Gratitude Is Our Superpower

This Pandemic pause sure has taught us a lot about appreciation, hasn’t it? We’ve been reminded to value our health, our family and our freedom. We’ve learned to appreciate connection, even if it has been on a zoom call. We’ve risen during a time of great challenge and sadness to show appreciation for the front-line workers: those who look after us in emergencies, who take good care of our food supply and our most vulnerable. The Pandemic has been an exercise in patience, perspective and I think most importantly it’s been a great lesson in gratitude.

I want to thank you for making time to read our blog, for being open-minded enough to consider a fresh perspective or an idea you may not have considered before. Ideas like teaching yourself to express appreciation to someone when you’re feeling low because expressing gratitude when we’re not in the mood fosters more gratitude in the world around us and helps us to feel better. Perspectives like looking for opportunities to learn something from challenging situations because that’s how we make ourselves better. I encourage people to search for something to be grateful for in a difficult situation because there’s always something when we choose to look for it. I like to share with people that the two most important words in the English language are thank you and I always encourage their overuse.

 “This is a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.” -Maya Angelou

Developing an attitude of appreciation involves learning to value something as simple as a new day. Each sunrise and sunset is something we’ve never seen before. We also get to start over every day with a clean slate, even though our thoughts will remind us of all the things we haven’t done and all the reasons we should consider being grateful as a waste of time. Trust me on this: learning to be grateful is one of the greatest investments you can make in yourself.

Research on the benefits of gratitude is ongoing with two psychologists Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami at the forefront. Studies show that gratitude is associated with a greater sense of well-being and happiness, increased generosity and empathy, better relationships, fewer aches and pains, more alertness and determination as well as better sleep. Doesn’t that sound like good medicine?

Often we reserve gratitude or appreciation for gifts we receive, right? Consider that we are receiving all the time as in receiving oxygen into our lungs, sunlight on our face, a bird song and nature; not to mention running water, hot water, electricity and all of the modern conveniences we use every day.

Whether you journal about five things you’re grateful for every day or you express your thanks to someone who has helped you out, by sending a thank you card, you’re developing an approach to life that will deliver great dividends.

 “Today is a wonderful day to have a wonderful day.” -Maya Angelou

 Gratitude can really challenge us though because showing appreciation can make us feel vulnerable and we’ve been taught that being vulnerable equals weakness. Many of us have been taught to be independent and not rely on or take too much from others. We easily turn down compliments and kind offers in the name of independence while missing the opportunity for another person to feel good because they’ve helped us out and we miss an opportunity to show appreciation for an act of kindness. What if I told you that gratitude and appreciation are your superpowers? You have an endless supply but you have to use your superpowers to keep the store replenished.

The next time you notice a beautiful sunrise or sunset, just say thank you. When someone offers to help you out in some way allow it and say thank you. This way of operating puts fear in the back seat and connects us with the beauty of life and the powerful force of interdependence. During this season of giving thanks, let’s shift perspective and make gratitude a gift we share with others all year round by giving compliments freely, using your gratitude journal and saying thank you every day.

Embracing Carefreedom® Living

What’s one thing you’ve been missing during this Pandemic pause? Most people say they’ve missed in-person time with their family, friends and community; I couldn’t agree more. It’s been a few years now since I’ve spent quality time with my brother, who is my only remaining immediate family. We’ve had two weekends together this summer; nothing spectacular happened and I think that’s what’s so brilliant. We enjoyed sharing stories from our childhood; both grateful to have made it to adulthood LOL and we appreciated the time we had together. It felt good; it felt like freedom.

During this Pandemic, we’ve all been invited to treasure the simple pleasures in life. We’ve had time at home to consider how we really want to live on the other side of this pause. One thing I know I want to diminish in my life is the feeling of chaos and fear that’s been so prevalent over the last many months. It takes clear intention and courage to step back from what’s going on in the world to examine how we want to live and to choose how we can make a difference. Each one of us can contribute to making the world a kinder, more compassionate place by being kind and compassionate toward ourselves and others. This can mean editing our friends list so that we feel safe and comfortable in our friendships. Where in the past we might have over-given or allowed people to take advantage of our goodness, we can set healthy boundaries and invest in caring for ourselves, so that we protect our emotional and mental wellness, while giving to others from what we have an abundance of.

Where we live and how we invest our time and resources can make a world of difference to the quality of our lives. When we’re young and building a foundation for our family, we have a long to-do list and while it’s important to stay on top of our responsibilities when it comes to taking care of our family and our property, there comes a time in life when we can relinquish many of these responsibilities in favour of a new kind of freedom.

It can be one of life’s biggest decisions to change not only our address but our lifestyle as well. Many people fear that they’ll lose freedom and autonomy when they make the transition into retirement living. The model for this lifestyle hadn’t changed much until a few years ago when The Wellings came along. The vision for The Wellings is truly community living with plenty of freedom and lots of choices. Folks can live in a rental apartment with a central atrium that makes getting together and sharing meals super easy. Some models of The Wellings have individual dwellings with a Clubhouse for socializing.

In my interactions with Wellings members, it’s clear that freedom has kicked in. While giving up what we know can be a daunting task, many Wellies have told me that they only wished they had done it sooner. No more honey-do lists, no more unexpected expenses; instead there’s more time for fun on their terms. The old model of retirement living didn’t suit them because what they wanted was to live the next chapter of their lives fully. It made me realize what a catalyst for change this new concept called The Wellings is. The mission here is to help people unlearn what they think they know to be true about retirement living and introduce them to a welcoming environment, where everyone is presented with opportunities rather than obstacles. The entire team at The Wellings wants to make sure that our need for independence is taken to heart while providing a safe environment for socializing, enjoying nutritious food, and exploring new or favourite activities.

We call it Carefreedom® living and we believe it’s where you belong if freedom and choice are important to you. Here’s where you can begin to explore whether or not this lifestyle is for you.

Imagine your best day filled with activities you love. How close are you to living that right now? Would you be closer if you didn’t have the worries of property tax bills, house chores and those pesky unexpected house expenses? Would you feel more connected if you had a community of people your own age to talk to, as well as share laughs and meals with? The people you’ll meet at The Wellings have upgraded their lives by letting go of certain restraints in favour of freedom. While we’re all unique and change is challenging for each of us in a different way, The Wellings members I’ve spoken to say it was well worth it; now that they’re enjoying their best day every day.

We Are All Beautiful Works In Progress On This Journey Of Self-acceptance

Accepting ourselves as we are is one of the great challenges we humans will undertake. We’ve been given a long list of reasons why we should not accept ourselves: we’re either not enough or we’re too much of something.  We think we need what someone else has in order to be able to accept ourselves and be happy. It’s exhausting and fruitless work that will never produce the desired result.

“The idea of perfectionism is a trap….nobody is perfect; nobody has it all together.”        Kathie Donovan

I have great news. Accepting ourselves as we are is an ongoing process because as human beings, we are always changing and hopefully growing. At some points on our life adventure, we’re wrapped up in our work lives, often defining ourselves by what we do rather than who we are. The truth is that who we are is the underpinning of how we operate in our work lives, so it’s important that we learn about self-acceptance, so we don’t fall into the trap of judging ourselves as not enough or comparing ourselves with other people instead of appreciating the value we bring to a situation.

Often, trauma can leave us feeling unsure of ourselves. Unexpected experiences in our personal and professional lives can undermine our confidence and prevent us from embracing change. I know in my own experience when I’ve been sidelined by a life event, I’ve felt completely unmoored but over time, I found my way often with a little more wisdom to add to the pile, which ultimately made me feel more confident in myself.  

I’ve come to really appreciate how resilient I am and I want to encourage you to do the same. In fact, I want to encourage you to see all the good in you, so you take the focus off of all the things you “think” are wrong. Indeed there’s no such thing as anything wrong with you and learning to accept yourself as you are is the superpower that will help reinforce that truth. 

“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.”  -Dr. Seuss

There is only one of you; only one with your style, your shade of beautiful, your gifts and your personality. Isn’t that a cool concept to consider? Yes, we’re one of millions on the planet but there is only one you and that’s pretty special.

Too many people mourn the loss of their youth instead of appreciating the gift of getting older. There are challenges in every phase of life but there are so many gifts in this stage of life and I want you to encourage you to embrace them because not everyone has the opportunity to experience growing older.

Learning to appreciate that other people’s opinions are a reflection of them and have nothing to do with us really frees us to choose what we really want. Letting go of situations we have no control over frees up bandwidth in our mind to focus on what we can be in charge of and that comes back to our thoughts about ourselves and the values we want to uphold in our life choices.

As our body ages, one aspect remains ageless and that’s our character; that’s the driving force we should focus on because age doesn’t define who we are, our character does. When we’re clear about our values and make choices that are aligned with them, we can feel confident that our life is a reflection of what we truly want. I celebrate, educate on and promote ageless living because I believe that is truly freedom living. Out of this mindset comes compassion and kindness toward ourselves and others instead of judgment and we become powerful in the best possible way. We’re available to see that we have good qualities and we see the good in others too. It’s true that we’re so ready to accept our weaknesses and flaws but we’re not taught to accept our greatness, which includes our intellect, emotional intelligence, our capacity to be compassionate and kind as well as recognizing our physical beauty, flaws and all.

“You are the only person you can count on to make you happy.”  -Kathie Donovan

Happiness and self-acceptance go together because we can only experience as much happiness as we feel worthy of having.  Remember that experiences happen in all of our lives both positive and challenging but none of them defines us; it’s how we respond to the situations that happen and how we handle them that will determine how we feel: whether we feel powerless or empowered.

I want to encourage you, as I encourage myself to celebrate being perfectly imperfect. Don’t let anything from your past inhibit your life today. Every new day is an opportunity to begin again with a fresh approach that will bring great reward.

Here are a few pointers to help you accept your greatness:

1-Challenge the limiting beliefs you have about yourself and your possibilities.

2- Recognize your strengths and play to them every day because they’re uniquely yours.

3- There is only one you. Don’t compare yourself with anyone else.

4- Forgive yourself for any misunderstandings you may have about situations in the past.

 5- Always be kind.

A Wealthy Person Is Rich In Friendship

Some of the great treasures in life are health, family, time and friendship. We’ve said it here before: humans are made for community, we’re built to be social and this Pandemic pause has really challenged our inborn need for connection. In the soul searching we’ve all been invited to do over the last many months, I hope we’ve all learned the value of friendship.

There’s a sign in my kitchen that says “Every friend is a gift, a blessing; a reason to be grateful.” I love our family and I love my friends, who are family by choice.

Growing up, our little clan of five moved from one end of Canada to the other, as my Dad was transferred for work. As a result, we had to forge new friendships a few times as kids and that wasn’t easy. I don’t have those lifelong friendships some people are blessed to have but I also don’t spend a lot of time reliving the past. I’m open to nurturing new friendships as well as maintaining the connections that feel aligned with my values. I’ve also done the challenging work of editing out relationships that in some way are out of step with who I am today.

“Growing apart doesn’t change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side; our roots will always be tangled. I’m glad for that.”  -Ally Condie

In order for us to be happy and healthy, especially as we age, our social circles need to be enriching, supportive and positive. Friendship to me is not only companionship: friends help us cope when times are tough and they challenge us to continue growing. In short, friendship is good medicine and science concurs.

Studies show that people with strong social connections have a lower risk of serious health challenges like obesity, anxiety and addiction. The longest running study on happiness by Harvard Medical School has found that “the key to healthy ageing is relationships, relationships, relationships.”

“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”Thomas Aquinas

It’s challenging to maintain healthy social circles, depending on our life circumstances. It’s also easy to stop expanding our community, thinking that what we have is enough and sometimes it is. Geography and other priorities in life may mean that friendships take a back seat for a time. But putting in the effort pays off when it comes to friendship. Even when we can’t be together, staying in touch however we can, reminds our beloved friends that they are important and they matter in our lives.

Meeting new people is good for our mental, emotional and physical wellness just as editing out friendships that are not uplifting and supportive is practicing good self-care. There are a number of ways to expand our social circles through church communities, volunteering, through mutual friends, through work or by taking courses.  Not every new connection will grow into a meaningful friendship and that’s okay. We’re still pushing out of our comfort zone and that’s what will keep us feeling youthful and protect against cognitive decline.

Friendship, when it works well takes effort. I used to joke that getting my circle of friends together back in the day was like herding cats. I’ve since learned that I don’t want to be a cat herder; I’ve learned that my phone is good for incoming as well as outgoing calls and I know that when a dear friend is struggling, it’s a privilege to be there however I can, to make sure that person knows I care about them.

“When the world is so complicated, the simple gift of friendship is within all of our hands.” —Maria Shriver 

Friends make us feel that we belong; that we’re okay exactly as we are. Friendship provides a sense of purpose and meaning, giving us confidence and increased self-worth. In my view a good friend brings joy that fuels happiness.

Here are a few tips to help when it comes to making new friends and maintaining existing friendships.

  1. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable about making new friends. Prepare yourself with some engaging conversation points and you’ll feel more comfortable.
  2. Be a good listener. Ask creative and meaningful questions to learn more about your friends. Only give advice if you’re asked for it.
  3. Don’t wait for someone else to make the first move. Take the initiative and invite someone you want to get to know to meet for lunch or tea.
  4. Go for a walk. Talk with your neighbours; you never know a new friend could be one conversation away.
  5. Be trustworthy. Honour your word; if someone confides in you keep their confidence.
  6. Make your friendship a refuge from our chaotic world. Always be kind.

 Until next time, I’ll leave you with some wisdom from a beautiful soul:

“For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.”  -Audrey Hepburn

Blooming in all Seasons: Finding Meaning and Purpose in Midlife

The one thing we can all count on in this life is change. People, situations and circumstances all change; yet we struggle. We fear and resist change because we can’t see what is beyond our current situation. Isn’t it ironic that change is the one thing we can count on; yet we can’t count on ourselves to yield to it?

Language is shifting; technology is evolving faster than we change our bed sheets in some cases. It’s important to recognize the value of being open minded and understanding that change is a positive, powerful force instead of expending energy fighting against it or defending the past because it’s all we know.

“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now.”  – Actor, Hugh Laurie

For the most part, we have no reason to question our purpose when we’re young, we seem to have a road map for that chapter but once we get to midlife and beyond the route looks muddled. In midlife our purpose can be challenging to connect with because we’re so used to seeing ourselves in the role we had before. It’s vital to keep our minds and our hearts open and remember that there is no perfect time, so don’t think you have to wait until you’re ready.  

As we do our investigative work, it’s important to remind ourselves that we’re not starting over; we’re starting from here, standing on all of the experience and wisdom we’ve gained so far in life. The questions that come up in midlife are important on our journey of discovery, as the answers become our signposts along this adventure. Who am I now? What do I enjoy doing? How can I make a difference for others? This newfound freedom allows us to find purpose in hobbies, education, volunteer work or starting a business.

We all need to feel purposeful to feel fulfilled but too often, we look outside of ourselves for the answer; the fact is that we connect with purpose when we go within. We can read books or speak with a coach for guidance but it’s important to listen carefully to our own inner wisdom to hear the answer. Try asking yourself who or what inspires you: the answer might be your spouse, your grandchildren, your children, your hobbies or your friends. Then ask yourself what it is about the activity or person that inspires you. If it’s their kindness for example, ask yourself where in your life you can invest in more kindness; if it’s their appreciation, ask yourself where in your life you can be more appreciative. If it’s how you feel when you’re immersed in your hobby, ask yourself how you can invite more of that feeling. Connect with your values, your interests and what brings you joy for cues on your purpose in whatever chapter of life you’re living. 

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.” –Albert Einstein

 It’s being in the mystery: in the process of reflection combined with action that leads us to our purpose. Life is not meant to be stagnant but sometimes we have to nudge ourselves to recognize again that we are important and we matter. It’s not so much about us finding purpose but allowing purpose to find us through self-reflection.

It seems that in midlife it’s more about meaning than money. Although finances are an important part of life, remember that money isn’t everything. Some of the richest people I know are wealthy in kindness, empathy and love which makes them feel really good. Of course, we have a choice to stay in our so-called comfort zone, where life feels familiar but we limit our possibilities. Prioritizing purpose in midlife is important because our world doesn’t reflect back to us that we’re relevant. We have to claim it; we have to take up the space we rightfully deserve. There is no boutique selling meaning or purpose, it’s all inside of us. The unconventional route and the one I choose, is one of freedom and growth, staying open minded, open hearted and having some fun along the way.

Here is a link to an article in Psychology Today about finding purpose and community after retirement. There are some great questions to guide you and some helpful insight to inspire you.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/mindful-anger/201907/4-secrets-finding-purpose-and-community-after-retirement?eml

Your Imagination Can Set You Free!

Let’s play a game. Imagine we’re not in a Pandemic and you’re able to travel anywhere you want. Doesn’t that freedom feel good? Now imagine you’re planning a trip: money is no object and you can go anywhere by any means of transportation you choose. Where would you be going and how would you get there? If you have a piece of paper and pen handy, write down what you would do.

Here’s what I’m up to: I’m boarding a plane with my husband, to take us to Hawaii, where we’ll spend a few days on the island of Kauai before boarding a cruise ship to sail to Australia, where we’ll spend a few weeks; then we’ll hop over to New Zealand before returning to Canada. Perhaps you’re heading to Europe, the Middle East, the Yukon or Newfoundland. Maybe your trip is across town, to hug your parents, your children or your grandchildren.

Thankfully, there are no limitations on our imagination because we sure need it now. Those of us who love to travel are feeling the deficit but it won’t be forever; in the meantime we can dream, travel virtually and comfort ourselves with memories of our past experiences. All the photos you saved from your trips are important reminders of your freedom so enjoy them; share them too, so others can dream along with you. I mean nobody’s going anywhere any time soon, so a fun zoom call might be to share photos with other people who were with you on a travel adventure or do a presentation of one of your trips for your friends.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world” – Albert Einstein

Imagination is a powerful force in our lives. We use it all the time when we think about future events or when we remember past experiences. It’s all happening in our imagination. When the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilber invented, built and then flew the first motorized airplane, all of it happened in their imagination before it happened in real life. I know that as they were inventing the motorized plane, they were already flying it in their imagination. It doesn’t always turn out the way we imagine and that’s okay too but it’s important to have a dream or two and to plan for that dream because plans can be altered but without dreams we can feel downhearted.

It’s important for our mental wellness to keep expanding with our imagination, seeing things before they’re physically in front of us. This helps keep us curious and optimistic as well as giving us something to talk about with other people. I bet if you asked your family and friends where in the world they would like to go, the conversation would be thought-provoking and exhilarating; that’s what travel does for us, even when we can’t actually travel. Your beautiful brain doesn’t know the difference between virtual travel and real travel, so save yourself some time and save your money, so that when the time comes, you’ve got a plan.

There are many ways to connect with travel virtually right now, such as reading travel blogs, joining online travel communities, why not watch a movie or read a book set in a place you’ve wanted to visit or learn the language of a country you want to spend time in. Our lives are in a holding pattern right now but our imagination is free to take us wherever we dream of going, no passport required. Bon voyage!

What Seeds are you Planting this Growing Season?

With Easter on our doorstep and spring in the air, we’re naturally more optimistic as we head into another growing season. When we observe nature, it’s clear that there is an anticipated pattern of ebb and flow. There’s a time to pause and a time for growth. Perhaps you’re a gardener who relishes nurturing seeds that turn into beautiful plants bearing fruit or maybe you’re a bird watcher, who enjoys the season of migration, as our transient feathered friends join the hearty regulars at the feeder.

Spring is a time of renewal and growth; it’s our time to press refresh and take stock of what we love and what doesn’t work for us anymore. There’s nothing wrong with letting go of habits that don’t serve us and that relates equally to behavior and how we think. It’s easy to get caught up in ideas like this is how I’ve always done it or I can’t change now, I’m too old, regardless of how old you are. Both behavior and thinking habits are tenacious, even addictive but we’re bigger than that and we’re better than that. What nobody tells us is that we can change our mind about anything at any time and we don’t need anybody’s permission to make that move. When it comes to our habits, rather than going for bigtime change, it’s more manageable to nurture small shifts in our thinking and behavioral habits that will reap great benefit in the long run.

A breath of fresh air is a great thing to take and an even better thing to be.”  Nikunj Patel

Let’s start with breathing, shall we?  Right now, you’re inhaling one of  25,000 breaths you will take over the course of the day. We take our breath for granted until we have a problem with it but here’s the thing: we should be more aware of how we’re breathing so that we can optimize those precious 25,000 breaths. I recently became aware that my breathing needed some adjustment. I have been sucking in my belly for years to try to appear slimmer and apparently this has not been helpful for my breathing, which ultimately impacts my entire system.

Studies have shown that when we’re stressed our breathing is rapid and shallow; who hasn’t been stressed over the last year in this Pandemic pause? So I’m making time to work on slowing down, breathing in and out of the nose, expanding the belly on the in breath and relaxing it on the exhale.  Try it right now; take four or five nice slow inhales and exhales in through the nose while you expand your belly on the inhale and relax it on the exhale. This engages the diaphragm, which is a good thing. Being mindful of how I’m breathing is not a hardship and it’s a change of habit that I’m enjoying and benefiting from.

Breath is at the core of living and our thoughts are at the core of how we live, so it’s important to ensure that how we’re operating is working for us. When we fuel our happiness with thoughts and actions that make us feel good and are helpful for others, the energy of that flows into every aspect of our life. When we feel purposeful, it’s much easier to be compassionate toward ourselves and others.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s never too late and you’re never too old to feel purposeful. Start with how you invest the 24 hours you have in a day. Have you explored what interests you by taking a course or joining a group based on that interest? Can you give your time, talent or treasure to an organization in need of help? Is there something you love to do that could benefit someone else? It doesn’t have to be complicated: if you bake share your goodies with others; if you love to read start or join a book circle. If history, yoga or art is your thing, try taking an online course. Any engagement like this will spark some kind of delight that will flow into every area of your life.

We can’t forget the other support systems like getting good quality sleep, exercising and having healthy eating habits. Having healthy habits in these areas produce that same spark of positive energy that flows into all aspects of our lives.

Anything we do to improve ourselves adds value not only for us but for those close to us as well as the community around us. This is our time to refresh, renew and dance like nobody’s watching, so don’t be afraid to strut your stuff. Remember that life is for learning and growing no matter what age you are.

How Mindfulness Can Help Manage Stress

What do you think of when you hear the word mindfulness? Do you imagine a guru sitting crossed-legged on a mountain top chanting? Frankly, I think mindfulness could use a new public relations campaign, so that we can all appreciate the benefits of this simple yet powerful practice. I want to share with you how mindfulness might be something you can use every day in your life to manage stress, like a secret superpower.

It’s challenging for our busy thinking mind to understand that taking the focus off of our worries is a good thing. We “think” we have to think our way through everything but just like our body needs rest, our mind needs a break too. We’ve all been on a kooky emotional roller coaster ride, since this Pandemic pause began. Depending on your circumstances, you may be managing working from home, schooling for your children, you might be concerned about your investments, your family and friends, grieving loss of a loved one, your former life and there’s always the underlying fear that you might get sick.

Mindfulness is part of a deep-rooted Buddhist ritual; it’s a practice, just like being grateful is a practice. Once we start to notice what we’re grateful for in our lives, we’ll always find that there’s more to be grateful for but we have to develop the habit of seeing our world this way. Same thing goes for mindfulness, which is the practice of being present in the moment. Our beautiful brain is wired to anticipate what’s coming in the future and it loves to ruminate on what’s already happened whether it’s good or bad. The practice of mindfulness interrupts this ingrained pattern and allows us to be present without attachment to any of the concerns we have about the future or the past. The thing is it’s fleeting, so we have to be mindful of what thoughts are coming up and through practice, train our mind not to judge our thoughts and not to allow those thoughts to prevent us from living fully.

Mindfulness can be meditation but it doesn’t have to be. What if I suggested sitting comfortably with your eyes closed and just observing your breath for a few minutes. Breathing in and breathing out without judging anything, just observing. That’s a form of meditation and that’s not so weird is it? In my view, mindfulness is about becoming the observer of our thoughts without feeling that we have to jump in and engage with them. With practice, we become skilled at bringing our attention back to the present moment when we get carried off by a thought about something.

A lot of the stress we’re feeling these days is the result of speculative thinking because there is so much uncertainty in our world right now. Going over and over what we don’t know doesn’t soothe us, it does the opposite. So mindfulness can start by allowing for an awareness of how much time we invest in these questions with no answers. What if, instead of allowing random thoughts about all of our concerns, we focus on what we can do and choose one thing; then do it. That’s being mindful. If you pause when you notice your thoughts are taking you in six directions and just focus on your breath. Breathe in; breathe out. That’s being mindful.

Some people enjoy meditating, some love to colour. Some enjoy listening to music and for others it’s all about exercise. There’s no wrong or right way; certainly not just one way to nurture mindfulness. The key is to interrupt the constant stream of the 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts that bombard us every day and take up a lot of our brain’s bandwidth.

Beginning the day with a few minutes focused on mindfulness whether it’s writing in a journal, taking a walk outside, sitting quietly with a morning beverage or listening to a guided meditation, all of these practices can set us up to more easily manage our thoughts throughout the day. Then it’s important to move through the day, looking for the good in it and only focusing on one thing at a time. We’re very capable of multitasking and sometimes we think it’s the only way to get things done but multitasking is a myth; research has shown that it’s best for our mental wellness to focus on one task at a time.

However you choose to be mindful, whether it’s looking for ways to help others, learning something new or exercising, you’re supporting a healthy immune system, you’re preventing your cells from aging quickly and you’re taking charge because while there’s a lot we don’t know right now, there’s so much we can do to improve our mindset which is the only thing we have control over at any time. So, as you pursue your mindfulness practice, remember that your thoughts are powerful and you’re in charge of them.

Here is a list of suggested ways to practice mindfulness:

  • Take deep, slow belly breaths.
  • Do some gentle stretches.
  • Paint something.
  • Sit or walk in nature observing everything around you.
  • Move slowly.
  • Observe art.
  • List what you’re grateful for.
  • Listen to music.
  • Listen to a guided meditation.
  • Write in a journal.

Decluttering in a Pandemic: Your Guide to Feeling Lighter

Discussing decluttering a year or two ago was quite a different conversation. Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizing consultant had us all under her spell, teaching that if something didn’t spark joy in us, we should let it go. Now we’re storing toilet paper and keeping our pantry full of dry goods just in case. We’re in survival and preparedness mode and that sparks stress: an indescribable often unacknowledged tension that lies there like a blanket covering all of our lives.

There’s nothing like a global health crisis to reshape how we think, how we spend and how we live, among other things. We panic purchased to help calm the fear that rose up and took over; we’ve been watching the news to stay informed, thinking that might calm the fear but it just feeds it. Almost a year later we are more hopeful with news of a vaccine but we are nowhere near the end of this and I think we’re all tired of being afraid of something we can’t understand. Let’s be mindful that fear serves a purpose; its job is to keep us safe and our job is to manage how much of it we allow to direct our lives. If we declutter fear, we’ll be able to see ourselves through this Pandemic with more hope and optimism.

Some good news in all of us spending time at home is that we’re finally getting around to painting a room or two and switching out furniture we’ve been meaning to replace. This has been a great benefit to charities like the Furniture Bank that assist refugees and low-income families with used furniture. There’s the rise in kindness and compassion we’re seeing in our neighbours, we’re spending less time in our cars and the work world is seeing benefit in having some employees work from home. I think we’re all searching for reasons to feel hopeful that out of this chaos comes some positive change. Isn’t that the way it always works? If we look back over our lives, I think we can all see evidence that out of disorder a new order is created however we just don’t do well when we don’t know what’s coming or when.

We want to plan grand reunions, we want to know when we can hug our kids and receive a hug from a friendly soul and who can blame us? We are made to live in a community; not isolation. So let’s begin by focusing on ways we can feel empowered instead of powerless. It starts with gratitude and appreciation for what we do have and what we can do. To activate the feeling of empowerment, it’s important that we implement simple practices like letting people know we appreciate them by giving compliments, making phone calls and sending messages to those we’re grateful for. There’s a lot of power in directing our attention this way.

We also have to manage how much time we devote to the news. It’s important to be informed but cultivating calm is how we quiet fear; we cultivate calm by settling the mind through prayer or meditation, whatever resonates with you. We calm our mind through exercise and focusing our attention on what we can control; surrendering the worry thoughts about what we aren’t in charge of. It’s like fine-tuning our insides; instead of allowing fear to make us feel scrambled and overwhelmed, we can manage our feelings by focusing on calm.

As we go through the day, instead of looking to the outer world for certainty, let’s go inward and take charge of our attention and focus. Remember that how we feel is going to dictate how our day will unfold. When we begin the day with appreciation and healthy boundaries, we’re decluttering our minds and choosing to feel empowered. When we limit our exposure to stressful influences we’re nurturing our mental wellness, which is an investment worth making if what we want is to live well.

Here’s a checklist to help maintain focus:

  1. Start your day by acknowledging what you’re grateful for; name at least five things.
  2. To activate feelings of empowerment, focus on what you can do such as giving compliments, reaching out to those you appreciate and giving your attention to people and things that make you feel good.
  3. Limit your exposure to negativity such as watching or listening to too much news; avoid gossip.
  4. Cultivate calm through meditation, prayer, exercise and practicing kindness toward yourself first.
  5. If you feel overwhelmed and find these recommendations difficult, there is support for you; all you have to do is ask.

Energize your life: Dream Big!

I really want this new year to be special, don’t you?  2021 feels filled with possibility and the hope that was lacking in 2020. Even when we don’t have all the answers we’re craving; even though we are still living cautiously, life is moving forward and that’s a great thing. While we’ve had many restrictions on our freedom in the past year, I think it’s time to start dreaming again; to start planning again even if the timeline has to be adjusted.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Eleanor Roosevelt

We humans aren’t happy when we don’t have plans of some kind and that means using our beautiful imagination to create them. The great thing about the world we’re living in today is that we can actually have an experience without leaving the comfort of our home. I signed up for a virtual tour of Florence and Tuscany to remind me of an adventure my husband and I had a few years ago. I know it’s not the same as being there but I’ll get the feeling of having been somewhere other than my living room and that will hold me until we’re free to travel.

Science has good evidence now that virtual experiences, like the tour I mentioned, produce positive emotion, which helps to alleviate the stressors we’re all living with during this Pandemic pause. Nature programs, cooking classes and exercise classes not only relieve boredom but support the all-important social connections we all need to nurture wellbeing.

I wonder what’s on your dream list; what would bring you joy. Are you longing to learn a new language or brush up on one you haven’t used in a while? Are you dreaming of a face to face coffee date with a dear friend or a family reunion? Does your list include travel, an art or cooking class; maybe salsa lessons or are you interested in volunteering?

Dream lists are important because they give us full permission to plan without pressure. Our dream lists have been taken more seriously since Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson knocked items off of their bucket list in the movie of the same name. It feels good to plan something even if you don’t know when or how you’re going to achieve it. Having a list of dreams is enough to keep us curious and engaged as life moves forward.

Equally important, to keep ourselves inspired, is having a reverse bucket list or a reverse dream list. It’s an accounting of all of our accomplishments and achievements to date. We’re so conditioned to check items off of the To Do list and move on that we hardly recognize the dreams we’ve already brought to life. If you dreamed something and did it, that’s cause for celebration. Looking back allows us to recognize how powerful we are; how courageous and resilient we are. It’s also an indicator of where our joy can be found. It’s the fuel we require to keep us dreaming and doing.

I propose that we work on our dream lists. Start by doing your reverse dream list first and write down your achievements to date; then do your future dream list. Beside each item on that list, put one small step you can take in the direction of bringing that dream to life. Remember your dream list is just a guideline without any pressure and it’s always connected to infinite possibility. Let’s dream big and make 2021 our best year yet.

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