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How to Unblock Your Flow for Optimal Productivity

Photo courtesy of Drew Coffman

For optimal professional productivity in our lives, we must be in a free “flow state” – which essentially means that we love what we are doing. Time flies when your flow is open and your creativity is sparked.  Everything else in your world becomes background noise as you focus in on the task at hand.

As a writer, when I experience a loss of flow, it’s called “writer’s block,” but this problem definitely presents itself in a wide variety of professions.  Even what appear to be the most mundane and routine jobs and tasks can be engaging and fun as long as you enjoy what you do.

To develop good flow and to keep it unblocked, you’ll need to have clear professional goals, good concentration skills, an established pattern of feedback, and the appropriate skill level to accomplish what you’ve set out to do.

Tips to Open Your Flow:
Always have a conclusion in mind. (When will your task be “finished?”)
Stay focused by practicing concentration every day. (Form a healthy, positive habit.)
Know where you can get reliable feedback.
Stop while you’re ahead (or excited.)
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Find a new location, even if it means simply moving to another desk for awhile.
Unformat your regular task process and come at it from another direction.
Never forget to have fun! As soon as the fun stops, your flow becomes blocked.
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Find new ways to constantly challenge yourself.
Love what you do.
Open your thoughts. Live and work mindfully.
Work productively, feel satisfied, and be happy.

 

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Take This Job and Love it: How to Practice Mindfulness in the Workplace

Photo courtesy of Sukhasanachair

Since today is officially Labor Day, we are supposed to recognize all of the economic and social contributions of our country’s workforce, which happens to include most of us. Since it’s us that we’re appreciating, I propose that we view today as a welcome day off and a last goodbye to long summer days and family vacations. Enjoy each and every moment of today – whether you’re sleeping in late, cooking burgers, or watching movies all afternoon. Be thankful that you have a job to have a day off from.

Make tomorrow your Labor Day! You’ll be back at work, after all, and you will have had the benefit of a long weekend to fuel your professional engine.  As your way of celebrating your Labor Day, find small ways to bring mindfulness into your workplace. We already know that thinking, moving, and eating mindfully keeps us centered in the moments of life, bringing us more in touch with ourselves and our experiences. As we practice mindfulness, our cortisol levels drop, leaving us with a feeling of evaporating clouds of stress and a sudden clarity of the here and now.

Although job-related situations may not typically be on your radar as appropriate mindfulness opportunities, they should be. Another benefit of living mindfully is an increase in productivity and the ability to come up with new ideas.  In fact, many companies today have begun encouraging mindful practices within the workplace. Although it has proven challenging and has seen some resistance, the movement toward corporate mindfulness is definitely on the rise.

To be more mindful at work, try some of the following suggestions:

  • Observe before you react. Allow situations to unfold completely. Gather information with clarity and purpose, but without judgement. This will allow you to react more calmly, effectively, and creatively.
  • Window gaze. Ideally, take at least a 30 minute walk to be one with nature every single day.  Identify with a particular tree and the way it moves in the breeze, or the brilliant colors of the flowers. Optionally, find a window and gaze out of it for at least 5 minutes to remind yourself that you’re part of a bigger universe than the walls that surround your desk.
  • Hit the pause button. Transitions at work can be jarring and can destroy your focus.  To avoid this effect, work at a steady pace and schedule breaks in between transitions so that you can give yourself time to decompress and find your center before the next meeting or event.
  • Check yourself. If you need a reminder to check in with yourself during the day, download The Mindfulness App, or set an alarm or timer. At intervals of your choice, do a self-check during which you simply focus on your breathing and being in your body.  Remember that you are a living, breathing person and not just a work drone!
  • Humanize your coworkers. Recognize that everyone you work with is dealing with challenges every day, just as you are, and chances are good that all they really want is to be happy too. This will make it easier to interact with them, even if their behavior hasn’t always pleased you.
  • Use the ‘three breaths’ technique. Anytime you’re ready to hit ‘Send’, ‘Save’, or ‘Publish’, take three slow deep breaths to clear your mind.  Then revisit the email, memo, or article in order to verify that your intentions, words, and ideas are all in order and that they make sense.

If you’re a leader in your workplace, lead with mindfulness by keeping an eye on the big picture.  By staying focused on yourself and the others on your team, you’ll have a much clearer idea of what is happening, why it is happening, and the decisions you need to make to be effective.

Mindfulness helps us gain clarity, achieve balance, and get more pleasure out of any situation or setting. On your journey toward living a more fulfilled life, remember to let your work persona in on the enjoyment, too.

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23 Impressive Sights to Mindfully Experience

Photo courtesy of Pic Fix

I recently took a weekend trip to Washington, D.C. with my newfound dedication to living mindfully. It was, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable vacations of my life, and I credit that to the fact that I remained focused on staying in the moment at all times. My mind was blown by the number of things I had never noticed about the city before. I took immense pleasure from simply sitting on a bench that overlooked the Potomac River. I made a conscious effort to experience each moment for what it had to offer, without looking toward the future and what was next on our itinerary.

The satisfaction we can gain by mindfully approaching a wide variety of sense-stimulating destinations can significantly enhance and enrich our life experiences. Here are some excellent places to test your ability to live mindfully:

1. New York’s Central Park in the fall

2. The Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC

3. The view from the Eiffel Tower at night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


4. Lucy the Elephant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Dachau Concentration Camp

6. Lavender Fields in France at sunset

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Portland’s Japanese Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. Machu Piccu

9. Times Square on New Year’s Eve

10. The view of Bora Bora from the Thalasso Spa Resort

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11. The frozen waterfalls in Pamukkale, Turkey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12. Longwood Gardens at Christmastime

13. A redwood tree in California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14. Mardis Gras

15. Ka Tao beach, Thailand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

16. Miami Beach

17. Yellowstone National Park in the winter

18. The Black Forest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

19. The tomb of Christopher Columbus in Seville, Spain

20. Niagara Falls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

21. The Met

22. One World Trade Center

23. The Statue of Liberty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Credits:
3. Geofftheref
4. Amy_Kearns
6. Vainsang
7. ahp_ibanez
10. Pierre Lesage
11. Armando Lodi
13. Drburtoni
15. Narisa
18. LinksmanJD
20. ipeters61
23.
photosinframes

 

 

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How to Kick Life’s Buzzkills to the Curb

Photo courtesy of DaveAustria.com

Early in my third decade of life, I really started ‘coming into my own,’ as they say. In my twenties, I scoffed if someone suggested that I wouldn’t be fully self-aware and self-confident for another ten years. I thought I knew everything back then, but it’s true that a powerful shift begins right around the age of thirty. It’s mostly common sense, though, and can be chalked up to simply getting wiser with experience.

Regardless of the reason, as the years continue to fly by, my tolerance level for nonsense continues to drop. I believe the young people today would define my attitude as living “drama-free.”

I suppose the definition of ‘drama’ is different for everyone, but as we used to say in the 90s, it’s basically when someone puts a ‘major buzz kill’ on your mood.  Now that you are starting to find a direct path to being high on life, don’t let the following undesirable personality-types kill your mojo any longer:

  1.  The Cray Cray – This person is constantly full of wildly swinging emotions and usually has a dangerous potential for big blowouts. They may seem delusional and irrational.
  2.  The Negative Nancy – If you have a friend who is a constant whiner and always harps on the bad points of everything, maybe it’s time to tell them to cry a river somewhere else.
  3.  The Busybody - This is someone who appears to have no life of her own, giving her an excess amount of time to monitor and judge your every move.
  4.  The Emotional Drunk - All hell breaks loose when this person has one too many  drinks.  Sensibilities are lost right along with inhibitions, leading to ’dramatic’ professions, confessions, and sober tension the next day.
  5.  The Time Suck – Body language and social cues mean nothing to a time vampire. They show little consideration for anyone else’s time but their own, and if they get you cornered, or stuck on the phone, you can wave bye-bye to your productivity.
  6.  The Truthfully Challenged – Getting caught in a web of lies is what these people do religiously. For some, compulsive lying can be a very real mental disorder.
  7.  The Bitter Pill – Someone who’s perpetually in a bad mood due to what they consider a series of negative life events aimed at them personally can be a bit tough to swallow.
  8.  The Jealous Janet – They may display their envy in a variety of ways, like downplaying your successes, spreading rumors, or making snarky comments like, “Must be nice.”
  9.  The Braggart -With a constant need to impress, these name-droppers will never end up impressing anyone until they stop trying so hard.
  10.  The Absentee – Known in the 90s as a ‘flake’, this person often commits to things but doesn’t show up or follow through. This group also includes those who constantly ‘Tardy for the Party.”
  11.  The Close-Minded Fool- Completely unreceptive to new or different ideas and opinions, this person is very ‘un-fun’ to have a meaningful conversation with.
  12.  The Control Freak – Wanting to dominate every situation, a control freak will try to manipulate you until you relinquish all power in the relationship.
  13.  The Two-Face – Someone who expends all extra energy discussing the faults of others will not only have a negative effect on your mood, but is guaranteed to be talking behind your back, too.

Of course, nobody’s perfect, and maybe someone from the above list is on the same journey toward happiness that you are.  If that’s the case, they’ll be receptive to making changes in their behavior that are good for them and you.  Otherwise, it is most definitely time to move forward and ’kick them to the curb.’

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Making Summer Memories that Last

Photo courtesy of Lin Pernille

Although it does indeed feel like the summer of 2012 is flying by faster than any summer that has come before it, we can still make the most out of the last few weeks of August. Let’s make some warm memories that will keep away the winter blues in a few months, while we still have a chance. I, for one, will be making a few last ditch attempts to suck the most life out of this summer that I can. The hot sun, the long days, fireflies blinking at us as we sit ’round the tiki torches in the evenings that seem to stretch on endlessly, well, that will all be gone in a few short weeks. Or, as it will most likely seem: the blink of an eye.

Even though the responsibility-free summers of our youth are gone, it is important to connect with our inner child more than we do. We need to breathe in this blissful season and take some time off from the daily grind! (And not run errands all day.)  As a friend of mine reminded me today, “Summer’s almost over,” I made a decision. I’m going to make the most out of the rest of it so that when I’m mentally fried during the middle of winter, I have some awesome memories to look back on.  Here are some of the activities I plan to mindfully enjoy in the next three or four weeks:

  1. Go to an awesome water park.
  2. Have a picnic.
  3. Spend 10 minutes outdoors every day before work.
  4. Read a book in a comfortable outdoor spot.
  5. Go boogie boarding in the ocean.
  6. Skip stones at the nearest pond.
  7. Hike through the wilderness and pick wildflowers.
  8. Go to the boardwalk and breathe in the awesome smells of summer fun.
  9. Play in an open air arcade.
  10. Do yoga outside.
  11. Fall asleep on the beach.
  12. Eat ice cream on the boardwalk.
  13. Be a tourist, even if it’s near where you live.
  14. Do a handstand in the pool.
  15. Go skinny dipping.
  16. Enjoy as much fresh produce as humanly possible.

As summer turns to fall and our tans begin to gradually fade, at least we’ll have these warm memories to tide us over until next year.  Be sure to be mindfully present in whatever you do so that you can recall the fun, warm times when the snow is falling outside your window.  What do you still have in store this summer?

 

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Should There be a Real Life ‘Unfriend’ Button?

Photo courtesy of Silly Lil’ Doe

One summer, while working in a mall boutique to make extra money, I met a girl who I thought might have real potential to become more than just a co-worker. I saw her a few times a week when we shared shifts, but not often enough to really get to know her.

The summer ended, along with my job, but our friendship continued. Soon she was visiting me often and calling me many times a day, leaving multiple voice mails on my phone. When I did spend time with her, the conversations were one-sided and I could never get a word in edge-wise. My frustration with her grew until one day I found myself ducking behind a display when I saw her at the grocery store. I realized I would be happy if I never saw her again.

Some friendships shift, fade, or simply turn out to be something you weren’t expecting. And now that we are all digitally connected via facebook and Twitter, ditching someone can be infinitely more difficult than it used to be.

So, can you get out of a friendship with someone who’s toxic or is just generally driving you crazy? And is it possible that your life would be drama-free if you could?

Actually, it’s quite likely that you’ll create more drama by carrying out some elaborate “break-up” plan with a friend. Unless things are really, dramatically awful (as in, this person is making your life completely, 100% miserable), you probably don’t need to sit them down and give them the ”We’re Not Friends” speech.  Although many of us probably have at least one or two people we fantasize about saying that to - in reality, it’s just not that simple, especially if you share friends who may feel forced to take sides. Also, once you say those words, they can’t be taken back, and you will have drawn a very distinct line in the sand.

That being said, continually exposing yourself to someone who really rubs you the wrong way can create a stumbling block on your path toward acknowledging your self-worth and value. Try to institute what author and psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior calls “The Slow Fade.” In her book “The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Losing, and Keeping Up with Your Friends,” Dr. Bonior explains The Slow Fade as only seeing the person when you have to, in groups of friends. Begin to let all other contact with him or her fade into an acquaintance-type of friendship. Often this set-up is much easier to bear, even with the most agonizing of personalities. It can backfire, though, if your withdrawal only fuels your friend to seek you out with more determination. In that case, you may need to make a clean break.

Ultimately, you’ll have to do what feels right, based on the level of stress this petulant person is causing you, the number of friends you have in common, and his or her reaction to the new state of your friendship. While it might be easy to “ignore” someone’s online friendship request or “unfriend” your neighbor’s boyfriend’s cousin because her constant photo posts are clogging up your news feed, breaking up in real life really is hard to do.

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Six Ways to Survive Separation

Photo courtesy of View from 5’2
Today’s contribution comes to us from DailyPath reader Shauna Stebler.

Marital separation is extremely difficult to get through especially if you are receiving mixed messages or are unsure of the direction things are moving.  You don’t want to be spending every day thinking about your spouse, wondering what went wrong, and what’s going to happen now, or the dreaded replaying of every conversation and overanalyzing everything that was said and done.  You will drive yourself mad!  I know this from experience.

Distractions are fundamental during this time.  The more distractions you have, the less time you spend wearing yourself out with the unknown.  Worrying about it isn’t going to change anything.  Let’s talk about focusing on the things you can control, versus the things you can’t.

1.  Career and Finances:  It may be difficult to focus on your job right now, but I encourage you to put everything you have into it.  If you don’t like your job, maybe it’s time to find a new one.  You could go back to school, which would be productive with your time.  It can also give you a sense of accomplishment.  If your finances are out of control, you can always find ways to improve it.  Pick up a book to get you started.

2.  Health and Well Being:  Get adequate sleep, eat right, and start an exercise program.  I took up bellydancing.  Find a fun way to exercise!  Do something with the kids such as bike riding. This will give you a tremendous amount of energy and help to lift the depression.

3.  Friends and Family:  Invite a few friends over to play cards or for makeovers.  Go get mani’s and pedi’s together.  Just spend some time getting to know your friends again or go out and make some new ones.  There’s always something going on with kids, whether it’s baseball games or dance class.  Start spending some real quality time with your kids.

4.  Personal Growth:  Part of our personal growth journey deals with our failures and the areas that we would like to improve on, but the other part to that is being able to let go of the past and choosing to heal.  Self improvement books are wonderful.  Choose to move forward with your life even if it’s without your spouse right now.

5. Fun and Recreation:  Do something fun!  It gets your mind off of your problems.  No chick flicks, enough said.  Spend some time on hobbies.  Learn a language.  Find a sports team to join.  Grab a friend and go shopping.  Get a massage.

6. Physical Environment:  If your house makes you feel dark and depressed, make some changes.  If you walk past something that makes you miss your spouse every time you see it, put it away for now.  Don’t sit in the dark.  Fresh flowers and scents relax the senses.

Schedule things to do.  This will help you to find the motivation you need to not sit at home by yourself.  Surround yourself with positive people, places and things.  With each passing day, you will start to feel more like yourself, and happiness will once again seem attainable.

Shauna Stebler is a 37 year old single mom working on her Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.  She also leads an online support group called Surviving Separation

 

 

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Can Taking a Mental Health Day Get You Fired?

Photo courtesy of Jinx!

Taking a sick day when you’re feeling physically horrible is generally considered acceptable by most employers, as long as it doesn’t happen all the time. However, tending to your mental health can be slightly more controversial if not handled correctly.

Nearly every job entails some amount of stress.  Add to that the high paced personal lives that many Americans are living, and you end up with a very mentally weary workforce, pushing themselves day after day to make it to their jobs. If you’re not physically ill –  is it ok to call in “sick?”

The answer doesn’t seem to be very cut-and-dried in very many employee handbooks.

If you’re feeling mentally drained, your workplace probably won’t benefit from your presence anyway, so taking an unscheduled day at home recovering your brainpower might be really beneficial. Just keep a few things in mind:

  • Remember to call your boss.
    Forgetting to let your superiors know that you won’t be at work is definitely not a good start to a relaxing day off. Call (don’t text) any and all management who need to know of your absence.
  • Use generalities.
    Explain that you are just not feeling well and that it would be best if you did not come in to the office that day. Avoid saying that you are sick so that you aren’t actually lying and to avoid the day after ”How are you feeling?” conversations.
  • Choose your day appropriately.
    Taking a day off when the office is already understaffed or super-busy will irritate co-workers who have to pick up your slack. Choose a slow day to take a mental rest.
  • Plan ahead.
    Avoid anything stressful on your mental health day - figure out how you’re going to spend your time before the actual day. Rent movies, borrow books, buy that ice cream you want to indulge in. Have everything on hand so that you don’t even have to leave the house.
  • Unplug.
    If you must, give yourself 30 minutes to answer personal emails, and then disconnect from the outside world. Turn off your computer and cell phone in order to focus entirely on relaxation.
  • Choose your company wisely.
    Spending your mental health day with a friend might possibly lead to drama or conflict. Don’t take that chance on your day off. Go solo and make all of the decisions yourself.
  • Don’t be seen in public.
    Why take the risk of being spotted by a coworker or superior? Stay at home, where you can recover your mental clarity while staying out of the spotlight.

The bottom line is this: your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and although a small number of managers still expect their employees to tough it out, many employers today understand the value of a mental health day. In order to limit your need for excessive absences, though, make sure you are constantly making tiny improvements in your everyday life, leaving you better equipped to handle stressors without becoming overloaded.

 

 

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Four Easy Ways to Move on After a Divorce

Photo courtesy of Philip Leara

Sometimes what appears to be a devastating life circumstance can actually turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you. Ending a marriage is one of those life-changing events, and no matter what the particulars, it will be accompanied by a mixed bag of emotions. But there are some effective coping strategies that can help heal your heart and change your entire life for the better.

First, accept the fact that you are going to need time to heal but that you will. You need nurturing, encouragement and support while you restore your well-being, so it is important that you surround yourself with the positive. Seek out your upbeat friends. Listen to the kind of music that makes you want to grab a hairbrush-microphone and sing along. In fact, crank that iPod up during your shower every single morning. And when you go to the movies, see only comedies. Whoever said Laughter is the best medicine was not kidding.

Now, those ideas may seem quaint and obvious. But promising yourself that you will absolutely, consistently treat your own heart with the tenderness you would your best friend’s is necessary. Here is a blueprint for rebuilding, revitalizing, rejuvenating your life after divorce:

Let it out. Talking about your divorce is essential, so find a real support group, preferably with a certified counselor. It’s important to listen to the experiences of others and to share your own. That’s how you learn that things will be all right eventually.

Do something you have always wanted to do but were too afraid to try. Set weekly goals to add something new and exciting to your life. Go skydiving. There are quite inexpensive simulators now, so you don’t even really have to jump out of a plane. Take up belly dancing. Join a book club. Learn to swim. Visit every museum in your area. Almost all museums offer free days each month so that the bounties are available to all. Learn to knit and make scarves for the less fortunate. There are free and low-cost classes at the Y practically everywhere.

Figure out what you truly want in a mate. This may seem strange and frivolous, but fill out a pretend online-dating application. Those things are quite eye-opening. Most dating websites ask dozens of questions that can help you see with clarity exactly what you desire in another person, plus you’ll get a brilliant summary of your own strengths. And you never know: You may even decide to submit the application.

Remember that YOU are the sculptor here. This is very, very important. What if you decide to look at your divorce as a true fresh start? You’ll be well on your way to planning the shape of your future life. There are countless examples of people who’ve been right where you are and who’ve worked through the initial pain and confusion of divorce to discover a brand new career, a stronger relationship with a beloved partner, a simpler existence wrapped in happiness and contentment. I’m one of them. If I hadn’t survived a divorce, I would not have gone back to school for my M.F.A., wouldn’t have become a published writer, would never have found my darling husband. You can fashion your life any way you want. So why not make it better than it has ever been before?

Our guest poster Elane Johnson has had  her non-fiction appear in Brevity, Superstition Review, Sonora Review and The IndianapolisStar among other publications. Her award-winning “Aftermath” is featured in creative writing programs across the country. Elane, an adjunct instructor of writing who holds an M.F.A. in Creative Nonfiction, is married to the writer Stephen Ulrich. She pens an irreverent blog for pure pleasure.

 

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Find Happiness by Answering These 4 Questions

Photo courtesy of Vinoth Chandar

Many of us spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to achieve true happiness in life without even knowing where that happiness lies. It’s a bit like taking off on a roadtrip with no idea where you’re going. You might enjoy the ride and you’ll definitely have an adventure, but where you’ll end up is a complete mystery.

Like a roadtrip, there are many acceptable routes to achieving your life’s goals, but in both scenarios, it’s always better if you have an endpoint in mind before you even begin. It’s ok (and encouraged) to take some roads less traveled on your journey toward inner peace, as long as you know where you ultimately want to end up. Without knowing what your desired destination even looks like, you will likely find yourself driving around in circles, seeing the same sights repeatedly and really, just wasting gas.

Before you can begin moving toward complete happiness and inner peace, you need to know where Your Personal Happiness is located on your map. Find it by asking yourself these four important questions.

  • What is my true self? – The answer to this question is all-important when it comes to moving forward in your life. Take some time to really get to know yourself – the real you, not what you want to be like or what your resume says. Look deep within yourself and really see who you are.
  • What does the real me enjoy? – After you’ve discovered your true self, determine what you really like to do and who you like to be around.
  • When do I feel happiest/at peace? – Remember to be totally honest in your self reflection. Sometimes this one is difficult because of societal pressure.
  • Based on the first three questions, what does my desired future look like?

Write down a detailed description of your perfect future so that you can refer to it often along the way, like a map. It will serve as a constant reminder of where you’re headed and why you’re on this journey in the first place. By frequently referring to the endpoint on your map, you will feel more connected to your desired destination. You’ll find yourself shutting off the auto-pilot and taking the wheel of your own life again. The journey toward Happiness may be filled with twists and turns, and you might get a flat tire along the way, but don’t give up. You know where you’re going, and that’s half the battle.

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