Friday, December 17, 2010

On Hiatus

Sorry readers, won't be posting any daily inspirations temporarily, until after New Year's at least. I'm in New York now, and hehe, I forgot to bring the book with me. =P

Anyhow, I hope you guys will have a blessed Christmas and a meaningful New Year. Do write out your New Year's resolutions (and share them with me). Hopefully, the daily postings I have written will give you some inspiration of what you want to do next year. =)

Aight, Merry Christmas peeps!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

(65) Be Flexible with Changes in Your Plan

Once I get something in my mind (a plan), it can be tricky to let go of it and go with the flow. I was taught, and to some degree it's certainly true, that success, or successfully completing a project, requires perseverance. At the same time, however, inflexibility creates an enormous amount of inner stress and is often irritating and insensitive to other people.

I like to do the majority of my writing in the wee hours of the morning. I might have the goal, in this book for example, to complete one or two strategies before anyone else in the house wakes up. But what happens if my four-year-old wakes up early and walks upstairs to see me? My plans have certainly been altered, but how do I react? Or, I might have the goal to go out for a run before going to the office. What happens if I get an emergency call from my office and have to skip my run?

There are countless potential examples for all of us - times when our plans suddenly change, something we thought was going to take place doesn't, someone doesn't do what they said they would do, you make less money than you thought you would, someone changes your plan without your consent, you have less time than previously planned, something unexpected comes up - and on and on it goes. The question to ask yourself is, What's really important?

We use the excuse that it's natural to feel frustrated when our plans change. That depends, however, on what your priorities are. Is it more important to stick to some rigid writing schedule to be available to my four-year-old? Is missing a thirty-minute run worth getting upset over? The more general question is, "What's more important, getting what I want and keeping my plans, or learning to go with the flow?" Clearly, to become a more peaceful person, you must prioritize being flexible over rigidity most of the time (obviously there will be exceptions). I've also found it helpful to expect that a certain percentage of plans will change. If I make allowances in my mind for this inevitability, then when it happens, I can say, "Here is one of those inevitabilities."

You'll find that if you create the goal to become more flexible, some wonderful things will begin to happen. You'll feel more relaxed, yet you won't sacrifice any productivity. You may become even more productive, because you won't need to expend so much energy being upset and worried. I've learned to trust that I will keep my deadlines, achieve most of my goals, and honor my responsibilities despite the fact that I may have to alter my plans slightly (or even completely). Finally, the people around you will be more relaxed too. They won't feel like they have to walk around on eggshells if, by some chance, your plans have to change.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

(64) Practice Being in the "Eye of the Storm"

The eye of the storm is that one specific spot in the center of a twister, hurricane, or tornado that is calm, almost isolated from the frenzy of activity. Everything around the center is violent and turbulent, but the center remains peaceful. How nice it would be if we too could be calm and serene in the midst of chaos - in the eye of the storm.

Surprisingly enough, it's much easier than you might imagine to be in the eye of a "human storm." What it takes is intention and practice. Suppose, for example, that you are going to a family gathering that is going to be chaotic. You can tell yourself that you are going to use the experience as an opportunity to remain calm. You can commit to being the one person in the room who is going to be an example of peace. You can practice breathing. You can practice listening. You can let others be right and enjoy the glory. The point is, you can do it, if you set your mind to it.

By starting out with harmless scenarios like family gatherings, cocktail parties, and birthday parties for children, you can build a track record and enjoy some success. You'll notice that by being in the eye of the storm, you will be more present-moment oriented. You'll enjoy yourself more than ever before. Once you have mastered harmless circumstances like these, you can practice on more difficult areas of life - dealing with conflict, hardship, or grief. If you start slowly, have some success, and keep practicing, pretty soon you'll know how to live in the eye of the storm.

Monday, December 13, 2010

(63) Count to Ten

When I was growing up my father used to count out loud to ten when he was angry with my sisters and me. It was a strategy he, and many other parents, used to cool down before deciding what to do next.

I've improved this strategy by incorporating the use of the breath. All you have to do is this: When you feel yourself getting angry, take a long, deep inhalation, and as you do, say the number one to yourself. Then, relax your entire body as you breathe out. Repeat the same process with number two, all the way through at least ten (if you're really angry, continue to twenty-five). What you are doing here is clearing your mind with a mini version of a meditation exercise. The combination of counting and breathing is so relaxing that it's almost impossible to remain angry once you are finished. The increased oxygen in your lungs and the time gap between the moment you became angry and the time you finished the exercise enables you to increase your perspective. It helps make "big stuff" look like "little stuff." The exercise is equally effective in working with stress, or frustration. Whenever you feel a little off, give it a try.

The truth is, this exercise is a wonderful way to spend a minute or two whether or not you're angry. I've incorporated this strategy into my daily life simply because it's relaxing and I enjoy it. Often, it helps me to keep from getting angry in the first place.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

(62) Do One Thing at a Time

The other day I was driving on the freeway and noticed a man who, while driving in the fast lane, was shaving, drinking a cup of coffee, and reading the newspaper! "Perfect," I thought to myself, as just that morning I was trying to think of an appropriate example to point out the craziness of our frenzied society.

How often do we try to do more than one thing at once? We have cordless phones that are supposed to make our lives easier, but in some respects, they make our lives more confusing. My wife and I were at our friend's home for dinner a while ago and noticed her talking on the phone while simultaneously answering the door, checking on dinner, and changing her daughter's diaper (after she washed her hands, of course)! Many of us have the same tendency when we're speaking to someone and our mind is somewhere else, or when we're doing three or four chores all at the same time.

When you do too many things at once, it's impossible to be present-moment oriented. Thus, you not only lose out on much of the potential enjoyment of what you are doing, but you also become far less focused and effective.

An interesting exercise is to block out periods of time where you commit to doing only one thing at a time. Whether you're washing dishes, talking on the phone, driving a car, playing with your child, talking to your spouse, or reading a magazine, try to focus only on that one thing. Be present in what you are doing. Concentrate. You'll notice two things beginning to happen.

First, you'll actually enjoy what you are doing, even something mundane like washing dishes, or cleaning out a closet. When you're focused, rather than distracted, it enables you to become absorbed and interested in your activity, whatever it might be.

Second, you'll be amazed at how quickly and efficiently you'll get things done. Since I've become more present-moment oriented, my skills have virtually increased in all aspects of my life - writing, reading, cleaning house, and speaking on the phone.

You can do the same thing. It all starts with your decision to do one thing at a time.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

(61) Read Articles and Books with Entirely Different Points of View from Your Own and Try to Learn Something

Have you ever noticed that practically everything you read justifies and reinforces your own opinions and views on life? The same is true with our radio and television listening and viewing choices as well. In fact, on America's most popular radio talk show, callers often identify themselves as "ditto heads", meaning "I already agree with everything you say. Tell me more." Liberals, conservatives - we're all the same. We form opinions and then spend our entire lifetimes validating what we believe to be true. This rigidity is sad, because there is so much we can learn from points of view that are different from our own. It's also sad because the stubbornness it takes to keep our heart and mind closed to everything other than our own point of view creates a great deal of inner stress. A closed mind is always fighting to keep everything else at arm's length.

We forget that we're all equally convinced that our way of looking at the world is the only correct way. We forget that two people who disagree with one another can often use the identical examples to prove their own point of view - and both sides can be articulate and convincing.

Knowing this, we can either buckle down and get even more stubborn - or we can lighten up and try to learn something new! For just a few minutes a day - whatever your slant on life - try making a gentle effort to read articles and/or books with different points of view. You don't need to change your core beliefs or your deepest held positions. All you're doing is expanding your mind and opening your heart to new ideas. This new openness will reduce the stress it takes to keep other points of view away. In addition to being very interesting, this practice helps you to see the innocence in others as well as helping you become more patient. You'll become a more relaxed, philosophic person, because you'll begin to sense the logic in other points of view. My wife and I subscribe to both the most conservative as well as the most liberal news letters in America. I'd say that both have broadened our perspective of life.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

(60) Turn Your Melodrama into a Mellow-Drama

In a certain respect, this strategy is just another way of saying, "Don't sweat the small stuff." Many people live as if life were a melodrama - "an extravagantly theatrical play in which action and plot predominate." Sound familiar? In dramatic fashion, we blow things out of proportion, and make a big deal out of little things. We forget that life isn't as bad as we're making it out to be. We also forget that when we're blowing things out of proportion, we are the ones doing the blowing.

I've found that simply reminding myself that life doesn't have to be a soap opera is a powerful method of calming down. When I get too worked up or start taking myself too seriously (which happens more than I like to admit), I say to myself something like, "Here I go again. My soap opera is starting." Almost always, this takes the edge of my seriousness and helps me laugh at myself. Often, this simple reminder enables me to change the channel to a more peaceful station. My melodrama is transformed into a "mellow-drama."

If you've ever watched a soap opera, you've seen how the characters will take little things so seriously as to ruin their lives over them - someone says something to offend them, looks at them wrong, or flirts with their spouse. Their response is usually, "Oh my gosh. How could this happen to me?" Then they exacerbate the problem by talking to others about "how awful it is." They turn life into an emergency - a melodrama.

The next time you feel stressed out, experiment with this strategy - remind yourself that life isn't an emergency and turn your melodrama into a mellow-drama.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

(59) Adopt a Child Through the Mail

While I don't want to turn this book into an advertisement for service agencies, I do have to say that my experience of adopting children through the mail has been extremely positive. No, you don't actually adopt a child, but you do get to help one out while, at the same time, getting to know them. The experience has brought tremendous joy and satisfaction to my entire family. My six-year-old daughter has an adoptee, and has enjoyed and learned from the experience a great deal. My daughter and her pal regularly write to each other, and draw pictures that we hang up. They enjoy hearing about each other's lives.

Each month you contribute a very small amount of money to the agency in charge of helping the children. The money is used to help the children and their parents with the necessities of life, which makes sending the children to school and caring for their needs a little easier.

I think the reason we enjoy this type of giving so much is that it's interactive. So often, when you give to a charity, you have no way of knowing who you are helping. In this instance, you not only get to know who, but you have the privilege of getting to know them as well. Also, the regularity of the ongoing relationship remind you how fortunate you are to be in a position to help. For me and for many people that I know, this type of giving brings forth feelings of gratitude. There are so many fine agencies to choose from, but my personal favorite is Children, Inc, out of Richmond, Virginia, (800) 538-5381.