Showing Appreciation When the Calendar Doesn't Tell You To

As Americans, we celebrate many things in a one-and-done format: a day for the earth, a day for love, a day for veterans, a day to give thanks, a day for mothers…today is one of those days. Today we celebrate all that our mothers are, and all that they have done for us.

There are so many different types of experiences people have on this specific 'holiday.' While some of us see our mothers everyday, every few weeks, or every few months; some of us don't have our mothers around anymore, or it has been decided there is no relationship, or there was never an opportunity to have a relationship, or any other variation of circumstance. 

Whatever the type of relationship, sometimes in our fast-paced lives, there can be a tendency to pencil this day in on our calendars, do the due diligence of calling, celebrating or sending flowers, and immediately getting back to into the weekly routine. If your mother is no longer around, it can be a more difficult experience filled with emotion.

For anyone with any type of experience, there is an opportunity to use the concept of acknowledgement, gratitude and selflessness - and make it an every day thing. To reframe your perspective on why we need a national reminder to show appreciation. This year for me, these types of commercial holidays are becoming reminders that I don’t need a special day to say thank you -- to anyone in my life.

For those who have positive relationships with their mothers, perhaps you can channel that same energy you bring to Mother’s Day to your mom when it isn’t on the calendar. This extends beyond a typical phone call - because this mindset isn't about checking the box, its about the content and the quality of the interaction. The same effort that is put forth by so many on Mothers Day, can easily be done in a shorter but meaningful action every day of the year.

For those who do not have positive relationships or no longer have their moms around, there are ways to bring intentional appreciation to the lives of other people who have made an impact on you. The holiday is about showing other people they matter, so perhaps there is someone who embodies qualities that you admire as you would those of a mother. Or someone who has simply been a major influence in your life. Choose a time today and everyday, to show your appreciation for their existence.

This article by Troy Campbell reminds us that there is proven psychological benefits of sustained positive emotions. So rather than giving thanks in short spurts like what Mothers Day kind of forces us to do - we should consider propelling forward continuous acts of appreciation - things like regularly spending quality time over coffee or telling someone how much they mean to you, or helping them work through a difficult problem. Research shows these sustained acts of gratitude and kindness lead to greater well being.

If you are reading this and don't completely disagree, try using today not as only a one-and-done, but a catalyst to treating the people in your life with that same kind of purposeful attention on a more regular basis. 

Thank you, mom - for everything.

Thank you, mom - for everything.

Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

This will be a strategy for life.

Humans don’t like to sit in discomfort. We get uncomfortable when faced with thoughts, people, events or experiences that make us feel unprepared, unsafe or awkward. This response is built into our brain from the cave man era. Centuries ago when there was a looming shadow in the bushes, humans perceived that unknown shadow as a threat and thus reacted by fighting, flying or fleeing. That automated brain functionality still exists today so naturally our our brain not only triggers a threat response if we see something grey in the shadows (literally) but it also triggers that same response when we encounter ambiguous grey areas (figuratively) in our lives.

In this decade, those ambiguous grey areas can include every day occurrences like working for a new boss, going to an event alone, going on a blind date, public speaking, or starting a new project. Grey areas are also typical with bigger life changes like quitting your job, moving to a new place, starting a business or trying a new career. Any of these scenarios have an element of the unknown and therefore elicit a nervousness within us. Most of us can't even tolerate being uncomfortable for short periods of time.

Finding ways to deal with discomfort is not a subject overtly taught in schools but is a skill needed to navigate life. So as adults, how do we hack the fear, insecurity, self-doubt and worry that comes up during times of uncertainty? How can we shift our perspective to see uncertainty as an attractive prospect? Since I have been pushing myself out of my zone for the last two years, I have three pieces of advice:

1. Change your mindset.

Certainty is actually a myth. Is there ever really a time when you know exactly how things will unfold? Even with thorough preparation and planning, nothing is guaranteed. Your opinion on change and uncertainty is actually all controlled by the way you choose to see it. We all wear a pair of invisible lenses that filter what happens around us to fit how we want those experiences, people or things to be. So why not use that biological habit to control the way we talk to ourselves about uncertainty? We should be able to explain to ourselves that no matter what uncomfortable situation we are about to enter, we can and will get through it. The message we send to ourselves should be pretty direct so we don’t let our minds spiral into a fear/anxiety speculation-marathon. If not controlled, the 'what ifs' can create serious harm to our sanity and wellbeing. Instead, this flip in mindset can help us foster positive and optimistic feelings about the potential of the unknown and the inevitable learning experience that comes with it.

2. Purposely go outside of your comfort zone to raise your ‘comfort threshold.’

The term ‘get out of your comfort zone’ might have become watered down, but it’s a meaningful reminder that life can be missed when we allow ourselves to get too comfortable. You can probably think of at least one good thing that came out of the last uncomfortable experience you went through. Because when we navigate the grey area of the unknown, and sacrifice the comfort of the expected, we have the potential to learn, grow, create and influence. The ultimate reward comes after we have made it through that experience – our threshold for discomfort increases and we are more prepared and more likely to embrace the next uncomfortable situation. This is because our brains can reference that example as proof that we can persevere through the next difficult or uncomfortable task ahead. 

3. Redefine the definition of success.

Taking a risk by getting out of our comfort zone won’t always yield a “good” result by societal standards. Say you quit your job to start a business that can’t get off the ground and you’re constantly in discomfort about finances. Or you join a volunteer organization overseas and are constantly in discomfort with a new language, living situation, lack of friends and new surroundings. Its during these moments that it can be helpful to say, "who cares about the traditional definition of success? I've taken risks and I'm learning how to deal with adversity." Because honestly, life isn’t as rosy as your social media feed portrays. Any ‘failure’ or less than ideal situation might just translate to a 'good' result by another definition – good for your personal growth, for your confidence, for your resilience. Besides, what is the worst that could happen? In an extreme case, being uncomfortable and taking risks could cost you a job, material possessions, your status/reputation, money, a friend or your lifestyle. But you’ll still have your mind, your body and an opportunity to begin again, try something new and stay true to yourself. Bringing your perspective back to the basics and reminding yourself to be thankful for what exists in the present is always a great strategy to help us exist in discomfort.

As John F. Kennedy once said, "nothing worthwhile has ever been accomplished with a guarantee of success." Make life worthwhile.

Using Mindfulness as a Tool for Living

Does “being mindful” mean you are supposed to live in a constant state of awareness?  I recently received this question from a colleague who is new to mindfulness and feels torn between “living in the moment” and “planning for his future.” He understands the value of trying to be in the moment, but is an ambitious person who is always planning how to achieve his next goal.

A key principle of mindfulness is focusing on the “now” instead of our autopilot mind controlling how often we ruminate over events from the past or anticipate things that haven’t even taken place yet. So how can we live in the moment but also make sure we are taking care of our future?

The answer is that mindfulness isn’t supposed to be black and white. Mindfulness is intended as a way to approach moments in your day – and over time can become a way to approach your entire life. Mindfulness doesn’t ask us to eliminate planning or goal setting, but instead urges us to focus on the experience of that activity (what thoughts you see, what bodily sensations you feel and what emotions might be present) while you are engaging in it.

So that myth of mindfulness and meditation as a constant state of zen, is incorrect. Relaxation is certainly a valued side effect of mindfulness, but not its sole purpose. Mindfulness simply teaches us to choose to view the world differently than our autopilot brains tend to choose for us. Mindfulness encourages us to come at the world with some level of objectivity instead of automatically passing judgment on and setting our expectations about a new person we meet, feeling we have, or activity we’re doing. It teaches us to detach ourselves from the thoughts that pop into our heads and the emotions that take over our bodies. With mindfulness, we can be aware of what we are thinking or feeling without being defined by it.

So once you try any mindfulness practice to see what it’s like, you will see the act of noticing  can be applied to any activity, even planning for your future. Because once you squash the myth that you have to "live in the moment" sometimes and "plan for the future" other times, you can blend them; bringing a mindful approach to goal setting or planning activities.

All you need to begin is an openness and curiosity to watch yourself. You can start by picturing yourself watching your mind, kind of like you are watching TV. Try it now - listen to this mindfulness meditation to practice.