How walking in circles can calm your mind

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A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. It represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools.

I walked my first labyrinth this weekend, so I am no expert – but I am now a believer.  I believe that taking 15-30 minutes out of your day to do something that can relax and center you is a good thing. I also believe that walking anywhere – even in circles – can be good for us.

And, I know first-hand that guided walking and mindfulness are a peaceful and positive combination.

Labyrinths

Here’s what I learned about labyrinths before I walked one.

  • They are an ancient practice. The oldest are around 3000 years old.
  • They have been found all over the world.
  • There are different designs and sizes. Two of the most recognizable are the classic design shown above and the medieval style shown below.

My Walk

The labyrinth I walked was made of rust-colored bricks and was surrounded by moss-draped oak trees on the banks of a creek in southwest Florida. I was leading a group of 12 Wishful Thinking Women and we were being guided by a local labyrinth expert. The afternoon was rainy but luckily, the downpour slowed to a drizzle long enough for us to step outside into a new experience.

The retreat setting we visited was so beautiful it was easy to feel we were going to be experiencing something special. The deep blue of the sky was the perfect backdrop for the glistening greens and browns of the grass and trees around us, made all the more vibrant by the rain. Nature was at its best.

Each of us paused before we stepped into the mouth of the labyrinth. (That’s what you call the opening.) No one said we had to, it just seemed liked the thing to do, and doing so let us move forward with awareness and intention.

The first turn came up quickly, I realized almost as quickly that concentrating on the path was going to be necessary.  I remember thinking “This is easy, the path is laid out for me.” (A metaphor?)

I felt extremely happy to be walking the path surrounded by nature with a group of women whose company I truly enjoyed. At that point I relished having nothing more to worry about than where to place my next step.  I felt completely relaxed. The world around me faded and I felt I was walking in the woods, alone and happy.

Birds started chirping and cawing, I paused for a minute to look up, breaking my solitary spell, and immediately felt overwhelmed by the beauty of surroundings and the company around me.

I slowed my pace as passage on the path began to slow – others were walking the same path, but at very different paces. (Another metaphor for life?)

After a few more steps, I wondered how long this thing was going to last! When I entered, the labyrinth didn’t seem that big but now the paths seemed to go on forever, the twists and turns elongated the journey way more than I realized.  (I remember thinking that was a funny thought, since I am a life coach and I often coach folks on slowing down, but that’s the beauty of it. We all feel that way at times, it’s how we handle it that matters.)

At the next turn, I wondered if I was “doing it right”.  I almost laughed out loud, because even though I knew there was no way to “do it wrong” and the path was clearly marked, when I allowed my mind to wander from my task I immediately began to doubt my progress.  (I took that as a reminder for life – doubting the path, even when it is neatly laid out before you, is normal, not to worry, just keep going, so I did!)

The length of the labyrinth surprised me time and time gain, and each time I pondered  its length, I became aware of the other folks on the path and began to feel a need to visually follow the path prior to walking to it.

I wanted to figure out my path before I walked it. I felt a tad stressed and found it interesting that even though I knew where I was going, I felt the need to know exactly how I was going to get there. Pretty funny, since there was only one way in and one way out, and everyone was moving into the center and away from it with great ease. Once again, I laughed inwardly at myself and kept going.

The moment I returned my focus to the path directly in front of me, and away from the twists and turns ahead, I felt relieved. Within a few seconds I felt excited again that I was on the path and it was clearly laid out ahead of me.  My progress and feelings

My progress and feelings yo-yoed again and again.  Surprisingly, arriving at the center was anti-climatic, but in a positive, gentle way; I simply continued on the path. I have no idea how long my walk on the labyrinth actually lasted. I am guessing it was between 15-20 minutes. But I know the moment it ended, I wished it hadn’t.

I have no idea how long my walk on the labyrinth actually lasted. I am guessing it was between 15-20 minutes. But I know the moment it ended, I wished it hadn’t.

I’m happy I had the experience, and will find a way to “walk” one daily! If you click on the Classic Labyrinth above, you can print a copy of it and simply “walk” the labyrinth with your finger. You can also go online and with your cursor find plenty of labyrinths to follow. Physically walking a labyrinth is a great experience, but until that opportunity arises, don’t miss the opportunity to let your fingers do the walking.

My biggest take-away of the day? Twists and turns can pull me away from my path, but gentle awareness and not taking myself too seriously, always get me back on track.

I’d loved to hear about your labyrinth experiences. If you have walked one let us know what you thought of your experience. If not and you would like to, this Labyrinth Locator can help you find one close to you.

A 30 second peace post

Today is International Peace Day, a wonderful time to create and share positive thoughts and wishes and to create peace personally and beyond. 

Here’s how 30 seconds of peaceful reflection can make a positive difference:

  1. Close your eyes, breathe deeply in and out through your nose.
  2. Think of a happy or positive moment in your life or someone you love or care about. (This step relaxes your brain and gets you into a more positive mood.)
  3. Now, send wishes of peace and happiness to your family, friends and foes, and to folks worldwide you don’t know.
  4. Then, smile.

Congratulations, both your body and brain now have all sorts of positive, broaden and build chemicals and hormones floating through them, and if you are the teeny, tiniest bit happier or more peaceful you have increased the odds that everyone you meet or talk to today will be, too. It’s a simple step toward creating world peace, moment-to-moment, person-by-person.

Peace.

PS Repeat as needed throughout the day – and your life – to keep positivity and peace flowing – inside and out!

How to turn negative self-talk in a new direction

The thoughts in your head define who you are. They steer you left or right and forward or backward on the road of life.

Constant negative self-talk floods your brain with fight or flight type chemicals and hormones, which create a sense of urgency and heightened levels of attention and distress. Within seconds those chemicals and the feelings they elicit can take you off the path of positivity and get you running around a cul-de-sac of negativity and keep you circling it until you completely run out of gas.

Don’t do that to yourself, okay?

When you find yourself mentally beating-up on yourself, interrupt the cycle by noting:

“Ooh, that sounds pretty harsh. I must be worried.”

Then ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?” Let your mind wind its way through:

 “I’m afraid I will be late . . . My boss will be furious . . . I will get fired.” (Or wherever your imaginary worry is taking you.) Give yourself a green light to ride it until you exhaust your thoughts and reach a dead-end.

Next, ask yourself if your ultimate feared outcome is really likely to happen. Most of the time the answer will be a resounding “NO!” (The majority of our worries are simply our imaginary thoughts gone wild!)

Now, think of at least one positive thought related to your particular situation:

“Yes, I’m late, but I really don’t think I will get fired over it.”

“Yes, I’m late, I hate this feeling, I guess it’s time to start getting up a few minutes earlier.”

“Yes, I’m late, but other than that I’m doing a great job at work. I need to figure out a way to get better at being on time.”

If you find yourself going back down a negative path, simply start over with “Ooh, that sounds pretty harsh. I must be worried”, and continue from there. DO NOT under any circumstances ask yourself WHY you are late (or whatever your current worry is), that’s a tricky little way we have of making a u-turn back onto our path of negativity. Don’t be fooled!

The key to turning negative self-talk in a new direction is to become more aware of what you are thinking. Most of us feed ourselves negative thoughts 17/7, without ever questioning them. We let our minds ramble down roads that take us away from our destination – happy town – and around curves and turns, that while familiar, truly are leading us nowhere.

Negative thoughts are a habit, and habits can be changed. Here’s a quick review of how to redirect your thoughts.

  1. Start with gentle awareness: “Ooh, that sounds pretty harsh. I must be worried.” (Create the perfect signature phrase for yourself, so when you are saying it, it sounds right to you.)
  2. Ask yourself if your ultimate feared outcome is really likely to happen.
  3. Then jump on the highway of positivity: “Yes, I’m late, but I’m good at lots of other stuff at work.” (Note: this isn’t an excuse, or just a cute way of ignoring the situation, it’s a way to create a new path for your mind to follow. )
  4. Be aware of the danger signs: don’t ask yourself “Why?” – we are not coming-up with solutions at this point, we are simply shifting gears.
  5. When you make a negative u-turn, start again with Step 1. (Please note: Do not misconstrue starting over as failure, you are really doing something quite brave and resourceful, you are practicing something you value and will have a positive impact on your life. You are creating change and that is courageous and impressive.)

Give it a try, the road of life will feel much less bumpy and you just might find yourself ready for a whole new journey.

If you are ready to shift gears and create a happier, less stressful life,

contact Patrice Koerper to start your Wishful Thinking Works life coaching today.

Here’s what Patrice’s clients have to say about their journeys.

Give it a try on Positive Thinking Day!

Discover and raise your positivity score. A 3-to-1 ratio is the way to go.

“World renowned researcher Dr. Barbara Fredrickson gives you the lab-tested tools necessary to create a healthier, more vibrant, and flourishing life. She discovered that experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio with negative ones leads people to a tipping point beyond which they naturally become more resilient to adversity and effortlessly achieve what they once could only imagine. With Positivity, you’ll learn to see new possibilities, bounce back from setbacks, connect with others, and become the best version of yourself.”              (http://www.positivityratio.com/)

In the weeks ahead I will be posting more about University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill professor and researcher Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D.’s wonderful work. We’ve talked about her “Broaden and Build” theory before. Her ground-breaking research in positive psychology tips the scales in your favor. Her tests and tips can set you on a clear path to positivity and help set you apart from the “80% of Americans” who are resting at a 2-to-1 or less positivity ratio.

Step out from the crowd and celebrate “Positive Thinking Day” by spending 3 minutes taking Fredrickson’s free online “Positivity Self Test” to find out a snapshot of your positivity ratio with the goal of paying attention to the questions, not the outcome! You see, the questions hold the clues to positivity – they capture the positive and negative thoughts and emotions we produce and respond to; the ratio reflects the impact they have on your life. Thoughts + ratio = your life.

Be honest as you answer the questions. If your ratio is not what you want it to be – not to worry. Simply use it as a baseline, and think positively! The key to the many, many benefits of positivity is a long-term 3-to-1 ratio, which is oh, so possible. Barbara’s research and your brain are designed to help you – knowledge and practice are the way to go. Barbara’s done the investigating and the gathering; I’ll help by sharing her info, and you can pitch in with the practice. Sounds like a winning combination to me, and it’s all free for the taking!

Get started today, and then come back in the weeks ahead for more of Barbara’s info, tips and techniques.

Until then, think positive!

PS Yup, I have posted about Fredrickson’s 3-to-1 ratio recently and in the past, because positivity matters! So much so, that tomorrow I’m celebrating my “Positive Thinking Day” by giving a transatlantic talk about it at the American Corner in Bitola, Macedonia via Skype. (That’s their program poster above.)

“The Happiness Project”: Hop, skip, and jump into change

Today is my final re-post about Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project. I’ve been reposting and updating my 2010 posts about it all week to celebrate the release of Gretchen’s new book “Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life”, which I’m looking forward to reading.

I’ve been writing about “The Happiness Project” because:

  1. It’s good.
  2. When I think about it, I feel happier.
  3. The more we talk, read, or write about something the more likely we are to integrate into our lives.

My positive feelings about the book come not just from what Gretchen wrote, but from what she did. Gretchen created the life she wanted. She did it by identifying her desire to change, believing she could, coming up with a plan, and taking action.

Change takes all those steps: desire, belief, planning, and action. Picture yourself skipping down the yellow-brick road of life singing, “desire, belief, planning, and action; desire, belief, planning, and action . . .” When you add the skipping and singing, change sounds kind-of fun. Actually, anything we say while walking or skipping sounds less intimidating. Turns out, our brains are hard-wired to work particularly well when we are moving.

Gretchen noted in her book that our bodies need a minimum of 10,000 steps a day for good health. She also mentioned that this is the same number of steps we need to take to keep from gaining weight, and that science has shown that “exercise-induced brain chemicals help people think clearly.” Other studies show that seniors, who walk at least 1.5 miles a week have the least thinking impairment.  And, that walking may reduce dementia!

I’ve learned that if I want to change my mind or my mood, moving my body helps. Walking, skipping, running, hopping, dancing, bending, twisting, turning, and stretching all make me feel better.

Just getting out of your chair right now can change your perspective, and maybe your life – go ahead, try it. I did, and it felt great. Change can start that simply. Afterall, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao-tzu. 

Take some time this weekend to move your desire and belief into planning and action. And, remember, even something as simple as a smile can be a step in the right direction.

Jump start your journey to a happier life with Wishful Thinking Works life coaching.

Contact Patrice Koerper to get started today.

Here’s what her clients have to say about their journeys.

“The Happiness Project”: A RARE Approach

As promised, here’s more about Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project. I’m reposting and updating my 2010 posts about it each day this week to celebrate the release of her new book “Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life”.

Why I liked the “The Happiness Project”.

1. It was fun to read, had a nice flow to it, and was like listening to an interesting friend.

2. Gretchen had a great way of blending her skills as a researcher with her talents for storytelling.

3. I liked the approach she used to create the life she wanted, which I’m describing as “RARE”.

RARE: Gretchen did her Research, took Action, and time to Review her findings, while remaining Enthusiastic throughout the process. I like that, and think it is pretty RARE for someone to do that in their personal life.

Research

Gretchen conducted two types of informal research – internal and external.

Internal: Gretchen took time to figure out what she cared about – living a fuller life – and what she thought was missing – happiness, well, a deeper, richer happiness.

External: Then she spent time researching the topic – happiness – to find out if there were already answers to the question she was asking herself. Gretchen read everything she could get her hands on related to happiness from “Aristotle to Martin Seligman to Thoreau to Oprah”  (Martin Seligman is known as the “Father of Positive Psychology”. I’m a big fan and have blogged quite a bit about his research.)

Action

The research she did was her first action step; her second action step was organizing what she read and devising a series of “experiments” for herself – she tried all sorts of methods for increasing her happiness; her third step was creating charts to guide and track her progress.

Sounds like a lot of work, and it was, but she made it fun, and as simple as possible. Gretchen knew if she tried to change her life in a haphazard fashion, she wouldn’t see the results she wanted – so she planned, charted and even started a blog. Very cool.

Review

I love this part of her approach. Gretchen reviewed what worked and what didn’t work for her, and then made adjustments when needed instead of abandoning her efforts. She didn’t throw in the towel, or throw the baby out with the bath water. Instead, she reduced her self-incriminations and ramped-up the getting-back-on-the-horse and the back-into-the-ring approaches.

She never gave-up, she simply gave herself feedback and listened to it!

And, last but certainly not least, Gretchen remained . . .

Enthusiastic

She celebrated her successes – big or small – and rewarded  herself along the way. The celebrations and rewards kept her enthusiasm high, and allowed more time for positive results to develop, which improved her life and gave her the energy she needed to keep going.

I’m not saying she never felt disillusioned, she did and explained when and why in her book with humor and engaging humility, but she did not let those feelings stop her.

Gretchen put her time in, paid her dues, and committed to the process. She plotted and planned, which is a good strategy for any type of change. Plotting and planning almost always makes the process more valuable to us. The more effort we expend, the more we value the process and the more we tend to want to make it to the finish line.

Gretchen used a RARE, year-long approach to finding happiness, and it worked!

Ready to begin your own “happiness project”? Contact life coach Patrice Koerper to get started.

Happy is as happy does. 

“The Happiness Project”: Be you

Happy Wednesday!

Each day this week, to celebrate yesterday’s release of Gretchen Rubin’s new book “Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project,  Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life”, I’m reposting and updating my articles from 2010 about her first book “The Happiness Project”, because it makes me happy!

As part of Gretchen Rubin’s “Happiness Project”, she created her own “Twelve Commandments.”  Her first commandment, and my favorite, was: “Be Gretchen”, which for her meant accepting her personal likes and dislikes, and then acting on them.

Gretchen explained that she loved reading children’s books, which eventually led her to start a book club with other folks she knew, who also love reading children’s books. At first she felt reading children’s books was a bit foolish and not the best thing about herself to share with others, but by being open about it, she learned others loved it, too, and now they can share their interest and enjoyment together. (Admitting to reading children’s books as an adult might not seem like a big deal, but it probably would have surprised Gretchen’s law school classmates and readers of her more scholarly books on Churchill and Kennedy. And, for the record, most of the things we “hide” about ourselves are not such a big deal either.)

Are you willing to open your life to your likes?

Perhaps you would rather eat burgers, than pretend to enjoy foie gras?  Drink beer than champagne. Or you might, prefer spending the night alone reading, rather than going out. (Please note: each and every one of these examples could be reversed – you might prefer going out rather than reading anything, anytime – there are no “right answers,” only you and what you like.)

Here’s Gretchen’s point – if you like eating ice cream right out of a container rather than baking (or buying) fancy pastries, why not serve containers of ice cream with spoons for dessert at your next dinner party? (Not that you need to have dinner parties, but if you do, you could!)

Make what you love doing a part of your life in fun ways. Have a beer tasting. Or a potato chip tasting, or ask your friends to make and bring their favorite comfort food to your next gathering. The list is endless and can bring you great joy and happiness, and will probably do the same for others. Have fun doing and sharing what you like!

Are you ready to discard your dislikes?

Stop doing things you really dislike!  And, stop spending time obsessing about not doing the things you don’t like. (Three negatives make a positive!)

Gretchen learned to accept her dislikes, which for her meant that she was never going to”visit a jazz club at midnight, or hang out in artists’ studios, or jet off to Paris for the weekend, or pack up to go fly-fishing on a spring dawn”, so she learned to stop worrying about not doing them!

Now remember – there’s nothing wrong with doing those things, but if you don’t want to, let yourself off the proverbial hook, and set yourself free to focus on what you do want to do – and then do it!

When my kids were 4 and 5, I found creative ways to include them in chores I really disliked. Giving them a pail and some dish soapy, sudsy water became a game and my kitchen floor got clean without as much help from me! (Yes, I really did that, it was a tad messy, but still more fun than me facing it alone, and they grew-up to be happy, healthy adults, who clean stuff and love the water!) As they grew older, we instituted a rule that while everyone had chores to do, no one would ever have to do their least favorite chore – it worked liked a dream for them and me, and I avoided having to empty the dishwasher silverware tray until they left for college!

Being you” has many silver linings, following Gretchen’s lead, I’ve come up with three:

1. Learning to”be you” will help you create more happiness in your life.

2. The happier you become, the happier the people you love and meet may become. (Research shows happiness is contagious.)

3. Learning to “be you” will help you understand and accept that your spouse/significant, kids, parents, friends, colleagues, neighbors, etc. need to be themselves, too. If you get really good at all of this – you will let them be them, which will make them happier, and in turn, you’ll be happier, because happiness is contagious.

Well, there you have it: “Be you.” Get happier. Pretty profound stuff for a Wednesday morning. 

So, what are your “Likes”? Any you’d like to share?  (All pun intended.)

Any you’ve been denying or hiding? Admitting them may be the first step to truly enjoying them!

Don’t be shy, once you share your “hidden” likes, others will too. It’s really quite freeing. I’ll start.

I used to read the newspaper every single morning, now I don’t. To many of my friends and former colleagues that’s akin to treason.

I used to watch the movie “Speed” with Sandra Bullock when I had a really stressful day at work, somehow the action relaxed me!

Oh, and I might as well tell you that I read children’s books all the time, eat ice cream from the container, watch lots of TV reruns, and truly dislike sushi – except for the veggie kind.

I also find almost all nightly news shows boring, I love the in-depth shows and morning news, but nightly news reporting is not for me.

There, you have it, a few of my likes and dislikes. Oh, yes, I’m perfectly happy eating any sort-of leftovers for breakfast, preferably cold, like pizza with a liberal sprinkling of vinegar. (I will sprinkle vinegar on just about anything.) And, truth be told, most days, breakfast is my biggest meal of the day, and I will still nibble my way through the morning.

Are you still there? TMI? Hope not, because after all, I’m just being me! Try being you, and let me know how you like it!

If you want help bringing more happiness into your life, contact Patrice Koerper for Wishful Thinking Works life coaching at 813-719-0769 .

Happy is as happy does. 

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