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31 August 2010

An abundance of choice


On my first trip to the US, more than 20 years ago, I was in a coffee shop to order a cappuccino. There was a queue and finally it was my turn.

Suddenly 100’s of questions were fired at me with the expectation that I knew the answers. Who would have thought that a simple cappuccino could come in so many different variations! I stood there, stunned, my brain in overload. The only thing I could do was remove myself from this situation.

For the first time in my life, I felt ill equipped to order a cup of coffee. I lived in Vienna back then and drinking coffee was a daily pleasure.

I had already decided. Cappuccino it was. Not a long black. Even so, this choice seemed only to be the start for more decisions to be made. I had to decide on every ingredient that would go into it.

So I sat down on a table, took a deep breath and studied all the options on the display. Only after practicing my answers, did I get back in the queue to get coffee. With success! But the stress involved was huge.

Choice is a complex matter. We want to have choice. But are there moments when we are overwhelmed by it? What do you do, when you find yourself stuck because you can’t make a decision? What does it depend upon. Is it something we need to learn to cope with, to manage?

Sheena Iyengar, studies “The art of choosing” and gives a fascinating talk about the power and effect of choice.

Image: DeaPeaJay
27 August 2010

A welcome mat for your fears


It’s time to put the welcome mat out for your fears.

Can you think of a situation where you stopped doing what was making you afraid? The fear probably vanished. Though I am also quite confident that this fear came back when you where faced with the same or a similar situation.

There are so many reasons for us to be afraid of doing something different, new or unknown.

The fear of…
… being rejected, not being loved, being abandoned, failing, not being liked, not belonging, becoming anxious, slipping back into the darkness, saying something wrong, hurting someone, not doing enough, doing too much, not being good enough, the future…

Fear is just as part of us as is joy. How come you push it away and try to deny its existence. Still. Quietly you adjust behaviour and adapt aspects of your life to accommodate this fear.

What would it take to get to know what you don’t want to see. Don’t want to have in your life. I know it is difficult.

I also know, the less you spend time pushing fear out of your life the more you can focus on actually doing what it prevented you from all that time. Give it some space to explain itself. You will see fear will ask less and less attention from you.

You might also want to read:
Fairy tales, monsters and life
Conversations with my pink elephant
Ride that bike

Image: Claudio Matsuoka
24 August 2010

Clutter and mind


A strong autumn wind found its way into the office, ecstatic about all the papers, post-it notes, pens and nicknacks on the desk. Spinning them around, leaving nothing unturned. Until it had played enough and dropped everything.

This is how my office desk looked like, every day. Piles of paper, important documents, funny things, notes, pens, you name it. When I would start my working day in the morning and looked at my desk, I felt overwhelmed. My breath became heavier, my shoulders carried an invisible weight.

Nothing seemed to stand out.

Everything was important.

Where to start.

Kadira at Unfolding Creativity has written a great post about developing a working habit that supports you. Originally written for artists, it can just as easily be adapted to any kind of work you do. One of the things Kadira is emphasizing is that clearing your work space helps you clear your mind and therefore helps you focus on your art.

Filling your desk with clutter is a habit. A habit you might want to examine about its usefulness and its role. Many people tell me that they can’t live without clutter because this is who they are. They need it, they say. And I understand. It took me a while to create a new habit of keeping my desk clear of unnecessary clutter.

Our brain has the tendency to focus on what is right in front of us. Now that I keep my desk empty, I find it easier to decide what is important, where to start and to keep focused. The weight on my shoulders has lifted.

When was the last time you looked at your working habits. Review them from time to time, to see whether they support you or undermine your efforts.

You might also want to read:
How to reduce distractions and stay focused
Create space for clarityA fresh sheet of paper

Images: Some rights reserved by neofob
Some rights reserved by aloshbennett
17 August 2010

The pursuit of unhappiness


The story of the man who claps his hands every ten seconds.

When asked the reason for this strange behavior, he replies, “To chase away the elephants.” “Elephants? But there aren’t any around!” Whereupon the man says, “Right. See, I told you so.”

This is just one of the stories in the wonderful book “The Situation is Hopeless but not Serious” by psychologist Paul Watzlawick.
The book is intended for the committed reader who wants to learn how to carefully pursue unhappiness. Through stories and exercises you will find the most useful and effective techniques to guarantee success.

Here are some key points I don’t want to keep from you

Never doubt the assumption, that there is only one solution.

Do more of the same. If it doesn’t work, just do the same more forcefully.

Avoid at all times any feared situation or problem.

Don’t be willing to risk any danger. Just apply common sense – for “what could be more reasonable?”

Treat hunches such as ‘people whispering behind your back’ as a fact.
Act on this fact.

Protect what keeps you from becoming aware of your habits.

Image: Some rights reserved by quinn.anya
12 August 2010

Do your strategies still work, today?


I have been reading Seth Godin’s book Linchpin. In this book he asks us to question the current work system and whether we want to be part of an old or a new one.

Although most of us might assume the system we work in is how it has always been and will be, Seth makes a point in questioning those assumptions. He urges us to explore different, and maybe unfamiliar, ways of working. Ways that make you stand out, and are essentially more aligned with who you want to be.

This got me thinking. While he talks about business, I am wondering when you last questioned the approaches and strategies in your personal life?

Are you disappointed about outcomes that seem to repeat themselves? Do you regularly discover ways of doing that might not work anymore? Maybe there are some that belong to your younger self, not the current self.

From the day we are born we learn how to react to all kinds of situations, consciously and unconsciously. We develop coping strategies that help us deal with difficult situations. In the past they helped us a lot, but are they still useful today?

The point is that we often apply those learned responses and coping strategies without thinking twice about it. If you are not happy with certain outcomes, maybe it is time to start exploring whether you might be able to do things differently.

You might also want to read:
What motivates you
Do you know your why?
Ten important questions to ask yourself
Do your beliefs support you or hold you back?

Image: Some rights reserved by hojusaram
10 August 2010

Wherever you go, there you are


Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book “Wherever you go there you are” is one of those books I haven’t put back on the bookshelf after I finished reading it. From time to time I just re-read one of its short chapters. Sometimes as a reminder, inspiration or to regain some simplicity in my life.

Over the last few years I have gradually integrated mindfulness in my life. This practice helps me live my life fuller and more aware. It fosters my curiosity and opens a door to all my emotions, feelings, thoughts and visions in my life. The more mindful my way of living becomes the more freedom I feel I create wherein I can make choices and welcome changes.

I want to share with you a few things I have learned

1. Become aware of what is going on in your body and your mind.

2. Get in touch with the many aspects of your life. The dark faces, the pain, the fear, the happiness, the joyous moments, habits, assumptions, judgements, struggles, your beliefs.

3. Acknowledge that what is happening is happening.

4. The more you practice mindfulness the more you will see things clearly and you will be able to position yourself differently in relationship to them.

5. Let go: Holding on to your struggles, your likes and dislikes, hold you back in discovering and expanding your possibilities. Allow things to be as they are for you to find your own way.

6. Find your moments of simplicity: Even in a life where you have to manage family, work, children, friends, etc.
Choose to do one thing at a time. Start with small things. Do them mindfully.

7. Stop what you are doing: From time to time, take time out to observe what you see, hear, feel, what is happening around you.

8. Ask yourself “Where is my mind right now?” Do this a few times a day. You will be surprised how often your mind is not here, but visiting other places.

“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf”

Swami Satchitananda in “Wherever you go there you are”

You might also want to read:
Video: Mindfulness with Jon-Kabatt ZInn

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