A is for Accept Yourself and Others

Part 4 in this B-A-L-A-N-C-E Your Life Series.

acceptanceAcceptance is one of life’s greatest lessons. Yet in our society we don’t invest the time to understand how it enriches our lives. It can take years or a lifetime to master the fine art of truly accepting yourself and others.

Accept Yourself. This is a tough one. With hundreds of images of society’s definition of “perfection” coming your way each day, it’s easy to get consumed by an unrealistic or even unattainable self-image. The moment of liberation comes when you realize how important it is to not compare yourself to others. They don’t have what you have. You don’t have what they have. There is only one you. No two people on the entire planet are exactly the same. First become aware of yourself, then accept yourself. How do you do that? Tell yourself, “I accept myself for who I am.” “I value myself for who I am.” “I love myself for who I am.” As you say those words, you must feel and know that it is true. Empty words will do nothing for you. They must be filled with true emotion. What else you could do to accept yourself?

A few years ago, I experienced a personal breakthrough on a walk in the woods. It was a beautiful day. Walking along the path, I felt the warmth of the sun on my face, and smelled the freshness of the air. I was fully present in the moment, enjoying every step in nature. I became so filled with joy, I said out loud, “I love myself.” I let the words sink in. Then a smile came to my face. I repeated it with even greater emotion, “I love myself.” It was the first time in my life that I had said those words and actually felt and believed them. It was a turning point in my life.

Accept Others. This is another tough one. You can more easily judge others than accept them for who they are. Accepting others is hard work. It requires a bigger heart and more time. You must first understand that you cannot change others. You can only change yourself. This means you must accept other people, warts and all. Some of life’s greatest frustrations happen when you try to repeatedly change anyone else’s bad habits. Once you understand that only they can change themselves, that’s when your real learning begins. What could you do to better accept others?

When I was in my early 20s, a friend of mine smoked about a pack of cigarettes a day. I tried my best to talk to him about the health benefits of not smoking. He listened and admitted that he enjoyed smoking. I had to learn to accept and respect his wishes. A few years later, he proudly announced that he had quit smoking. I immediately realized the lesson: The change was not mine to make. It was his. It wasn’t until he felt the need to quit that allowed him to quit. It was his choice, his decision, not mine. I had no control in the matter. Several decades later, my friend has maintained a healthy lifestyle, smoke-free for all these years, and he goes to the gym five days a week. It was his choice to make.

Acceptance – of yourself and others – requires great focus and an open heart. Here are two questions to ponder:

How could your life change for the better if you began accepting and valuing yourself for who you are and begin celebrating your greatness?

How could your life change for the better if you began accepting and valuing others for who they are and begin celebrating their greatness?

L is for Laugh and Let Go

Part 3 of this B-A-L-A-N-C-E Your Life series.

Laugh. Comic icon Charlie Chaplin said “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” I agree. Yet many people can go days, weeks or longer without enjoying a good belly laugh. How about you? How long can you last without laughter? For me, I laugh every day.

If the world around you doesn’t make you laugh naturally (like you aren’t blessed with a hilarious spouse, best friend or co-worker), then create your own laughter.

Medical experts have been researching laughter for decades and have found that laughter is an excellent aerobic exercise. When we laugh, both our heartbeat and our blood pressure rise. After we finish a good laugh, usually while we’re taking a breath and letting out a long sigh, the heartbeat and blood pressure drop even lower. In the psycho-neuro-immunology field (it’s a mouthful, I know), research shows that laughter helps boost the immune system.

In his research, Dr. Lee Berk of Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California calls the white T cells that fight infection “happy cells” because they increase when the body experiences laughter, happiness and joy. So even if you are having a bad day, if you can manage to laugh, know that your T cells are happy. For information on the health benefits of laughter, visit the websites of the World Laughter Tour, Laughter Yoga International or Laughter Online University and enjoy several simple laughter exercises with a few videos.

Here are a few quick tips to create more humor in your everyday life:

  • Read the comics every morning.
  • Visit a local comedy club often for a night of laughs.
  • Visit top comedy websites to watch hilarious sketches or clips. Two of my favorites are Comedy Central or Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die.

water-drop-pearls-on-green-leaves-thumbLet Go. This can be a tough one: Learning to let go…of the day, the week, bad feelings…anything that physically or psychologically brings you down or makes you feel anxious. Don’t let things bottle up inside of you. Being able to recall specific memories is a cherished part of being human, yet you could become emotionally paralyzed if your memory keeps dredging up old, negative thoughts. Let it go! The past is the past and you can’t do anything to change it. Accept it and move on. Begin today by letting go of any negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.

The great hatha yoga master Lilias Folan uses a healing breathing practice at the end of each day called Let the Day Go. The practice is done each night to prepare you for a good night’s sleep. It allows you to intentionally exhale out the day and any feelings about the day, and inhale fresh, rejuvenating air to clear your mind, put your body at ease and get you ready for the next day.

What can you do each day to laugh and let go?

A is for Act

SnailSpeedPart 2 of this B-A-L-A-N-C-E Your Life series.

One of the best ways to balance your life is to act – take action – when you need to. I add “when you need to” because sometimes it pays to do things now and other times it pays to wait. It’s one of our greatest challenges, deciding when to do things.

When you have a lot going on in your life, you may feel overwhelmed, helpless or even paralyzed. Often when there is too much going on, it is hard for your brain – and your body – to sort out and prioritize things. Here are some thoughts on how to be productive and balanced at the same time:

Decide what is important both long-term and short-term. A long-term goal could be “To finish my college degree.” The key follow-up question is “By what date?” Once you attach a date to the goal, you are committed. If there is no date, the long-term goal then becomes a lifetime goal. “To finish my college degree sometime in my life” is not a targeted goal because it lacks a fixed timeframe. When the goal is stated with focus and purpose, and you break down that goal, anything is achievable. “To finish my college degree in the next 12 months” gives you a specific timeframe to achieve that goal. How many course hours are required to meet graduation criteria? How many hours can you handle managing the other priorities in your life? A short-term goal usually can be accomplished in one day, one weekend, or one week. It could be “To organize my office this weekend.” That can be a huge task, depending on the current condition of your office. You may want to break it down to “To spend four hours cleaning off my desktop (your real desktop, not your computer desktop). When you finish that first task, focus on another task like “To record last month’s expenses.”

Break down large tasks into smaller chunks. This is a tried-and-true time management tip that’s been around for decades and it works just as well today. Large tasks can feel daunting if you give them that power over you. Create a step-by-step process that will work for you. Prioritize. What comes first? Second? After that?

To act or not to act? What a great question! You may choose to read another chapter in a book to clear your mind rather than start that big project. That’s okay. Other times you may prefer diving into that big project over reading a book. It’s up to you. You decide what you need to balance your life.

Reward yourself. It works with adults equally as well as it does with children and pets. Surely there is something special that you consider a real treat. Think of relaxing and enjoying that treat. Then back track and think of what you did to earn the right to enjoy that treat. If you love Cherry Garcia ice cream (double scoop, of course), then picture yourself enjoying that ice cream right after you have finished your goal, like cleaning your office. Graduating from college? Well, that deserves a much bigger reward like a weekend away or an overseas trip.

When you stay ahead of life’s curve balls (they are always coming at you, you know) and act on the most important things first, then you will find time to do the others. It requires discipline, focus and action.

Ask yourself: What have I been putting off that I have really wanted or needed to do that, once complete, would give me the freedom to do other things? When you get into the rhythm of taking action in small bits and rewarding yourself, you will notice that your approach to those tasks will be much more positive.

B is for Breathe

just-breathe-beach-lgWould you like to add more balance to your life? Let me show you how. Simply remember the acronym B-A-L-A-N-C-E. In the next seven blog posts, I will share with you how to maintain a balanced life. This post begins with B is for Breathe.

“Just breathe.” “Take a deep breath.” You have heard these words of wisdom before. While breathing is a normal function of the human body, you are mostly unaware that it’s happening since it is controlled by your autonomic nervous system. Breathing occurs, on average, from 12 to 20 times per minute. That’s a lot of breathing. The benefit of breathing is to bring oxygen (good) into your body as you inhale and remove carbon dioxide (bad) from your body as you exhale. Oxygen in. Carbon dioxide out.

When you consciously focus on your breathing and extend that breath to your diaphragm (diaphragmatic breathing), it results in even greater health benefits, as illustrated in this Harvard Medical School article. When you find yourself in a stressful situation, diaphragmatic breathing can help to calm you, release tension and get you in touch with your body. You may feel stress when you are doing any variety of day-to-day activities, like preparing for an important presentation, simultaneously juggling too many tasks or caring for everyone but yourself. If you have difficulty sleeping, take in a few deep breaths. With each breath, tell yourself, “I am relaxed.” “I am calm.”

Yoga practitioners master diaphragmatic breathing because it brings healing oxygen to major organs and muscles. To learn more about yoga diaphragmatic breathing, read Dr. Roger Cole’s detailed article, Your Best Breath.

If you want to try something very simple that takes just a few minutes, consider alternate nostril breath or Nadi Shodhana with this short instruction from the Chopra Center.

The next time you feel stressed or out of control, tell yourself, “Just breathe.” Take a few minutes to practice diaphragmatic breathing. Slowly, gently breathe in vital oxygen and send its healing energy throughout your body. Exhale fully to release carbon dioxide. Add movement if you can. Take a short walk outside or simply walk down the hall, around the corner and back. You will clear your mind and feel refreshed.

Go In With the Outcome in Mind

Chess pieces on chessboardThe best results in life require some planning. Everything from maintaining relationships to facilitating meetings could benefit from some simple advance attention.

If you want to get the most out of a one-on-one meeting, be prepared with a private outline or agenda that keeps you focused. Here are some ground rules for getting the most out of an information-seeking conversation:

  1. Confirm how much time the other person has.
  2. Understand their flexibility; learn if they have a meeting before or after yours.
  3. Tell the person up front what information you need.
  4. Come prepared with specific questions.
  5. Chat for only a few minutes at the beginning to get acquainted on a more personal level.
  6. Discuss important items first, and leave any spare time at the end of your meeting to talk about other personal items.

I learned the hard way about the value of preparation and the importance of directing the conversation a number of years ago. I had invited a colleague to meet for morning coffee to get caught up since we hadn’t seen each other for a while. We spent the first 45 minutes of our conversation talking about our personal lives, news, issues, etc. She looked at her watch with a surprised look and said that she had just ten minutes left before she had to leave and be back at her office for a conference call with a client. Now I was in the awkward position of cramming all of my questions about the topic of my interest into the last ten minutes. That experience taught me an important lesson. When you have a specific topic that you want to discuss, let your intention be known, and discuss it first rather than wasting time on idle chit-chat.

When you meet with someone to discuss a specific topic, remind yourself that you have a limited amount of time to spend. Set up your meeting with clear objectives in mind. Let the other person know in advance what you would like to discuss. If you don’t, the other person may misinterpret your intent. When you meet, remind the other person what you would like to talk about. Casual get-togethers with no agenda are fine too if it’s clear up front that’s how you intend to use the time. You will get more out of meetings and conversations when you prepare yourself – and others – about how you plan to use the time.

Repeat this phrase to yourself as you enter any meeting or one-on-one conversation: Go in with the outcome in mind.