Oops!

“Never neglect the little things. Never skimp on that extra effort, that additional few minutes, that soft word of praise or thanks, that delivery of the very best that you can do. It does not matter what others think, it is of prime importance, however, what you think about you. You can never do your best, which should always be your trademark, if you are cutting corners and shirking responsibility. You are special. Never neglect the little things. ~ Og Mandino

The title was a toss-up: Oops! or Neglect. The former seemed, catchy. The latter, foreboding. Catchy won. On a piece of paper I started writing things we often overlook or neglect. In a couple of minutes I wrote the following:

  • bad habits
  • everyday pleasures
  • our minds
  • continuous learning
  • exercise
  • mental illness
  • common courtesy
  • good nutrition
  • hugs
  • car maintenance
  • connections
  • strangers
  • transitions
  • compassion
  • dental care
  • friends
  • charity
  • the homeless
  • good advice
  • learning disabilities
  • marriage
  • strangers
  • spiritual life
  • child abuse
  • parents
  • humor
  • asking for help
  • our emotions
  • animal cruelty
  • exploration
  • the elderly
  • to smile

Reflecting on this cursory list I wondered, why do I neglect these? The answers are innumerable and we each have our own reasons (excuses).

I extracted from this list three things that, for me, are important and I do not neglect. Before sharing them, I’d like to encourage you to come up with your own list. Then, from what you list, pick three that you believe deserve more of your time, energy, and intentional focus. My three:

Sleep. Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being. Getting enough quality sleep can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function (and you thought is was just time for your subconscious to play). :) Damage from sleep deficiency can occur in an instant (such as a car crash), or it can contribute to chronic health problems and harm you over time. It also contributes to how well you think, learn, react, work, and get along with others.

Being in the present moment. If you’re living in the present, you’re living in acceptance. You’re accepting life as it is now, not as how you wish it would have been. You realize everything is complete as it is. You can have peace in your heart knowing that everything that should happen will.

   Be more Self-aware. Get to know yourself. A little introspection might yield some discomfort but it’s likely to be revealing and helpful. Consider more deeply understanding your emotions, feelings, and what triggers them so you can effectively work through them and manage your responses. Tune into what’s going on in your body (another area you might be neglecting?) and learn from it. Discover your beliefs, assumptions, and expectations, and (just maybe!) how they affect what and why you neglect.

Your Life Expectancy

“Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.” ~ Jim Rohn

I recently read a research brief published by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College titled, How Will More Obesity and Less Smoking Affect Life Expectancy. In the piece, Dr. Samuel Preston and colleagues write that personal behaviors can have a major influence on how long people live. Two especially damaging behaviors are smoking and the poor nutrition and exercise habits that result in obesity. No surprise there, right?

Obesity is on the rise while smoking is on the decline.The question is whether the benefits from less smoking will outweigh the harm from rising obesity. The brief projects how changes in obesity and smoking will impact life expectancy in 2040.

Adults smoke for a variety of reasons. They may have stress and pressures because of economic and personal reasons. They may be unemployed or not working, homeless, or in bad relationships. Smoking may give them energy while going through a hard time. And then there are people who simply love to smoke; it gives them pleasure. After all, it is a choice.

Similarly, the idea of a tax on soda is being debated in New York and elsewhere. Will raising prices lower consumption, leading to better health among Americans? The fact is that the tax will fall more heavily on poorer people, for whom a few cents has a greater impact, and who (adults!) in fact drink far more soda. It is still their affordable pleasure yet poorer people are more likely to be obese and have diabetes.

In my work inspiring people to choose enlightened lifestyles, I’ve found that change is contagious. When people realize that lifestyle change is achievable, especially for them, they give greater thought to effecting change; not only for themselves but for their families, their wellness, and a healthy, longer life.

There is plenty of information for people interested in their longevity and what can be done to optimize it. Here are three considerations if you’re open to exploring healthy/healthier lifestyles:

  1. Join a group. Great things happen in groups. Consider joining a community outreach program, the Sierra Club, a book club, a hiking group or a neighborhood committee. Pursue your passions, share with like-minded people, let your voice be heard and step your physical activity up a notch.
  2. Remember to change more than your gym membership or what’s in your pantry/refrigerator. Be ready to change something about yourself or your life that will clear the way to reaching your goals and full potential. Keep an open mind and don’t be hard on yourself. Give yourself permission to be imperfect and reward yourself for incremental achievements.
  3. What you may not know is that sugar is a far more dangerous influence to your health than cigarettes. It is important to stop both but not simultaneously. Taking on the task of quitting smoking ought to be done once you have an optimal diet in place and you are feeling good.

A Perspective on Loss

“We don’t let go of anything important until we have exhausted all the possible ways that we might keep holding on to it.” ~ William Bridges

It is fair to say each of us has strengths and weaknesses. What is interesting is on which we choose to focus. You can readily identify your most robust strength and your biggest weakness (acknowledging a weakness can be a strength and vice versa). And for all of my actual and perceived strengths, I know that handling loss is what I am least equipped to deal with — my weakness, if you will.

In two blog posts today, I read and was reminded of how common loss is. We simply don’t confront it until, somehow, it ‘hits home.’ And ‘home’ is a different place within each of us.

Losing someone or something you care deeply about is very painful. The range of emotions we experience, may never let up. There are many reactions to significant loss. And while there are no right or wrong ways to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can renew and permit one to move on.

Part of loss deals with searching for answers and meaning; trying to make sense of it all. While some may never fully recover, allowing grief to run its course is part of a time-undefined progression. In this vein, I recall reading a Robert Hall, Jr. perspective which he describes as the “fertile void,” a time of not knowing what is arising, what to do, or how to feel. And in this void people find themselves making changes to fill the void, sometimes even returning to something familiar — the way things were.

I know it’s cliché yet, “There is light at the end of the tunnel,” is something that can give one hope for the future after a long and difficult period.

We have countless ways to cope with loss. These four make sense to me. If you have others that you’ve found helpful, please feel free to share them in comments.

  1. Surrender. We cannot bring back what we have lost. We cannot undo a war or a natural disaster. Experiencing our loss and our feelings is a natural process, but it can lead us into deeper suffering, too. Surrendering to the situation as something we cannot change, and accepting that, can help us to release and honor grief in a healthy way.
  2. Write a brief letter to yourself or loved one of what you wanted to say before the loss. Putting your words on paper or expressing things you wish you could have said before the event or loss might help you work through feelings and emotions that you need to let out or put behind you.
  3. Connect meaningfully with others. Finding the right approach to deal with tragedy is a very personal thing. Pain in the short run in unavoidable, and that’s okay. The goal is not to let the pain break you in the long run. Consider being in “flow,” having an intense focus on the present day and attempting to connect with others.
  4. Believe that someone else is in control. Just as contentment and happiness come into our lives unexpectedly, so too does loss. Perhaps important, is to believe that another is in control, no matter what.

Being in “The Zone”

“Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free. Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.” ~ Chuang Tzu

I intentionally chose this photo. It is the one place, a single activity, in which I can find myself in “the zone.”  According to Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, being in the zone or in “flow” is a single-minded immersion and represents the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. It is when emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand.

Many of us have been in the zone. And describing how it feels there is unique to each individual. Some people can get ‘there’ easily; they have conditioned themselves and know what it takes to experience a feeling of spontaneous joy while performing a task, although being in the zone is also described as a deep focus on nothing but the activity, not even oneself or one’s emotions.

Being in the zone is often associated with peak performance, commonly practiced by serious athletes, writers, and musicians. But it can align with gardening and painting just as easily. In this state of completely focused motivation, one can side step the chaos, the busyness, the rat race of everyday life. And simply be, accepting whatever you are doing.

People find themselves in the zone when in the presence of nature, meditating, or at willful solitude. We often think we need a structured vacation or a getaway to be able to focus on one task. Not so.

If the prospect of getting into the zone appeals to you, here are four steps that can help to pave the way:

  1. Choose a singular task. To get the most out of your mind you need to concentrate all your attention on exactly one thing and one thing only. It ought to be something that you are truly interested in, your most important task at the moment.
  2. It’s important to have energy. If you’re barely maintaining consciousness due to a late night of cocktails or a restless night of sleep, getting into the zone is going to be difficult.
  3. Find the right environment. Figure out the setting(s) that facilitate your flow, be it a crowded coffee shop or a quiet library, and work in them whenever possible. An uncrowded swimming pool works well. :)
  4. Emotions are key. Being in the zone requires finding the feelings that allow your subconscious to take over. Music can help activate these emotions. Find songs or artists that put you in the right mood and block out distractions.

 

Physical, Visible, and Humble

Jan Maxwell

Jan Maxwell

“Perseverance, secret of all triumphs.” ~ Victor Hugo

Hailing from Fargo, North Dakota, Jan Maxwell hasn’t shed her humble roots. Those who know and appreciate theater, know Ms. Maxwell. The stage and television screen have been her professional home for decades. Critically acclaimed, Ms. Maxwell made and continues to make a name for herself while being a full-time mom.

What began as a “hobby,” Jan sensed early that she might be able to carve out a modest living as an actress. She enjoyed performing before live audiences and left North Dakota for New York City, unaware of how competitive and demanding her chosen field was and is.

Years later (she’s 57), she has five Tony Award nominations (she’s one of only three women to be nominated in all four acting categories) and countless other industry awards from her peers, yet she’s still Jan from North Dakota, a mom, and a woman who just happens to love her work. And, I’ll add, is very good at it.

Jan was my guest this week on the Awakening to Awareness Radio Show during which she talked about the irony in her profession being called a “play” when in reality, it’s hard work. She spoke about the range of emotions she has to exude while in character; making ‘real-time’ mistakes on stage and how she’s learned and practices “instant forgiveness”; her philosophy on aging and; the importance of perseverance on stage and in life.

When I invited Jan to share one take-away with listeners, she didn’t hesitate and said: “Follow your passion and do it now!”

Our conversation provided a glimpse behind the stage curtain; identified who she believes are the hardest working people in theater and; what she may find herself doing when she chooses to retire from a world many only see on the surface.

If you’re interested in listening to Jan’s thoughtful perspectives, here’s the podcast link.

Inspiring Others

“Have you ever been stopped in your tracks? By a stranger who affected you profoundly?” ~ Eric Tonningsen

Months ago, I briefly mentioned a woman named Rose. I committed to writing about her in a later post. Now I am. Rose served as the inspiration for a story I shared over a three-month series of progressive speech contests. This video was the last time I told the story in May.

If you watch the video, you’ll better understand where this post is going. And yes, it has to do with how we inspire… and how people like you, inspire me.

Fifteen months ago I launched this blogging journey. Truthfully, I get more out of reading and viewing your posts, than I do crafting and sharing mine. I’ve (virtually) met an amazing, creative cadre; people who take time to share what’s on their minds, in their hearts, seen through their lenses, and created on their unique easels.  To each of you, for enriching my life, a respectful hat tip.

We don’t all follow one another’s blogs. Ergo, I want to acknowledge four bloggers whose work has inspired me and in doing so, invite you to visit their site. You may find yourself comparably inspired. Yes, there are countless more than these four people who move, motivate, and inspire me to think, act, laugh, and cry. I appreciate how each of you chooses to contribute to our community.

In my predictable format, here are three ways in which to consider inspiring others, if so inclined:

  1. Untether people. Don’t simply give people your advice. Give them the freedom to figure it out themselves. No one likes a micro-manager or a know-it-all. If you’re asked for help, share a rough outline to help the person move in the right direction, but leave something to their imagination so they’ll have the freedom to fill in the blanks. Self-discovery will show them that they’re fully capable and more powerful that they ever thought possible.
  2. Empathize with people’s judgments and how you’d like to see their life differently. You can often find presence in the feelings and needs that lie behind their world view. Maybe they aren’t changing, but you can create space in which to transform your own judgments and expectations. You have the capacity to shift opinions of others and relationships by simply focusing on yourself.
  3. Acknowledge contributions of others. You’re just one person yet you’ve contributed to your own life successes. What about others who have added meaning and value to your life? It’s not always your idea. :) Acknowledge other’s contributions publicly, if possible, to show people you’re humble and appreciative enough to give them credit for how they’ve affected you.

Me… Stressed??

“Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.” ~ Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

This past Sunday we experienced what meteorologists call a “100 year rain event.” Put simply, it means we got slammed. I live in the desert and when rains of this magnitude fall, it is impossible for the arid land to absorb so much water in such a compressed period of time. It yields massive flooding and it literally sweeps away what you would never imagine being uprooted and moved.

It’s unnerving to watch portions of your property wash down an arroyo. It’s frustrating when years of manual labor and xeriscaping simply vanishes. It’s been a physically and emotionally draining week.

Wednesday evening, exhausted, I finally created time to put what had happened into perspective. I looked at Bailey and Logan (my canine companions) and started to laugh, at them and myself! After days of massive cleaning up, where neighbors slogged and rallied to support each other, I realized that it was just earth and rocks and trees and railroad ties. And how important are they? :)

My focus shifted to how fortunate we were. In the bigger global picture, I’m still abundantly blessed. There was no loss of life, the interior of the house was undamaged, electricity was eventually restored and life will go on. Me… stressed? Perhaps then. Me… grateful? Absolutely now.

Before

Before. Peaceful. Prethreatened.

After. It's worse than it looks.

After. It’s worse than it looks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are there take-aways? Sure there are.

1) I found my way back to positive thinking which, in this case, meant that I approached unpleasantness in a positive and productive way. I changed my self-talk to align with the best is going to happen, not the worst. I (eventually) paused and chose to cope, thus mitigating the harmful effects of stress.

2) When I got around to laughing, I was focused on Bailey and Logan. Many are unaware of the physical and mental health benefits that accompany time shared with pets. They’re mood enhancers! Studies have shown that pets lower blood pressure in stressful situations and it doesn’t have to be a cat or a dog. Even watching fish in an aquarium can help reduce muscle tension.

3) I realized I still possessed what mattered; family, health and friends. Researchers from The Australian Longitudinal Study on Aging looked at 1,500 men and women for a full decade. Among their findings was that having good friends is more likely to increase health and longevity than even close relationships with other family members. The researchers speculate that the emotional support friends provide one another during difficult times, contributes stress reduction benefits as a result of feeling connected to other people.

Jumping Off the Bandwagon

“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” ~ Albert Einstein

WARNING: This post is not about Robin Williams.

I may lose readers after having read this post and that’s fine. This blog has never been about the numbers game. It’s about stirring your soul… and encouraging you to look into yourself… to realize your potential… and to focus on what really matters — how you choose to use your gifts, live, and contribute to humanity.

Earlier today I scrolled through the WordPress Reader and recent posts on other social media sites. I knew I’d see them but was astounded at how many people jumped on the Robin Williams bandwagon. Then I intentionally paused to process what I’d seen and read.

I have nothing against Robin Williams. He was a creative and talented man. He brought laughter and thought into many people’s lives, in and out of character. He battled his own demons. And I began to wonder, why does it often require a celebrity, fame, or someone with name recognition, to call our attention to social issues, serious needs, and opportunities? Why do people frequently hold up and pay tribute to talented individuals, people with marquee names, upon their passing?

What about mankind’s masses who struggle and are similarly burdened but are not wealthy, famous and/or “successful?”

In the above video, Clark Little tells how he has chosen to pursue his passion. He didn’t do what everyone else was doing. He blazed his own trail. And he’s loving every minute of life. He’s focused on and using his personal gifts to fulfill his potential. He’s not a lemming; expending energy on simply doing what many others are doing.

Sure there are lessons to be learned from Robin Williams’s choice to end his life. He has, as have others before him, rekindled and created awareness about mental health and addiction. They are real problems and warrant attention. But does jumping on the viral bandwagon to share a few kind words about him change anything?

So you may be saying, what’s your point Eric? Well, it’s pretty simple. Each of us, however illuminated our names are in lights, has unlimited potential. We possess personal gifts and skills. We have enormous, untapped capacity to live our purpose.

The questions then: Are you? Are you acting in your own unique way to effect change? Change that you desire and value? Are your actions genuinely aligned with what really matters? If they are/you are not, what are you waiting for? Are you your own leader? Are you creating moments that are meaningful, even if there is no fame, fortune or popularity involved?

When young, ducklings follow the brace because it’s instinctive. Humans, too. But what makes our species special is that we don’t have to paddle or flock in formation. We can soar in any direction we want. And create amazing outcomes, singularly.

Why Dogs Sniff Butts

 “Like the herd animals we are, we sniff warily at the strange one among us.” ~ Loren Eisenley

Stay with me; I’m going somewhere thoughtful here.

A dog lover, they’ve been part of my life for decades. So naturally, I was drawn to a recent article titled, “Why Do Dogs Sniff Each Other’s Butts? It’s More Complicated Than You Might Imagine.” Turns out, it’s all about one canine literally sniffing out important information about the other; its gender, emotional state, diet, and more. It’s like communicating with chemicals. As part of its olfactory system, dogs nerves direct the chemical information it detects directly to the brain so there’s no interference from other odors. Keep this “no interference” in mind.

Which brings me to the actual focus for this post. As humans, we also process information by:

  • Being quiet inside and really listening as a way of being aware of our own feelings as well as the feelings of others and;
  • Being aware of habitual negative patterns of thought, behavior and communication and then making positive choices to better serve ourselves and others.

When it comes to effective, meaningful communication, there is probably not a more important skill than listening. Not just hearing but truly listening. Listening is challenging for many people because we are often:

  • Focused on the physical appearance, social status, or the clothing of the person speaking. Maybe even judging them.
  • Planning on what you have to do once the conversation has ended.
  • Devising a solution while the other person is sharing a problem.

Hearing refers to the sounds that you hear. It’s what many people do. Listening requires more than that: it requires focus. Just as canines use their acute sense of smell to enhance communication, we can further develop our skill by listening with our eyes and our heart. Think Golden Rule: How do you want to be listened to?

Most of us believe we’re good listeners. If you want to become an even better listener, consider these ideas:

  1. Avoid letting the speaker know how you handled a similar situation. Unless they specifically ask for advice, assume they simply need to talk it out.
  2. Listen without interrupting. Often, people want to interject their own thoughts. (Yes, we know we do.) Does your body acknowledge that you are listening? Use smiles, nods, and expressions of understanding to communicate to the speaker that you are listening. It is important for them to know their words are respected.
  3. Want to listen. This is unique. You must have an intent to listen. Sometimes you don’t want to listen. At other times, your actions may indicate that you don’t want to listen when you really do. And at still other times, you may be unaware that you don’t want to listen. We can be as good a listener as we want.

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Left Brain, Right Brain

“A creative idea will be defined simply as one that is both novel and useful (or influential) in a particular social setting.” ~ Alice Flaherty

We have many creative people in our world. Many, conveniently, blog among us. In the WordPress Reader I recently found a Chris Delatorre post. He’s a creative thinker and (if you’ll pardon the simple word) doer.

Being creative or artistic doesn’t mean you know how to draw or play an instrument. Being creative is a way of thinking, a way of viewing the world. Creative people simply use the right side of their brains more than the left. The enduring question with creativity has always been whether the defining factors come from nature or nurture. Everyone can learn to be creative to some degree, but new Cornell University research has revealed that the extent to which we’re born creative may be greater than previously thought.

As a hardwired ‘left brainer,’ I find some comfort in now knowing this. :)

In one of his posts, Chris writes that he believes science and art ought to make a home together. In this video, Max Cooper creatively depicts life coming into being, blooming and then vanishing. I’d be challenged enough to find the right words to express that, let alone create what he has visually.

Researchers have also confirmed that creativity flourishes in solitude. With quiet, you can hear your thoughts, you can reach deep within yourself, you can focus.

If exploring the right side of your corpus callosum is something that interests you, here are three easy enablers:

  1. Pause from business thinking. Or any kind of thinking that requires intense focus. While it might be challenging to step outside ‘business mode,’ the mind sometimes needs a rest from bottom-line thinking. Consider taking a mental vacation and indulge in something you’re passionate about. Then come back, refreshed, to the task(s) at hand. You may see things in a very different light. Being with beautiful things (art, nature, passions) creates connections that we often neglect to notice.
  2. Shut down your inner critical voice. Notice I said “critical.” Don’t think. Disable the part of your brain that observes what you’re doing. This is your ego, your sabotage, your self-consciousness. Be in the moment (I know, I say this often). Stop second-guessing everything you’re doing. It serves no purpose to be hard on yourself. Remind yourself that you are creative and that you’re doing what you’re doing not to impress anyone.
  3. Experiment and play with possibility. It’s easy to dismiss unusual or different solutions which you haven’t tried. People often think of all the possible ways that something won’t work. And they easily dismiss the idea of experimenting. We can’t foretell the future even though many would like to. Simply go forward into it in a creative and exciting new way.
Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images