Are you and Aesthete?

It’s officially spring here in the U.S. After a particularly long winter, where plants, birds, wildlife, and even the sun seemed to go dormant, nature is reemerging. White crocuses and yellow daffodils poke out of the earth back east. Here in the West, Pal0 Verde trees have exploded in a riot of yellow blossoms.

I find tremendous beauty in nature and art, and it makes me feel good. 

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I walked my dogs this morning, all the while thinking about how to convey the power of noticing beauty in our lives. Without my camera, I made mental notes of the sights that gave me particular pleasure:

– a tiny hummingbird perched on the uppermost twig of a blossoming tree.

– the perfect 67 degree temperature, sunny and dry, with the sun still low in the sky.

– the rusty red, and rounded rock formations of Camelback Mountain creating an intimate and awesome backdrop.

– my neighbor playing catch with her young son as they awaited the school bus. In this case it wasn’t about physical beauty, but an appreciation of her actions. I witnessed a moment of excellent parenting; a beautiful thing.

Science has shown that noticing beauty and excellence in our surroundings can have a profound effect on our mood. For example, a New York Times article, “Why We Love Beautiful Things,” reported:

– “glancing at shades of green can boost creativity and motivation”

– “window views of landscapes…can speed patient recovery in hospitals, aid learning in classrooms and spur productivity in the workplace”

sea-urchin-fractal– viewing certain patterns and shapes (specifically fractals) “can reduce stress levels by as much as 60 percent.” (cool examples – especially this sea urchin)

If you are particularly responsive to beauty, sensitive to how it enriches your life, bolsters your mood, and contributes to your happiness, congratulations, you’re an aesthete. It’s a good thing, I promise. Not something to be trivialized, but rather cultivated and celebrated.

Maximize this strength by using it regularly. Surround yourself with sights, sounds, and experiences that lift your spirits. After all, you have sure-fire mood booster at your disposal — finding beauty.

Feel free to share your observations below. I’d love to hear from you.

WANT MORE?  Join my FREE 10-day challenge – Boost Your Happiness by Finding Beauty. Each day becomes a treasure hunt!

My Magic Bullet for Happiness

I have a secret to share with you. It’s been called a magic bullet. For someone who staunchly DOES NOT BELIEVE in the quick fix solution, for me it’s pretty darn close to one.

Wait for it…Gratitude.

gratitudeIf you’re interested in shifting your mindset from can’t to can, impossible to possible, or more simply negative to positive, establishing a daily ritual of counting your blessings works wonders.

It’s not just the occasional words of thanks, but a quick yet deep dive into your everyday world. It’s oh so easy to reel off the day’s mishaps and woes, and we all love to do it. But think, just for a minute, about what’s going right for you.

From my interest in positive psychology, I knew of the power of gratitude. I started a daily journal on my phone, but honestly that lasted less than a week. It wasn’t until last summer that I discovered The Five Minute Journal. Ever since then, I’ve somewhat religiously spent (more like) two minutes each morning on waking and each night as I get into bed, jotting down my little lists of threes. (By the way, I’m not getting any kickbacks for this blog post.)

In the morning I record three things I am grateful for, followed by three thoughts on what would make the day great. On the days I wake with an already open and positive mindset, I go broad with gratitude for my kids, my health, and my family. On days that begin less auspiciously, I stick to things like my cozy bed.

At night I record three amazing things that happened – from getting a break from driving carpool to witnessing an incredible sunset.

The point is, whether your record things large or small, having the intention to think positively about your life and taking the extra step of writing it down are incredibly powerful. As the creators, Alex Ikonn and UJ Ramdas, say, the journal “…instantly helps you shift your focus on the positive and short circuits negative thought loops.”

Why is expressing gratitude so powerful? By practicing gratitude daily, the reflex is strengthened and becomes more automatic in your daily thinking. There’s research to back this. For example, a 2003 study by Emmons and McCullough found that daily gratitude journals lead to a greater sense of well-being, better sleep, willingness to accept change, and lessen symptoms of physical pain. In a word, you feel happier.

It’s a minimal investment of your time for a pretty awesome reward. Did I mention there are pertinent quotes and even some personal challenges throughout?

I can’t recommend the daily practice of gratitude enough, and The Five Minute Journal ends up being the magic bullet for me. I’d love to hear what works for you in the gratitude department.

Beyond Vegetables – Edible Gardens Bring Beauty & Build Confidence

My neighborhood is full of experienced and  dedicated vegetable gardeners. Barbara is a Master Gardener who spends her days with school children cultivating edible gardens — an incomparable teaching tool. Nicolle started somewhat small but now has one of the most impressive and prolific garden I know. Both are generous with their knowledge and extra produce.

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More than a year ago and despite the searing summer heat here in Arizona, I decided to give my own garden a try. The first attempt was a total failure — too much shade. The puppy trounced the plot (twice), then birds found the few pathetic tomatoes I managed to grow. Maybe this gardening thing wasn’t my gig after all.

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Nicolle told me about a local company that helps wannabe gardeners like me. They’ll plan, install, maintain, and advise on backyard gardens large or small. They’ll do as little or as much as you want. Not willing to try again without a little more know how on my side, I worked with Farmyard to plan and build garden number two.

Persistence is not my strong suit. I tend to be easily discouraged, and throw up my hands rather than risk failing royally. Thinking as a coach (retrospectively), I know when I’m weak in one area,  finding a way to bring in something I’m good at can turn things around. In this case, it seems one of my signature strengths, “appreciation of beauty and excellence”, saved the day. I really wanted to watch those lush green vegetables grow. I knew that even just the sight of my garden flourishing would bring me exquisite pleasure.

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I was right. Many of the greens were planted from seed. I watched impatiently for several weeks (probably because I shoved those tiny seeds too deep into the soil.) Finally sprouts emerged, and then, watch out, everything began growing like gangbusters.

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Green onions, butter lettuce, arugula, broccoli, kale, mesclun, spinach

Then there’s the many nuanced tones of green…
against the rich brown soil…
encased in the smokey blue of the smooth wooden box…
set against the warm, textured, stucco wall.

It’s lovely.

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Soon, I’m told, it will be time to retire some of the greens and make room for tomatoes and other spring crops.

This time, I’ll be ready for the birds.

An Antidote to Judgmental Thinking

Walking along a wooded path, an older man encounters a growling dog cowering near a tree. The man hurries past angrily while thinking to himself, “What sort of stupid dog owner has abandoned this animal? I can only imagine how it must have been mistreated.”
A few minutes later, a woman jogs by and sees the same ferocious, lunging dog. Having a longstanding fear of dogs, she stops, turns around and runs the other way.  
Eventually a teenage girl happens upon the noisy dog. She’s curious as to why the dog is so distressed. She cautiously draws just close enough to see that his leash is tangled in the bushes next to the tree. The dog has furiously tried to free himself and has a deep abrasion on his side from the effort. “No wonder this poor dog is so worked up!” She takes out her cell phone and calls Animal Control for help.

Less Judgment More CuriosityThis has always been a powerful story for me. That three people can interpret the same scene so differently is fascinating. The first two are quick to judge and react dismissively or fearfully. It’s only the teenager who seeks more information. She reserves judgment and asks questions instead.

Psychologist Tony Hacker writes, “We make judgments when we think we already know all we need to know…When our judgment includes strong disapproval or dislike, we become more dismissive and cynical.” The tendency to be judgmental can impinge on our ability to be happy.

We all react judgmentally at times, and for some it becomes an unconscious and therefore repeated pattern. Know a cynic or two? This is probably what’s going on in their brain.

In coaching, it’s paramount that the coach suspends judgment on the client’s situation. (Note we like to say “suspend” since “eliminate” is nearly impossible.) Without pronouncements or advice, the coach is able to listen more closely. This is where curiosity comes in. This process allows the coach help her client discover new ways of thinking.

Beyond coaching, curiosity opens our minds to understanding the world around us. It allows us to gather the back story and then formulate an honest opinion. It helps us practice empathy. It reminds us to put ourselves in another’s shoes.

Judgment, on the other hand, doesn’t care about extenuating circumstances. Judgment is based on assumptions. The man in the story assumed the dog had been abused. The jogger assumed all dogs want to bite her. This type of thinking, though it can be destructive, happens in order for us to make sense of the world. Our brains want to find answers to the unknown because it makes us feel safer.

The Four AgreementsIn Don Miguel Ruiz’ The Four Agreements, the third agreement is Make No Assumptions. It’s pretty fundamental to our relationships with others and to the world around us. By avoiding assumptions, we stay curious and help prevent misunderstandings and disappointment.

The first step in personal growth is always awareness. Next time you find yourself passing judgment on a stranger, colleague or loved one, back up and look for assumptions. Ask yourself what else you would need to know to create an informed opinion. It takes practice and compassion to stop ourselves from jumping to conclusions. Yet both will eventually lead us to a deeper understanding and appreciation of people, places and things that are different from us.

SOURCES

Hacker, Tony. Curiosity, Not Judgment, Leads to Understanding, The Seattle Times, June 2, 2013.

Ruiz, Miguel Angel, M.D., (1997) The Four Agreements, A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book), Amber-Allen Publishing (San Rafael, California).

on a different note: Judgement vs. Judgment

5 Tips for Creating Successful New Year’s Resolutions

fireworksIt’s that time of year. Plenty of us make resolutions or set goals for the upcoming year, but among the makers, few of us follow through (about 12.5 %).

The good news is that compared to those that don’t make a resolution, you are TEN TIMES more likely to make a positive change in your life.

By all means, give it a go.

These tips are adapted from my upcoming online workshop, Happier & Healthier, Balancing Sleep, Food, Mood & Exercise for Optimal Living. Information on how to join is at the bottom of the post.

  • Make a REASONABLE resolution – If you’re starting from coach potato status, please don’t proclaim, “I want to lose 100 pounds” or “I will exercise every day.”
  • Be SPECIFIC when making a goal. Instead of “I will make more friends” try “I will join three groups this year with the aim of meeting new people with like interests. I aim to have at least three to four new friends by the end of the year.”
  • Is your resolution CHALLENGING? It’s okay to recommit to something you’re already making progress with, but you might want to add another goal that addresses a new area that needs improvement.
  • It helps to have a MEASURABLE goal. Throw a number in there, such as “I want to lose 10 pounds over the next 4 months by limiting my sugar intake to eating 1 sweet thing 2 days a week, with no sweets on the other 5 days.”
  • Keep the approach POSITIVE. Create an approach goal instead of an avoidance goal. For instance, “I will replace my daily candy intake with fruit,” rather than “I will stop eating candy.”

Compare your current goal against these suggestions. Can it be tightened up for a better chance at success? If you need help, share your resolution in the comment box, or email me for feedback. I’d love to help you.

Learn more about:

  • Setting smart goals and sharing them with a small group who will support your progress,
  • The role of stress hormones (those of us under chronic stress produce way too much cortisol), and how to maintain balance through sleep, food, mood and exercise,
  • The role of mindfulness and gratitude in creating a more positive and productive life,
  • What’s really behind willpower and how to improve yours,
  • Using your strengths to achieve more rather than attempting to fix your weaknesses.

Here what past participants have to say and sign up here.

Smarts and Stamina Online ProgramThe workshop’s content is based on Amazon’s Healthy Living Bestselling Book, Smarts & Stamina, The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. The book, like the workshop, is chock full of research-based tools of positive psychology to help us increase health, happiness, and overall success.

Throughout the six-week workshop, I’ll be offering support, feedback and accountability. Space is limited to 20 participants and begins February 4, 2015.

Please join us! I’m glad to answer any questions (barclay@elemental-wellness.com).