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Category: Relaxation Mindset

What is Your Calmer Self-Image? How to Build One

What is Your Calmer Self-Image? How to Build One

We can pretty easily describe a metaphorical image of what we look like when we are highly stressed. For instance, we may refer to ourselves as a “wild-eyed, wild hair, raging beast” or a “racing tornado just like my mother.” Or we may see ourselves as a “warrior, battling the world.”

It is worthwhile to watch ourselves carefully when we are stressed to spot additional details of this inner character we play when things are not going well. This is not a casual, unimportant imagining of our minds for our minds take this stuff very, very seriously, indeed. The mind, and more specifically, the unconscious, loves this stuff. It is a primary fuel for our inner world.

If we run inner dramas of with us being a wild, barely in control character, we will live that role out. If our go-to role is the harried, I can’t believe nor accept us with every stressor there is no room and no experience playing a different role.

But there are many other roles we can, with lots of practice, learn to act out. We see them in literature and movies:

The Clever, Self-Possessed Hero – These characters range from Sherlock Holmes to James Bond, to Laura Croft.

The Wise Person – Usually associated with the wise, old male, this characterization of a calm person is not limited to men. Many wise women who can see the big picture, hold things in perspective, who are patient can also be found.

The Centered and Detached Sports Person – Think balance-beam gymnasts; professional poker players, golfers.

The Bounce Back Person – We find these not only in literature but in life; the person who goes through tremendous trials but comes right back and keeps on keeping on.

The Immersed Artist/Craftsman/Worker – These people immerse themselves into something finite but seem to get almost infinite vitality, enjoyment, and relaxation from what they are doing.

The Keep to the Simple Person – Look for literary characters who keep a simple life that stands in contrast to the people spinning, busily around them.

How to Build Your Inner Relaxation Self-Image

1. Find an image from the list above (and from your list) the clicks for you. Note, it doesn’t have to be a single inner character. Our stressed out inner image is usually made of a little this and a little that, so you can make your relaxation self-image a little this and a little that, too.

2. Imagine that self-image a little bit each day for a month. We are talking about a few minutes each day. Do this until you feel connected to your image and that it is very clearly in mind.

3. Bring your self-image up in stressful but lower stress situations and start to act as if you are that image. See what you discover.

4. Apply imagining that self-image to memories of stressful situations and see what you can imagine as how you would have responded as that sort of character.

5. Practice, Practice, Practice steps 1 through 5. It takes awhile to develop our stressed-out image, it will take time to develop an inner image we know can pop up on its own when we are facing stress.

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The Three Buckets of Sanity

The Three Buckets of Sanity

Just as boxes can be helpful in time of stress, buckets are important, too.

Most stressors just won’t go away. We can wish that they would disappear, but they won’t. We can demand that they stop (“Damn it, traffic jam, go away right now because I say so!!!”) but most won’t go running.  We can keep up our raging, demanding, and striving to change all things to fit our wishes, or we can take a few moments to look at stressors with a wise eye.

What would we see with that wise eye?  Most stressful situations can be sorted into one of three categories:

Bucket No. 1 – Those Things That Are Clearly Under Our Control

Bucket No. 2 – Those Things Where We Might Be Able To Control

Bucket No. 3 – Those Things That We Have to Wisely Admit, We Have No Ability To Control

Simple to understand but tremendously hard to follow.

Imagine what life would be like if we sorted things into these three buckets and stuck by that sorting. If we could clearly see and accept how we sorted things we would escape a tremendous amount of frustration and disappointment. For one, we would stop trying to force our way on the world once we saw that we have no real influence on the matter, the person, or the event (bucket 3).  We let go and in letting go, we concentrate more on ourselves and on those things that we can influence or change. We become more humble by putting things into bucket no. 3. We are not gods who control all.

Bucket No. 2 requires us to be honest with ourselves.

Bucket no. 2 is tough to work with because it is filled with so much “maybe”, “perhaps,” “you never know,” “yes/no.”  Things are not so clear cut as with bucket no. 1 and no. 3. How can we be sure we don’t have control?  What if more tough mindedness is required and then all would fall under our control?  The mind can spin a lot of options, possible exceptions to a rule, many possibilities. It is easy to confuse the movement of our minds that never rests with reality. Our minds give us a false perception that we are making progress in changing something when in fact, reality is standing still. Only our minds are moving.

But, if we struggle and practice three bucket sorting, over time, we will have a better life. A life in which we put our energies into the right actions.  And one which is more free from endless struggles that block us from seeing helpful and wise potentials.

“Why I Don’t Relax” Myth: All Relaxation Techniques Cause Dullness and Sleepiness

“Why I Don’t Relax” Myth: All Relaxation Techniques Cause Dullness and Sleepiness

The media and relaxation experts get the blame for this one. In the media we see images of people asleep, in hamocks, beaches, and blissed out alongside articles on relaxation methods. So there it is: if you do this, you will get that. Experts play up the most dramatic effects of relaxation.

Truth: Relaxation comes in many mind/body effects and levels

In reality, relaxation covers a broad territory of bodily and mental effects. It can: calm the body but cause the mind to be alert; it can calm the mind and the body; it can calm the emotions and leave the mind and body energized; it can calm the body and leave the mind and emotions aroused. Also, there are many levels of relaxation. The levels include: just taking the edge off, mildly calming, moderately relaxed, to profoundly relaxed-out. Some will leave a person sleepy, but many levels and effects are not in that direction at all.

Truth: Relaxation techniques can be used both to increase alertness and to decrease alertness 

Pro athletes, pro performers, military special forces use relaxation techniques to stay focused in the midst of the action. They use simple methods that can be quickly brought up but provide profound actions in the body and mind. Others, who suffer from sleeplessness or anxiety, can use the same techniques to reduce their problems.

Truth: Relaxation can chase away dullness and sleepiness

Some of our fatigue and dullness comes from holding too tight of focus on our external and internal lives. We get stuck in this mode and relaxation can open us back up to a broader vision. In doing so, our fatigue can lift nearly instantly and we are able to see, think, and do like we never thought we could just moments before.

Truth: Relaxation frequently doesn’t cause dullness and sleepiness, chronic tiredness does

Relaxation techniques often get the blame for knocking people out but it is our choices that do that. If we don’t get adequate sleep, don’t set aside time for rest and recovery, don’t take time to go inside our own skin to find out what’s going on and what we truly need, we are in a chronic state of tiredness. We may not feel it all the time but it is there. Jacking ourselves up with caffeine, rush here/rush there activities, and the desire to be highly active can mask some of this tiredness (for awhile), but it is there.

A well-rested person can enjoy and actually be perked up by most relaxation techniques. A chronically tired person is going to start to doze off or at least become dull the moment they are given a chance to slow down, be in a quiet place that is not for frantic activity. In fact, one of the earliest tests for sleep deprivation was having a person recline in a darkened room and the length of time that passed without them falling asleep was recorded. This testing wasn’t in the middle of the night, but in broad daylight, on a typical day for the person to be tested. The chronically tired person konked out in minutes; a non-chronically sleep deprived could sail through the full test period of 20 minutes without going off into sleep land.

Truth: Relaxation can be scaled to provide reduced stress but not dullness/sleepiness

When we actually become skilled at relaxation, we end up applying min-doses of de-stressing throughout our regular daily activities. A bit of dosing cuts the edge of impatience, confusion, and anxiety. A small dose does not lead to the profound change of mindset that comes from applying the same technique for longer time periods or under conditions when a person can let go (i.e. during meditation sessions). The technique is skillfully used just to the level the person wants and no more.

Put Your Mask On First – How to Truly Help Others and Your Self

Put Your Mask On First – How to Truly Help Others and Your Self

For decades we have been instructed: In the event the cabin loses pressure, oxygen masks will drop down.  Put your mask on first before trying to help children or others who need assistance with their masks.

Makes sense: stay conscious, stay helpful.

Outside of planes, we do the opposite of the mask yourself first policy. We put and keep ourselves in moderate to extreme lack of awareness and limited helpfulness by driving ourselves, way, way too much. Besides driving ourselves by doing too much, working too long, and keeping ourselves immersed in problems, we put ourselves absolutely last. We suffer from lack of oxygen, too. We lose our brains to overwork and over focus which spins off: anxiety, crabbiness, exhausted ideas coming from exhausted brains, and rote work produced by tired bodies.Putting our bodies and brains last, is exactly how we approach our lives. Gut your way through things, nose to the grindstone, keep on going.

How to Put Your Mask on First

We have to teach ourselves that one of the best ways to help people and to tackle our projects is to rest. Rest is not unrelated to productivity, creativity, and responsibility. Let me repeat that: rest is not unrelated to productivity, creativity, and responsibility. Rest and Recovery is one side of the coin with the other side showing Work and Fatigue. Our brains and bodies understand this, we’ve got to have both to be healthy or at least to remain alive. One coin, two sides.

Creativity and Rest and Recovery – One of the oldest approaches to creativity matches nose to the grindstone work to rest and recovery.  The first step is working hard to load up the brain with facts, figures, options, opinions, and whatever else is related to the problem or issue at hand. Once that load is up to eyeballs, the second crucial step is not more work followed by more work but….a walk in the park, a nap, play, listening to music, shopping, washing the dog, anything to disengage. We do whatever it takes to get out of our own way by “forgetting” our troubles/project. Percolating under the surface is part of our minds that takes all of the crammed in materials and does its sort of alchemy.  What happens when we get our nose off the grindstone? We get breakthroughs! Aha!  We get a creative boast from combining work with Rest and Recovery. (See: Creative Breakthroughs: Tapping the Power of the Unconscious Mind, Amazon link)

Learning and Sleep as Rest and Recovery – We have the vision drummed into our heads that if we aren’t working we are lazy, irresponsible, degenerate, and backsliding. Hogwash. Night-time sleep and daytime naps consolidate learning and shift it from short term memory to long term memory (See: Take a Nap! Change Your Life, Amazon link)

Play, Positive Times, and Hanging Out with People as Rest and Recovery – Taking time to make friends and to contact friends strengthens us and it puts us right into the field of effect of Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build theory. The theory and supporting studies show that when we are positive (from play, humor, optimism) we are more creative, open to seeing and exploring options, and more open to helping others). Positive uplift often comes in the company of others, not water cooler sort of complaint sessions but time well spent with true friends.

These are just three areas of Rest and Recovery and each provides benefits for our minds and bodies and have the spin-off effect of making us sharper and more capable of  facing and working our projects and problems. Extensive is the evidence that Rest and Recovery is related to productivity, creativity, and responsibility.

Step 1: Clean-up Your Beliefs/Get Your Philosophy Right – Really look at the notion of not being engaged on something 24/7. This includes not ruminating, not planning, not talking, not wondering about some hot project or personal matter 100% of the time. It will take self-challenge to see that to rest up or to take regular breaks and disengaging is not: sloppy, traitorous, unkind, missing opportunities, overlooking something. Can you take 20 minutes today to be disengaged, in heart and mind?  If yes, do it and do it again tomorrow and the next day. Get ever better at strategic disengagement. If you do this long enough you will discover: it feels good, it is not as hard to do as you first thought, and you find the power of bounce back.

Step 2: Adhere to the basics – 15 minutes of aerobic exercise per day; 15 minutes of meditation per day; and high quality and high quantity sleep (no skimping here – 6.5 to 8 hours).

Step 3: At least one activity with friends per week with no special focus on: worry, justifying some action, complaining, planning, etc. Simply be with friends, explore, play, share.

That’s a good beginning.

The Big View of Relaxation That Few See

The Big View of Relaxation That Few See

When most people think of relaxation, they are underwhelmed. They “know” that it is something they “need” but it sounds like knowing that broccoli is good for you and that you need to add it to your diet. Most people are not impressed. Sadly, they are not motivated to explore the true realm of relaxation.

Relaxation is more than something that is good for our body.  Relaxation is the doorway to most of  those experiences we consider as making a life worth living. That’s the big view. Relaxation reduces our built-in negativity bias, that is seeing the threats and risks of life around every corner even if there are no threats or risks there. Our long ago ancestors needed this to survive, but we carry too much of this. Relaxation brings ups the powers within us to see with a positivity bias—seeing good, potential, and creativity around most corners. This is not a false vision. Positive stuff is out there and stress has been blinding us.

Think of the time you were last on vacation or at least had the opportunity to take a good break from your normal life. It took a few days to tune down the previous work-a-day focus. By the third day, something was happening to you. You probably found yourself not only more energized, but also curious, more observant, clear-headed, open to helping others, thinking of possibilities, savoring, appreciating, and day-dreaming. You were becoming, without effort, the product of the forces of relaxation and that was changing your mind, heart, and body.

Relaxation pushes us into the positive realm. The positive realm is powerful. It opens us to new ideas, new relationships, and renewed self-promises to follow our dreams. Sounds corny but it is how we are hardwired. Bring down stress enough and by default, we go to the positive realm. No choice, really, that is how we are built.

To get really crazy, at the far end of the positive realm lies deep experiences of flow and mystical experience. Flow is feeling so connected to what you are doing that you feel bonded to it in some mysterious way. Time stops and the center of your focus enlivens.  Mystical experience, properly defined, comes in a few different flavors. The most commonly experienced form is feeling part of something much bigger than one’s self and that some how the world is alive. The old mystics (and the new ones) get to these places by turning down stress and turning up openness, curiosity, and generosity—all bi-products of relaxation. You can’t get to these places with a furrowed brow and an anxious mind.

If we stop defining relaxation as something that is good for us like broccoli and flossing and instead learn to jump into the river of relaxation, we will discover a whole, broad, positive world.