Peace of mind, defined as “a feeling of being safe or protected,” is not something that is bestowed upon us when, say, all our ducks are in a row, or external circumstances are calm and harmonious. Peace of mind can be cultivated in the most turbulent times; amidst the most turbulent emotions. It is a continuously cultivated quality. One breath at a time.
Showing kindness to ourselves can be one of the more challenging practices to commit to. Life happens, challenges arise, we get busy, and it is only illness, fatigue, burn out, and moments of overwhelm that ask us, with urgency, to prioritize self-care. Yet, by living in a human body we have every tool needed to support ourselves in sustainable well-being.
One of the simplest means of showing kindness to ourselves is to create personal rituals. Rituals are a single action or series of actions that are meaningful and performed the same each time. Rituals are tools that offer us space to pause, honor ourselves, and become present.
I dream of the day when I will methodically tackle each task on my to-do-list, crossing items off one-by-one, then feeling the great joy of accomplishment and lightness of being when I finish the last item on my list. Well, if you are a busy parent like me, this dream seems an impossible reality because, despite my best efforts, my list just keeps growing. The problem with endless to-do lists is that with them comes stress, anxiety and a feeling of being overwhelmed wondering, “How will I ever get everything done?”
After many years of list making, I have come up with several strategies that can help busy parents like me tackle their to-do lists and actually feel good, rather than stressed out, at the end of each day.
When life gets really busy it can feel like you’re always catching up on your to-do list. Even when there isn’t much going on, your mind may default to a pattern of restlessness.
For greater mental clarity, it’s important to develop your practice. Here are 4 strategies to help you manage a restless mind:
“True happiness is…to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence on the future.”
-Lucius Annaeus Seneca
The average American spends 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime. Cultivating happiness in the workplace is that much more important, given we spend so many waking hours there.
But it is not always easy to do. Many challenges can arise for employees, especially in high-stress environments. Time can go by, with no reprieve, feeling as though the days blend into weeks, and weeks into months. Dwelling on past mistakes takes us out of the present, as does worries about our future at the company. Meditation is a tool we use to learn how to be more mindful and present, focusing on the here and now, which leads to more happiness.
Americans spend more time at work than many industrialized nations (including Japan), which means that our coworkers outrank our partners and families for hours spent together. Unless you’re a cyborg, that will inevitably mean that frustrations will arise. How can we cultivate happiness—especially when work gets stressful? Here are some quick tips to help tilt the needle in the right direction.
You can’t buy happiness. A platitude we’ve all heard and nodded along to. We get to experience its truth when that life-perfecting piece of technology or dream vacation inevitably leaves us with an aftertaste of disappointment. Yet, many spiritual traditions acknowledge that joy is our natural state. Before we get bent and beaten up by the world, we come into it knowing a state of bliss. As babies, we cry when we are hurt, hungry, or tired, but outside of basic corporeal need, we are happy. Without reversing our experience in the world and if we can’t save enough money to buy it, how do we access happiness?
Just about anyone would agree that taking time to appreciate the simple things is an important part of a happy life. But we may not be hardwired to pay attention in this way.
Evolutionary psychology tells us that it’s easier for us to notice a perceived problem than it is for us to take in what’s going well. This proclivity, referred to as the negativity bias, can likely be explained by considering our distant ancestors. Survival-wise, they’d be better served by worrying about the footprint of a natural predator than by delighting in the fragrant daffodil growing next to it.
The holiday season is heralded as the most wonderful time of the year, and certainly there is a whimsical and romantic quality to it all. However, along with the celebration comes the inevitable stresses of family, travel, the closing down a year, and the anticipation of another one. If you wake up a little less merry and a little more Grinch, you are not alone. More than that, you have the capacity to support yourself through the mindfulness practice. Taking a moment to reset through breath, movement, and awareness.
The simple practice of Loving-Kindness has come to be one of the easiest and most powerful ways to bring happiness to others, thereby multiplying my own. The brief act of sending out well wishes to all by silently communicating a sentiment such as, “May I be happy and free. May he/she be happy and free. May all beings be happy and free” is a practice I can do anytime, anywhere.
Often, we find ourselves holding back from saying certain things to people, but when it comes to our own inner dialogue -- we have no filter. Think back to a time where you were feeling down even though you knew you were being too hard on yourself. Fortunately, by paying attention to our inner dialogue, we can free ourselves from self-doubt and become more comfortable with who we are. Here are 3 ways to stop negative self-talk:
Think back to the last time you had a conversation with someone and it truly felt like the other person was giving you 100% of their attention. It feels good, right? You probably opened up more and felt a better connection with the person. For some people, this comes more naturally, while others have to be intentional about mastering the art of mindful communication.
Have you ever caught yourself wanting to say something, but weren’t sure if it was the right time or place to say it? As a leader, you need to be extra mindful in your communication because it sets the tone and can affect the team’s success. There are 3 questions you can ask yourself to help determine if you should say what's on your mind:
Is it based on fact or feeling?
Will this make the situation better or worse?
Am I showing compassion?
Companies and their teams face growing pressures every day to “think outside the box”. Often this involves trying to “do more with less”, whether it’s less resources, less direction, or less data. It could also mean tending to an increasing number of stakeholders, more competition, or entering uncharted territory. Simple mindfulness exercises can have a profound effect on your team’s ability to grow with these evolving challenges.
Do you know someone who always seems to bounce back from adversity without a scratch? While they may seem like a superhuman, it turns out anyone can learn this skill with intentional practice. We asked our mindfulness community for the answers -- welcoming contributions from Gisela Andras (Psychology, MBA Student), Diana Zapata (Photographer), and Erin Houston (CEO and Co-Founder of Wearwell).
Connecting regularly is a great way for building relationships. Gisela says, “this goes beyond just actively keeping in touch, a lot of the magic is in actively keeping them in [your] heart, integrating them into [your] daily life and daily practices.”
For Diana “it’s important to have a balance between how much talking you do and how much listening as well.” This way you “nurture those relationships and it also gives perspective when you might feel like you’re the only one suffering through difficulties.” Of course, we can’t forget that “it’s a two-way street!” Erin reminds us that it’s important to “support those same people whenever they need it most.”
Find Meaning In Failure
As Diana puts it, “focusing on what’s lost is the best way to stay stuck. A setback or a challenge is just an opportunity for growth.” Erin adds, “if you fail at something, find meaning in learning how you missed the mark. If you face a setback you didn't expect, find another way to accomplish what you set out to do.”
While it can be easy to feel defeated, there are some tools at your disposal. In stressful moments, Erin repeats a simple mantra, “it's only a matter of resiliency and time before I'll be on the other side of it.” Gisela uses meditation as “an incredibly powerful tool to gain a healthy distance from [her] immediate emotions... and reassess the situation.”
In Diana’s words, “the challenge is always to accept that these plans might (and most likely will) derail, but the opportunity here is to be able to adapt and adjust.” Erin says, “it's a lot easier to roll with the punches and hurdles that come up,” when you understand your bigger life purpose.
“Remind yourself that we are in constant fluctuations, it is normal to feel defeated sometimes, but getting back up is also part of the process,” suggests Diana. If you find yourself feeling pessimistic, Gisela recommends to “focus on the present moment and slow down your breathing,” so you can see things in perspective. A visual cue or reminder can also be a good reminder to stay inspired. Erin has the words, “Gratitude attracts more reasons to be grateful" framed on her bedside table.”
“There will always be a ‘what if’ but it is never important because it is non-existent,” says Diana. Erin reminds us, “you can't change the past, but you can adjust and course-correct in the future.” If you have a big life decision, take a night to sleep on it. If you still feel the same way in the morning, stick to that choice and run with it.
If you still find your mind racing, Gisela always comes back to her meditation practice. “It gives me a tool to shed all those layers, find my inner voice and have the strength to listen.” For further reading, check out 4 Ways to Manage A Restless Mind.
Do you ever feel like part of you is always thinking about work? If you’re feeling this way, there’s a good chance your team is too. That’s why it’s important to develop the proper skills so you and your team can manage stress in a healthy way.
Lead The Way
Teaching your team resilience can go a long way when it comes to managing stress on a team and individual level. The development of these four skills can help a person learn to be more resilient in the face of adversity:
Optimism: Find the silver lining solution in unfavorable situations or difficult times
Composure: The ability to stay balanced and manage strong or difficult emotions
Safety: Provide a sense of security and “non-judgement” atmosphere
Support: Give your team support outlets (personally or refer to professionals)
Once you and your team develop these skills and become more resilient, it will become even easier over time to keep “getting back on the horse.”
The Value Of Failure
Don’t be afraid to let your team fail and find things out for themselves. A healthy amount of failure when the consequences are not life-threatening will help build resilience. As Winston Churchill puts it, “Success is not final; Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”
There’s no greater service you can do for a person than to teach them the skills that will help them remain resilient through the highs and lows of life. Remember, the important lesson here isn’t to create an environment where your team won’t face adversity. The point is to teach your team the proper skills to be resilient and rise to the occasion.
Have you ever had an “aha!” moment when you least expected it? Maybe you were in the shower, on a run, or simply drinking your morning coffee when suddenly... the answer became clear. There’s a reason why these breakthrough ideas strike at strange times and it’s most often when you have a clear mind.
In order to do your most creative work, you have to silence any anxious and stressful thoughts, especially if you have external pressure like pending deadlines. The good news is you can learn to distance these negative thoughts, while your creative mind goes to work.
To find out how others stay creative under stress, we reached out to:
Kevin Huynh, Partner at People & Company
Ramon Mortiz, Senior Associate at iProspect
David Li, Technician and Fulfillment Specialist at KeyMe
Here’s what they had to say about distancing anxious thoughts and letting your mind be creative:
Identify Anxious Thoughts
“What’s the first thing you do when you find your mind racing from anxiety and stress?”
Once you notice your mind start to race take a moment to pause and breathe. Try to assess the situation. Ramon suggests considering your “current situation, emotions, [and] thoughts,” by asking questions like:
How did I get to this point?
Why am I thinking this?
Where did this feeling come from?
You can also try writing down your thoughts and feelings in a journal. Kevin finds “that putting [his] thoughts into words helps [him] reflect on what [he’s] feeling and why [he] feels that way.”
Put Things Into Perspective
“How do you silence these anxious and stressful thoughts?”
A common thread among the contributing influencers is to always put everything into perspective. For some, this means introspective reflection, while for others it means talking things out with a close friend.
Kevin says, “nothing silences stressful thoughts like talking them out with someone I trust. Often those discussions with my partner or business partner don't change the circumstances but they put seemingly overwhelming things into perspective.”
Priority Over Pressure
“When you have other tasks to complete, how do you focus on the task at hand rather than the building pressure?”
For Kevin, his “good days start with lists”. Especially when times get busy, Kevin proactively makes lists for each day of the week. However, we all know how easy a to-do list can quickly get out of hand.
This is why it’s important to focus on the present moment says David. He highlights the importance of tackling each task one-by-one even though it can feel “almost paralyzing to focus on whatever you may have on your plate at the moment.
Here are some best practices for writing your to-do list:
Include work-related and personal items
It’s important to make sure you complete all of your work. It’s even more important that you maintain good physical and mental health. Make time for yourself.
Identify urgent versus important items
This helps you determine which items need to be prioritized first, while others can wait until a more appropriate time. Focus on the urgent problems first.
You can read more about writing sensible to-do lists here.
Enjoy the Moment
“Do you have any exercises or habits or hobbies that help you clear your mind and prevent stress from wearing you down?”
Everyone has an activity, hobby, or something you enjoy doing. It’s important that you make time for yourself and these types of activities. For Kevin it’s cooking; he says, “cooking is rejuvenating. There's something about preparing, creating, and consuming food that makes me feel more like me.”
Have you ever felt like the answer was right in front of you all along? When making a major life decision, it’s easy to overthink your options. All the “what-ifs” and “buts” can make it seem like there is no right decision -- it happens to the best of us.
Sometimes the best path forward is clearly defined, while other times it’s not. Fortunately, a proactive, mindful approach can help you see your options clearly to make the best choice moving forward.
A Process for Mindful Problem Solving
Before you make any major life decision, it’s important that you take a moment to slow things down. Breathe. It’s natural to feel emotionally charged when there is some sort of stake on the line. Don’t get caught up trying to uncover the “right” and “wrong” answers. You will naturally identify the best solution as you ask yourself these 5 questions:
1. What is your challenge?
The first step is to define the problem you are trying to solve. This is typically the major life decision you are trying to make. From choosing a field of study, career path, life partner, and more. You want to be crystal clear about what it is you are trying to solve.
Try asking yourself questions like:
What’s the challenge you are facing?
Why is this a challenge that must be addressed now?
What important details am I dealing with?
What do I want the outcome to be?
What bothers you about the problem?
What doesn’t bother you?
Who is involved?
Where does the problem occur?
When does it happen?
Why is it happening?
How does it happen?
How does it make you feel?
How do you react/respond?
Sometimes the problem you are facing will be very clear and already pre-defined. Other times the problem may be vague or require more effort to put it into words.
2. What are your possible outcomes?
Now it’s time to brainstorm all of the possible solutions to your challenge. It’s natural for our minds to focus on one “ideal solution”, but it’s important to let your mind search for multiple solutions. Think of this as an opportunity to brainstorm possible outcomes you may not have previously thought of.
To help you get started try thinking about solutions in terms of what it looks like you doing, feeling, and seeing. Focus both on what you do want to happen, as well as what you do not want to happen. Decide on your top 3 possible outcomes and keep these in mind.
3. What are your strategies to achieve these outcomes?
This is where you develop your ideas to craft a truly workable solution -- a plan you can implement to overcome your challenge. Try to think of as many strategies as you can for each of your 3 possible solutions from the previous step. These are actions you can take that will help you achieve a particular outcome. Remember, any idea is fair game at this point. Don’t criticize the merits of your ideas at this stage... we will get to that!
4. What are the consequences of your strategies?
In order to determine the best plan of action moving forward, consider the likelihood of success for each of your strategies from the previous step. Once you’ve done that, consider which of your outcomes from Question #2, has the most strategies that are likely to succeed. Of course, you’ll need to implement a specific strategy, but this is where you’ll have the best chances of success.
5. How can you implement this plan of action?
Now that you’ve arrived at a specific strategy to achieve a particular outcome, the final piece of the puzzle is to put it into action. Break your strategy down into a series of steps that take you from your current situation to your chosen outcome. By this point, you’ll have made a very intentional, mindful decision about the best course of action to overcome any challenge.
There are two types of exercise critical to reaching your peak performance in life: mental and physical. Physical exercise is organized, premeditated, focused physical movement that is intended to achieve a set of fitness goals. Common physical exercises include running, weight lifting, swimming, and yoga. With repetition, you get better over time.
Mental exercise is a bit more complicated. Your brain is active 24 hours a day and seven days a week. The brain is a super-powered processing machines constantly analyzing your external environment, while commanding your bodily functions. Your brain also regulates emotions, stores memories, and processes information both consciously and subconsciously. Just like physical activity, there is a distinction between brain activity and mental exercise.
Mental exercises are challenging. They require more cognitive power and eat up more energy. They are also the activities that make you smarter. Some examples include learning a new instrument, studying for a test, strategizing a new business model, and even reading for long periods of time.
Mutually Exclusive or Complementary?
What you may have noticed is that these examples of physical and mental exercise are not mutually exclusive. To play piano, you need to think about which notes to play and move your fingers and feet accordingly. To swim a proper breaststroke, you have to apply a learned technique to move efficiently and get better.
It is important to understand the difference between mental and physical exercise to understand an even more powerful type of exercise - the mind body connection.
The Mind Body Connection
Going as far back as ancient Greece, people believed that the mind and body were deeply intertwined. Medicine and sports were predicated on the idea that our bodies and minds depend on each other for peak performance. This notion was almost lost at the beginning of the seventeenth century, but has come back to popularity. Scientists in modern times have found again and again that the body and mind are a synchronized unit. For example, what separates Olympic athletes from recreational athletes is not their superior bodies; it’s actually their ability to make decisions on the fly, and command their muscles accordingly. Vice versa.
Here’s another example. Think back to the last time you were very hungry and trying to work. Not easy right? A body that’s properly fed, hydrated, and has stable glucose levels feeds a sharper, more focused, and calmer mind.
Though we do not yet fully understand the connectivity between the mind and body, it is a growing topic in a variety of fields from meditation to physiology to fitness. Peak performers, doctors and scientists all want to know how this relationship works. One thing is for sure. If you want to reach your peak performance in life, it’s critical to find a happy balance between mental and physical exercise.