Tag Archives | self-improvement

How Full Catastrophe Living Can Change Your Life

Photo courtesy of Hape_Gera

A few months ago, I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Type III, a painful connective tissue disorder that makes many everyday activities impossible, including working outside of the home. I had to resign from my well-paying office job and I began to feel that my life as I knew it was over. I didn’t know what I was going to do, if I could pay my bills, or if I could still manage to be a good enough parent. I was also in quite a great deal of physical pain which just kept getting worse. I spiraled downward into a pit of self loathing and despair until I hit a hard rock bottom and realized there was nowhere left to go but up.

I clawed my way out of my depression long enough to crawl into the lap of my new therapist, who recommended that I read the book Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I began reading it as soon as it arrived at my front door in that familiar brown packaging I have come to love. In the book, Zinn describes the experiences of his patients during his ten years of teaching an eight-week course called the Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Over 4,000 people ultimately took the course, which teaches mindfulness as an effective way to develop control over our own lives, despite all of the catastrophes we may be presented with on a regular basis.

During my reading of the book, I began to put some of his suggestions into practice in my own life and I started to see a change in the way I faced difficulties. Mindfulness involves using our inner capacities for relaxation, paying attention, awareness and insight, and becomes a form of ‘walking meditation’ as you move throughout your daily activities. Your focus moves from “doing” to “being” as you learn how to concentrate on the foundations of mindfulness: non-judging, patience, trust, non-striving, acceptance and letting go. This transformation is reached through a combination of breathing, various forms of meditation, body scans and yoga.

Throughout my experience with practicing full catastrophe living, I have learned how to watch my thoughts rather than getting caught up in them. By allowing my body and mind to rest in the moment I have become more adept at tuning into life’s basic experiences. I am now able to be in the moment with everything exactly as it is, without wanting to change a thing. Daily, I have been practicing mindfulness by concentrating on what is happening now rather than things in the past or future, and I have gained a deep appreciation for the present. I have realized that I have a limited time on this earth and in this body, so I’m taking it all in. Every. Single. Moment.

If you’re anything like me, and have been dealing with an increased amount of stressors in your life, give the concept of mindfulness a try.  You’ll be surprised at how much of life you’ve been missing.

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Why Learning Goes Far Beyond the Classroom

Photo courtesy of Brian Hathcock

When I was in my final year of high school, I was far more laid-back about studying for exams than most of the other kids. One day I was pulled aside by one of my teachers who told me: “these are the most important lessons you’ll ever learn in life.” I understood that what they were trying to say was how important it was to study, since the outcome of my exams would hold a lot of weight in terms of what I’d be able to achieve in my future career. Nevertheless, this statement always struck me as slightly misguided.

I was constantly reminded throughout high school and college of how important the educational years were in preparing me for the big bad world beyond, but when the time actually came to leave college, I was not so surprised to learn that I hadn’t been given all the answers, and the real world was still a great unknown.

Personally, I don’t think all lessons are limited to the classroom. On the contrary, I believe learning should never stop, not when we’re 21 or when we’re 81. It shouldn’t matter if you’re an apprentice electrician or a Nobel prizewinning physics professor – there is still more that you can learn about your craft and life in general.

If you have a particular job, hobby, or skill you want to get better at, look at ways of doing this that will reinforce the knowledge you already have. Just because you’re not in the classroom anymore doesn’t mean you can’t set yourself new lessons that will help you to make improvements. The world is ripe with free sources of information, and as long as you know where to look (I usually start with a Google search) there’s no reason you can’t follow your own personal plan to get better at anything.

Do you have a skill you’d like to improve upon? Why not set yourself a list of short-term and long-term goals, and then seek out information from your local library or an online source to help you get started.

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How to Turn Your Failures Into Little Victories

Photo courtesy of Jes

Whenever we set out to better ourselves – whether it’s in starting a new business or beginning a new personal fitness regime – there are various ways to increase the likelihood of success. I’ve already discussed some of these techniques in past articles so I won’t go into them now, but one thing that hasn’t really been touched on is how to deal with failure. Unless you’re superhuman, failure is going to occur at some point in your life, and unless you know how to learn from it, you run the risk of making the same mistakes over and over again.

As a person who likes to start a lot of projects, I’m no stranger to failure. If I’m being perfectly honest, I’ve failed almost as many things as I’ve succeeded at in my life. But in each of these cases, I came out of my experience far better off than when I began, simply because I had learned something about myself in the process and why I had failed. In turn, this helped me to prevent the same problems from occurring the next time I tried something new, and so I’m thankful for these mistakes.

The best way to deal with any kind of failure is to accept it as a learning experience so that you don’t repeat the same mistakes again in your future endeavors. Treating each new venture as an experiment, where the outcome could be what you originally intended but could also be something else entirely, is a good way to prepare yourself for failure without expecting it.

The next time you encounter failure, try to understand the reasons behind why things didn’t go exactly to plan. If you can recognize the decisions that were made that caused you to fail, you’ll be far more prepared to deal with problems in the future and increase your ability to succeed.

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How Living By the Numbers Has Paved the Way for Self-Improvement

Photo courtesy of Koen Vereeken

How far would you go to monitor different aspects of your life? We all have certain faults we’d like to improve upon, but a relatively new group of people (an eclectic mix of hackers, patients, geeks and fitness freaks) is taking self-tracking to the extreme, as they use technology to monitor practically every aspect of their daily lives in geeky detail.

The Quantified Self is a community of “lifeloggers” – people who use their computers, mobile phones, and various other biometric sensors to keep track of the numbers that break down their daily lives. Things like heart rate, blood pressure, food and drink intake, exercise and sleep patterns are all monitored throughout a typical day of one of these devotees. The stats are then often shared with a community of likeminded people through social networking sites. As I mentioned in my earlier article about measuring mood, I think it’s a neat idea, and I’m very tempted to give it a try, if only to see how healthy I really am.

Thanks to improvements in data storage, processing power, and the advent of smartphones, we can now do so much more to track our daily stats while we go about our lives. Smartphones are provided with all kinds of built-in sensors, from cameras and GPS to accelerometers and gyroscopes, and taking quantitative measurements has never been easier. Perhaps more importantly, this practice has only become affordable in recent years. It is now possible to calculate the number of steps you take or your sleep cycles for very little cost, and app developers for devices like the iPhone are having a field day.

We’re only really scratching the surface of the possibilities with self-tracking technology, but the question then becomes “why should we keep track?” On top of advancing research for public health, I believe that following the Quantified Self way of life is an effective way to learn more about who you really are. By looking more closely at the numbers that work together to make us us, we can start to understand ourselves a lot better, and then make lasting self-improvements.

To find out more about lifelogging and the Quantified Self, check out this presentation by Gary Wolf.

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Why Now Could Be the Perfect Time to Renew Your Resolutions

Photo courtesy of Ewan MacNeilage

March is not the most typical time of year to make life-improving resolutions, but really, who decided that we can only better ourselves on New Year’s Day? According to a survey conducted by Opinion Research Corp. of Princeton, only 8% of the people who make resolutions at the start of the year will succeed in seeing them through, and by the time March rolls around, most of these resolutions are all but forgotten.

We like to use the New Year as a symbol of new beginnings; out with the old and in with the new. But when we tell ourselves that January 1 is the only date we can make these big goals, we’re effectively limiting the amount of success we can achieve over the course of the next year. As absurd as it sounds, I’ve actually met people who live by the outlook that if things aren’t going well in August, they’ll have to wait until January of the following year to do something about it.

If you find yourself setting resolutions on New Year’s Day, only to then forget about them several weeks later, right now could be the perfect time to revisit your personal goals, perhaps by revising your plan and outlining clearer objectives. In the end, January 1 is an arbitrary date. If you have a goal you really want to succeed in, you can renew your commitment to it at anytime. It’s either that or waiting until next year comes around.

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How to Take Criticism Without Becoming a Doormat

Photo courtesy of fauxto_digit

One thing I’ve learned from watching a lot of reality TV is that when people say things like “you should learn to take criticism, get a thicker skin,” what they really mean is they want to continue to walk all over you and they don’t want you to say anything back. I’ve come across this sort of behavior a lot recently – people speaking very bluntly about their opinion of you, only to accuse you of being uptight when you decide to bite back. So where is the balance? Isn’t there a way to still take criticism without becoming a doormat?

For me, a big part of taking criticism is about the other person’s motivations. What are they trying to gain by criticizing you, and how do they react when you contest that criticism? There are some people who simply enjoy conflict, or can’t help but give their “honest” opinion when it isn’t asked for. I’ve also come across people whose second nature is to try to dominate a conversation, regardless of the topic. They’ll rant about their views at length, only to shoot you down when you try to add your own opinion into the mix. This kind of conversational pressuring typically comes from the same people who tell you to “get a thicker skin” or, my personal favorite, “learn to take a joke” when their telling you how it is rubs you the wrong way.

On the other hand, criticism can be an excellent tool for self-improvement. I don’t think I’d be the person I am today if I hadn’t received a whirlwind of criticism from my closest friends and family. As long as it remains constructive, getting the odd piece of criticism from somebody who knows your faults and habits well can be invaluable to personal growth. It can help you to pay attention to the finer details you’d previously overlooked, or learn to stop repeating the same mistakes over and over.

There is definitely a fine line between taking criticism and letting others walk all over you. Whether you agree with the points being made against you or not, it makes sense to listen to what the other person has to say before flat out disagreeing with them (as is in our nature). Don’t be a doormat, sure, but learn to take criticism for what it is: a useful tool for bettering yourself.

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