WHATEVER SOOTHES YOUR SOUL

Whatever soothes your soul

We began the week by discussing how important taking care of our mental health was. If you do not understand why that is important, I highly suggest you go back and read Monday’s post again. One of the fun, life-changing things I advocate in my second book, Living the Dream, is to create lists of things that sooth your soul. The picture above gives us some great ideas. Although I am not sure about “taking a nap with your loved ones” not sure what kind of polygamous situation the author has going on, but finding yourself sleeping with too many people could lead to a very stressful situation.

Back to the lists I was speaking of earlier. This can be movies that make you laugh. Creating a Happy Playlist on your MP3 player or other device of songs that put you in a good mood. It can be creating a list of friends you can call in an emotional emergency. One of the things people do not think to write down is a list of places where you feel at peace. These can be vital in times of distress, but are just as important as a preventative measure. Keeping your soul happy can help you deal with stress better which can lead to a stronger immune system and a healthier you overall.

You may think creating these lists as something you don’t need to do, but that would be overlooking a very important aspect of human nature. You may wonder why you would need to write down what movie makes you laugh or where you feel most at peace. You already know those things. Whenever the human brain is under stress, it does not operate at its best. That is why you see game show contestants with blank looks on their faces when asked how much 2 +2 equals. Of course they know the answer, but with prizes on the line and the what seems like the whole world watching their minds go blank. Have you ever studied all night for an exam and when you get to class you forgot everything you read? I think we have all been there. This weekend, take some time to write down what sooths your soul. It will not only be helpful, but it is actually quite fun. You can edit these lists as you grow through life, but having the information on hand can shorten the intensity and duration of many a stressful day.

YOU DON’T NEED AN EXCUSE

Today is Monday, a day that holds a lot of stress for a lot of people. It doesn’t matter what day you read this on, you might be experiencing some form a stress for many different reasons. What we all need to remember is that it is not only ‘OK’ to take some time to address any mental health concern we might have, but it is vital we do so. This can often be hard in this work until you drop society.

It seems the fashion of the day is to post things about how hard you hustle or grind. It is important to work hard for sure. Doing so at the sacrifice of your mental health is not only foolish, it can be deadly. According to a survey of 156,000 hospital admissions for heart attacks over 7 years in Sweden, they found you are 11% greater to suffer a heart attack on Monday morning. The day you are least likely to suffer? Saturday. The stress of going back to work, often to a job we are less than thrilled about, can literally kill us. This is just one of many reasons to take your mental health seriously.

If you feel guilty about taking time off to take care of your mental health, here is a thought to ponder. Research by Oxford University Business school in collaboration with British multinational telecoms firm BT found a conclusive link between happiness and productivity. A further extensive study found that happy workers are 13% more productive. By taking care of your mental health, you are not only taking care of your own health, but actually doing your employer a favor by reducing sick days and increasing productivity. Look at you, rockstar employee!

Taking steps to address and maintain your mental health is not only for work. When you take care of your own mental health by doing things such as deep breathing, meditation, taking time for yourself and other forms of self-care, you are able to be a better parent, better spouse and better person overall. How many times have we caught ourselves in reaction and later thinking to ourselves, “Why did I say/do that?” Chances are you were under a great deal of stress and not acting as the best version of yourself and instead reacting to the emotions you were feeling at the moment. Taking care of our mental health will benefit all areas of our lives. You should NOT feel guilty about it and you certainly do NOT need an excuse to do so.

BE AWARE OF THIS

As our Monday begins, let us keep this thought above in mind. It often seems to many, myself included, that as soon as we start getting somewhere in life – BAM!!! Something crazy happens to bring us back to earth. Maybe you finally saved up enough for that vacation and something goes wrong with the car? Often, when we seem to be getting a handle on living a more positive and rewarding life, that is when some unforeseen challenge pops up. Does that sound familiar to you? It can be viewed as life testing us. “Are you sure you want to be positive?”

It is easy to be happy when the sun is shining, the dog and the kids are fed and everything is going your way. It would also be logical to think that your friends would be the happiest for you at this point in time, would it not? Yet, it seems that when you start to excel in life strangers, and even some friends, seem to go out of their way to sabotage you. Why are earth does this happen? There are many theories as to why it does, but we are going to look at two that when understood, will help you make it through this tough period.

The first is a societal reason. When your friends, family and coworkers to some extent, see you succeed a certain amount of fear strikes them. Why fear you might ask. People can worry, sometimes even subconsciously, that once someone attains a certain level of success they will leave them behind. This fear can come from past experience, they own lack of desire to improve themselves or a million other reasons. Funny thing is, this can apply not only to financial and career success, but to things such as peace of mind, spiritual awakening and any other area of accomplishment you have. They believe that if you achieve a certain level of success that you may leave them behind for “Better” results. This could be your boss believing you would leave for a better position, better job or better department. It could be your family believing you could forget about them if you fall in love with the person of your dreams. It could be your friends worrying that if you achieve a level of financial success you may not want to hang out with them anymore.

The first step is to make sure that this isn’t true. If you are moving on to a better job, or you do foresee less time to be available for your family or friends, be honest with them. You can encourage them to join you on the journey as well. Reassurance here is key. While you might be dedicating some time building your relationship with the person you love, and you should, that doesn’t mean you care less for your family. In fact, when you are around them, chances are you will be in a happy place. If you are achieving and dedicating a percentage of time to bettering yourself financially, spiritually, or any other area, you will find yourself needing to spend a good deal of time on it. You may even meet a new group of people and want to spend some time with them. This should not cause you to leave your friends behind.

Another, perhaps more metaphysical reason, is the power struggle between light and darkness. This can be viewed in a spiritual context, but I think it can be best explained by an outward example. Let us say there is a group of people you used to gossip with at work. Now you want to focus on what is good about everyone and the world in general. How do you think these folks will react? Maybe a few of them will be encouraged to do the same, but I guess you may soon find yourself the subject of the gossip when you are not around. It can make people feel less about themselves, and maybe it should. Rather than ponder if they could stand to raise their own standards, they would rather make you look bad. Ever try to leave a group of people who are filled with drama? Same thing will happen here. Just like our picture of the crabs above, they will try to pull you back in. Don’t fall for it.

When you improve yourself, you leave others two options. First, they can improve themselves. This works great if those around you are self-motivated. The other option is they can bring you down to their level. These are the people you do not want to surround yourself with. Remember, it is important to reassure those around you that they will not be left behind, but it is even more important to NOT leave yourself behind for their comfort. As you ascend, forces will rise against you. They are not there to stop you, but to make you stronger. The choice is yours.

DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU!

Today’s world is filled with many acts of beauty and kindness. There are the numerous examples of nature we pass everyday. Birds flying by our windows, even squirrels stealing from the birdfeeders with their comical gestures. The trees in the park, sun dappled paths. There is the smile or a kind word from a stranger. A beautiful painting we can notice as we are sitting writing a blog in a coffee shop. All of these things can make our world so much more enjoyable to be in.

WARNING!!!! All of these things can be taken away from us if we are not careful. If you recall from a few posts ago, we spoke of seeds of knowledge taking root in our hearts and minds and blossoming at different times in our life. We also mentioned these seeds need to find fertile ground to land on. It is here where we can run into trouble. In addition to all of the things that I just mentioned, the world provides plenty of things that will harden our heart if we are not careful. We see news of conflicts near and far. We hear about how this group of people may not want our group of people to succeed. We can even hear less than inspiring lyrics on the radio. If you work in retail, or with the public, there are plenty of things that can leave you feeling less than inspired about people and the world in general.

Even those of us who do our best to live a positive and rewarding life, can be, on occasion, overwhelmed by negative influences. Have you ever found yourself a victim of someone else’s creative driving? On top of that, this person who must have used a bribe to obtain their drivers license, waves at you…with one finger! Sometimes you are having a great day, but are witness to others that are not having such a great day. I recall stopping to write at my local coffee shop and listening to the person ahead of me berate the barista because, and I would not have believed this if I didn’t witness it myself, they had 5 ice cubes in their coffee instead of the 6 they asked for. If you open your coffee and count the ice cubes to look for something to be upset about, it may be time to reconsider some priorities. Maybe it is just turning on the news to witness people being attacked and harmed or even killed just because of what they look like or believe?

One of these events may not be overwhelming in themselves, but you experience a few of them together and it can really sour your disposition. It may be that you experience a few of them day after day. Your heart can begin to grow hard. Our opinion of the world and the people in it may begin to take a negative turn. We may begin to feel discouraged and lose the sense of hope that keeps a smile on our face and in our heart. We may not be so eager to let others in emotionally for fear of being hurt. These would all be understandable reactions. After all, I will be the first to admit there is much in the world that could use improving. That is why I write these blogs and go around speaking at different events.

The question then becomes “What can we do about this?” How do we prevent our hearts from growing hard? If they have, how can we soften them up again? The answer, in short, is in what you are reading. We cannot help many of the things I mentioned. We can’t teach people to drive with courtesy. We can’t teach people how to have respect when one less ice cube shows up in their hot coffee. We certainly can’t help what a foreign power does to their people. That is why filling our lives with as many positive influences and self-care is so vitally important. These are not things we should wait to employ until our life is going south. They are a good form of preventative medicine. If you fill your life with positive influences and practice a healthy amount of self-care and nothing goes wrong, you will just end up happier and that will spill over onto the way you treat others. If, however, you run into some of the negative examples above, you will be better equipped to understand this is only a small portion of the world, no matter how it may seem, and that there are plenty of other positive people and beauty to be enjoyed.

To put it another way, our emotional well-being is much like our physical well-being. If you just wait to think of your health until you are sick and then take medicine, you will be sick more often. The negative emotional experiences we are exposed to can be compared to the many germs and viruses our bodies are exposed to. Occasionally, they may get the best of us and we get physically overwhelmed and need to take a break or some medicine. What do we do to limit that? We strengthen our immune system. Incorporated emotional self-care and positive influences can strengthen our mental immune system. Think of positive influences and bouts of self-care you can put into your life and prevent your heart from hardening.

A FUN GAME TO PLAY WITH FRIENDS

It is hump day! The middle of the week. We are quickly approaching the weekend. We are beginning to be excited for the weekend and any plans we may have, even if they are just relaxing and not working. I am currently on vacation and have lots to enjoy. Here is fun game you can play with family and friends. The winner will really benefit, but even those who don’t ‘come out on top’ will still win! The prize? Not some plastic participation trophy or ribbon, but a greater sense of joy and inner peace.

The game is simply this, find as many things you can be truly grateful for and why. The why is important because it makes things compelling. To appreciate the sunshine (which I do more than most of you can imagine) is one thing. To realize you are appreciating it because it gives you a feeling of being alive or reminds you of being on vacation in the tropics is an entirely different animal. Pick a group of friends and family and see who can find the most things to be grateful for. Most of us live in such an abundance of riches, it is almost a disgrace what we take for granted. There is a big push to wash your hands often these days. Can you imagine how difficult that would be without clean running water? Water than can be set to a desired temperature and is pretty much available everywhere we are? The ability to wash our entire bodies anytime we desire in that same water? We have personal space where we can adjust the temperature to our liking, take our time and be clean and healthy? So many things in those two statements alone. Write down as many as you can think of and compare with those you are playing the game with. At the end of it, everyone will realize, and hopefully feel, how truly rich we all are and how much we have to be grateful for.

Looking around your life for what you have to be grateful for can be a magical transformation. This may sound like a bunch of hype, but trust me it is not. No, wait. Do not trust me! Try it for yourself. This is what caused me to realize how powerful this was. I wrote down what I was grateful for in my life for 30 days. I did it to prove it didn’t affect much. 20 years later I am writing my third book in the field of self-improvement. This fun game stands the power to transform your life. Even the fact you have the ability to read this information is truly something amazing! I would love to hear your results of playing this game.

WHICH ONE DO YOU DO?

This is one of those lessons that seem like a no-brainer. To be honest, this is one that needs reminding in the lives of all of us. Margie really helped me master this concept. It is also one of the most difficult to remember in the heat of an emotional disagreement. The question is how can we change from having arguments to having discussions? I think there is a two-fold answer to this and it begins as soon as the situations comes up.

When we are hurt/sad/upset/angry with something that someone else did or said, or maybe even something we think they did or said, it is important we bring that feeling into light. The reason it is important is because repression grows into resentment. You might want to read that last part again. When we repress our emotions, the other person may continue to do the very thing that angered us in the first place again and again. Not because they are trying to make our life some living hell, but because they are ignorant to the fact we are upset in the first place. That is our fault and our problem to address.

Here is where it gets a little tricky. Before we begin to convey our feelings, we should take a second to ask ourselves some very important questions. The first question I would ask myself is, “If I was in their place, how would I want this brought to my attention?” Nobody likes to hear they upset someone or hurt their feelings. It can feel like they failed. It is also important to not place them on the defensive. Saying things like “You really hurt me” and “You did this just to make me mad!” Can place people on the defensive. Even if they did do something malicious on purpose, you will only compound the issue by attacking them. Remember to ask yourself how you would like to be approached. A more positive approach, and one I recommend very highly, is to ask them for help. Nobody likes to be reprimanded, but everyone likes to feel like they helped. An example could be, “I was wondering if you could help me with something. When you said _____ it really hurt my feelings. I know that wasn’t what you meant to do, but is there a way we could word this differently?” You notice you are asking for their assistance in discovering a solution? You also give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their intent, which we can never truly know anyway. How would you respond if someone approached you that way?

The second, and just as important, thing to ask ourselves is “What is the desired outcome?” Seldom is the answer “I want to make them feel bad because they hurt my feelings.” It may feel like that at the time, but if we are honest with ourselves, the answer is completely different. We usually want to create a mutual understanding that what was said or done caused some emotional distress. It is important to do that with eloquence. Once it is said and understood, immediately switch to working to create a plan to avoid the same situation from happening in the future. I actually ask myself that several times in my head in the course of a discussion. “What is my end goal?” Again, ask for help. “How can we work together to make this work in the future?” stands a far greater chance of success than, “You better not do that again!”

Remember, in any relationship, when there is a disagreement, a discussion is a far better result than an argument. Focus on how you would want to be talked to and realize the other party would probably like to be talked to in the same manner. Stay focused on a solution and not dishing out blame. In fact, blame does little or nothing to create solution. Ask for help. involve the other party and you will have many more productive discussions.

WATCH WHAT YOU EAT!

First post of the new month! Last full month of summer. We want to finish this month on a really healthy diet. Don’t worry, if you have been working on that summer body since you were 12, we are talking about an information diet. This is so important, because like our regular diet, sometimes we consume information without being conscious to the fact that we are doing it. Sometimes it just becomes the norm and we do not realize that we should be a little more selective on what we feed our minds.

One of the issues that arises is that we are so often surrounded by things that are toxic to our mental well-being that we are unaware they are affecting us. It is like the analogy of the frog in the pot of boiling water. If you turn the temperature up quickly the frog will jump out. If you turn it up slowly and gradually, the frog will boil to death. Not a really cheery analogy, but it works for our point here. If you were to through a person into a group of gossiping back biters, chances are they would say “Get me out of here!” If, however, it happens to be the same talk around the water cooler, it can slowly become the normal. We must stand guard at the gate of our minds as Jim Rohn used to say. Quite often, this negative influence will come from friends, family and even coworkers we don’t mind sharing time with. They may be well-meaning, but it will affect us just the same.

What can you do in these situations? You can’t just tell a person to “Shut up!” Well, I suppose you could, but I can safely tell you that will not lead to quality friendships, which in turn will not lead to an amazing life. We can do some other fine things. We can do our best to remove ourselves from that situation. Excuse ourselves to go to the restroom, for a walk around the block, check the food in the kitchen or the goldfish in the living room. What happens when someone is in the restroom, it is raining outside, the food is gone and the goldfish has a babysitter? One, your luck wouldn’t be too good that day, but there are other options. You can try injecting a positive comment in the mix. Do your best to turn this into a game. I have found this makes it easier. When the gossip train makes a stop at your friend Phil’s station, try thinking about the best thing you can think of about Phil. Throw it out there and see what happens. I can tell you 2 things I know for sure. You will immediately make everyone else a little uncomfortable. That’s ok. If they are gossiping, they should be uncomfortable. The other thing is that you will quickly become known as the person who says nice things about people…behind their backs. That’s a good reputation to have. People trust people like that.

There are times when to paraphrase a popular cliché, ‘drama happens’. You do your best to avoid it, but it sits next to you at work, on the bus or even at home. You throw a life preserver of compliments into this ocean of negativity, but the waves keep coming. Repeated exposure to situations like this can leave you feeling worn out at best, dejected and hopeless at its worst. That is why we need to prepare! I stress having as many positive influences in your life as possible. Inspirational calendars ( I have a day by day one) Something inspiring as the screensaver on your phone. (mine is the cutest picture of the woman I love) You can even subscribe to an inspiring magazine. (I have a local one that only includes positive news) I also recommend having a list at the ready of things that give you a dose of positivity. Is there certain places you like to go? The zoo? A certain park with a great view? How about people that put you in a good mood? Write their names, phone numbers, emails or whatever contact information you have down. How about foods that make you smile? Songs? Movies? I say write these all down now. Eventually, there will be a time you need a negativity detox. It also serves as a good preventative. When someone asks me “What can I do to fight off all the drama and negativity I am exposed to?” It can be as simple as “Read three pages of something inspirational and call me in the morning.”

Let us remember as we are working on our nutritional diet, that we should work on our emotional and spiritual diet as well. Feed your body something good for sure, but do not forget to nourish your mind and soul as well. You never know when you might find yourself in an environment that would leave you starving.

WHAT IS YOUR ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION?

Who is this charming fellow you may be asking yourself. Although you may easily confuse this as a picture of me when I wake up for work at 4:30 every weekday morning, the black and white nature should tell you that is not so. This fellow is Arthur Schopenhauer. He was a German philosopher in the early 1800’s. In my research and study of self-improvement, I come across many of these fellows. Notice the happy grin on his face? Most western philosophers share his gloomy demeanor. In fact, on doing research on the western philosophy thoughts into happiness, I discovered much of this gloominess also creeped into their thoughts and outlooks on the subject.

Art here did have a depressing but somewhat interesting take on what to do when pursuing happiness in life. His answer, in short, was this – don’t. Not too surprising considering his cheerful disposition. He did, however, have some advice that at first blush seems a little on the negative side but may help us find a new way to look at life and to increase the joy in our lives. His advice can be wrapped up in the following statement. “Don’t seek out happiness, but instead seek to diminish your misery.” Way to go Art! Focus on being ‘less miserable’ than ‘more happy’. I think if you go through life with your most inspiring thought being “How can I make life suck less?” you will end up with a life that leaves you looking like our good friend Arthur here. Not really that good of a look, if you were to ask me.

So I sat down to think about this idea a little more. That is actually me. You can see it is a little less scowl and a little more pensive than our German friend above. Wouldn’t making your life less miserable make it happier? I think it is much like a budget. If you wish to have more money in your life you can approach it in two entirely different ways. You can either focus on saving money and cutting expenses (like focus on reducing your misery) This is a very important aspect and will end up with you having more money in your pocket. If all you do is focus on where can we cut costs, you are not only limiting yourself, but you are also focusing on sacrifice and lack. Just like focusing on making life less miserable. It may be worth noting that when facing trouble, businesses tend to focus mainly on cutting costs and that seldom works long term.

If you want more money in your pocket, there is another thing you can do and that is focus on ways of increasing your income. In terms of happiness, this would be looking for ways to add more joy to your life. When you are looking to increase your income there are two options. You can earn more for what you already do, or you can find additional streams of income. Same with your ‘Happiness Budget’. Just made up that term by the way, kind of like it. You can look to find more joy in what you already do in life and you can also look for additional sources of joy. If you enjoy going for a walk in nature, would listening to some meditative music be helpful? Maybe trying to spot as many animals as you can? Maybe just focus on the sites, sounds and smells more? If you don’t get to walk in nature as much as you like, maybe you could try adding that to your life.

If the budget analogy doesn’t quite work for you, think of a garden. Stress, challenges and things that generally make you unhappy are like weeds in a garden. No matter how great of a gardener you are, there will always be some weeds. If you spend every minute in the garden of life pulling weeds (that is getting life to be less miserable) and not focused on helping your plants grow (like growing your happiness) your garden would be mediocre at best. That is like focusing on reducing misery and leaving the growth of happiness to chance. Sure, life may throw a few things your way every once in a while but your life, much like your garden, will be mediocre.

When it comes to a strategy for happiness I am going to say that the cheery Mr. Schopenhauer’s thoughts are not without merit, but merely one side of the coin. I think we should both look to reduce our misery in life while looking to grow our happiness. Just as in our income example, if we want more money in our pockets we should both look to cut expenses as well as increase our income. While tending your garden of life, certainly address picking the weeds, but also make sure to water your plants. Doing so will allow you the greatest harvest. The same can be said about removing the misery as well as growing the happiness, it will give you the greatest harvest.

ARE YOU AN EGG OR A POTATO?

Life is tough my friends. This week we are going to look at a couple of strategies that may help us to deal with all of the tough times we are facing. There is still a pandemic, there are chaotic situations in many workplaces and a million other daily stresses we face. Even if it appears someone is ‘doing better’ than we are, chances are they just have different life challenges, or are better at hiding what they are going through.

I like to think of this quote when I am facing a challenge. Will I let this control me, or will I control it? You might think “How can I control losing my job?” or for that matter any of the other challenges we face? In my latest book, Living the Dream, I talk about asking yourself the question “How can I use this?” You could also think of this quote, or maybe even have a copy printed out to look at. There are 2 ways that I make use of this quote in stressful times and I would like to quickly share them with you. Feel free to share anything you have come to mind. I am always interested in new perspective.

The first thing that came to mind was that the egg was made stronger by the boiling water and the potato was made weaker. Stress can be like an emotional workout strengthening our resolve and resiliency. It can, however, break us down and leave us drained. Much like if we workout too hard. When stress comes I ask myself that question recommended in the book – “How can I use this?” I know that it can prepare me for a similar experience in the future. I give myself a little pep talk. “I’m not going to let this stress get the best of me. I am going to use it to make me a more bad ass motivator.” Not always those words, but something like that.

The second way I view this quote is that the egg becomes harder. Stress and challenges make some people hard and uncaring. It is really a manifestation of fear. You are afraid to get hurt again, so you become less emotionally available. Much like our egg in the boiling water, you become hard. On the other hand, the potato becomes softer in the boiling water. Usually, it is not a compliment to be called soft. In this case, I think the word soft could be replaced by the word compassion. When you go through a stressful situation, you immediately become more compassionate to those going through something similar. In this case, being soft could be a good thing.

When it comes to stress, which can often feel like you are being put into boiling water, are you an egg or potato? I guess depending on how you view this statement, you could be both. Let challenges be an emotional workout for you making you stronger and better equipped to face things in the future. Be careful, however, not to let it make you emotionally hard and lose your sense of compassion and ability to relate to others.

ONE WORD THAT CAN CHANGE YOUR WORLD

What is the one word that would change our world? It is the kind word that Mr. Rogers mentions in the quote above. Would it be fair to say that our ‘neighborhoods’ in which we spend our time make up our world? We have our ‘work neighborhood’ made up of our coworkers, bosses, customers, clients and whoever else we come in contact with. These folks make up our neighborhood 40 hours or more of our week. We also have what some would consider our ‘actual neighborhood’ be that our block, our city or however we choose to define it. We even have our ‘family neighborhood’ that consists of the people we share our household with.

Imagine to what degree we could increase the quality of these neighborhoods not just for ourselves, but for those we share them with? A simple kind word could change a cold, uninviting neighborhood to one filled with love and acceptance. Do you think that would make a difference? Do you think it would change how productive that neighborhood would be? How about how supportive and encouraging? Do you think people would act different when they feel more loved and accepted? I believe they would. I also believe we have a moral obligation to offer words of kindness in all of our neighborhoods and to make them the best they can be.

Do your part today. Take Mr. Rogers challenge and offer a word of kindness in your neighborhood. Do it in all of your neighborhoods! Offer one kind word a week and you can positively affect your neighborhood a little. Offer one kind word a day and you can have an even greater effect. Offer words of kindness to everyone you meet and you can be a catalyst for change in any neighborhood you find yourself in. I would love to hear how you positively affect your neighborhood.