Focus on the Good

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I was talking with a friend the other day and she was lamenting how every time she seems to set a new habit for herself, or tried to begin to find better balance in her life, she either falls back into an old habit after some time or gives herself permission to take a break because of some other circumstance (like it being summer). Sound familiar? It sure did to me! It can really make you feel defeated sometimes. But here’s another way of thinking about this common problem.

You may have heard the old myth (or even given it a test run for yourself) that you can form a new habit in 21 days. If you’ve ever tried it you may also have noticed that it might not have really stuck after that time. While our brains are amazing in their ability to adapt, it may not be that simple.

Our brains also have a negativity bias. This basically means that are brains have evolved to be extra vigilant for negative interactions, thoughts, experiences and situations. They evolved this way because it was a skill that allowed us to not only survive as a species, but to pass on our genes. So we are much more likely to remember the things that we “failed” at, rather than what we actually accomplished. (See the wonderful book Buddha’s Brain for more on this phenomenon.)

So what’s a girl to do?!?

Focus on the good and just start over.

We have to train our minds to notice the good things. How good you feel at the end of a yoga class versus the fact that you didn’t make it to class last week. The habit that you did start and managed to maintain for several weeks before life got crazy and threw you off. If we can recognize what is possible and what we have accomplished it will be much easier to let go of whatever negative thoughts or stories we’ve told ourselves and just start again.

So if you’ve found that the busyness of summer has thrown you off some good habit or way of being, or you’ve simply let it go because it is a time of year to take a break, remember it’s all about balance. Remember that you are capable, you can be successful and just like in a meditation practice, you can just start again.

Be here now

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As I'm writing these words, a rough week for many of us has just come to an end. And not a very satisfying end. An end that has more of a question mark on it then ever. Many of us have been forced to relive our own traumas that we may have set aside for years. Many of us may have engaged in heated debates with friends or family members. Many of us are feeling worn out and dragged through the dirt thanks to media in many forms.

I don't care what side of the debate you stand on. What I care about is that you take care of yourself in the best way possible right now. One strategy I've been using and I'd like to offer to you is being fully present. How can that help in times like these? Read on.

This may seem like the exact WRONG time to be talking about being present. How do we do that when the present is just almost too much to bear? I’ve asked myself this question a lot this week. I’ve wondered how do I stay present with what’s happening, keep being an informed citizen and yet not loose my mind as I watch horrendous suffering come to the surface in others and old traumas rise in myself as well? How do I do any of this when all I really want to do is run and hide?

First, I have to know my limits. I am only human. I can do my best and my best has to be enough. My limits may not be the same as yours. I have to accept that. My limits may not be the same as those of my family and friends. I have to accept that and I have to call upon them to respect my limits and respond in ways that honor my boundaries. I may need to speak clearly about my limits to others. I may have to accept that they will not appreciate my limits. I will need to honor them anyway the best I can, perhaps without their help or support. No one else can know your limits. Only you can know where your boundaries are. Be clear in protecting your limits. And when you’ve reached that limit, turn off the TV, put down the paper or turn off or put away whatever it is that all this was coming to you through, or ask the person you’re talking to to allow you to change the subject or simply walk away. It’s more than ok to make it stop for awhile.

Second, I can use what I know about the brain and yoga/meditation to stop the repetitive loop of past traumas playing out in my mind. Did you know that when you relive a memory, your brain doesn’t know if it is something that happened in your past or if it is happening right now? Many times the same chemical responses, such as the release of stress hormones, can be found when we recall an event. If we end up in the endless thought loop of remembering a trauma, we are basically putting our bodies and minds through the same experience over and over again. Sometimes we need to do this to make sense of the event, to find resolution or to simply fully deal with the trauma. But sometimes we can get stuck in a pattern of thought that just becomes harmful. This is why knowing your limits is first. If it’s time to get those negative thought loops to stop, being present is where we begin.

How? Start as above in step one and turn off the news, put down the paper or the social media or whatever it is that’s triggering you. Choose a technique you find calming. Your technique might be similar to one you use in meditation. You can follow your breath, you can look at an uplifting image or you can repeat a mantra. Whatever you choose, bring your mind fully to it. See it, feel it, experience it for all that it is. The more curiosity you can bring to it the greater the chances of stopping the cycle of damaging thoughts.

But what does that really do? It empowers us to reclaim the here now. And the here and now is actually pretty safe if we really look at it closely. If you are reading this you are likely sitting at a computer or looking at a device. If you take a deep breath and let it out the next breath is going to come. And the next. There is no one attacking you. There is no one hurting you. You are just here, reading these words and taking a deep breath. It’s all pretty simple right here and right now. The next moment may not be that way. But this moment is. This breath is ok. This breath is safe. In this breath all is well.

So you take this little vacation from it all and you live and breathe to see another day. To take action in another moment. You are rested enough and centered enough to do whatever is next. And that is all anyone can ask in these crazy times we live in.

And if you truly need help processing and dealing with it all, remember that yoga and meditation can only take us so far sometimes. Don’t be afraid to call and ask for professional help. There’s no shame in that. That’s also part of knowing your limits.