight response and giving your body the feedback to store energy, i.e. the growing band of fat around your waist, but mostly breakfast is important because you are choosing yourself. You are saying to yourself, I matter and what I put into my body is important and I am going to take the time to care for myself. This seemingly simple step transforms your choices throughout the day. Instead of just grabbing a bite, you begin to think how else do I want to choose for myself today?

Think about the last time you skipped breakfast. What did you have for lunch? Probably the thing you most wanted and your body needed least: pizza, or fried chicken and French fries. That’s what I would have had, though I probably wouldn’t have made it until lunch. I would have been there when the cafeteria opened at 11am!

One other thing to think about – our bodies are alive, right? Why do we think it is OK to feed them dead food? Food that has traveled a long distance, that arrives in a package is filler food. There are very little nutrients left in food that has been processed. Even if the package say 10 essential vitamins and minerals, great for strong bones and teeth, when you think about it, can you really believe them? My challenge to you, eat a breakfast that feeds you, not one that fills your belly.

Here’s a great breakfast recipe with live food to give your body a jump start toward a great day.

The night before, put one cup of rinsed quinoa in pot with two cups of water. Bring to a boil, cover and turn off the heat.

In the morning, turn the stove on low to warm up the quinoa (keen-wa). Place a bunch of washed spinach in a pan, cook until wilted (your coffee maker won’t even be done brewing coffee). Cut up an apple or another piece of unrefrigerated fruit. Put the quinoa and spinach on a plate put a drizzle of flax seed oil, a little tamari and enjoy.

Yes, I believe in greens at every meal. And once you have this for breakfast you will too. Quinoa is an ancient grain that contains high amounts of protein. Flax oil also contains a significant amount of protein and essential fatty acids that increase good cholesterol and decrease the bad stuff. Spinach is one of the world’s most nutritious foods not only in vitamin and mineral content but in the amount of fiber it contains. Your body will not just get through the day it will thrive through the day.

Until tomorrow…

Puddles and Metaphors

I live in Seattle. I have two kids. It was dumping rain today and there were puddles everywhere. This volume of rain is highly unusual for Seattle as it mostly drizzles.

Every morning the kids and I walk to school. Today was no different. I put on my rain pants, jacket and boots. I had on synthetic layers and hat underneath all the rain coverage. The kids jumped in the stroller with the rain shield and off we went to school.

There were rivers of water everywhere. The water channels on the side of the road were running as fast as a Nepalese river.

The only gear I did not have on was gloves. I had them in my pocket. I could have put them on, but they would have gotten wet. I am not sure which are better wet hands or wet hands with wet gloves on them.

As we walked on to school my hands started to get chilly. The rain was pretty warm today but being an ex-mountain guide I know that wet flesh means the potential for being cold. As old habits die hard, I continually remind my kids to layer and the reasons behind why we layer, which can get old after a while. I told my kids that even though it was warm they might want to wear their fleece lined waterproof mittens (we have all the gear!).

My daughter who, bless her heart, has clearly defined boundaries of what she will and will not wear decided to try the mittens. She put them on but her shirt had to be under them and her jacket had to be over them and then there was this bump and NO! she was not wearing the mittens. I am proud of her for trying and standing up for what would have been uncomfortable for her. And her hands will be fine.

 

Now for the metaphor, how often do we run through situations in life or life itself for fear that if we stop we will get “wet?”

And how frequently are we uncomfortable with something but keep wearing it! We have worn it so long now we don’t even know it’s uncomfortable anymore, yet it holds us back. We know there is a reason we won’t dance in public, sing when other people are around, ride the grocery cart down the slope of the parking lot, balance on the parking lot curbs, yet the reason is so buried we don’t know it’s there.

In our culture, we spend a lot time steering away from being uncomfortable, from being embarrassed, from simply being. What would happen if we paused, thought about what we need to be prepared, got help to get ready, and then dove in?

We would feel free. We would feel like splashing in the puddles and running through the rivers. We would feel happy, happy to have tried, happy to be dry but completely covered in water.

Where do you need to put on some gear, learn some new skills and get out into the rain? What situations do you steer away from, run through, bolt past, jump over? How could moving toward those situations help you feel free? If you say, “Uh, I don’t know.” then it is you that I am talking to. Come explore with me, invite perspective, be free.

Habits: the Good, the Bad and the Committed

Habits are a slippery slope. It seems that bad habits are more slippery to get into and good habits are more slippery to climb toward. Why is that? Can we reverse the directions and slip easily into good habits and effortlessly out of bad? The answer lies in our dedication to our self instead of our dedication toward others.

Think about the last vacation you had where it was just you. If you have never taken a solo vacation I highly recommend the experience! On that vacation it was pretty easy to take care of yourself. You got to eat when and what you wanted, sleep whenever your heart desired, read books or paint or swim or do absolutely nothing. You got to take care of yourself, only you. It was really easy wasn’t it?

Fast forward…you are feeling relaxed as you drive home completely confident that you will be able to maintain this feeling, attitude, and presence, when you go through the door. As you enter the driveway, the trash never got picked up and the crows have strewn it over your yard. You decide to let it go, no big deal, you will put your stuff away and then mindfully deal with the trash later. You walk in your house, flip open your computer and read “Critical Error Message: Hard Drive Terminated” or something to that effect. Your shoulders become tense. You remember to take a deep breath and calm down. It can be fixed; hard drives are retrieved all the time. You can reschedule your Monday am meeting to happen later in the day and all will be well. Then your mother calls, she is pissed that you did not call her for four days. What have you been doing, being lazy again! Now you are really tested but you remain calm. You tell your Mom about your trip and how great you feel and then she calms down and congratulates you on taking care of yourself (just call her next time to let her know in advance). It’s late at this point, you have nothing in the fridge and no desire to go to the grocery store like you promised yourself, so you have a stale power bar and some crackers and head to bed because your body is so tired. Feeling refreshed in the morning you grab a coffee, promise to hit the grocery store on the way to the computer store and then go outside, THE $*%&(@#^ GARBAGE! And your calm centered self evaporates. You pick up the garbage, are late for your computer appointment, have no time for the grocery store and your coffee is cold.

Our lives are series of rapidly occurring events. Individually, and with a lot of space in between, each of these events are easy to handle. In our fast paced lives these events squeeze closer and closer together making them harder and harder to recover from before we enter a new one. Then inside of these events we know we need to take care of ourselves, but the events have a life of their own and our body cries to stop. As the boy who cries wolf, we listen but put off our body because it is not critical right now and the event is more pressing. A few more times we ignore our body until we do not even hear its cry. We continue to choose for others: work, kids, partners, family, etc. Then, years later, we are overweight, diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue, etc. We think I don’t have time to deal with this illness, I am too busy; when in fact it is the busyness that got us there in the first place. If we had only listened to our body. Now we feel so guilty for not listening, we cannot bear to change for to change means we were wrong so long ago. It means we have to apologize to ourselves for not taking better care. Change means a commitment to take time to care for ourselves, to be patient, to go on lots of personal vacations, eat really good food and if we cannot maintain the commitment to ourselves, we begin again.

Both good and bad habits are only there because we constantly renew our commitment to them consciously or unconsciously. The time is now to commit to choose self. Get conscious. Apologize and take the time to listen to and care for yourself. Be prepared and get support, because your body may not have nice things to say at first. This can be scary and off putting, but it is just a part of the good habit renewal process, a necessary rite of passage of choosing self.

For now, contemplate your choices thus far today. Have you chosen for yourself? If you do not know what that means, you are not alone. You do not have to stay there alone, invite perspective, and let me help you find YOU!

Softening and the Power of Intention

This morning I got up early to meditate. I try and usually succeed at sitting every day. Often when I sit it takes me a while to get into the flow. This morning was no different.  As relaxed onto my meditation cushion and into my meditation posture I realized my chest was slumped. I thought to myself (no blank mind here yetJ) how can I keep extending through my spine, sending my tailbone to toward the floor and my head to the ceiling, and keep my chest open yet be relaxed and have my bones support my body using very little muscle.  I have been meditating for a long time and I have been working on relaxing into my meditation posture almost as long. Today, I finally achieved a state that I had never before experienced.  

Through years or practice, I have discovered a lot can be achieved through the power of intention. This morning, I set an intention to soften my body, keep my posture, but soften all the muscles that support my body. I meditate in the Vipassana tradition which means I scan my body with my mind, beginning at the top of the head and travelling systematically down to my feet. Today, almost as if a wave were slowly passing through my body, I started to release tension. I never realized how much tension I hold in my head around my skull. As those muscles around my skull relaxed, I felt a flood of energy releasing into my body. As I moved down, I felt my body differently than ever before. My muscles were relaxing and I was able to sit straighter, more comfortably and with less effort. To top it off I felt invigorated, I had energy flowing through me and there was no tension there to stop the flow. 

Our children are still pretty little and occasionally we have an early morning visitor to our bed. This morning our son had come up to snuggle and was peacefully snoozing away while I meditated. About halfway through my meditation, he woke up suddenly complaining that his Dad had thrown away his grey and black cars, obviously a bad dream, but he was sad. I went and lay down with him as 5:30 am is way too early for him to be awake. I reassured him that his cars were safe and he fell back to sleep. As I was laying there I realized my body felt soft and relaxed and I do not frequently feel this relaxed when I sleep. Which got me to thinking that if I hold tension even when I am sleeping when do I ever relax? I don’t, I think I do but I don’t. I wonder if this realization is as earth shattering for you as it is for me. I cannot even relax when I am sleeping. Imagine how much energy I would have if I could relax not only when I am sleeping but throughout the day. 

This is where I came to softening. Wow, I could really use some softening in so many areas of my life and the key to getting that essence in my life is to first get it in my body. An unfathomable amount of power can be found in the absence of bodily tension. This morning I set an intention, to soften. Once I set the intention, I realized how pervasive my tension and how impactful this intention will be when put into play. Most situations in my life I brace against, I am ready for them, I am prepared! In my preparation, I get tense. Softening would be a whole new way of interacting with the world; a whole new set of tools in my toolbox of life skills.  

Don’t expect miracles the first try. And, with practice, the sky is the limit. Here’s how it works: find a chair and sit comfortably with your back straight feet flat on the floor. Close your eyes and begin by breathing into your chest; slow, successive, expansive breaths that fill your entire chest area up to your shoulders and neck, out to your side ribs, increasing the volume of the middle of your back and the front of your chest. Take four breaths this way and then rest for four breaths. Do you feel it, the release of tension, the flood of energy, the sheer power of softening? Repeat this exercise frequently throughout the day for four days. Set an intention of your own. Relax into your power. Invite perspective. 

 

Holding Anothers Dignity

Dignity is a word that I have not used much in my life until recently. I have been training in the discipline of Somatics and in the program I practice within the word dignity comes up frequently.

The first time I remember really thinking about dignity was when an old friend was consoling me after a break up or some other blow to my ego. She used a phrase that her mother often used with her, “Walk away like an exiled queen.” I liked the phrase better than ‘keep your chin up’ and the image often popped up when times were tough, so it stuck.

When I first heard the phrase and created the subsequent image, the word that came to mind was dignified. Like I said previously, I had not thought much about the word dignity before or since, until now.

Presently, I am not as much concerned about my own dignity as the dignity of the other, holding this is more difficult for me. How can I speak and act in a way that not only preserves my dignity but also elevates another to be dignified and preserves their sense of self?

This is a new concept for me and calls me to a higher level of responsibility in my communication with others. It also lets me see through another window or lens of how I can be the change I want to see in the world. If I can hold another person’s dignity as preciously as I hold my own, my world would be a more nurturing and safe place. And if anyone else feels the love and pays it forward, well, the sky is the limit.

Having lots of practice holding my own dignity, to a defensive fault, and not much practice thinking about and holding another’s I am finding the road to my goal fraught with unsuccessful attempts.

I am noticing most of my attempts at holding another’s dignity fail in situations when I have feedback that requires the other person to do something more than they are currently doing.

For example, when I have to ask my husband if he can help out with something that is not normally his duty in the house, I feel anxious. My chest gets tight, my breathing becomes shallow, I stumble over my words and my body is very fidgety. I am uncomfortable.

This inner state comes across in my communication. As studies have shown, give or take depending on the resource, 93% of our communication is non-verbal. In my case, this means it is not what I say that matters but how I say it. And how do you figure out how to say or be something differently if what you feel on the inside is hard to understand and harder to shift?

Let’s break it down. Given that my academic studies are rooted in systems theory I will start with my family system.

Systems theory suggests that all of the patterns we exhibit were developed as a result of learned or adopted behavior in direct response to our environment. This behavior serves the purpose of keeping us safe as children and young adults. Eventually most of these behaviors stop serving us and become a hindrance to our growth. Some we grow out of, like hitting girls that we have a crush on, some stick around way past their prime.

In my family system, feedback was not encouraged. I really don’t believe my parents knew the value of feedback until later in life. It was a top down ruling structure with the ability to get what you wanted through being coy or sneaky or aligning with the goals of the leader. Given this learning environment, I did not have much practice with receiving or offering constructive feedback or asking for something that I wanted.

Why does this matter now you may be asking? Remember I am training in the field of Somatics. Somatics is the science of how our mind and our body store patterns of behavior.

We are the most highly evolved species on the planet. In our evolution we were fitted with the ability to feel sensation and make meaning out of that sensation. This served us well on the wide open plain and forest, allowing us to sense a change in the wind meaning a storm or hear the crunch of a stick signifying danger and primed us for long term survival.

Our brain pretty much still works the same way, we have sensation in our body and we make meaning. When we hear a loud crash we freeze, run away, disassociate, turn to fight, or move to make it better.

These are the five ways we are conditioned to deal with situations that catch us off guard.

The reaction is instantaneous; which means that our thinking brain has no control over how we react. I am certain you have had the experience of a behavior reoccurring over and over and you are not sure why you react that way and you want to change it but it comes on before you can do anything about it. Or maybe you don’t even notice, but other people do. They will tell you all about the behavior if you ask, but can you keep your dignity and hold theirs as well in the process?

This is where the training in holding ones own and another’s dignity begins. First, and throughout the process, we pay attention to what happens in our bodies when the experience occurs.

For example, I get fidgety and I stumble over words when I have to ask someone to do something extra or something that will mean I owe them. I may even do the task myself to avoid the uncomfortable feeling.

All of this is good information. Try to avoid belittling the self; we are simply gathering information that will help us evolve.

Then, we need to uncover the underlying narratives, stories or memories; for example, my family history around feedback. This part gets flushed out through writing or sharing the story with others.

Next, we acknowledge how this behavior served us; it kept us safe and moving forward. This is probably the most important and most frequently skipped step in this process of evolution.

Lastly, we practice, and practice and fail and try again and practice and practice and fail and try again. Get the picture. There is a great Buddhist proverb that states, “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” Keep trying, keep trying, you are bound to be successful.

So how does this all this hard work help hold another person’s dignity? By holding your own, through taking the time to learn more about the self, we learn we are human, fallible, and able to evolve.

In the process of evolution, we rest into our ability to change and grow. Through this we recognize how hard it is to shift behavior and we have more compassion for ourselves and others.

In having more compassion, we begin to live into our dignity and build capacity to hold others.

My process thankfully is still evolving. I am glad I am supported in my process. If you need support in yours, please invite perspective, the road will be bumpy, and you are capable and worth the effort.

Fun, freedom and the importance of observation

I am writing this from our snowy house in Seattle. Not only does it infrequently snow in Seattle, but I have been here 17 years and it has NEVER snowed on Thanksgiving! It feels as if it is at least December!

Growing up in western Massachusetts in the 70’s and 80’s, we had snow days frequently throughout the winter. I got and still get really excited to play in the snow. I love to build forts and sled, make snow angels and snow people, and just plain walk in the snow. It is safe to say that snow really brings out the fun in me. In the snow, I feel free.

Contrary to my snow day self, in my day-to-day life, I have been labeled as being “not fun”. I move through my day, one task to the next, trying to check at least a few things off my list to keep it from growing.

My behavior tends to be transactional; you do this and I do that and together I/we move forward, which does not always inspire transformative relationships or experiences.

Day-to-day, this behavior serves me because transformation takes time and with two young children, a husband, friends, a job, exercise, eating well, and a house to manage, my time is often limited. I have practiced this behavior for 40 years. The items on the list get checked off – an instant reward for my committed effort. Yet, I am stuck, addicted to this “getting things done” behavior. I find it hard to grow into a more adaptive, grounded, and fun person when I am on task.

One person’s fun is not another’s. I actually have fun getting my list checked off.  Other people in our house do not always care that much about checking off MY list, they have “lists” or ideas of their own. Given that I am the hub of our house, I get interrupted regularly to assist in bringing their ideas to fruition.

Over the years, I have built capacity to handle small interruptions, even frequent, easily solvable, interruptions. However, successive, cumulative interruptions or ones that force me to put my list on hold elicit feelings of fear – a fear of being trapped or cornered which get expressed as anger and frustration.

This internal experience is seen by outside observers as a shift in the pitch, rate and tone of my voice, sharp movements of my body, and a strained facial expression. This external expression of my internal state impacts the people I am around. It shifts their mood. This creates a downward spiral of behaviors resulting in – unless I can catch myself – more fear of not getting things done and the whole house in a tail spin!

In this space, I am unable to achieve my stated goal of softening and opening to the experience – of being fun. I usually shut down and place more focus on my task, which served me growing up: kept me safe and it is how I showed my value. Now, it is a limiting behavior.

I have been contemplating these opposite behaviors of fun and not fun for some time. Through observation, I have discovered, when I begin to feel the excitement or fear building, I know there has already been a reaction in my body and a series of habitual actions have been set in motion.

Research has shown that the emotions excitement and fear result from the release of the same chemical into our bloodstream. It is our thoughts of the situation that drive our action.

Our brain, being the meaning maker, remembers the emotion associated with that particular experience. If it is snowing, my body reacts and I get excited, the emotion my brain creates is happiness. I can stay in this behavior for while and I feel deeply satisfied.

If I am happily working hard getting my list checked off and I get interrupted, my body reacts, I get excited and the emotion my brain creates from memory is frustration. I am also able to stay in this behavior for a while and I feel deeply unsatisfied.

This is when I bring in the observer. A gift from my years of mediation and somatic practices. The observer witnesses the oscillations of the body without judgment. It does not value one emotion over the other. Both emotions are simply sensations in the body that triggered a series of habitual patterns. Through repeated practice, I am able to witness these oscillations and the subsequent emotion and story. When I can see them as oscillations, I can choose to react or practice something new.

New might be to see the interruptions as fun. As opportunities to spend time with my family in ways that add meaning to their life and mine. I would also have to adopt the belief that I have enough time to get things done. Or change the horizon of time in which I expect to do things. 

Of course, I can still enjoy checking off my to do list, but I can expand my range of emotions and my response to them in the process. I can have more fun and feel free by practicing observing and not reacting. Join me in the adventure, invite perspective.