Friday, January 30, 2009

Stress and Learning: Crash Landing or Soaring?

Recently, I was both inspired and humbled when an 89 year old woman stopped at my booth at the Surrey Wellness Fair. "I need to learn how to live a better life," were the first words she said to me as she gracefully sat down. (You did catch her age, right?)

Although we've finished working together, this woman continues to uplift me and hopefully, in the re-telling, you as well. Her thirst for knowledge was evident right from the beginning. I'm certain that this is what is keeping her young at heart. Although the wrapping may be a little wrinkled, it doesn't matter; the gift lies on the inside.

Inspiration, support and lessons are all around us, if we are willing to notice and ask, learn and practise. Notice and ask...

One of my greatest joys has been developing new connections through Twitter. Steve Finikiotis (@Finikiotis) recently passed on these wise words of wisdom: "Osprey was launched in '02 and the transition was easy except for some bumps which were valuable learning experiences. I'm grateful for the bumps as well as the triumphs, as I'm sure you are."

Steve's great attitude is exemplifying what I believe to be one of man's reasons for life: to find our purpose through learning, then change and grow as a result of our gratitude for those learnings.

When we are able to appreciate the bumps we actually learn a great deal and often move more quickly through the turbulence.

Are you like an osprey? This is a bird which has an amazing ability to adapt, making its home in unlikely places and being comfortable enough to not only survive, but to thrive. (Thanks @ConHake for that phrase.)

Remember that learning is a process. Sometimes we "get it" quickly, other times it takes practise and yet more practise.

Why not give yourself an advantage and have tools and techniques in place to assist you with your learnings? How marvelous would it be to have a tail-wind for your flight? Energy consumption decreases and the time it takes to arrive at your destination is often reduced. The passengers are also much happier! And, that's a good thing, as Martha is fond of saying!

For you to consider:
1. When have you done your best learning?
2. What were your emotional, mental and physical states?
3. Are you afraid of making mistakes?
4. How could you change your perceptions about learning?
5. What do you need to do if you wish to overcome the non-resourceful behaviours?

Beautiful photo courtesy of Jeff Jones.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Spinach Affair

You smile. You laugh. You talk. Then, you go to the washroom and you are no longer smiling, much less laughing! You want to find the emergency exit now, please!

Yup, we've all been there. You have discovered that you have spinach in your teeth!

How am I going to tie this in with stress, you wonder? To quote one of our more illustrious Prime Ministers, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, "Just watch me!"

After the initial wave of embarrassment has passed, you question why someone wouldn't tell you? Here are 3 possible reasons:

1. There's a perverse (or is it reverse?) kind of thinking that happens when we tell someone that they are doing something that could embarrass them. They feel self-conscious because they may have caused you to feel abashed.

Being in a socially awkward situation can cause our body to respond with a range of physical and chemical changes that may include blushing, increased heart rate and a change in blood pressure.

We learn at a young age that certain societal mistakes are unacceptable and cause for embarrassment. In the future, when we find ourselves in a similar situation, the amygdala remembers & broadcasts a stress alert. Preparing for flight, fight or freeze, our body goes through the same physiological and chemical changes as was experienced during the initial event.

The person who chose not to tell you about the spinach may be reliving their own embarrassing situation and reacting to that, as opposed to acting in a more reasonable and considerate manner.

2. They just didn't notice. Mismanaged emotions can paralyze us and stress can cause us to view life as if we were looking through the broad end of a funnel. We simply don't see because of cortical inhibition. In other words, the signals that are sent from the heart to the brain become disordered, leading to less-than-optimal functioning. (It's the difference between running your Porsche on low-grade vs. high-grade fuel. Or, coffee from the cafeteria vs. your local Starbucks!)

3. They just don't care. When we're stressed, we lose the genuine capacity to care, whether it be for ourselves, our family or those around us. We have nothing left to give, as we have been depleted by the relentless adaptations we've made to stress.

Yes, I agree, I did take liberties in the hopes that you'll remember that stress does have tentacles that squeeze into your everyday lives.

Finally, a suggestion for you, my spinach-loving friends. In the words of a principal who once kindly told me that I had apple on my nose, "Hey, better me telling you than those gr. 7 students out there!"

When you look at it from a different perspective, it is easy to turn your embarrassment into gratitude. Ahhhh, that's better. Now you can enjoy your day with a smile on your face and laughter in your heart.

Care to share?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Are You "Souffled?"

It is accepted wisdom that just as in life, variety in what we consume is essential to good health & cheer.

However, many of us are limiting ourselves with our choices, or more to the point, our perceived lack of choices. Are you constantly eating the same thing? Getting tired of it? Low on energy or nutrition?

Fellow Twitter "resident", Dick Costolo (@dickc) has eloquently described what happens when we frequently eat "souffle." He states, "Regret is a souffle. Light and flaky on the outside, ill-defined on the inside. Neither are worth the effort." (With apologies to souffle-lovers, everywhere! :) )

Regret can become a habit; one that does not serve us. We waste precious time and energy on what has passed and cannot be recovered nor will ever be. When we dine on "souffle" we are also negatively impacting our heart rhythms. This is a big deal, folks!

Research has shown the more disorderly our heart rhythms, the more impacted our emotional, mental and physical health. Our capacity to be resilient diminishes; this means it takes less and less to cause us to fight, take flight or to freeze. We become inept at controlling our emotions. They become unmanageable and ill-defined.

Many of us have developed the habit of reviewing what we didn't do, accomplish or attempt. The more we "eat souffle", the more we "eat souffle." That is part of the addictive nature of so many of our habits. We often adopt them in order to lessen the hurt, the pain or to self-soothe. The reality is that we are setting the scene for more of the same. (By the same token, we have just as many habits that help as hinder - flossing, getting exercise, uttering a prayer or a mantra...)

You can change your history right now, simply by choosing to become aware of your non-resourceful behaviours, ensuring that you have the knowledge you need to replace them, as well as the repetition required to create new pathways in your brain.

When you apply heart-driven intelligence, many of your non-resourceful habits and behaviours fall away. It's like a paper-cut. When you have one, everything you touch causes you pain. When it heals, you've forgotten all about the pain - you are moving towards a more natural state of being, as opposed to what's normal - to what you've adapted.

One useful way to overcome that urge to partake from the "souffle dish" is to begin to appreciate where your life has taken you instead of where you wanted it to go. Did you learn or experience something that you wouldn't have learned or experienced otherwise? Were you prepared for the thing you wanted to do? Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise - saving you from something that could have been less than ideal? That is one question you may never have answered.

Speaking of appreciation, I'd like to express my gratitude to Dick Costolo for turning on the "burner" so that I could prepare and serve this "meal."

Thanks for the photo!: mseikaly

Monday, January 12, 2009


I've had people ask me for tips to reduce their stress. They want advice that will give them more time, keep their homes tidy or keep on top of their To Do lists.

I could write out a very lengthy list of things that you already know and may or may not be doing. Get regular exercise, make a grocery list, plan a budget, go to bed earlier...

This begs the question as to why people struggle with what would seem like the obvious. The answer often lies behind the scenes or more appropriately, within your body.

The constant speeding up and slowing down of your heart is called Heart Rate Variability. (When you take your own pulse, and it reads 64 beats per minute, you are getting the average heart rate; it is not reflective of the beat to beat changes that occur.)

What doctors are now concerned with is how your heart is speeding up and slowing down. Is it smooth or jerky? When it is measured, it will produce a wave. The smoother the wave the better it is for your emotional, mental and physical health. When you feel better, you start to do better. You begin to develop practices that are resourceful for you, and as a result, for others.

Think back to a time when you felt well. Did you engage with others more frequently? Were you more charitable in how you were with yourself and others? Was life a joy?
Stress impacts all of this and more.

End your struggle with practicalities and learn some techniques to live a better life. Change is a heartbeat away.

And, if you still want a To Do list:
1. Learn how stress impacts your emotional, mental and physical health. You start from where you are.
2. Develop awareness of when you are engaging in non-resourceful behaviours (including not accomplishing things on your own To Do list.)
3. Application. Here's where you start to apply and practise your newly-learned techniques that include balancing the two branches of your autonomic nervous system.
4. New habits take time to develop. Many people get frustrated and give up too soon. Be patient and kind to yourself.
5. Positive emotions are heart friendly and when you learn how to activate them more frequently you become more resilient.

Photo: Saporob