Our Challenge to Change Ourselves

be less stressed Apr 04, 2020


Our Challenge to Change Ourselves 

April 4, 2020  

First and most important, I am sending healing energy and deep gratitude for your service to everyone on the front-lines of this global COVID-19 pandemic – doctors, nurses, hospital staff, EMS, FEMA, people working, stocking and delivering to the grocery stores, and retailers, restaurants open for take-out meals, schools serving meals and teachers calling students, our nonprofits such as United Way, Salvation Army, volunteers at Food Pantries and Pay-It-Forward Cafe's, like our local Bistro 163, the public policy leaders of our cities and states, – and the list goes on and on. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

My heart goes out to everyone who has lost loved ones to COVID-19 and to families that have suffered losses at this time of physical distancing and cannot feel the warmth of hugs and solace from friends, near and far. There are huge economic challenges  -- unprecedented in my lifetime. I know that the loss of jobs and livelihoods is real. 

I want to acknowledge and honor the emotions of loss and sadness and anxiety we are all feeling.

At the same time, together we can change the forces of emotional contagion of fear.   

What are we learning? For starters, we are learning how connected we all are. Time and time again, I hear people publicly and privately say, “We are all in this together.” Yes, we are, indeed.

To dig a little deeper, I was drawn to reread Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning.  As many of you know, Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist, a holocaust survivor, and author of over 30 books.

In the early publications, dating back to 1946, the titles were A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp, and later, Say Yes to Life in Spite of Everything. [Ed note: hearing the echoes of my dear friend Chris Galvin.] Then in 1959, Man’s Search For Meaning was translated into English and has now sold well over 12 million copies. In the Afterword, William J. Winslade, a philosopher, lawyer, and psychoanalyst, writes:

“Even when confronted by loss and sadness, Frankl’s optimism, his constant affirmation of and exuberance about life, led him to insist that hope and positive energy can turn challenges into triumphs.”

The words hope and positive energy leap off the page at me – shouting – YES, together we will get through this tragic global pandemic.

The exact quote from Frankl's Man's Search For Meaning, page 112, is in the section, titled Suffering, and reads: “When we are no longer able to change a situation – just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer – we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Yes, we are suffering. There has always has been suffering in our living. One can go back in time to Buddha and his teachings on suffering. In Christianity as we enter Holy Week, there are the teachings of Jesus, Passover, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. Suffering in the Holocaust, previous stock market crashes and recessions, the diagnosis of a terminal illness, and now, the COVID-19 pandemic provide yet new insights and experiences into suffering.

We are all in this together.

Let us focus today on the second part of the quote:

“When we are no longer able to change the situation -- 
we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Our challenge is to change ourselves, our perspective, and to focus on what we can control --  the choices we make.

The focus of my coaching practice is change management – both as a stress management coach and a high performance coach. Changing ourselves is a journey we all travel. I have shared my personal story and life lessons learned in, Be Happy NOW!: From Wall Street Ambition and the Illusion of Success, My Path to Happiness. I am still and will always be on a shared journey to learn and change.    

So, where might we start – and how do we make it manageable and practical?

In my personal and professional experience when we try to do too much, we tend to lose focus. When we lose focus, we also lose consistency. When we are not consistent, in whatever habit or change we are looking to make, we tend to become discouraged, beat ourselves up – and lose our way.

Let us keep it simple and focus on four actions:  

  1. Practice Breathing, deep diaphragmatic breathing throughout the day.
  2. Practice Gratitude, as we arise and as we end the day.
  3. Practice Kindness, a daily act of kindness to yourself, family member, friend or stranger.
  4. Practice Meditation, some form of being present in the NOW, at least twice daily.

This set of actions, done consistently over 2 months, will lead you on your path to making changes that are uniquely “right” for you. Many of us do some of these – some of the time. The challenge is to do all of them every day!

On breathing: Commit to taking 7 deep diaphragmatic breaths, 7 times a day, 7 days a week. This is my Keep It Super Simple, 7 x 7 x 7 KISS Formula for breathing. The reason to commit to this practice is to train our body to know how to relax – and that takes practice. It takes lots of practice for most of us, me included. It is important to train our mind-body to feel and experience releasing the Fight, Flight or Freeze automatic, hard wired reaction.

Going a little deeper, we want to be more aware of when we are stressed. We all have different stress triggers and different stress behaviors. For example, when you are feeling stressed, are you:  

  1. Worrying about the future, becoming overwhelmed by the possibilities of what might go wrong and catastrophizing?
  2. Becoming stuck in the details, losing the forest for the trees, focusing on what is not working and rehashing details of the past?
  3. Becoming self-critical, consumed with self-doubt, and being negative instead of positive about relationships?
  4. Becoming hypersensitive to criticism, feeling hurt or beatings oneself up for shortcomings or failure, and becoming overwhelmed with emotions?

Whenever you become aware of these emotions and behaviors -- hit the reset button and breathe. Then, from a place of calm, choose how you want to respond rather than react. 

On Gratitude: Design your daily Gratitude Practice. It can be as simple as silently saying three gratitudes before your feet hit the ground as you get out of bed. It may be journaling or creating a Gratitude Jar. If you would like to explore more ideas please take a minute and read my December 1, 2019 Blog, My Daily Gratitude Ritual.   

The reason to commit to a daily Gratitude practice is because it will reset our neural networks to increase positivity and help shape a new perspective. Science has proven we can rewire our brain and turn a single lane highway into a superhighway. Gratitude is a foundational practice on our path to grace and hope and peace.

On Kindness: After your morning Gratitude Practice, take just one moment to reflect on who and how you can be kind to someone today. Maybe, it starts with being kind and more forgiving of yourself. Maybe it is deciding how you can surprise someone today – with a note of thanks, with a kind word, or with a smile on your face and in your heart. 

When we help someone else – it lifts our own spirit – and we help our Self. Being kind and extending acts of service help us see the world through a new lens. 

On Meditation: A daily Meditation Practice brings a profound change to our lives – at least in my experience. There are science and research studies which support that my experience is not unique. Meditation has innumerable benefits for your mental, emotional, physical, relationship, and spiritual realms. For example according to the Chopra Center and other research, meditation helps lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, improves your immune function, and increases your self-awareness and acceptance. Simply put, meditation is a way to become centered and live in the NOW, the present moment -- a moment to experience healing, peace and transformation.  

In most of the blogs I have posted, I offer suggestions for meditations on my favorite app, Insight Timer. I have been gently and persistently suggesting to my family, friends, readers, and clients that they experiment and find a type of meditation and a meditation teacher that speaks to them. 

May I suggest since most of us are on this “imposed Retreat," now is a great time to create or level up your Meditation Practice – tailored to the style and voices that resonate with you. Meditation should be comfortable -- it does not necessarily meaning sitting cross-legged on a mat. You can meditate in bed or on a chair. Praying, scriptural reading and losing your self in walking and running can be a form of meditation, at least in my opinion.   

From my Meditation Practice over the past 7 years, I love to offer ideas and examples. The scope ranges from music only, guided meditations, visualizations, and scriptural readings, Lectio Divina. There are courses – 10-Day and 30-day courses on topics such as anxiety, stress, flow and performance. There are meditations for stress, sleep, children, love, and so much more. 

Today I suggest a new meditation by one of my favorite Insight Timer teachers, Sarah Blondin, titled “A Message of Hope.” In this meditation she teaches that “now is a time to show up for one another in a place that says I see you, I feel you, I love you, and I’m here for you."
A Message of Hope.  How perfect is that!   

Just imagine if you adopted these four simple practices starting today. How do you think your life would change? How would it feel to start the day, centered, grateful and in the present moment – not worried about the future or in regret about the past? How would it feel when you offer a gift of kindness to someone? 

How we start our day, is how we live our day. How we live our days, is how we live our lives. 

Every day, in the first 30 minutes as I light a few candles and say a prayer – I breathe, journal my gratitudes and meditate. I set an intention for my day – and also decide what act of kindness I will offer another person. It is my Morning Ritual. I am a better person for it. Do I fall off track as the day unfolds with surprises and new challenges? Yes. Do I get stressed? Yes? Do I also need to remind myself to pause and breathe and reset?  Yes. And every time I breath and reset -- I go back to the experience, the feeling I had in the morning -- I find my center again -- and move on. 

One day at a time. Consistency. Going within to find my center and just "Be"... in the Present Moment, in the NOW. Some days I find I must reset and refresh often! Other days, I am in the Flow. Always change --- and always learning how I am challenged to change myself. A humbling experience. 

Tune in next time for more from Man’s Search For Meaning.” 

With heartfelt gratitude,


May you be happy now and always, Alison

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