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.

Posted by: Edward | May 17, 2015

Move the Pen

Move the pen. Move the brush. Push the keys. Strum the strings. If there is some creative endeavour you wish you could do, all you have to do is do it. At the base of every one there is a core set of activities and some basic equipment. Get your hands on the simplest version of the basic equipment. Don’t go out and buy the best. You earn better gear by using up, wearing out, or out growing the basic gear.

Get the basic gear and start. Now. “I don’t have time!” the cry goes up. No one has time until they take it. In between two activities, strum a chord. Add two brush strokes during a commercial. I have a notebook in the bathroom. One on my bedside table for when I can’t sleep. One hidden in my desk drawer at work. Shh. Don’t tell anyone. I go to work an hour early to sit in the coffee shop across the street writing. I write on my lunch break. If it matters to you, you have to act like it does. If it matters to you enough, you will steal the time to do it.

You are going to suck, at first. If you are lucky like me, you might not realize how much you suck until you don’t suck as bad. Most of us aren’t that lucky. We all start out no good. It’s what you do next that counts. You can quit and be like everyone else who doesn’t do what they want to or you can keep going anyways. That’s called courage. Be courageous and keep going even though you suck because eventually something magical happens… you get better.

So if practice, just doing it, is the most important part, what’s the second bit? Feed yourself good examples. If you write, read the sorts of things you want to write and read the greats. If you want to play guitar, listen to players you love. Or better still, watch them. Then? Copy them. Try to replicate what they did. And again, it’s perfectly ok to suck, even they did at some point. Hunter S. Thompson typed out The Great Gatsby just to feel what it was like to type something brilliant. I’ve spent the last few months memorizing and singing my favourite songs, and this week I wrote two of my own. Are they as good as my favourites? Hell no. Am I stoked that they exist? Hell yes.

So you’ve started doing what you wanted to do. You steal time for it. You accept that you aren’t as good as you want to be. You’ve fed yourself good examples, and copied them. Maybe you’ve even gotten better. Now what? Find a community. Find people who want to hear, look at, or read what you’ve made. Find other people who are working on what you work on. Find other people who care about what you care about. They exist. Community sustains us in our goals. When you get discouraged, and we all get discouraged from time to time, your community can help you remember why you are doing what you have chosen to do.

I’ll tell you a secret now. This stuff I’ve just told you about getting started on a creative pursuit, can be applied to just about anything you want to learn or improve at. Decide what matters to you, figure out the core activities, and make time to do it now. Move the pen.

Posted by: Edward | April 26, 2015

Fail Better

People fail. They fall short of their goals. They betray people they love. In every possible way, they screw up, disappoint themselves, and others. To err is truly human.

So what happens next? Some people, when they fail, let it destroy them. They feel like broken people, horrible, unworthy of love. In short, they feel shame. Unfortunately, shame can be a trap. If you feel shame, you can’t really move on from your mistake, you essentially live in the moment of your failure.

What is another choice? Instead of letting your failure mean you are bad, not good enough, or unworthy; you can let it be your action that was not good enough. If it is not you but your action that was bad, all you have to do is change your actions. You move on, you learn that’s not a way you want to act.

With this change of perspective, your mistakes don’t make you bad, they make you better. Each error can be an opportunity, if you accept it and commit to changing your actions and yourself. This is a process that is very rewarding but often difficult and uncomfortable.

First, you must face that you did in fact screw up. This alone can be fantastically difficult as many of us have left over ideas from childhood that we have to be perfect. We can’t be. Remind yourself that all human beings make mistakes. It doesn’t mean you are bad, it simply means you are human.

Now, look at the specific action that you feel was a mistake. Decide what of your goals and values it fell short of, select an action you would rather you had done, and commit to acting differently if you get another chance. Additionally, if someone was harmed by your error, I’d also suggest committing to an action to make amends.

It is uncomfortable to make mistakes but if we were unable to, we would never learn, never grow. Our ability to screw up is a vital part of us. So next time you use this capability, face it, accept it, and use it to become a better you.

Posted by: Edward | February 1, 2015

It’s ok to not feel ok

Let’s imagine that you have found yourself feeling bad. Maybe you are angry, maybe you are sad, maybe you are afraid. The very worst thing you could do is tell yourself, “I shouldn’t feel like this,” and make yourself feel ashamed on top of those other feelings. That just makes it twice as hard to feel better because now you have two layers of bad feelings to go through.

If you find yourself sending shame messages to yourself, here are some things you could tell yourself instead. “It’s ok to not feel ok.” “Everyone feels bad sometimes.” “This feeling will pass.”

Why does this help? Because the feeling isn’t actually caused by the event which triggered it but by the stories we tell ourselves about it, our beliefs about ourselves and the world. Often the process of moving from event to feeling seems causally connected because it happens so fast and because we don’t need to tell ourselves a story in the moment. The event bounces off a story we’ve already told ourselves, beliefs we already have, and our mind emits a feeling in response, based on what this seems to mean for us or about us.

These unpleasant feelings then aren’t actually a bad thing but rather an opportunity for us to change. They help us uncover our ideas about the world and ourselves that need changing, that hurt us, or get in our way. So the next thing to do is use these feelings to uncover the stories that drive them.

First, name the feeling. Say to yourself, “I feel ______.” It can help to develop a working vocabulary of feeling words but you can start with just the basics like happy, sad, angry, afraid, guilty, ashamed, embarrassed, and so on.

Now, follow it up with “because I think ______” and try to fill it in with the story you must be telling yourself in order to feel how you feel. This might not be easy for you, especially at first, but this is a skill like any other and it can be built over time.

Once you have your I feel because statement, ask yourself if this belief is true and helpful. Then ask yourself what would be more true or more helpful. Once you have this new and improved belief, repeat it to yourself and imagine how you would feel if you believed it. Imagine other times when it might be useful to remember this better belief.

Over time your beliefs will change, and your feelings will change with them. And it starts not with fighting your feelings but by accepting them. And remember… it’s ok to not feel ok.

Posted by: Edward | November 4, 2014

Curiousity and Compassion

Everyone you see has their own story. Each person has a unique tapestry of experience, belief, choice, and coincidence that’s lead to them being who and how they are. So from one angle we are all utterly unique. No two people could possibly come out the same. Even identical twins who spent every day together, saw the world through slightly different angles and came to slightly different conclusions about it.

On the other hand the basic frame that all of those unique narratives are hung on is essentially the same. We are all built out of the same four chemicals of DNA’s code. We all live for a time and then that time ends. We are all uncertain of when that time will end. We all want things. We all suffer. We are all thrown into this confusion and have to make sense of it for ourselves.

So hold this in your mind, we are all the same and we are all unique. There is no contradiction. These can give rise to two of the most important human attributes, compassion and curiousity. Compassion in our awareness of what we share, especially the commonality of our suffering. And curiousity to learn of and from one another’s stories. For when we learn from each other’s experiences and viewpoints it does not diminish us but rather enriches us.

When we enshrine these two attitudes as our approach to others in our day to day life, it gives us a powerful frame to cope with difficulties, help other, and enjoy our own existences. There is something very comforting in remember we are not alone in our suffering. Reaching out to others in that vein is comforting to them and deeply satisfying for us. The same can be said for listening to others’ stories, it is engaging and enriching for us and deeply validating for them.

Posted by: Edward | September 4, 2014

What I can do

I am tired and in a shitty mood. I don’t want to think of anything to write. I don’t want to go to work or see friends. I just want to stay in bed and sulk. But I don’t. I get myself together and go to the coffeeshop to write. And when it’s time I’ll go to work and I’ll smile and do my job.

Some days are going to suck. Sometimes you aren’t going to feel good. The truth is, you don’t have to let that stop you. You can look the shitty right in the face and say, “yup that sucks,” and then go do what you choose to do.

I wasn’t always able to do this. Or maybe I just didn’t know that I could. I’ve spent a few years making myself into a different sort of person. I’ve collected tools that help me. Some are ideas from Stoic philosophy and another is simple mindfulness meditation.

The two ideas from Stoicism I use the most are: that somethings are under our control, while most things aren’t and what disturbs us are not our experiences but rather our thinking about those experiences.

That last one is not always true. I was physically assaulted last night. There was pain and a heightened response from adrenalin. I would argue this disturbance came straight from the experience.

However, when I got up this morning, I was still upset. Here it was not the experience but my thinking upsetting me, because if I was paying attention, I would notice I was no longer being assaulted and that all the extra adrenalin had already left my system.

Here I make use of that other idea from Stoicism. Some things are up to us and some things aren’t. I can’t go back in time and make that person not attack me but I can choose what I do now. And what I chose to do was to meditate.

I practice a deceptively simple form of meditation. I sit with my spine straight, my eyes open, and everything else relaxed. Then I pay attention to how it feels to be breathing now. I don’t try to stop or fight my thoughts. But if I notice some thought carrying my attention away so that I forget the feeling of my breathing then I give it a little mental tap, label it thinking, and return my attention to the experience of breathing.

It’s very important that you understand letting a thought carry your attention away isn’t failing at mediation, rather noticing that this has happened is success. As you let go of each of those sticky thoughts you are letting go of what disturbs you. The more you pay attention to what you are presently experiencing, the less you will find that disturbs.

And maybe I can’t shake the bad mood entirely but I can focus on what I can do. Maybe I can’t feel like writing but I can put my shoes on. I can’t change the past but I can go to the coffeeshop. I can’t make a violent person into a nice guy but I can move my pen.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »