Tuesday, February 23, 2010

We've Moved!

The Personal Growth Planet blog is now located at the Personal Growth Planet website. Come on over and continue to be inspired, motivated and informed by checking out new weekly blog posts as well as regularly added articles.

Peace, Blessings and Great Joy to You,

Friday, February 19, 2010

Why Losing Control Isn't Necessarily a Bad Thing

By Amy Phillips-Gary

I've been watching the Winter Olympics a lot this past week. I've been amazed and inspired by the skill, creativity, determination and endurance displayed by all of the athletes-- not just those who were awarded medals.

I found myself holding my breath as skiers raced down a mountainside traveling over 60 mph as they jumped and turned and vied for top speeds.

As these women and men careened down the mountain ski runs, I'd often perceive that they were out of control-- some of them did wipe out. I've only skied a few times in my life (and certainly not on any runs close to those at the Olympics), but to my untrained eyes there were many occasions when it seemed that at any moment the skier was going to crash.

On the whole, being in control when you're on a set of skis moving over 60 mph down an alpine slope is probably a good thing.

In many aspects of life, however, the compulsion to control and be in control can become a huge obstacle and actually keep us stuck-- or even send us backsliding.

I've admitted in previous blog posts that I have a propensity to control. Especially when particular aspects of my life feel overwhelming or out of my reach, I tend to dig in and attempt to control anything and anybody I can.

This has led to pain and disconnection within myself and in my relationships. I am certainly aware of the negative consequences of trying to control.

Mixed messages
At the same time, it seems to me that we are taught that to be in control is beneficial, desirable and revered.

After all, addicts are seen as those people who cannot control their use of a particular substance or activity. A person who yells around and throws things is viewed as unable to control his or her temper.

These are just a couple of examples.

Being “in control” and “controlling” are slightly different actions, but the mixed message is still there.

For some of us, the belief develops that, “I have to maintain control of my life and also not infringe on the lives of others.”

This is certainly a reasonable approach.

But even this notion of being “in control” without breaching that invisible line and crossing into “controlling” can hold a person back.

For example, let's say that I want to improve my financial situation. I set goals about this. I write down lists of how I think I can increase my income. I create in my mind a plan for how I will systematically move from where I currently am to where I want to be.

This all make rational sense and it might be effective.

However, if I attempt to control this aspiration by holding fast to and continually focusing in on my goal, I can become easily frustrated when things don't go according to my plan.

I can pretty quickly find myself feeling helpless and out of control if the results that I want haven't come yet. As a result, I might cling to that plan even tighter or perhaps even abandon it all together.

Release control and take command
Often, it is in those moments of abandon, when we release control, that the movement that we wanted all along occurs.

I have to admit, the idea of relinquishing control of my life strikes a bit of terror in me! But I also see very clearly that my propensity for control keeps me stuck where I am.

The trick here is to go ahead and create your vision for what you want. Let yourself feel excited and energized by it. You might even have some great ideas about what your next step could be.

But don't try to plan it all out.

Once you know what you want, let it go. This doesn't mean that you don't want whatever it is anymore. It means that you're going to allow what you want to manifest.

At those top speeds, Olympic downhill skiers have to release some amount of control and, to some degree, simply ride along. A tight and rigid resistance from the skier will undoubtedly lead to a wipe out and possible injury.

Teacher Richard Bartlett, author of The Physics of Miracles, makes the distinction between command and control. According to Bartlett, while control has a dimension of forcing something or trying to make it happen, command comes from the heart.

To command is to confidently know what you want and then release your attachment so that you can hear the guidance and feel the inspiration that will take you there...or perhaps someplace even better than you'd initially dreamed.

Perhaps releasing control doesn't have to be such a scary thing after all. Instead, I can step up and gently, yet assuredly, and take command of my own life.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What Would “Honest Abe” Do?

By Amy Phillips-Gary

We've all heard the stories about honesty and two of our best-known U.S. Presidents, whom we happen to celebrating on this cold and snowy holiday.

While the tale of young George Washington chopping down a cherry tree and then finding the courage to admit the deed to his father may have been an invention, there are plenty of documented examples of the honesty displayed by both Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

“Resolve to be honest at all events...” Lincoln reportedly advised his audience during a speech early his career.

But can you truly be completely honest all of the time?

After all, aren't there occasions in which honesty isn't necessarily the “best” policy?

For instance, when someone you care about asks you the ill-fated question, “Does this outfit make me look fat?” How do you answer if, indeed, the clothing doesn't seem to fit in a flattering manner?

There are plenty of times when many of us fib or tell a “white lie” because it seems to be the nicer, kinder thing to do. Of course, you don't want to make your partner feel worse about his or her body size.

Other times, we aren't completely honest because we don't feel comfortable speaking the whole truth (or even a portion of it). We may have become accustomed to not making waves in our relationships.

Perhaps on some level, we believe that the people close to us will dislike us, stop loving us or even leave if we really speak up about what's on our minds.

This doesn't always happen consciously.

Many times, we've been taught to shut down our truth-speaking inner voices. We may have been taught-- overtly or by example-- that to succeed or even survive in life it's better to ignore or even silence what we truly feel and think.

This can happen on more dramatic levels as well as those more subtle.

We've certainly heard about people who “wake up” one day and realize that the relationship, the job, the life that they have been living is absolutely NOT what they wanted after all.

People who experience this in themselves, their partners or other family members might even describe themselves as living a “lie.”

More often than not, this radical realization happens because the person has become practiced at silencing his or her inner truth-- knowingly or not. The recognition of this apparent “lie” may even come as a surprise to the person living it.

Find your truth

In each and every moment, keep the channels of communication open between you and you. You might have to re-learn how to listen to your inner self so that you can better know what's true for you.

When it comes down to it, only you can know what is true for you from your particular vantage point and experience in any situation.

It can be helpful to take the capital “T” out of truth and the capital “H” out of honesty.

You get to determine what resonates or feels most authentic to you in each moment. This can change and it will most definitely vary from person to person.

The key here is to know your own truth and remember that others in your life may have different experiences. Of course, there will be overlap and shared truths and there will also be disagreement and even conflicting truths.

You can avoid a lot of conflict, however, if you remember this subjectivity of truth. Take responsibility for being honest about your own thoughts, beliefs, values and actions.

You can speak your truth in ways that are both genuine and compassionate, authentic and connective.

Act from your truth

Action is the place where speaking unauthentically, even dishonestly, gets us into trouble.

It could be the young child who claims to have no idea how the box of cookies came to be emptied as cookie crumbs sprinkle his cheeks.

It may be the woman who always agrees with her partner, because that's what she's been taught to do, as she goes ahead and does the opposite thing anyway.

When we cut ourselves off from our own truth-- either consciously or unconsciously-- we often end up acting in ways that seem to make no sense to others (and ourselves). This can become confusing and will inevitably erode trust.

Today, find the clarity within yourself to touch in with your own truth more of the time.

Then, be courageous and speak honestly and authentically about how you feel and what you want. Come from a place of knowing that your truth is not necessarily the truth of another person; it is valuable and significant nonetheless.

Do your best to ensure that each step, every action you take, comes from a place of honesty, authenticity and your truth.

Friday, February 12, 2010

3 Ways to Return to Your Diet and Fitness Resolutions Pt. 2

By Amy Phillips-Gary

In the previous blog post, I talked about those “oops” moments-- when you've set diet or fitness goals for yourself only to discover somewhere down the road that you've veered quite far from the course you intended.

Sometimes we are very aware of the splurge we are having or the “vacation” from the gym we are taking. Other times, we simply get so caught up in life we don't realize that we're eating and moving (or not) in ways that we'd supposedly sworn off for good.

It happens.

These two posts are all about encouraging you to get back on the track that you set for yourself. As I suggested previously, re-framing and re-phrasing your diet and fitness resolutions in terms of commitments might help you return to your goals in more sustainable and self-empowering ways.

Here are 3 additional suggestions...

#1) Forgive Yourself
I can't even count the number of times that I've noticed myself eating spoonfuls of cookie dough when I'd promised myself just 1 or 2 cookies. I then usually proceed to feel a number of emotions: shame, embarrassment, frustration, anger, irritation, sadness, helplessness and out of control.

You can probably guess that none of these emotions ever help me to stop eating cookie dough or cookies. I am taken further away from my promise to myself as the self-criticism builds and grows (along with my waistline!).

Instead, I could make a giant move back toward the diet and fitness goals I've set for myself by taking a interrupting this pattern and, instead, forgiving.

Forgiveness is an amazing and powerful practice.

As you forgive yourself, you clear away all of that blame, judgment and even self-pity, if that's mixed in there too. You don't have to beat yourself up anymore. You've probably already experienced that this isn't an effective motivator anyway.

Even if you don't believe it at first, instead of the self-castigation, repeat to yourself, “I love you, I forgive you.”

Repeat that sentence and allow yourself to open up more and more to the meaning behind the words.

Forgiveness tends to create internal space that was previously taken up with all of the blame, judgment and self-pity. From that expanded internal space, there's so much more room for choice.

What will your next move be?

#2) Return to the Present Moment
When you forgive, you essentially let go of whatever “oops” just occurred. You are now ready to come back to the present moment.

This is where your power and your capacity to make conscious decisions resides.

Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle so wisely says: “Through forgiveness, which essentially means recognizing the insubstantiality of the past and allowing the present moment to be as it is, the miracle of transformation happens not only within but also without.”

Each morning before you get out of bed, you might consider setting your diet and fitness goals or intentions for the day. Just for that day.

Be specific and be realistic.

If you have a super busy day at the office, perhaps an hour-long trip to the gym in the evening is unlikely. Set daily goals for yourself that you can relatively easily follow and feel good about.

Remember, the more success you encounter, the easier it can be to continue on this path.

Particularly before you eat anything, take a few seconds to check in with yourself. Will eating this particular food or this amount of food help you keep to your daily goal? Make the choice to eat or not eat whatever it is from a present and conscious place.

#3) Know Your Triggers
Triggers. We all have them.

These are those seemingly insignificant words, events, days of the week, times of day, visual, auditory or sensory cues that somehow transport us back to another time and place-- often one that was unpleasant, undesired and perhaps even traumatic.

Triggers can come up in the middle of a conversation you are having with your partner. They might emerge when you hear a particular song on the radio. They could pop up when you face an apparent block with a project you are working on.

When we are triggered, we can seem to lose control. We might find ourselves saying, doing, eating or not-exercising in ways that we later regret.

Triggers can be food-related. Some of us turn to food when we feel overwhelmed, bored, depressed or dissatisfied. We use foods (usually those foods that are not included on our healthier eating diets) to cope or attempt to escape.

If this happens in your life, it's important that you get to know what specific things trigger you.

Notice if you reach for chips when you feel overly busy or overloaded during your workday, for example. If so, take care of your overwhelmed feelings as soon as you recognize them by taking a short break if possible. Step away from your desk; go get a glass of water and remember to breathe.

The key here is to soothe whatever feelings you are having in ways that will allow you to maintain your daily eating (and fitness) goals.

It doesn't matter how many times you fall off the proverbial diet and fitness wagon. Get back up, love and forgive yourself and return to living more fully and mindfully in this present moment.

Do this all the way to a healthier, happier, more fulfilled you!

Monday, February 8, 2010

“Oops, I did it again...” Tips to Help You Return to Your Diet and Fitness Resolutions

By Amy Phillips-Gary

So maybe you set some diet and fitness resolutions for yourself at the beginning of the year. And maybe in the first few weeks of January you stuck with them and possibly even saw some positive results.

But now it's almost a month and half later, and it's likely that you've encountered some “oops” moments-- or maybe more than just a few.

At our family Superbowl party last night, for example, I realized that I was eating Fritos, cookies and chocolate-covered almonds without giving any of it much thought. I wasn't even hungry, but these treats are party food and tasted great.


I am not on a strict diet right now, but, I have set for myself the intention to eat more mindfully.

That does not include shoveling in Fritos and chocolate!

It can happen as quickly as that. You tune back in to yourself and realize that you have fallen into old eating and non-exercise habits.

What many of us, myself included, do when we realize that we've veered from the healthier course we've set is to scold, judge and blame ourselves.

Sometimes we make excuses like, “It's too cold and snowy to go for a run” as we sit back down on the couch.

Much of the time, we also drag ourselves through the judgmental mud for not following through... as usual. As I've pointed out in past blog posts, self-shaming is absolutely NOT an effective motivator if getting back into alignment with diet and fitness resolutions is desired.

A first question to ask yourself might be, “Am I really willing to make a commitment to lose weight by eating differently and/or exercising more frequently?”

Offer yourself the chance to really consider this question. If you are merely trying to lose weight and get more fit because you think you “should,” this could part of the problem.

It's not that you are weak-willed or undisciplined. Instead, perhaps you haven't created a resolution or set an intention to which you can whole-heartedly commit.

As you probably know, commitments that you maintain usually link up with something that resonates deeply within you. I'm not necessarily suggesting that you abandon your weight loss or fitness aspirations.

What I do recommend is that you find some aspect about eating healthier and moving your body more that lines up with your core beliefs and goals.

For example, instead, of “I want to lose 35 pounds by the summer by following this particular diet and exercise regimen,” you might resolve, “I will eat at least 2 green salads each day and will not choose cookies unless I've had 5 (or more) servings of vegetables first.”

This second resolution is more specific and it also might better line up with your beliefs that a diet rich in vegetables will help keep you healthy, which lines up with your commitment to live a long and physically healthy life.

The commitment is to a healthier, more vibrant and energetic life and not necessarily to a particular number of pounds lost-- although that might be desired (and attained) as well.

This specific change in phrasing might not speak to you.

Find a different way to approach your diet and fitness goals and then re-phrase or re-think them so that they resonate more fully with what's most important to you.

This different approach can help you incorporate new ways of eating and exercising into your life with less internal resistance than you might have encountered in the past. You might even find yourself enjoying following these resolutions along the way.

Continue to play around with your resolutions until you find what works for you.

*Coming up on Friday....Part 2 of Tips to Help You Return to Your Diet and Fitness Resolutions

Friday, February 5, 2010

Are Your Instincts Taking Over?

By Amy Phillips-Gary

In a few days, the culmination of American professional football's year happens. The Indianapolis Colts take on the New Orleans Saints at the Superbowl.

I recently listened to an interesting story on NPR about Colt's quarterback Peyton Manning. The story about Manning lauded his abilities as a quarterback-- especially when he's in what's called “the clutch.”

I'm not even close to a football expert so please forgive my generalizations (and possible mistakes) here....

“The clutch,” from my novice understanding, is when the quarterback has the ball and is under pressure from the opposing team's defensive line. Sometimes “the clutch” also refers to a situation in which little time remains on the clock, the team is behind in scoring and the quarterback needs to lead the way to pull out a win.

In the NPR story, quarterbacks who, like Manning, are known for thriving when in the clutch talk about operating from instinct.

The adrenaline is pumping and these quarterbacks don't recall going through a rational thought process in the moment-- their training, repeated practicing and body memory literally take over.

For Peyton Manning, and other quarterbacks who tend to succeed in the clutch, operating with automatic precision can mean a big win for the team as well as a boost to his (or her) stats and career.

When you or I go through life operating mainly by instinct, however, we can end up repeating and reinforcing habits that don't allow us to succeed or live the lives we desire.

Instinct or Intuition?
There is a difference between instinct and intuition.

Instinct is a survival reaction. The squirrels in my backyard instinctively gather nuts and food scraps from our compost heap when they sense an oncoming storm. When I have to slam on my car's breaks to avoid a collision, my arm instinctively flies out attempting to block my passenger from jolting forward.

Intuition, on the other hand, has been associated with thriving rather than surviving. Your intuition provides guidance and a sense of direction toward self-actualization.

For example, intuition comes into play as I feel drawn to take a different route home instead of my usual one.

In past blog posts, I've offered ways to tune in more clearly to your intuition and to take notice when fight or flight instincts kick in so that you can choose a different path if you'd like to.

When you react instinctively, there is an element of always having known how to react in such an occasion. Just like those clutch quarterbacks, you may not have even thought about it-- you just reacted.

Instincts are by no means bad. But there are times, particularly stressful or tense ones, in which you find yourself reacting instinctively and later regret the behavior or reaction.

You instinctively reach for a cigarette, a beer, a candy bar or the tv remote when you feel overwhelmed. Ingrained habits like these-- that are often linked in with addiction-- can appear to be instinctive over time.

We don't usually think about it too much, if at all, in the seconds before doing.

When you make the decision to change a habit or limiting way of thinking, it's instinct that can seem to stand in the way.

As committed as you might be to quitting smoking, drinking more moderately, stopping binge eating or even ceasing the hateful self-talk, it can feel impossible to do.

This is because all of these habits and ways of thinking, being and believing about yourself are all so practiced that they can appear to be instinctive.

Instinct Doesn't Have to Dominate
A significant first step in shaking loose the hold that instinct may seem to have over you is to recognize it for what it is.

Yes, there are times when an instinctive reaction can literally save your (or another's) life.

But, hopefully, these occasions will not be an everyday occurrence for you!

After you've made the intention to change a habit or belief, be on the lookout for instinctive moments. You can stay present and tuned in to your feelings and actually head off an instinctive reaction.

If you are struggling trying to stop smoking, even after that first draw on the cigarette, you can interrupt the habit and the instinctive reaction that brought it to your lips in the first place. Return to your commitment and make a deliberate decision about what your next move will be.

There are specific techniques, such as NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP) and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), that have been developed to help people change beliefs and habits. A trained practitioner can teach them to you.

These techniques actually re-program the brain. There is an element of going back to the past to heal or alter the behavior or belief involved as well.

You don't have to go through life regretting or being held back by reactive and instinctive behaviors and beliefs. Know that change of any kind is possible.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Tips to Overcome the Winter Blues: Alternative Health Remedies for SAD

By Amy Phillips-Gary

What a blessing that the sun is actually shining on this bitterly cold February morning!

But, unfortunately, this is somewhat of an anomaly for winter. In the middle of the cold, stark and dark winter, it's easy to get the blues.

For seemingly no apparent reason, I get more fidgety than usual. It's as if I cannot stand another minute in the environment I find myself. I tend to be crabbier with my family and less tolerant than during other times.

Can this be chocked up to this season of frigid temperatures and little sun?

Experts say that yes, indeed, it can.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which also goes by the name of winter depression, is something that lots of folks experience. Approximately 10 million people, just in the U.S., feel the blues to such an extent that it has been given a medical diagnoses.

Some of the symptoms of SAD include the following: difficulties sleeping, difficulties getting out of bed, lethargy, despair, guilt, frequent irritation, lower sex drive, decreased productivity, weight gain, appetite changes and other indicators.

Of course, there is a difference between the blues and full-blown depression. There is even a difference between SAD and depression which is not relieved with the blooming of daffodils in the Spring.

*Please consult a health care practitioner if your blues, depression or SAD feels out of control or too overwhelming for you to handle by yourself. If you are considering hurting yourself or another person because of your current emotional state, I encourage you to seek help from a trained professional immediately.

Bring on the light

The relative absence of light and the sun during the winter months is believed to be the main culprit in the development of SAD and the winter blues.

We receive healthy doses of Vitamin D from the sunlight which helps our bodies absorb calcium, can lower cholesterol and can even possibly prevent the formation of cancerous tumors. Sunlight also stimulates the pineal gland which releases chemicals such as tryptamines (melatonin) which keeps our bodies regulated.

One natural way that SAD is treated is by increasing a person's exposure to light. Special artificial lights have been developed that simulate some of the beneficial effects of the sun.

Another suggestion, which may seem obvious, is to make the most of the winter sun that we do receive. On a day like today when the glorious sun is out and about, bundle up and get outside.

I know, it's cold out there. And, unfortunately, you won't receive Vitamin D from the winter sun as you will from the sun in other seasons. However, you might find that your mood brightens by soaking up the rays that are available to you.

Feel the feelings

I'm a big proponent of allowing the emotions that come up. Rather than searching for that immediate “cure” for the winter blues, it might be beneficial for you to give yourself permission and room to simply experience your feelings.

If you cry more often or feel more tired during the winter months, that can be okay.

I do not recommend that anyone stay in the blues (especially in depression), however. When you are stuck in the unhappy, dissatisfied and dismal place of SAD, you aren't going to be as effective at doing the things in life that you want to do.

Stay in touch with how you feel. If you tend to become listless and numbed during the winter, be aware of that tendency and make a date with yourself to check in at least once a day.

After giving yourself the time to be irritable, cry or whatever it is that you happen to be feeling, shake things up. Do something different for yourself.

This interruption of your usual pattern can be extremely helpful in leaving behind the blues and moving toward an improved state.

For example, if you notice that you turn to eating when you feel down, rather than attempting to eat your way out of SAD, choose a different activity instead. Visit a friend, look at a photography book with brightly colored flowers or beach scenes, plan your garden for Spring or whatever unusual action appeals to you.

Other alternative and natural remedies for SAD:

  • Take a Vitamin D supplement. Magnesium and Omega-3 oils are also helpful.

  • Try the herb St. John's Wort. This is a natural way to ease anxiety and depression.

  • Consider homeopathy. Mag Phos, Kali Phos and Nat Mur are sometimes a good match to SAD symptoms.*

  • Use the Bach Flower Essence Mustard.

  • Infuse more light, bright colors and green plants into your everyday surroundings.

When you find yourself dragging your way through winter, look around at all of the aspects of your life for which you are grateful. Challenge yourself to find 3 things each day that you genuinely appreciate.

As you appreciate, bask in those moments. Let that inner sense of light fill you and expand right along with it.

*Homeopathic remedies can be tricky. Each remedy addresses a whole host of specific conditions. Research these remedies and try the one that seems to be the best fit for what you are experiencing.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Practice Makes...

By Amy Phillips-Gary

Practice makes perfect-- no, that's such a loaded word.

Practice helps bring about change, but it can be difficult to actually initiate and then stick to it.

I remember loathing sitting down at the piano each day to practice as I was growing up. This was most definitely a source of conflict between my mom and I.

Today, I goad my own self to practice various things and I experience similar, though internal, struggle.

For example, I'm all charged up about breathing lately.

I'm reading a wonderful book called Conscious Breathing: Breathwork for Health, Stress Release, and Personal Mastery by Gay Hendricks and I am convinced that, as the author asserts, the physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual aspects of my life can improve by breathing deeply, slowly and diaphragmatically more of the time.

The challenge is, I have pretty much always been a mouth breather. According to Hendricks (and my own observations), mouth breathing not only allows more unfiltered air into my body, it also tends to be shallower and limited to the chest.

Practicing conscious breathing has become a new goal for me. Each and every day-- throughout the day-- I am trying to remember to pause and pay attention to my breathing. When I do this, I deliberately breathe through my nose and drop my breath down.

As much as I want to re-learn how to breathe, life often comes swooping in and I find myself falling back into old patterns. I realize that I am sucking in air via my mouth when I get busy, stressed or am even just zoning out.

You might not care much about the way that you breathe. But it's quite likely that there are habits that you would like to change.

Practicing is the best way that I know of to bring about the change you seek.

Right now, you probably are hearing that amorphous “parent” out there telling you that it's time to practice which is absolutely the LAST thing you want to do.

I'm with you. At first glance, practice sounds like no fun, hard work and downright boring.

You are always practicing something.

When you really think about this, however, each one of us is always practicing something.

In the dictionary, the word “practice” is defined as: “a habitual or customary performance” and also as: “repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency.”

As you brush your teeth, you are practicing dental hygiene. When tell your children and your partner that you love them, you are practicing expressing how you feel.

When you tell yourself that you can't follow through with a particular aspiration because you are too old, don't have the right training or education or simply can't make room for that in your life...you are practicing.

We all practice behaviors, ways of being and beliefs all of the time.

So when you want to make a change, yet you feel resistant to actually incorporating this new way into your life, remind yourself that you already are practicing-- you are just practicing the habit that is holding you where you possibly no longer want to remain.

It's a mind game, I know.

But if re-thinking the whole notion of practice helps you to motivate yourself, why not try it?

Practice is a program or a re-programming.

As I sit here at my computer dealing with not enough sleep, a kid with a sore throat who needs my attention and an intention to accomplish a certain amount of work, I am given the opportunity to practice.

I can unconsciously rely on my accustomed manner of breathing to merely stay alive or I can create some space in my awareness for conscious breathing and potentially increase my vitality.

It's truly a moment-by-moment decision-making process.

As you know, with just about anything you've ever learned in your life, the more experience you have doing a new skill or action, the more naturally it happens for you.

Think of practice as a program that you are running in your mind/body. When you are trying to change an already established habit, it's a re-programming.

In either case, as you repeat this new or different way of being, thinking or acting, it becomes imprinted in your body memory. New neural connections can form in your brain as you practice this preferred habit.

Today I encourage you to recognize that all of your thoughts and actions are practices that you can choose to change or to continue, depending on what you desire.

It's up to you and your willingness to practice.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Calm After the Storm

By Amy Phillips-Gary

Sometimes there's nothing better than a deep and cleansing cry. It can shake things up and clear out all of that stuff that each of us needlessly carries around.

As adults, many of us don't give ourselves permission to cry.

Somewhere along the line the message was made known that crying is weak and “for babies.” This is especially the case for boys and men. But girls and women also receive similar messages.

We are subtly or overtly told that there is no room for crying in a successful, got-it-all-together kind of life.

Throughout my life I've been a “crier.”

When I was a young girl, I'd frequently cry and my mom would ask me “Amy, why are you crying?” My tearful response would often be, “I don't know.” Now that I know what I know about my past, I can guess about what the reasons might have been some of the time.

What I want to focus on here, however, is the wonderful release that can come after the tumult of a deep cry. I encourage each and every one of us to welcome this kind of crying when it arises.

To me, it is truly a calm after the storm.

In those moments after a deep cry, it's as if the world is somehow clearer and brighter and I am lighter inside. I feel cleaned out in many respects.

Yes, that difficulty or situation that led me to cry is possibly still unresolved, but somehow it all seems a little easier to face.

I believe that a deep, cleansing cry can be extremely helpful when we become stuck. It's too easy to settle in to a sense of dissatisfaction or powerlessness. We can become dull and begin to move (or not move) through life in a sort of robotic mode.

Allow the storm
This is why the upheaval-- that may be unpleasant and even unwanted-- can be so vital.

Even if you aren't a “crier,” let yourself feel whatever you are feeling. I cannot stress enough how important this is.

Too often, fear, anger, grief or other difficult emotions come up and we push them back down inside. “Who has time to get into all of that anyway?” your over-scheduled, full-to-the-brim mind might argue.

Even if you feel like you have the time, you might not want to experience the pain that these emotions threaten to bring with them. It might seem that you will lose yourself in the chasm of challenging feelings if you open the door to them.

I've certainly been there.

In just about every case, however, these feelings seep through anyway. You simply cannot hold at bay your sadness, fears, anger and grief. This can only intensify those difficult emotions and potentially manifest as stress and health problems (if they haven't already).

When you feel out of sorts, off your game or unhappy in some way, create the time and give yourself the space to explore your emotions.

I don't necessarily advise you to try to figure it all out from a thinking perspective. Instead, take a deep breath, open up to yourself and just let whatever is inside come out. You might use music, writing, dancing or another means to help yourself open up.

It is almost always the case that the storm within will not be more than you can handle. If it feels like too much or you are concerned that you will hurt yourself or another person, please seek help from a professional.

Appreciate the storm and the calm
As painful as it is for me to feel the feelings that usually accompany a deep cry, I can truly appreciate them and the whole process. My fears, anger and grief are a part of my human experience at this moment.

I can remind myself that I may not feel this way next month, next week or even tomorrow. And the sooner I allow the storm to move through me, the sooner I can open up to the release and the calm.

Of course, this build-up of difficult emotions and eventual intense release is not the progression that has to happen and it is not what happens every time I face a challenge.

There are occasions when I recognize that I am feeling a bit irritable, I explore what's going on, make possible changes, communicate with others involved and experience a release without any big storm.

It is not necessary to wait for the intensity to escalate to put into motion a clearing out and subsequent calm.

We can stay tuned in to how we each feel and give ourselves permission to explore beneath the surface of “feeling down” or “crabby” and then let whatever needs to come up and out do so.

It might be a gentle unfolding of emotion tied with realization and perhaps new (or renewed) commitments to how you want to live your life.

It might also be more tumultuous, filled with plenty of tears and other expressions of your feelings.

In both cases-- and those in between-- when you stop pushing down your feelings and, instead, allow it all to flow, you can enjoy a clearer, calmer and often happier life.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Response Time

By Amy Phillips-Gary

What do you tend to do when faced with something unexpected and seemingly threatening in your life?

  • A neighbor is chewing you out about your dog's barking or the volume of your stereo.
  • A piece of plywood flies off a truck and into your lane of traffic as you drive down the highway.
  • Your partner fiercely disagrees with a major decision that you have made and is making his or her point known.

In situations like these, do you tend react to what's going on without much consciousness about it? If so, you are not alone.

It is quite natural-- and part of our survival instinct-- to flip into a reaction when startled or somehow triggered. It can seem unconsciously derived.

The trouble is, sometimes our reaction only intensifies a situation that already feels out of control, uncomfortable or even disturbing.

Often, when we later look back on what happened, we feel regret or may wonder, “What if I'd responded differently?”

The difference between a reaction and a mindful response can be huge.

Do you usually fight or flee?

In times of stress or perceived danger, the adrenaline kicks in and people tend to go into either a fight or a flight mode.

Physiologists note that, just as in the animal world, humans meet intense and unexpected stresses by either readying themselves to fight (which can include defended-ness, hostility or even aggression) or to flee (which can include literally leaving the scene or dissociating and “spacing out”).

For those of us who have experienced abuse or other trauma in the past, the tendency to fight or flee may be easily triggered by situations that do not appear to be stressful or potentially dangerous to others.

Most of us have developed a propensity to quickly flip into either a fight reaction or a flight reaction.

Think back to a recent event that happened in your life that felt to you unexpected or intensely stressful. Do you remember how you reacted to what was happening?

Becoming aware of what you usually do can help you make desired changes when future situations arise. Of course, when you are surprised you might react before you've hardly had the time to register the perceived threat.

By knowing that you have a tendency to fight or to flee, however, you can catch yourself mid-reaction, calm down and make decisions about how you really want to proceed.

Choice-Supporting Techniques

When you find yourself reacting to a situation that seems out of control, unexpected and potentially dangerous, creating space for choice is vital.

Coming back into your body and your center or ground are powerful tools that you can use-- especially in those most stressful moments-- to create that space for choice from which you can respond instead of react.

Several times a day, take just a few minutes to practice consciously bringing your attention back to this present moment and to yourself.

The more accustomed you are to re-centering and grounding, the easier it will be to return to those states when triggers come up.

I envision my center as approximately where my solar plexus chakra is located-- midway between the navel and the base of the sternum. Other people bring attention to their heart area.

Simply breathe deeply and focus your attention on that place within you that is your “center.” You don't have to be exact; figure out what works for you.

Another option, which is called grounding, is to really feel your feet on the ground; focus on the connection that your feet are making with the Earth as you breathe from your diaphragm.

What is most important to these practices is to figure out what helps you return to your body and self and then continue to do it.

You will know when you are centered and grounded because you will probably feel clearer, more relaxed and better able to focus on what's going on in the present moment.

The powerful thing about being centered and grounded more of the time, is that you can almost always make conscious choices about how to respond to what's going on in your life at the moment.

When a stressful situation comes up, remember to draw upon this new habit you've begun.

Each and every one of us always has choice-- we often forget that as a fight or flight reaction takes hold. Practice coming back to yourself and your center or ground and make choices that will direct you toward the future you desire.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Courage to Be...

By Amy Phillips-Gary

Today we celebrate the life and contributions to the world of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Although there were certainly scores of people who also articulated their visions for a fairer world and made deep sacrifices in order to bring about significant change, King's name is almost synonymous with the Civil Rights movement during the 1950s and 60s here in the U.S.

Over the course of his life, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke many brave and stirring words that inspired hundreds of thousands of people. As he organized and led non-violent direct actions advocating desegregation and equal rights for African-Americans, he acted in ways that were indisputably courageous.

Do you consider yourself to be brave and courageous?

When I compare myself to someone like Martin Luther King, Jr., those words-- “brave” and “courageous”-- seem vastly inappropriate descriptions for what I do, where I've been and who I am right now.

After all, when is the last time that I faced down mobs of people who deem me to be inferior and even despicable solely because of the color of my skin? When is the last time that I spoke my truth in front of masses?


I'm starting to wonder, however, if this hesitation is somewhat of a cop-out. After all, when I belittle the challenges that I've overcome and I discount my own vision for the future, I am somewhat “off the hook.”

If I don't consider myself brave, I don't have to do more than just get by and try to maintain the status quo of my life.

Like me, you might look at someone like Martin Luther King, Jr. and balk at the idea of even considering your path in life or your contributions to the world to be as significant or courageous.

I'm not advocating a competition between any of us and someone like King. Instead, I'm suggesting that if we all can step up and acknowledge the ways that we have been and are courageous in our lives, perhaps we can nudge ourselves out of that status quo and take even more brave steps.

Who knows where this will lead us?

Bravery can take many forms.
As you might already know, there's not just one way to be brave. When you acknowledge your own courage-- in the past and present-- you can almost always step more fully into your own personal power.

It is from this place of empowerment, that you can find yourself making the changes that you never thought you'd successfully make. The closer you get to your vision, the more that you, those around you and the entire world can potentially benefit.

It all comes to down to this: When we each can stand fully and authentically in our own power, there's no need for any of us to put another down, battle over supposedly scarce resources or be anything less than loving and compassionate.

I encourage you to look at someone like Martin Luther King, Jr. and celebrate his courageous acts. Allow yourself to be inspired and to recognize that you are also courageous and brave, in your own way.

For example...
  • It can be brave to face the so-called mistakes of your past, forgive yourself and release them.
  • It can be brave to stop being a victim, to let go of the painful limits of this label and to forgive.
  • It can be brave to own up to a habit that you've developed that is mostly holding you back.
  • It can be brave to take steps toward changing that limiting habit-- even if it takes several tries.
  • It can be brave to speak your truth-- even if you believe that nobody else agrees with you.
  • It can be brave to speak your truth-- even if you think that nobody else is listening.
  • It can be brave to do the unexpected, the unapproved of or the unconventional thing when you are called to do it.
  • It can be brave to make peace with where you are and continue to line yourself up with the future you're dreaming about.

How can you more fully honor the ways in which you have been brave in the past? How can you honor the courageous words and actions that you are taking today?

What are the brave steps that you are inspired to take next?

Friday, January 15, 2010

“I Surrender”

By Amy Phillips-Gary

If you were a warrior on a battlefield or even playing chess or another board game, uttering the words “I surrender” would probably not be a desirable thing to do.

There is a definite association between surrendering and failure or weakness in predominant understandings of the concept.

Nobody wants to be considered weak or a loser.

In order to allow the kind of life and success that you want, however, surrender may be the key.

When conditions in your body, your relationships, your job, your bank account-- your life-- start to feel out of control and are not what you had in mind, you may try to force things back into“line.”

This is what I tend to do.

I find myself pushing against unseen forces that appear to be moving me in a direction that I do not want to go. Or, conversely, I attempt to wrestle my life along if what I want is not happening as quickly as I'd like it to-- or at all.

Just about every time that I've found myself in this “I will force my life to be the way I want it to be” mode, I become worn out and frustrated. This tactic simply does not work.

Many times, in fact, it only gets worse because of my pushing.

When I was taught to drive a car in snow and ice as a teenager, I learned a valuable, even life-saving, lesson. What my father made certain I understood was this: If the car that I'm driving begins to slip and slide, do NOT slam on the brakes and jerk the steering wheel in the opposite direction.

You were possibly taught this same winter driving lesson as well.

Instead, my father made me practice taking my foot off the gas, easing on the brake and gently steering in the direction my car is sliding. From there, the car can more effectively be re-directed back to the road or lane.

Thankfully, the other night when another car came donut-ing out of control into my lane on the highway, those ingrained lessons kicked in. I avoided an accident and didn't even skid or spin.

When you surrender, you release resistance.

You may feel like you slam on the symbolic breaks in your life when conditions feel frightening or unpleasant. Or, you might feel like you ram anything and everything out of your way at full speed trying to force movement when all feels stagnated.

In both cases, you are causing resistance.

Perhaps you butt heads with a person at work with whom you have to complete a project. You might storm around, sigh loudly or silently simmer about this entire situation.

Maybe you are concerned that, because the two of you are such a miserable team, the project will turn out poorly and this will reflect negatively on you. You are wanting to succeed and move up at work and this does not seem to be helping with that goal.

As you can guess, resisting where you are is not going usher in the improvements that you seek.

On the other hand, when you surrender, you release resistance in the form of all of those worries, limiting beliefs, fears and low expectations. You are no longer attempting to force anything at all about this situation.

The beauty and even magic is that it is almost always at this moment of surrender, that unexpected breakthrough moments happen. As you symbolically throw up your hands and let yourself go with the flow, it all-- somehow-- turns out.

Quite often, it all turns out even better than you expected.

Life can come together for you when you stop pushing against. Your dreams can manifest when you no longer force them and, instead, allow them to happen.

When you surrender, you place trust in the Universe.

Ok, so does surrendering to the flow of life mean that we should all just sit around and do nothing?

Of course not.

There is a huge difference between surrender and ambivalence. You can have a very clear and defined focus about where you'd like to go and what you'd like to do with your life.

Rev up your excitement about whatever makes your heart sing. Dream your dreams in high-color and vivid detail.

Then it's time to turn it all over to the Universe.

Whether you look to God, Goddess, Allah, the Universe, Source, Great Spirit or another higher power, allow that presence to provide. Create space so that you can listen for guidance and cues about when it's time to act and when it's time to wait and be patient.

I know, this isn't always the easiest thing to do because it requires trust. It also requires an inner assertion that you are worthy of what you seek-- whether it's happiness, a sense of fulfillment, health and vitality or love.

Give yourself those gifts of trust and worthiness and, as you do, surrender to what life has in store for you. It may surprise and delight you-- if you let it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Intuition or Something Else?: How to Tell the Difference Between the Various Voices in Your Head

By Amy Phillips-Gary

Recently, I re-watched the late 1980s movie “Field of Dreams.” In the film, Kevin Costner plays a somewhat new-to-the-vocation farmer in Iowa named Ray. One day, as he stands tending the corn in his fields, he hears a voice call to him: “If you build it, he will come.

Ray ignores the voice, jokes with his wife and daughter about it and loses sleep over it. The voice doesn't give up! Finally, a vision of a baseball field right in the middle of his corn crop accompanies the words.

And so begins Ray's weird and wonderful journey to plow under a significant portion of his crops and build a baseball field on part of his land. If you've seen the movie, you already know that “they”-- meaning baseball players from just before the 1920s who were banned from the game-- did indeed come and play ball on Ray's field.

Along this amazing journey, Ray faces inner doubt as well as apprehension and even derision from others. He takes financial and emotional risks and he is never assured that this will come out okay in the end.

But he does it anyway.

Voices in our heads
Perhaps you've never heard actual voices in your head as Ray did. You may, however, have felt a pull or a strong impulse to make a different than usual choice.

Sometimes this pull leads you toward outcomes that are pleasing and expansive. Other times, they don't appear to be positive at all.

Quite often, it can become confusing to really determine whether the impulse you are called to follow is truly intuitive or if it comes from something else.

There is a significant difference between intuitive inner information and the thoughts or beliefs that derive from fears, anger, desire for escape or other urges.

In order to thrive and expand in desired ways, it's vital that you learn how to tell the difference.

As you might have already discovered from your own experiences, when your actions are driven by worried, fearful or lack-based impulses, you often end up in the unsatisfactory places that you've been before-- or maybe even places that seem worse!

On the other hand, when you trust an intuitive pull, just about every time you feel improvements. They might not come immediately, but the steps you take based on the call from your intuition moves you closer to where you want to be.

Differentiate, Trust and Take Action
Two ways to tell the difference between the intuitive “voices” and those others that are based in such things as fear, lack, anger or escape, is to pay attention.

Start to notice the emotions and overall mood that accompany a particular compulsion arising within you.

For example, if you feel drawn to quit your job and open a cafe, are you mainly feeling beaten down by your current work situation and just want to get out? Or, are you mostly excited about the prospect of owning your own eatery?

The way that you feel is key!

If you find that your primary motivator at the moment seems to be upset about your present job, I don't necessarily recommend that you immediately abandon the aspiration to open a cafe. It just may not be the right time to take action.

Intuitive voices usually occur alongside feelings of excitement, eagerness, invigoration and often a sense of certainty or knowing.

Of course, as certain as Ray in “Field of Dreams” was that he had to take action and build that baseball field, he also encountered moments of doubt, worry and mistrust.

This can make for a confusing ride.

But when those doubts arise, return to your inner self. Take a deep breath and see if you can tap into those excited and eager feelings. Remember why you chose to follow your intuition in the first place.

As long as you can reach into that reservoir of hopefulness and vision within, it is probably wise to continue along this path. If not, you might decide to alter your course or to pause and take no further action for a period of time.

Practice tuning in to your guiding impulses in everyday moments.

As you are out driving, do you feel drawn to take a different street or highway than you usually do? If so, chances are there's a reason. Take that different route and see what happens.

Notice how it feels to act on a worrisome urge as opposed to an intuitive pull. How do the outcomes usually differ?

Following your intuition can seem like handing over the reins of control to your life. This is uncomfortable for many people, including me.

Keep breathing and tuning in to the way that you feel.

Make mental note when you take action on an intuitive pull and it has pleasing results. This can help you to more fully trust in the process and to know that we all truly do live in a benevolent and supportive Universe.

Friday, January 8, 2010

“Don't Mumble Your Life Away...”