9 Lessons from my 9-Month-Old Nephew, Who’s Taught Me How to Live

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” ~William Arthur Ward


Ahh, my heart skips a beat at just the sound of his name.

In 2018, a tiny human being arrived on the planet, one who would change my life. In the short nine months my nephew Oliver has been in my life, I’ve learned a lot. I’m not talking about changing nappies and bottle-feeding, although I’m getting to grips with these essentials too. No, Oliver has taught me valuable lessons about life itself. Here are nine of the biggest.

1. Love and be loved.

Those who meet Oli can’t help but love him. He has big, beautiful, blue eyes and a smile that you can’t help but reciprocate.

Although he’s beautiful on the outside, it’s his spirit I love most. He’s gentle, innocent, and curious. I see the good in him, and even though I know he’ll make mistakes as he grows up, I also know it won’t change my unconditional love for him.

Loving Oli in this way has taught me to be more loving and less judgmental of others because I recognize that in every adult there’s an innocent child who’s just trying to do their best.

This has also helped me better open up and receive love. I feel how deeply I want to help Oli, and how much it means to me when I can, which makes me more receptive when others want to help me.

2. Make time to play.

Oliver’s social schedule is impressive, better than most adults! He goes to birthday parties, visits family, has trips out, not to mention the numerous baby classes he attends. Regardless of where he is, whether it’s a class with friends or a rainy day spent at home, I can count on one thing—he’s playing!

One morning, while watching Oli play, I asked myself, “Do I make enough time to play?” Adulting can be a serious matter at times, but that’s not to say we can’t pass time in a way that lights us up. Maybe I’m a little old to play with toy cars (or maybe not). Still, it’s important I make time for fun.

So I now make time to play piano and watch movies instead of telling myself these things are unimportant, and I try to infuse a spirit of play into everything I do instead of taking it all so seriously.

3. Praise ourselves.

Recently, my sister taught Oli the song “If You’re Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands.” He’s always a little out of time, but he’s mastered clapping itself. It melts my heart to see him clapping away with his mini hands.

I hope when he’s a little older, he’ll clap for himself after all his accomplishments and learn to praise himself for a job well done. Children are usually great at this. Sadly, when we become adults, we become more critical of ourselves, and words of praise become words of criticism. We become our own worst enemies, which makes it hard to ever feel happy, proud, or successful.

I formed a habit at the end of last year, to praise myself for three achievements at the each of day. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. I simply praise myself. I’m a lot less critical of myself since starting this ritual—and a lot happier as a result!

4. Give encouragement.

“C’mon, you can do it.” This seems to be my catchphrase when I’m spending quality time with my nephew. He’s forever on the move, grabbing on to the side of the sofa and pulling himself up slowly.

Rather than helping him directly, I sit back, smile, and encourage because I want to support his growth instead of just doing things for him. If my family are in the room, they’ll join in and it begins to feel like we’re a group of cheerleaders rooting for our favorite sports team.

Oli loves encouragement. Don’t we all? Life can be challenging sometimes, and hearing someone say, “I believe in you” can help us push through when we’re tempted to give up.

I now put more energy into encouraging my loved ones—and myself. Replacing my inner dialogue from negative, doubtful messages to pure encouragement has been life changing. Our thoughts determine our feelings, which influence our actions. For this reason, even a little self-encouragement can dramatically transform our lives.

5. Express how you feel.

Another important lesson Oliver has taught me, and taught me well, is to express how you feel. When Oli is hungry or tired you know about it! He doesn’t hold back. And he always gets his needs met as a result.

For a long time when I was living with anxiety, I wore a mask and hid my real feelings, putting on a “brave face.” I was afraid of being judged and I falsely believed that “real men” shouldn’t show weakness or ask for help.

I’ve gotten better at expressing how I feel, though there’s still room for improvement. As a result, I’m also better able to move past my challenges and get what I need.

6. Be determined.

One of Oliver’s cutest idiosyncrasies is his growl. He’s one determined little man, and his determined actions are always backed by a “GRRRR.” He’s advanced for his age, and I bet it’s because of his determination. If he fails the first time around, he tries again.

As adults, we’re sometimes too quick to form conclusions about what’s possible and what we’re capable of doing. Babies don’t have this kind of internal monologue—they just keep going when they have a goal in their sights!

Watching Oli has inspired me during recent challenges to really dig deep, get determined, and keep on going.

7. Know when to rest.

As playful and determined as he is, Oliver knows when it’s time for a nap.

In the past I’ve been guilty of pushing too hard, working too long, and not resting enough. I sometimes think I’ll get more done if I work harder and longer—probably because I often heard growing up “You can be successful if you work hard.” But I’m actually more effective if I allow myself to stop working and rest when I’m tired, since I can then come back stronger and recharged later or the next day.

I may not require as much sleep as a baby, but I do need to listen to when my mind and body is saying “enough.” It’s not about working harder, but smarter.

8. Try new things.

The last time I saw Oliver, my family and I took him to the English seaside for the first ever time. It was a cold and windy day, but we didn’t let the weather prevent us from having a great time. We walked for hours along the coastline, breathing in the salty sea air and listening to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore.

Having a baby in the family is the perfect reason to go and experience all the world has to offer, to show them its wonders for the first time.

As adults, our lives can get routine. We drive to work the same way, eat the same foods, and see the same people day to day. According to Tony Robbins, one of our six core needs is the need for uncertainty—or variety. Without new experiences, life starts to get boring.

There’s so much joy to be had when we enter the realm of the new with a curious pair of eyes. Trying new things also helps us discover new things about ourselves—new interests or strengths, or traits we didn’t know we had.

After this outing with my family, I made a list of new things I’d like to experience, from foods to devour to countries to explore. I may be far beyond Oil’s age, but we’re never too old to try new things.

9. Live in the present.

Perhaps the biggest lesson my nephew has taught me is to live in the present moment. He has no concept of time. The past and the future don’t exist in Oli’s world; he lives completely in and for the present, which ultimately, is the only time we can ever live in.

Oliver hasn’t yet learned how to remember. He hasn’t learned how to worry. He is pure. Like we all were at one time. If he falls down, he forgets it quickly and goes right back to playing, completely connected to the joy of what he’s doing.

It’s never too late, I believe, to return to living life in the present. Although over the years, thoughts may have pulled our focus like a tug of war rope, back and forth, between the past and future, we can always return to the now, right now.

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My Needs Matter Too: How I Started Speaking Up and Setting Boundaries

“Setting boundaries is a way of caring for myself. It doesn’t make me mean, selfish, or uncaring just because I don’t do things your way. I care about me, too.” ~Christine Morgan

In my early twenties, I could shout into a megaphone at a political rally of thousands, but I couldn’t decline drinks from strangers at the bar. I could perform original music for an attentive audience, but I couldn’t tell my friends when I felt hurt by something they’d said. I could start a business, advocate for new laws at City Hall, and share deeply personal poetry on Facebook, but I simply couldn’t speak up for myself in moments of conflict.

At the time, I had no idea that boundary setting and speaking up were systemic issues millions of people struggled with. I didn’t understand that my inability to set boundaries probably originated in my childhood as the cumulative result of my untended emotional needs.

I just thought I wasn’t trying hard enough.

I judged myself mercilessly for being unable set boundaries. I spent many mornings scribbling viciously in my journal, unpacking the previous day’s events. These are unedited excerpts:

“She asked to reschedule our meeting, and even though I promised myself I’d never schedule an early-morning phone call again, I did—for 7:00am. Ugh. Why didn’t I just ask her to reschedule?”

“I resent him so deeply for how he treated me, but when I saw him in the coffee shop yesterday, I acted like everything was peachy keen. What the hell? I’m so frustrated. How do I get better at standing up for myself??”

Woven tightly around my self-judgment was a thick mesh of confusion. I was the type of person who looked forward to therapy, hoarded self-improvement books, and spent evenings with girlfriends unraveling the scrappy tangles of our psyches. I liked understanding myself. You can imagine, then, that I was totally and completely flummoxed by my inability to understand—never mind remedy—my people-pleasing habit.

Most of the time, the thought of saying no—to friends, family, lovers, and colleagues—simply didn’t enter my mind space. No matter how uncomfortable or unsafe I felt, the only future that felt available to me was one in which I pleased the offending person and later felt victimized and resentful.

Other times, when I felt brave enough to simply entertain the notion of saying no, I felt a heaviness in my chest and a closing in my throat. The words literally couldn’t escape my mouth.

My friends who had no issues setting boundaries were wary of my explanations. To them, setting a boundary was like swatting an annoying gnat. But to me, it was like battling a saber-toothed tiger.

I wish I’d known then what I know now: that boundary setting isn’t a simple box to check off of your self-care to-do list. It represents a complicated matrix of issues related to one’s family of origin, socialization, limiting beliefs, and, most importantly, one’s relationship with oneself. Setting boundaries is the final step on an extensive journey of self-reflection and diligent practice. Had I understood this years ago, I would have been able to reassure myself:

You are not weak.

You are not stupid.

You are doing the best that you can.

We set boundaries to protect ourselves. In order to protect ourselves effectively, we need to know what we’re protecting. Developing a rich understanding of our own needs, desires, values, and vision gives us the firm sense of identity we need to keep from wavering in our commitment to speak our truth.

When I didn’t have a clear sense of who I was or what I wanted, it was easy to let others define me; wait for others to speak up for me; resent people who didn’t proactively predict or meet my needs; prioritize others’ needs over my own; and seek value from external sources, like whether others liked me or found me attractive. Combined, these tendencies were painfully disempowering. I often felt like a shadow of myself.

I first began to build a solid sense of identity after I went through a devastating breakup with a long-term partner. My codependency had been a contributing factor to our separation, and I was finally beginning to understand that I couldn’t expect others—lovers, parents, friends, or colleagues—to be my purpose for living.

I also couldn’t allow external measures of success—like climbing the career ladder, losing weight, or winning awards—to be the driving forces behind my behavior.

I had to go deeper. Here’s how I did it.

Step 1: Meet your fundamental needs.

At first, I wasn’t sure where to begin. I mean, how do you build an identity?

In that fragile state of post-breakup unknowing, questions like “Where do you see yourself five years from now?” or “What direction do you want to take your business in?” were enough to reduce me to tears. I didn’t know what direction I wanted my career to go in. I didn’t even know how I would get through the weekend.

What I did know was that I wanted Kava tea before bed, and that I couldn’t sleep without lavender oil in my diffuser, and that going on long walks around the park with my best friend made my heart feel lighter.

As I explain in my previous post about discovering what you want when you’re a people-pleaser, these mild, uncomplicated wants were sacred whispers from my innermost self. By pursuing these small desires, I learned to trust myself.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs gave me a helpful roadmap as I became more accustomed to taking care of myself.

Recovering people-pleasers like me rarely meet our own needs and/or prioritize others’ needs instead. Oftentimes, we neglect even our most elementary needs at the bottom of the hierarchy.

In the past, for example, I regularly cancelled dentist appointments and annual physicals, though I fiercely encouraged others in my life to take good care of themselves. I didn’t get enough sleep and postponed trips to the grocery store.

Only when I began to meet these primary needs did other, more complex desires arise. We must meet our own fundamental needs on a regular basis in order to construct the firm foundation upon which our sense of identity will be built.

Step 2: Uncover your core identity.

Over months, I slowly climbed Maslow’s hierarchy, continuing with basic self-care as more vibrant desires surfaced. I began to crave rich social connections, meaningful bonds with family members, travel, and dancing. My natural curiosity, which I hadn’t felt connected to in years, awakened.

Ultimately, I found myself considering how I could make the most of my life—how I could self-actualize and “become the most that one can be.” I considered the following questions during my morning journaling sessions:

  • Vision: What do I want my future to look like?
  • Identity: Who am I and what roles do I play?
  • Values: Which principles or morals most resonate with me?
  • Skills: What abilities do I possess?
  • Desires: What do I crave?

Exploring my identity across multiple planes gave me the chance to learn how expansive I actually was.

For starters, I possessed far more skills that I’d ever given myself credit for! I was uniquely empathic, a good listener, organized, and great at designing systems.

I learned that I valued personal freedom, self-expression, financial responsibility, and playfulness.

As someone who was recovering from a codependent romantic relationship, I was stunned to remember that I was sister, a daughter, a coach, a community leader, a best friend, and more.

Wide-eyed, I realized that I was so much more than the shadow-self I’d felt like months before.

I’d spent so much time defining myself by others that this simple exercise—putting my pen to paper and exploring myself for thirty minutes—was a milestone: not only because of what I discovered, but because I took the time for myself to do it at all.

Take some time to explore your own roles, values, morals, abilities, and desires. It’s easier to set boundaries to protect the things that matter to you most when you’re clear on what those things are.

Step 3: Bring your authentic self to your relationships.

In retrospect, that early period of self-discovery was the most profound period of my life to date. It was characterized by the uncompromising commitment to prioritize my innermost self. Most importantly, those months provided me the firm foundation I needed to bring my authentic self to my relationships with others.

Boundary setting is like working a muscle—difficult and exhausting at first, but eventually, second nature. With this new understanding in hand, I began to tentatively set firm and healthy boundaries in my relationships.

At first, simply saying no to a party invitation was a challenge. But I did it.

Not long after, I set non-negotiable work hours and withdrew from a few extracurricular commitments that no longer served me. It was hard, but also felt totally righteous.

As I pocketed these small successes, setting harder boundaries felt less impossible. Eventually, I told best friends when their actions upset me; terminated romantic partnerships that weren’t meeting my needs; and unpacked old childhood hurts with my parents. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t dance around my kitchen once or twice—okay, definitely twice!—totally overjoyed that boundary setting was coming more easily to me.

After each difficult conversation, rocky though it may have been, a weight lifted from my chest. In the absence of that weight, I could navigate the world more freely. I noticed that I was more present for my clients, more playful with my friends, and more authentic with my family. Relationships that had once been a source of resentment finally felt nourishing because I was bringing my full self to the table.

Notice when you’re being inauthentic in your relationships so can you start creating this same freedom for yourself. Practice communicating what you think, want, and need and sharing how you honestly feel. Once you start working this muscle, it becomes much easier to set boundaries in all areas of your life.

It’s A Lifelong Journey

Putting my truth into action is a lifelong journey because my truth is always changing. My relationships grow, my needs shift, and my identity—the very bedrock of who I am and what I’m protecting—transforms.

Years later, I still occasionally find myself challenged by moments of confrontation. In those moments, I always harken back to the fiercely empowering truth that I set these boundaries to protect the vibrant inner self that I’ve come to know and respect.

I like to remember that this journey may not be linear.

I like to remember the progress I’ve made so far.

Most importantly, I like to remember to have patience and compassion for this inner self of mine. She has become so brave. She exposes herself to the elements, and risks being seen, known, and loved by herself and by others.

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Take Back Your Time

Right now, I can feel the tight squeeze of stress in my stomach. This morning, I got a call from a close friend needing support, which prevented me from starting this article. At any moment, I expect one of my coworkers to email me asking for help with a last-minute assignment. And I’m set to leave my desk early for a dentist appointment, after which I’ll rush home to cook a late dinner.

I’m under time pressure—and I know I’m not alone. If you’re a woman, or a single parent, or practically anyone living in today’s go-go-go American society, you probably are, too. When researchers surveyed Americans before 2011, about half said they almost never had time on their hands and two-thirds said they sometimes or always felt rushed (though a more recent study suggests things may be improving a bit).

As researcher Cassie Mogilner and her colleagues write in a 2012 paper, “With waking hours largely consumed by work, precious minutes remain for the daily list of to-dos, including exercise, cleaning, and socializing with friends and family.”

At first glance, the issue seems straightforward. Time pressure comes down to a lack of time, right? Well, partly. It’s the feeling that we don’t have enough time to do what we want to do—but it turns out that feelings and enough and wants are somewhat subjective.

From 1965 to 2003, the average American workweek actually declined by three hours, while leisure time increased. And in many places in the developed world, the workweek has gotten even shorter since then. In one study of more than 7,000 working Australians, researchers declared that time pressure is an “illusion.” They estimated how much time is necessary for basic living—hours of paid work, housework, and personal care—and compared it to how much free time people had in their actual schedules. It turns out there was a big discrepancy, which was most extreme for households without children and smallest for single parents.

“Those who feel most overworked—those who have least ‘free time’—largely do it to themselves,” the researchers wrote. In other words, we could theoretically spend fewer hours making money, vacuuming and washing dishes, or cooking and eating, and we’d get by without getting overwhelmed.

Although you may not want to subsist just above the poverty line or give your kids as little attention as possible, the broader point is important: Tight-squeezy time stress has to do with the things we value and the time we devote to them. And, other research suggests, it also relates to our attitudes and mindsets about time. Rather than always blaming the clock, we can find some roots of the time crunch deep in our own psychology. Here are some scientific insights to help you make a distinction between real stopwatch pressure and the unnecessary pressure you might be putting on yourself.

Four Ways to Take Back Your Time

1. Ask yourself: What makes my time fly?

In a 2004 study of nearly 800 working people in Ohio, researchers were confronted with a puzzle.

When women did more than 10 hours of housework a week, they felt more pressed for time and in turn more depressed. But when men did the same amount of housework, they didn’t. A similar pattern appeared for volunteering: Men who volunteered more were less depressed, but women got time stressed and didn’t seem to experience as much benefit.

The explanation that the researchers came up with, bolstered by people’s accounts of how they spent their time, was that men tend to do more enjoyable housework and volunteering. They cut the grass and coach soccer teams; they get into flow and feel a sense of accomplishment. Women, on the other hand, are often occupied with small, repetitive daily chores and service work: less cheering and high-fiving and more trying not to fall asleep at school meetings.

Unsurprisingly, a day packed with somewhat engaging activities feels less busy and stressful than a day of drudgery. If time flies (in a good way) when you’re having fun, it also seems to fly (in a bad way) when you’re not. This subjective element might have created more of a sense of time pressure in women who participated in the study, even if men’s activities equaled or exceeded theirs in hours.

One study found that people who are more passionate, who aspire to do things that matter to them at work, aren’t as rushed and harried as others.

A similar effect takes place at work. In one study, researchers surveyed more than 2,500 employees at a technology company and a financial services company. They found that people who are more passionate, who aspire to do things that matter to them at work, aren’t as rushed and harried as others.

If you feel short on time, you might simply not be enjoying the activities that fill up your schedule. Life can be like that sometimes, but if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, it might help to add one more thing to your day—something that keeps you engaged.

2. Stop competing with yourself

Why does passion seem to free up our time? The researchers who observed this phenomenon wanted to discover what was really going on.

They found a clue when they asked employees about how conflicted or aligned their goals were. Employees lacking in passion said that their goals were competing with each other, fighting for time and attention; for example, the drive to do well at work might make it hard to get home for dinner with the family. But passionate employees were different: They saw their goals as supporting each other. After all, healthy home cooking and family bonding might give them more energy and motivation tomorrow.

So, time pressure isn’t just about how enjoyable our activities are, but also how well they fit together in our heads. One study found that people who simply think about conflicting goals—like saving money vs. buying nice things, or being healthy vs. eating tasty foods—feel more stressed and anxious, and in turn shorter on time.

Knox College professor Tim Kasser, an expert on materialism who coauthored a seminal paper on time scarcity, once joked, “If every research project that I’m currently working on right now was a cat living in my house, it would be very clear that I had a problem.” If your to-do list feels like a herd of hungry felines, all in competition for your one can of food, it’s no wonder you’re overwhelmed.

While we may freely choose some tasks on our plate, others are largely the product of our society or culture, says Australian National University professor Lyndall Strazdins, who has spent the last decade trying to show how time scarcity matters for individual and public health. For example, being a good suburban mom today seems to include chauffeuring your kids around the neighborhood to countless sports and hobbies.

“If you don’t do that, then you feel you’re not living up to one set of norms, but if you don’t do [something else], you’re also not living up to another set of norms,” says Strazdins. “You’ve got 24 hours…and you get to a point where you just can’t expand your day.” If you feel a lot of inner conflict about a task, then you might consider just letting it go.

3. Change your calendar view

Often when we’re caught in a time conflict, it’s because of some external obligation: Daycare pickup runs up against an important meeting; your work shift starts at 9, but the bus is late. Time pressure goes hand in hand with feeling you’re not in control of your own schedule.

In one 2007 study, researchers interviewed 35 low-income working mothers who were caring for at least one child. They asked the moms to talk about how they spent the previous day, and how they manage to feed their families when it’s hectic.

The researchers were able to pinpoint different ways of managing time—some of which were more successful than others.

The least successful was the “reactive” style, where mothers didn’t feel in control of their days. All those mothers felt time-scarce, beholden to the clock, unable to accomplish everything they wanted to. In contrast, mothers who had an “active” time-style had some success at scheduling, managing, and structuring their days. They felt slightly more in control of their own time and a bit less time-stressed than the reactive group.

“People often complain of being in a time bind not only because they are objectively busy, but also because they perceive a lack of control over their time,” researcher Ashley V. Whillans and her colleagues write. That perception may be based on our life circumstances—because we have non-negotiable work hours or babies who aren’t fond of sleeping through the night—but it can also be part of our psychology.

According to research, rather than experiencing life as masters of their own fate, some people tend to feel like they’re at the mercy of external forces (and thus less resilient to stress and more depressed). If this describes you, it may be harder for you to seize back a sense of control over your schedule.

In that case, try to keep your eyes on the prize and do what you can to gain a sense of control over your time. Take little steps, like optimizing your to-do list or practicing saying “no” to people who ask for favors.

4. Revalue your down time

One last piece of the time-pressure puzzle is money, and that one is complicated. If you work multiple jobs or can’t pay for a babysitter, you’re bound to feel short on time. But some research has found that people with high incomes feel particularly short on time—and people who get richer become even more harried than they were before. Even just feeling rich—when your savings is on the higher end of the scale on a form you’re filling out—can make you feel more rushed.

“In a society like ours, the go-to answer [for happiness] is make more money, buy more stuff,” says Kasser. “What we’re trying to say is, well, no; what people actually need is more time.”

Why would an abundance of money feel like a scarcity of time? One possibility is that rich people have so much they could do with their money but only a handful of hours outside work to do it, suggest researchers Daniel Hamermesh and Jungmin Lee. So many expensive hobbies to pursue, so little time!

But another possibility is that they simply put more value on their time. If each hour they’re not working is $100 they could have earned, they better use that hour well.

As economists would remind us, when something is scarce, its value goes up—but the opposite is also true. When something is valuable (like time), we perceive it to be scarcer.

As economists would remind us, when something is scarce, its value goes up—but the opposite is also true. When something is valuable (like time), we perceive it to be scarcer. In one experiment, researchers asked 67 students to engage in some mock consulting work, for which they would “charge” $1.50 or $0.15 per minute. The students who were charging $1.50 felt more pressed for time—even though they weren’t actually going to earn that money! In another experiment, when people were asked to calculate their hourly wage, high earners felt even more time-starved.

“Feelings of time pressure are not just a function of individual differences, the quantitative amount of time spent working, or even people’s working conditions, although these factors are obviously important,” write researchers Sanford E. DeVoe and Jeffrey Pfeffer. “Time pressure is at least partly a result of psychological processes and the perception of time’s value.”

This is all good news and bad news. It means that our efforts to optimize and schedule, plan and streamline, might not be getting to the heart of the problem. But it also means that we may have more leverage than we think, even if we can’t manufacture spare hours to call a friend or get to the dentist. Time pressure is the uncomfortable gap between how we wish we spent our time—and how we think that would make us feel—and how we’re spending it and feeling now. With that in mind, we just might be able to find some room to breathe.

This article originally appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, one of Mindful’s partners. View the original article.

The post Take Back Your Time appeared first on Mindful.


Enjoy a Mindful, Meaningful, and Fun Holiday Season

Woman outside enjoying a mindful holiday

We only understand about a few of those decisions ve behaved on them.
But this isn a terrible thing, our market can always use folks spending more on it. We could view it as a opportunity to become more generous and really give to others.
However, the actual question is who’s choosing your state of mind? Can it be or is it the media?
Listed below are a few Actions to Ensure You are the one in control of your mind:
Corporations know this, and they set subtle clues in the advertising that say”If you do not have (fill in the blank), then you’re going to be miserable”
Take this as an opportunity and revel in a mindful holiday season.

  1. Set a goal – Take a moment to really consider how you are interested in being through the holidays. If you’re going to be together with family members and friends, how do you like to be together (e.g., present, listening, playful)? The holidays could be a difficult or laborious time for this year, if this is so, how do you be gentle with your self?
  2. Be current – In order to pay attention to this particular purpose, it’so important to integrate a practice that brings you to the present moment. This might be a mindfulness practice such as coming into the breath, or perhaps shutting your eyes and listening to noises, or perhaps taking some time to check at all of the areas around you.
  3. Make significance  – The holidays are intended to be a period of meaning. For Christmas, if it is meaningful, think about what Jesus’ birth means to you personally, or if this isn ’ t meaningful, you might think about the significance of being in the uncommon experience of spending time with people you don’t see frequently. Or if you celebrate Kwanzaa, you might reflect upon the significance of your culture and heritage. No matter your background that is spiritual, this can be a time to stop, reflect and make meaning from the life. The holidays are also . Pick up the camera more, reconnect with friends, browse a novel that is pleasurable, or choose a 2-hour date with others or yourself and do something. If you find yourself in a poor mood, use these 3 steps to help break it.

I’d have to concur with Emerson. A lot of us think that we have control over our reactions, but the reality is we are walking around responding much of the moment. Our brain is taking in information throughout the numerous resources (ears, eyes, mouth, legs/arms, nose), translating the data, and making snap decisions of what is good or bad, right or wrong, necessary or unnecessary, pressing or non-urgent, important or insignificant.
Right after Thanksgiving, I walked to Target, and lo and behold all of the Christmas decorations were up. I sensed a state of cheerfulness an opening in me along with a desire to shop.

Your discussion here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.


How Restrictive Diets Mess with Our Brains and Lead to Bingeing

“Your body is precious. It is your vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.” ~Buddha

When I went on my first diet in my teens (low-carb, it was back in the Atkins days), I wasn’t even overweight. I weighed less than 120 pounds, but my jeans had started to get a little tight, so I thought I needed to lose five pounds or so. At the time, I didn’t have a bad relationship with food; I just ate like a typical teenager—not the best choices.

About two hours in, I remember starting to obsess over the things I couldn’t eat and being desperate to be skinny ASAP so I could eat them again.

By mid day, I “failed.”

I caved and ate…. *gasp, shock, horror*… carbs.

And something weird happened. Instantly, I felt like I was bad.

It’s not just that I thought I had made a bad choice.

I thought, “You idiot, you can’t do anything right. Look at you, one meal in and you screwed up already. You may as well just eat whatever you want the rest of the day and start again tomorrow.”

I think I gained about five pounds from that attempt.

And I continued slowly gaining more and more weight every year after that—and feeling guiltier and guiltier every time I ate something “bad.”

Atkins low-carb miracle cure had failed me horribly and began a decades-long battle with food and my weight.

See, it wasn’t that I thought my choice was bad and then I just made a better choice next time; it was that I felt like I, as a person, was bad.

And what happens when we’re bad?

We get punished.

I didn’t realize until many years later, but those degrading thoughts and overeating the rest of the day were, in part, my way of punishing myself for being bad and eating the bad things.

The harder I tried to control what was going in, the worse it got and the more out of control I felt.

In my thirties I hit bottom, as they say, as a result of trying to follow a “clean eating meal plan.”

Four days into my first attempt to “eat clean” and strictly adhere to what someone else told me I should eat, I had my first-ever binge.

Prior to that, I had some minor food issues. I ate kind of crummy, had slowly been gaining weight, and felt guilty when I ate carbs (thanks, Atkins).

But a few days into “clean eating,” I was in the middle of a full-blown eating disorder.

The clean eating miracle craze may have made me look and feel amazing, but emotionally, it failed me horribly and began my years-long battle to recover from bulimia and binge eating.

But I thought it was just me. I was such a screw up, why couldn’t I just eat like a normal person?

I saw how much better I looked and felt when I was managing to “be good” and “eat clean,” but within a few days or weeks of “being good,” no matter how great I felt from eating that way, I always caved and ended up bingeing again.

And every time, I thought it was me. I told myself I was broken and weak and pathetic.

Even later, when I started training other people, my message was “If it’s not on your plan, it doesn’t go in your mouth” and “You can’t expect to get the body you want by eating the things that gave you the body you have.

I wanted clients to feel amazing and get the best results possible, so I gave them what I knew would accomplish those two things.

But, at the time, I didn’t know that it was actually those messages and rules that had created all my own issues with food, and I most definitely didn’t know they would have that affect on anyone else.

I thought everyone else was “normal.” I was just broken and weak and stupid—that’s why I struggled so hard to just “be good” and “stop screwing up.”  Normal people would see how much better they felt when they ate that way, and they’d automatically change and live happily ever after.

Ha. No.

The more people I trained, the more I became acutely aware that food is the thing most people struggle with the most, and I started recognizing the exact same thoughts and behaviors I’d experienced, in the majority of my clients.

And almost every single one of them also had a looong history of failed diets.

Hmmm. Maybe it wasn’t just me.

Not everyone goes to the extreme of bulimia, but the more I spoke with other people about their struggles with food and shared my own with them, the more I realized how shockingly pervasive disordered eating and eating disorders have become.

Binge eating is an eating disorder—one that more people struggle with than I ever imagined. Though, most people are horrified to admit it, and many may not even be willing to admit to themselves that they do.

I get that because it’s associated with lack of self-control and gluttony, and there’s a great deal of shame related to both of those things. But it actually has little to do with either, and you can’t change anything until you admit you’re struggling.

And disordered eating in general is even more pervasive.

Feeling guilt after eating is not normal. That’s disordered eating.

Restricting entire food groups is not normal. That’s disordered eating.

Severely restricting food in general in not normal. That’s disordered eating.

Beating yourself up for eating something “bad” is not normal. That’s disordered eating.

Starting and stopping a new diet every few weeks or months is not normal. That’s disordered eating.

Diet culture has us so screwed up that we spend most of our lives doing these things without ever realizing they’re not normal. And they’re negatively affecting our whole lives.

As I was working on my own recovery, I dove into hundreds of hours of research into dieting, habits, motivation, and disordered eating—anything I could get my hands on to help not only myself but my clients better stick to their plans.

It’s so easy, I used to think; there must be some trick to make us just eat what we’re supposed to eat!

But I learned the exact opposite.

I learned that trying to “stick to the plan” was actually the problem.

The solution wasn’t in finding some magic trick to help people follow their meal plans; the solution lay in not telling people what to eat in the first place.

There are many reasons behind why we eat what we eat, when we eat, and even the quantities we choose to eat; it just doesn’t work to tell someone to stop everything they know and just eat this much of this at this time of day, because at some later date it’ll make them skinny and happy.

Our brains don’t work that way.

Our brains actually work exactly the opposite.

As soon as we place restrictions on what we’re allowed or not allowed to eat, our brains start creating compulsions and obsessive thoughts that drive us to “cave.”

Have you ever noticed that as soon as you “can’t” have something, you automatically want it even more?

That’s a survival instinct that’s literally been hard-wired into our brains since the beginning of time.

In November 1944, post-WW II, physiologist Ancel Keys, PhD and psychologist Josef Brozek PhD began a nearly yearlong experiment on the psychological and physiological effects of starvation on thirty-six mentally and physically healthy young men.

The men were expected to lose one-quarter of their body weight. They spent the first three months eating a normal diet of 3,200 calories a day followed by six months of semi-starvation at approximately 1,600 calories a day (though 1,600 calories isn’t even all that low). The semi-starvation period was followed by three months of rehabilitation (2,000-3,200 calories a day) and finally an eight-week period of unrestricted rehabilitation, during which time there was no limitations on caloric intake.

Researchers closely monitored the physiological and psychological changes brought on by calorie restriction.

During the most restricted phase the changes were dramatic. Physically, the men became gaunt in appearance, and there were significant decreases in their strength, stamina, body temperature, heart rate, and even sex drive.

Psychologically, the effects were even more dramatic and mirror those almost anyone with any history of dieting can relate to.

They became obsessed with food. Any chance they had to get access to more food resulted in the men binge eating thousands of calories in a sitting.

Before the restriction period, the men were a lively bunch, discussing politics, current events, and more. During the restriction period, this quickly changed. They dreamt, read, fantasized, and talked about food all the time.

They became withdrawn, irritable, fatigued, and apathic. Depression, anxiety, and obsessive thinking (especially about food) were also observed.

For some men, the study proved too difficult—they were excluded as a result of breaking the diet or not meeting their weight loss goals.

We don’t struggle to follow diets and food rules because we lack willpower. It’s literally the way our brains are wired.

Why? Because from an evolutionary standpoint, we’re not designed to restrict food. Coded into our DNA is the overwhelming urge to survive, so when food (either over-all calories or food groups) is restricted, our brains begin to create urgency, compulsions, and strong desires that force us to fill its needs—and often, even more than its needs (binges).

We cave because our brains are hardwired to. Then the act of caving actually gets wired into our brains as a habit that we continue to repeat on autopilot every time we restrict food or food groups.

And it triggers the punish mode that I spoke of earlier, which only compounds the problem and slowly degrades our self-worth.

So every year millions of people are spending tens of billions of dollars on diets that are making the majority of us heavier, depressed, anxious, food-obsessed binge eaters, and destroying our self-worth.

Now I know all that sounds pretty bleak, but there is a way out. I know because I’ve found it.

It sounds like the opposite of what we should do, but it saved my life.

I gave myself permission to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and stopped trying to restrict. The scarier that sounds, the more you need to do it.

As soon as nothing is off limits, we can begin to slowly move away from the scarcity mindset and break the habits and obsessions created by dieting.

When we give ourselves unconditional permission to eat whatever we want, without guilt or judgment, we give ourselves the space to get mindful about our choices.

We give ourselves the opportunity to explore why we’re making the choices we’re making and the power to freely make different ones because we begin to value ourselves again.

When we remove the guilt and judgment, start to value ourselves again, and work on being mindful, we can begin to notice how the foods we’re eating make us feel and make choices from a place of love and kindness rather than fear, guilt, and punishment.

It sounds too simple to work, but it saved my life.

Rather than telling people what they should and shouldn’t eat, or trying to listen to someone who’s telling us what we should or shouldn’t eat, we have to build a connection with our bodies.

We have to learn to listen to them, to learn to distinguish the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger. To stop eating when we’re not physically hungry, and to start feeling emotions instead of feeding them.

We have to break the habits that drive autopilot eating. We have to be mindful, trust the wisdom of our own bodies, and make choices based on how they make our bodies feel rather than what some diet tells us is the answer to happiness and being skinny.

UPDATE: Making the choice to not eat meat for ethical reasons and avoiding certain foods for allergy/medical purposes are not the same as restricting food groups for a diet. If you’re happy and feel great with whatever you’re currently doing, carry on! This is meant for people who are struggling with repeated diet attempts and overeating/bingeing, who feel out of control because they can never seem to “stay on track.”

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Two Types of Boundaries That Can Help You Take Good Care of Yourself

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” ~Brené Brown

Do you have the courage to love yourself and set the boundaries you need?

For years I didn’t, and wondered why my life didn’t work. I didn’t really understand what boundaries were or why I needed them.

My severe lack of boundaries allowed me to give away my energy, time, power, and love to others, leaving virtually nothing for myself.

For years I lived in a perpetual state of lack, feeling like I wasn’t enough. Looking back, it makes sense that I didn’t feel like I was enough; I was giving everything I had to everyone else.

Unsurprisingly, things eventually reached a breaking point, and at the age of thirty-six it all came crashing down on me.

Living without boundaries, overworking myself to the point of burnout, trying to please everyone, battling with money, having an emergency operation, and leaving a toxic relationship had left me almost broken. I finally surrendered and realized something had to give, before I did completely. My lack of boundaries was costing me too much.

At the time I didn’t realize that an issue with boundaries was the root cause to the problems I was facing, but I could no longer deny, avoid, or ignore that something had to change. I had spent too long focused on how I could look after and help others, and simply wasn’t taking care of myself.

Boundaries help us to recognize our own needs. They show us it is perfectly acceptable to have needs and to take care of them. Always.

Not having healthy boundaries allows you to deny your needs through numbing behavior, such as: addiction, overworking, overspending, overdrinking, procrastination, people-pleasing, and unhealthy relationships. Whatever your personal preference, all of these behaviors allow you to disconnect from who you really are and how you really feel.

The more you deny your needs, the louder they shout to try and get your attention, so you have to keep numbing away to quiet them down, and that’s no way to live.

We must establish boundaries to promote and protect our self-care, self-worth, and self-love. It is only from that place that we can look after ourselves, which allows us to truly be there for others.

Creating healthy boundaries means that you take responsibility for yourself, your time, your feelings, and your energy instead of allowing yourself to be buffeted around by everyone else’s.

Boundaries allow you to take control rather than allowing others to control you, and conversely allow you to give more to others because you come from a place of abundance rather than lack.

To create boundaries for yourself you have to tune in to your personal needs and your true feelings.

In essence, it’s understanding what feels good for you, and what doesn’t. As you work on your boundaries, start to notice where you may be blocking your true feelings. If you are perpetually busy or distracted, leaving no time to connect to yourself and how you really feel, then you need to make time to reflect, recharge, and listen to what your body, mind, and soul are trying to tell you.

There are two sets of boundaries you need to work on, which I refer to as your internal and external boundaries. Both require you to take notice of yourself, which may be a new experience if you’ve spent a long time focusing on others.

You can see your internal boundaries as those that you have some control over. They dictate how you treat yourself. Do you sleep to fully recharge your system, eat a healthy diet, think and say kind things to yourself, and make time for the activities that light up your soul?

During my twenties there were times when I hardly seemed to have slept at all. I was at University and worked in a credit control office, which I loathed, and also did bar shifts most nights. I’d spend the day studying, then go to the office and then straight to the bar, working until late. I had youth on my side and all the fire to keep going, but my energy wasn’t really channelled, I was exhausted a lot of the time, and I missed a lot of experiences because I was always working.

I needed to set internal boundaries, even though my life was busy, as my choices were a recipe for burnout.

Life will always get in the way, but do you consistently take care of yourself? If you listen to your heart you’ll know if you don’t. And odds are, you can feel if you don’t.

If you consistently ignore your health and well-being, believe every negative thought you have about yourself, and treat yourself like you’re not a priority, you likely feel both physically and emotionally drained.

Make looking after yourself a priority and notice how quickly you start to feel different. Notice how you feel when you allow yourself to sleep enough, eat well, support yourself, care about yourself, and ultimately, love yourself. All the time.

Looking after your internal boundaries is the foundation for your external boundaries, how other people treat you, and how they and external situations affect you.

The more you can understand your true feelings and attune to yourself, the easier it becomes to set and maintain your personal boundaries, in any situation,

Boundaries are a work in progress; they cannot be a one-and-done exercise. Life and the people around you are constantly changing, so you will need to keep managing your boundaries as those changes happen.

Look at any issue you are facing—perhaps you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, for example—and notice if there is a boundary that has fallen away or may have never even existed. Often when we feel overwhelmed it’s because we haven’t taken the time for self-care so we can be in the best place to find the answers we need.

Once you’ve developed boundaries for yourself, it’s time to apply that philosophy to everything and everyone else. These are your external boundaries, protecting yourself from the outside forces that can potentially throw you off balance.

I have found it useful to think of our boundaries with other people as energy exchanges. If there are people in your life who regularly leave you feeling drained, then it’s probably time to look at your boundaries with that person to see what might need to change.

You don’t have to give your time to people who leave you feeling depleted. If they request more than you can reasonably give, you can say no. If they are vocally unsupportive of your choices, you can choose to speak about other topics when you’re with them. If you don’t like how they speak about other people, or they have values you don’t agree with, you can choose to spend less time with them, if any time at all.

I found that working on my boundaries made me reassess a lot of friendships and who I trust and want to be in my inner circle.

If there are people who drain your energy, and you feel worse for being around them, then it may be better for you to remove that person from your life.

If that’s not possible, you can always alter how you interact with them. If face-to-face time becomes too challenging you can use another method, such as a short call, brief email, or social media.

Ultimately it’s about finding what works for you and focusing on the people who protect your energy.

If this is a new concept you can, like I did, feel that boundaries have to be big and solid, like a steel wall, so that nothing can ever get past them.

When I left a very painful relationship my first thought was that trust was always going to be an issue for me, so it would be near impossible to have another relationship again. So I closed that avenue in my mind and focused elsewhere.

Maintaining a steel wall like this is exhausting. It shuts out the good as well as the bad, and we risk becoming closed to life. It also means we don’t move forward in life either, as we’re busy using all of our energy to hold up the wall.

Over time I realized that it was most important that I learned to trust myself again, and could start to build trust with other people at my own pace.

As I continued to work on my boundaries I realized that I didn’t need to use so much energy to keep everything out. I just needed to focus on living my life, how I wanted, and to move away, in whatever way I needed to, from what didn’t serve me. Like water.

For example, when a discussion became an argument that I could never win, going round and round in circles, I realized I could just remove myself from the debate. I didn’t have to prove my point to someone who didn’t want a resolution and was only looking to create drama, I could simply go and do something else.

“Water is the softest thing, yet it can penetrate mountains and earth. This shows clearly the principle of softness overcoming hardness.” ~Lao Tzu

My boundaries didn’t need to be fixed and rigid to work. They, and I, could be like water simply moving through life. Flowing with ease this way and that, toward what served me and away from anything that didn’t. No apology.

This approach kept me open and moving instead of shut-off and stuck, able to adapt to all of life around me.

Even when you are really attuned to yourself and have set healthy boundaries, they can still falter. You can still find yourself giving too much of your time, energy, and power, trying to please everyone else, and losing sight of what you need for yourself.

If you find yourself falling back into old habits, recognize that it happened and start to take care of yourself to recover, in a way that works for you.

When you’ve centered yourself, look for the lesson. There is no failing, only learning. Stay like water and choose to be light rather than becoming heavy and weighed down by the situation.

Recognize your humanity and don’t forget your humility as well. Just as there is something to learn, there will be always be a reason to laugh, which helps you let go and move forward.

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