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How to Win in the Game of Life: Holiday Edition


Photo courtesy of Wayne Silver
As we get closer and closer to the release date of Life: 2013, I’ve been thinking about all of the features that I thought were absolutely absurd when the current version came out. When I first played version ’12, there were definitely some elements that I wasn’t sure I could handle, and quite frankly, it seemed very possible that 2012 might turn out to be a total flop.

All in all though, I’m happy to report that ’12 pleasantly surprised me, and I got quite a lot of enjoyment out of what I orginally thought was an unreasonably challenging level of gameplay. I ended up making it through all of this year’s checkpoints with much greater ease than I anticipated, leaving me with more than three weeks to wait until I can tackle the new version.

Luckily, this year’s holiday edition promises is as jam-packed as ever, keeping all of us who are eagerly anticipating 2013 busy with some new and potentially complex characters, a seemingly endless number of mini-battles, and one-on-one challenges that will test everyone’s skills. As has been true with every Life: Holiday Edition, the graphics are once again amplified in a distorted sort of way, leaving the player feeling that the game’s colors and lights are just a little too bright. As they’ve said before, the developers don’t expect any major glitches, but it wouldn’t be the holiday edition if it didn’t crash at least a few systems.

If you’re playing the holiday version this year, there are some helpful hints put together by some players familiar with all of the holiday versions.

  • Trade your negative energy wand in for a more powerful and useful tool. You may feel like using the wand to battle or kill off annoying characters that appear in the holiday version, but remember not to expend too much energy on them.
  • Only use your invisibility cloak when you absolutely must. The rest of the time, it’s best to be out and about in all of the game’s levels so that nothing can take you by surprise.
  • Learn how to levitate. There are some helpful and free apps that will help you rise above. Being aware of your breathing while playing is the first step toward a totally zen gamer profile, which is even more critical in the holiday version.
  • Take responsibility for all of the moves that you make. A very important thing to remember is that no one is in charge of your lives but you. Sure, some people are influential players in the game, but there is only one person holding your controller.

While we all know that life isn’t really a game, sometimes it helps to think of it as one. Use all of your powers wisely and always be on the lookout for more, use (and ask for) a helping hand when you need one, stay as far away from the bad guys as possible, and keep your eyes on the prize.

Whether the bad guys you’re currently battling are skeletons in your closet, bullies from the unemployment office, ghosts of loved ones who passed away too soon, taunting monsters of chronic pain, or something even worse – as long as you see an ally when you look in the mirror, your enemies don’t even stand a chance.

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10 Things to be Thankful for Before it’s Too Late

Photo courtesy of Cornelia Kopp

Although Thanksgiving day isn’t here yet, there are many things that we should be thankful for every day of our lives. Sometimes we forget to appreciate what we consider to be the ‘little things’, and by the time we realize their importance, it’s far too late. Take the time now to get into the habit of being cognizant of everything and everyone that makes your life worth living.

Part of being thankful is being aware, and the most effective way to be aware of everything around you is to live mindfully. Mindful living ensures that you don’t miss all of the wonderful things in your life that are happening to you every day. You know the saying, “stop and smell the roses?” Well as it turns out, you really should.

Here are 10 other things that many of us forget to appreciate.   See if you can expand this list each day by mindfully noticing all of the good things that surround you.

  1.  You are the thing that you should be most thankful for.  Be mindful of yourself first, and all other relationships become instantly that much better.
  2.  Appreciate all of the difficult things you’ve made it through. Because of those hurdles, you’re that much stronger, smarter and more capable.
  3.  Enjoy your children every single day.  The more you enjoy them, the more they will enjoy you – guaranteed. When your children become adults, the bonds you create with them now will turn into lifelong friendships. This can be applied to nieces and nephews, too!
  4. Love the shape of your body. Many people spend such a wasted amount of time dieting and cursing the image they see in the mirror. The better choice is embracing the body you’ve  been given and appreciating all of the good things about it. Every body is different and there is beauty to be found in each one.  You just have to be looking for the beauty instead of the flaws.
  5. Be thankful for your enemies.  They teach you valuable lessons – what not to do, how not to act, and why your friends are so amazing (and that you should be extra thankful for them!)
  6.  Look around and be grateful for this earth that we live on.  It is filled with beauty, life, and vivid colors in more areas than not.  Take time to travel to some of the most breathtaking places on earth. And don’t forget to appreciate the nature that is in your own backyard, which sometimes goes blindly unnoticed.
  7.  Remember to appreciate your ability to eat food and all that it brings to your life – from the delicious experience of eating it to the strength and nutrition it delivers to your body.
  8.  Make sure that you are not only thankful for your soulmate, but that you show him or her how much they mean to you.  If you haven’t found your soulmate yet, be thankful for your friends for being your constant companions.
  9. Be grateful for your health as you journey through this life. If you do live with pain or disease, be thankful that you live in a time of advanced medicine so that you can exist in a much higher degree of comfort than many people in the past.
  10. When is the last time you were thankful for your senses? Without them, you couldn’t experience the beauty and the brilliance of everything else on this list.

Make every day a day of thanks. Appreciating the good things in your life means that you’re really noticing them, and that’s definitely a step in the right direction.

 

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Mind Over Matter: Why My Grandmother was Right

Photo courtesy of Smth Criminal29

In my youth, anytime I scraped my knee or found myself sick in bed with the flu, my grandmother would very assertively tell me, ”It’s mind over matter, girl! Keep your head on straight and you’ll be just fine.” As a child, I was more interested in receiving pity instead of advice about how to be mindful, but now that I’m an adult, I look back at that time and am quite impressed with my grandma’s forward thinking. I also count myself very lucky to have been the recipient of such meaningful advice at such a young age.

Indeed, she was right – the power of the mind is nothing short of extraordinary.  It has even been credited with saving lives. In fact, it has been said that the mind is a wonder-drug that can be used to treat a variety of medical conditions. The best thing about this particular medicine is that it’s free and easily accessible.

Studies show that practicing meditation and being mindful in general can help patients prepare for and recover better from some risky procedures, including quadruplebypass surgery! By gaining control over your mind, you learn how to keep your body relaxed, which in turn lowers your blood pressure and the amount of cortisol in your body. Cortisol is a chemical caused by stress that can lead to inflammation, impaired healing and an increased response to pain.

Another positive effect of living mindfully and meditating is an increased endorphin level. Much like a ‘runner’s high’ – you can experience the same pleasant feelings when you stay in the now and focus on controlling your brain’s responses. Along with more endorphins, you can also look forward to an increased level of GABA (Gamma aminobutyric acid) – a very important neurotransmitter that is responsible for keeping your moods regulated.  Without enough GABA, you’ll end up experiencing anxiety, insomnia, bad moods, and in rare cases, epilepsy.

Some people simply don’t ‘buy in’ to the idea that we have the ability to control our minds to such extreme extents.  Those people are usually the ones shown to have much higher levels of anxiety and chronic pain. To make matters even more interesting, one study divided participants into two groups – those who mindfully meditated regularly, and those who didn’t meditate at all.  All participants were hooked up to fMRI brain scanners and then asked to put their hands into extremely hot water. The amazing thing is that the group of people who reported living mindfully showed up to 50% less activity in the areas of the brain associated with pain responses.

The concept of ‘mind over matter’ usually refers to the act of gaining control over our mind’s response to pain or illness. Another phenomenon that some people feel is a matter of mind over matter is superior athletic ability. Is it nature, nurture, or a combination of both? Is it possible that all it takes is the right mindset in order to become an Olympic gold medalist?

While the jury’s still out on that one, there’s definitely enough proof to show that by living mindfully, meditating regularly, and being closely in touch with your body and mind, you have the potential to live a much happier, healthier, and longer life.  If you ask me, that sounds like a pretty sweet deal.

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Mindfulness Basics: Meditation for the Real World

Photo courtesy of Wonderlane

In order to start really enjoying my life to the fullest, I had to learn how to live more mindfully.  If you’re wondering what that means, you’re not alone.  I have been asked many times precisely what mindful living entails, and most people also want to know if there is a difference between mindfulness meditation and traditional meditation.

The concept of mindfulness is the act of paying attention to the things that are happening around us, to us, and within us in order to deliberately notice our responses - with the ultimate goal of increasing our enjoyment of life. A very important part of living mindfully happens to be dedicating time each day to meditate, but probably not the type of meditation you’re thinking of.

Mindfulness meditation means simply becoming more aware of things and accepting what is happening, moment by moment. Through meditating mindfully, we learn how to be more present in our lives without judging or trying to change anything.

In contrast to other forms of meditation, the goal of meditating mindfully isn’t relaxation; therefore, it can be performed anytime, anywhere. Since the goal of living a mindful life is to participate more instead of being mentally absent, regular mindful meditation sets us up for success when it comes to: enjoying all that life brings our way, making changes when necessary, and being more compassionate toward others.

To begin with, meditating with a mindful purpose is usually performed with the eyes open. The exceptions to this would be if you want to simply focus on your breathing, or do a lying full body scan to practice being more aware of each body part.

Truthfully, you can meditate mindfully by focusing your attention on just about anything.  Since mindful meditation is a process aimed at developing better awareness in general, the practice can be carried out during any number of activities, like: eating, running, swimming, walking, making love, getting a tattoo, working, doing yoga, and recovering from an illness. In fact, some women even mindfully meditate through the process of childbirth.

Regardless of the activity at hand, in order to mindfully navigate or “meditate” your way through it, you must anchor your mind to four levels of the experience:

  • Physical sensation of being in your body - Simply become aware of all of your body parts and how they move during the activity.
  • Feelings brought on by the activity – How does your body feel? Does it hurt or feel good? Are you hot or too cold?
  • Your mental state – What emotions are you experiencing?
  • Consciousness mapping - Is your mental state positive or negative?

When you first begin mindful meditation, the most important thing is to focus on your reactions to your own body and mind as much as possible.  Develop a strong connection with your own body and mind before you begin responding to your outside environment. After that, try to keep a good balance of your awareness of your inner and outer worlds as much as possible.

Mindful living can give you the intense experience of being deeply aware of your environment and your life’s adventures. The more in touch you are with your inner self, the more free you will be to enjoy and react to everything external.  Mindful meditation will help you create a quietude within your body, mind, and soul, affording you the ability to notice and focus energy on the beauty and joy of everything that surrounds you.

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The Heart of Mindfulness is All in Your Approach

Photo courtesy of Klearchos Kapoutsis

The goal of this week’s Mindful Monday post is simple: we’re going back to the basics.

Many, many times, even the most dedicated person can lose sight of his or her goal(s) of living mindfully, making it easy to slip back into a harried, stress-filled way of living. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen to us by taking the time now to review some basic mindfulness concepts.

While mindfulness is at the heart of Buddhist meditation, it has nothing to do with Buddhism and everything to do with paying attention. The words for mind and heart are essentially the same in many Asian languages.

Mindfulness = Heartfulness

Heartfulness is the act of showing your mind and body affection by paying attention to the moments of your life on purpose, in the now, and without judgment.

Some people get mindfulness and awareness confused.

For example – being aware that you are eating is not the same as eating mindfully. Many people eat while talking, texting, watching television, reading, or a myriad of other distracting actions.  On some level, you are ‘aware’ that food is going into your mouth, but you will never fully connect with the experience unless you are mindfully paying attention to all of the sensations involved in eating and your reactions to them.

That concept carries through to everything you do in your life: shopping, sight-seeing, interacting with your children, having conversations, seeing a play, taking a drive, even sitting still in the silence of your living room!

It’s the attitude you have when approaching activities that will make all the difference in how deeply you connect with them. Through practicing regular mindfulness, you’ll be able to live a much more fulfilling, happy life. Let’s review the key attitudes of mindfulness:

Kindness toward yourself as you become more aware of your thoughts and reactions
Acceptance of how you feel, right now
Curiosity about your feelings toward everything that you experience
Patience for expert mindfulness to develop
Go with the flow of your reactions to everything you are experiencing. Don’t force anything.
Trust your mind and your inner strength to guide you toward a more enlightened life.
Non-judging attitude toward good or bad experiences – simply observe.
Non-striving approach to every moment -rather than look forward to a future moment, stay in this moment and allow it to completely unfold for what it is.
Open-mindedness - Everything that you encounter has so many possibilities as long as you are open to them.

If it seems like too much to tackle all at once, try to adopt one of the above attitudes into your life at a time until you feel you have mastered it.  Then you can progressively practice all of the mindful attitudes, one by one.  Believe me, you WILL feel your reactions to life begin to shift in a very positive direction.

Next week’s Mindful Monday will be dedicated to reviewing the steps to successful Mindful Meditation.

 

 

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How to Turn off Auto-Pilot and Live Your Life to the Fullest

Photo courtesy of Bing Ramos

On the journey toward living with mindfulness and balance, it’s important not to slip into auto-pilot too often.  Much like arriving at a familiar destination in your car and having no idea how you got there, living life on auto-pilot steals moments right out from under you. It’s so easy to zone out, and it’s ok to let it happen once in awhile, but for the most part, living mindfully means paying attention to every moment we are lucky enough to experience.

I’ve spent a significant amount of time creating effectual habits in order to become more productive, and that type of automated thinking, in the appropriate settings, is actually good for my brain and allows me to function better professionally. Habitual thinking occurs when the brain becomes so accustomed to certain tasks that performing them becomes automatic, leaving us able to concentrate on more important things. Examples of beneficial habits include exercising, flossing your teeth, and taking your vitamins every day.

A problem arisis when the brain slips into automatic mode too often, leading to lost life experiences. In order to use your inner capacities for awareness and insight, it’s important to focus on “being” rather than “doing.” Living mindfully means letting your mind rest in each moment as it comes, watching your thoughts and reactions to all that life has to offer.

If you’re finding it difficult to shut off auto-pilot and be more present in your life, here are ten simple things you can do to get started:

1. Appreciate the things others do for you. Start taking notice of the small favors people do for you. By telling my husband how much I appreciate what he does, I’m more in tune with how happy he makes me feel.

2. Start listening. Admit it: when your kids (or sometimes your friends) launch into a long story, it’s easy to stop paying attention. Instead of formulating your response, sit back, watch the person’s body language, and listen.

3. Sit with your body; quiet your mind. You can do this at any point during the day. Take a break from what you’re doing, feel the space your body is taking up, and think only of your breathing.

4. Be more aware of your posture. Becoming more attuned to where your body is in space can turn a slouch into a ramrod straight spine. I have personally grown a full inch since posture became a priority.

5. Think of those who are less fortunate. When you’re facing a hurdle, take a moment to imagine how it would feel to be homeless or seriously disabled. Then turn your focus back to your life, and grasp the full greatness of what you do have.

6. Practice progressive relaxation. You can combine this with #3 when you have time. Lie down in a comfortable position. Tighten and then systematically relax each muscle group.

7. Eat slowly. Allow your food to sit on your tongue longer; put your fork down in between bites. Enjoy the way your food tastes, feels, and smells.

8. Drive under the speed limit. By making a concious effort to move more slowly, you’ll realize that life doesn’t have to be so fast paced, leaving you more capable of enjoying the scenery.

9. Recognize that answering your cell phone is a choice. So many people answer calls, text, or read facebook updates while engaging in face-to-face interactions with other people! Put your phone down, turn it off, and focus on the real people around you.

10. Do things that make you feel good. You have the power to say yes and no. Utilize that power according to your happiness requirements. Simply: participate in activities that you enjoy, and avoid situations and people that cause your happiness level to suffer.

Simply because Ford predicts that cars will soon be equipped with nearly complete auto-pilot capabilities doesn’t mean that humans should follow their lead. On the road of life, you’re the one navigating. Choose your destination, feel the wind in your hair, and stop often along the way.

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When the Words Get in the Way: How to Talk Less and Say More

Photo courtesy of Val Pearl

Foot in mouth disease can plague even the best of us on occasion. I personally have been a victim of not knowing when to shut my mouth in the past; in fact, it used to be quite a problem for me. Along my journey toward becoming a better person, I wanted to learn how to stop myself from saying things I always end up regretting later.

I started out by focusing on when I was having the most problems with putting my foot in my mouth. It always seemed to be at the most inopportune times!  As it turns out, research shows that people actually do tend to let things slip when the pressure is on to behave well, and this has a scientific basis.

Known as one of the brain’s ‘ironic processes’, when we are specifically trying to keep unwanted thoughts from exploding out of our mouths, it becomes even harder to do so.  This is because the human brain is constantly working arduously to keep unwanted thoughts at bay, but when it becomes overloaded, such as in times of stress like an interview or first date, undersirable tidbits end up getting past the gates.

Much like wanting to ‘stop being nervous’ or get into a better mood on command, we’d all love to have complete control over our thoughts, and especially, when and when not to share them. How can we keep our feet out of our mouths when it matters most?

The answer seems to be related to creating effectual habits. Just like in many other areas of our lives, like exercise, eating, and being productive, making keeping mum habitual gets us the most regular and reliable results.  The key is how and when to train your brain to keep quiet.

Don’t begin the process while you’re immersed in a stressful situation, for one.  In order to teach yourself to babble less and say more of the right things, you’ll need to take a gentle, nurturing approach. Think of your brain as a very complex network, and it’s important that the whole thing’s not lit up when you start rewiring a few of the grids. Otherwise, you might end up shorting everything out, negating all of your efforts.

Try this: when you’re in low-pressure situations, practice keeping negative thoughts to yourself by forcing yourself to think about (but not speak about) the things you really don’t want to say.  You’ll have to do this regularly, because after all, improving your prowess at any skill won’t happen without practice.

Just like any desired behavior, the best way to control what you say is to make it an unconscious action. By familiarizing your gray matter with saying the right things instead of making innapropriate comments, your brain will eventually become more comfortable with minding its manners instead of making your most mortifying musings public knowledge.

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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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The Biggest Surprise About Hitting Rock Bottom

Photo courtesy of Vincent Desjardins

On my journey to live the life I really want, a multitude of very important changes are occurring within me, but they are changes that I worked toward; they were goals that I clearly set out to reach. Today I want to talk about something remarkable that has happened to me along the way that I never expected.

Up until a year ago, I spent approximately 18 months fighting and clawing against the gravity that was inevitably pulling me toward rock bottom. I wanted nothing to do with hitting the bottom, because I knew I would have to admit some harsh realities after the impact.

After the collision, I remained curled into the fetal position with my eyes squeezed firmly shut in denial. A few weeks later, when I finally managed to open my eyes, it was with the sudden realization that I had exactly two choices: get busy living, or get busy dying.  And if I planned to stay alive, well, I had better get up and get moving, because I had some real work to do.

Thus began my exploration of self-empowerment and taking back control over my own happiness. Divorce, illness, unemployment, depression, low self-esteem, abuse, toxic relationships, obesity, lack of direction, and drug and alcohol addiction are just some of the reasons that have put many of us on the path toward self-love and acceptance.

As we all make strides toward living the life we really want to live, most of us have seen and felt a number of changes happen within us, like increased self-confidence, better self-image, and more effective life skills, all of which have led us to accomplish many personal achievements and overcome hurdles that we never thought we’d conquer.

As we accomplish more and come closer to our ultimate happiness, the image we project to others begins to shift. They can see us more clearly now that our walls of self-loathing, destruction, or denial are crumbling. Liking yourself makes you infinintely more likeable to others, which is something that most of us have known all along.

I am thoroughly enjoying how the positive changes are affecting my life, but I have to say that there was something that took me totally and completely by surprise in all of this, and it wasn’t mentioned as one of the most common side effects of self-improvement.

It is also something that is rather hard for me to admit, because in doing so, I will be making a confession about who I used to be. Ok. Here goes:

(I like helping people now.)

What many of us don’t realize as we’re spiraling downward (in some cases completely obliviously), is that we really don’t even like other people all that much, let alone want to help them. Only upon reaching the summit of self-love and appreciation can we begin to really care that other people are suffering too.  Going through the motions of helping others is one thing, but really, genuinely wanting to help someone simply for the sake of making his or her life better?  Well, that’s another beast entirely, and frankly, it’s something that makes hitting rock bottom 150% worth it.

Karl Reiland said, “In about the same degree as you are helpful, you will be happy,” and although we most definitely must focus on helping ourselves first, the level of our satisfaction in life can most accurately be measured by how much joy we feel when we reach out a helping hand.

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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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