6 Short & Sweet Ideas for a Spring Routine Refresh

I wanted to share with you this article I recently wrote for Thrive Global about some easy ways to take care of yourself. Spring is a perfect time to refresh our daily routine and make sure it’s serving us, rather than running us ragged!

Starting your day mindfully improves the rest of the day. Morning rituals are wonderfully beneficial, but when you’re busy, the thought of trying to squeeze something else into your day can be overwhelming. The good news is that your ritual doesn’t have to be complex or time-consuming to be effective. Here are some short and sweet practices that you can easily manage.

1.      Ease into the day.

Instead of jumping out of bed, take a moment to center yourself. After you wake up, lie still and take three deep breaths. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart. Breathe in slowly through your nose until you reach maximum capacity, feeling your belly rise. Then slowly release the breath through your mouth, feeling your belly fall. Imagine that you are inhaling peace and exhaling any tension you may have. Repeat two more times. Then stretch your arms and legs, lengthening your body as much as you can. As you get out of bed, pause to feel your feet on the floor. Then get up and on with your day, refreshed and ready!

2.      Replace phone time with something positive.

Instead of checking your phone first thing, which can negatively affect your focus and your mood, do something uplifting for five minutes. Write in a journal, sit in silence, read a few pages of an inspiring book—whatever makes you feel happier.

3.      Shower mindfully.

This practice doesn’t take any extra time at all, so it’s especially great for those super-busy days. Feel the water hitting your head and streaming downward. Imagine that it is washing all negative energy out of you and down the drain. Then imagine the fresh water replenishing you with positive energy for the day.

4.      Get outside.

Sip your morning coffee or tea outdoors for an instant reset, courtesy of nature. Getting sunlight first thing makes you more alert and spurs production of the mood-booster serotonin; it also helps regulate your sleep cycles. Bonus points if you can put your bare feet on the earth for some quick grounding.

5.      Set an intention/visualize/schedule some self-care.

Take a few minutes to sit quietly and think about the day ahead. Check in with yourself and see how you’re feeling. What does your day hold? Is there something important you want to accomplish? Set the intention that you will handle it easily. Visualize it going well. Are you facing a busy day? Set the intention to navigate it with serenity and grace. Visualize a smooth path ahead of you. Feel free to ask for help from whatever higher power you believe in, or simply your own inner self.

You can also use this time to brainstorm ways make your day easier or to treat yourself (having a reward to look forward to can brighten up even the toughest days). For example, is there something you can take off your list or ask someone else to do? Is there a break in the day where you can relax and enjoy a cup of tea or a quiet moment outside? Ask yourself what would make you happy, and see if you can make it happen.

6.      Focus on gratitude.

While you’re getting ready, eating breakfast, or commuting to work, think about what you’re thankful for. Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” has been shown to have enormous benefits: it enhances physical health, psychological health, mental strength, and self-esteem. Paying attention to what’s good in your life is a wonderful way to start each day with a positive mindset. And the more you appreciate what’s around you, the more you notice things to appreciate.

Beginning your day with one of these simple morning rituals will help center and calm you, empowering you to be your best self. You can also practice them at other times—during lunchtime, for an afternoon break, or in the evening to transition between work and home.

And you can always come back to your breathing to for a mini-break. Close your eyes if possible and just focus on feeling the breath as it enters and exits your nose. Breathe as deeply and slowly as possible. If you’re feeling anxious, try kaki pranayama, or “bird’s beak,” breath: inhale through your nose. Then purse your lips into an O, as if you were drinking from a straw, and exhale slowly. This helps bring about the relaxation response. Repeat until you feel calmer.

A morning ritual refreshes and restores you every day. Even tiny actions can have an enormous positive impact. Try one of the practices above for a week and see how much better you feel!

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Approaching Your Life as a Work of Art

Each one of us is an artist. An artist is merely someone with good listening skills who accesses the creative energy of the Universe to bring forth something on the material plane that wasn’t here before. … So it is with creating an authentic life. With every choice, every day, you are creating a unique work of art.
— Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy

I’m continuing to read Simple Abundance—at 700+ pages, I’ll be at it for a while!—and I’m continuing to find all sorts of interesting insights. (See first post here.) Something that has really struck me is this concept of creating our daily lives as works of art.  Breathnach recommends to “start thinking of your life as a work-in-progress. Works-in-progress are never perfect. But changes can be made to the rough draft during rewrites. Another color can be added to the canvas. The film can be tightened during editing. Art evolves. So does life. Art is never stagnant. Neither is life. The beautiful, authentic life you are creating for yourself and those you love is your art. It’s the highest art.”

Wow. Thinking of my life as a work-in-progress is a simple concept, but it feels radically freeing to me. It essentially takes the pressure off.  And approaching each day as if it is art I am creating—rather than just a to-do list I have to get through—really elevates everything.

Breathnach also talks about how to make our lives more nourishing by scattering moments of joy throughout. She says, “What is missing from many of our days is a true sense that we are enjoying the lives we are living. It is difficult to experience moments of happiness if we are not aware of what it is we genuinely love. We must learn to savor small, authentic moments that bring us contentment.”

Of course, as a “joy detective,” I love this idea. Something you can do, which I have done before, is to make a Bliss List: a list of simple pleasures that bring you joy. Then do at least one thing from it every day. Here are some of the items on my list:

·         Reading

·         Sitting in the sun

·         Savoring a cup of tea

·         Watching classic movies

·         Fresh flowers

·         Listening to jazz

·         Hugging

·         Toast with butter

·         Chocolate

·         Sitting and doing nothing (especially on a rainy day)

Breathnach also suggests trying to do daily tasks mindfully to “restore serenity to your daily endeavors.” She says, “Serene women do not get sidetracked. Sidetracked women, who scatter their energies to the four winds, never achieve serenity. … Concentrate slowly on completing one task at a time, each hour of the day, until the day is over.”

She says that we will wonder how we’ll manage to get everything done this way, but “I assure you that you will accomplish all you set out to do and need to do with much more ease, efficiency, pleasure, and satisfaction.” In fact, studies are now proving that multitasking actually makes us less efficient. Plus, this approach just feels better to me.

What do you think about these concepts? Do you also find them comforting and supportive? I’d love to hear. You can let me know by replying to this email, or in the comments below.

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The Big 7 Ways to Boost Happiness (Quickly and for Free!)

I just got these 7 tips on how to boost your happiness in Sonia Sommer’s “Wellness Wednesday” email and had to share them with you! Here’s what she says:

I used to struggle with depression and anxiety. For years. If this is you, I know how it feels mate. I thought I'd stay like that for my whole life.

But I didn't.

These days, I jump out of bed feeling joy. Even when life serves up the shit sandwich, emotions pass through very quickly and I go right back to my new baseline of genuine happiness.

You're supposed to feel happy most of the time too. That's why I've been throwing joy spaghetti on your walls lately, so that something will stick.

It's actually natural to feel joyful. Stress and anxiety are an unnatural state.

Joy tip #4 the Big 7

My fantastic colleague Brian Johnson sent me this and I have to share it with you because it's a beaut summary of many of the methods I used to create my happiness baseline. 

This comes from a compilation of research by Neil Pasricha, author of "The Happiness Equation."

If you do any of these seven things for two straight weeks, you will feel happier.

Three Walks + The 20-Minute Replay + Random Acts of Kindness + A Complete Unplug + Hit Flow + 2-Minute Meditations + Five Gratitudes

Let’s take a super quick look at our Big 7 ways to boost our happiness and remember that science says the Happiness Equation STARTS with happiness.

It’s Happiness —> Great work —> Success NOT Great Work —> Success —> Happiness.

1. Three Walks. Exercise is as effective as Zoloft in reducing depression. Even just three brisk walks can do the trick! Remember that *not* exercising is like taking a depressant and get out there and MOVE YOUR BODY.

2. The 20-Minute Replay. Writing for 20 minutes about a positive experience is a GREAT way to boost your happiness. Scientists call it savoring. Groove the good stuff!

3. Random Acts of Kindness. Did you know that THE fastest, most reliable way to boost your mood is to do something nice for someone else? Yep. Find ways to do something nice!
 
4. A Complete Unplug. We’ve gotta make waves. Fully on. Fully off. Repeat. Are you training your RECOVERY as much as your “on” phases? Remember that it’s not that we work too hard but that we don’t recover enough. 
 
5. Hit Flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi tells us that the optimal state of human experience is found when we are engaged in activities that stretch us such that the challenges match our skills. Too much challenge = anxiety. Too little = boredom. The right match? FLOW. Find it!
 
6. 2-Minute Meditations. Meditation is huge. I meditate every single day because it's changed my whole life. You don’t need to be a levitating monk in the Himalayas to experience significant benefits. Even just a couple minutes a day keeps the gremlins away.
 
7. Five Gratitudes. As Neil says, “If you can be happy with the simple things, then it will be simple to be happy.” Find things to be grateful for and focus on them often. What are YOU grateful for today?

Thanks Brian. That's awesome!

I'm loving the 20 minute replay. It's like mainlining joy !

Which ones are you going to try today ?

xox, Sonia

Aren’t those tips amazing? If you’d like more info on Sonia Sommer and what she offers, check out her website at www.soniasommer.com.

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Lighthouses: Books That Have Lit the Way for Me (Part 2)

Here is Part 2 of the list of books I’ve read during my search for joy that have guided me along my path. (See Part 1 here.)

The Artist’s Way and The Vein of Gold, Julia Cameron: incredible resources for anyone who wants more creativity and authenticity in their lives, whether you’re an “artist” or not. Her tone is calming and supportive, and her tools and exercises really work.

In The Artist’s Way she introduces morning pages, where you write longhand, stream of consciousness, for three pages first thing each morning. This clears the “sludge” out of the mind and can also help you identify fears and issues that are holding you back. Another tool is the artist date, where you take yourself somewhere creatively inspiring each week.

In addition, she outlines a 12-week program designed to help you break through any creative blocks and rediscover your true self and what you want to do. It’s amazing. Many of the women I interviewed for my book on morning rituals mentioned this book and how transformative it had been for them.  

The Vein of Gold takes you further along the” journey to the heart of creativity” and provides new exercises that are designed to “engage the reader in inner play.”

How We Choose to Be Happy, Rick Foster and Greg Hicks: they interviewed extremely happy people and found that often they were happy not because of their circumstances, but in spite of them. They CHOSE to be happy and accomplished this by setting that intention and looking for the positive in whatever happened to them. This shows that it’s not the external things that make us happy, but how we feel inside and how we perceive our lives. That’s why being a millionaire doesn’t automatically make someone happy. The authors were able to identify nine choices that all of the people had made that accounted for their happiness, and they discuss those. It’s a fascinating read.

 A Short Guide to a Happy Life and Being Perfect, Anna Quindlen: these deceptively small books pack a punch! Her writing is elegant and straightforward, and a pure joy to read. A Short Guide is an eloquent reminder to cherish each moment and appreciate the richness of our everyday lives.

Being Perfect rocked my world when I first read it. It’s full of brilliant insights about “the perfection trap,” which I often find myself caught in. She encourages us to be ourselves rather than constantly strive to live up to others’ expectations. These quotes really hit home for me: “Eventually, being perfect became like carrying a backpack filled with bricks every single day” and “What is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” Yes!

How to Live a Good Life, Jonathan Fields: this is a very practical and easy-to-follow book that gives concrete recommendations on how to create a more fulfilling, engaged, happier life. He breaks life up into three “Good Life Buckets”: vitality (the state of your mind and body), connection (relationships), and contribution (how you contribute to the world). He says, “The fuller your buckets, the better your life. When all simultaneously bubble over, life soars. That’s what we’re aiming for. But the flip side is also true. If any single bucket runs dry, you feel pain. If two go empty, a world of hurt awaits. If all three bottom out, you don’t have a life. Figuratively and, in short order, literally.”

He gives a “60-second snapshot” to determine the levels in each of your buckets, and then the following chapters describe 10 ways to fill each bucket. Fields also runs The Good Life Project, which offers courses, podcasts, and even a summer camp for adults every year in upstate New York.

The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin: this was probably the first book I read that was specifically on looking for ways to be happier. It is also a very practical and easy-to-follow book, about how the author spent a year “test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier” after realizing that she was wasting her life in a sort of malaise. She had reasons to be happy, but often didn’t feel happy, so she decided to dedicate a year to trying out different ways to boost her happiness. Rubin is an excellent, engaging writer and it’s a fun read with lots of interesting ideas to try.

The Miracle of Mindfulness and Peace Is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh: simply reading his books makes me feel peaceful. His style is so restful—it’s like meditating while reading. And his concepts are simple yet incredibly powerful. If you find meditating or mindfulness difficult, like I do, these books will be very helpful.

I hope that one or more of these books makes a difference for you, as they have for me. Stay tuned for Part 3!

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Lighthouses: People + Books That Have Lit the Way for Me (Part 1)

When I began this quest for joy, I wandered all over the map, metaphorically speaking. At first I was stumbling along in the dark, but the books, classes, and coaches I’ve found as I searched have lit up the path like little lighthouses guiding me forward. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order:

(This is Part 1 of the book list, because if I tried to list each one that I’ve read and loved, we’d be here all day.)

Books

“Wherever You Go, There You Are,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn: the first book I remember reading on this path. It introduced me to the concept of mindfulness, which was radical to me at the time. Very gentle and straightforward.

“The Joy Diet,” Martha Beck: such simple, clear instructions for finding joy—and lots of great humor, too.

“Expecting Adam,” Martha Beck: the magic!! Oh, the magic. And the love.

Actually, you know what, I should just put “Everything ever written by Martha Beck,” including all of her columns in “O” magazine! They each have had a real impact on me. Other books are: “Finding Your Own North Star,” “Finding Your Way in a Wild New World,” “Steering by Starlight,” “Leaving the Saints,” and “Diana, Herself.”

“Loving What Is,” Byron Katie: Man, she’s tough. And so right: “It’s not the problem that causes our suffering, it’s our thinking about the problem.” This is a book I need to read over and over, because “The Work” really does work, but I have trouble consistently practicing it.

“The Gifts of Imperfection,” Brené Brown: I love me some Brené Brown! She is so smart and funny. If you haven’t watched her TED talk on vulnerability, do it now! As a dyed-in-the-wool perfectionist, I really appreciated this book’s advice about owning and embracing who we are.

“The Power of Now,” Eckhart Tolle: I’m still working my way through this one. Brilliantly simple yet also kind of a lot to wrap your mind around. Hmmm … funny I wrote that, seeing as how the whole premise is that you are not your mind; you can only connect with your true nature when your mind is still. See what I mean?

“The Untethered Soul,” Michael A. Singer: I read this just before I started “The Power of Now,” and it was an excellent introduction to the concept Tolle expounds upon. It’s very easy to read and presents the idea that we are not our minds clearly and concisely. It also presents some fascinating thoughts on opening your heart, energy, nonresistance, etc.

“Eat, Pray, Love” and “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear,” Elizabeth Gilbert: The first book inspired me to live my life more fully and the second inspired me to be more creative. Her concept that ideas come to you, and if you don’t want to or can’t bring them to life, they move on to someone else—and the story she tells about her personal experience with that—wow!! It will definitely motivate you to take action! Her practical advice is wonderful, and her honesty and compassion shine off of every page.

 “A Gift from the Sea,” Anne Morrow Lindbergh: I first read this as a young girl, and was struck by the beauty of the writing. I’ve re-read it countless times, and each time something new speaks to me. It’s like a little handbook for living. She compares the phases of a woman’s life to different seashells, and she’s just spot on with every observation.

People

Carla Robertson: Carla is a life coach who specializes in nature-based coaching. I discovered her as a fellow participant in an online class several years ago. When I went to her website (www.livingwildandprecious.com), I immediately connected with a tagline that was on there at the time: “Less worry, more wonder.” Yes!  I had a magical weekend retreat with her and several other women in St. Francisville, LA a few years ago, where I discovered quite a few things about myself. She has also helped me cut to the core of some practical issues and figure out a way to handle them.  Her blog is very insightful, and her Instagram feed is beautiful—so many tiny miracles in nature!

Sonia Sommer: Sonia is a Master Healer who, as she puts it on her website (www.soniasommer.com) “bridges the gap between woo woo and doable.” She combines physical, mental, and spiritual tools to help people feel their best in all of those aspects. Her Feel Awesome Again online course taught me all sorts of techniques I’d never heard of before—and they really worked. Her newsletters are full of helpful ideas and fascinating exercises. She has some great tip-filled videos, made even better by her wonderful Australian accent!

Anna Kunnecke: Anna is a life coach who helps women “declare dominion over their gorgeous lives” (www.declaredominion.com). I’ve taken several of her courses and subscribe to her weekly newsletter. She has excellent practical advice about how to improve your life by getting organized, adding beauty and bliss to your day, and making wise decisions. Also, as a “heathen mystic,” she can teach you how to protect your tender parts. Her guidance on how to be an EFBA (Epic Fucking Badass) is just awesome.

Martha Beck: As you’ve probably guessed by now, I really, really like Martha Beck (www.marthabeck.com). Her books opened the door for me into the world I’m now exploring, and the teleclasses I’ve taken have been transformative.  She combines clarity and integrity with extraordinary compassion and snort-milk-up-your-nose humor. Just listening to her talk soothes my soul, and when I actually implement her advice—wow. Life-changing.

Koelle Simpson: Koelle is a life coach and “horse whisperer” who offers Equus Coaching®: “a unique experience with horses that offers an individual the opportunity to gain a visceral understanding of how their inner dialogue affects their relationships and everyday life.” (www.koelleinstitute.com) I haven’t had a chance to work with her yet, but attending one of her Equus workshops is one of the top items on my wish list. For now, I just enjoy reading her newsletter, but she is up ahead on the path, giving me something to look forward to!

I highly recommend all of these people and books. I hope that one or more of them will help light your way, too.