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Posts Categorized: The Next Step

Gratitude

Did you know that just by searching for positive things to be grateful for, you are activating your brain to produce more feel-good hormones?  According to research, just the process alone begins to change the brain.

Wow – that’s pretty amazing.

If we can actually feel better by finding those blessings and things to be grateful for, then why aren’t we doing it?

Instead, we hover incessantly over all the things that have gone wrong or are going wrong.

As I read stories of people who have gone through tough times but still found things to be thankful for, I remind myself of all the blessings I have received.

Yes, there have been tragedies; the loss of my husband and a son, both to cancer; the loss of our newly built dream home and retirement pension, and the near loss of a daughter to breast cancer. The list goes on – just as yours does.

We have all suffered unspeakable tragedies in one way or another and people wonder how we will survive, go on, rebuild, find joy again.

Unplug

Unplug and just “be” –  be in the moment.  Take  5-10 minutes and disconnect from life as usual. Connect instead with your self, God, and your surroundings.

From the time we get up until the time we go to bed we are running.  Even when it is time to relax, our thoughts and minds are bombarded with all the things we should have done, should be doing or must do.

We try to block out all the internal and external noise by spending time on media sites, posting, texting or by zoning out with TV or video games. We go to bed exhausted and get up with little rest.

Unplug and take a timeout
When our kids were young and they got too exuberant in their play or started fighting, we would put them in a time out for 5 minutes until they could calm down.

As adults, we are no different.  We keep up a demanding, relentless pace until we are so stressed we can no longer function. And when we try to relax, our thoughts continue to keep us stressed. Before that point is reached, quick short timeouts can calm both our minds and our bodies.

Take 5-10 minute breaks throughout the day. With all the things that need to get done, this may seem like a ludicrous suggestion. But in the long run, you will have more energy and be able to accomplish so much more.

It may be the most important 5-10 minutes of your day.

Seeds of Resilency

As I rest on my deck at the end of a hot and busy day, I enjoy the peace and quiet surrounded by the many different blooming plants I have.  They create an environment of contentment as well as beauty.  Hummingbirds flit in and out adding to the ambiance.

The flowers in my pots are well taken care of: good dirt to grow in, watered and fed on a regular basis.

Not all plants enjoy such care. Some struggle through constantly invading weeds, others endure long stretches of droughts. And still, others find themselves on rocks trying to find someplace to sink their roots.

On trips to nearby beaches, there are many craggy outcrops of rock. I am amazed at the number of trees that seem to be growing out of solid rock.  On closer inspection, however, you see cracks that contain enough dirt or nutrients to allow them to grow. They have a beauty all their own.

What drives a seedling to push deep into what appears to be nonexistent soil in order to grow, survive and even thrive?

Fear Monsters

Nothing creates fear monsters faster than when we constantly go over and over a problem focusing only on the anxiety it creates to the exclusion of looking for potential solutions. Fear is healthy and keeps us safe.  But when it goes beyond its intended purpose, it soon takes over our lives.

What are you saying to yourself about your situation?

While sharing with friends can release some of the tension we feel and can help us gain a new perspective, it is what we say to ourselves that is critical.

We are often unaware of that continual stream of conversation we have with ourselves 24-7.  If that self-talk remains focused only on the fear and anxiety we feel, we will not find the solutions we need.

Our brains respond to the thoughts that stream through our consciousness. If you constantly repeat to yourself how bad things are, how little control you have, how helpless you are, how others are so much better off than you, etc. etc. etc. you will begin to respond accordingly. If you think there is no use in trying, you will have little creative energy to move forward.

Our thinking can produce a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Negative beliefs soon become a reality. We can perpetuate the problem or we can find ways to resolve it. We can give up or we can generate determination and an “I can do it” attitude and mindset.

Tell yourself, no matter how hard it is, giving up is not an option. Focus on the things you can do, not what you can’t do.

Are you Happy? If not, why not?

On your list of wants and needs, where do you place happiness?

We think of all the things we want to have or think we must have in order to be happy.  But do they really make us happy in the long term?

In fact, “things” in general typically leave us wanting, disappointed and dissatisfied after a short period of time.

Being happy is a choice we make on how we want to live.

As we go through life, we form beliefs and worldviews and act upon them. In the process, we can look for the positives or remain focused on what went wrong, what didn’t work out, how bad the world is or how mean people are. We choose our focus and our responses.

Research on the body-brain connection reveals the impact thoughts can have on our overall health.  Our thoughts create a chain reaction throughout the mind and body. What we think, believe and say to ourselves has profound physical consequences. If we are hopeful no matter what happens, our body responds in kind. If we allow hopelessness to become the norm, it too has a profound reaction to our health.

The Last of Human Freedoms

We just celebrated Independence Day – a day bought and paid for by the lives of people who loved freedom and fought and died for it.

We get together with family and friends and enjoy the fireworks displays that were a culmination of the day’s festivities.

But what does freedom mean to you?

“What alone remains is ‘the last of human freedoms’ – the ability to ‘choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.” Victor Frankl

Victor Frankl was a psychiatrist and Jew who lived during the Nazi regime in Germany. He along with his entire family was sent to Nazi concentration camps.  He was taken to Auschwitz, one of the most dreaded of these camps.  Except for his sister and himself, his entire family perished in those camps.  Every possession was taken from them, and the Jews who weren’t shot or sent to the gas chamber endured years of unspeakable horror.

Yet, in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Frankl writes:

Let Go – Take Control

Years ago, when I was helping design and write a ten week class on living with chronic illness for a large HMO, I designed the following handout.  I share it with you today.

LETTING GO – TAKING CONTROL

“If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death.  Without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete.”   Victor Frankl

To experience freedom and create meaning in our lives, we must “let go” of the past while taking “control” of the present and future.

Take Advantage of the Moment

Years ago, I struggled with a degenerative disk in my lower back. We had just finished building our new home and were in the process of unpacking boxes and putting things away.

Walking around was painful and sitting was never my forte. But now surrounded by work I was anxious to do, I was frustrated.  What could I do while I waited for my surgery date?

“I know what I can’t do but what can I do?

I didn’t just want to sit there doing nothing and I wasn’t able to unpack boxes and put things away.

Then it occurred to me.  I had a couple of boxes of prestigious cooking magazines I had wanted to go through and remove articles and recipes I wanted to keep but never had the time. Now I had the time.  In fact, this was “the” perfect time.  It not only kept my mind occupied with something useful and productive but completed a chore I had wanted to do but may never have gotten around to. I still have those selected articles and recipes and continue to use them.

Learning from our past
As I recover from a fall that wrenched my back last week, I thought of that earlier time. How could I use this time productively while giving my back time to rest and recover? I realized this was a perfect opportunity to look through the articles and blogs on writing I had saved to review. I could think about how it applies to me and my writing.

Take Charge

Acceptance means we let go and stop struggling so we can make new choices. We consciously acknowledge the situations we find ourselves.

Acceptance is where we stop fighting the reality that my spouse has died, my marriage is over, my teen is hooked on drugs, my finances are in the tank and the outcome of my medical tests was not what I wanted to hear. Nothing I do seems to work out.  The list goes on and on.

Acceptance is not dismissing our loss, pain, anger or frustration.  It just means we stop fighting or resisting what has happened, and recognize the reality of our circumstances.

Your world may have been brought to an abrupt halt. It is often a painful place full of unanswered questions, confusion, and doubts.  It isn’t denying how we feel but purposefully moving through the pain. In coming to terms with whatever has happened, we find new ways to take charge of our lives.

Acceptance says I don’t have to have all the answers or need to pretend that I do.

Acceptance is not the end.  It is the beginning.  It is where we take from the ashes of our tragedies and losses and begin the process of creating something new.  Letting go does not diminish what we had. It doesn’t mean we are giving up.  It just frees us to take the next step.

How do you Frame your life

When I took some of my son’s art in to be framed, I was surprised at what a huge difference each frame made.  Even with the black and white pictures, each demanded a border that would showcase that particular picture, highlighting the important elements.

The wrong frame would do the opposite.  When the right frame was put together with the picture, it was one you wanted to hang on your wall to look at over and over again.

How we frame the events in our lives can also make a huge difference in the outcome.  We can take that slice of life that challenges us and put a frame of strength, perseverance, and problem-solving around it. Situations that seem impossible can be turned into a major centerpiece of triumph on the wall of our lives.

Wide Angle vs Telephoto Lens