How you can bounce back from life’s challenges and become more resilient

Reading Time: 7 minutes

"I’m not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship"
— Louisa May Alcott

Life is filled with all kinds of moments- both good and bad. Few of us will get through an entire lifetime completely free of challenges and stressors. Infact, pain and suffering is an inevitable part of the human condition, of being alive. Failure is an inevitable part of our life, what really matters is how you deal with it.

Some people face their failures and setbacks and bounce back by responding effectively and decisively while others never seem to get their act together. What differentiates these two groups of people? In a word, RESILIENCE. 

In my previous post (fifth in a series of eight posts), I had written about the need to look for and find the joyful moments in our lives in order to have meaningful happiness. In this post, I am writing about those other kinds of negative moments that are woven into the very fabric of our lives- stressful, frustrating, dreary, tiring, dull and even traumatic and devastating ones.

We can learn how to remain grounded in the face of adversity and not get uprooted. We can also learn to take risks and endure failure (it is not a matter of if but when) and have the courage to learn, grow and adapt.  Using the tools of self compassion, empathy, self awareness, confidence, calm and courage we can train ourselves to deal with the adversities when they come and adapt to the circumstances. In other words, we can learn to become resilient.

"Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again"

-Nelson Mandela

Many of us ask ourselves these questions when faced with adversity in our daily lives

Will I ever recover from this?

How long will it take me?

How can I help myself cope with this better?

Research now shows that our brain can be consciously rewired so that we become more resilient to future events. We know that due to neuroplasticity, we can train our brains for the better just like we would do with a muscle. Infact, due to evolution, your brain already has all the capacities that you need to develop and strengthen your resilience.

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

So the question then is not whether you can cope with the adversities that come your way, but rather how do you tap into the resources that will help you to cope with them effectively. Developing resilience is a personal journey that takes practise like any other skill. It is important to develop thoughts, behaviours and actions that allow you to bounce back and also to understand what works for you. Research also shows that the two most effective practices that help us choose new experiences and rewire and reshape our brains are mindfulness and self compassion.

We all know that despite our best intentions things go wrong, some times very wrong. But how do we typically react at that time? More often than not we criticise and shame ourselves for not knowing better, for not doing better.

We ask questions like

"Why me?"

"What's wrong with me?"

"I should have known better!"

We blame ourselves and others and try and fix things rather than giving ourselves a break. Instead of tuning into our emotions and how we are feeling at the time, we do anything and everything to avoid feeling pain. And when we do that, we often get hijacked by the way our feelings filter our perceptions and our emotions guide (or rather misguide) our responses to our experiences. All this usually happens at a level that is below our radar of consciousness and undermines our confidence and our ability to bounce back from life's challenges.

Mindfulness, on the other hand, helps us create a moment to moment awareness that helps us become free to choose how we respond to painful situations in a kind, curious and non judgemental manner.

As we practice doing mindfulness, we find that it leads to self awareness and brings clarity in seeing how we react to a situation, respond in a more effective manner and face the prospect of change in a much more open manner. It helps us to engage with our feelings and get curious about what emotions we are experiencing and how they are connected to our thoughts and behaviours.

It is important to acknowledge those moments in our lives that threaten to overwhelm us, make us feel ashamed and isolate us. Mindfulness helps us to become aware that we are feeling something in those moments and enables us to investigate the stories that we often tell ourselves. We can also see what is true or not true about what we are noticing and what is working and not working in what we are observing.

(Take out a bit of time to do the following activity and note down your responses to the prompts given below) 

Think back to a time in your life when you were in a difficult situation recently and try and remember as to what you were feeling at that time -

I felt _______________________ (disappointed, frustrated, sad, regretful, heartbroken, confused, scared, worried) right now

 I was __________________ (in a lot of pain, ashamed, embarrassed, overwhelmed)

I am not sure what I was feeling, I simply wanted to feel better

You have just taken the first step towards acknowledging your feelings that come with accepting failure as an inherent part of our life. Practising mindfulness is an important skill that you can develop to take this level of awareness further.

Many of us have a notion that being resilient means being tough and that it hardens our weaknesses and helps us become less vulnerable to hardships in life. It could not be further from the truth!

Resilience in fact requires flexibility, mental suppleness and being open and vulnerable so that we can access the broken and dark places deep inside us. It requires that we really see ourselves- our hurt and pain, thoughts and feelings, our beauty and longings, wounds, mistakes and regrets and make space for them so that we can hold them all with compassion, curiosity and love.

We also need to realise that we deserve to feel better. Seeing ourselves this way also helps us to become more tender with ourselves and as we do so, we often see a path to becoming more tender with others, too.

Self compassion is a wholesome combination of acceptance and connection- both to ourselves and others. Using mindfulness along with self compassion helps us to reshape our brains and guide it in a positive direction.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing

-Naomi Shihab Niya

(You can also read my earlier post on a related topic of self acceptance  at "How self acceptance can compensate for being ‘NEVER ENOUGH” )

Take out a few minutes to do the following exercise and then write down your responses

First, think about times when a close friend feels really bad about him or herself or is really struggling in some way. How would you respond to your friend in this situation?

Please write down what you typically do, what you say, and note the tone in which you typically talk to your friends. Notice any warmth, concern, and goodwill arising in your own heart for your friend. Allow yourself to feel the empathy, compassion and love that arises naturally in you.

Now think about times when you feel bad about yourself or are struggling. Was there any difference between the two responses? 

Now return to the feelings of warmth, concern, and goodwill that you felt for your friend earlier. Without changing anything, simply redirect this flow of empathy, compassion, and love towards yourself. Allow yourself to receive your own empathy, compassion and love for your own pain, for your struggle or whatever you have done or failed to do. 

How did this exercise make you feel? Did you notice anything different about how you respond to your own pain versus that of a friend? What would you do differently with this awareness the next time you are hurting?

There are too many people in this world who are struggling today- they act out instead of feeling hurt, they inflict pain instead of acknowledging it and choose to live a mediocre life to miminise the risk of being disappointed. In other words, they end up living a life that is filled with unfulfilled dreams, fear and regrets.

It doesn't have to be this way though! You can make different choices with different outcomes. 

Can you think of ways to....

be present in your life?

show up just as you are when you need to without trying to control the outcome? 

enjoy the journey- to find ways to pause and savour all that comes your way?

show yourself the same compassion that you would show another who is hurting and understand that you deserve the same kindness and understanding? 

incorporate tools of mindful self compassion in your life to be able to bounce back from life's challenges?

The sufi poet Rumi captured the essence of what I have said in this post so beautifully in his poem  "The Guest House"

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Why deciding to be happy starts with inviting JOY into your life

Reading Time: 6 minutes

 

(This post is the fourth in a series of 8 posts that I am publishing every week on the topics of self-worth and self-compassion; you can read the others HERE.)

In the last few posts, I wrote about how self acceptance frees you up from the shackles of feeling unworthy and undeserving of love and how we can set boundaries to protect our most valuable resources- our energy and our time. In this post, I shift gears a bit and discuss why we need to invite JOY into our lives.

In a world that is filled with suffering, discontentment and conflict it is often only too easy to undervalue joy. This is true for those who feel deeply connected to others and care about these issues and it is equally true for anyone else who is seeking meaningful happiness in their lives. Even those who are in the profession of serving others can end up feeling burnt out over time if they are not intentional about mining for joy in their lives.

What about you? Are you willing to set an intention to "be happy" no matter the current circumstances in your life?

It helps to realise and to accept that everything changes. Our bodies, our circumstances, our minds, the seasons- everything!  Hence, there is nothing in our lives that can bring us everlasting happiness. That is not to say that there is nothing we can do about it. What we can do is train our minds to cultivate joy and live in a way that allows us to be truly happy with the way things are in our lives. We can learn to see and appreciate all the little and big ways that joy permeates our life and allow for more happiness in our lives even as we aspire to grow and change for the better.

All of this starts with setting the right intention (which is quite different from setting a goal); that is, an intention to invite happiness into your life. In order to do this, you must be open to finding and embracing joy in your life.

Ask yourself these questions in an open and compassionate manner-

Are you truly open to the possibility of finding true joy in your life at exactly this moment; the way that your life is right now?

Are you willing to allow joy to happen in your life?

OR

 are you waiting for the magical moment to arrive where you can decide to be happy?

Once you are clear on this, you may actually start to see all the ways that joy is already present in your life.

We are NOT trying to force joy into our lives and think only positive thoughts all the time. This is simply not possible and we would fail miserably at this. What we CAN do is to set a clear intention and train our minds to create an environment where joy can thrive. You will also find that as you start paying attention to your life, you will notice moments of joy when you least expect it and in the most unlikely places. This is equally true for those days in your life that are completely ordinary and those times in your life that are difficult.

As the wise fox explained to the Little Prince (in the book by the same name) "It's the time you spend on your rose that makes it so important"

In other words, it was paying attention to that single flower that brought the prince great pleasure.

Being present in your own life makes it possible for you to recognise the thoughts that arise given a particular stimulus and helps you to switch from habitual autopilot mode and make conscious choices that are more constructive. It also helps us to remain open to what life has to offer us, reframe our experiences when needed and be more open to joy.

Take out some today from your busy schedule (even 5 minutes will do) and see if you can do any of the following-

simply sit with yourself and see what comes up for you in your body and pay attention to your thoughts without trying to change them  

as you have your cup of coffee (or tea), notice the aroma, the taste and how it makes you feel as you sip and savour it

take a walk and pay attention to every step that you take; the grass or the ground beneath your feet, the breeze in the air and how it makes you feel

listen to a piece of your favourite music and pay attention to the lyrics and/or each instrument and how it affects your mood and makes you feel

We can miss out on the joyful moments in our lives if we fail to acknowledge the many ways that our lives are blessed every single day- both big and small. A grateful heart is in fact a prerequisite for a joyful life especially when times are difficult. It is impossible to feel bitter, angry and resentful when our hearts are filled with gratitude for what we have. A grateful heart also helps us to see the wonder that is around us and makes it apparent just how available joy is in our lives.

Joy is really the simplest form of gratitude

- Karl Barth

It is of course much easier to find joy when things are going well. What happens when difficult times arise? Obstacles, challenges, pain and suffering due to circumstances beyond our control is an integral part of our lives that we simply cannot avoid. However, how we choose to respond to these circumstances is very much in our hands.

Infact, the practice of accepting difficult emotions and circumstances is a vital part of inviting joy into our lives. The more we are able to understand and come to terms with our lives when things become difficult, the greater the possibility that we can keep an open mind so that we can meet our suffering with love and compassion.

As singer/songwriter Roger Miller had said

"Some people walk in the rain. Others get wet"

So I ask you once again, are you willing to be open to the possibility of finding joy in your life irrespective of the circumstances?  

Given below are some of the ways that you can reflect on what joy means to you and how you can find more of it in your life

(courtesy: Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee and Awakening Joy by James Baraz)

  • Keeping a joy journal and making a note of any moment that you feel a sense of joy; writing down where you are, whom you are with and what you are doing
  • Creating a Mood board (either physically or on Pinterest) is another useful way of curating people, things, places and activities that bring you joy
  • Imagining and reliving a joyful moment; think about how it makes you feel right now; making a list of all the things that you would like to do at this moment and then set about doing what you can
  • Making a "joy" album by going through photos on your computer/phone and printing those that give you a sense of happiness; making a "happiness" video along the same lines or curating a music list on a streaming service of your choice
  • Developing a healthy relationship with your body and taking care of it
  • Finding a joy buddy; partner with someone who is also on the same journey as you so that both of you are accountable to each other
  • Indulging in creative and nourishing activities on a regular basis

I hope you realise by now that joy is your birth right. Babies are born with it and all young children express it as an inherent part of their nature. You do not have to create joy, it is already there inside, you simply have to find it again.

I find joy in those precious moments when I wrestle with my 9 year old son, learn to play a new piece of music on the piano or when I am indulging in an activity with my family like board games or family night.

People find joy in those moments when they

act with kindness and generosity

let down their hair and act silly and playful

are in the midst of nature 

indulge in something creative like their hobbies

We all have unique ways of experiencing and expressing positive emotions like joy.

It really does not matter what it looks like for each of us ; it matters that we decide to be happy and allow for joy in our lives

As the famous poet Robert Louis Stevenson had said

"Find out where joy resides and give it a voice far beyond singing. For to miss the joy is to miss all" 

Unplug and reconnect (change your relationship with technology)

Reading Time: 8 minutes

 

(This is the fourth post in the series of 6 posts that I writing on self care. You can read the earlier ones here, here and here)

Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master

~Christian Lous Lange

If you have gone through the earlier posts, you would know that we have been discussing topics like purpose and meaning, knowing what is truly important in our lives and what matters to us. But all of this would be made redundant if you could not apply what you have learned about yourself to carve out the life that you want. We have a lot to be grateful for in our lives towards modern technology including but not limited to comfort and convenience but we are certainly paying a price for it.

When I planned out the series of posts on self care, I knew that one of these posts would be to highlight the issues that are connected to the way that modern technology is impacting our lives. It has been clear to me for a while now that the very fabric of our society, our attention span and our health are all being affected by the very same technology that has been designed to revolutionise our lives (which it has). But it is even more disconcerting that many of us are blissfully unaware of the ways it affects each and every aspect of our lives. And even when we are aware of this, what makes it so difficult to do something about it is the way that it is designed. The many ways that technology has been designed to be fun and easy to use are the very same things that keep us hooked on to it.

One of my personal struggles today in terms of getting creative and meaningful work done is in connection with my own phone usage. Technology is something that is constantly being reinvented and keeps changing and has always fascinated me. I have always embraced it happily and learned how to apply it constructively in both my personal and professional life. But the flip side is that my smart phone usage is certainly more addictive for me than anyone else in my family. The good thing is however, I have known this for a while now and this awareness has helped me to take steps to deal with this issue.

Modern technology has enriched our lives and helped us make significant progress however, smartphones are really quite different from the other technologies that preceded it like telephones, telegraphs, movies, radios, video games etc. These were also game-changers in their own right but are still quite different from smartphones in terms of impact. The main reason for this is that smartphones, in particular, have been specifically designed to grab our attention and get us to spend an inordinate amount of time on them. 

The result is that the smartphone has permeated our lives and become ubiquitous like nothing that we have ever seen before. Whether is our social, personal or our work life, no one is immune to the addictive nature of our gadgets and social media adds another layer to this addiction. And I do not use the word addictive lightly at all. Our phones have been specifically designed to make us spend more time on them based on the way our brain works.

As Tristan Harris (a former Design Ethicist at Google and co founder of Centre for Humane Technology) said “Our generation relies on our phones for our moment-to-moment choices about who we’re hanging out with, what we should be thinking about, who we owe a response to, and what’s important in our lives. And if that’s the thing that you’ll outsource your thoughts to, forget the brain implant. That is the brain implant. You refer to it all the time."

(If you would like to know more on this topic and how it affects us, read his article Tech Companies Design Your Life, Here’s Why You Should Care_)

These are just two of the many books on this topic of how smartphones are affecting our health (and especially that of our children)- iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us by Jean M Twenge and How to Break Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life: The 3 -Day Plan to Take Back Your Life by Catherine Price. 

However, this post is not so much about technology as it is about the impact of modern technology and specifically the smartphone on our health. You may already be aware of some of the ways in which your digital technology use (including social media) is affecting your life and your relationships, your work and attention span.

However, to gauge the true extent of this issue, do take out some and answer the questions below-

Can you imagine life without a cellphone? What kinds of feeling comes up for you when you visualise such a scenario?

Have you ever noticed yourself using it not so safely? For e.g. talking or texting or watching while crossing the road or even while driving?

Have you noticed yourself feeling anxious and uncomfortable or even bored in a social situation and reaching for your phone to soothe yourself?

Have you ever noticed yourself losing hours at a time reading or watching social media posts and articles by simply losing track of time?

If you are cringing now after answering these questions, be rest assured that you are not alone. My own personal struggle with regards to my phone usage has reached a place where I am constantly trying to ensure that my phone works for me and not the other way around. The price that we pay may seem innocuous at times but make no mistake; we (and our children) are paying a hefty price by being constantly distracted due to the way the smartphone is designed to engage us.

Each of us has a relationship with our phone which in most of the cases is not in our favour and infact puts us at a major disadvantage. Unfortunately, this relationship often takes precedence over our real life relationships. It is time that we paused to think about what kind of relationship we really want with our phones. 

To have more clarity on how your phone usage may be your relationships, think about your answers to the questions below.

Is there...

a particular relationship that is suffering more than others as a result of your being constantly distracted? 

any way that a relationship will get more fractured in the long run due to your distracted ways if you do not take some steps to curb them?

some part of your life that you are missing out on now that you will regret not being present for later on?

some anxiety or worry that you have of letting go of these distractions?

(Take some time out to reflect on these questions and write down your answers to these questions in your journal as you have done for my earlier posts)

It is up to us to become aware of these pitfalls first and foremost at an individual level and then ultimately at a larger societal and community level. It is only with this kind of awareness that we will be able to modify our behaviours and make conscious choices in the way we use technology. This will help to make it work for us and NOT the other way around.Too often we lose sight of the fact that it is only when we squelch the constant chatter of our outer world that we can truly start to hear what our inner world is trying to tell us or warn us about.

Real self care starts the moment we start listening to ourselves and start taking steps to give ourselves what we truly need.   

And as we work towards becoming more present and less distracted, we can truly show up for our own life in a way...

that is truly aligned with our purpose and our goals

in which we are present for ALL the moments that make up our life and NOT just the special occasions

that is conducive for healing and taking care of ourselves

that helps us share our unique gifts with the world

that enables us to take risks, grow and show up as our authentic selves

that allows us to enjoy and live each and every moment of our lives without putting off "living" 

 

In the section below, I have highlighted some changes that you can make TODAY with regards to your phone/technology use to help you to reclaim some level of control

(I will be writing in more details on this topic in my series of posts on increasing self awareness and creating meaningful connections).

You do NOT need to be available every second of the day

You can answer your texts, emails and calls at select times during the day by blocking out time for it. Schedule switching off or at the very least taking some time off from your phone /technology each day and giving yourself a break (unless your profession demands you to be on call). This can be done by either taking 10-15 min phone breaks several times each day to either take some time off OR to focus on the work that needs to get done. I routinely put my phone on silent for at least a few hours each day to work on something that is important without being distracted all the time.

Your phone is NOT a substitute for human companionship or connection

Even when we are with people who really matter to us, we may not really be present. Instead of spending the limited but precious amount of time with our children, parents and friends who are in front of us, we may actually be spending time with our phones. I am guilty of this myself and I make a conscious effort to be really present in the presence of others especially my family.

Here are some distraction and phone free time zones that you can incorporate into your daily routine-

  • first thing in the morning
  • before your children leave for school (wherever applicable)
  • right before bed time
  • meal times
  • family time in the evening and on weekends

Take control of your phone

There are many ways that you can take back control of your phone and I have highlighted some of the most effective ones below.

(courtesy: https://humanetech.com/resources/take-control/)

  • Turn off ALL notifications apart from the ones you receive from people (calls and text messages)
  •  Go GRAYSCALE- this particular strategy is one I have recently implemented and has been really effective in reducing the time spent on my phone
  • Try keeping your apps on the home screen only
  • Launch other apps by typing so that it gives you just enough time to pause and reflect if that is truly the action that you want to take
  • Remove social media apps from your phone as it is the easiest way to cut back on the usage. They can be used when truly needed either from the browser or a desktop/laptop
  • Check out apps like Freedom (I personally love this one), Thrive Away, Offtime to track, monitor and control your phone usage

Isn't it ironic that a technology that was designed to foster communication and enrich our lives is, in fact, the very thing that is hindering interpersonal connectedness?

Ultimately, we need to remember that as human beings we have a primal need to be connected to others. But true connection usually happens in the micro moments in our life and that makes it very easy to miss out on those moments if we are constantly distracted. We can end up paying a heavy price by looking for this kind of connection elsewhere and becoming addicted to social media, shopping, alcohol, drugs, "busyness" etc.

So the next time you are with another person, look up from your phone and put it away. Take the time to be really present, to look into their eyes and to truly listen to what they are trying to tell you. Let us all reclaim our precious connections one conversation at a time!

As the author, Johann Hari has said so well

"The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but human connection"

5 simple morning habits for a calmer, brighter day

Reading Time: 9 minutes

This is the THIRD in a series of 6 weekly posts that I am writing about self care- if you have not done so already you can check out the first part "Do you know your WHY?" and the second part "Rocks, pebbles and sand...the key to knowing what is important in your life".

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

-Mary Oliver (from the poem "The summer day")

Take some and reflect upon your answers to the following questions

What do I want from life?

What am I doing that really counts?

What would I do if I knew I would not fail?

What is the unique gift that I can share with the world so that I can contribute and make a difference?

For many of us, somewhere deep inside we have this niggling feeling that what we are doing is not contributing to what really matters to us and what is important in our lives. Taking the time out to reflect on the questions shared in all the three posts should give you some clarity and inspire you to think about what you need to change in order to move towards your goals and focus on what is important to you. As you do this, you will be able to take out the time to listen more, spend quality time with family and friends, enjoy and indulge in your hobbies, relax more and get to know yourself through meditation and self reflection. It would then be much easier to identify those areas of your life that need an overhaul or some tweaking in order to become the best version of yourself.

However, sometimes even when we have the clarity and the inclination to make changes in our lives, the external world can get in the way. Without realising it, we can start and end our day on autopilot merely reacting to circumstances and people, fulfilling their agendas and not ours. For many of us, as soon as the alarm wakes us up, our habitual thoughts take over and our mental playlist of activities, worries and to-do list fill our every waking moment. Each day turns into a month, then months turn into years and pretty soon we have lost decades of our lives simply by remaining on autopilot. We may also feel that because of our circumstances- financial, personal, professional we do not really have any choice but to live like this on autopilot.

This is simply not true

At each moment we have a choice. You chose to read this article today. You choose the clothes you wear, the foods you eat, the activities that you indulge in. You choose to be angry or to forgive people. You choose to be happy or to remain sad. You choose to be grateful for what you have or to focus on the things you lack in your life. You choose all these things and much more. BUT what you need to keep in mind is that this power to choose resides only in this present moment. In time, it is what we do every single day that matters much more than the profound decisions that we may make once in a while.

Once we are clear about what we need to do, we need to rise above excuses and do what is important and needs to be done. And one of the best things that we can do to increase productivity and get things done is to have a well thought out morning routine. Having a consistent morning routine is infact a common and recurring theme amongst many successful people. It helps to counteract the pull of distractions and overcome daily obstacles that can and do pop up. You can and should harness the power of an empowering morning routine as well. And in time, it can literally transform your life.

Whether it is the Olympic winner Michael Phelps, Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Soni, Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet, Ratan Tata, Indira Nooyi or countless other successful people, crafting a sacred space in the morning has made all the difference in their productivity and achieving their dreams. It has enabled them to start their day with intention and set a positive tone for the rest of the day. In other words, an empowering morning can set you up for 'wins' and motivate you to keep going with a calm and productive frame of mind.

Now that the power of morning routines is clear, let us see what it would look like for you. The first thing to note is that it is NOT and SHOULD NOT be the same for everyone. It is not about waking up at a particular time OR doing the same things that everyone else is doing. It is about finding, creating and then sticking to a routine that is right for YOU.

Remember, your mornings are a blank slate and it is up to you to fill it in with what work for you

What is a morning routine?

It is a set of activities that you do upon waking up in the morning. It can and does vary from person to person and includes activities like exercise, meditation, brushing teeth, prayer, journaling, writing and reading.

Take some time today and think about how you usually start your day. Simply start by making a list of all the things that you do upon waking up. The next step would be to identify what is important right now. (This becomes easier if you have already reflected upon this as I have mentioned in my earlier post) Once you know that you are doing the RIGHT thing you can get started crafting out a routine that works for YOU.

In this post, I have shared with you 5 simple habits that you can intentionally develop for a calmer and brighter morning

(It is up to you to incorporate as many of these that you want in your own routine)

Setting intention

Set the tone for the day by finding out what your intention is. The questions below can help you bring some clarity as you think about your activities for the day and set an intention-

How can I show up today that is in line with what I want to achieve today?

What do I want to see more of today? (good news, wonder, acts of kindness, joy)

What is my heart's desire at this moment?

How do I want to feel?

A few examples are "Today I will take care of myself better, show compassion to others and myself, remain calm, be more open to joy".

Journaling, meditation and reflection 

Prayer, meditation and journaling are all beautiful ways that you can use to ground and connect with yourself. There is no one right way to meditate or write in a journal, you simply need to find what works for you.

If writing free form is difficult, you can use the prompts given below (from the book "The Mindful Day by Laurie Cameron")

What I appreciate most in my life right now is....

 I am at my best when I am....

What brings me alive is.....

What I really need right now is....

What gets in the way of me being present is....

My next best action is.... 

Even if you do not have a formal meditation practice, the simple act of paying attention or being more mindful in how you start your day can have a profound effect. The beauty is that you can be more mindful with regards to any activity that you do already. The simple act of paying attention while having a cup of tea, brushing your teeth, showering, exercise will help you to bring awareness to that particular moment and replenish and rejuvenate you.

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Reading

Another way of connecting with yourself and the world in the morning is to read a book (and I don't mean the news). This will be different for each of us as we choose to read something that inspires and motivates us. I find that I prefer to read about other people whom I respect and who inspire me to grow and live a better life. Books like The four things that matter most by Dr Ira Byock, First things first by Stephen Covey, Essentialism by Greg Mckeown, The power of habit by Charles Duhigg, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, Mindset By Carol Dweck, The Go Giver by Bob Burg and John Mann are just some of the books I have read over time.

Spending time with family

Spending time with your family is one of the best ways to start your day. It helps to connect with what is truly important for each of us on a daily basis. Whether it is 10 minutes or an hour, it is the quality of the time spent that matters more than how much time you actually get to spend with your family in the morning.

Since there is always a rush in the morning during school days (I have two school going children), I try and wake my children up around 10 minutes earlier and spend some time with them, giving them a hug or a cuddle and sometimes switching on their favourite music to get them started on the right note. My husband and I also make sure that we savour our quiet time together over our cup of tea and newspaper before we start preparing for our day.

Exercise and mindful movement

Research shows us that moving our bodies first thing in the morning whether it is through exercise (cardio, aerobic, strength training etc) or mindful movements like tai chi and yoga have a profound beneficial and positive effect on our health and how we deal with the rest of our day. By doing this first thing in the morning we have the opportunity to harness the benefits of exercise and movement throughout the remainder of our day. Schedule a workout or activity that you like doing already and then stick to it.

However, the key to having a successful and consistent routine is to PLAN for it and REMOVE anything that might get in the way

A few things that ensure that I stick to my routine are

  • preparing the night before by keeping my journal, workout clothes ready; preferably somewhere I can see them immediately as I wake up
  • using an app to make sure that I cannot access my emails and social media first thing in the morning (I will be covering this topic in details in one of my later posts)
  • having a simple structure that I can follow in terms of activities and time for the first couple of hours
  • setting an intention for the day; sometimes I set one for the entire week
  • complete my workout in the morning so that unexpected work or family issues do not come in the way later during the day
  • lastly, creating an environment that is conducive to self reflection and gives a peaceful start to my day; I love playing music and lighting incense to awaken my senses

My own routine is very much a work-in-progress and is not something that you need to emulate as is. The whole point is to find what works for YOU and then stick to it. It should be something that you enjoy doing and feel good about doing on a regular basis.

So take a pen and paper and start creating an empowering morning routine for yourself. Every day that you stick to it treat as a small "win". It is only when we pause to celebrate each step that we take in the right direction that we can stick to it and achieve what we set out to do no matter how long it takes.

Finally, take this magical time to connect with your body, breath and spirit to give yourself the best possible start to your day and to your life

As Marcus Aurelius said, "When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive, to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love" 

(As you go through these posts I suggest that you keep a journal handy so that you can reflect upon and write down the questions that I ask along the way. You may end up getting to know yourself better and even surprise yourself with your answers. And of course, I would simply love it if you would share with your experience of going on this journey of self-exploration with me)

 

Selfcare- you cannot drink from an empty cup (Take back the power to heal yourself- part 2)

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In my last post (you can read it here), I had highlighted the importance of self-care in terms of healing ourselves. In this post, I would like to delve deeper into this subject by answering the following questions.

What is self-care really?

And how is it tied to self-compassion and well being?

Most importantly, how do you find the version that works best for you so that you are most likely to continue with the routine especially when times get rough and you are incredibly busy?

What we may not realise is that self-care is not selfish, in fact, it is just the opposite. As parents taking good care of ourselves and thereby setting an example for our children is one of the best gifts we can give them. And as adults and citizens, we can model self-care habits to build a culture of sustainable health.

"You can't pour from an empty cup, take care of yourself first"

This is especially true for women and definitely true for me. As natural givers and caretakers, those women who are also mothers are even worse at self-care.  This is true for healthcare providers and other similar professions as well where sleepless nights, emotional exhaustion and constant demand is commonplace. While there will always be certain situations which are beyond our control, most of the time, we can take out the time to replenish and rejuvenate ourselves on a regular basis. Much the same way that we take care of our cars.

We send our car periodically to the best service centre to get a check up and servicing done. We also get it filled with top quality fuel so that it runs smoothly. But somehow, we end up ignoring the need to take care of our own physical and emotional health.

I learned this the hard way when I was taking care of our very sick 7-year-old daughter about 5 years ago. She was hospitalised with a life-threatening infection and before that, she had been struggling with major health issues for more than a year. I was willing to do anything and give up anything just to see her get better. I slept next to her in the ICU for almost 2 weeks straight while my husband and family took turns in the morning. It was a harrowing time for all of us.

But once she had come back home and things had settled down a bit for us, I realised very early that in order to take care of her, I had to take care of myself first. This realisation did not happen in one day though. Over a period of time I realised that if I did not take care of myself, I would not be able to do an effective job of taking care of her. This not only included tending to her physical needs, it also meant taking care of her emotional health as she dealt with a very difficult situation.

For most of us though, we do not need to wait for a difficult situation to come to this conclusion. We know deep down inside what we REALLY need to do take care of ourselves. We usually do not end up having a plan in place that can help us reach our self-care goals. Also, if you have not taken out the time to prioritise self-care in your busy life, you may never find out which practices will work for you since it will always be different for each person.

We forget that we need to treat ourselves with the same kindness that we treat others when they are in pain or in need of some kind of support. The very fact that we notice that someone who is suffering needs our compassion is what connects us to others and makes us human. Compassion also opens our hearts and minds to all kinds of experiences as we become more accepting and less judging. We have to realise the need to extend this same compassion to ourselves.

As we learn to accept our imperfections, failure and suffering which are all inevitable, we also learn to put ourselves on the top of our TO-DO lists. We start on our journey towards self-care and not only enrich our own lives but everyone around us.

"YOU are the most important investment you can make in your life"

There are many different ways that you can design your very own self-care routine. But it all starts with the realisation that you are well worth it to invest your own time and effort into this. No one else can do it for you.

In order to lead a meaningful, productive and healthy life, you will need to figure out the "self investments" that will pay off in the long run. It is impossible to "do-it-all" so it is important not to have an "all or nothing" attitude. Some people can get stuck with this mindset and end up not doing anything at all. We do not need a huge chunk of our day to take care of ourselves on a regular basis.

In reality, you can do a lot in five minutes—you can do some calming yoga poses, deep breathing, listen to some music that inspires you, do some guided meditation or read a chapter from a book.

Find a few things that work for you and condense them into smaller pieces which can be spread out into your daily routine. A consistent morning and evening routine works very well to start the day off on a positive note and then to end the day on a relaxing and quieting note leading to better sleep. No matter how busy your schedule, the payoff is well worth it.

The best way to start on your self-care journey is to

"Give yourself permission to pause during the day"

The different ways that you can utilise this time is by-

Moving your body every day- find a physical activity that you like and schedule a time to do it regularly. It does not matter what you do, it matters that you DO IT. It can be dancing, walking, jogging, running, yoga or anything else that you enjoy

Having a cup of tea and reading a book

Listening to your favourite music and getting up to dance a sweat if you feel like it

Getting a massage done once in a while

Keeping and writing in your journal regularly about things that matter to you, penning down your thoughts and feelings and even 3 things that you are grateful for everyday

Learning a new hobby or enjoying indulging in an old one like art, music, instruments, dance and anything else that you enjoy or even miss from your childhood

Taking out the time to make and maintain meaningful friendships

Setting aside a daily QUIET time which does not involve any electronics, social media, work. Consider meditation, enjoying creative activities like art or simply enjoying observing the clouds floating by outdoors or watching the raindrops fall on a glass pane and even taking a nap

It really does not matter what exactly you do, it matters that you DO IT.

Do you need to give yourself permission to pause from time to time during the day? Which activities appeal to you and how can you fit these into your daily schedule no matter how hectic it is? What are the obstacles that you need to overcome first? Please share your experiences and thoughts in the comments section below. I look forward to hearing from you!

(I will be posting the last part of this 3 series in the next week and it will cover an important aspect of getting to know yourself better as we practice. It is a natural progression from as we start practising self- care on a regular basis, I really look forward to sharing it with you)