Why Practice Gratitude?

Why Practice Gratitude?

If we default to mainstream culture to shape our outlook on life, we could easily fill our consciousness with political drama, news of catastrophes around the world and risqué music videos.

One particular study by Professor Graham Davey Ph.D., has shown that flooding our consciousness with negative news not only lowers our current mood but also increases the likelihood to catastrophize (worry) about future possibilities over the long-term.

Add to this our tendency to think negative or neutral thoughts more than positive-- also known as our negativity bias-- and upon a very brief examination, it becomes clear why we must not leave our inner states to chance. Especially if we are committed to living a life of joy, happiness, peace, and ultimately… excellence.

Cultivating an inner attitude of harmony is an art and a science. It can be easy, and I’ve also found that it takes practice.

Gratitude practices have been shown to improve mood (2) and to even enhance performance. The Heart-Math Institute has identified that an individual experiencing Heart Coherence, which can be accessed through a very simple practice of gratitude here: https://bit.ly/1QJoJlo, actually improves cognitive function.

See below for 3 quick tips for cultivating gratitude in your life:

1. CUT OUT: Reduce your exposure to negativity from outside sources. This includes excessive news media, gossiping and other negative forms of conversation with friends/acquaintances, and your own complaining.

These days, I am very careful about what I allow into my field, because I know that everything has an impact— everything makes a difference.

2. BE WITH: Acknowledge the great beauty that is already present in your life. Make a real effort to slow down and be with the beautiful flower on your walk, to notice a friend’s sweet smile, and to give thanks for a loving relationship. Speak about the things that you see and are grateful for so others can also join in on the celebration.

My father passed away earlier this year, and that very challenging experience has made me grateful for the simplest things. This life is so temporary. May we allow ourselves to be present with the beauty of it all-- and to enjoy it!

3. ADD IN: Bring practices into your life that help you cultivate a healthy and happy inner outlook. Give thanks with an attitude of gratitude. Add five minutes in the morning to your daily routine to think of the people, experiences and things you are grateful for. Practice the lovingkindness meditation.

These are just several of the ways that you can start bringing gratitude into your life. I would love to know which ones have worked for you! If you have any questions, feel free to reach out via PM.

Enjoy,

Jeska

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If you liked this article, you can check out my blog here: http://belightconsulting.com/blog/

Facebook Page: Be Light Consulting

Instagram: @belightconsulting

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jbrodbeck

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Studies highlighted in article:

1. Johnston, W. M., & Davey, G. C. (1997). The psychological impact of negative TV news bulletins: The catastrophizing of personal worries. British Journal of Psychology, 88(1), 85-91. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1997.tb02622.x

2. Emmons, R. A., & Mccullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389. doi:10.1037//0022-3514.84.2.377

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#belightconsulting #begrateful #bewell

Photographer: Matt Roy

Meditation: This is Why You Think You’re Doing It Wrong

Meditation: This is Why You Think You’re Doing It Wrong

As a teacher, I frequently hear people say, “I tried to meditate once, but I couldn’t do it right, so I stopped.”

In this article, I will explain why it’s so common for people to think that they are not on the right track (when they might very well be!), as well as very simple steps for giving meditation another real shot in your life. And if you haven’t started meditating yet, read on for tips to guide your very own first experience.

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The reason that I often hear people share that they feel they are doing meditation “wrong” is that there are certain qualities of the mind that show themselves during meditation. Each one of these qualities, if you let them, can take you right out of meditating and into overthinking. The KEY is to observe what is happening… and then to return back to the practice.

 

3 Qualities of the Mind

 

1. The mind wanders. And wanders. And wanders.

Nope, it’s not just your mind. This is a natural part of the human condition, and it happens with most everyone. Humans have a mind that is designed to think, and that’s what it will do all the time, if you let it. You may notice that this same quality creates a fair amount of unwanted stress in your life, as your mind wanders to what you haven’t done, what you should have done, what you shouldn’t have said, and what hasn’t happened yet (but might). You get the picture.

Because of humans’ natural tendency to think negative or neutral thoughts more frequently than positive (known as the negativity bias), when your mind wanders, it will typically create a negative experience. (1)

The beauty of the meditation practice is that it offers the opportunity to bring your mind to a single point of focus (your breath, for example), and as you breathe, you are able to create space between those pesky thoughts… and ultimately peace. Meditation will help you to train your mind away from the wandering and toward the peace… and silence… underneath. This is exactly why meditation has been proven by science to enhance mood. (2) Ahhhh.


2. The mind overcomplicates things.

“If it seems simple, then it must be more complicated than that. I must be missing something!” Does this sound familiar? You may notice your mind reaching for something else, for something you must have missed. If you notice this as you meditate, you are actually observing the mind in action, in its reaching. There is actually nothing complicated about being in the present moment— except the mind that makes it that way.

In the transformational world, we say that “the way you do one thing is the way you do everything.” The way you show up in your meditation practice is the way that you show up in your life. So if you notice yourself trying to “figure it out” or “get it right,” you can also look into your life at where that might show up for you. This is another quality of the mind that can add stress to your life— and by practicing observing this tendency toward unnecessary complication, you will begin to create separation from the reaching or grasping not only in your practice, but also in your life. (Another sigh of relief, yes?)

 

3. The mind catastrophizes.

“Since I ‘failed’ at meditation before, I’m not good at meditation. I just can't meditate.” This is another line I hear often. Where else might you be giving up on something in your life just because it didn’t work the first or second or third time? We can never know what will happen in the next moment— every moment is a new moment to begin again. So before you believe that thought, allow yourself to be open to a new possibility. The possibility of you finding peace, clarity and positivity— naturally— through the practice of meditation.

Instead of resisting these tendencies of the mind, simply acknowledge these qualities when they show up, and then return to your meditation— again and again. It’s ok if your mind wanders dozens of times. It's ok if you have to bring your mind back dozens of times. The real practice is IN the returning. Training your mind to return attention to your breath, regardless of how many times it wanders or makes up stories, is where the real practice of meditation happens and where your attention muscle strengthens!

Wondering what meditation to practice? Here’s a simple mindfulness meditation for you:

 

Simple Mindfulness Meditation: 
Bring your awareness to your breath. Notice your breath moving in and out of your body. When a thought comes up, notice it. You can even label the thought: “planning,” “worrying,” “regretting,” etc., and then come back to the breath. In this way, you can acknowledge what is coming up without allowing it to carry you away.

 

In-joy, and look out for the next weekly article,
Jeska

P.S.— I teach business professionals one-on-one not just to meditate but to ultimately move into the flow state, where they are able to reach a high level of performance without the stress.  If you would like to know more, inquire here.  

P.S.S.— If you would like to receive my weekly eblast, scroll to the bottom of this page and enter your email.  Voila!

 

Studies referenced in article:
1. Rozin, P., & Royzman, E. B. (2001). Negativity Bias, Negativity Dominance, and Contagion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5(4), 296-320. doi:10.1207/s15327957pspr0504_2

2. Edwards J., Peres J., Monti D.A., Newberg A.B. (2012) The Neurobiological Correlates of Meditation and Mindfulness. In: Moreira-Almeida A., Santana Santos F. (eds) Exploring Frontiers of the Mind-Brain Relationship. Mindfulness in Behavioral Health. Springer, New York, NY

What to Do When You Can’t Stop Overthinking

What to Do When You Can’t Stop Overthinking

I woke up worried the other day, and I just couldn’t shake the thoughts.  

So I reached for an app that I use occasionally called Stop, Breathe, and Smile. It’s a great little app that allows you to check in on how you are feeling and then offers several customized activities based on your current state.  I listened to 7 minutes of the “Relax, Ground and Clear,” meditation, and now, as I type this, I truly feel relaxed, grounded, and clear.

Why did it take doing this exercise for me to come back to calm?  Why couldn’t I just order myself to “clear my mind”?

It turns out, according to a study by two Harvard psychologists, A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind, 47% of the time, human beings are thinking about something other than what we are doing.  That’s almost half of our lives!  

Let’s dig into the details a little more to understand why the mind does this... and what to do about it.  

David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work does a great job explaining in his article “The Neuroscience of Mindfulness”.  In a nutshell, when your mind is wandering, you are in the Default Mode Network (DMN), also known as “being on automatic.”  Think of the times when you were worried about a deadline for a certain work project or repeatedly regretted what you said to someone you love earlier that day-- and you’ll know exactly what it feels like to be in the story-weaving, mind-wandering DMN.  Certain parts of our brain light up when the DMN is active, including the:

  • Hippocampus (short-term memory),

  • Amygdala (fear center), and

  • Medial prefrontal cortex (decision-making).

The same Harvard study also found that two-thirds of the time that we are in the DMN, we are thinking negative or neutral thoughts (not positive!)

Rock then refers to a directly counter network, which he calls the Direct Experience Network, in which we are fully present to the sensations (taste, touch, smell, sight, sound) around and within us.  When we are in this network, different parts of the brain turn on, including the:

  • Insula (sensory perception) and

  • Anterior cingulate cortex (attention switching/emotional regulation).

We are then totally, inarguably, in the present moment. The most amazing thing I learned from Rock is that to the degree that we focus on the sensations we are experiencing, we are equally able to reduce our mind wandering and overthinking.  Amazing.  

I brought this research, and my questions, to a mentor of mine, Dr. Gus Castellanos, a retired neurologist who is certified to teach Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction by the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness and who serves as a consultant to the Calcagnini Center for Mindfulness at Jupiter Medical Center in Jupiter, Florida.  He shared with me that there is actually a third “mode” that the brain enters, and it’s called the Executive Function Network (EFN). It’s the mode in which we solve problems, make choices, and navigate the world-- we are in neither of the two prior modes-- daydreaming or direct sensory experience.  The parts of the brain that are active in this state are:

  • Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (planning/reasoning) and

  • Parietal cortex (navigation through the world).

There you have it-- your brain’s “modes” in a nutshell.  Most importantly the takeaway is this: endeavor to be in either the Executive Function Network or the Direct Experience Network (also known as the Salience Network by medical practitioners).  Do your best to minimize the amount of time you spend in that first unproductive bucket, the Default Mode Network, because it will have you spinning stories and worries.

In other words, if you find yourself obsessing about something that happened earlier that day or that week, or worrying about an upcoming event in the future, you are literally draining your energy to no good end.  The mind will machinate (like any good machine) all day long with no resolution. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Mark Twain: “I’ve had many worries in my life, most of which have never happened.”

Want to know how?

Follow These 4 Easy Steps to Reduce the Time You Spend in Distracted, Often Negative, Mind-Wandering:

  1. Stop.  Bring awareness to how you feel.

  2. Identify your current state.  What emotions are present? 

  3. Practice a simple mindfulness meditation.  For example, bring your awareness to your breath as you breathe.  Notice how, in just 3-5 minutes, how those pesky thoughts have dissipated.

  4. Finally, notice how you feel afterward so you can reinforce the benefit of the practice in your experience— and remember to do it again next time.

That’s it!  

Take care of yourself.  Give yourself a break!

 

In lightness and ease,

Jeska

Beat Stress with This Quick Yet Powerful Breath Technique

Beat Stress with This Quick Yet Powerful Breath Technique

At its root, stress is resistance.  When I teach, I find myself over and over again instructing students to relax, to stop straining.  Inherently, in this modern world, there is so much work and strain happening that it is as if we have completely forgotten how to relax.  

Want to know if this also applies to you?  You may not even be aware of how much stress and strain you are carrying.

Try this simple one-minute test.  Place your hand on your sternum and take 5 normal breaths.  Where do you notice the majority of the air enters your lungs?  The bottom part of the lungs? The middle? The upper chest?

Most adults have learned, due to consistent stress in their lives, to breathe into the upper part of the chest.  What many of us don’t know is that when we breathe into the chest, we actually trigger the body’s nervous system to respond in fight or flight.  It is a vicious cycle—we feel stressed so we breathe shallowly, and shallow breathing actually makes our body feel stressed.

As children, we knew how to breathe deep down into the lungs.  It was natural and easy.

Over time, so many of us have forgotten how to breathe correctly.

There is a very simple breath known as the three-part breath that will help to re-introduce air into your lungs so that you can breathe fully and deeply.

Just follow these simple instructions:

  1. Lying down or seated with a long spine, take several breaths. Notice your breathing.

  2. Place your hand on your belly, and send the breath into the belly. Feel your abdomen move with the inhale and exhale.

  3. Now place your hand at the point where the two butterfly wings of the ribs meet.  Inhale and exhale here, and send all of your breath to this area. Feel the middle part of the chest expand and contract with the breath.

  4. Now bring your hand to your sternum, and isolate the breath in the top part of the lungs.  Breathe several times this way. You may even notice as you do this that you become a little anxious (for reasons described above).

  5. On the next inhale, draw the air in through your nose and all the way down to the belly first, filling the lower part of the lungs with a third of the inhale, and then the middle part of the lungs with a third of the same inhale, and finally the top part of the lungs with the last third of the inhale.  On the exhale, begin first with the upper chest, middle chest, and then finally exhale all the air from the belly.  

  6. Continue to breathe in this way for 3-5 minutes.  Notice your lungs becoming full with the breath and deflating fully on the exhale.

  7. Finally, notice how you feel.

Just as the upper chest triggers the stress response, breathing down into the diaphragm actually has the opposite effect— it creates the relaxation response in the body.  What this means is that we literally have the power to change our entire nervous system response from stressed to calm simply by working with the breath. This is because the entire autonomic nervous system is connected— so when we affect change in one area— in our breathing— then the other parts of the system are affected as well.

The next time you notice that you are breathing shallowly, or that you are stressed, I invite you to take some time to simply breathe deeply. It takes very little time to move from stressed to calm with this great breath.  Enjoy!

 

In lightness and ease,

Jeska

Transform Your Life Experience in Fewer than 3 Minutes a Day

Transform Your Life Experience in Fewer than 3 Minutes a Day

How do you live your days?  Do you set intentions for how you want your day to go?  Or do you just leave it to chance?  If you are not setting intentions yet, then you may just be missing out.  Allow me to explain. 

First, a few basic premises, rooted in science.  All of the signals from the outside world are filtered through our senses.  Our human body receives information through the 5 senses that we commonly know, such as taste, touch, sight, sound and smell— and there are additional senses such as proprioception (the perception of the position of our limbs), the perception of temperature and of pain, etc.  And while we are receiving tons of information from the stimuli around us and also inside of us, our brain is only able to process a small fraction of the information and signals that it receives at any one time.  

So by the transitive law of mathematics (“If A=B, then B=C”), if our brain can only process a fraction of what is coming in at any one time, then whatever we choose to place our attention on shapes the experience we have.  And by its very nature, what we focus on moment-by-moment literally creates our life, because our life is made up of a series of moments.  

By setting intentions, then, we can consciously choose how and where to focus our attention throughout our day and what our experience will be, BEFORE the experiences occur.

Now let’s take it from the philosophical to the practical.

When you wake up in the morning, do you ever dread going to work and drag your feet?  Do you worry about and anxiously anticipate the important meeting you have scheduled that day? 

How well has that really been working for you?

What if, today, you tried something radically different?  

What if you chose your experience, similar to pulling a record off the shelf and saying this is the music I’d like to play today? 

Setting your intention daily, first thing in the morning, is a great way to create your own positive outcomes.  I recommend making intention setting a part of your daily routine (and if you don’t have a daily routine, I strongly recommend creating one for the same reason.)  You can, by the way, set an intention for a single event such as an important meeting, a challenging conversation with a colleague, or a pitch to a new client, as well.  

Try it now

To set an intention, take a moment, close your eyes, place both hands over your heart, and breathe in slowly.  Allow a few minutes to ask yourself what you need in this moment, or how you want to feel, or what your best outcome would look like.  Then speak your intention out loud.

My intention is usually along the lines of “I am committed to serving my clients in the highest and best ways I can,” “I am committed to being love today and to breathing through any challenges,”  and “I am committed to being a positive force in the world.”  It can also be more specific for more specific events, such as,  “I am committed to providing new, supportive information for my clients that will have them win at their goals.”

Once you set your intention, I recommend writing it down and placing it somewhere you will see it throughout the day.  The intention we hold consciously or unconsciously will always shape our experience.

Tips for Setting Your Intention: 

  1. Make it clear.  The more clear you are on what you intend to create, the more likely it is to happen.
  2. Make it sincere.  You know if you’re blowing smoke or not.  What do you really want?  Connect with that, and declare it. 
  3. Keep it positive.  Keep from using any negatives in your intention.  Instead, state boldly what you are choosing to live into, even if you don’t see it quite yet.

Enjoy!  And remember, this technique only works if you do, so try it out beginning now (why not?!)

I’d love to hear from you about how it works out for you!

Make 2018 Your Year!

Make 2018 Your Year!

This season, many of us are taking time to assess all that transpired last year and how we can make the next year even more powerful than the last.

As you review your life over the last year, do you find that oftentimes you were just going through the motions you’d determined ahead of time in your overbooked and overworked schedule?  Did you feel stressed more often than relaxed… and did you even give yourself permission to relax? 

If you identify with any of these scenarios, then read on for steps for creating YOUR NEXT LEVEL-- at work and in life-- in 2018!

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STEP 1: Notice What Is... and Isn't... Working.

When thinking honestly about your life over the last year, if you identify habits and patterns that you’d rather not repeat, then congratulations!  Having an *awareness* of what is not working is the first step to making a change.  (Developing your awareness is also a powerful aspect of the mindfulness practice, which we'll get to later.)

STEP 2: Transform Your Thinking.

The next step is where it gets fun, and a little Matrix-bending.  You can either move the same things around and hope they work out better for you next year (which is what most do year in and year out)… or you can try a totally new approach.  Albert Einstein’s genius shines through in his statement, “we can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”  Thus, in order to make true change… lasting change… we must develop entirely new ways of thinking about our world and our place in it.

I encourage you to explore methodologies that take you to a new way of experiencing the world entirely.  Yoga and mindfulness practices, for example, have been proven for thousands of years to be effective at changing thought patterns and reprogramming the subconscious mind.  Modern science has also ushered in proof of the benefits.  By practicing mindfulness, for example, different parts of the brain are activated that help to reduce worry and overthinking brought on by the “monkey mind” (see study here). Meditation not only changes thought patterns but even has an impact on the physical structure of the brain (see article here). 

STEP 3: Practice.

Practice, Practice, Practice. Learning the concepts will only take you so far.  The true magic is in the action.   Keep in mind: the practice will only work if you do. 

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So here’s to a brand new year and a brand new start!  If you have any questions about how to start and to make this year your best year yet, reach out!  I would love to work with you.

3 Tips to Act With Love This Holiday Season

3 Tips to Act With Love This Holiday Season

There is a popular saying in the transformational community that "what we focus on expands."  What does this mean, when applied to our everyday life?  When we focus on what is working, we end up getting more of what is working.  When we focus on what is not working, then we get a lot more of... well... what doesn't work. 

Why is this? 

Our brain only has so much attention to give. "The human body sends 11 million bits per second to the brain for processing [from our senses], yet the conscious mind seems to be able to process only 50 bits per second." (1)  This means that there is much more happening around us than we can ever actually process, and our moment-by-moment choice on what to focus on determines how we experience our life.

This is a great concept to keep in mind for Thanksgiving at home, as we navigate relationships that likely have a lot of history. Below are a few tips on how to appreciate the small moments, even when you may feel challenged. 


1. Breathe.
Your grandma asks you for the 5th year in a row why you aren't married yet.  Your uncle comments on the amount of food on your plate.  How do you deal?

One of the most powerful tools I've discovered for not reacting is using the breath.  When in a situation that you find challenging, pause for a moment to focus on your breath.  1) Breath moving in, breath moving out: simply take some moments to notice your body breathing.  Follow the breath in and out with your attention.  2) Next, notice how you feel: perhaps you are experiencing certain emotions.  Perhaps there is a desire to react. Whatever is coming up, just notice.  3) Notice that a space is created between the situation that is occurring and your reaction.  In this space, comes the space to choose.  Perhaps this time, using the breath and focusing your attention, you will begin to create a new habit: one of simply being with how you feel, rather than allowing how you feel to take you over.



2. Don't take things personally.  
If a family member says something that irks you, just remember that it's ultimately not about you.  "Do not take things personally" is one of the greatest rules to follow in life and is one of the four cardinal rules in Don Miguel Ruiz's pivotal book The Four Agreements:  

"Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world." (2)

It's helpful to remember that each individual on this planet is truly living in their own world and perceiving this world through their filters.  The funny thing about humans is that each one of us thinks that everyone else is living in our world!  Give people space to be who they are, with the myriad of different experiences and filters that have created their perspective on the world, and you ultimately give yourself to be who you are, too.  It is not your responsibility to change them; instead try loving them through any differences in perception.  Which leads me to the third and final tip...



3. Choose Compassion.
Everyone is fighting their own battles, and I truly believe that everyone is also doing the best they can with what they have.  This loving kindness meditation has helped me generate more feelings of loving compassion for myself and others.

And if you are hard on yourself for reacting according to the same triggers you've always had, just remember, it ain't always easy.  Ram Dass says, "If you want to see how enlightened you are, go spend a week with your family." (haha.)  Cut yourself a break, apologize when necessary, give love to yourself and others, and move on.  


Finally, enjoy the holidays, from my heart to yours!

1. "Information Theory - Physiology." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2016.
2. Ruiz, Miguel. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. San Rafael, CA: Amber-Allen Pub., 1997. Print.