Back to School: One Habit That Should Stick With You Forever

A new school season started this week. Families and teachers have been busy getting ready for the year ahead. Perhaps you, too, are shopping for clothes, shoes, and school supplies. It is a busy yet exciting time. We learn many habits in school and one of them, in particular, is a key to lifelong progress. Are you still dealing with the same issues you were 5, 10 years ago? Wonder why you’re not making progress? Ready to throw in the towel on your aspirations and dreams? Don’t! It is never too late to move forward so today I am going to share with you the one powerful habit you can use to make definite progress towards your goals.

Before you moan and groan, let me reassure you, this is not something new you have to learn. In fact, you probably already do this at least once a day. Some use electronic gadgets, others use whiteboards, and others, like yours truly, use a good old pencil and paper. But first, let’s take a trip down memory lane, back to our school days. What was your favorite school supply? Mine was the notebook. I loved choosing from among all the colorful covers. Teachers back then were very particular about what kind of notebook to have and how to divide it up by subject or topic. Then they came out with the 5-subject notebook which I loved because it saved me running back and forth to my locker to switch notebooks for different classes. The purpose of notebooks was – to take notes, of course!

Whenever someone was out sick, they would come to me for the notes, because even back then, I took good notes. And what is the purpose of taking good notes? To be able to remember what is important! Good note taking is simply this: jot down the important facts you want to recall at a later time. With everything on our schedules these days, sometimes the most important ideas can be forgotten if we don’t write them down.

Experts say only 10% of what is read is remembered. This skill comes in handy in daily life as well. I bet many of you make grocery lists, create goals on the job, and have daily to-do lists, yes? Billionaire entrepreneur, Richard Branson, even recommends this habit .

If we want to make progress in any area of life, we need to get in the habit of taking notes. This one simple habit we learned in school can help us stay on top of things in all these important areas of life:

1) our finances
2) our fitness and health goals
3) our diets
4) our personal growth
5) our spiritual growth

So while we’re on the topic let’s talk about spiritual growth for just a minute. How many times do you go to church or your favorite spiritual place, and forget the message before the day is over?
We get distracted. We barely pay attention. We fall asleep. As soon as we leave, we start thinking about where to have lunch or what we event we are headed to next. Taking notes is not only a good way to stay focused and attentive, it also helps us remember and apply what we’ve heard so that we can move forward. Where would the world be if such people as Aristotle, Confucious, Augustine, and Camus did not write down their thoughts and ideas?

What one area of life do YOU want to make progress in? If it’s diet, start taking notes about what you eat every day. If it’s finances, start tracking what you spend every day. Get the idea? Nothing is impossible and this one school habit can make the difference! Where else do you use note-taking? How has it helped you?

Until next time, do leave a comment. Love to hear your feedback. Keep the faith and keep looking up!

Ariel

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Mindfulness: How it Can Help You Stay Connected to What’s Really Important

There’s been quite the hubbub lately about mindfulness. You know something is catching on when there’s an article about it in the Costco magazine. Mindfulness has made its way out of the yogic realm and into mainstream society. Our culture has us moving faster and faster with the plethora of electronic gadgets and social media. Many feel pressured to “keep up” with the pace of the world and every Facebook post, Tweet, or news event. Perhaps like me, you wonder if all this is such a good thing. In the midst of this information overload, are we losing sight of what is truly important and failing to enjoy the precious moments in our every day lives? Maybe the ancients were on to something, so this week’s post is devoted to answering this question:
What is mindfulness exactly and how can it help us in our daily lives?

When some hear the term “mindfulness” they conjure up visions of cross-legged yogis with eyes-closed chanting. Perhaps a more realistic and comprehensible word for mindfulness is “awareness” or “being present”. Being present & fully engaged is the best gift we can bestow upon our spouse, our child, our friends and ourselves. Mindfulness is a form of meditation one does to learn to clear one’s mind and to be aware of one’s thoughts as they pass by. An untrained mind is mindless. Our thoughts jump from one thing to another, like a monkey on tree. We are easily distracted, forgetful, sucked in to emotional reactions, and not fully present or aware.

One way to judge this is to notice the rate of speech we use. When we are talking a mile a minute, our minds are racing. My mother always used to tell me “You think too fast,” and now I realize she was right. I thought too fast and I talked too fast so that is one reason I have taken up the study of mindfulness. Nowadays, I am often bewildered by someone’s conversation when they seemingly go off on an unrelated tangent. I ask myself “How is this related to what we were discussing?”. What happens is in their mind there was some connection to another event. Their mind monkey-jumped to this other thought thread and they started following it without realizing it was not related to the discussion at hand. As we age, this happens more and more because the circuitry of our brains has been wired for years. However, it is possible to stay focused and connected, even as we age, by learning this ancient practice.

Relationships:
Nothing is more upsetting to a wife than to come home to her hubby all excited about sharing something about her day and he tunes her out by reading the newspaper or being fixated on the boob tube, computer, or video game. I remember when I was married and I used to teach aerobics one night a week. I would come home from class all excited to share how the class went and my then husband would look at me briefly and then go right back to reading the newspaper. Is it little wonder then we ended up in divorce court? These days people substitute their cellphone, the television, the internet or a video game. It’s all the same problem – lack of mindfulness. Otherwise known as not paying attention.

Your kids:
When you are with them, make the effort to be truly with them. Don’t be doing dishes, talking on the phone, grading papers or whatever else needs to be done. Stay in the present moment and really be with your child. These things can be done after the kids are in bed. If you’re a working mom, like I was, you only have a few hours to develop a relationship with your children. Those hours are precious. I made sure eating dinner together was a priority. I’d ask them about their day and get them to talking. Some nights we’d have a bible study session where we would take turns reading the Bible. Now it doesn’t have to be the Bible. I wanted to make it a two-fer and use the connecting time as a teaching time as well. Then at bedtime, I’d often read them a bed time story. In other words, I made sure the hours I had with my kids, I was present.

Personal life:
How often do you forget where you put your keys, your wallet, the grocery list? You start one task and find yourself doing something else two minutes later. No, it’s not ADD or ADHD. Most likely it is the normal state of mindlessness. Not being aware of what you are currently doing. I think if we taught our kids mindfulness at an early age, far few kids would be on prescription meds. When we learn to slow down enough to pay attention to the present moment, we actively engage in the here and now. You know how you get so involved in your gardening, or playing tennis, or dancing and then wonder where the time went? That’s because you were mindfully present. You were actively aware in what you were doing. You were being mindful.

Inner world:
Perhaps one of the most important benefits of mindfulness is being more connected to our thoughts and feelings. When we slow down and pay attention to our thoughts, we are more aware of what is going on in our internal world. We are able to feel our feelings before they cause us to react in an unhealthy or unproductive way or keep us up at night thinking about things. Even though we are asleep, our mind is still trying to process the events of the day. This is why we wake up in the middle of the night ruminating. When we learn to be mindful during the day, we will process our thoughts and emotions real-time, so our minds don’t have to work overtime at night to do it. Just yesterday, I caught myself having negative feelings towards an old friend. Rather than ignore them or stuff them, I allowed myself to sit with them. I realized why I was feeling upset, which led to an understanding of what I need to change about myself in this situation.

Mindfulness is a practice, like most things worthwhile in this life. When we make the time to train our minds, we will have better control over our thoughts and our actions. Our relationships with others will be more intimate and more connected and we will be more focused and directed in our daily lives and accomplish more of what we want to do. There are several ways to practice mindfulness and I have attached a link here with more information.

Love to hear your thoughts on this relevant and timely topic. Please leave a comment below or on Facebook.

Until next time, keep looking up!

Ariel

The Single Most Important Factor to Success

What is success? How do we define it and how do we achieve it? Many are looking for the answer, but the truth is there is no one answer.

Success is a value. It is personal. Each individual who is motivated to be successful will need to come to terms with his or her own idea of what success looks like for him/herself. Some define success in terms of fame, popularity, and being well-known. For others, it means making a 6-figure income, achieving a high-ranking corporate position, and having all the luxuries of life at their disposal. A third group define success in terms of doing what they enjoy and value such as being able to spend more time with the family, maintaining their health and doing good in the world. What’s more, one’s idea of success can change as we achieve in different areas of our lives and fulfill what Maslow calls our basic human needs.

Whatever your definition of success is, there is one factor that is the common denominator in success of any type. I’ll call it “the ability to show up”. For example, to be a success on the job, we must report to work everyday, arrive on time, and be mentally alert. We must “show up”. After working in a corporate environment world for over 30 years, showing up is a given. A fellow coworker put it this way “They expect us to be on our A game every day” and it was true. You were either 100% or they didn’t need you.

If we want to be a successful parent, it is important to show up there as well: for the baseball game, the soccer match, the school play, the Honor awards ceremony. We might not think of it as important, but to our son or daughter our presence means the world. Kids notice more when we’re NOT there, than when we are. As a single parent, it meant cutting out of work earlier and staying later the next day, but if it means seeing my son hit a home run, get a chance to pitch, or score that goal, it was well worth it.

In our personal relationships, if we tell our spouse or friend we will be available at a certain time to have lunch or dinner will we show up? Or will we call with an excuse at the last minute? Will we be available to help out when crisis hits and a friend is in need? Will we show up to visit, cook or bring them a meal? Will we listen to our spouse talk about his/her day and tune out the television, computer and cell phone? Will we be present?

What about showing up for ourselves? Suppose I want to lose some weight. I tell myself I am going to work out or go to the gym 4 times a week. Will I show up? Will I do what I said I was going to do? Same thing with learning any new skill such as learning to dance, practicing yoga, meditation, reading the Bible, or training for a 10k or a marathon. It goes for writing these blog posts. I’ve been writing them faithfully for six years now. Do you think it’s been easy? Not at all, but I can tell you I’ve learned a lot about showing up even in my free time. I learned to sit myself down at the computer and write. It wasn’t as hard writing the book because I had so much inside I wanted to pour out on paper. It still took discipline to do this after working 8 hours at a mentally demanding career. I tracked the days and the times I spent writing to establish a regular writing routine. You might say I was driven to show up.

Finally, what about showing up for God? When we hear that call to help out at church, visit a sick friend, or volunteer for a worthy charity, will we show up? In the morning when we know God is waiting to meet with us and talk with us in that quiet time, will we show up? Will we rise a few minutes earlier if necessary so we can have that special time with God? I have realized this is the most important appointment of my day. Everything falls into place and I have a sense of peace knowing I am fully protected and prepared for whatever comes at me during the day.

The key, I think, to success in any area of our life begins with this one simple step – just show up. When we want to do something new, something different, something we feel we are not quite ready for, all we have to do is show up. We don’t need to have the whole plan mapped out from A to Z. If we’re on a God-sized mission, we won’t even know the next step most of the time. All we have to do is show up and do “the next right thing”.

What is it you want to achieve in this life? What area of life do you wish to be successful in? Ask yourself this question: “Am I showing up?” This really makes a tough job seem much less difficult. When we want to achieve something new it can seem like a mountain in front of us, but really, as Jesus said, if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move mountains. In other words, what may seem impossible to us, begins with the first step of just showing up and believing. If we keep showing up day after day, we are going to make progress. We will slowly climb that mountain. We will gain clarity on what to do next to achieve our goal.

If this post has resonated with you, I’d love to hear your feedback. Please click the Google +1 button or leave a comment. Until next time, keep looking up!

Ariel

Baltimore Riots: The Danger of Pent Up Negative Emotions

Negative emotions can build up without us even realizing it and have disastrous consequences. Take the recent riots in Baltimore, for example. Years of pent up frustration and resentment erupted in a city-wide looting and rioting spree this week. Stores were vandalized. People were injured. Residents are shocked and alarmed. The governor has declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard. The mayor has ordered a curfew and police are patrolling the city with guns and weapons. The triggering event was the unnecessary death of a black youth while in the custody of city police. But why this violent reaction many ask?

We can ask the same question about the mass killings of innocent school children at Sandy Hook Elementary School or the shootings at Columbine, Aurora movie theatre, to name just a few. In my humble opinion, the root cause of aggressive violence, barring mental illness, is the inability to process one’s negative emotions. We all have them. Stress from our jobs, school, our relationships, unfair treatment in the workplace and in the community can build up to an intolerable crescendo unless we learn to handle it in positive ways.

A video clip of a Baltimore city mom cursing and hitting her kid over the head has made headlines. Some people are condoning her actions.

I ask this question “What is she teaching her son?” Yes, I understand she was concerned and afraid for him. Any mother would be. But how we parents act in the difficult situations of life is how our kids are going to act when we’re not around. I have seen many a mom smacking her kid, yelling at a child, and in general, being totally out of control. I have lost my temper a time or two when I was raising my kids as a single parent. One day, it dawned on me. What am I teaching my kids? It was a rude but necessary awakening.

Not only do we need to educate the kids on how to handle their emotions, we need to educate the parents. Do you think it is appropriate to curse and whack a child on the head to discipline them? We expect these kids to show respect to others, but if it has never been shown to them, this is an unrealistic expectation. Kids model the behavior that has been modeled to them. Remember the old adage, action speaks louder than words. So what can we do as parents? Here are some constructive ways we can better manage our emotions and hopefully, pass these on to our kids.

1) Allow myself to feel my emotions – negative as well as positive. Do not suppress or “stuff” them. Do not allow them to build up without expression.

2) Do not judge myself for having any type of emotion or feeling. Emotions and feelings are fleeting and temporary but they are messages that have a purpose.

3) Observe myself feeling the emotion. Identify the bodily reactions I experience such as a tight stomach, a headache, or stiff neck.

4) Understand the triggering event. Our thoughts trigger our emotions. What negative thought did I have that caused me to feel this way?

5) Realize an emotion does not control us. We control it. Take a few deep breaths to regain control.

6) Consider what positive action to take to change the situation. If the situation is out of my control, then I need to work on changing the way I perceive a situation. There is always a different way to view things.

7) Commend myself for being aware of my feelings and emotions. We will feel much more in control of our lives when we make a conscious choice rather than act on emotion.

Researchers have long studied the effects of yelling at kids. Here’s a link from Today’s Parent which says “Adolescents whose parents had been using yelling as a discipline method were more likely to have behavioral issues and to act out (including with vandalism and violence).”

This is a difficult and complicated subject to address. Negative emotions are not the only cause of violent behavior, but they are a big part of the problem in today’s society. Many people prefer to put on a happy face and ignore the issues, but sooner or later, things come to the surface in one way or another. Negative emotions are normal. Everyone has them. The key is how to manage them in healthy and appropriate ways.

What ideas do you have on how to handle your emotions? What do you think this mom’s behavior is teaching her son? What other ways do you use to discipline your kids? Do comment below.

Until next time, keep looking up!

Ariel

God Has The Plan

I feel like I am at a crossroads in life wondering what the next step of the journey will be. My life hasn’t exactly gone the way I expected it to, that’s for sure. Has yours?

In college, I thought I was going to go to New York and work for the United Nations as an interpreter and here I am, 30 years later, working in computers. It’s been a challenging 30 years, but the job has provided for me and my family, enabled me to get braces for my son and I, a Masters degree for myself, and help me put two sons through college. I have a beautiful home and am financially self-supporting. I would definitely say God has provided.

Today as I sit here in the peaceful quiet of my home, what would I say to encourage you? I would tell you that whatever comes to you in life, God has the plan. He knows what’s best for us, what we need, and how to take care of us. We don’t always make the best decisions, do we? Other people don’t always come through for us, but God always does.

As I encouraged my son’s class the other day, plans change. We may start off in one direction, and end up in another. Our decisions make our future. Whatever choices we have made in the past, we made them for a reason: perhaps we needed to learn some things, perhaps we needed to grow in some area. Instead of kicking myself, I now choose to be thankful that I have grown, learned to make better choices, and that I can trust that God can use my choices for my good. As Jeremiah 29 says “I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

Today, will you trust God with the plan for your life?

God Has The Plan

I feel like I am at a crossroads in life wondering what the next step of the journey will be. My life hasn’t exactly gone the way I expected it to, that’s for sure. Has yours?

In college, I thought I was going to go to New York and work for the United Nations as an interpreter and here I am, 30 years later, working in computers. It’s been a challenging 30 years, but the job has provided for me and my family, enabled me to get braces for my son and I, a Masters degree for myself, and help me put two sons through college. I have a beautiful home and am financially self-supporting. I would definitely say God has provided.

Today as I sit here in the peaceful quiet of my home, what would I say to encourage you? I would tell you that whatever comes to you in life, God has the plan. He knows what’s best for us, what we need, and how to take care of us. We don’t always make the best decisions, do we? Other people don’t always come through for us, but God always does.

As I encouraged my son’s class the other day, plans change. We may start off in one direction, and end up in another. Our decisions make our future. Whatever choices we have made in the past, we made them for a reason: perhaps we needed to learn some things, perhaps we needed to grow in some area. Instead of kicking myself, I now choose to be thankful that I have grown, learned to make better choices, and that I can trust that God can use my choices for my good. As Jeremiah 29 says “I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

Today, will you trust God with the plan for your life?