Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sustaining Your Happiness

It’s easy to work out for a couple of weeks, practice the occasional random act of kindness, savor a success now and again and write an optimistic entry or two in your journal. Sonja Lyubomirsky has tons of happiness activities in The How of Happiness. The real happiness issue is how to keep these great activities going for the long haul.

Dr. Lyubormirsky has a number of suggestions that are important to try and make use of.

Timing. We all have a good time of day to work, to sleep, or to exercise. These are times that work best for our particular body and mind. Finding the right time for your happiness activities is important. Do you journal best in the morning or before bed? Work out at lunch or need a healthy meal at that point in the day?

Variety. Varying your routine is another factor. Me personally, I like to run in the same place. It’s always different to me and I like the familiarity. Some people need to change it up or they’re bored. They need variety to help keep them on track, so to speak. Which works for you?

Social support. Supportive friends or family help us stick to the program, especially if it’s a new program. We know working out with a buddy makes it easier. Getting family on board with schedule changes you may make to accommodate changes in behavior is also important.

Motivation, effort and commitment. Need I explain? You must have a plan and stick to it religiously whether it’s writing in a gratitude journal once a week, volunteering once a month or swimming three times a week. And as I tell people when it comes to dieting, or changing eating habits, this is a lifetime commitment if you want to keep off the weight. It’s the same for all happiness activities.

Habit. Is it really 66 days to form a habit? I’m dubious. 10,000 hours? The more you do something, the more habitual it becomes. It’s as simple as that. Keep on truckin’.

Mood music: Truckin’, Grateful Dead.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Yoga and the 23 Steps to Contentment

I talk a lot about yoga as a great form of stress management. Of course yoga is more than just that. It’s more than just the physical stretching. Not to get to woo woo, it’s a way to bring the mind, body and spirit together on a quest for inner peace and tranquility, contentment, or something like that.

Claire Dederer did a great interview about her book, Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses. She points out that yoga helped her get away from her perfectionism. All yoga instructors teach you that you’re not competing with others in the room, or even with yourself. You are told to notice your body and feelings, not to change them and certainly not to fix them. Dederer notes that yoga helped her become more content with what she had, instead of looking for the path to something different, and presumably better.

I couldn’t agree more. Yoga helps with the acceptance and mindfulness that I find can be so useful for people who want to be more content and less stressed out. And it’s a good way to work on your breathing. Yet, as someone pointed out to me just today, it’s not for everyone. But what is?

Read the first highly amusing and entertaining chapter of Dederer’s book here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Wouldn’t That be Interesting? James Franco Interview

…what if I actually was on a soap opera? Wouldn't that be interesting? People would be surprised. Nobody would expect it. And also, it's a different kind of entertainment and acting…I was thinking in a different way at that point. James Franco, October 5, 2010 interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, rebroadcast 2/18/11

What I really liked about Franco’s plan was the idea of trying something different, just because it would be interesting. How often do you keep doing what you’re doing, the same thing, because it’s predictable and safe. Trying something different exercises your creativity muscles, tests your courage and feeds your need to learn new things.

Okay, so you’re not a famous actor who has the soap director falling over himself to give you anything that will make you happy. That doesn’t mean you don’t have options. Where can you stretch in your life? Where do you feel stuck in your life?

In your job? Get a volunteer job so you can try out something new. Maybe working with kids, rape survivors or at a hospital is something that will click for you. Audition for the community theater or chorus.

In your home? Clean out that junk room and make it a studio. Get a puppy. Start working on that garden, finally.

In your relationships? Make a weekly date night, have lunch with a friend weekly or join that bird watching group you’ve been eyeing.

In your fitness program? What fitness program, you ask. Well, don’t get me started. There are as many ways to try something new as there are people.

Anyplace you feel stuck, or feel that things are too routine and predictable, is a place to consider something new and different. Have you ever considered auditioning for a soap opera? Wouldn’t that be interesting?

Fresh Air interview

Friday, February 11, 2011

Believing is Seeing

I borrowed that line from Erik Weihenmayer, who you can see crossing a crevasse on Everest. Oh yeah, he’s gay, excuse me, he’s blind. A news anchor’s error that he repeats and features on his website, telling you something about his sense of humor. That and his love of what he calls a friend’s positive pessimism. Eg., It may be raining, but at least it’s windy. I plan to use positive pessimism for those who insist on taking themselves way too seriously.

I had a wonderful opportunity to see Erik speak the other night. He’s a motivational speaker when not climbing mountains or helping other groups of challenged people (injured vets, blind children and others) learn to climb.

Early on when he completely lost his sight, he thought that the adventures of his life were over. Soon he realized they were just beginning. And I’ll say they were. He’s climbed the highest peaks on 7 continents, something most of us sighted folk wouldn’t even dream of. Proving once again, that whatever doesn’t kill you

I like the way he talks about people falling into three categories. Quitters, campers and climbers. I’m sure I don’t have to explain the quitters. The campers are interesting. They get to a certain level, and then camp out there. It could be okay. Or not. The climbers though, they keep on going, up and up and up.

When you believe, you can see how far you’re able to go. So what are you? Quitter, camper or climber?  What do you want to be starting right now?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Time Management, or, An Hour to Myself

It's the one thing that's mine. My runs every day are my thing. It's my therapy, my hour to myself. Nobody can really take it away from me... It's such a huge part of me.
Summer Sanders, Olympic Gold Medalist, Swimming

I know, I know. You don’t have time to take an hour for yourself. How about 15 minutes? Perhaps you’ve heard of brief therapy. You don’t even have 15 minutes? Then it’s time to consider time management.

You know about Steven Covey’s time management matrix? It’s a good way to think about what you chose to do. If you’re like most people, you do the important, but not urgent things first. That is, instead of running, meditating, playing your instrument, or whatever you do for your personal therapy, you do the important but not urgent things. These important, not urgent things include returning phone calls, answering email, writing your plans for the day, doing research, etc. The important but not urgent things are often done quickly and don’t take much thought, but they add up. You can spend your entire morning in this kind of mindless activity. Things get done, but you didn’t get your therapy in. I’m not saying you don’t have to get to these things, I’m just saying they’re not priorities.

Then there are the activities that are not important. These include a bunch of things you can delegate or reject completely. You can get your 17 year old to do his/her own laundry, and decline to be on the committee for which your colleague’s brother’s uncle needs you desperately. Also unimportant are things you don’t need to be doing at all. These include things like baking cookies that are actually not as good as the ones you can buy at the bakery, or playing computer games when you’re supposed to be working.

Think about where you can find some time for your therapy, whatever it is. It will help you be creative and productive in your “real” work.

Time. Pink Floyd

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Will You Clutch or Choke Under Pressure?

According to Paul Sullivan in his book Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Others Don’t, there are five key traits that are needed to be clutch. Clutch, by the way, is being able to do what you can do under normal circumstances, when you’re under pressure. Simple, right?

The traits:

1. Focus on the goal

2. Discipline to maintain focus

3. Adaptability, since plans don’t always go as expected. Murphy’s law and all that.

4. Being present in the moment instead of getting distracted by past performances, good or bad

5. Managing the push and pull of fear and desire to enhance performance

You don’t have to be in a superbowl or be a superstar to benefit from these. After all, if superstar Christina Aguilera was more focused, disciplined and present, perhaps she wouldn’t have flubbed the national anthem at the Super Bowl. I gotta feeling she was thinking, I’m not myself tonight. Definitely not clutch.

Hear the interview with Paul Sullivan.

More on focus under pressure.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Be Beautiful: Download the Negative

I look at running as meditation. It allows me to decompress, download, and get rid of a lot of negative stuff. That's my secret. I go inside myself. Jeff Corwin, conservationist.

We refresh, delete and change up the playlist, not just on our computers but in life and in conversations. But how do we download in life? I like the metaphor of downloading “negative stuff” for getting the stuff out of your head and out into the universe where perhaps it can fertilize something that’s going to grow up and be beautiful.

Definition: transferring from a local computer to a remote computer.  In addition to running, there's always the running meditation. If you don’t run, there are many ways to download. Telling a friend, coach or therapist is a download. Writing in your journal is another. We might say that anything that gets info from your head to another place is a download. So writing a novel or a song, or painting a picture, can be a download; you transfer some of the negative stuff to the page.

How about a loving kindness meditation as a download? Perhaps any type of meditative activity, be it traditional meditation, exercise or performance, is a download. Maybe anything that gets you into flow, is a download. When the meditation ends, you find more peace and equanimity. So think about how you download, and take the time to do it. And be beautiful.

For a meditative video, You’re Beautiful, James Blunt