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A New Mindful Year

I recently received a reader question: I've been meaning to ask if there is a book or two (or podcast?) that you recommend on the topics of meditation/mindfulness? I know there are tons out there, just curious which ones you liked.

Oh boy, what a good question, I thought. All the answers are somewhere on my blog, but you'd have to go and look. So (of course) I've done the work for you. 

The first book I always recommend to people is Richard Carlson's Stop Thinking, Start Living. I am looking at my bookshelf now and I actually have two copies there as I lent it to so many people that I bought a second copy to keep for reference. Recently someone gave one back to me. (If anyone wants to borrow one let me know.)

His more popular, digestible books are the Don't Sweat The Small Stuff series. The first one I ever read was Don't Sweat The Small Stuff at Work, given to me by my aunt when I was having a terrible time at work. But I think that Stop Thinking, Start Living gives such a good base for the concept of mindfulness that it's a really good one to start with. He's very intellectual but also knows how to explain what can be at first a very foreign concept in a simple, understandable way.

I also really like Eckhardt Tolle's A New Earth. (Read my blog post about it here.) Tolle also wrote the Power of Now, but I like A New Earth slightly better. Although there's a really weird chapter near the end about pain-bodies. It's kind of out there. Just saying. 

The thing about mindfulness, however, is that although I did a lot of reading on it, I felt that putting it into practice was almost impossible until I started meditating regularly. Because our thoughts (created by the ego) are so strong that unless you "practice" seeing them for what they are, it's really hard. 

My favorite book on meditation is 10% Happier by Dan Harris. (Blog post link here.) I think I like it so much because it's also a memoir and he has a good story to tell. He recommends quite a few authors in there too, which is good. I read Mark Epstein's Going on Being: Buddhism and the Way of Change, which I thought was a refreshing look at Buddhism from the perspective of a Westerner trained as a Freudian psychoanalyst. 

In terms of podcasts, I would also highly recommend Dan Harris' podcast of the same name: 10% Happier.

Thanks Elizabeth for the question! Hope my answer is helpful. 

Never hesitate to ask me a question on facebook, twitter or at mindbodyandscroll[at]yahoo[dot]com.

Photo credit: Buddha statue in meditation pose, robe, blue, concrete, Lake City Way, Seattle, Washington, USA via photopin (license)

The Power Of Seven

I took a writing course recently -- well, it was more of a business course -- taught by Joanna Penn (The Creative Penn) and Orna Ross (Creative Writing, Creative Publishing, Creative Living). I learned a lot from it about the different economic models for making a living as a self-published author, which was brilliant, as that was the point of the course.

But there was a hidden gem I discovered.

For a while I've been trying to get rid of my to-do list. I have always been an obsessive list-maker and recently realized that it was some sort of elaborate ritualized procrastination. All those lists I was making ended up weighing me down and stopping me from actually doing anything.

At one point Orna talked about how she didn't like to-do lists either and that she would instead "draw" her lists, putting the words into cloud shapes, and always focused on seven things. She found that was the number of things she could accomplish in a day, week, month or a year. (I hope I'm not misquoting her here. This is what I remember her saying. It was at the beginning of the day-long class and I'm not sure the caffeine had started working yet.)

Anyway, what I remember her saying was brilliant. I have latched onto this magic seven idea ever since and have been "drawing" my to-do lists every day and week with different shapes around the words. I'm not really on board with the clouds. I like more variety anyway.

I dig the way shapes take up more space than words, just like doing things actually take up space in our lives. It seems like you can write just about anything down on a never-ending to-do list without acknowledging the time that these things take up in our lives. It's more concrete somehow and weighty to create shapes. (Dad, the fractal image is for you.)

(And for those interested in the detail, I use a new square sticky note each day. With a separate one for the week. I separate work and home for the week, but not for the day.)

I feel like this post has digressed a bit from what I was intending, which was to advise using this gem of a trick in your goal planning for 2017. Last week I posted about my New Year's Resolution, but promised I would write about goals this week.

This year I am using the Power of Seven (with shapes of course) to think about what I'd like to do in 2017. I won't list them all here, but I did think long and hard about what those seven would be as it's a much more limiting number than 10 when you try to do it.

My advice is to include the things that you might not think about as goals, but are very time-consuming. Any project or thing happening in your life that will take up time over the year. Like if you're planning a major holiday that needs a lot of planning, not to mention the time to actually take the trip. Or my example is that we are extending our kitchen. In the past I wouldn't have thought of this as a goal, but it will be massively time consuming. To not include it on the 2017 list would be bonkers.

If you're curious, my two writing goals are to finish the first draft of my novel (I'm half-way through) and to re-write my memoir to turn it into Mind, Body & Scroll, the book (working title, obvs). I'm trying to be a little more realistic in my list of things to accomplish this year. Let's not revisit whether or not I got my 2016 goals done.

Coming up next week: I answer a reader question on my book and podcast recommendations for mindfulness/meditation. (Which reminds me to say: you can email me with questions anytime at mindbodyandscroll[at]yahoo[dot]com. Or send me a message on facebook or twitter.)

Are you setting any goals for 2017?

Photo credit: Abby Lanes Cloud Texture via photopin (license)

Photo credit: fractal dream vit trop via photopin (license)

A Resolution Is Not A Goal (In My Book)

I used to do that thing that that's so attractive at this time of year. Come up with all sorts of resolutions to change my life for the better. This year is going to so shiny and wonderful, I would think. But then, life would get in the way and it wasn't long before things went back to normal.

These days things are different for me anyway. I make lots of changes to my habits all the time to make my life a little easier or get things done in a better way. But I spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff. More than most people -- and I certainly would not suggest becoming like me.  

But if you're interested in my technique for New Year's resolutions, it is this: choose one that is actionable in a very short amount of time. I pick something I can work on in January and February, but hopefully by March it's "done". Last year I decided to form a weekly exercise habit, which I'm happy to say has stuck. I do a weights class at my gym on Sunday afternoons and I go most weeks unless there's a very good reason I can't make it.

This year I've decided to tackle my ongoing struggle with my daily meditation habit. The problem is this: I can't seem to do it everyday. No matter what I try.

Then I realized that I hate doing anything everyday. Obviously I brush my teeth and shower everyday (I mean, I have my standards), but other than that, I need a variation in routine throughout my week. I came to grips with this even with my personal writing. I had read over and over again that I needed to be writing every single day -- but this doesn't work for me. I am far more productive when I have certain days set aside for certain activities. It's just the way I am.

So this year's New Year's Resolution is to meditate four days a week. I feel like this goes against everything I've ever heard a meditation teacher say, but hey, meditating four days a week is better than none, which is what sometimes happens when I get frustrated with my lack of progress on the daily meditation habit.      

If you feel like making one New Year's resolution isn't nearly enough, that there are lots of things in your life you'd like to fix, well, then maybe you can address these other things with your 2017 goals, which we'll talk about next week.

In the meantime, think of one thing you'd like to change right now. And make that your resolution. Trust me, you'll feel a lot better in March when you actually remember what your resolution was. And you may just accomplish it.

Photo credit: anieto2k Kirkjufell in the middle via photopin (license)
Photo credit: Howard Clifton Butterflies on flowers at LBJ Wildflower Center via photopin (license)

Not Good Or Bad

If you do a lot of reading about mindfulness (which I obviously do), one of the concepts you will inevitably stumble across is the idea that we label all our experiences. Something happens and we think "this is amazing!" and then something else happens and we think "this is really bad." 

But this is just our brain telling us stories. 

The other day I planned to work from home and I was so looking forward to it. It was one of the last days I would be working from home for a while, because I was just about to start my new job and I knew that I would have to be in the office all the time for at least the first few months, while I got up to speed.

I was looking forward to throwing on jeans and not worrying about how I looked. Wearing my old glasses. Not having to wear shoes. And also the peace and quiet of being absolutely alone.

And then. My computer failed to turn on properly. I couldn't even get the home screen, so our I.T. help people from wherever-they-are-in-the-world couldn't even connect to the computer to help me out. The guy on the other end of the phone asked me, "how quickly can you get into the office?" 

I sighed. 

I was so irritated and annoyed -- this was so bad, I thought. The worst. But then, because I've read like a million books and blogs on mindfulness, I stopped myself. This just was. I took a deep breath and got ready to go into work. 

Miraculously I made a conscious choice not to be annoyed, not to label what had happened. And a funny thing happened. I enjoyed the late trip into work. The train and tube weren't crowded. I had a conversation with the man who sold me my coffee about keep cups and when someone came into the shop looking for a job, I remembered I had seen a notice at a pub looking to hire staff and told him about it. 

Also, I found out that day that a good friend of mine was very close to losing his battle with cancer. I ended up going to see him at the hospital that very evening. And I can't say for sure, of course, but I don't know if I would have made it there that day if I had been working from home. 

But what I do know for sure is that I made a choice that morning. I made a choice not to label my day as bad, and it made all the difference. 

So next time you find yourself labeling something good or bad, try this. After you say it, add "maybe" to the end. Because maybe, just maybe, you will find out that you do have a choice on how you perceive, and then experience, your life.

Photo credit: Reid Rosenberg Rage against the machine via photopin (license)

Photo credit: michaelmueller410 Flockenblume via photopin (license)

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