When I trained with Drs. John and Julie Gottman of The Gottman Institute several years ago, I was introduced to 30 years of research they had conducted observing over 3000 couples in determining the predictors of divorce. One of the behaviors they recognized as very problematic in marriages is when one partner (or both) use what the Gottmans call harsh-start-up which is when a partner begins a conversation with a harshly negative or critical comment. The anecdote, of course, is approaching the same conversation with a soft-start-up which is consciously softening tone and choosing words which are respectful and absent of criticism or negativity.
This same idea is true for the way we lead our lives. If we are able to employ a softer approach to everything we see, do and say, our relationships will thrive in a very positive way and we will likely feel a greater sense of peace in our daily lives.
Here are 10 ways to improve relationships & life by using The Power of Soft:
- Check yourself before you speak. Notice if there is any "charge" of anger and take a deep, full breath. Come into awareness and intention to speak softly.
- Express feelings, thoughts, ideas, and requests with a soft tone of voice.
- If you want to receive something, first give freely and then softly and clearly make a kind request of others. If you are ignored or get a "no" don't take it as personal rejection rather understand that person is simply not available at this time.
- When you hear others brag and boast, know that likely they have some fear and insecurity within. Soften your heart to them rather than rush to judge.
- Listen more than talk. Hold space for others and just really listen. As you listen simply hold the space with full attention rather than rushing to respond.
- When you feel the sensation of anger, soften the edges and peek underneath the anger noticing there are probably thousands of moments of confusion, fear, pain and doubt under there. Breathe into the sensation of anger feeling it as simply energy in your body. Breathe through it and with it. Watch how it will begin to dissipate simply by being observed with breath and softness.
- If someone is harsh with you, attacks you verbally or lashes out, take a moment to sit back and breathe and remember they also have pain, confusion, fear and doubt under the emotion from which they are speaking. Soften your heart toward them knowing this. Then, with a soft, clear voice make a request, "I must ask that you please not speak to me so harshly. I am sorry for what you are feeling and I will help if I can."
- Be like water. Take the shape of whatever container you find yourself. Flow around obstacles. Be softly persistent. Be capable of changing shape and form as needed to adapt to the environment. Be fluid in all things for here is your greatest strength.
- Practice softening the muscles around your eyes and jaw regularly. Also, practice softening your belly throughout the day. Drop your shoulders down and away from your ears and notice when your hands are gripping the steering wheel or the pen or the phone. Soften.
- Take pause. Learn to wait and not react and jump to respond to what others do and say or to whatever impulsive thought may tempt you. Cultivate an ability to shift into neutral and observe long pauses before taking action.
A steady, dedicated practice of observing the power of soft will improve your relationships and your life. The word power is often confused for hard-hitting, fast-moving, action-oriented behavior. On the contrary, soft-touching, slow-moving, being-oriented behavior with fluidity, flexibility and patience allows for longer lasting joy and peace in life.
Yes. You read that right. Today I am going to teach you how ONE mindful breath can help alleviate your anxiety.
After 20+ years as a practitioner and teacher of mindfulness and meditation I would like to offer you the powerful tool I teach my clients of all ages in assisting with getting relief from the grip of anxiety.
Without going into all of the research and background of why this works, I will mention that recent empirical studies have shown that the practice mindfulness-meditation can reduce the activity in the brain related to stress-response and increase growth in other areas of the brain related to emotion regulation.
Before you balk, thinking you can't possibly sit still to meditate I want to reassure you that there is a very easy and brief practice you can employ anywhere, anytime that can help you deal with stressful situations. And it only requires ONE mindful breath.
When you find yourself experiencing a swell of anxiety, sometimes all you need is to interrupt this experience by physically and mentally coming into the present moment with 100% attention. This bubble of extreme awareness created with one full, deep, long breath gives you the opportunity to ground and center your entire being and alleviate the spin-out of anxiety.
Here’s how it works:
1. Close your eyes and breathe in deep, long and full. . . and out.
Take a slow breath in to a count of 7, filling your lungs from the bottom all the way to your collar bone. Inhale into your lower abdomen and then feel your middle belly, chest and upper chest fill with air.
This immediately makes connection between mind and body. You can immediately feel a disconnect from the loop of stress with just this.
HOLD the breath in for a count of 7 following the guidance of #2 below all the while.
SLOWLY release the breath to the count of 7 as if blowing through a straw.
HOLD the breath out for a count of 7.
Relax your breath to natural breath...
2. As you are breathing, focus on your bodily sensations right in this moment and where you are.
Turn your focus to the physical sensations of your body. Notice tightness, twinges, tingles, temperature. Notice the sensation of your shirt tag on your neck, the feeling of the cushion under you and behind you. Try not to evaluate these sensations as "good" or "bad," rather just notice the sensation itself.
If you can just hang out with these bodily sensations and just observe them, rather than allowing anxiety thinking to pull you away, you will be able to allow the energy of anxiety to move through you rather than spin you out.
3. Return to a natural breath and bring full attention to your natural breath.
Focus on the sensation of air coming in and out of your nostrils as you breathe. With soft curiosity, observe the feeling right at the tip of your nose. This keeps you in present moment as you stay focused. Here and now.
When observing the natural breath, there's no need to deepen or slow your breath at all as we did in step 1. Just allow your body to breathe as it naturally will. You are now no longer the breather rather the observer of the breath.
4. Open your eyes and slowly move back into life.
After taking this ONE mindful breath, it is important to re-enter your tasks and interactions with this same mindfulness. Go slowly.
Open your eyes slowly. Notice your feet on the ground. Try to sustain this calmer, more grounded sensation. Be careful not to rush back into activity.
You can use the ONE mindful breath anywere, anytime because it is so brief and subtle.
5. Practice with regularity.
It is a practice that can be repeated throughout your day. You might practice it at the top of every hour or every time you hear a phone ring or any time.
My clients experience immediate relief doing this practice and you can too. If you feel you need some personalized coaching or instruction on facing and working with anxiety please contact me personally and I'll be happy to assist you.
Here we are 45 days after New Year's day. Did you make resolutions that you haven't kept? If so, you are not alone. You may have read one of many articles that came out around the New Year citing recent psychological research on why making resolutions typically does not work.
If you really want to make lasting positive change, there are 10 essential steps you must work with in order to see what is really going on clearly, create a clear picture in your mind of how your life actually CAN be and then to see that vision come to life in a way that persists as your new way of life. There is no way around this.
Surely you have noticed most people - including you - set forth with the best intentions to form a new habit or break an old habit only to find that no matter how intense the effort something gets in the way and that goal or resolution just isn't met. And yet, I have noticed with myself and my clients it IS possible to create lasting positive change IF these 10 essential steps are observed and worked with great attention.
Inspired by the way David Gray synthesized many of the principles of various cognitive behavioral restructuring modalities into something he calls "Liminal Thinking" I saw a distinct parallel to my own work with clients and decided to weave together the steps I use in my work as a therapist and lifestyle coach. Over 15 years I've had a chance to observe how these 10 essential steps to creating lasting positive change really work.
Essentially, all behavior emerges from some level of belief, often unconscious. We move through life operating from these beliefs often without any realization this is what is happening. In order to change behavior, we must change how we see, view, and mentally process our experiences, thereby changing what we believe about ourselves, others and the world around us.
Before we begin, I invite you to relax as much as possible. Literally, drop your shoulders down away from your ears, soften your jaw, let your belly grow soft and relaxed and take a deep breath and just imagine you are sitting in a most comfortable, supportive chair taking all of this in. Then, bookmark this article and keep coming back. These are the keys you've been looking for.
1. Acknowledge that you are both the puzzle and the solver. Whatever it is that you want to change has been difficult if not seemingly insurmountable and yet the difficulty is only an illusion. A puzzle in your own mind that can be solved. You absolutely have everything you need to make this change. It's simply a matter of fitting the pieces of the puzzle together. Prepare to keep working this puzzle until it is solved and resolve not to throw in the towel for at any moment you are likely only one piece away from experiencing lasting positive change.
2. Be willing to change what you think you know to be true. You have some deep-down, core beliefs about yourself and the world that are running the show of your life and you are really attached to these beliefs. The trouble is these beliefs are most often not true. Begin with noticing a belief as it bubbles up such as, "I'm not smart enough to start my own business." Ask yourself, "But what if that isn't true? Maybe I am much smarter than I even realize. Maybe I have abilities and gifts I've never before realized."
3. Look and see through the eyes of an alien from another planet. Pretend you are here from another planet observing. What do you notice? You must train your brain to see, hear, feel and take in information about the world around you and even within your own body without jumping to conclusions or programmed beliefs. Just observe. This essential step to lasting and positive change needs to be practiced moment to moment, day to day. This creates the space in your brain necessary to have a different experience in your life. A client of mine who recently turned 50 had decided she wanted to stop drinking alcohol. She didn't identify as an alcoholic but decided drinking was not supporting her desire to lead a healthy life. She practiced this step and reported back to me after going to have dinner with a friend. They sat in the bar waiting for a table to become available. She watched people drinking from various shaped glasses containing various colored liquids. She listened to people who were likely on their third or fourth drink laughing loudly and watched one lady stumble out of her chair to the bathroom. She just noticed without judging. Interestingly, her normal desire to order a glass of wine evaporated easily.
3. Find and root into a warm and supportive pod. In order for you to experience lasting positive change you will be working to change your beliefs and in order to be able to do this you must have others who love and accept you as you are right now who support your desire and effort to make these shifts. Your pod is your place, your posse, your portal where the work of positive lasting change can happen. Seek out a personal coach or therapist who understands this work and with whom you feel emotionally safe. Find way to lovingly put some distance between yourself from people who are harshly critical or so lost in their own struggles they are not available to support you.
4. Consider all sides. Completely open your mind and be really willing to examine issues, topics, problems from all sides. Be a scientist who really wants to understand and is willing to walk around the object and study it from every possible angle. Climb into the shoes of other people and walk around. See if you can see, feel, and hear what this must be like from their perspective. If you start in neutral gear it's much easier to shift into other gears to see what that feels like.
5. Be voraciously curious. Move through your daily life in a state of wondering. Actively seek to understand what others are going through and how things work. Break out of your shell of assumptions and set beliefs and inquire further with an open, curious mind.
6. Melt away judgment. Judgment happens. The moment we decide not to be judgmental we begin to notice how often we judge. So, whenever you become aware of a judging thought (i.e. "That's disgusting," or "That's fantastic!") see if you can imagine that thought melting away and come into a place of just observing whatever it is as it is rather than relegating it to a categories of good vs. bad or difficult vs. easy. And be ready to notice when you judge yourself for judging. This will help you with the vicious cycle of self sabotage. This will help you keep moving forward without getting snagged on the beliefs such as "I knew I wouldn't be able to do this," or "This plan is a waste of time."
7. Create new rhythms and routines. If you are wanting to create lasting positive change you have to be willing to experience your daily life in a new and different way. If you are trying to quit coffee and make yoga your new morning wake-up ritual, you will need to create a new morning pattern. If you want to stop drinking evening cocktails, you'll need to have a new plan for what you do and where you go after work.
8. Play it out. Let's say you want to rekindle the romance in your relationship but you have a deep-seated belief that the flame can not be revived. Ask yourself how would a woman who is madly in love with her partner behave? Then, do that. It's called "acting as if." Even if you are not believing you can be the change that you want to see happen, just pretend and play it out as if you already are changed. Or, if you want to be healthier, ask yourself what a fit and healthy woman would choose to buy at the grocery and cook for dinner and do that. Act as if.
9. Write a new story for your life. In order to break out of a stubborn pattern of belief that does not serve your desire for lasting positive change, you must do a re-write. Have you ever seen a movie with multiple varied endings? This is what you must do for yourself and your own life. Literally write down what your life will feel like, look like, taste like, sound like as you embrace a new way of being. Act out this story. Step into the character in this story. Tell your story to others as and after you transform.
10. Make authentic connections. Through the above practices you will find it is natural and easy to have more authentic relationships and interactions with others. When you embrace curiosity, melt away judgment, create new rhythms and routines, try on different perspectives and author a new story for your life, you will find yourself drawn to knowing other people on a deeper level. You will experience a richness that wasn't there before. By making these authentic connections you reinforce the lasting positive change you are making and contribute to the greater whole.
I remember when I first read a little orange book called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz I felt amazed by the simple but powerful truth of the 4 core principles he wrote about. Truly, if all of us could agree to live by these 4 simple principles we would indeed experience greater peace in our bodies, minds and relationships. I've also realized over the years it is very easy to forget these principles so it can be helpful to come back to these four things again and again.
#1 Be impeccable with your word
Realize the power of your words. Think carefully before you speak and only say what you really intend to say. Choose your words with great care. Be cautious not to use your words to gossip or hurt others simply because you are feeling angry or frustrated. Allow your words to come from love and compassion for yourself and others.
#2 Don't take ANYTHING personally!
This can be a tricky one because when someone attacks us it can feel very personal. Ruiz explains, however, that when others do or say things that are hurtful toward you it has everything to do with where they are, what they are feeling and what they need and nothing to do with you in actuality. Sometimes there can be a bit of truth buried in the hurtful criticism or attack that is information we can accept and receive to help us grow, expand and evolve but we must release the rest and not let it soak in.
#3 Never assume
Don't make assumptions as to what others are thinking or feeling. This often gets you into a whole lot of trouble because before you know it you've jumped to conclusions and created a whole story that is not at all reality. Ruiz teaches that we must make inquiry. If someone says or does something and we are not certain what they meant, we should respectfully ask for clarity. Express what you want and need and ask others what they want and need. This principle can save so much heartache and conflict.
#4 Always do your best
What is your best? Your best shifts and moves and changes moment to moment depending on your health, your intentions, your energy level, your stress levels. Your best does not mean perfection. In every given moment simply do the best you can and accept your best in each moment.
Now, it's your turn... Share in the comments below which of these agreements is most challenging or how which of these agreements you will commit to cultivating and practicing this week!
For women over 40 we are well aware of this notion: Everything is constantly Changing.
We see it in the mirror. We see it on the scale. We see it in our children as they rapidly grow from giggling toddlers to surly teenagers and then into mature young adults.
We see it in our parents. When did our moms and dads become elderly? How did that happen?
I was watching the movie Interstellar last night and was struck not only by the fascinating and mind-bending concepts of black holes and space travel but more of our experience of linear time in this dimension. While it might be tempting to hope we are indeed on a brink of transcending 3rd and 4th dimensional experience here on Earth, from what I see most of us are still locked into see ourselves, our bodies, our kids, our parents, our planet in a linear patter of constant change.
Eckhart Tolle refers to this worldly experience as the "the world of form." As long as we are engaged with this world of form we will indeed notice everything is constantly changing.
Herein lies the rub. If we cling to this world of form (our physical beauty, our body weight, our home decor, our dinner parties and our wardrobes) as our identity we are setting ourselves up for deep and ongoing disappointment. If, instead, we are able to ride this wave of ever-changing form with humor, acceptance and gratitude for the ride we are able to touch into the spiritual aspect of this experience. Tolle refers to this as "the formless."
All the science tells us that a practice of mindfulness and seated meditation has positive effects on brain function and the body... but what about spirituality? What does mindfulness and meditation have to do with our personal spiritual experience?
Well, as Tolle points out, if we watch the clouds we can learn a lot. One moment a big fluffy cloud takes the shape of a dragon and as we watch that perceived form begins to morph into something else. And yet the essence of the cloud is the same. It is the same vapor. The vapor itself is formless and yet it takes on various forms, always changing.
We are that way. We have essence that animates the form we are in. This body is an ever-changing form through which the essence of who we are expresses itself, experiences life. Mindfulness is the practice of being present. Noticing exactly what we are experiencing in the present moment without judging or analyzing. Seated meditation is a dedicated space and time in which we can formally practice mindfulness.
As women who have reached the phase of mid-life, we face an opportunity to fully know and fully embrace the essence of who we are. The formless. This might come by way of a particular religion or a spiritual practice that doesn't center around a particular set of prescribed beliefs. To free ourselves from the disappointment of the aging process, empty nest syndrome, caring for elderly parents, career changes we must know and believe in this formless essence within and be willing to ride the wave of constant change.
Don't get me wrong. I LOVE traveling with my husband. He's the best travel companion. We gave our relationship the ultimate test with an early-on ski trip together (and I had never skied prior!) that led to an engagement a year later and it set the stage for a life full of travel adventures as a couple.
I have always traveled. Apparently, my astrological chart confirms I was born to travel. And that I have. This rolling stone gathers no moss, for sure.
I inherited this from my father. He encouraged me to try out for one of two spots for fourth graders to go on a school trip to Costa Rica (which was still a third world country back in 1976 by the way). I had to learn Spanish, had to demonstrate I was not a picky eater and that I would respectfully follow directions. I was selected and off I went at age 10 without my parents.
Later, Dad gladly paid to send me on a trip across the pond to sing with my school choir in Cathedrals all across Europe.
He surprised me with a spontaneous trip to Germany to meet my family tree that was quite an adventure. Autobahn and all.
Before you come to the conclusion my family was wealthy I will stop you right there. We were not wealthy. Not at all. The thing is, my father believed in ensuring that my siblings and I experienced the world beyond whatever town we lived in. For that I am grateful...
Traveling with others can be a lot of fun. But there is something about going it alone... Traveling solo is good for the soul.
After my first marriage ended officially in 2004 I pulled money from savings and traveled to Thailand on a personal retreat. It was a 30 hour journey from Atlanta to Los Angeles t0 Tai Pai to Bangkhok to Koh Samui. I spent 9 days in the land of 10,000 smiles. My heart was healed and my life changed. Something about going all the way to Thailand all by myself was transformational. Once there, I met up with a small group and a teacher with whom I meditated, ate delicious meals and explored together. But it was the getting there and the returning, sitting in airports on layovers by myself that gave me time and space to contemplate my life at a very deep level.
Over the past 11 years I have traveled solo to the Oregon Coast, Sedona, Texas, Kansas, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida and Tennessee for various workshops and retreats. This year I decided to take another solo trip without any particular agenda. This time to Southern California. With all of my travel I'd never been to Southern California so I went. All by myself. No set agenda. It was my mini Eat-Pray-Love experience.
I actually had booked the ticket with intention of attending a retreat someone was hosting but the retreat ended up not being a fit for me so I decided to create my own solo retreat. Life changing decision.
I slept when I felt like sleeping often hitting the hay by 8:00 pm. I meditated with the rising sun, watched the waves roll in at the coast. I did a lot of people- watching and explored the streets of various neighborhoods in San Diego, Los Angeles and all up and down the coast between. I ate all of my meals (except one) alone. And I loved every minute.
While in LA I scheduled a private session with one of my mentors who lives there and I attended a 3 hour spiritual workshop with a teacher I've been wanting to meet in person. Other than that, I was all on my own. And it was lovely.
After a lifetime of raising children, caring for clients, attending to the needs of others, it's high-time for solo time.
When on your own, there's no agenda and no schedule other than the one you create for yourself. I highly recommend it.
But don't be surprised if being solo feels foreign at first. Give yourself some time to work through the discomfort of the unfamiliar and you will get to the other side and feel the freedom.
My final evening of my Southern Cali trip I was having a nice dinner at the bar in the hotel watching the football game and enjoying hearing the laughter and conversations around me. A woman came up to me and said, "How can you just sit here all alone?" I smiled and said, "It is glorious. You should try it!"
I returned home to Atlanta with a clearer mind, lots of inspiration, a collection of amazing photos, and a renewed energy. My soul was fed. And I will do this again. Regularly.