What kept me going?

There have been parts of the last 15 years that were neither easy nor fun. People sometimes ask what kept me going. That is something I have wondered myself. I’ve distilled it down to innate optimism, a strong connection with my inner knowing, and an intense sense of purpose. I was born with all of them, and have consciously cultivated them over the years.

A healthy streak of optimism…

Optimism is hopefulness and confidence about the future. You might think of it in terms of the glass half empty/glass half full metaphor. When optimism becomes extreme, it falls off the edge into being Pollyannaish.

Someone who is unfailingly cheerful—no matter what—can be described as pollyannaish. While pollyannaish describes an optimistic outlook and a determined cheeriness, it also implies that this attitude is taken too far. When you put a positive spin on everything, even things that call for sadness or discouragement, you’re being pollyannaish.

Pollyanna is the main character in a 1913 children’s book about an eleven-year-old girl who is orphaned and goes to live with her stern spinster aunt. To deal with her gloomy situation, she plays the “Glad Game” she learned from her father. The aim is to find the silver lining in every cloud. That’s one way to deal with challenging circumstances.

Is ignorance bliss?

Image via Wonderopolis

On the other hand, some people are afraid to even admit there’s a cloud because they fear getting stuck there. They haven’t yet learned strategies for moving forward in the face of bad news and difficult situations.

They would like to believe that ignorance is bliss. This can work for a while, but sooner or later will backfire. The person is caught by surprise, blindsided, and is at a severe disadvantage in a tricky situation. In these changing times, the strategy of ignoring how things are is crippling rather than helpful.

Rational optimism

Rational optimism is the empowered approach to dealing with what is. Here are some ways of thinking that have got me through rough and discouraging times.

  • There has to be another way.
  • There must be a bigger picture I’m not understanding. What is it?
  • Answers will come if I ask questions and then listen.

This approach has allowed me to see the way things are and to take action to change and move forward.

How do we become more empowered?

Decide to embrace an optimistic, resilient, empowered mindset.

Deciding to do something, making it your intention, is a powerful action toward making it happen. I’ve noticed that having an intention seems to put things into motion.

A couple years ago, I was mired in a feeling of discontent with my life. One day, in exasperation, I said out loud and to no one in particular, “I’ve got to expand my horizons!” Within a week, I learned about a coaching course that appealed to me. I hadn’t even considered taking such a course until that moment, but it was too good an opportunity to pass up. After that, other courses came along, each in different but relevant fields. All the while I was listening to online health interviews, implementing new lifestyle strategies, and beginning to feel much better. When my doctor encouraged me to start writing this blog, I felt able to do it. Long and short, I went from this to this…

Not a happy camper

Intention and Attention

This change occurred because I declared an intention to change…and paid attention to prompts, coincidences, and opportunities as they arose. Our biggest mistake is thinking that intention is all that’s required. It is not. Life is a cooperative effort and we have to do our part.

This is a point worth repeating. Good things don’t happen if we don’t do our part. We have to first watch and listen so we get the prompts—and then we must consider, make decisions, and act. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and it’s the best way to meet what comes at us.

Braden: life is simple

A strong connection with inner knowing…

Being connected to your inner knowing is a significant factor in rational optimism. It’s what gives you the confidence to face bad news. There are many ways to regain this connection.

Here’s one perspective: We are wired to thrive. We just need to engage with what’s within our biology. And that’s not as difficult as it might sound.

First we need to understand the biology that’s available and still largely ignored. In a recent interview, Gregg Braden explained the science behind this. Humans have a particular gene that gives us extraordinary abilities to navigate through change, creating our lives and a better world to live in. The key is to awaken and cultivate these abilities.

To know how and why, we need to understand the newest scientific information about the heart. It is now known that the our hearts have brain-like cells, called sensory neurites, that can think and remember separately from the brain. By harmonizing our heart and brain, we can capitalize on this and maximize our capacity to…

  • process information quickly because we’re accessing our extended neural network.
  • access our intuition so we can make choices more confidently.
  • increase our resilience by being flexible in our thinking and able to adjust to changing circumstances. We are no longer set in our ways and do not act out of fear in order to keep things the way they are. As we do this, we regain heart rate variability, which further increases our resilience in the face of stress.

Heart-brain harmonization

Simply harmonizing your heart and brain for about three minutes has a major effect on the body. When you have questions that no one can answer for you—about your health, relationships, who you are and who you want to be—this harmonization is the doorway to your intuition. Try these three simple steps daily and see how you feel at the end of a month.

  1. Shift awareness to your heart. Awareness always goes to where your body is feeling touch. So gently touch your heart center in any way that’s comfortable—with a finger, your palm, or your hands in a prayer position. This will help you turn your attention inward.
  2. Slow your breathing. Five seconds in, five seconds out, or whatever is comfortable. This sends a signal to your body that you are in a place that is safe. This calms you down by freeing your body to let go of stress hormones and awaken its healing chemistry.
  3. Create a feeling in your heart of care, appreciation, gratitude, compassion—any or all of these. This triggers communication from the heart to the brain at a particular wavelength that sets up the cascade of healing chemistry. This puts you in a state of creativity, healing, and resilience that will last for at least six hours.

We can’t know what the future will bring. Practising heart-brian harmonization is a way of preparing ourselves to respond.

Discover more…

Gregg Braden is internationally known as a pioneer in bridging science, spirituality and the real world. He’s a New York Times best-selling author of several books including Resilience from the Heart, The Turning Point, Tales of Everyday Magic. If you prefer to listen rather than read, he has many videos on his website. Braden has been widely interviewed and you’ll find many of these interviews and lectures on YouTube.

The byline of the HeartMath Institute is “expanding heart connections.” It’s a nonprofit organization founded in 1991 to develop reliable, scientifically based tools that bridge the connection between heart and mind and deepen people’s connection with the hearts of others. This empowers people to greatly reduce stress, increase resilience, and unlock their natural intuitive guidance for making better choices. You can check out these tools on their online store.

Deepak Chopra is a medical doctor with both Western and Ayurvedic training. He’s a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, and a prolific writer. Chopra has authored more than 85 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. He speaks frequently and there are many videos on his website.

And finally, this was a hit single for Frank Sinatra in 1959 and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song the next year. I can’t decide which version I like the best, so take your pick…or watch both and smile twice!

Beyond Informed Choice

Eleanor Roosevelt on choice

Choice is our greatest power. It’s what allows us to use all our resources to live our best lives.  But the consumer culture trains us to make decisions by default rather than by conscious choice. Truth is, questioning the status quo and making conscious choices can seem daunting. Many of us are happy to let others decide because we don’t know how to make choices consciously.

Living by default

Living by default means letting society and those around you determine how you live. On the other hand, conscious choice is the deliberate act of deciding between two or more possibilities. We are choosing with full awareness instead of allowing chance to determine what happens.

Living by default is the easier way, but sooner or later it’s pretty much guaranteed to result in dissatisfaction. We have done what we thought was expected, and the day comes when we recognize life hasn’t turned out as we thought it would. We end up both surprised and disillusioned.

There is an advantage to making your own decisions rather than reacting in a knee-jerk manner to cultural expectations. You get to create your own life.

False choice

The consumer culture doesn’t train us to make conscious choices. We are being conditioned to react to what’s put before us rather than choosing consciously. We are conditioned by the culture to think we have choice.

Many people will disagree, saying we have a huge amount of choice. Go into any mall, any on-line store, and it’s brimming with things to buy. Search the internet for information and you’ll find plenty of ready-made opinions to buy into.

All of those are superficial choices. It reminds me of parenting advice I received when my boys were little. It went like this: To teach them to make choices, start with something like clothing. In the store, preselect two or three options that are acceptable to you, and let the child select which one of those to buy.

That’s fine for teaching children by easing them into the process of making decisions. But they will grow up with a case of arrested development if they don’t learn to make fundamental choices and to take responsibility for the results of making those choices.

I’ve said before that some patients willingly give up their power to their doctor, thus making the doctor responsible for them. It’s unfair to the doctor, but we are not doing ourselves a favour either. The more we live that way, the more we forget that we are meant to be the project managers of our own health.

The missing piece…

Informed choice is a common concept in consumer education. Yet information isn’t enough by itself. We cannot make sound decisions on information only. Self-awareness is equally important, and is often the missing piece.

It’s the lack of self-awareness that makes us afraid of the power of choice, because we don’t have confidence that what we decide is the best solution. This is because we are using logic only, and not drawing on our inner knowing to determine what works best for us.

Conscious Choice

Information

Undoubtedly, information is important when making health decisions. Your doctor is an obvious source of information. But there are downsides to relying solely on that information.

  • Your options are limited to the scope of training of that doctor. For example, conventional medical training includes next-to-no nutrition classes. Unless your doctor has taken nutrition courses in addition to medical training, dietary advice will be vague truisms without the nuances that are understood by a functional nutritionist  or doctor.
  • Advice is framed by that doctor’s bias, which may be different from yours. I have experience with this because my bias is to look for the non-pharmaceutical solutions first. Medical doctors are trained only in pharmaceuticals, so they don’t have any information to help me make decisions about starting with non-drug options. The mismatch is difficult for both of us.

Self-awareness

Without self-awareness we are stabbing in the dark.

These things are true…

  • What works for the “average” person isn’t necessarily right for you. I’ve written about this in blogs about n=1.
  • Your doctor is not a mind reader. Some of them are intuitive enough to zero in on your problem even if you are unengaged in the process. However, that isn’t their job. I know a doctor who says, “I can’t care more about your health than you do.” He has a point.
  • It’s our right and responsibility to participate in decisions that affect us. If we choose not to, then we have no right to complain if we don’t like the results.
  • Self-awareness increases when we practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a practice arising out of eastern philosophy. Here are a few definitions: Mindfulness is paying attention with kindness. Mindfulness is sustained present-moment awareness. Mindfulness is a flexible state of mind in which we are actively engaged in the present, noticing new things, and sensitive to context. Mindfulness keeps us from being stuck in single, rigid perspectives that make us oblivious to alternative ways of knowing. Ellen Langer and Rick Hanson are two researchers who teach about mindfulness in the context of daily western life.

Conscious choice in action…

Self-responsibility and conscious choice are sometimes mis-interpreted as being bossy and aggressive. Not so. Remember this old saying: You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

You are building a relationship with your doctor and that takes time and conscious effort. Here is some excellent advice from a podcast at Phoenix Helix. Host Eileen Laird interviews Dr. Cynthia Li about building effective doctor-patient relationships. We don’t often hear about this topic from the doctor’s perspective, and Dr. Li is very forthcoming. There are detailed show notes accompanying this podcast, and you might want to read them or listen to the podcast, both at this webpage.

Self-Advocacy – What’s the Best Way to Get a Doctor to Listen?

  • Don’t bring research to your very first appointment. That is likely to get you off on the wrong foot. Treat your first appointment as a “meet and greet” where you are simply getting to know each other.
  • Once you have established a relationship with your doctor, you can share studies with them. However, understand that doctors are very pressed for time, so they are unlikely to read books or full articles that you bring to your appointment. Instead, email them an excerpt or abstract summary with a link to the full research article. That’s enough to give them the highlights and they can pursue it further if interested.

What Makes a Good Patient? 

  • Remember that your doctor is human, too.
  • Keep your expectations simple in the beginning. It takes time to build relationships. They don’t form instantly.
  • Remember that this is a partnership, and your participation is as important as the doctor’s.
  • When preparing for the appointment, make a list of things you’d like to discuss. Prioritize them. That way your top priorities will be  met so if the physician has limited time.

Do you relate to any of this? Can you see how any of these ideas could be applied in your own life? Have anything to add? I always appreciate comments.

Making Marshmallows? Yes!

Homemade marshmallows

So there you have it. I decided in favour of tradition. I got out my recipe card and the 1950s candy thermometer that my aunt passed on to me. I went back to making marshmallows for Christmas.

Not without some thought, as you might have guessed. Last week I said I’d be thinking about it, considering that sugar is a primary ingredient in homemade marshmallows. So this post is about how my thinking got me from there to here. If you want the recipe, you’ll find it here. Continue reading

Conscious Business. Possible?

I’m a systems thinker, and for a long time have been aware of the dysfunctional nature of the economic system we live in. That’s what prompted me to write a book about navigating the consumer culture without being swallowed up by it.

When I wrote Conscious Spending, Conscious Life, my view was that the system needed a drastic overhaul. I talked about the work of alternative thinkers such as David Korten, Ray Anderson, Paul Hawken, and Muhammad Yunus.

If I’d known then about John Mackey and conscious capitalism, I would certainly have written about him too. Continue reading

Conscious Spending: A Solution to Stuffocation

Stuffocation-the-feeling

In a BBC viewpoint article about the hazards of too much stuff, trend forecaster James Wallman describes an American study documenting what most of us already know—that we have a lot of things in our houses.

According to Wallman, 2 out of 3 people wish they had less stuff. These people are experiencing what he calls stuffocation—an intriguing word that describes the feeling of drowning in stuff. Not surprisingly, the resulting clutter crisis leads to mental stress, which causes physiological symptoms such as elevated cortisol levels. In this way, the mental stress of excess damages our physical health.

I’m with him until he proposes that we solve the problem of excess stuff by spending our money on experiences instead of things. Continue reading

Holiday. Fun?

With the arrival of December, many people experience angst over the approaching holiday. For some, this has to do with awkward, difficult and/or impossible family relationships, which come into focus under the cultural expectation of family togetherness at this time of year.

However, consumer debt is a more pervasive source of December dread. Yesterday’s news reported on Bank of Canada concerns about increasing levels of consumer debt. The Globe & Mail referred to “insatiable borrowing,” quoting a senior director of Equifax, a major credit reporting agency: “Following a frenzied start to the festive shopping season with more to come in the countdown to Christmas, we can expect the consumer debt to rise even further. Tis the season, so we can anticipate credit cards getting a strong workout throughout December.”

Living in a consumer culture puts us under enormous pressure to spend mindlessly. And our ready access to credit cards has been the marketers’ dream, fuelling the attitude they want us to have: What the heck, spend beyond your current capacity because you can.

Naturally, they love it when we pay their 20% interest for years and years. However, the financial consequences are far beyond what most people imagine. The system is complicated and complex, and there is much we don’t know. Early in my teaching career, I discovered that students generally thought that if they made the minimum payment on a credit card, they weren’t in debt. By using their cards and paying the required minimum, they thought they were doing the smart and adult thing. However, that is an illusion. It takes a shocking length of time to pay off debt Continue reading

Financial Literacy: Crucial for all of us

November is Financial Literacy Month in Canada. This annual event acknowledges the need to educate ourselves in a crucial area of life—how to navigate the consumer culture without being consumed by it.

This initiative came out of the work of a task force that travelled the country to assess the state of financial literacy in Canada.  My submission to that task force expressed the view that all post-secondary students should be required to complete a personal finance course in order to graduate.

I was pleased that the final report of the task force recommended that “…all provincial and territorial governments integrate financial literacy in the formal education system, including…post-secondary education and formalized adult learning activities.”

Realistically, this is unlikely to happen. But Continue reading

Something to think about…

paper test 3 3

True freedom comes from exercising autonomy over our lives. The consumer culture discourages us from thinking for ourselves, preferring that we adopt the cultural story about how to live.

Our challenge is to detach ourselves from the cultural story and look at the illusions surrounding freedom and choice.

  • Has the use of credit given you freedom or put you in bondage?
  • Is it an either/or question?
  • If it’s “both/and,” what makes the difference?

It’s something worth thinking about if we want to make our own lives.

Reference chapter: “Power and Money” in Conscious Spending. Conscious Life.

Like gift-wrapping a tap-dancing elephant…

Word cloud pdf 1 jpeg

My friend Maggie has a way with words. She says that attempting to describe my book is like trying to gift-wrap a tap-dancing elephant. She’s captured the dilemma perfectly! Continue reading

Walking Our Talk in a Consumer World

Once-we-have-recognized

Singer Neil Young has been in the news recently—first for his outspoken criticism of Alberta’s oil sands and then for not walking his talk. In a recent article, Licia Corbella of the Calgary Herald reported that Young’s five large tour busses were all left idling for an extended period even though only one was occupied. They were parked outside the venue where he was speaking at a press conference about man-made global warming. Apparently there is incongruence between Young’s talk and his actions.

The same could be said for most of us. Continue reading