What’s Your Favorite Justification When Giving into Temptation?

What goes through your mind when your give into the late night cookies? When you say yes to another cocktail? When you snag a donut from the platter at work? Or when you skip the spin class you’ve had on your calendar all week?

What conversation do you have with yourself to justify the indulgence? Do any of these rationalizations sound familiar?

  • I just want to relax! (exasperated)
  • I really NEED something sweet. (whining)
  • I deserve a treat after the rough day I’ve had. (assertive)
  • You only live once! (carefree)

donutOr maybe you grab the donut and gobble it down quickly so your brain doesn’t have much time to launch into the pros and cons. It’s a reaction to the bakery smell, a compulsion to feel the sugar crystals and yeasty texture in your mouth. Your mind shouts, “Quick! Before she can talk me out of it, grab that sucker!”

You’re not alone. We all succumb now and then. Temptation is like a wave, a very strong, formidable, and sometimes overwhelming force.

But what if you ride the wave of temptation instead of being swept up in it? Take a minute to identify your own idiosyncratic self talk. What do you tell yourself? Once you’ve put your finger on the dialogue, raise a little red flag next time you hear yourself thinking it. Believe it or not, recognizing the pattern is the most important step in changing the behavior

Next step is to challenge the thought. Most of us don’t distinguish between our thoughts and the truth. They are NOT necessarily one and the same. Realizing there is a difference helps diminish the power of our thoughts. Once we know we can challenge them, it becomes a lot easier to do so.

What I’m describing here is sometimes called “conscious awareness,” and it’s one of the guiding principles of mindfulness. It’s the act of checking in with our thought processes and challenging those that aren’t serving us. It’s an important step in developing self-awareness, not to mention self-control.

Consider sharing you’re own favorite line in the comment section below, along with a good counter-argument. For instance the next time I tell myself “You only live once,” before diving into a short stack of chocolate chip pancakes, I might further the thought with “Yep. Life is short. All the more reason to make smart choices.”

 

Image courtesy of Suat Eman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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Meditation and the Lesson of Non-Striving

For the past eight weeks, I’ve been part of a group gathering on Tuesday nights to learn what mindfulness and meditation can do for our brains, stress level, relationships and ultimately our sense of happiness. The class is called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and the curriculum was developed in the 70s by Jon Kabat-Zinn for patients dealing with chronic pain, anxiety and other medical diagnoses. Thirty-five years later, it’s mainstream.

All fifteen in the group are there for the same purpose. We want to feel calmer, more in control, more peaceful and happy. At the outset, each of us was eager to master the practice of meditation and mindfulness. We talked about our individual goals on the first night, and along with the others, I was filled with purpose and wholeheartedly striving to be a good, competent, successful meditator.

buddhaMy remarkable teacher, Breon Michel, led us through a discussion following our first week of a daily body scan meditation. What had we experienced? The guy on my right described feeling frustrated that he wasn’t “getting it.” When he finally experienced some prolonged attention to the body scan, without too much mind wandering, he felt proud. But then he got caught up in feeling good about his progress, and was back to square one. He felt defeated.

“Could it be you’re trying too hard?” Breon asked. “There’s no good or bad meditation. It’s simply the repeated process of observing your thoughts, seeing them without judgment, then gently bringing the mind back to the body.” For many of us in the class, her comments helped shift our perspective from striving to non-striving. Could it be we don’t need to try so hard to be a “good” meditator? Instead, we learned to accept our wandering mind as a natural phenomenon, so that we can refocus our attention over, and over, and over again.

Coincidentally, I’ve been caught up in a whirlwind of self-imposed pressure to make my coaching business a success. When I first launched my practice, my dream was to have numerous private clients, and to spend about three days a week, on the phone, coaching steadily and effectively.

While working to build that client base, a corporate job appeared, and I now spend a few hours each week visiting businesses around town coaching their employees. Then I added an online workshop, then the Kitchen Consultation, and sought more public speaking opportunities. Okay, now I’ve got lots of plates spinning in the air, and few areas are getting the full attention they deserve (including my blog). The original conception for my business was now clouded and definitely over crowded.

The reaction to this scatter brained feeling was to flee. I took a break. I pursued other interests and put coaching on the back burner. It was simply too much. I was overwhelmed.

At some point before I had the perspective shift about non-striving in meditation, I somewhat accidentally began to apply the same idea to my coaching business. I stopped trying so hard.

Instead of setting goals for each day, feeling I should offer my online workshop again, should have more clients, and should post more consistently to my blog, I’m trying to let each day unfold more naturally. Connections are made, or not. I’m inspired to write, or not. New ideas bubble to the surface, or not. But I’m seeing that what is now happening as my business evolves is never forced and never premature. I can see that my intuition and creativity are strongest when my mind is free from the pressure of “should.” And, by the way, meditation is pretty cool, too!

Listen to the Jon Kabat-Zinn talk about Non-Striving, Acceptance, Letting Go.

Addicted to being Busy

My friend Amy recently declared she is eliminating the following sentence from her daily routine: “I’m soooo busy!” She wants to do this because she realizes that she repeated the complaint every day, multiple times a day. I’m pretty sure she’s also caught herself uttering things like, “This day has been insane,” or “Can this day get any crazier??” and even, “I’m exhausted.”

What a brilliant idea and a great exercise in self-awareness. Isn’t it time to take “busy” off of its pedestal? Because what are we really saying when we complain, out loud, that our lives are filled to the brim with tasks and responsibilities? Maybe it’s that we matter, we are so needed that there’s not enough of us to go around, and that we are important.

sufism istanbul whirling dervishOkay. It’s nice to be needed and great to be valuable to your job, your family, your community. But we can accomplish many of these same things without the whirling dervish imagery.

Let’s be honest here. When we use words to describe our lives beginning with ‘busy’ and moving up the scale toward ‘hectic,’ ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘crazy,’ we aren’t painting a very pretty picture. In fact, by using heightened vocabulary we are adding another layer of stress to our day. Because even if our to-do list has been pretty manageable today, it’s almost a reflex to rate our day in terms of how productive we’ve been. The busier the better for many of us.

What if we could be happier and equally or more effective doing less? Here are a few thoughts on how we can make this happen.

  1. Let’s start with an awareness that busy isn’t necessarily better. Think of one or two people who you truly admire. Really…call them to mind… Do they run around like chickens with their heads cut off? Chances are they appear calm and in control while leading meaningful lives. It’s not just because they have an assistant to do the grunt work, it’s more likely they understand the heavy price of being too busy.
  1. The second step is to take a close look at your priorities. Your list may include nurturing your children, expanding your business, worshipping, meditating, volunteering for a cause dear to you, creating beautiful things, earning more money, or training for a marathon. What’s important here is that you get a clear handle on what matters most in your life. Focus  time and energy on those top several items, and then let the other things fall away or at least assume their appropriate place in your life.
  1. The third strategy is very simple. Learn to say no. Once you’ve established your priorities, this becomes MUCH easier. Try it. It’s amazingly freeing.
  1. beware the barrenness of a busy lifeAnd finally, the last step to lessen overwhelm and stress in mindfulness. As you tackle the inevitable tasks throughout your day, focus on what you’re doing in this moment. Banish thoughts of what else is on your list. Get this done and do it well before you allow your mind to jump ahead. Multitasking doesn’t work. And wouldn’t you rather end your day knowing you kicked butt on the four things you did, rather than doing a passable job on the complete to-do list?

Retrain your brain, reframe your thinking, revisit your priorities, and banish the busy!

 

MORE:

The New York Times, The ‘Busy’ Trap. June 30, 2012. by Tim Kreider.

Huffington Post, Let’s Stop the Glorification of Busy, March 23, 2014. by Guy Kawasaki.

 

5 Tips to Make This Thanksgiving the Best One Yet

  • Mindful Eating – There’s no doubt about it. Thanksgiving is all about the food. Enjoy it! Chew each bite slowly. Savor the unique tastes. Don’t rush through the meal. If you’re hankering for seconds, wait ten minutes between finishing the first round and helping yourself to the second.
  • Freedom_From_WantFill 2/3rds of your Plate with Fruits and Veggies – There’s sure to be a smorgasbord. Go easy on the turkey, gravy, and mashed potatoes. If it’s not on the menu, add a green salad to the mix.
  • Respond instead of Reacting – Sometimes buttons get pushed when we gather for the holidays. If that happens, try to take a deep breath before putting in your two cents. You’ll be glad you did.
  • Limit Alcohol – See numbers 1 and 3 above. Being sensible with your alcohol consumption makes mindful eating and responding appropriately MUCH EASIER!
  • Express your Thanks and Gratitude – More important than even the food, gratitude is the backbone of Thanksgiving. Showing your appreciation helps to increase your levels of well-being and happiness. It’s also associated with more energy, optimism, and empathy.

IMAGE:
Freedom from Want
Norman Rockwell, 1943
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell museum, Stockbridge, Mass.

What Do You Tolerate?

It takes a lot of energy to stay on top of things. It takes even more energy to grow, be productive, effective and positive. So it’s always a good idea to take a close look at anything that saps our precious energy.

In the world of personal coaching, we call certain energy-zappers “tolerations.” They can include people, situations, behaviors, pressures, etc. Somewhere along the line you’ve decided to put up with a few things. Maybe you’re a little numb to them by now.

putupwith

In his book The Portable Coach, Thomas Leonard theorized that our tolerations reveal an awful lot about what’s going on inside of us. They can tell us what we think we deserve and how we choose to live.

When I work with clients, especially in the area of stress-reduction, I ask  five questions designed to help them identify, understand, and eliminate their tolerations:

1) What are you tolerating? It can be large or small. Maybe it’s the burned out light bulb in your closet that results in your choosing an outfit in semi-darkness for the past week? Or it could be the way your spouse criticizes you in public.

2) Why are you tolerating it? Common answers are “I’m lazy,” “I don’t care,” “I’m too busy,” “It’s not that important.”

3) Okay, dig a little deeper. What’s the REAL reason you’re tolerating this? “I don’t want to rock the boat.” “It’s easier to tolerate than to change.” Giving honest answers here is an important step! It shows you where you’ve lost sight of what’s truly important to you, where your boundaries have been breached.

lactose4) What is the cost of the toleration to you and those around you? This is another big one. Is this just an occasional annoyance, or is this toleration affecting your happiness, the quality of your relationships, your stress level and your health?

5) What action can you take to eliminate the toleration? Maybe it’s a list of household chores you can knock off on a Saturday morning (Change the light bulb, already!). Other times changes require more introspection and maybe some outside support from a friend or coach. Either way, addressing your tolerations clears the path of friction that builds up there.

We may not acknowledge the stress we put ourselves under by tolerating niggling inconveniences, a messy house, annoying people, work that isn’t challenging, or people who mistreat us. Remember, whether minute or huge, your tolerations can be recognized and eliminated. And it’s not about fixing everyone and everything around you, it’s about being mindful of your own choices and behaviors.