Local Explorer

I just returned from a local adventure with my daughter. We live on Vancouver Island and we spent a week on the road, stopping in three different destinations along the way. All of the locations were within a few hours of our home. During our journey, we enjoyed music, hopped ferries, savoured good meals, hiked, paddle boarded, swam in the ocean and played in the sun. The best part was visiting with friends and family at each stop; and there was a lot of laughter along the way.

It was wonderful to discover all kinds of local treasures, as shared by our hosts. There were lake trails, mountain views, hidden beaches and ocean spits to be explored. Our friends shared their favourite places, which we would never have discovered without their local knowledge and insight. My daughter and I came home feeling full, refreshed and happy. All of this took place within a few hours of home, which proves that you do not have to travel very far to discover adventure.

In recent years, I have also tried out a “staycation”, which entails staying home for your break. There is something really nice about exploring familiar surroundings. The key is not to let chores around the house take over your time. Staying close to home can be quite relaxing, as it offers you the opportunity to be a tourist in your own town, and spend quality time in your community. There is an additional element of mindfulness and intention that is required to ensure you maximize the experience; but it is well worth the effort.

I am always grateful for the opportunity to travel to other countries, explore other cultures and experience the world but a local experience can often be as equally fun and fulfilling. It is wonderful to have an economical option for spending time with your friends and family in a unique and meaningful way. There is so much to discover close to home. It just requires a little curiosity, openness and effort.

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Negotiating with Grace

Life is full of difficult conversations. It takes great skill to both advocate for your own needs and empathize with the other person’s position. A successful resolution is one where each party walks away feeling both heard and satisfied with the end results.

I recently finished a short book by Bob Burg and John David Mann called The Go-Giver Influencer. It is written as a parable; and it presents a set of simple, actionable steps that can be taken to negotiate with grace, kindness and dignity.

  1. Breathe: Master your emotions. Retrain yourself to respond to conflict and disagreement by ruffling your feelings. Make calm your default setting.
  2. Listen: Step into the other person’s shoes.
  3. Smile: Set the frame. Whoever sets the frame of the conversation also sets the direction and tone in which it will go.
  4. Be Gracious: Communicate with tact and empathy. Let yourself feel what the other person is feeling, and speak to that truthfully, yet also with compassion. Remember that they are a chime and you are a tuning fork.
  5. Trust: Let go of having to be right. As long as your premise is that your position is the right tone, and the other person’s is the wrong one, you have no chance of arriving at a genuinely satisfying solution.

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Seeing is Believing

I recently listened to a podcast where Oprah spoke to the profound impact of advice, given to her by legendary poet, Maya Angelou: “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” It is one of the single most important lessons that she has ever learned.

It seems so simple. Believe a person’s actions, not their words. Actions do not lie. But when I think about it, there are so many times in my life where I have ignored the obvious when it does not line up with my perception. It always results in disappointment and heartbreak.

The human brain wants to rationalize the world: to line up reality with our desired state and explain away any inconsistencies. Reflecting back, I have done this myself in all kinds of relationships: romantic, personal and professional. I whitewash negative behaviour when I spot “potential” in a person or I focus on what I want to see, rather than what is really happening right in front of me. The irony is I am always “surprised” when the person proves to be who they said they were in the first place.

My focus going forward will be to remain present with reality. To allow the truth to reveal itself, without an argument. Who shows up when they say they will? Who does not? Who follows through on their promises? Who does not? It really is that simple. Armed with good information, I can then make decisions on who I allow into my life and who I keep a distance from. A strong and loving community is such an important part of nurturing overall health and well being: with a tribe of loving and kind friends, colleagues and family, anything is possible.

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Strengths Based Living

This week, I have been exploring the strengths based work of Marcus Buckingham. Marcus is a career coach; and he believes that we are taught to focus on the wrong things from a very young age, which leads to unhappy and unfulfilling careers. Instead of learning to identify our own unique strengths, we are taught to seek external input from teachers and bosses on weaknesses to improve.

A strength is something that only you alone can pin point and a weakness requires external validation. A strength is a specific activity that fills you with joy and energy. It is sustaining and you lose track of time when it is underway. You look forward to the opportunity to do it every time.

This is different than something you excel at. You can be really good at an activity, but if it does not provide you with the things listed above, it is not a strength. This is why only you can truly identify your own strengths, as no one else can tell you how it makes you feel to do it. A weakness, conversely, is something that you will never excel at; with focused effort, it will be improved to mediocre status, at best. 

If you do not learn to identify your own strengths, it will land you in a job that is not well suited, as you will follow a path laid out by others. This can result in feeling drained, dejected and depleted when you show up to work every day. 

Oprah invited Marcus to lead a career intervention with group of professional women on her show. The free, step-by-step workshop is available online. I have done the work and and I found it to be incredibly helpful and insightful. He breaks out all of the steps of how to discover your own unique strengths and demonstrates how to tangibly action them. It is a wonderful resource and I hope you enjoy it too.

https://www.oprah.com/money/marcus-buckinghams-career-intervention

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I See You

Lately, I have been taking notice of a habit. As I walk down the street, I tend to look down at the sidewalk, rather than up at the world around me. I focus my gaze five to ten feet ahead, as I move towards my destination. My comfort zone is to keep my eyes lowered and my focus inward.

I recently decided to test out a small experiment. Rather than looking down, I have been intentionally looking up at every person that passes me. If it feels safe, I offer them a smile. This pushes the limits of my comfort, as it brings me into direct contact with strangers.

The vast majority of people do not meet my gaze. Some people look down or straight ahead into the distance. Some are busy talking with their friends. Others are intently focused on their cell phones.

Once and a while, however, I am successful. There is a simple but powerful moment of connection. Our eyes meet and I silently think to myself: “I see you. I acknowledge you. I honour you.” It often results in their face lighting up as we pass one another.

Although it is easy to dismiss the importance of small acts of kindness, you never know their true impact. That moment could offer a glimmer of hope to someone experiencing a difficult day, reminding them that they are not alone. It may inspire them to pass kindness onto the next person they encounter: generating a ripple effect of love. Whatever its impact, I am enjoying the practice of bringing myself into the moment, and taking the opportunity to connect with others along the way.

Finding My Centre

Woman Sitting On The Rock And Meditating In Yoga Pose. Back View

“The centre of the energetic body is recognized in various healing sciences and traditions. In the Chinese Qigong it is known as Dantian, the Japanese name is Hara, and in the Sufi tradition, the Kath.

The location of the Dantian is in the lower belly, just below the navel, sitting a few centimetres below the skin’s surface as an orb of organized energy. In modern society, so many of us are constantly flooded with expectations and emotions. We have lost the ancient wisdom of living from our true centre: where peace and calm exist, rooted in our inner wisdom and knowingness. When we operate from this place, we are grounded, patient and free of anxiety.

Next time you meditate or find yourself in a highly emotional or anxious state, close your eyes and focus on your Dantian. Breathe into it. Hold it in your mind. Feel to coming home to your true nature. You are here. You are enough.”

~ Zach Bush, M.D.

I have recently started to notice a deeply ingrained pattern. When I am faced with a challenging situation, I lose my grounding and I look outwards for the answers. What resource can I consult? What expert or trusted friend can give me advice? How can I confirm that my actions are the right ones? There is a lack of trust and deep feelings of fear that arise within me.

The other day, as I struggled with some difficult issues, I sought advice from a friend. Rather than offering me a solution to my problem, however, she counselled me to stop looking outwards and to start turning inwards. She wisely reminded no one can direct me on path except myself. Her guidance was to re-connect with my inner knowing. To seek the guidance of the quiet, steady core of myself that represents the integrated whole: the Dantian. She assured me that if you are still and you listen, it will show you the way.

Our society encourages action. We are told, from an early age, to be productive and efficient. The idea of sitting in stillness to seek answers from within is counter intuitive to this social conditioning. My instinct is always to “do something” but it is this frenetic doing that feeds into a feeling of groundlessness. Often, the most important thing to “do” is to stop and reflect: to create space for the solution to present itself. As I have been testing out this approach, I have been surprised at the answers that naturally arise from within. It is empowering to discover that I often know what to do in my body before I do in my mind.

Here is an exercise that I have been testing out recently to connect with my Dantian:

First, find a quiet space. Sit and close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Feel your hips on the chair. Settle them in. Imagine strong roots running down from your spine and hips into the ground: creating a solid, flowing connection with the earth.

Allow for any negative or fearful emotions to run from your body down into the rich, dark soil. Release all tension and anxiety. Feel it being received and absorbed. Breathe and sit quietly.

Now imagine the nourishing energy of the earth running back up these roots and into your body. Feel the loving, positive energy fill your whole being. Feel it centre and radiate in the space beneath your navel. Hold it there lightly. Breathe and sit quietly.

When it feels right, ask your inner wisdom the answer to your question. Listen and be still. Be patient and wait for the answer to present itself to you.

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Tiny Steps to Transformation

martha beck

My inner perfectionist tells me that if I cannot fully commit to doing something, it is not worth doing it at all. If I want to learn French, I need to move to a French-speaking country; or if I want to be a writer, I need to quit my job and write full time. This story is very restrictive and limiting, as there is a low to zero chance that I can be successful. I cannot simply drop everything to focus on my passions without suffering serious consequences. And so…I do nothing. Nothing at all. My interests sit on a shelf for another year, waiting for the time and circumstances to be perfect, and the result is soul destroying.

There are life affirming interests and pursuits that call us from our deepest core. We are called to do them, as they give us joy and meaning. They reflect our unique reason for being here; and if they are not realized, in some form, it is like walking around with a blindfold on. I want to take my blindfold off, so I can fully engage in my life, and live a truly fulfilling existence.

Martha Beck is a best-selling author, life coach, and speaker who specializes in helping individuals and groups achieve greater levels of personal and professional success. She holds three degrees, a BA, MA and PhD from Harvard University. In addition to authoring several books, Beck is a columnist for O, The Oprah Magazine. Although Martha is a very accomplished woman, she has faced a lot of adversity along the way. This includes grappling with serious health issues, raising a child with Down Syndrome, and breaking ties with her Mormon community. In order to continue moving forward, despite facing many obstacles, Martha uses a technique called Turtle Steps.

Turtle Steps are tiny, easy steps that you take towards reaching a goal. To create a Turtle Step, you identify your end goal, break it up into steps, and then cut each step into half. Continue cutting it into half until each step is so easy that you could do it in your sleep. Start with the taking the first easy Turtle Step. Continue onto the next one. And the next. Follow the step immediately with a reward of some kind. If you repeat the same behavior-plus-reward for four consecutive days, the behaviour starts to become a habit, and you will be able to sustain it with very little effort. This will eventually help you to accomplish your vision.

This approach strongly aligns with the work of James Clear and his recent book Atomic Habits. A habit is a behaviour that has been performed enough times to be done without thought; and daily habits are an embodiment of your identify. Every action you take is a vote for the person you want to become. The more votes you cast, the more likely you are to become that person. For example, if you make your bed every day, you are embodying the persona of a tidy person or if you read a page a day, you are embodying the persona of a reader. Once you believe in a certain identify, your daily actions start to naturally align with this belief.

We often overestimate what we can accomplish in a day and underestimate what we can achieve in a lifetime. James encourages you to focus on getting 1% better every day, rather than on making one big change. Habits can easily be overlooked, both good and bad. The difference between studying a language for five minutes a day or not, or choosing to eat a salad instead of a burger, seem like nothing in the moment. It is only when these habits compound over two, five, or ten years that you see the full impact of the 1% choices, for the better or worse. If you can start to internalize this concept, it will help you to see the importance of your daily actions.

The key is to make the change as easy as possible. James outlines this concept through his two minute rule. What can you do to initiate the habit? How do you automate the beginning of the new behaviour? He advises you to take your goal and scale it way down (e.g. if you want to become fit, commit to doing five push ups, every day for thirty days). Think of it as a gateway action or an entrance ramp. He argues that to establish a new habit, you must first master the art of showing up. A habit has to be firmly in place before it can be improved. Until you become the person who shows up every day, there is nothing to optimize. Once you fully believe in the new identity, you can upgrade and improve from there. James also advises never to miss twice. Missing once is a mistake. Missing twice is the start of a new habit; and habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.

Although the skeptic in me finds it difficult to believe that Turtle Steps or the Two Minute Rule are going to get help me achieve my goals, I know for a fact that I am not achieving anything by waiting for the circumstances to be perfect for full throttle engagement. I recently committed to five minutes of French practice every day by using the DuoLingo app on my phone. I have successfully accomplished my goal for the past ten days and it feels great. I have also made the commitment to sit down at my computer every morning for ten minutes and do nothing but write. If I can automate the habit of showing up at my desk, I can then focus on the effortful activity of writing once I am here. Although it is far from my dream of publishing a book, it puts me on the path to realizing that goal; and, more importantly, I am starting to identify myself as a writer. This is nourishing for my soul and worth its weight in gold.

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Vacation Now

Traveler Girl Walking On Tropical Beach In Sunset. Vintage Photo

I love to go on vacation. After a few days of decompressing, I switch off and relax. I sleep. I read books. I laugh. I eat good food. I spend time with the people that I love. The sole focus of the day is enjoying the next meal or activity. There are no chores or obligations. There is a quality of light and spaciousness. It is fantastic and I cherish the experience.

When I return to “real” life, I often feel like I am on a hamster wheel. I go to work. I come home. I cook. I clean. I care for my daughter. I grocery shop. I run the laundry. I chip away on the never ending “to do” list (which seems to always be getting longer). I squeeze in time for friends and family. I catch my breath. Rinse and repeat.

I was speaking with a colleague recently about his long weekend. We swapped stories about how we spent our time. I shared how I had pulled apart my garage and reorganized it. He told me how he spent time being still. Still? I asked him for more details; and he shared how he schedules time in each week to be alone. No obligations. No activity. Just rest and stillness. I was intrigued.

He explained that the key to success is to schedule it in like any other activity and then fiercely protect it. It is easy for other obligations to feel more important; but when you are drained and exhausted, there is nothing left to give. Making time to rest is ultimately a gift to those you love (and yes, he does have a young child, and he is an independent parent, so time is precious).

I have been thinking a lot about his advice and my lack of ability to slow down during my “regular” life. Why can I do this for myself during a vacation and not as an ongoing practice? I realized that there is no real good reason except habit and commitment. It does not need to be a full afternoon or long period of time to be valuable and nourishing. A half an hour, here and there, is a good place to start; and it feels much more manageable.

I am going to start scheduling in “stillness” time in each week and see how I do. I will give myself some rules, such as no phone or computer. I will focus on activities that are quiet and introspective, such as reading, walking, listening to podcasts, knitting or zen colouring: all things that I really enjoy. My ultimate goal will be to cultivate a regular practice of rest and spaciousness, so I can bring this into my daily life, rather than waiting until I crash on vacation to restore and replenish.

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The Power of Words

krysenclark

I came across a statement this week from Krystin Clark via social media: “I am not a single mother. I am an independent parent.” It stopped me in my tracks. As a woman who has defined myself as a single parent for the past three years, I was struck by this reframe. It is subtle yet powerful.

Self-definitions have a significant impact on well-being and state of mind. To identify as a single mother brings up images of vulnerability and fragility. A lone woman facing the world with her child. To identify as an independent parent is a statement of strength and assurance. It says: “I can do this on my own. I can stand on my own two feet.”

This pivot has caused me to stop and think about other ways I am limiting myself through self-definitions and self-talk. What are the stories that I assume to be true? How can I create space for something else? Words are either powerful tools or weapons, depending on the context; and they must be used with care. It is important reflect upon them regularly or we run the risk of boxing ourselves into a corner without even realizing it.

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