Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Contrast of Sorrow

I was unprepared for the news as I came back to work yesterday, refreshed after a week of writing and spending time with my wonderful husband. A coworker's 29 year old daughter in law, 6 months pregnant, had passed away last week. Frozen in shock, to soon be replaced by utter sadness, I walked to my classroom, shaking my head in disbelief. How could this happen? This young couple were awaiting the birth of their first child. And now, the husband was suddenly a widower, losing his wife and his first child.
As I write now, I can feel the numbness invade my body. Thoughts freeze in my mind, as I try to pay respectful homage to this grieving family. What can I possibly do, or say, to support and ease the pain? I don't even know the family; I only know the woman who will be watching today, as her daughter in law and granddaughter are buried.
I suppose that all I can do is offer a loving, kind support as this coworker returns to school. I can gratefully embrace and cherish those I love and remind myself that there are no guarantees in this life. I know that I must take each day as an opportunity to spread light and love to those who cross my path. Life's sorrows can be immense and painful. There is no way to be open to joy, without also being open to sadness.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Fascination Field Trip

Yep, that's me standing by the double decker bus. So, what's the relation to positivity? Well, with my new frame of reference I attribute to more mindfully experiencing life, I have decided to take any opportunity to explore places which invoke awe and fascination. Yesterday it was St. Paul's Cathedral in London.
After climbing 257 steps to explore the dome and listen for the whispers in the Whispering Gallery, I was entranced by childlike wonder. How does a whisper, spoken against one wall become audible way on the other side of the dome? How did they build this incredible place, 300 years ago for this particular cathedral, and 1400 years ago, for the original cathedral that was destroyed by fire. I sat in quiet awe.
As I marveled the architecture, lit a candle in memory of my loved ones, and sat in silence enjoying my husband's warm hand in mine, I vowed to incorporate more of these inspiring experiences into my life. The richness gained by mindfully experiencing beautiful art, history and culture surely refuel me.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Gratitude and Attitude

Today I am filled with gratitude. Why today? Well, I am not exactly sure, but as I drove to work and listened to music from my wedding day, I was flooded with beautiful memories of that special day, 8/8/08.
I am a reflective person, as anyone who knows me can attest to, sometimes to the point of positively annoying others! As a kid I was called, "too sensitive," and described as "she thinks too much."
Today I use that as a strength as I brainstorm all the things I am grateful for:
  • My loving kids, Nick and Stef
  • My best friend and husband, Don
  • My siblings, though spread across the country, still close in my heart
  • My job: a place I get to live my mission of working with and inspiring kids
  • My coaching/tutoring job: where I learn so much and share with older kids finding their way as learners
  • Creativity: as it leads me to endless possibilities and solutions for my life and others dear to me
  • Writing: as it has opened my heart and mind freeing me from my own cage of self-restrictive thoughts
  • Living in a beautiful place: though I must work a lot to afford it, I am grateful to live near the ocean
  • God : a very personal belief so I will stop and not try to explain
  • Collaboration: I have recently written to people in Positive Psychology sharing my thoughts and admiration for their work.
  • Knowing my mission in life and having meaning.
  • The loving partners my kids have chosen to share their lives with
  • Wonderful memories of my mom who I miss so much
  • Music that enlivens my soul
  • I think that will be it for now.. as this will be a work in progress :-)
  • What are you grateful for today?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Focus.. You Gotta Focus..

It's funny how certain phrases get stuck in my head. Today I hear Billy Blanks, Tae Bo instructor, in my head saying, "Focus, you gotta focus. Visualize.. "v" "v "visualize!" I used to do Tae Bo often, so it makes sense that his words are deeply stowed in my memory. Although he was talking about focusing on progress during exercise, the message resonates deeply now as it rings true in most all of life.
Today was full of opportunities where I had a choice whether to focus on something negative and be annoyed, angry, irritated, or impatient or to focus on something positive, and be amused, playful and peaceful .
As I began my morning drive "over the hill" on curvy highway 17, I realized that I could drive mindfully, safely avoiding those "characters" ( previously referred to as "bleep-holes ) who somehow think that they have 9 lives. I focused my mind on my day ahead, without the negative self-talk that I sometimes so willingly participate in. I also reminded myself of the beauty around me. The full moon was glowing behind some parting dark clouds, and as I arrived at school it burst through, lighting up the sky quite magnificently, giving way to a beautiful morning. I actually uttered a "wow" to myself. Wow.. now that's a great word!
I won't bore you with the details of the rest of my day.. as it was a back and forth battle of the "get sucked into the negative" or "focus on a positive" , but I will say that my morning was challenged by interactions with an attention seeking student, desperate to be loved and accepted. Instead of staying with the frustration, I remembered the impact of the heart. A kind gentle word of encouragement was not the first thing that came to mind as she acted out, trust me! When I called her over to do a math assessment, it was my soft hand on her shoulder as she tried her best to answer a question, that turned her day around, at least for awhile.
In every moment we have a choice.. where are we going to place our focus? I think I need to listen to my heart more; it seems to have all of the answers I need.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Reducing Negativity

As I read Barb Fredrickson's, Positivity, book I am inspired by the suggested real-life applications to improve well-being. As a self-declared "I am my own worst enemy" person ( but in recovery ..) I strive to challenge the negative self-chatter that occurs on a daily basis.
One of the ideas I definitely plan to use is an activity adapted from the Penn Resliency program. You jot down the negative, self-defeating things you say to yourself on index cards throughout the day. After you have collected these messages, you sit down with your "negativity deck" and consciously challenge these erroneous beliefs. Many of the negative thoughts and messages are irrational old scripts, no longer useful or accurate in any way.

Here are some of mine, which I will bravely share, followed by refuting comments.
  • You're so lazy for not working out last night! comeback: " You didn't get a chance to work out last night because you worked late and didn't get home until 9:00!"
  • You are so selfish for taking so much time writing for your blog! comeback: "You have been wanting to write consistently for years now. Good for you!"
  • You have no self control, eating those cookies! comeback: "Life is too short not to eat cookies ( within reason :-) ) "
  • You are a bad mom! You don't call your kids every day. comeback: You do the best you can. You call regularly, talk online with Stef almost daily and text Nick to show you care. You allow your kids to have their own lives.
  • He didn't email me. I must be unlovable. comeback: He was busy studying. You know how much he loves you!
The idea behind this activity is key! Negative thoughts are quick and powerful and we can combat their effects by challenging them aloud. When you find yourself dwelling on a negative, examine it, refute it! Don't let it take hold as the belief of the moment. We have the power to impact our own emotions using techniques that help us examine and alter our thought patterns. We need to embrace that power and thrive through the positive reframing of negative thoughts.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

This is Only a Test....

So why is it, that when you declare that you want to be more positive about life, life throws you the week filled with curveballs?
This week has been filled with news of losses of people held dear by people I hold dear. One family friend of a coworker died in a house fire. Another dear friend had a miscarriage. Yet another former coworker had a nephew, not even 30 yet, die this week. A coworker's mom died..and a boss's mother in law passed away.
Today, the reality of the California budget crisis hit home with me as I received a letter from my district stating that they had my seniority date wrong and I will be listed with one less year of seniority. I thought I was pretty safe, but it could turn out, that if class size reduction is gone, I could also lose my job.
So.. how's my positivity working for me now?
Well, in the past, this letter in my mailbox would have led to an all out chocolate frenzy! Although the night is young, and the chocolate fest could still happen, my first response was more of a "what options do I have if this does happen? After an initial "get pissed off" reaction, I became more thoughtful.
I do have many connections through my tutoring and could possibly get hired at a private school. I can increase my tutoring referrals by building more connections in the community. I can explore any jobs that require a cross-over between my clinical psychology training and teaching. I can continue to focus on being the best teacher I can be and not rob my current class of the joy I have in teaching them.
I have to remember.. this is only a test...

It's a Choice..

I got up early this morning to talk with my husband, 5000 miles away in London. We relish our Skype chats, and normally nothing can interfere with that special time. This morning, however, his internet is down. Of course, my first response is a bit of frustration that I have waited all week to talk to him, and I feel disappointed and sad. As my new repertoire of skills in changing the way I look at things builds, I realize that I have a choice. I can send him a loving text message encouraging him to continue working on papers he has to get done for his class, and I can find a way to use this time to start my day off on a positive note.

So.. what do I plan to do?
  • email my sisters who I miss dearly
  • post a little message to my son and daughter, away at college
  • update my blog, which is a new goal for me
  • savor my warm coffee, the aroma and full flavor slowly waking me up for the day
  • read more of the book, Positivity, by Barbara Fredrickson
  • maybe even get on my elliptical for 20 minutes! imagine that!
  • linger in the warm shower and enjoy the scent of my favorite ginger body wash..
  • listen to music that enlivens my spirits
The point is.. we have choices each moment to savor and select the lens that provides the best capacity for joy. Yes, I miss talking with my best friend this morning. As I acknowledge and validate those feelings, I can also focus on gratitude for the beautiful and loving relationship that we share. The slightly cynical perfectionist in me retorts, "Gag! Are you really this positive?"
At this present moment, the answer is a resounding,"yes!"

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ms. Positivity and Ms. Perfectionist Battle it Out!

Have you ever described yourself as a perfectionist?
I wonder if anyone has ever coined the term," recovering perfectionist?" If there is such a catch-phrase, it most certainly applies to me.
I am what most would call, "my own worst enemy." I criticize, berate and "should" myself at any opportunity it seems. But I am making a definite attempt to recover.
Most who know me can attest to my positivity, and my occasionally annoying attempts to share about the benefits of applying positive psychology to life. I am vociferously reading a wonderful book, Positivity, by Barbara Fredrickson. I believe that many of the ideas and concepts that have come out of Barbara's research are going to help me curtail the perfectionist that threatens to steal my joy every day.
Below are some of the perfectionist's thoughts and the positivist's replies from my day today.

My inner perfectionist begins the day hassling me about leaving for work 10 minutes later than normal. Her nagging voice doesn't let up, " You shouldn't have been taking so long editing your writing this morning!" Positivist retorts, " Relax, just look at the beautiful waves coming into the shore as you drive down the road along the cliff." I end up doing my daily 30 second "listen to the waves meditation even though I feel a bit frantic and running late.
Round one: Positivity wins.
Perfectionist berates self for dropping off the rent exactly on the due date. "You loser! You should have dropped off the check on Monday!"
Positivist says, "Wow, good for you. You avoided the late fee." Round two: Positivist wins.
Perfectionist is mortified as she notices, while standing in line at Starbucks at 6:30 a.m., that her skirt is on inside out!
Positivist replies with a giggle," It's a good thing you have your long coat on today!" Positivist happens to be amused when I decide to slip my skirt on and off quickly in the dark parking lot as I get back into the car."
All day long the battle seems to wear on, with the positivist seeming to gain momentum. How does she do it?
She savors the 5 year old's giggles in the classroom. She tells the students how she loves, loves loves art projects with hearts and gets them excited about decorating the classroom. At lunchtime, she makes sure that she gets to talk to her husband who is 5000 miles away, waiting for his VISA to live here with her. Does she dwell on how hard it is to be apart? No, because they spend their 30 minute chat talking about common interests and sharing funny stories from her morning with kids.
As the day goes on, the perfectionist tries to chime in with her shoulds. "You should be done with your assessments." "You shouldn't eat those delicious cookies your friend baked for you." "You really need to make sure your kids are 100% on task every minute."
What is the positivist to do? She locks the perfectionist b*$@% up and eats the cookies, savoring each and every bite.
Happy "almost Friday" everyone and, as my grandpa used to say, " Take a hike!". Tell that perfectionist to go take a hike! I've got cookies waiting...