Posted by: Edward | November 15, 2015

The Four Parts of Compassion

I think a key thing we need to cultivate in ourselves and to encourage in the world is compassion. It is the best of us, when being human is a compliment. A literal translation of the word might be shared suffering. It is related to empathy but takes a few steps beyond it.

The root of compassion is in empathy, understanding what someone else is going through from their point of view. The willingness to try seeing things through someone else’s eyes will over time increase your ability to do so. This could be considered the intellectual aspect of compassion.

The emotional aspect is found in sharing the feeling with the other person. If, for example, you realize that the person you are talking to is feeling sad, allow yourself to feel sad with them. This isn’t that hard to do, we already come equipped with what are called mirror neurons, which allow us to feel what others feel.

If you are able to share the other person’s feelings you may find that a desire to help them arises naturally. To help them with their suffering will help you with the suffering you now share. If it does, let it bloom within you. It is a beautiful thing. This is the intentional aspect of compassion.

And the last part of compassion is to let that desire to help become a concrete action. Do something to reach out of yourself and help another person. Sure, this will help them. Additionally, studies show this will even make you a happier person. But more importantly, it’s one small way we can make the world a little better.

Posted by: Edward | November 12, 2015

The Power of Responsibility

One of the greatest and most horrible adult realizations is that no one is going to do it for you. If you want something to happen, you are going to have to work for it. And even then you might not succeed.

This is one of the core thoughts behind responsibility. Your parents are not going to do it for you, even if you are lucky enough that they are still alive. Santa Claus isn’t real. God seems to be pretty selective about what prayers he answers. So if you want something, you are going to have to figure out how to get it and put in the work.

This isn’t to say no one will help you. Sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t. You can’t just count on or expect that help. And you actually need to ask for it. Asking for help is a form of taking responsibility. You’ve identified what you want, you’ve figured out one way to achieve it, and you are actively doing something to help it happen. And if you are actively working towards something, a lot of people become more willing to help you.

One of the hardships of this realization is that it requires you to forge a new relationship with failure. When you take responsibility for what you want, you are going to need to do things you’ve never done before and this means you will experience failure. But this hardship is a power as well. Trying and failing is how we learn to do better. Our ability to fail and learn from it is one of humanity’s greatest strengths.

I’ve talked so far about taking responsibility for what you want and I want to clarify that this doesn’t have to be a purely selfish thing. I don’t know about you but I want things for others. I want people I care about to be happy and healthy. I want the world to move in directions that I think are better. Taking responsibility means taking action. Do something to help someone you care about. Do something to contribute to a cause you believe in. You’ll be glad you did. But be sure to temper this contribution with the awareness that your time and energy are limited.

Spider-man has a slogan, with great power comes great responsibility. It is a reminder for him to use his powers for good. And it’s an important thing to remember. But I think the opposite is also true. With great responsibility comes great power. The more you can allow yourself to be responsible for, the more of your cares that you can embody in concrete action, the greater your effect on the world… the greater your power.

Posted by: Edward | November 4, 2015

Rituals for Increasing Happiness

There are things you can do that science has found can increase your happiness. Give yourself the gift of making habits or, even better, daily personal rituals of those things.

The first is gratitude. Making a habit of feeling and expressing gratitude has a measurable effect on people’s happiness. Start by making a daily ritual of reviewing your day and finding one to three things that happened to feel grateful for. Try to find different things each day. If you have trouble doing this, imagine subtracting something from your life and how much that would diminish your enjoyment of life and then feel grateful that you experience that thing or person.

Next is when someone does something for which you can feel grateful, thank them. A general habit of thanking people when they help you or treat you kindly is good, but you can take it up a notch. Once a day find someone who has helped you and deliver a complete thank you. You thank them, tell them specifically what for, and how it impacted or benefited you. This practice has two benefits. First, focusing on gratitude and how people are kind to you will make you happier. and second, thanking people will make them feel appreciated and will improve your connection to them, and that will make you happier.

The next thing is kindness and compassion. Neuroscience found the people with the happiest brains were meditators. And when their brains lit up as happiest? When they were thinking compassionately. Practice thinking of others as just like you, people on this earth for a limited time with hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, doing their best to navigate uncertain challenges. Remind yourself of people who upset you that they are doing the best they can and you behave poorly at times as well. At least once a day, do something kind for someone else. Don’t look for anything in return or even for thanks, just help someone else out. Science has found it will make you feel better.

Once a day give yourself a gift. It can be as simple as having a cup of coffee or listening to a song you enjoy  or a five-minute conversation with someone you love. But treat it as special. Take a break from your worries and distractions and focus your attention on the gift you are giving yourself. Let yourself really experience and enjoy it. Practice savouring these positive experiences.

Make another daily ritual of finding one to three small things to feel proud of. How small? Single choices. A moment where you could have chosen the easier, the unhealthier, the meaner way to act but instead you chose the harder, the healthier, the kinder. When you choose the salad over the fries. When you do something towards your goals instead of watching TV. When you forgive someone who disappointed you rather than holding a grudge. These are the moments to remember and appreciate yourself for.

Keep the moments small so you can feel pride and be humble at the same time. Focusing on these moments when you’ve done well, by your own standards, will make you feel better and will make you more likely to make better choices more often, which will make you feel better. Over the long-term it’s those small choices that matter most.

Posted by: Edward | September 30, 2015

When can stress be good for you?

  1. When you frame it as good for you

The story you tell yourself about the stressful situation and stress itself can both affect how the stress affects you. Instead of stress being damaging, sometimes it can be like exercise for a muscle. It hurts but ultimately you get stronger.

  1. When you can handle its intensity

If the stress is less than an amount that you would be unable to handle, then it is less likely to be damaging to you. Extremely intense stress, such as when your life is in peril, can cause conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

  1. When you choose it

If you willingly entered into a stressful situation, or chose it as a way to work towards a goal of yours, it is more likely to have longer term positive effects for you. When you have a sense of control you are more likely to find it tolerable and even worthwhile.

  1. When its duration is short

Chronic stress is almost always damaging. But if the stressful situation is short in duration, even if it is on the higher end of moderate, most of the time it will prove harmless to you or like building a muscle. Regular low intensity and short duration stresses can be invigorating.

Posted by: Edward | September 22, 2015

Go Beyond the Surface of your Disagreements

In a disagreement, we often butt heads over specific positions or demands. And if we stay at that surface of the disagreement, we will stay stuck in conflict. If we can go behind the positions, we will find feelings, what people want, what they value, and how they believe the world works.

In exploring these, you will find many places where you actually agree. You may find you understand why they hold the position they do. You may find you admire their commitment to their values. Out of a respectful exploration of this shared space of meaning you may together find a way to move around the point of contention and create a flow of agreement.

By going behind the surface of a conflict, you may find a way to feel good, get what you really want, and act in alignment with your values, together. And even if you can’t find a way to agree, you might be able to simply disagree, without needing to dislike each other.

Posted by: Edward | September 17, 2015

The Challenge and Opportunity of Now

Do not ask of this moment, whatever you are experiencing, whether this is good or bad. Accept and affirm that this IS, and ask, how can I respond to this? What can I make of this moment? That is the root of our freedom and power.

What is, is. Judging it as bad does nothing to change it, it only makes us feel bad. What the moment provides, whether we find it pleasant or unpleasant, is a challenge and an opportunity.

The challenge is to not let that moment overwhelm us, to not get bogged down in whether it is good, bad, or ugly. Our challenge is to accept it as it is. If we can do this then the moment becomes an opportunity.

It provides an opening for us to fill with an expression of who we are, who we choose to be. In that opening we can choose how we respond, we can choose to express our values in action. In that way any moment, no matter how unpleasant, can be a triumph. We can use that challenge and its opportunity to bring out the best in us.

This being present in the moment and accepting it without judgement has a name. It’s called mindfulness and it is a skill you can develop. One method is the kind of meditation which shares its name.

A simple version of this is to sit in an upright but otherwise relaxed posture and pay attention to the sensations of your breathing. Whenever you notice that your attention has wandered, gently point it back at the physical sensations of breathing.

It is important to note that when your attention wanders you have not failed at meditation. No, instead, noticing that your attention has wandered and gently focusing it back on your breath is succeeding at meditation. That is how you build the skill of mindfulness. As little as ten minutes a day can noticeably change many things in your life.

The next thing to do is let this growing skill of mindfulness start to invade the rest of your life. You could pick a simple task and bring to it the quality of mind you’ve been training with meditation. Try setting random alarms with your watch or phone and just take a few breaths to feel what you are feeling when they go off.  Take an activity that you find boring and try to make it new in a subtle way only you would notice.

Finally, bring the accepting non-judgemental awareness to a moment you normally find difficult and see if it opens up an opportunity to behave differently than you might normally in that situation. If you find that you do, if you get that cubic centimeter of chance, make the best of it.

Posted by: Edward | August 30, 2015

Letting Your Light Shine

Your life isn’t what happens to you, it is what you do. What happens to you are just your circumstances, anyone could have faced them. It is what you do in the face of those circumstances that makes it your life. You get to stamp yourself on the moments you are given and claim them. But it’s a responsibility as well. Who are you telling the world you are?

Are you broadcasting your largeness of spirit, your ability to accept whatever you are given, face it with curiosity and compassion, and courageously embody your highest values in action? If not, why not? This is the real challenge of your life, to bring your authentic best to any given moment. As Laozi says, who conquers others is strong, who conquers themselves is mighty.

You can start by fully accepting those things in yourself that you’ve let prevent you from embodying your best self. Your shame. Your fear. Your uncertainty. Start with whichever comes up for you, explore it with curiosity for how it works for you, why it is triggered, and what it is telling you. Face it with compassion for the person experiencing it, compassion for the person who learned it, and compassion for the people connected to it.

Now reflect on your values, on how your best self would be in the world. Accepting that what you are experiencing, feelings and all, can not be wished away, how would your best you act? How would that best you stand, move, breathe, look, and speak? Now let as much of that best you into the world as you can. This is your gift, give it as freely as you can.

On this battlefield it is the tiniest victories that count most, so celebrate any time you let a little more of your authentic best into the world.

Posted by: Edward | August 9, 2015

Cultivating a Positive Error Culture

If you want to improve your life, your workplace, and your relationships then a powerful thing you can do is work on developing a positive error culture.

Most of us already have some experience with negative error cultures. That’s when a mistake is a bad thing that is enough to judge a person or their capabilities as a whole. When you feel the need to hide your mistakes or you hear people talking about the need to cover your ass, then you are probably in a negative error culture.

In a positive error culture a mistake, or a bad result, is viewed as an opportunity to improve your way of doing things. An individual error is actually good thing in that it brings a deficiency in your procedures to light. Now you have an opportunity to improve them so the problem will not recur. Errors are part of the process of improving your body of practices.

In order to do this, you have to move the location of the error from the person to the behaviours that generated it. Let go of the need to blame. Stop asking whose fault this is and start asking how did this happen. When you identify the sequence of events, decisions, and behaviours that generated the result you don’t want, then you can begin changing them to get results you do want.

This can’t happen if the people involved feel attacked, devalued, or disrespected. When people feel confident that their value is affirmed and the focus is on the behaviours then they can feel safe enough to be open about what those behaviours were. Only with that openness is real change possible.

Begin by applying this mindset to yourself. When you make a mistake, don’t attack and degrade yourself but instead remind yourself you are a person trying your best, capable of learning and growth. Remind yourself the problem isn’t people but behaviours. Admit to yourself what the error was and explore how it occurred and what behaviours contributed to it. Then figure out how you could behave differently so that the problem will not happen again. Finally, commit to making those new behaviours into habits.

As you become more comfortable with a positive error culture you can begin to extend it to others you interact with. Refuse to participate in blame games. Continue to value and respect everyone involved. And focus on behaviour change. With patience this will transform your relationships into the sorts that get stronger in the face of adversity and the sort that solves problems rather than fights over them.

Posted by: Edward | August 2, 2015

Build Good Habits using Implementation Intentions

One powerful method for building up positive habits is called implementation intentions. These are a specific way of planning that are structured as if-then statements. For example, if I’m going for a walk, then I will take a piece of fruit with me.

The if part provides a context for the behaviour you want to implement and it is best to use a discrete and noticeable event. That event acts as an anchor of and a reminder for the behaviour.

The then part is the behaviour you want to implement. It is best if this is specific and fairly simple. If the intention is too complicated, it is a good idea to break it into smaller parts and implement these over time.

Build your habits slowly and you will have more success. For example, before I added fruit to my walks, I first built a habit of buying fruit at the grocery store. First I started buying apples, and now I buy apples and bananas. And over time I’ve been eating significantly more fruit.

Now, what if you are having trouble with one of your plans? Well, you can use an implementation intention to work on the difficulty. Maybe you wanted to go running after work but when the time comes you don’t really feel like it. One thing you could do is decide, if I don’t really feel like running then I’ll listen to some pump up music while I put on my running clothes. You can be creative and experiment until you find out what works for you.

Using implementation intentions and building your habits slowly can radically change your life. If this has caught your interest then you can start by making one of your own.

Posted by: Edward | May 24, 2015

C-C-C-C-Combo Breaker!

If you notice you’re in a depressed mood, don’t give in to the urge to figure out why. Obsessive thinking about the reasons for a bad mood is known to psychologists as rumination, and is one of the main drivers of serious depression. Looking for the reasons for a bad mood keeps you focused on the negatives and it keeps you passive. Not only will looking for reasons for your bad mood keep you focused on negatives but your mind is creative, it will come up with entirely new reasons to feel bad.

Instead, ask yourself what can I do now to make things better. This question shifts your focus away from the things which are upsetting you towards the possibility of improving your situation. Just the shift from reasons to actions will start improving your mood, the link between depressed moods and passive inaction is well known at this point. Additionally, now you’ve unleashed the creativity of your brain in a more useful direction.

So let’s say you have noticed you are in a depressed mood and asked yourself what can I do, here’s some suggestions to get you started:

Check your posture. Chances are your shoulders are rolled forward and your head stooped down. Break this pattern. Raise your head, roll your shoulders back, open your chest and take a deep breath.

Check your surroundings. Are you in a dark stuffy room by yourself? If any of that is true, change it. Turn the lights up and open a door or window to air it out. Consider finding someone else to spend some time with.

Check your motion. Have you been lying or sitting still for an extended period of time? Get up and do something physical. Even just going for a twenty minute walk will make a world of difference.

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