Practice Makes Perfect

The universe doesn’t know the difference between what we want and what we don’t want. The universe only knows what we focus on and invest our energy in. It assumes we want more of that. Therefore, whatever we decide to practice is what we will become good at.

What are you practicing today? If the answer is anxiety, worrying, or negativity you’re going to get good at it. Would you rather practice empowerment and abundance instead? If you believe in judging and beating yourself up, you are practicing the art of hurting yourself and you will become a master at it. It reminds me of the unattributed quote, “If our strengths are not determined to be valuable, we spend our lives shoring up our weaknesses.”

Notice what you’re focusing your energy on and choose what you want to become good at.

Here's The Question That Changes Your Life…..

We all want to be happy, healthy and strong.  Taking this train of thought a step further, you could probably add the desire to be more at peace, less reactive, and more balanced to the list.  Creating these qualities in ourselves can seem like a daunting task.  You know what you’d like to have and who you’d like to be, but how do you get there?

In the new movie “The Avengers”, Thor is one of the superheroes who have pledged their lives to fight the bad guys.  (There’s no need for a spoiler alert here, I’m not giving anything away.) Unfortunately, the biggest bad guy is Thor’s brother, a circumstance that causes Thor some conflict.  At one point in the movie Thor is confronted with the question, “What are you prepared to do?”

As a yoga teacher, I often see students experimenting with yoga as a way to achieve some very admirable goals.  They come to the mat, and go through the physical motions of a practice.  Then they wait to feel their bodies and lives improve.  What these students often don’t realize is that they can make a choice to take a more active role in achieving their goals.  You have a say in how you view yourself and your experiences.  You can choose your level of conviction and commitment.  You can decide how you act, and how you react, to the circumstances in your life.  You can make the choice to be a bystander or an active participant.  But, “What are you prepared to do?”  What are you willing to step up on, to have your feet held to the fire on?

Transforming yourself and your health isn’t about becoming someone new.  It’s a process of revealing who you really are when you’re not playing it safe, or pretending, or trying to please other people.  On the mat, when you put yourself into a new pose and you stick with it, even though it’s uncomfortable and foreign to you, you learn how to change your body.  Once you learn that you can transform your body, you realize that you can do the same thing with the way you think, your habits, and your perspectives.

The happiness, balance, peace and health that you want are available to you.   Sit down, find the time and space to be truly honest with yourself, and to listen.  When you’re ready to be honest, radically honest, ask yourself “What are you prepared to do?”

You Don't Need Permission!

At the end of a long day and a longer week in which I worked hard and accomplished a lot, I came home and poured myself a glass of champagne. The reaction from my houseguest was curiosity as to what I was celebrating. My answer, “nothing in particular, everything in general”, gleaned more suspicious looks.

Why should the champagne stay in the fridge? I don’t wait for special occasions to give myself what I like. I don’t keep my silk PJs in the back of my closet, and I wear my favorite high heels whenever the mood strikes me – even if I’m just going to the drugstore. I’d rather wear them out from overuse than never get to enjoy them because they’re being “saved” inside bubble wrap.

If you don’t treat yourself like you are worth it, who will? You don’t need permission! What are you waiting for? Here are some suggestions in honor of the fact that you are totally worth it. Think up some to add and share with me.

– Use your best crystal glasses to drink your water everyday
– Break out the china, especially when you’re eating alone
– Wear perfume just to hang around the house
– Use your best jewelry
– Forget the sweat shirt, grab the cashmere sweater
– Light that fabulous scented candle
– Light the fireplace
– Never take a bath without bubbles
– Give really big hugs
– Say “I love you” as often as possible. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Are You in Need of a Digital Diet?

12 clues that you’ve moved from a healthy use of all things tech to digital addiction.

One night last week both of my twenty somethings, my husband and I all made it home for dinner. In celebration of the uncommon occurrence, we dusted off the kitchen table and sat down for a meal. After which, we deposited our tired selves in the family room where my husband and I shared space on the couch with the dog. The offspring lounged across the room in comfy chairs.

Sounds very Norman Rockwell, right? The difference is in the details. The TV was on. Four cell phones sang, buzzed and dinged from various tables. And each one of us fired up our laptops and started scanning, scrolling, and typing communication to the universe outside of the house. This is a family that is fully and completely plugged in.

I’ve read the studies claiming the internet is re-shaping our brains and shrinking our attention spans. I’m familiar with the warning that anxiety disorders, insomnia and panic attacks can be linked to the overstimulation inherit in our society’s information obsession. Maybe because we are not a family of anti-social introverts, gamers, or a techno-geeks; I haven’t felt the studies were talking about us personally. However, I’m willing to admit that I might be overly fond of my cell phone and my daily verbal interaction to texting ratio is often stilted toward the latter. So, over the next few days, I started to take note of our household digital behavior to get a handle on whether we are, in fact, in need of a digital detox.

My personal study yielded the following list of clues that you and/or your family have catapulted across the divide between compulsive technology use and full-blown digital addiction.

1. While at a party you pretend to be looking for pictures of your family vacation to share with the group, but you’re really checking your email/twitter/Facebook.

2. You’re out to diner with the girls but only half participating in the conversation occurring realtime while you hold a texting conversation.

3. You’re so used to having earbuds in your ears, you don’t notice when they’re not attached to anything.

4. You tell your spouse you are putting your blackberry on the bedside table to use as an alarm, but you really want to have it handy to check email if you wake up in the middle of the night.

5. When you wake up in the morning you check your email before getting out of bed.

6. You keep Facebook open and running in the background of your PC because you might miss a critical post in the lag time of opening and closing the app.

7. You have a clutching sensation in your stomach and an increased level of anxiety when you hear the words “The cabin doors are now closed. All electronic devices must be turned off.”

8. As the theater lights are dimming and the movie previews start rolling, you shrink down into the space between the seats trying to get one last email out.

9. Setting the table for dinner means putting out plates, glassware and silverware
with enough space in between for everyone to plop down their cell phone.

10. You adjust your wardrobe to accommodate carrying your cell phone.

11. You’ve acquired phantom ring tone disorder – You hear your cell phone going off in your purse and scramble to retrieve it, only to discover it wasn’t ringing.

12. The only articles you’ve read about the need to unplug from technology have been online.

Yoga And The Ugly Christmas Sweater

While there may be someone out there, I personally, do not know anyone who doesn’t have some form of an addiction. Our addictions can take a variety of shapes ranging from an addiction to a paycheck, a process, a person, food or chemical. As we prepare ourselves, and our homes, for the holidays two addictions that often surface are competitiveness and perfectionism. In my house the drive toward both was at full speed as we prepared for the neighborhood Ugly Christmas Sweater Party.

I first noticed the competitiveness between the four of us as we covertly acquired our ugly Christmas sweaters, refusing to admit where we were shopping or give hints on available inventory. I chose cyber shopping to find my brightly colored, dizzyingly busy item. I was particularly proud of the fact that it was a previously used and repurposed purchase! While good naturedly boasting to my daughter of my fashion find, and hoping for an extra points for the eco-friendly add-on, she advised that I cover my tracks by deleting the website from “history” on the family desktop. That was an early sign that our family had successfully cleared the bar for standard competitiveness and was racing toward cutthroat.

Perfectionism is so deeply rooted in many of us that some people describe themselves as “born perfectionists”. I realized The Ugly Sweater Party was triggering my husband’s obsessive compulsive disorder desire for thoroughness when I caught him sneaking glue, tinsel and a strand of Christmas tree lights upstairs. Not satisfied with his off-the-shelf gaudy sweater, he set about embellishing it with a resolve that comes from having stepped onto the slippery slope toward compulsiveness. With intimidating determination he spent his afternoon rigging his sweater with flashing lights and gluing tinsel to inappropriate places on Santa’s reindeer.

Perfectionists and those with a strong need to be the best, often set unrealistic standards for themselves and when they fail to meet these standards, they beat themselves up. The holidays offer plenty of opportunities for these tendencies to be triggered and enhanced. As the craving for perfectionism invades the holidays, our ability to take pleasure in family and friends can be overlaid with anxiety. Our enjoyment can be dampened by a sense of dissatisfaction and striving. The Ugly Christmas Sweater party was a great laugh, but our approach toward our preparations reminded me of the necessity to not let the fun of the holidays be overshadowed by those qualities that only bring tension. Softening our approach and allowing ourselves, our homes, our gifts, and our meals to “be as they are” invites everyone around us to also be comfortable with what is.

Sun, Singing, and Seat Dancing

On a recent sunny afternoon I was driving with the top down in my car, enjoying the fresh air and sense of freedom.  The radio blasted a Darius Rucker song titled “This” and I found myself paying close attention to the lyrics.  The song portrays a man grateful for where he is in life. Darius sings his acknowledgment that the twists and turns of his life’s path, while not always pleasant in the moment, have landed him in a place of happiness.  As I seat danced and sang my way down the highway, I felt completely in tune with Mr. Rucker – not vocally – but definitely emotionally.  In that moment I was deeply content, and filled with the warmth of gratitude.  I realize I’m sounding uncharacteristically “Woo-Woo”, but the sensation of being hardwired directly to the universe, connected to everyone and everything, is powerful and possible.

A gratitude practice is a simple, although not always easy, endeavor to implement.  It offers tremendous benefits including an overwhelming sense of well being.  Unfortunately, a gratitude practice can seem irrelevant when you are continually in problem-solving mode.  As parents, householders and employees, we are trained to notice what isn’t working and devise ways to resolve it.  On the surface, this can seem like a positive attribute.  The truth is there will always be something going wrong.  Reducing your day to a series of identifying and responding to problems is not everything you want out of life. Your life doesn’t start at some point in the future when nothing is going wrong, you have money in the bank, you’ve located your soul mate and you are at your ideal weight.

One of the challenges to a implementing a gratitude practice is what your center of attention is.  Your mind doesn’t know the difference between what you want and what you don’t want.  It only knows what you focus on, and it assumes you want more of whatever you are focusing on.  This presents a conundrum for most people whose attention is drawn to what goes wrong in their day, rather than what goes right.  Your attention gravitates to the people and events that fall short of what you think they should be.  Unfortunately, by focusing on your let downs, not only do you attract more of the same, but you become prone to overlooking your blessings.  Mindfully shifting your attention to what is, rather than what is not, is a great starting point for breaking this pattern.

Next you’ll want to look at your expectations.  You expect your alarm clock and your car to work.  You expect that your lights will go on when you flip the switch. You expect your loved ones will care about you. Once you come to expect something, you take it for granted.  You are not grateful for the things you take for granted.

Another challenge to a gratitude practice is feeling entitled. When the gas station attendant fills your tank, the mailman delivers your mail, or the cashier bags your groceries you probably don’t feel grateful.  These people are paid to deliver a service.  It’s their job.  But the fact is, regardless of their motivation, you are benefiting from their efforts. Developing gratitude in these types of situations is part of the practice.

Finally, make sure that you have created a distinction between a gratitude practice and the feeling of helplessness generated by your mother telling you to eat your brussel sprouts because there were children starving in India.  A gratitude practice is not an excuse to become self defeating, passive or accepting of those things that you know should be changed.  There is a potential danger in messages such as: “These things are wrong, but we should be grateful for what we have,” and “Compared to these people, look how much better off we are.”  These statements can become excuses for not taking action to change social injustice, or stand up against unfair situations.  A gratitude practice is not a justification for being submissive.  On the contrary, as you become more adept at acknowledging your blessings and developing a mindful approach to gratitude, you will likely find that you have a heightened sense of caring for, and connection to, other human beings.

Lyrics to Darius Rucker’s song “This” (seat dancing optional)

Every stoplight I didn’t make,
Every chance I did or I didn’t take,
All the nights I went too far,
All the girls that broke my heart,
All the doors that I had to close,
All the things I knew but I didn’t know,
Thank God for all I missed,
‘Cause it led me here to this…