Can You Be Too Mindful or Spiritual? Yes!

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I was supposed to be driving to work but was so mindful, I had no idea where I was going!

Have you ever had that experience?

I have. And it wasn’t because my mind was wandering. My mind was so in the present moment, I didn’t know where to go next!

This happened to me in the first week of learning meditation, around 20 years ago.

The teacher had taught us to be mindful and to live in the present moment. But I took it to the extreme and was so present, I was noticing all the colours and feelings within me but couldn’t remember where on earth I was going!

I learnt my lesson, and took things a bit more easy .. but not for long.

Mindfulness Almost Made Me Fail My Degree

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Practising mindfulness and meditation caused a big issue during my third year of Engineering at the University I was studying at - Imperial College.

The first two years I worked hard and did well. But once I’d learnt the joy of living in the present moment - which was totally mind blowing for me! - I engrossed myself in books on spirituality. I was reading all sorts of books like Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, Thich Naht Hanh’s Peace is Every Step, and Be As You Are by Ramana Maharshi.

The problem was, I wasn’t living a balanced life. I spent all my time either reading or meditating.  I went from blissful meditative experiences to periods of deep thought and reflection and I lost interest in my degree. I hardly went to any lectures, and it’s a small miracle I managed to pass the year. My grades were so low, the company who sponsored me almost pulled its support!

I went from blissful meditative experiences to periods of deep thought and reflection

I can’t blame meditation totally for all this, of course; I’d tried Chemical Engineering as a job in the summer and hated it! But I’d lost motivation for my course and discovered the joy of living in the now instead.

My final year, I’m glad to report, was far more balanced. I turned up to classes and worked on my project. Most students worked around the clock to get the best grades possible; I worked from 10am to 6pm and then let it go.

Other students in my group criticised me for being lazy - but I figured 8 hours a day was enough to retain the right balance. In the end, I was right.

Perhaps I had to go to extremes with my mindfulness practice to find the right balance for me. Eventually, the experience helped me find more wisdom and more balance between my spiritual practice and everyday life.

Balancing Mindfulness and Everyday Life

Here are my tips to discover if you’re being ‘too spiritual’ and need to rebalance your life;

  • Is your mindfulness and meditation practice having a negative effect on your daily responsibilities?

If so, you may be using the practice to avoid facing the fact that you don’t enjoy your work or home life. Instead of avoidance, try being mindful of your thoughts and feelings at home or at work - and use that experience as a way of deepening your mindfulness.

A spiritual life isn’t about avoiding things. Spirituality is about facing up to your challenges with gentleness and kindness.

This doesn’t mean you need to spend your whole life doing something you don’t enjoy, of course. Try changing your attitude or the situation...or both!

  • Are you using mindfulness or meditation as a form of emotional avoidance?

I don’t think I’ve done this so much, but I’ve met people who’ve gone through significant difficulties in their lives and, rather than process those experiences by sharing them with a trusted friend or counsellor, or being mindful and kind to the feelings themselves, they just try and meditate on an object like a mantra, their breath or some other focus instead.

The purpose of meditation is to let go. By facing up to your inner feelings with kindness you can process the emotions through your body. This is done by simply bringing up the feelings when it feels right to you, and noticing where you experience them in your body. Meet those feelings and sensations with care, gentleness, peacefulness, acceptance or curiosity -  whatever attitude feels good to you.

Community and friendship are a vital part of mindfulness and spirituality, too. So sharing your challenges with a friend is just as mindful as meditating on your own - perhaps even more so.

  • Are you acting mindful or spiritual as a form of identity?

Mindfulness is about being authentic and true to yourself. Spirituality is not about acting calm and eating kale just because everyone else is doing so!

Spirituality is not about acting calm and eating kale just because everyone else is doing so!

When you’re true to yourself rather than being who you think you should be, you’ll feel more comfortable in your own skin and people will love you for it. This is because they can tell you’re not putting on an act. No one wants to be a fake - or around someone who is!

So, how do you let go of your idea of what it means to be mindful and just be yourself?

a. Drop your ideas of what it means to be mindful or spiritual and relax into your own personality. How? Pick the friend you’re most comfortable with and relax into being yourself around them. If you don’t have such a friend, see if you can spark new friendships at your local adult education college or volunteer organisation etc. Let go of your need to impress new people and practice being your true, kind, relaxed self.
b. Spend time with friends who aren’t into spirituality! Don’t restrict yourself to friends who share this one interest. Open your mind to other people with different outlooks and expand each others’ horizons in the process.
c. Be yourself when you’re with yourself, too! Carve out a bit of free time and ask “What would I really like to do right now?” Perhaps something unrelated to your work or home life, even if you love your work or home life. Pick something different for a change. Maybe a walk in the woods, reading some fiction or just having a nice, hot bath. Something not directly related to mindfulness or spirituality!

Conclusion

Balance

The Buddha taught the path of the middle way. He tried a life of extremes and discovered it only lead to suffering.  So, take his advice and seek balance in your life.

It’s wonderful to being mindful, kind and generous to others. It’s great to meditate. But balance that with some fun activities unrelated to mindfulness and mix with people who hold different interests, too.

Avoidance towards leaning in

Mindfulness or spirituality can be used as a way of avoiding your responsibilities or to repress feelings. Do the opposite. Use mindfulness and meditation to lean into life, to face up to your challenges and to move towards the emotional difficulties we all share, with kindness...which bring me to my final point...

Above all, be kindful

As always, when you move towards your challenges and emotional difficulties, do so with lots of gentleness, kindness and love. Listen to your body, mind and heart, and do what feels right to you. Don’t listen to my advice - listen to yourself.

Hey, hope you enjoyed this post! Are you too mindful or spiritual? Or do you think that’s not possible? I’d love to discover what your thoughts are on this in the comments below.

Feeling Shattered? You Need ‘A Day of Letting Go’

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‘I’m super busy...sorry, can’t talk right now’

This is what I’d often write or say to people contacting me with a question. And I often hear it from others too.

Society seems to think it’s cool to be busy .. to be a workaholic

In the past, I almost felt proud of my busyness. Society seems to think it’s cool to be busy .. to be a workaholic. No wonder 1 in 6 employees now work more than 60 hours a week, with full time employees in the U.K. work the longest hours in Europe.

There’s a difference between long hours and being a workaholic, though. A study which revealed 8.3% of Norwegians are addicted to work shows it hinges on whether you:

  • Think of how you can free up more time to work.
  • Spend much more time working than initially intended.
  • Work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness, or depression.
  • Have been told by others to cut down on work but you don't listen.
  • Become stressed if you are prohibited from working.
  • De-prioritize hobbies, leisure activities, or exercise because of your work.
  • Work so much that it has negatively affected your health. More...

Do take a moment to go back and read the above bullet points again slowly - these points are so common for so many of us.

Taking regular breaks lets you be more productive and creative. But being a workaholic’s a big issue not just for you but for those around you, too. If you’re married you’re twice as likely to end up divorced, and your kids have a greater chance of experiencing depression and anxiety than if you’re an alcoholic. Not to mention your own risks of premature death, anxiety, depression, insomnia and weight gain.

Am I a workaholic?

Being busy and almost a workaholic used to come naturally to me. I’ve completed two Master's degrees and stopped myself after almost finishing a third one, published five books and started multiple businesses (including a Museum). I’ve also travelled to about 20 different countries, trained hundreds of mindfulness teachers, taught thousands of children, and given talks and workshops at multiple conferences worldwide.

This year alone I’ve written 35 blog posts and am currently working on three different books with different people. The list goes on!

And I don’t even have children - if any of you do, I think the amount of work that entails is far more than all of what I’ve listed by a long way.

I used to fill my calendar with tasks. There were no days off. I squeezed in time for meditation. Life was a constant rush

I used to fill my calendar with tasks. There were no days off. I squeezed in time for meditation. Life was a constant rush.

But this year I’ve also discovered the power of days off, of letting the day unfold.

Discovering the ‘Letting Go’ day

What is a “Letting Go” day? It’s a day when you leave your phone behind and just explore. A day to deliberately let go of your responsibilities and worries and just live in the moment.

I’ve discovered through taking these days off that I’m refreshed and better able to help more people

And I’ve discovered through taking these days off that I’m refreshed and better able to help more people. I’m able to make much more time to spend with friends and family, too.

Five tips for a successful ‘Letting Go Day’

  1. Dedicate 24 hours of letting go. If you want to do this, go ahead and put it in your calendar now. It can be from midnight to midnight. If you can do more, that’s even better! But if you’re new to this, start with a 24 hour challenge.
  2. Plan some activities. If you’re a beginner to a Letting Go Day, you may need to plan some activities, as just doing nothing and letting the day unfold may be too much to begin with. Consider what activities you find fun, enjoyable or relaxing, and go ahead and do them on that day. Then, with more experience, experiment with having absolutely no plan for the day, and letting it unfold naturally.
  3. Switch your phone off and lock it away somewhere. For me, as for many of you, my phone and my computer are the most distracting things I own. Let people know you’ll be offline the day before so they don’t even try to contact you. This way if you are tempted to switch your phone on, most likely you’ll have no messages waiting anyway! If you’re completely addicted to your phone, leaving home without it guarantees you can’t use it!
  4. Do activities unrelated to your work. Even if you enjoy your work! Sometimes workaholics kid themselves into thinking that just because their work’s in line with their passion, they need to work 24/7. But by trying something different you expand your mind and come back to your work with a fresher, more creative perspective.
  5. Give permission to yourself to treat yourself and others. You could go and get a massage, and treat someone else to a massage too! You could take your friend out to a local coffee shop. You could go for a walk in the woods with your family - lots of research shows that being in nature is tremendously good for your health and happiness. What else could you do?
Sometimes workaholics kid themselves into thinking that just because their work’s in line with their passion, they need to work 24/7

Conclusion

Working excessively long hours without taking a break isn’t a good idea for many reasons. Your lack of productivity and reduced creativity will mean you’ll not only more likely to feel unhealthy and unhappy, you’ll get less done too.

A day of letting go, once a week or even once a month, is a great way to recharge, renew and rejuvenate.

And your friends, family and colleagues will thank you for it!

So, go to your calendar and book in a day of letting go. Treat yourself to at least 24 hours without your phone and other distractions.

I’m committed to having at least one ‘Letting Go’ day every week. Two if I can. It’s like a day of mindfulness and kindfulness for me. I’m very fortunate I’m in a position to be able to do that. It does feel a bit selfish, but I know it’ll help me to better serve those around me in the short and long term. I hope you’re able to organise such a day for yourself too.

Any thoughts on this post? Are you a bit of a workaholic? Fancy trying a Letting Go day? Leave a comment and let’s chat!

80/20 Principle: The Secret to Overcoming Perfectionism and Procrastination

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‘I should be working…but I can’t be bothered.’

Is that a common thought for you? It is for me.

But I’ve recently revisited the 80:20 rule and it’s got me feeling more relaxed, mindful and productive, giving me more free time to walk, enjoy nature and spend time with friends.

So as usual, I want to share all my favourite insights, discoveries and tips with you!

What is the 80:20 rule?

Named after an Italian economist from the 19th century, the 80:20 rule’s the Pareto Principle. Vilfredo Pareto noticed that 20% of his garden’s pea pods were responsible for 80% of the peas, and soon discovered that 80% of Italy was owned by only 20% of the population.

In the 1940s management consultant Joseph Duran took the idea further when he observed that 80% of output was caused by only 20% of input. The 80:20 rule seems to be a law of nature:

  • 20% of bugs account for 80% of the problems in software
  • 20% of carpets in a home or office receive 80% of the wear
  • 20% of our clothes are worn 80% of the time
  • 20% of exercises and habits have 80% of the impact

Perfectionism and Procrastination

Many of us are perfectionists. Are you? Do you seek to do a perfect job?

The problem is, perfection’s impossible. No matter how hard you try to make something perfect, you can always find a flaw. And when you can never reach this ideal you feel put off from even trying.

Let’s say I want to write the perfect blog post. Well, no matter how many days, weeks or months I spend on it someone, somewhere, will find a flaw. And then I feel a failure.

The 80:20 rule is a great solution to this problem. Instead of trying to do a job perfectly, try and do the task up to 80% quality and as quickly as possible.

So, in the example of this blog post, I’ve set a timer for 20 minutes. My aim? To get it up to around 80% quality as soon as I can.

This has several benefits:

  • By being efficient my main work for the day’s complete, so I have more free time to pursue other work, or more time for meditation!
  • The speed required to complete the task makes the task more fun. It becomes more like a fun challenge, and I’m more likely to go into a state of flow.
  • I’m less likely to procrastinate. I don’t need to complete the task perfectly, so it’s nowhere near as daunting. Perfect’s the enemy of done, as they say!
  • As a manager and CEO, once I’ve completed 80% of the work, I can immediately pass the work onto my team to improve it and make it 80% better! This empowers them as they become part of the solution and improve their skills in editing, proofreading and beautifully publishing. A win-win-win scenario, as you the reader get to read more content on mindfulness, compassion and wisdom more regularly.

So, how can you implement 80:20 into your life?

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5 tips for implementing 80:20

  • Choose three 80% tasks for you to do each day

Only have three things on your to do list each day. Why? A long to-do list’s overwhelming and setting you up to fail. So focus on just three tasks and then get on with them, completing them to 80% quality.

No need to do them perfectly. You’re changing the rules and aiming for ‘good enough’ at 80%. You do need higher quality than that? Then, if possible, pass the work onto a colleague if you’re a manager. Their fresh perspective will add things you can’t spot.

If not, just hand your work in .. it’ll probably be more than good enough.

  • Ensure your three 80% tasks to do each day are exciting or meaningful for you

Life’s short. You may as well do things that you love and find meaningful!

If, for whatever reason, you’re stuck in a situation where you have to do boring, meaningless tasks, you have two choices - either change your attitude or make one of your tasks to change your circumstances. You can do it!

  • Empower others to complete your task to create a happier world

There are lots of people out there who don’t have jobs. Or who do have jobs, but want to volunteer or contribute in some way. Do them a favour (no, really) and let them finish off your 80% tasks.

Empowering others to give in this way creates a happier, kinder world. Volunteering’s incredibly good for us and has been shown to increase our happiness naturally. I absolutely love giving my time, energy and skills to others when I can.

It’s a win-win. The person or people who volunteer will feel good, and you’ll feel good too as you’re able to spend more time doing what you love.

  • Remember to say ‘thank you!

Celebrate your success daily.

The great thing about getting these three 80% tasks done daily is that once you’re done, you’re done for the day! Anything else you do on that day is a bonus. Wouldn’t that feel amazing?

But you don’t have to do anything else really. If you’re lucky enough to be managing your own time you can engage in healthy activities with your friends or family.

If you’re in a job but have done the main tasks required for the day, you can take things a bit more easy or use the space in your schedule for more creative, strategic thinking.

  • Consider other areas of your life to implement the 80:20 rule

The 80:20 rule appears everywhere, and it’s fun to look out for ways to spot and make use of them.

For example, I’d say in my work, 80% of my income comes from 20% of the activities that I do, and:

  • 80% of my joy comes from 20% of the time I spend with my favourite friends.
  • 80% of the work I get done in the day happens in the 20% of the time I spend working in the mornings when I’m more focused.
  • 80% of the time I wear 20% of my clothes.
  • 20% of my meditations are 80% deeper than the rest of them.
  • I spend 80% of my time with 20% of my friends.
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Conclusion

One of the biggest challenges people face is perfectionism and procrastination. They go hand in hand, and underlying them are ideas like ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘I should work harder’ and “I need to be perfect so others will love me’. You can replace these toxic cycles of thinking with the 80:20 principle.

Just do 3 things every day that excite you and give you meaning, and get them to 80% of perfect. Then pass them on to others if they need improving, empowering them to make a contribution, too!

Thanks so much for reading this blog. Any thoughts on these ideas? No need to procrastinate - leave a comment and I'll reply! :-) Much gratitude.

Before You Know What Kindness Really Is

-- by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
    purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shihab Nye, from The Words Under the Words

And here’s the amazing backstory of the poem:

Leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to personally read and reply...thank you for reading!

Making Love Every Moment... without getting arrested!

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You wouldn’t think I’d learn much about making love when designing a museum exhibition...

But I did!

This week I’ve had the privilege to work on preparing the exhibition boards for our brand new Museum of Happiness opening in London.

Whilst researching the topic of happiness, one of my Teach Mindfulness program attendees recommended I check out a book called Love 2.0 by Barbara Fredrickson.

Although I didn’t have the luxury of time to read the whole book, I did listen to several of her talks and podcasts, and made some fascinating discoveries I’d like to share.

Barb knows her stuff

First of all, Professor Fredrickson (known as Barb) is worth listening to. She’s been studying positive emotions for over 20 years and is one of the most highly-cited contributors to psychological science.

Barb has been awarded the Christopher Peterson Gold Medal - the highest honor bestowed by the International Positive Psychology Association.

Barb begins seemingly lacking in love

When she was a researcher in her early days, you wouldn’t have expected her to be an expert on love.

When her husband used to call her, she timed how long he was on the phone for. She then told him that this was the number of minutes he’d wasted where she could have been analysing data!

When her husband used to call her, she timed how long he was on the phone for.
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Fortunately for her, her husband stuck with her. And now she values every moment with him.

Of all the positive emotions that Barb has studied, she believes love is the most important one.

BUT, she's not talking about romantic love.

Try dropping what loves means to you completely

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Worldwide polls find that people think love is romantic, everlasting and unconditional.

Our society seems to connect love with a single relationship.

This leads people to hunt for that special person - a soul mate - to find love. The dating industry takes advantage of this viewpoint and people can get trapped in this everlasting search for the perfect person.

But what if this isn’t where true love is to be found?

‘This romantic viewpoint limits the benefits that love might otherwise carry for us all.’ says Barb

But with approximately half of western society not in a relationship, it seems strange to think half the population has no love.

This romantic viewpoint limits the benefits that love might otherwise carry for us all.

The film industry like Disney and Pixar, and endless pop songs, often drill within us the narrative of finding a soul mate with whom we will be happy ever after.

Reality is very different, with about half of all first marriages ending in divorce, and many others together but unhappy.

The point is, whether you’re in a relationship or not, let’s look at love from the perspective of your physical body, and find out when and how it arises, and what effect it has.

Love is a moment by moment arising

Barb looked at the actual physical body and heart and brain, immune system and more. And she observed exactly what happens when the feeling of love arises between human beings in the moment.

Barb found that love arises not exclusively or permanently in relationships, but in what she calls ‘micro moments.’

These micro moments of connection often involve eye contact.

And every day we have the possibility to nurture micro moments of connection - making love in the present!

Every day we have the possibility to nurture micro moments of connection - making love in the present!

Lovers... friends... even strangers

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Barb found that love, as defined by these micro moments of love (or positivity resonance), is the same whether the moments occur between parent and child, friends, lovers, or even total strangers.

Barb found these experiences are “virtually identical.”

This is great news. Everyday, in hundreds of situations, you have the opportunity to literally generate or make love, moment by moment, boosting the health of you both.

Love is an emotion that unifies body, mind and heart

In the moment, when a feeling of love arises as you talk to someone, for example, your bodily response is not isolated to you.

Your gestures match. The chemicals in your bloodstream match. Even the activities in each of your brains match. It’s like the two people become one...connect...love arises within you both in a very physical, harmonious way. You positively resonate. It’s beautiful!

It’s deeply nourishing

This micro moments are nourishing for your health and wellbeing. Your body needs these micro moments of love just as much as food and exercise.

The more of these micro moments of love you have - the healthier, happier and wiser you and the people you resonate with, will be.

Your body needs these micro moments of love just as much as food and exercise.

Health Benefits of Love Micro Moments

Barb began researching the vagus nerve.

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This is the nerve that connects your brain to your heart - and making other stops along the way.

The vagus nerve is also connected to the relaxation system in your body - which you could call calm and connect system (officially the parasympathetic nervous system).

As you cultivate more micro moments of connection through the day, you get ‘better’ at it.

One of the measures of a healthy functioning vagus nerve is your vagal tone.

The higher your vagal tone, the better.

For decades, research has found a huge positive connection with how social people are and their levels of health and happiness.

Barb’s work finds that it’s these micro moments of love that improve your vagal tone and impact your overall physical and emotional health.

This is an incredible finding, as past theories stated that your vagal tone is fixed, like your height. But Barb’s work gives hope - you can fundamentally shift your body’s health and wellbeing through micro moments of love.

But what about meditation?

Benefits of Loving Kindness Meditation

As I explain on my Kindfulness program, vagal tone is also improved through the practice of loving kindness meditation.

Barb found this practice particularly powerful for improving vagal tone too. She even compared it to some other forms of meditation. So much so, she was invited to share her findings with the Dalai Lama.

So you can now also make love to yourself, through the practice of loving kindness meditation.

So you can now also make love to yourself, through the practice of loving kindness meditation.

The three most important questions

This links beautifully to the Kindfulness meditations and way of living I’ve been sharing with you.

1. When is the most important time?

Now.

The past is gone. There’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. Let it go. The future has not arrived yet. It’s totally uncertain. However you expect it to be, it’ll be different. The only moment you can live in and do anything in for sure, is now! Value this moment for it is truly special and unique.

2. Who is the most important person?

The person in front of you.

Look at them in the eye. Connect with them authentically. Smile. Hug them if they’re willing. :)

And if you’re on your own, then you’re the most important person! Connect with yourself. Feel your body. Feel your breathing. Be curious to what’s happening within you. Smile at yourself. Say nice soothing words to yourself.

3. What’s the most important thing to do?

To care. To be kind. In the context of this piece, to LOVE!

This is love and kindfulness at its core.

Conclusion

This research shows you can not only improve your health, but other people’s health through micro moments of love. This is powerful. Let’s set our intention to be present and connect to fill the world with peace, joy and love.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article! I read and reply to all loving comments...thanks!