Improving Your Mental Health: A Summer Bucket List

Summer is arguably the best season known to man—for most of us millennials, summer is a time to drink cold, age appropriate beverages, get an occasional sun tan/burn, and maybe work a job or internship if you have the drive to do so. Basically, it’s a time of stress free, care free living. For most of us.

But for those of us that struggle with mental illnesses like anxiety and depression, summer is just another time of the year where we are plagued by impending stress. Here is a bucket list I’ve made for this summer to help you live the happiest (and hopefully sweatiest) summer of your life.

1. Read!

Summer reading was the probably the only negative part about summer for most of us when we were kids, but this is a different kind of reading! This is the mental sweat I’m talking about where you take on a challenge to learn something new during the summer by reading about it—hey, you can learn about the history of shot gunning beers if you’d like.

2. Take up a new adventure hobby, preferably physical.

Never been able to do a handstand before? THIS IS YOUR SUMMER TO LEARN IT! Whether you are trying to perfect an old skill or learn a new one, don’t be afraid to challenge your body to new feats!

3. Eat something new or something old cooked in a new way.

Adventure can be intimidating for sure. But if you can do one new thing a day, even if it’s taking the long way home from work, THEN DO IT.

4. Meditate.

If you struggle often with anxiety and depression (or any other mental illness and would like to try meditation) I say YES. GO YOU. DO IT. Practicing mindfulness and grounding in our daily lives is crucial if we want to be at inner peace with ourselves and everything around us.

5. Host (or attend) a potluck BBQ.

Food is such a great way to bring people together and summer is the perfect time for barbecues and relaxation with those people that make you feel the most comfortable.

6. DO MORE OF WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY.

THIS IS SO IMPORTANT BECAUSE EVERYDAY SHOULD BE THE BEST DAY EVER BUT THAT’S NOT HOW THE WORLD WORKS SO EVEN ON BAD DAYS JUST PROMISE ME AND PROMISE YOURSELF THAT YOU WILL DO SOMETHING THAT MAKES YOU HAPPY FOR AT LEAST ONE HOUR A DAY SO THAT EVERY DAY HAS AT LEAST AN HOUR OF HAPPINESS IN IT.

7. Get lost somewhere (not stranded without food or water, just lost-ish).

Finding your way around a new town or through a bustling city is a great way to not only learn about the world around you, but about yourself and the way in which you have experiences. So take a trip to your nearest big city or a new city you’ve never been to before, and wander about. Take in your surroundings and make sure you eat plenty along the way!

8. Face a fear you have.

Whether you’re afraid of roller coasters or terrified of broccoli, take the beauty of the summer as an opportunity to face your fears in some of the best weather we have!

Article By: Alyssa Villani

Go On These 8 Dates to Save Your Marriage

I’m just going to say it.

I can’t imagine most couples — including me and my husband — following “Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love” to the letter.

I have mad respect for the authors, world-renowned marriage experts and Gottman Institute co-founders John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman. Together with their co-authors, Doug Abrams and Rachel Carlton Abrams, they bring decades of scientific and clinical research to the table. Their work is solid.

Their new book, out in time for Valentine’s Day, spells out eight dates every couple should go on and the conversations that should transpire.

“Relationships don’t last without talk,” they write. “This book will help you create your own love story by giving you the framework for the eight conversations you and your partner should have before you commit to each other, or once you’ve committed to each other, as well as throughout the years, whenever it is time to recommit. That might happen when you have a baby, when one of you loses a job, during a health crisis, or when the relationship has begun to feel stale.”

Brilliant.

“Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love” has advice for couples.
Still. I have a hard time imagining meeting my husband’s gaze across the table, taking a sip of wine and saying, “I commit to creating our own romantic rituals for connection and creating more passion outside of the bedroom by expressing my affection and love for you.” (Pause for more wine.) “I commit to having a 6-second kiss every time we say goodbye or hello to each other for the next week. I commit to discussing, exploring and renewing our sexual relationship.”

And yet, there it is. On Page 112. “Take turns reading this affirmation out loud to each other. Maintain eye contact while reciting.”

The authors sent more than 300 couples — married, unmarried, heterosexual, same-sex — on the suggested dates and asked them to share their experiences. The couples reported becoming better friends and falling more deeply in love.

I believe it. But I believe it the way I believe eating raw kale for lunch every day will keep me healthier. I’ll eat some raw kale. But I’m also going to eat some tacos.

And maybe that’s the way to approach “Eight Dates” — as a menu. You pick and choose what your relationship is hungry for and leave the rest for another time.

No. 1: The “lean on me” date: This one’s intended to get you talking about trust, commitment and what makes you feel safe and cherished. Without blaming or accusing, ask each other:

How did your parents show their commitment to each other? How did they show a lack of commitment to each other? What do you need from me to show that I’m committed? What areas do you think we need to work on to build trust?

No. 2: The “agree to disagree” date: This is intended to help you address, rather than flee from, conflict. Before you head out, the book suggests an exercise that asks you and your partner to consider some of your differences — in neatness, punctuality, wanting time apart versus wanting time together, how you socialize. With the recognition that not every conflict can (or needs to be) resolved, talk about how to accommodate those differences and ask the following:

How was conflict handled in your family growing up? How do you feel about anger? How do you like to make up after a disagreement?

No. 3: The “let’s get it on” date: In which you discuss how sex and passion should/will look in your relationship. With an open mind and a willingness to be vulnerable, ask some of the following:

What are some of your favorite times we’ve had sex? Is there something you’ve always wanted to try, but have never asked? What can I do to make our sex life better?

No. 4: The “cost of love” date: Work and money are the themes here, and the authors provide a questionnaire to complete before your date. How well off were your parents? Did your family take vacations or travel together when you were growing up? What is your most painful money memory?

Arrive at the date prepared to discuss your answers, and ask each other some of the following: How do you feel about work now? What is your biggest fear around money? What do you need to feel safe talking about how you spend money or make money?

No. 5: The “room to grow” date: Here’s where you talk about what family looks like to each of you. The conversations on this date vary, obviously, depending whether you’re a new-ish couple or married with kids.

For couples without kids, they suggest: What does your ideal family look like? Just us? Kids? What problems do you think we might have maintaining intimacy in our future family?

For couples with kids: How did (or didn’t) your parents appear to maintain their closeness after children? How will we?

No. 6: The “play with me” date: Because shared adventure and fun breed happiness, this date encourages couples to think of new things to try together. (Go fishing! Rent Segways!)

Show up for the date with a list of things you’d like to try, and talk about the following after you share your lists: What adventures do you want to have before you die? What’s a one-day adventure you could imagine us having together?

No. 7: The “something to believe in” date: Growth and spirituality are the topics here. The key, on this one, is asking questions before assuming you know what your partner believes.

They suggest asking: What carries you through your most difficult times? How have you changed in your religious beliefs over the course of your life? What spiritual beliefs do you want to pass on to our kids?

No. 8: The “lifetime of love” date: Talk about your dreams. Not the one where you keep showing up for the history final naked. The one where you find out what your partner wants most out of life: To travel the world? To compete and win at something? To finally ask a particular person for forgiveness?

Again, there’s a questionnaire to fill out ahead of the date. Again, there are questions to ask on the date. On this one, though, I want to highlight the affirmation you’re supposed to tell each other out loud:

“I commit to fully exploring and understanding your dreams and to doing one thing to support one of your dreams in the next six months.”

How beautiful is that? I feel like that statement alone, said with sincerity, could launch and sustain a lifetime of love.

Article By: Heidi Stevens of The Chicago Tribune

How Mindfulness Is Saving My Relationship

“Mindfulness is about love and loving life. When you cultivate this love, it gives you clarity and compassion for life, and your actions happen in accordance with that.” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn

I started meditating and practicing mindfulness more seriously several years ago incorporating it in to my daily routine, initially to help with my anxiety. My practice certainly helped me by leaps and bounds in overcoming my anxiety, but an unexpected side effect has been the impact it’s having on my marriage.

We’ve not been married long, and as many couples before us have experienced, getting accustomed to this new dynamic can be at times… difficult.

Learning to communicate and compromise isn’t always a smooth ride. He cares about being on time (or early), I care about not being rushed. I like the kitchen cleaned after dinner, he couldn’t care less. He gets stressed when he doesn’t know the schedule in advance, I feel stressed when I feel boxed into a plan.

So we argued. And got mad at each other. And created these expectations for each other that we definitely didn’t always meet.

But slowly I started to notice a change. It began with a change in me, my stress level, my tendency to blame, my expectations of him. I found myself more understanding, better able to let go of things that didn’t go my way, and better at communicating when an argument bubbled up between us.

Then my husband started to change too. He’d noticed the changes in me and saw how much better I felt and how much easier communication was with me, and he started mimicking what he saw me do.

He wasn’t letting things bother him as much. In a situation where we would have had an ugly argument, he was now starting the conversation from a place of curiosity instead of finger pointing. But the biggest thing that I noticed from him was how he was willing and able to reflect on how he was feeling and dig into why he felt the way he did whereas in the past he would have become angry at me for making him feel that way.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment on purpose and without judgment. This can be done in day-to-day activities like driving, eating, and in conversation. It can also be practiced as formal meditation.

This simple practice can transform our relationship with our thoughts, give us new perspectives on life and even our own behaviors, and free us from the hold that our emotions can have on us when we identify with them.

Here are changes I’ve seen in myself from practicing mindfulness that have led to improving my marriage.

I’m happier.

Stress is a salty mistress with eight in ten adults suffering daily. And anxiety is pervasive in our society, affecting roughly forty million Americans (including me for thirty-ish years). Practicing mindfulness is a time-tested and scientifically proven method of dealing with and overcoming the hold of stress and anxiety.

When we’re stressed, feeling down or angry, we’re on the lookout for anything to prove that life is stressful or crappy, or that we’re right and others are wrong. We notice the things that bother us like dishes left on the counter, a car driving too slowly in traffic, or the way your spouse asks what’s for dinner.

And when we’re happy, we do the same—look for things to prove why life is great. You notice the nice things, the birds chirping, that your spouse gets up without complaint on Tuesday mornings to take out the trash. It’s also easier to be more compassionate and forgiving from a happy place.

The less-stressed and no longer anxiety-ridden me is a much better wife and partner. From a happier place, I’m not only much more pleasant to be around, but things don’t tend to bother me as much.

I’m a better listener.

As a person with ADD, I’ve always found listening intently in conversations to be a difficult task. The mind wanders to other topics making it difficult to be fully present, take in what the other person is saying, and retain the information for later.

My mindfulness practice has drastically improved my ability to pay attention. It’s like brain training, building the ‘muscle’ that helps direct our attention at will.

I’m better able to fully listen to my husband when he’s sharing with me without always thinking of what I’m going to say next or what I need to do later. He feels heard, and we feel more connected to each other as a result.

I’m much more aware of how I’m feeling.

Not to say that I’m happy 24/7—I don’t think that’s possible, nor would I want that. We have a rainbow of emotions, and there are good reasons to feel them even for a brief moment.

The act of paying attention on purpose trains the brain to notice what we’re feeling. We’re so used to just feeling our feelings, and if they’re not pleasant we either try to run from them, numb them, or lash out.

It’s more productive and much less stressful to look at our emotions with curiosity. Label them. Then ask questions. “Ah, I’m feeling irritated. What’s that about? What’s another way of looking at this? How can I change this situation or cope with it?”

I’m also better able to catch myself before emotions spike high. Once emotions hit their peak in an argument, the horse had already left the stable. It’s tough, if not damn near impossible to reel it back in once you’ve reached the crest of pissed off-ness.

At this point, your brain and body are in fight-or-flight mode where it’s impossible to access critical thinking skills and takes about twenty minutes to calm enough to think clearly to make sound, logical decisions.

Granted, those high negative emotions are drastically fewer and further between for me now with years of mindfulness practice under my belt. However, I’m only human and once in a great while I can feel those emotions rising.

Being more aware of how I feel has helped me resolve difficult or frustrating feelings internally and avoid arguments with my husband.

I’m much more aware of how my husband is feeling.

Mindfulness practice increases your ability to be present, and thus not be distracted by thoughts. As a result, you become more insightful, a better listener, and more observant.

This results in higher levels of emotional intelligence because you are able to see things from another person’s point of view to facilitate better communication. It becomes a powerful tool that makes you more effective in understanding other people, as well as contexts and situations.

When my husband seems upset, I’m better now at putting his behavior into context and empathizing with his emotions. For example, an angry outburst from him directed at me because we should have left five minutes ago, I can see is actually his frustration stemming from a lack of control over something he values—which is punctuality.

I don’t get upset in return anymore. Instead, I empathize with him because I better understand what is causing his emotions and don’t take them personally.

I’m able to forgive more quickly.

Pobody’s nerfect. Mindfulness teaches us to forgive ourselves and others as we are paying attention to the present moment non-judgmentally.

Using mindfulness techniques, a person is able to let go of or forget about the past and not dwell on what the future can be.

Mindfulness can be highly beneficial because we are able to let go of unrealistic or materialistic thoughts and just exist in the moment.

It can be used to accept the feelings of sadness, anger, irritation, or betrayal that you have and to move on from them. Your path to a freer you, begins with knowing what is hurting you the most.

Cultivating a greater capacity for forgiveness has brought me to a place in my relationships where I don’t hold grudges or dig up the past in arguments.

I’m aware of the stories I’m telling myself.

When something doesn’t go our way, it’s so easy to identify with the story we’re telling ourselves and label it as the whole truth.

Mindfulness has shown me the difference between me and my thoughts. They are not one in the same. Thoughts are ideas passing through our minds like clouds in the sky. They are fleeting. They change with context.

Because of mindfulness, when I’m upset I can more easily identify the story I’m telling myself that is making me upset.

For example, I was hurt after my husband didn’t get up and greet me enthusiastically when I came home from a week-long business trip. He stayed sitting on the couch absorbed with what he was doing.

I was upset and went upstairs to fume. Then I realized I was telling myself a story that my husband doesn’t care about me or love me enough. I know that isn’t true. There are a number of reasons why he didn’t get up.

When I came back downstairs he could tell I was still a bit upset, so he asked me about it. I said, “The story I’m telling myself is that you didn’t miss me because you didn’t get up when I came home. I know it’s not true, but I’m still feeling a little upset because I would have liked it if you gave me a big hug.”

He apologized and said he’d wanted to wait until I was settled to love on me. He was much more receptive to “the story I’m telling myself” than he would have been had I started in on him about what he’d done wrong. And I felt better when I stopped jumping to the wrong conclusion and allowed him to share his side while avoiding confrontation.

A few weeks later he calmly told me he was upset about something and started the conversation with “the story I’m telling myself is…”

That’s when I knew our relationship was improving because of mindfulness.

Being able to objectively look at my thoughts and feelings allows me to reframe any situation and gives me the space to respond thoughtfully instead of reacting impulsively.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this experience it’s that self-love and striving for self-improvement can have a ripple effect through your life affecting those around you for the better. The better me I can become—less stressed, more compassionate, healthier, happier—the better wife, friend, daughter, and coach I can be.

Article by: Sandy Wosnicki of Tiny Buddha

This post was republished with permission from tinybuddha.com. You can find the original post at https://tinybuddha.com.

3 Simple Ways to Make It a Happy New Year

“The most important thing is to enjoy your life—to be happy—it’s all that matters.” ~Audrey Hepburn

Happiness and its pursuit fascinate me.

Like most people, I’m curious why on some mornings I wake up and the world is a wonderful place—the sun is shining, happiness oozes out of my heart like warm honey, and the sound of bird song brings a smile to my face. I can only describe this as bliss.

On other mornings, it feels as if all color and wonder in world has drained away. My heart feels heavy in my chest. I’m indifferent to the sound of birds singing outside my window; if anything, it irritates me.

Why? How? What is the difference that makes the difference with happiness? I’d love to have the answers.

All I can do I share my truth. Share how I intend to make 2018 a happy new year.

1. Focus on what makes me feel good

As Tony Robbins says, “Focus creates feeling.”

It’s my choice whether I focus on the good, the bad, or the ugly. The mind, with its negativity bias, will steer me toward the ugly. The worst-case scenario for the future. The memories I wish I could forget.

Identifying with these thoughts, focusing on them, I’ll feel a certain way (crappy).

The great news is, if I steer my thoughts toward the best-case scenario for the future and the memories I hope I’ll never forget, I’ll feel the way I wish to feel.

Matthieu Ricard, the French writer and Buddhist monk, suggests a great practice: for ten minutes each day, connect with thoughts and memories that make us feel good. When I practice this, I take myself to my “happy place” (I think we all have a happy place). Mine is a secluded beach in New Zealand called Ocean Beach.

In my happy place, I imagine it’s 2012 again and I’m back standing on the hot sand, surrounded by my friends as we jump joyfully into the towering waves. I recall the taste of the salty water, the heat of the sun on my back, the sounds of laughter and the great roar of the ocean. Within seconds of reconnecting with my happy place, these warm feelings, much like the waves themselves, begin to flow.

The feelings that were there, all along, inside of me.

I sometimes forget this truth, so to remind myself I’ve written on my wall:

“Will, you are only one thought away from what you wish to feel.”

2. Make the relationship I have with myself my most important relationship

I’ve had conversations with friends before, good people who are real givers; they genuinely care for other people. Yet they neglect themselves. They tell me they feel guilty for making time for themselves; they feel bad for putting themselves first before other people. That it’s somehow selfishto do so.

The way I see it, putting ourselves first is the least selfish thing we can do.

Why?

When I take care of my own needs, I’m able to give more to others because I’m in a good mental place.

When I treat myself with kindness and compassion, this is naturally how I treat other people.

When I honor and look after myself, I’m giving others permission to do the same.

When I look after myself, everyone is better off, myself and others.

A ritual I created this year that I’ll be carrying on into 2018 and beyond is to take myself on dates.

Yep, that’s right, once per week I’ll take myself out on a date.

We deem our loved ones worthy and deserving of dates, why not ourselves?

Sometimes, a self-date means treating myself to a long walk in the forest with a piece of cake in one hand and a coffee in the other. Sometimes, I’ll go for lunch at my favorite Japanese restaurant.

The rules for my self-date are simple: I give myself an experience I enjoy, guilt-free.

Most of us are great at meeting the needs of others, loving others, and responding with understanding, compassion, and kindness.

My question is, what will it take for us to show up like this for ourselves?

I know in 2018 there are going to be days where happiness eludes me. I’m going to experience failure, disappointments, loss, stress, anger, and frustration.

All of which will be difficult, but I know this: I can rely on myself to guide myself through them, as I’m committed to prioritizing the relationship I have with myself.

3. Find glimpses of happiness even during tough times

Happiness for me is an inside of job, as my feelings come from inside of me; they’re internal.

When I believe my happiness is determined by the external world, I’m at its mercy.

I may or may not achieve my goals. I maybe will or maybe won’t have health, wealth, and success in 2018.

There are lots of maybes, which are not necessarily in my control.

So, while I may not feel happy all the time, I’ve decided that my overall happiness will not be a maybe.

I’m a firm believer that even in life’s darkest moments, there are, what I call “glimpses of happiness” to be found.

Sadly, this year, my family and I lost a very special lady, my Nana Joyce.

On the day of my Nana’s funeral, I was due to read a poem, but when it came to standing up and reading, however, my emotions and body had other another plan: to break down.

I’d barely read the name of the poem before tears of grief erupted. Uncontrollably.

I stuttered in an attempt to get the words out, but it wasn’t happening.

The realization that my Nana was gone had hit me.

Then something beautiful happened. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see someone walking toward me.

It was my Uncle Barry.

”Would you like me to read this for you, Wills?”

I groaned something that sounded something like “yes.”

My Uncle Barry proceeded to read the poem, slowly, with a tone of sadness in his voice.

Rather than disappearing to my seat, I stood with him, my hand on his shoulder as I took some deep breaths to calm down.

Despite the strong and shattering grief I experienced, standing there with my uncle, there was a small glimpse of peace, as I knew I wasn’t alone.

Throughout the rest of the day, I noticed more glimpses.

Glimpses of love as my family comforted one another.

Glimpses of laughter as we recalled funny stories from my Nana’s life.

Glimpses of happiness as I acknowledged my family were here on this day as one, supporting each other on this most difficult day.

These glimpses of happiness are always shining, and they work by reflecting back the happiness that already exists inside of us.

They are in the room with me now. They are surrounding you as you read these words.

Acknowledge these glimpses as they appear and you’ll feel happy a lot more often.

Happy New Year.

Article by: Will Aylward of Tiny Buddha

This post was republished with permission from tinybuddha.com. You can find the original post at https://tinybuddha.com.

How to Live an Extraordinary Life, Starting Right Where You Are

“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” ~Rumi

“Isn’t this a miracle?” I asked myself in the milk aisle at Whole Foods.

It was a Wednesday night after work, and I was buying a few staples to get us through the week. It was a completely ordinary moment in a completely ordinary day, and it was miraculous.

Rewind a few years, same Whole Foods, same shopping list, and you’d find me absentmindedly wandering the aisles, lost in a head full of worries. I couldn’t tell you now what I was worried about then—the house, the kids, money, probably.

My body would be tense, with a hint of tears right behind my eyes.

“Isn’t this supposed to be a miracle?” I might have asked if I had the words to describe that feeling.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be one of those interesting people who did interesting things like paint murals or write books. I wanted to see every continent and learn as many languages as my brain could hold. I wanted to feel excited by my life.

As a child, I had no doubt that this is what growing up would be like.

But, for just as long as I can remember, I also lived under the assumption that I had something to prove. My intelligence, my worth, my place in this world.

Somehow, these two ideas became intertwined.

That part of me that felt so certain that her life would be extraordinary started to have doubts.

Could I really pull it off?

Had I really earned it?

Was I being completely delusional?

Over time, that vision of an extraordinary life felt like a silly childhood dream, and I stopped myself from following it. I worked hard and earned a good reputation, but that excitement, that fulfillmentwas always just out of my reach.

I would let it go saying, it’ll come later, but as I checked off the boxes of life’s to-do list—degree, job, marriage, kids—I wasn’t feeling anything like I thought I would.

The feeling that something was off fueled a restlessness that I mistook for motivation. I poured myself into school and then work, but not necessarily out of excitement. I think a part of me still believed that if you weren’t happy, you just weren’t working hard enough at it.

What confused me about it all was that my life was good. I had a beautiful, growing family, a stable job, and a safe, comfortable house. I mean, I was buying organic milk to pour on my cereal. That’s a privilege.

So, if nothing was “wrong,” why didn’t it feel right?

I’d scold myself for not being more grateful, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t feel the way I wanted.

Then, one ordinary day, while squeezing in another email during my lunch hour, a little thought snapped me out of it.

“You’re missing the point, Leslie.”

Time stopped just long enough for me to notice my racing heart.

Maybe you’ve had these epiphanies, where you’re amazed by your own wisdom and you feel so incredibly clear and awake. Maybe it was during a life-changing event, or maybe, like me, it was during an everyday moment, like buying toothpaste or feeding the cats.

The immediate effect wasn’t anything extreme. There was no out of body experience, no inexplicable knowledge of the universe. Just an ordinary little thought that led to another ordinary little thought.

What if living an extraordinary life isn’t about the details?

Every now and then, I’d pull out a list I made that day and add a thought or two to it.

The point is…

Overflowing.

Seeing more magic.

Doing what you love.

Being happy.

Being present.

Feeling bright, brave, and brilliant.

Waking up and appreciating the mountains.

My children knowing how much they are loved.

Gratefully receiving everything I have.

Letting myself unfold.

Alignment, not approval.

Trusting the wisdom of my own heart.

A hundred percent up to me.

And in a gradual, ordinary kind of way, I figured it out. That feeling I wanted wasn’t an outcome. It wasn’t something that would happen “when.” It wasn’t in the details at all. It’s your feelings, moment to moment, that make your life extraordinary.

There is no committee keeping score and waiting to grant permission to begin. There’s just us, the people we care about, our corner of the world, and those little moments. And we have a choice in what we do with them.

That feeling that something was wrong wasn’t about my reputation or my checklist. It was about my awareness of the miracles right in front of me and my willingness to take conscious, meaningful steps that felt extraordinary to take.

Since that day, my life has changed dramatically.

We live in the same house, we shop at the same store, I have the same job, but now, I’m also one of those people who is curious about everything. Who loses themselves in creative projects just because. Who creates art, writes poetry, and self-publishes books. I’ve become one of those people who sees even the most ordinary moment at Whole Foods on a Wednesday afternoon as extraordinary.

How did I do it? I simply let myself begin right where I was.

You may have a completely different version of extraordinary, and that’s what’s so perfect. How to live an extraordinary life entirely up to you—it’s your life, after all. The action itself isn’t as important as the intent behind it.

As long as your intent is to make something in your world just a little better, to learn something just a little deeper, to try something you’re just a little curious about, it’s foolproof. You could institute pizza Saturdays or travel the world, saving endangered species. Both are extraordinary.

If you’re not sure where to begin, here are a few things to try. They changed the world for me.

1. Be tenacious in your appreciation and optimism.

First, slow down and look around. Then, appreciate anything and everything you possibly can. Thank the sun, thank the water, thank the air you breathe. Look out for the funny thing that happened on your way to work, beautiful sunsets, and acts of human kindness. Even when everyone around you wants to complain about the boss, be the one who notices that it’s such a nice day.

When I talked about my day, I used to begin with something that went wrong. Then, I gave myself one tiny challenge: lead with gratitude. I made a point of starting conversations with something positive as often as I could, which meant I had to start looking for those positive things and remembering to bring them up. I discovered so much beauty around me with this one simple switch.

2. Define your extraordinary.

What do you want to see in this lifetime? What do you want to learn? How do you want to feel while you’re living your life?

I’d thought about these things before, of course, but they would quickly get taken over by something more serious. I didn’t want to waste time. My attitude changed when I decided that feeling curious, engaged, and alive was more important than being productive.

I began setting intentions for the week. I’d write down an idea that excited me, a feeling I wanted to nurture, and something I wanted to learn or create. Then, I gave myself small, meaningful challenges that fit with those intentions. Carrying a composition book with me quickly led to filling that composition book, and then another and another.

3. Make friends with your body.

Your body was made for living, so live in it. Use it in a life-affirming way. Don’t just feed it, nourish it. Let it move, let it sweat, let it pump its blood, laugh, cry, and feel. Stretch into it and savor its senses. Rest it when it’s tired, heal it when it’s hurting, love it even when you want to change it, and thank it. And when it has something to tell you, lean in and really listen.

I used to treat my body like it had no purpose. I didn’t nourish it, I overworked its muscles, and I constantly tried to remodel it.

It wasn’t until I started paying attention to how I feel now that I asked myself, is this how you would treat a child or an animal in your care?

My answer was an emphatic, NO.

4. Lose yourself in curiosity and creativity.

Follow the fun and let yourself overflow. Take on a ridiculous project just because it lights you up, even if it’s silly, you’re “too old,” or it’s “wasting time.” Let it be messy. Let it change directions. And let it fail spectacularly. The outcome isn’t as important as the process of it.

I practice this by painting with my children. They are experts at following curiosity and creativity. While I’m painstakingly sketching a dog or a flower, they’re creating imaginary animals in underwater kingdoms and then covering the entire thing in handprints when the inspiration strikes.

Every time, I shake my head with a smile—this is supposed to be fun, remember?

5. Be of service in a way that’s meaningful to you.

Share something. Create something. Teach something. Go where you are masterful and add value to the world in any way that’s accessible to you. Feed the hummingbirds, pick up litter, volunteer in your community. Big or small, it doesn’t matter; it’s the meaning behind it that makes all the difference.

I started by cultivating the kind of presence I wanted to have in my own life. I wanted to feel presentat home, for one, so I reduced the expectations I put on myself. The house may be messier, but our weekend adventures at the park are nothing short of extraordinary.

If you’ve ever wanted to feel differently in your life, take one little, ordinary step. And then another. Let your feelings guide you. Your extraordinary life is waiting for you on the other side.

Article by:  Leslie Ralph of Tiny Buddha

This post was republished with permission from tinybuddha.com. You can find the original post at https://tinybuddha.com.

How To Stop Binge Eating…What Actually Worked For Me

Can’t stop binge eating? I’ve been there. Once, I ate an entire 1/2 gallon of cookies and cream ice cream in one sitting. For real.

There was a time in my life when episodes like this (though maybe not quite so bad) were not uncommon. And by “not uncommon” I mean weekly – sometimes twice a week.

It’s not something I ever talked about much. After all, what girl in her right mind would brag about downing almost 2,000 calories of ice cream all by herself… all in one sitting?

There’s a ton of shame surrounding binge eating. It’s shameful because deep down we all feel like we should be able to willpower our way through it. And shameful because society says being a “good” woman means eating light salads and being happy about it.

And boy was I ashamed. I’ll be the first to admit, it’s much easier to talk about this because I was able to stop binge eating. It’s much harder when you’re right in the thick of it. At the time, there was nothing more I wanted to learn than how to stop binge eating. But I was too ashamed to talk about it.

But I’m here to say, if you’re still stuck between restriction and binging – you’re not alone. You’re just human, and it’s okay. The shame we feel about binge eating actually just keeps us trapped in the vicious cycle, so one of the most important things you can do is give yourself a little slack.

Not because binging is a healthy behavior – it honestly isn’t – but because shaming yourself isn’t healthy either. And two wrongs don’t make a right.

So, yes, for a long time I hid my binge eating from the outside world. For all the general public knew, I was a salad-loving, tofu-eating health nut.

I wouldn’t dare let on that every day I non-stop thought about all the food I shouldn’t be eating. It was a constant obsession. And at the end of the week, I would helplessly succumb to four slices of bacon pizza with extra cheese, followed by a generous slice (…or two) of cheesecake with raspberry sauce.

For a long time, I thought something was seriously wrong with me. After all, normal people didn’t do this.

Funny enough, it’s when I stopped obsessing about my eating habits that I stumbled across a real (though perhaps boring) solution for how to stop binge eating.

HOW I STOPPED BINGE EATING FOREVER

As far as I was concerned, I had no power to prevent binge eating. In those moments when my stomach felt like a bottomless pit (even when I technically felt full), willpower wasn’t even a word in my vocabulary. And I didn’t learn to stop binge eating by getting more willpower, believe me.

I also didn’t do it by distracting myself (Hungry? Go paint your fingernails! Then you can’t eat the cookies because your nails will be wet. Yeah, well, tell that to the cookie crumbs lacquered into my hot pink nails…).

Nor did I learn to stop binge eating by instead eating a piece of fruit or cheese or a raw carrot or whatever. If I wanted to binge on brownies, a carrot wasn’t going to stop me. Best case scenario? I end up eating the carrot and then the brownies. There was never once an occurrence when I ate the carrot instead of the brownies.

To be truthful, binge eating was the least of my problems a few years ago. I had acne worse than I did as a teenager. I had crazy (i.e. scary) mood swings, I couldn’t handle stress worth a hoot, and I had insomnia that left me crippled with zombie-like fatigue during the day.

There came a point when I decided enough was enough. I needed some serious health intervention and I needed it yesterday.

That’s when I changed my approach to getting healthy. I bucked against mainstream advice (because all that salad and tofu didn’t seem to be helping much). And in exploring alternative ideas to what constitutes “healthy” I also flushed out the source of my binges.

HOW TO STOP BINGE EATING… THE BORING WAY

So if you can’t stop binge eating, what is my crazy solution? Eat!

Yes, eat. Mostly real food and enough to sustain your body and your activities. And don’t exercise more than you can support with good food and good sleep.

That’s just way too simple, right?

Since back in my binge eating days, I’ve learned that the biggest key to health is… balance. I know, it’s not as exciting as an ancient berry from South America, but it’s the real thing.

I also learned that when I jumped to extremes, my health (mental and physical) suffered for it. And I learned to listen to my body, because not everything they say is “healthy” was the right choice for me.

Did you know… girls who diet are 12x more likely to binge eat? This is not a coincidence!

So I quit dieting and overexercising. I quit restricting food groups and going on restrictive diets. I quit labeling food (and by extension myself) as good or bad. And I quit working out to “work off” last night’s fettuccine alfredo.

All this did not happen overnight. It was a slow (sometimes painful) dance of two steps forward and one step back. But eventually, I was able to strike a pretty comfortable balance of eating well, enjoying a wide variety of foods in moderation, and being active in a way I really enjoy (and not overdoing it).

I knew I was on the right track because I experienced a lot of health benefits in the process.

And something else happened during this time. Without even trying – without even thinking about it – I stopped binge eating.

It didn’t happen all at once. At first, my binge eating episodes just occurred less frequently (like maybe 3-4 times per month instead of twice a week). Then a few weeks would go by without a real binge. Then a couple of months. Pretty soon my all-out binges were few and far between.

Now? I can’t even remember the last time I really binged on something. It’s been that long.

Why? Because I was finally listening to my body and giving it what it needed: plenty of quality food, good rest, and the right amount of exercise. I found my balance.

I really like the motto of Amber Rogers from Go Kaleo: “Eat the food.” I find it funny that the more I tried to control and restrict my eating, the more often I would end up binge eating and feeling out of control.

And the more I paid attention and ate what my body needed to thrive (when it comes to both nutrients and energy), the more binge eating became a thing of the past for me.

BINGE VS. SPLURGE

When someone says to me, “I can’t stop binge eating!” I always want to clarify what a binge really is. Eating a bowl of ice cream (even a big one) is not a binge. Neither is eating a couple pieces of pizza. These are splurges, not binges.

Splurges are totally normal and can be part of eating healthy. I still splurge on a hefty slice of cake or a couple slices of bacon pizza sometimes. (I just don’t eat the whole pizza or cake anymore.)

So remember not to sweat the small stuff and just enjoy your food!

Article By: Elizabeth Walling

What My Dog Taught Me About Self-Acceptance

“Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.” ~Lao Tzu

We all have recorded messages playing in our heads, from long ago.

Listen to parents talking to young children. Often the message is less than approving.

“Don’t put that in your mouth!”

“Go wash your face right now.”

“If you keep acting like that nobody will like you.”

“Look at Cindy, how well she’s doing. If you worked harder you could do as well as her.”

Those examples are kind compared to what many people will have heard growing up.

Many of these messages enter our brains before our conscious memories are fully formed. They may be buried somewhere in our minds, but they are real.

Of course, parents have to train young children. That’s part of their job. But not all parents balance their criticism with approval.

So, we often grow up anxious for approval, uncertain of our own worth, always feeling that there’s something fundamentally wrong with us, perhaps feeling more or less unlovable.

This self-critical stance interferes with the warm, loving, mutually accepting, and deeply satisfying relationships we crave all through life.

Are relationships really that important? The Harvard Study of Adult Development followed people for as long as seventy years. Some thrived, some sank.

What was the common factor among those who flourished for decades, in every way? Warm, supportive relationships.

I sucked at relationships as a child. I don’t mean romantic relationships, just friendships. I was the awkward kid who got left out of playground games.

Yet, there was a part of my life that was quite different. It was full of love and joy.

Let me tell you about Jolly.

Jolly was about two feet tall, hairy, with patches of brown, black, and white. For me, it was love at first sight. He was bouncing around frantically, his tail wagging so furiously that it might have fallen off.

I pestered my parents until they agreed to get him for me.

In no time at all, I was experiencing why dogs are called our best friends. Jolly was completely in love with me, judging by his behavior.

If the day had been particularly frustrating for me, Jolly didn’t care. He’d jump on me as soon as I came in the door, tail wagging at dangerous speeds, squealing with delight, trying to lick my face, running up and down the room before repeating the performance, barking with joy, inviting me to play with him.

Sometimes a teacher would tell me off in school.

Jolly didn’t care. To him, I was still the most wonderful person in the world. He would still burst with joy when I got home, bury me in licks, desperate for me to play with him.

Sometimes I would return feeling really low because other kids had been particularly nasty to me.

Jolly would still jump on me when I opened the door. He would still wag that tail dangerously fast. If he could talk, I believe he would be spewing out love poetry to rival Shakespeare.

I didn’t even have to go out of the house for him to find me fascinating and totally lovable. It was enough if I went to the next room and came back. He would still be almost bursting out of his skin with joy at seeing me again.

It was as if he could see something in me that I could not see for myself.

However, it took me decades to digest and fully accept the lesson that Jolly was teaching me.

Medical school taught me the neurological pathways and brain areas that are active during criticism, but I didn’t fully embrace Jolly’s message until some decades later.

For many parents, and for the world, success in life is something that happens in the future of a child. The child grinds out one day after another, chasing that distant glimmer of success.

The child becomes a young adult, and still they’re chasing that distant success. Work hours are long, relationships suffer, tempers are short, nerves are frayed, emotions run high. Still, success remains like a finishing line that’s continually moving away.

The young adult grows toward middle age, perhaps with children by now, and still they’re chasing success. For themselves and now for their children too.

No matter how much they’ve accumulated, there’s always the possibility of accumulating more. Keeping up with the Joneses is an endless game. At the root of it all is the little child’s longing for approval.

“They’ll discover I’m a fraud.”

“If they really knew me they wouldn’t like me.”

“If only I could get that next promotion or close that big sale, people would start respecting me more.”

“If only I did better, I would become truly lovable.”

Scratch under the surface, and there might well be a self-critical little child longing for acceptance.

We experience the stresses and strains of life as burdens that drag us down.

We get annoyed at ourselves for not doing better.

We beat ourselves up for experiencing difficult or unpleasant emotions.

We’re hooked on self-help books and programs because we’re anxious about our flaws.

We long to be rid of our flaws and imperfections, because we believe that will make us more lovable.

What would Jolly say?

“I don’t care. Yes, you need to lose thirty pounds, but right now I love you and want you to know that you are completely worthy of my love.”

“Yes, you could do with twice as much money and a much bigger house, but right now you are already totally lovable.”

“Yes, you could do with fewer of those low moods, less anxiety and less anger, but right now you are already worthy of honor and respect.”

“Yes, you’ve had some messy relationships and screwed up in many ways but right now you are totally worthy of love.”

The more I learned to accept myself with all my flaws and imperfections, the more relaxed I became about difficult emotions and setbacks in life.

The more accepting I became of my own imperfections, the more accepting and loving I became toward others.

The more accepting and loving I became toward others, the more they responded with warmth.

The child that was left out on the playground is now a much more self-accepting person despite his flaws, often a source of love, comfort, laughter, and joy to others. That is fertile soil for warm, supportive relationships.

Supportive relationships, as research has found, are the key to wellbeing now and for decades to come. They help keep your body and brain working well for longer.

At our core, we’re a mess and we’re always falling short of our aspirations. That’s part of being human. It’s okay.

Jolly would want you to know that you are totally lovable, regardless.

Article by: Joe Almeida of Tiny Buddha

How Forgiving Yourself and Others Changes Your Brain

“Be quick to forgive, because we’re all walking wounded.” ~Anonymous

People often behave in ways that we find irritating, annoying, or worse. This can happen especially with people close to us.

They can speak with little consideration for the impact of their words. They can criticize us and pounce on our mistakes. Sometimes they do unfair things that seriously disadvantage or damage us. Or they let us down when we’re counting on them.

All these behaviors can lead to us feeling wounded. The scars can persist for years or even decades. The closer the offenders are to us, the greater the impact tends to be.

Most of us would like others to understand us, to act reliably, and to be approachable when things go wrong. We’d like them to be kind in dealing with our mistakes or offences. We’d like them to understand that we aren’t set in stone, that we aren’t just the sum total of our mistakes.

We deserve a chance to recover and show our better side. We’d like them to be more understanding and put a more favorable interpretation on what we did or failed to do.

However, it can be different when others behave badly. Often, we spend a lot of time and energy going over the way we were wronged, mistreated, disappointed, disrespected, or disregarded.

Dwelling on the perceived wrong kindles the fire of a grudge. The more we dwell on it, the bigger this fire grows.

Can this fire burn us?

When I was in high school, some of the coolest kids formed a band. Everyone wanted to be in that band. I played the piano, so I too wanted to be in it.

One of my closest friends also played the piano, but not as well. It became a bit of a tussle between us. I was chosen, to my delight.

When we started playing gigs, a piano was not always available. So I took to the melodica, a little instrument into which you blow. It has a keyboard.

We started playing gigs, with quite a good response from audiences. Everything was going well, until we were invited to play a gig in a venue right near my home.

The melodica was at the band leader’s house, because we rehearsed there. I asked for it to be brought to the gig.

On the evening of the gig, my bandmates turned up. Unfortunately, the melodica could not be found. Apparently, it had been brought to the venue by the band leader but had disappeared.

This was a bitter blow. I had so looked forward to strutting my stuff before a home crowd. I rushed around to various people who might have a melodica, but could not find one.

The gig happened without me. I was downcast.

Eventually, the real story came out.

The melodica had been brought to the venue. The close friend I mentioned, who also played the piano, had simply taken it away and hidden it.

I was outraged. I felt betrayed, violated, and angry. I felt ready to run my friend over with a large truck.

We didn’t speak for a couple of years. Then I got an apology of sorts. Somehow, things were never the same between us.

I went off to medical school and our paths have never crossed since.

What happens to your brain when you cling to a grudge?

The parts of your brain that specialize in criticism grow more active. They feed on your thoughts about the grudge. The neurons involved lay down more connections, strengthening this response.

The next time someone behaves in a way that you disapprove of, your brain more readily jumps to criticism and judgment.

All that is understandable, you’re not alone in practicing criticism. But there’s a price to pay for this practice.

The same parts of your brain that criticize others also criticize you. You tend to become more unforgiving about your own mistakes. Self-acceptance recedes. It becomes harder for you to like yourself.

Further, this can lead to a cycle of mutual criticism between you and people who matter to you. It tends to weaken the supportive relationships we all need.

A recent study among 5,475 men and 4,580 women aged over 50 showed that a single point increase in negative social support score resulted in a 31 percent rise in the risk of eventual dementia. Negative social support is where you experience a lot of critical, unreliable and annoying behaviors from others, especially people close to you.

What can you do to start breaking this downward spiral of mutual criticism and self-criticism?

First, ask what stresses or problems may have led to the undesirable behavior. Try to find explanations that weaken the impact of the “bad” behavior on your mind. This is as true for self-criticism as for criticizing others.

Perhaps there were circumstances that led to you acting in regrettable ways. If you regret it, don’t wallow in the regret. Find explanations to understand why you did what you did.

Give yourself the gift of forgiveness, strengthen your resolve to do what is good and important going forward, then move on. This same gift of forgiveness may be given to others, recognizing that all human beings are vulnerable to errors or even terrible behavior.

Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation with the offender. Reconciliation is the re-establishment of mutual trust. That requires a further step as part of negotiation.

But forgiveness can proceed regardless of reconciliation and mutual trust.

The more you practice understanding and forgiveness, starting with yourself, the more you strengthen the self-reassuring parts of your brain. These are the same parts that show empathy and compassion to others. They make you more accepting of yourself, with all your flaws and stumbles.

We all have flaws and stumbles. That’s okay. It’s part of being human.

If I could go back to my youth and replay my friend’s apology, I hope I would respond with more understanding. After all, if our positions had been reversed and I’d been blinded by envy, who knows what I might have done.

For a better quality of life right now, with more self-acceptance, and for a lower risk of cognitive decline, try loosening your grip on grudges. And be gentle with yourself when you slip up in this effort. The steering wheel of your life often requires a little time, patience and practice before you can turn it reliably.

I’m still practicing. That’s okay.

Article by: Joel Almeida

The Power of Waiting

“Waiting is not mere empty hoping. It has the inner certainty of reaching the goal.” ~I Ching

Waiting has a bad rap in modern Western society. It’s not surprising that I had to look to an ancient Chinese text (the I Ching) in order to find a suitable quote to begin this article. We don’t like to wait! It’s far easier to find quotes on the Internet about “seizing the day” and making something happen.

I’ve been an impatient person for much of my life. I wanted things to happen to me! I had a definite agenda in my twenties: finish college, start my career, get married, and have a family. So I declared a major and started knocking off my goals. When it was “time” to get married, I picked the most suitable person available and got on with it.

I really didn’t know much about waiting. I thought it was something you did if you didn’t have courage or conviction. It was just an excuse not to take action. I know better now.

What I’ve learned since then is that waiting is one of the most powerful tools we have for creating the life we want.

The ego, or mind, is very uncomfortable with waiting. This is the part of you that fairly screams, “Do something! Anything is better than nothing!” And, because we are a very ego-driven society, you’ll find plenty of external voices that back up that message.

The mind hates uncertainty, and would rather make a mistake than simply live in a state of “not knowing” while the right course unfolds.

There’s a term I love that describes this place of uncertainty: liminal. A liminal space is at the border or threshold between possibilities. It’s a place of pure potential: we could go any direction from here. There are no bright lights and obvious signs saying “Walk this way.”

Liminal spaces can be deeply uncomfortable, and most of us tend to rush through them as quickly as possible.

If we can slow down instead, the landscape gradually becomes clearer, the way it does when your eyes adjust to a darkened room. We start to use all of our senses. The ego wants a brightly lit super-highway to the future, but real life is more like a maze. We take one or two steps in a certain direction, and then face another turning point. Making our way forward requires an entirely different set of skills, and waiting is one of the most important!

There’s a proper timing to all things, and it’s often not the timing we want (now—or maybe even yesterday). There are things that happen on a subconscious level, in ourselves and in others, that prepare us for the next step. Oddly, when the time to act does come, there’s often a sense of inevitability about it, as if it was always meant to be this way.

Look back over your life and you’ll see this pattern. First, look at the decisions that you forced: how did those turn out? Then look for times when you just “knew” what to do, without even thinking about it. What happened then?

The key to the second kind of decision is waiting for that deep sense of inner knowing.

That doesn’t mean you’re certain that everything will turn out exactly the way you want it. Or that you don’t feel fear. But there is a sense of “yes, now’s the time” in your body that I liken to the urge that migratory birds get when it’s time to leave town. They don’t stand around debating whether to go, consulting maps and calendars. They just go when the time is right.

We’re animals too—we have and can cultivate that inner sensitiveness that lets us simply know what to do when the time is right. But to do that we have to unhook from the mind. Thinking is useful up to a point, but we usually take it far beyond the point of usefulness!

We go over and over various options, trying to predict the future based solely on our hopes and fears.

We talk endlessly with others about what we should do, hoping that they have the answers for us (and, ideally, trying to get everyone to agree).

We think about what we “should” do, based on any number of external measures: common sense, morality, religion, family values, finances, and so on.

And then usually we add this all up and just take our best shot.

A better way is to take stock of what you know (and, even more importantly, what you don’t know) and then… wait.

If there’s some action that calls to you, even if it’s seemingly unrelated to the question at hand, do it! Then wait again for another urge to move. Wait actively rather than passively. That means: keep your inner senses tuned to urges or intuitions. Expect that an answer will come. As the I Ching says, wait with the “inner certainty of reaching the goal.”

This is not the same kind of dithering and procrastination that come when we want to try something new but are afraid to step out into the unknown. If your intuition is pulling you in a certain direction and your mind is screaming at you to “Stop!” by all means ignore your mind.

There’s a subtle but very real difference between the feeling of fear (which holds you back from doing something you long to do) and misgivings (which warn you that a decision that looks good on the surface is not right for you).

In both cases, look for and trust that deep sense of inner knowing, even if your thoughts are telling you different. A friend once told me that her father’s best piece of advice to her was: “Deciding to get married should be the easiest decision of your life.” How I wish I had known that when I made my own (highly ambivalent) decision!

My head was telling me that this was the sensible thing to do, and he was a good man. My gut, however, was far from on board. I still vividly recall the many inward debates I held about whether to marry him, and even the dreams I had that revealed my inner reluctance. Unfortunately, I went with my thoughts over my instincts.

Now I know this: If you have to talk yourself into something, try waiting instead. More will be revealed, if you give it some time.

Ignore that voice in your head that says you need to make a decision now. Don’t rush through life. Linger in the liminal spaces and see what becomes clear as you sit with uncertainty. Learn to trust your gut more than your head. Have faith that the right course will unfold at the perfect time. And then, when the time comes, just do it, as simply and naturally as the birds take flight.

Article by: Amaya Pryce of Tiny Buddha

Why We Resist Change

One reason that people resist change is because they focus on what they have to give up rather than what they have to gain.

-Rick Godwin