Why Mindfulness?

Why Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a big buzzword right now and can mean a lot of different things. I realize that I have been thinking of it in a few different ways and want to clarify why I share it as an important tool.

Mindfulness is a tool that can help develop self-awareness. To the extent that I share it with you here and with clients, it is a way of getting out of the conversation in the head and connecting with your whole self to be more aware of your full experience of a given moment.

When you have a space between the experience of self and the thoughts in your mind, you discover that you have choices, that the way you talk to yourself is not Truth and is not set in stone. You can hear what you think and make a choice about how you want to respond to it.

When we get lost in our thoughts, we forget that we are not only the thinker and the talker, but also the listener. When we connect with ourselves as the listener, we connect to a deeper inner wisdom.

Try this:

Feel the palms of your feet against the floor and shift your awareness to the space where the surface of the foot meets the surface of your shoe or floor.

Feel your weight on your legs and feet or on your chair. Feel and notice how solid you are.

Notice the vertical energy that flows from your feet to your head and the horizontal expansive energy that crosses your chest and around your back from shoulder to shoulder.

Imagine that you are a mountain with the top of you head drifting into the clouds and the shoulders to feet being solidly grounded in the earth.

Your thoughts are the clouds.

Imagine the clouds floating in front of your eyes.

When a thought appears as a word, an image or anything else project it on to a cloud and let it float away.

Create that space between yourself the viewer and listener of the thought and the thought itself.

Ask yourself the following question and listen for the answer that comes: “What will I think of next?”

Did you feel the space between asking yourself the question and listening for the answer?

Watch the thoughts float by- they will move on in their own timing.

It can take time to find the experience of listening and becoming aware of yourself as the thinker. I will do this exercise again.

In the meantime, see if once in a while, you can ask yourself that question, “What will I think next?” and wait for the answer to appear.

Notice the gap.

Creating that space and that gap in your mind can be the difference between reacting without thinking and consciously choosing how you want to show up. This is a crucial skill for a leader whether it is leading in your own life or leading at work.

Achieve or regret? Which do you choose.

What’s your big goal, the big thing that you’d really like to do?

That goal that while you read this knocks at the door and say “Remember me? Remember me?”

Yeah, that one.

Are you on your way to it?

Will it be your greatest achievement or your biggest regret?
People don’t regret the things they did in life, they regret the things that they didn’t do.
Which will this be for you?

So what’s in your way?
“I don’t have time.”
“I can’t afford it.”
“My family would kill me.”
“I’d suck at it anyway.”
“I’d look foolish.”
“I’m not like So and So.”
You might even have some bigger and more creative excuses!

Listen, your dream is your human spirit reaching for it’s potential.

Will you go for it?

Maybe you won’t reach the specific outcome that you imagine, but there may be other possible outcomes you won’t ever discover if you don’t go for it.

All the excuses are usually manifestations of some kind of fear. Which is yours?

Fear of failure?
Fear of success?
Fear of imperfection?
Fear of exposure?
Fear of embarrassment?
Fear of change?

When I was 16 the sentence, “I want to be a dancer, but I can’t” was one breath, one single thought that it was something I wasn’t allowed to do it. How would I make a living?

It turned out that I could find venues for training and growing and also work part-time.

It turned out that we moved to Southern California where there are theaters everywhere, a lot of talent, and opportunities to explore, express and grow.
It turned out when I did follow my intuition and spirit, that I loved acting. I could bring the same expression of body and mind through a character’s language as well as I could through the character’s movements.

When I knocked down one wall of belief after another, I emerged as myself.

I would never have earned that support if I hadn’t taken some steps of faith on my own if I hadn’t just kept on going with determination. I had to face the fears myself. Once I did, I found there was more support for me than I had imagined among my family and friends.

So you have a choice.

1) You can not do anything and give your power over to the fear. You can build regrets. Have the question of “what if” or the “I could have, but I didn’t.”

2) You can conquer the fear. Face the demons and bash one at a time. Stare fear down and move forward despite it. Leave it behind in your wake.

3) Or, you can learn to live with the fear. Make the fear your friend and your partner. Travel together as you explore your possibilities.

Which choice are you going to make?

Contact me for an Exploratory Conversation (free) if you’d like to think this through out loud.

A certified Positive Psychology coach, Leah works with people who want to upgrade their communication, presence and leadership in order to show up authentic and empowered to maximize their influence and impact.You can get in touch with her at this link or at steppingstoolcoaching@gmail.com

Finding a Voice

I had had some voice lesson that hadn’t really helped me achieve my singing goals and was looking for a new voice teacher. I asked my acting teacher at the time for a reference.

My acting teacher was based in Manhattan but recommended someone she knew in New Jersey. I schlepped downtown and across the river on the bus, not caring about the inconvenience and excited about what could happen.

I remember little else about the lesson except for the teacher at the piano asking me to make the biggest noise that I could.

I squeaked.

She asked me again.

She tried saying it a few different times in a few different ways. I still squeaked.

I left distraught and disheartened.

Why couldn’t I do what the teacher asked?

I wanted to sing, yet every muscle in my singing apparatus said no.

A lot of my life since then has been about finding my voice. Literally and figuratively.

Now I am passionate about working with other people whose voices are still stuck inside.

“A voice is a human gift; it should be cherished and used, to utter fully human speech as possible. Powerlessness and silence go together.” Margaret Atwood

Get in Touch to explore how you can find your voice and step into your power.

Build Influence With This Simple Tool

When someone makes you feel seen, heard and understood, you trust them and you invest in them. So how do you use this knowledge as a leader?

I learned the power of the phrase, “I see” from a book on developing classroom community by Ruth Charney just in time for my fifth year as a full time elementary school teacher. At this point, I had some decent classroom management skills and had become reasonably skilled at facilitating a classroom learning environment. Yet, I still struggled with frustration and fatigue from working too hard throughout the day to keep the learning on track.

From Charney’s book, I learned that just describing what you see holds people accountable for what they are doing without the weight of interpretation or judgment. As a teacher, I could just say out loud what I was seeing. “I see Jason facing forward and ready to learn. I see five children ready to learn. I see Ashley looking behind her.” This worked with other areas as well. “I see that you are working hard on your writing. I see how you are thinking about how to solve the problem.”

It changed everything!

For the first time I had a concrete nonjudgmental way of noticing and reacting to behaviors in the classroom. When my students knew I noticed what they were doing, they behaved as if I was watching them.

Just recently I was in a yoga class and the teacher called my name and cued me to shift my body slightly so that I was doing the position correctly. Not only did I appreciate the assistance learning the pose and doing it correctly, but I perked up knowing that the teacher saw me. In a room full of others doing the same thing, it is easy to feel invisible. By calling me by name and noticing my work, she made me feel that my presence in the room mattered. Though I wasn’t looking at her or in direct relationship with her, I felt her presence and in relationship to her.

Students don’t always feel the teacher’s presence if they are working individually, in small groups or in a workshop format. As part of a group, they can individually feel invisible to the teacher and that the little thing they do is unseen, unnoticed. This is true in other situations as well. When is the time that you thought you were unseen and unnoticed and someone acknowledging you would have made a big difference?

As I grew my leadership skills directing education programs, I developed a practice of writing to each person that I supervised on a regular basis. One sentence in one email of what I noticed happening for that staff member drew them closer into relationship with me. They knew I was seeing them and their work. In return, they valued what I had to say when I made suggestions or helped them think through a problem. It was a small thing that made a huge difference!

Who can you be acknowledging more in your life? It doesn’t have to be praise (that will be another post sometime), just acknowledgment. Just let them know that you see them, you notice them.

Here are some simple phrases you can adapt for your situation and try:

I see you.

I see what you are doing.

I see the effort you give.

I see that you try.

I see that you care.

I see that you really incorporated that feedback I gave you.

I notice you.

I notice the things you are doing.

I notice the qualities that show up in you.

I notice the contributions that you are making.

When you care enough to share what you see and notice about who someone is and what they are doing, you build trust and relationship. When people trust you, what you say carries more weight and your influence grows.

Try some of these phrases, or other ones that come to you and see what happens.

Contact me for a complimentary session to explore how you can grow your impact and influence in your settings.

A certified Positive Psychology coach, Leah works with people who want to upgrade their level of influence and impact to lead others towards a vision and a common goal. You can get in touch with her at steppingstoolcoaching.com

For Clarity and Insight Go Out of Your Mind!

Mary’s story started with her arrival at her parents’ home and then looped to other times and places as her mind raced and words sped past my ears.

I recognized the nervous energy driving the storytelling. The voice is higher pitched, the words flow fast. I couldn’t see my client through the phone, but I easily imagined her energized tense upper body as she looped more memories into her story. 

Two other clients that same week took similar detours and got lost in storyland trying to connect loose ends inside their thoughts. (I am known to do this myself! You too?)  There is a kinetic nervous/excited energy that takes over and propels thoughts and words forward. The energy kicks into overdrive evading any discomfort in the body.

You might not present this way in a coaching session, but chances are you also have times when your thoughts are sprinting ahead of you, running through mazes of connections that keep you looping around the same ideas.

It happens when you are a little anxious about the story, the audience, or what you should be doing in that moment. You invest energy trying to think your way into a new situation. In a society that gives a lot of attention to language and talking heads, you scan your thoughts and your mind for ideas and solutions.

So often you are trying to analyze and control your thoughts and feelings that you completely bypass the emotions in your body and the important information that they can share with you. Sometimes you speed by those emotions intentionally because you don’t like the way that they feel.

Time after time, just guiding a client out of her mind and into her body (really into a mind/body integration) yields profound shifts during a coaching session. When the client is in her body, she connects with her own inner wisdom and insight. She is in her experience instead of talking about it. She is in touch with what she senses and feels. Instead of thinking about the concept of what is, she is living it.

Your conscious thoughts represent only a small percentage of what you know. Throughout the day, you collect a lot of implicit knowledge that goes under the radar of the linguistic brain. When your conscious brain is driving the thinking train, it moves slowly and more clumsily. In contrast your body stores a lot of implicit knowledge that you can access if you slow down and give it a chance to bubble to the surface.

How does this happen? The storytelling part of your brain is the part that analyzes, learns new concepts, thinks through problems and plans. It wants to fill in all the dots between what you have seen, heard and understood. It wants to create certainty and give you a why and how for the where, what and who that we observe. 

When you settle into yourself and relax with your breathing, you allow the different parts of the brain to talk to each other and work together. You slow down the wordy part of your brain and access more of the information your body has learned from experiences.

To get unstuck and to get creative, you need to go out of your mind.

Get into your body. Get integrated.

Here are two kinds of tools that I use with my clients:

Slow down and Breathe.

  • Try taking deep and long exhales, letting all the tension and stress release with the breath.
  • Inhaling and Exhaling for even counts of five or a number that you choose can all amplify the connection between the mind and the body.

Bringing your attention into the senses can also integrate the mind and body to become more resourceful.

  • Listen. What do you hear? What is the most distant sound you can hear? What is the quietest sound? What is the loudest sound? What else do you hear if you listen closely?
  • Touch. What do you feel on your skin? What surfaces are you touching? Where do are you touching something cool? Where are you touching something warm?

Asking Mary to stop for a moment, breathe and then slowly go back to her story completely transformed the way she sounded and the way she showed up in the session.  Her emotions rose to the surface and she started to have insights about what was really at the heart of the issue for her.

When my clients slow down and breathe, they get much more in touch with their intuition and wisdom. They uncover the root emotions and the cause at the heart of the quick language and storytelling. Once they have discovered it and named it, the power it holds over them diminishes. Instead, my clients develop the power to use that information in ways that serve them in living their values and reaching their goals.

Try it. The next time you want to get off the speeding train of your thoughts, try one of the exercises above. Then ask yourself a question and just listen.  If the answer doesn’t come, breathe again and listen again. Notice how you are feeling.

What wisdom and insights bubble up to the surface?

When Mary allowed herself to feel the emotions that surfaced, she got clear about what was really bothering her and found real power in her authenticity.

What will you find?