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February 2013

be here now: 5 ways to stay present + worry free



One of the reasons I started this site was because I was struggling to stay present in my life. I found myself constantly worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. I particularly struggled with letting go of the past and really focusing on what was happening now. Lately, however, I've been spending a great deal of time wondering what the future will bring. I'm worried about how my life will be when I lose my beloved Bella. I'm worried about when my book will finally be finished and published. I'm worrying, worrying, worrying! 

Needless to say, all this worrying is getting me nowhere by stressed out and frustrated. And yesterday I realized I needed to find a way to bring myself back to the present and away from the unknown future. Isn't it funny how we can do can do that, allow our minds to live life in a different time (past, present, future)? Physically, we're always in the now, but mentally... well, we can be just about anywhere. It's pretty cool how our minds work but, when it comes to worry, it can also be dangerous. It can lead to a lot of negative thinking. 

Over the years one of the best ways I've found to eliminate a lot of negativity is to stay present. Lately I've been struggling to stay present, but I'm determined to change that. Here are some things I plan to do to stay in the moment: 


5 Ways to Stay Present + Worry-Free 

1. Pay attention to thoughts. More than I should, I let my my mind wander away from the present. Thoughts can become so clear and certain that they seem like fact -- even when they are about things that haven't happened yet. When I realize what I'm thinking, and how now present-minded it is, I can often direct my attention back to the now. The trick is to pay attention to my thoughts, to realize that they're just that: thoughts. They aren't necessarily facts and the more I am aware of them, the more likely I am to stay away from thoughts of the past or future and stay focused on the present. 


2. Feed the five senses. I write often about focusing on the five senses because I've found them to be one of the best tools we have to bring us back to the now. When I find my mind wandering shamelessly into future or past territory (and I'm aware that it's happening!), I use my five senses to bring me back to the present. Instead of allowing myself to be governed by my thoughts, I take control of my thinking and ask myself: What do you hear? Taste? Feel? See? Smell? Doing this takes me away from any kind of rumination and reminds me that what matters most is what's happening right in this moment. 


3. Step outside yourself. One of the reasons I find myself worrying a lot is because I'm often focused on me. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, too much focus on one's self can lead to a lot of overthinking, worrying, and stress. A great way to avoid this is to find others to focus on. I've found that volunteering my time to help others (or even simply asking someone else how his or her day is going and really listening to the answer) helps to take my mind away from the past or future and brings me back into the moment. If you're not with other people, you can do this simply by thinking (positively) about someone else. 


4. Write it (all of it!) down. Sometimes one of the best ways to get out of your own head is to put all of the stuff that's in there down on paper. It might seem counter-intuitive to spend time writing about the past or future when one's trying to stay present, but I've found that when I write things down, it's often like cleaning out the closet of my mind, getting rid of all the thoughts that don't fit in there anymore. In addition to putting thoughts down on paper, writing about the present moment (and what those five senses are showing me) can be a great get-back-to-the-now exercise. 


5. Create a reminder. Being present can be really difficult and sometimes I need a little (or big) nudge to remind myself to stay in the moment. I've created all kinds of reminders -- sticky notes, desktop backgrounds, alarms on my phone, etc. -- and all of them have proved very useful when it comes to remembering to stay in the moment. I've given up the notion that I'll someday be one of those people that just stays present and given in to the idea that I might always need a little reminder. Creating these is simple enough and it's so helpful when it comes to staying on track. 


Staying present has always been a struggle for me (it's one of the reasons I decided to create Positively Present!), but I know how important it is to living a positive life. When I experience those rare moments when I'm fully present, I feel more alive, more positive, and more creative. When I'm fully present, I feel less stressed, less unhappy, and less frustrated. As difficult as it can be sometimes, I truly believe that being in the moment is worth every ounce of effort because being more present really does lead to being more positive. 

picking pink: 5 truths about choosing change


me + my pink hair



Last week I finally took the plunge and did what I'd been contemplating doing for what feels like forever: I dyed my hair pink. In the past, I was either too lazy or too worried about the repercussions (pink hair at a corporate office? I don't think so!). But last week I got bold and did it. And I'm glad I did. Doing so was not only fun (I now have pink hair!), but it also taught me some valuable lessons about change (especially change of the physical kind).

Over the past few years, I've done a lot of changing as I strive to live a more positive and present life, but something about changing something drastically and immediately, something that people can see, really brought to light some important insights about change -- and the impact of choosing to make a change. Obviously there's a big difference between choosing to make a change and having to make a change. Here are some of the lessons I learned after choosing to make a change: 


1. Change can be exciting (and scary). No big news flash here: change is exciting and scary. But dyeing my hair reminded me that doing something I'd always wanted to do (no matter how frivolous or possibly crazy it was) was a lot of fun. Sure, I'd been a little nervous to do it, but after I did, I was excited. I wanted to show everyone. I smiled every time I caught sight of a pink strand out of the corner of my eye. I'm sure the novelty of it will wear off, but for now, the pink-ness makes me happy. And isn't that one of the great things about chosen change? It brings a little bit of excitement into your life, giving you a chance to switch up what's routine and embrace what's new. 


2. Not everyone will approve of the change. When my sister and her husband came over to check out my new 'do, they literally started laughing when I opened the door. Not exactly the response you want after you just drastically altered your appearance. My mom, ever the positive one, exclaimed, "Oh! It's so pink!" when she saw my dip-dyed locks. Needless to say, not everyone approved of the change. What matters most in this case is whether or not I approve of the change, but my approval (and the approval of many close friends!) doesn't always counter the Negative Nancys. I've learned (quite quickly!) that not everyone will embrace my changes -- but that's okay. What matters is how I feel about the change. 


3. People might treat you differently. So far, I haven't noticed too many curious looks or received many comments, but I did notice one thing: in one of my favorite stores (one that I often felt a little too "mainstream" for), the sales people seemed much more receptive to my new look. Almost every single one of them spoke to me, and I even felt as if they smiled at me a little differently too. Perhaps this experience was in my imagination (or maybe I just felt more comfortable in the store with my new hair), but something felt different about the experience. Either way, making a choice to alter something physically does impact how others see (and possibly treat) you. 


4. Change will impact how you feel... Right after I dyed it, washed it, and styled it, I felt differently. Something about the pink made me feel wilder, bolder. I chided myself for feeling this way, telling the mirror, "You're exactly the same person as you were before!" But I couldn't help feeling a little changed somehow. Maybe it wasn't even the color itself, but more the act of doing something I'd always wanted to do, something different, something new. Maybe it was simply the act of initiating a physical change that made me feel more empowered, as if by making a choice to embrace a bold trend, I, too, was somehow made bold. Whatever it was, catching sight of a flash of pink when I walked past a mirror made me feel changed. 


5. ... and yet it won't change anything at all. Since I dyed my hair, there's been more than one occasion where I've spotted a wisp of it out of the corner of my eye and thought, "Oh! I have pink hair!" Though my physical appearance has been (temporarily) altered, I haven't changed. I'm still the same me (though, admittedly, I feel a bit wilder), and I think that's one of the most important lessons I've learned since dipping my hair in the dye. Though how you look can impact how you feel, it doesn't necessarily alter the essence of who you are. You can change your hair, your style, your weight -- but, deep down, there's a part of you that always remains the same. 


When I first started writing this post, I thought, Is this a silly thing to be writing about? Who but me cares about my new pink hair? But the more I started writing, the more I realized that, trivial as dyeing one's hair might be, when we choose to make a change (physically or otherwise), we're faced with a much different scenario than one we might face if change were simply to befall us. We are responsible for the outcome as well as the repercussions in a way that we might not be otherwise. The lessons I've written about here might be based on my personal pink hair experience, but they can be applied to almost any change we actively choose. Choosing change is a bold move, but it can have wonderful (and, in my case, pink!) results as long as we're positively prepared for the potential outcome. 

just this once: 5 ways to avoid a slip-up


"The marginal cost of doing something wrong 'just this once' always seems alluringly low. It suckers you in, and you don't look at where the path is ultimately headed and at the full costs that the choice entails."

Clayton M. Christensen


Now that we're a week into January, many of you might be grappling with the idea of whether or not you really can keep your New Year's resolutions. You might have already said those three little words that can change everything: "Just this once." 

The thing with "just this once" is it's rarely "once." It all too often leads to "just this one more time" and "just in this [fill in the blank] kind of situation." Then, before you know it, "just this once" is "all the time." Which is why, if you really don't want to do something, you should avoid a one-time allowance.; you should steer clear of giving yourself a free pass. 

I personally don't make New Year's resolutions (too much on top of my 29 Before 30 and my 2013 Jar), but one of my ongoing resolutions is to stay positive. It's something I strive for on a daily basis, but it's not always easy. Let's say I have a really tough day (and I've had quite a few lately!) and I decide that, just this once, I'm going to allow myself to wallow in negativity. (Note: A bit of negative thinking isn't a bad thing, but the wallowing, the jumping from negative thought to negative thought incessantly is never a good thing.) I might tell myself, "Just this once, stop trying to see the good in things. Just allow yourself to be as negative as you feel like being." 

Sounds harmless enough, right? Wrong. From experience, I know that if I let myself start down a  negative path, I don't know where it will lead. I might be able to veer back to a more positive mindset -- or I might not, finding myself wallowing for god knows how long. And even if I do redirect my attention to the positive, what about the next time I feel just as bad as I did on my bad day? What happens if I have a day (as I'm bound to) that's even worse?  

Allowing myself to "just this once" wallow in negative thinking might sound like a small, singular choice, but it has the potential to have a big impact. This is exactly why I think it's so important for those striving to live a positive and present life to think about the impact that "just this once" can have on resolutions, goals, or even everyday mindsets. 

There are plenty of people (moderators) that can do something once or twice and then get themselves right back on track. I am not one of those people. I'm the kind of person (an abstainer) that has to abstain if I really want to stay on track. Once I decide to do something, I go for it 100%. And when it comes to a negative choice, mindset, or activity, 100% is not what you want to be aiming for. 

Whether you're good a moderating your behavior or not, it's always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to starting off on the right foot with a new resolution, goal, etc. (as many of us are probably doing here in this new year). Like me, you might not have a specific resolution for this new year, but I bet you have a goal you'd like to achieve in the next twelve months or so. Here are a few ways you can avoid the slippery slope of "just this once" and stay on track.  


1. Don't give yourself an option. The second you give yourself a option -- a "just this once" free pass -- you spot the chance to choose a different path, to veer off course. Don't even look down that path. Decide that you're not going to do something (or you are going to do something) and don't give yourself the option to do (or not do) it. No matter what the situation or what beautifully crafted excuse you come up with, don't allow yourself to be swayed from doing what you need to do by even giving yourself an option to stray. 


2. Find a source of support. When it comes to staying on track with a resolution or goal, one of the best things you can do is find a source of support. Your support could be a single person, a group, or even an online resource -- whatever works best for you is what will keep you working. The key is to have something or someone you can turn to when that "just this once" starts to seem a little too tempting. The more support you have, the better. So reach out to loved ones, scan the internet, and find the resources to will keep you on course. 


3. Create a reward system. Who doesn't like rewards? I know I sure do! Whenever you bypass the "just this once" option and choose to do what you know you should do, reward yourself. Give yourself a sticker, a pat on the back, a hundred bucks. The way you reward yourself is up to you, but putting a system in place (however informal) is a must for inspiring you to make the right choice when you're staring in the brilliant glare of those three little words: just this once


4. Look at the long-term. This one (and this whole post, in fact) is inspired by the quote above. The reason we allow ourselves to be lured by "just this once" is because we don't often think about the long-term consequences. In the moment, "just this once" seems like no big deal. But if you want to stay on track, you've got to take yourself out of the moment (just for a bit!) and consider what will happen if you give in. Looking at the big picture, the long-term impact, will help you remember why one time just isn't worth it. 


5. Keep a pros / cons list. Create a list of the pros and cons of sticking to your resolution or goal and carry it with you. When you feel tempted to give in to a one-time indulgence, take out your list and remind yourself why you set this goal in the first place. Seeing the benefits of staying on track (in writing) is a great way to avoid the temptation of "just this once," and reviewing that list of cons can be just as powerful. For added strength, look at the list even when you're not in a tempting situation to keep it fresh in your mind. 


Staying away from "just this once" is a difficult task (especially when it comes to something internal, like negative thinking), but over time I've realized this: the more I remind myself that "one time" doesn't usually equal "one time," the less likely I am to give in to a single lapse in judgement. Though I have on occasion indulged in "just this once" and I know it's possible to recover from it, I've discovered that it's much, much easier not to slip-up in the first place. Use the tips above to stay on track with your 2013 goals and resolutions and rise above the temptation of "just this once."