Wednesday, 19 October 2016

3 Types of Habits That Help In Tough Times

Something new today on Thrive - our first ever guest blogger, Lorena Reynoso-Singh.

I've been following Lorena for a little while now and have found her blog very useful and, at times, moving. 

She writes about the importance of self-care, of looking after ourselves properly, and this particular post discusses self-care habits and how they can help us be more resilient when tough times strike. 

Lorena lists a range of activities to help build a self-care routine and I've been inspired by Lorena to do exactly that. (I've moved my meditation to first thing in the morning in order to give it priority and worked out a better way of performing back-strengthening exercises so I get the most out of them.) 

You can find Lorena's blog here and if you would rather read the original on her blog then that is here too. I do recommend you check it out.

No One Comes Out Unscathed

We all go through seasons in our lives of prolonged stress. Death of a loved one, unemployment divorce, accidents, illness, our business gone bankrupt etc. Hardly anyone will live past 40 and not experience one of these. At those times when we are being pushed to our max in terms of internal resourcefulness, research is proving the power of habits in either worsening our situation or bettering it.


For Better or For Worse

This article in Time magazine shares how our habits can either exponentially improve or hinder our stressful situations depending on the habits we have built long before the crisis occurs. 

It explains how we lean on our habits for better or worse in a crisis. It makes sense to me that in a crisis our natural overwhelment leaves us with no bandwidth to think through small choices like “Do I eat the burger with fries or the Caesar’s salad?”. That is where our habits take over and we just choose what we are in the habit of choosing.


My Own Struggle

One summer day years ago, my mother was with my dad and caught on that he was experiencing signs of a stroke. She quickly admitted him to the hospital. The tests confirmed that his body was at high risk and all the signs were there. The doctors for that week were taking precautions and on standby. I felt like I was going through my day at gunpoint. Any minute my dad could have that stroke and the doctor’s technology and advanced equipment could or could not save him.


As Fear & Panic Breath Down my Neck I Keep Moving Forward

Having followed a morning routine full of activities that activate those feelings of wonder, reverence, clarity and gratitude created a momentum that helped me stay ahead of those feelings at least for the morning. The stress was delayed for that time as I went through the motions of my routine and intentionally stayed in the moment as much as I could.

I saw the reasons for fear and panic on the horizon as thoughts of “Oh my God, my Dad is going to die!!” crept in as I watched the sun rise on my morning walk. Like a crazy woman, I’d literally catch myself saying out loud to those feelings “I will deal with you when I’m done” and I’d return to the moment. I’d soothe myself by saying “Right now I’m just walking, everyone is fine, just walk and breathe”


The Glories of a Cultivated Backbone

It was definitely a muscle that was worked long before that week and that I got a lot of mileage out of. This practice of returning to the moment allowed a little breathing room for new ideas to come and loosened the grip of those panic-driven thoughts. Most importantly I didn’t turn into a puddle of mush and drop the ball on my responsibilities. My son was small and he still needed diapers changed and meals to be made regardless of my inner turmoil.


Teeter Tottering Storm Girl

Years prior I remember being a fragile young woman where in comparing myself to svelte and pretty classmates on days we did class presentations would send me in a tailspin of overeating and self berating for weeks. Like a juggler whose balls would all fall one by one, I’d fall back on homework and my own hygiene. My self care was in it’s early stages in these years and I’d teeter totter between completely stopping it in times of self made crisis like those and coming back to it when the storm internal cleared.


Fake it Till You Make it? Maybe Not

It’s easy it is to make impulsive and damaging decisions from a place of overwhelm and frustration when you’re in a situation that calls for more steadfastness and calm then you have. Trying to do a new activity that “calms, soothes and centers” while in the grips of panic is futile. That primitive biological response of fight or flight is pretty hard to over ride in the moment.


Invest in the Insurance of Self Compassion

We can create habits that soothe the severity of our fight or flight responses and help us to make sound decisions in the moment by investing in 3 types of helpful habits today.

We can build any of these habits into our day or week and look at them as forms of self compassion insurance, where in over time their benefits accrue and in times of crisis they save us.

1)Contemplative Habits

What if we had inbuilt in our days habits of contemplation where we practice thinking about what’s most important? Charles Duhigg the author of the best selling book The Power of Habit shares here in an interview with Kira M. Newman from The Greater Good Science Center how his research for his latest book Smarter, Faster, Better shows that the happiest and most productive people among us have routines of contemplation built into their life. The result being that in times of stress that muscle that they worked as a default in their day, in a sense, becomes activated and they make better decisions in the moment.

Some examples of contemplative exercises include:



Breathing exercises




The jury has been out for years on how exercise helps us control stress. In case you needed a little more convincing here is an article from Harvard Medical school on how exercise helps us relax.

Some examples of exercise include:

Long walks outside

Long bike rides

Weight training





3)Habits of Working With Our Hands

Great article from the BBC News that makes the case for the value of working with one’s hands. It shares how in an ever growing, knowledge-based economy where the value of the work done becomes increasingly abstract, the tangible experience of satisfaction from a more manual job is becoming increasingly attractive. A great case is that of Matthew Crawford, a PH.D graduate that began working as a mechanic. He shares how he enjoys the satisfaction that he couldn’t find in the work he was professionally trained to do.

Some examples of working with your hands are:

Braindumps by hand, not typing

Art journals





Self Care Always Has Your Back!

We can’t do much about the world, but there is much that is in our hands that can make all the difference in how resilient we are in tough times.

Structuring these type of self care habits into your day can provide you with things guaranteed to evoke feelings of comfort, stillness, rest, play, delight, inspiration etc. when the world has you frazzled.

I really hope you enjoyed Lorena's post. If you want to read more from her then visit her blog here. If you want to read some related articles from me, then see the links below.

Further Reading
How To Get Your Life Back On Track With Meditation
The Gratitude Attitude
Positivity Boost @Work


I really hope this post has helped you and if you know someone else it could help, then give them a boost by sharing it on social media using the buttons below.


Coming Up

"What should you be doing right now?" What is it that you're procrastinating on which will make a huge difference to your life


To follow leave your email address in the box at the bottom of the page. You can also follow Thrive via the RSS feed, on Bloglovin, via Google Plus or Facebook or follow me on Twitter @PeteReece


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Tuesday, 4 October 2016

How To Get Your Life Back On Track with Meditation

"To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour"
William Blake

To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour. William Blake
Read more at:


You know what this is about, right? You’ve heard it before. You may have even given it a try. But you don’t find time and you’re not very good at it anyway. It just feels like a waste of time if it doesn’t work.

The reason why you are interested though is because of the ongoing challenges in your life. Whether it’s your health, work, relationships or finances, you feel under pressure and life feels like it’s out of control. You need something that really works.

Well, meditation (you knew that’s what we were talking about, right?) does work. There’s any number of studies now which point to its helpful effect on anxiety and depression*. Individuals who practise it point to its beneficial effect on their lives in very specific ways.

Did you know? Research suggests that meditation helps stop the natural shrinking of the brain which happens naturally with age and it can even help grow new cells**.

I’ll hold my hand up at this point. Vested interest, you see. I am a meditator and approach it with the zeal of the recently converted. You’re probably not surprised at that but it may surprise you to know how much it has helped me within a matter of months.


Stress and an Overflowing Bucket

The thing is, I’d grown convinced some time ago that my recurring bouts of chronic fatigue were a result of stress. Not massive amounts necessarily, just everyday stuff which has built up over a long period of time. In short, my bucket was full and every time another of life’s stressors came along, the bucket started overflowing and I became quite ill.

What to do? Well, from all I’d read and heard, the one thing which perhaps had a chance of helping me to empty that bucket was meditation. I’d tried it a few years ago and practised it quite often and then stopped for reasons which are still not quite clear to me. Since then, it had always been an aspiration to start again but I kept telling myself that I wasn’t any good at it and therefore there was no point trying because it wouldn’t help if I couldn’t get it to work. 

With A Little Help …

Fortunately, with the help of a friend, I realized something very important – you don’t have to be good at it. That’s not the point. The point is just do it – just meditate. Do it and keep doing it and it will change your life. It could be the best gift you ever give yourself.

Success: Ten months later I’m sleeping better, I feel calmer and more importantly, the ups and downs of recovering from chronic fatigue have been removed and I am making sure but steady progress to regain my health.

To be fair, I started feeling those benefits after about a month but I wasn’t completely sure so I decided to postpone judgement. Nearly a year later and I’m a convinced meditator.

Starting to Meditate

So, if you’re inspired to meditate (and why wouldn’t you be?), what can you do to start?

Well, I can’t pretend to be an expert but what I know I learned from a guy called Paul Wilson***, who has written several books on the whole concept of calm. He basically makes it as simple as possible and removes much of the mysticism about it. In other words, you don’t have to sit in the classic pose, worry about your chakras or say, “Omm”.

These are my basic five steps to meditating which I’ve adapted from Paul Wilson.

1. Find a quiet spot, probably in your own home and wear some comfortable clothing

2. Take some time to make yourself as comfortable as possible. I prefer a reclining position but I’ve also meditated lying down and sitting up.

3. Take a little bit more time to just lie and rest and then after a few minutes do a full-body relaxation or progressive muscle relaxation****.

4. When you are fully relaxed begin the meditation

5. Take a simple one-syllable word which has no obvious meaning. (I use “One”.) Slowly repeat it silently over and over again to yourself. Keep going for about 20 minutes.

There, what could be simpler?

Especially to begin with, you will find your focus wandering and your mind will be thinking about everything from what you had for breakfast to a random stranger you met 20 years ago. At that moment, just accept that your mind has lost its focus and start again with your one-word repetition. Don’t think you’ve failed or that you’re rubbish at it. In fact, don’t think anything. Just gently re-focus on repeating your “mantra”.
With practice, the length of time that you are able to focus on your mantra will increase but that’s not so important. What is important, is that you keep turning up and you keep doing it. Meditation is a habit which after a few months you will want to keep for the rest of your life.

Tip: to build up the habit, try a red pen and a prominently displayed calendar. Put a red cross on a day on the calendar every time you’ve meditated and see how long you can keep it going. If you break the chain, start again the next day*****.

The research has tended to be small-scale to be fair so there is a need for a large-scale longitudinal project which produces some robust results. However, the best evidence will be your own.

Tip: if you like challenges, how about starting off with a 30x30 challenge? Task yourself with meditating every day for 30 minutes for 30 days. If you succeed, try 100 days.

Don’t worry if it doesn’t work out for you to begin with. There are lots of different ways to meditate and lots of ways to build up the habit. It may suit some people to start meditating for one minute, the next day two minutes and so on. Do what works for you and do it the easiest way possible.
I don’t think meditation is a cure-all. However, it might just give you that foothold back in life that you’ve been missing. Through calming and giving you the mental ability to cope better with life’s misfortunes, it could be your most important tool in re-gaining your confidence and your zest for life.
Keep Calm and Keep Meditating!

How exactly will I benefit?  
Well, that’s hard to say but the evidence suggests that it does help with anxiety and depression. People who practise regularly point to other benefits such as increased creativity. I’ve told you the benefits to me and you may be surprised at the people who do meditate daily, including Oprah Winfrey and Jerry Seinfeld. Check out the Million Meditators page of Facebook which links to reports on evidence for meditation.
How long before I see a benefit?  
Again, it depends very much on how often you do it and for how long. If you were to do it every day for a month, for about 20 minutes, there is evidence to suggest that after that time you’ll feel a positive difference in your mental well-being.
What if nothing happens?  
Nothing does happen. To begin with you may feel it is a terrible waste of time because you can’t focus and all the things you don’t want to think about go through your mind anyway. You may not feel particularly relaxed at the end of the session. The important thing is to give it time, be patient and know that it works. Because it does.
Why am I rubbish at it?  
I’ve been doing it for nearly a year and I’m still rubbish but I’m still getting lots of benefits. There will be days where you can’t concentrate and others where it goes like a breeze. Some days you’ll think it was pointless but feel great afterwards and on other days the opposite happens. Don’t bother about whether you’re a success or failure at it. Just do it.


Related Posts
Feeling Stuck? One Thing You Must Try Right Now.
Effort, Education and Growth Mindsets 
Get Uncomfortable


I really hope this post has helped you and if you know someone else it could help, then give them a boost by sharing it on social media using the buttons below.


Coming Up

Future blogposts on how I confronted my mental blocks to progress and how a morning self-care routine was the difference between life and death for one young woman.

To follow leave your email address in the box at the bottom of the page. You can also follow Thrive via the RSS feed, on Bloglovin, via Google Plus or Facebook or follow me on Twitter @PeteReece


Moved to Comment?

I see all comments and I'd be delighted to read what you have to say. You can use the comment box below or comment below the post in Facebook, Twitter or Google+. 

* From quoted in Deepak Chopra's article in The Huffington Post



**** You can use this resource Personally, I don't tense my muscles first. In this resource, I would go straight to Release Only at the bottom of Page 4

***** I'm indebted to James Clear for this habit forming exercise which he in turn got from Jerry Seinfeld who just so happens to be a convinced meditator himself!

photo credit: bernat.rv <a href="">Serenity</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>