How to connect authentically with anyone

“Too  often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening  ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the  potential to turn a life around.” -Leo Buscaglia

It is said that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason.  Yet, listening is such a difficult skill to master.

Most of us listen to respond with our own views rather than to understand.  However, it is not until we really understand a person or situation that we are able to respond appropriately.  Otherwise, we project, make assumptions, and are judgmental.

I am guilty of having an opinion which I believed to be so important that I disregarded what someone else had to say by holding on to the thought until I got to say it out loud – missing out on opportunities to really connect authentically with people.

We already know what we know.  By listening, we learn what someone else knows.

Give someone and yourself the gift of listening today.  Be present to what the other person is saying without judgment or a rush to jump in with your opinions.  What do you notice?  Is there a shift in the way you connect?

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Want to be happier? A guide to uncovering your strengths and passions

 “Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” - Oprah Winfrey

In the last month, I’ve had a few conversations that went something like this:

I love  ________ and really want to do it full-time, but I feel guilty doing that for a living.

What is the guilt about?

Well, it doesn’t feel like work.

What does work feel like?

It is supposed to be hard, and I shouldn’t enjoy it very much.

Sounds familiar?  Is there something that you are really passionate about, but you tell yourself that you can’t make a living doing it?

We are conditioned to believe that work needs to be something that we…well…work at.

Were you told as a child to study hard if you wanted to succeed?  I remember one semester at university spending more than 60% of my studying hours on Econometrics, which gave me ulcers, and dedicating very little time to Abnormal Psychology, my favorite class.

How else would I be successful – even if it cost me my sanity?  At least then I could spend more time on Abnormal Psychology……as the case study!

I am constantly blown away by the ways in which we limit our full self-expression.  It’s as if we are afraid to gives ourselves permission to be happy.  Life becomes a struggle, as we drag around an invisible ball and chain, to the point that we hardly recognize the person inhabiting our body.

We spend much of our waking hours working hard at things we do not like and compensating for our weaknesses that we neglect our passions and strengths, the things that we are naturally good at and lead to joy.

Is it any wonder that 80% of people are not satisfied with their jobs?

I believe one of the keys to a meaningful existence is to know our passions and strengths and to engage them in every aspect of our lives.

In many cases, this is not easy, as we have been operating on autopilot for so long that we have lost touch with our talents and gifts.  But fear not, with a playful curiosity, we can once again discover what truly brings us alive.

If you would like get back in touch with the magic, get the free guide to Uncover Your Strengths & Passions here.

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Increase your productivity with this one simple change

“Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.” -Aldous Huxley

I came across an article recently which claims that smokers are more productive at work after puffing away.  That definitely caught my attention, and I was curious to learn more.  Could there be an upside to smoking?

Actually, no, there isn’t!  It turns out that it is not smoking but the breaks in between periods of working which lead to increased productivity.

This theory is heavily supported by Tony Schwartz of the Energy Project.  According to Schwartz, humans require rest and renewal – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually – even during our waking hours.  Research has shown that we operate optimally at 90 minute intervals.  After 90 minutes of performing an activity, we get restless, lose focus, and become tired.

In today’s fast paced culture of being plugged in 24/7, we have conditioned ourselves to ignore the signals.  Rather than rest, we rely on other means, such as sugar, caffeine, and activating adrenalin from our stress hormones, to keep us going.  As a result, we become addicted to these artificial methods of renewal, which causes us to be increasingly reactive.

Our ability to think clearly and creatively decreases.

The solution:  work at high intensity increments for 60 to 90 minutes by focusing on one activity in any given moment, followed by a recovery break.  It is important to be good at your recovery practice by disengaging completely for a few minutes.  Take a few deep breaths or do some stretches.  This is not the time for social media or idly surfing the web.

By operating in this manner, you’re managing your energy level, which is internal to you as opposed to managing time, which is external.  Energy is the capacity to do work.  By managing it well, we become more productive.

Some conscious companies recognize the importance of taking breaks and encourage their employees to build them into their day.  How amazing is that?

Do you see how by managing your energy you can influence how you feel and perform?  Could you commit to building recovery breaks into your schedule?

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Why do our dreams scare us and how could we change that?

Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.“ -Brené Brown

Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” -Brené Brown

Have you ever wondered why we pull back instead of going full force ahead when it comes to our biggest and wildest dreams?  Could it be that joy is our most terrifying emotion?  Dr. Brené Brown, who has written bestselling books and delivered a powerful TED talk on vulnerability, says it is.

According to Brown, when we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, we do not delight in our moments of joy because we are afraid that they will be taken away.  In other words, to protect ourselves from the manufactured fear of being devastated, we do not fully embrace happiness.

It is not that we are afraid of doing that which leads to joy but of the emotions associated with things not working out.  As a result of a fear of imagination, many people settle for a mediocre existence rather than live the BIG life they really want.

Avoidance of pain takes precedence over pleasure.

Don’t you find that fascinating?  This was a huge A-HA for me.  It begs the question:  how do we overcome the imaginary self-imposed barriers and boldly move forward?

Brown says that the happiest people are those who instead of backing away because of anticipated terror are grateful for what they have and seize the opportunities.  They, too, experience fear, but they recognize it for what it is and choose to practice gratitude in the moment.

Consider the following scenario.  You have dreamt all your life of hosting your own cooking show on television.  You get invited to do a segment on a local station.  There is the initial excitement that you are going to be doing what you love most.  Then, suddenly, you start to think of everything that could go wrong.  Your tolerance for vulnerability goes way down, and you retreat.

In that moment, the better choice would be to remind yourself of all the reasons why this is an amazing opportunity:  you’ll get to showcase your talent, you’ll share your gift of cooking, you get to practice with a smaller audience, you’re living your dreams, etc.

Do you see the powerful shift that happens when we choose to be grateful?

How are you foreboding joy in your life?  What are some of the ways in which you can practice gratitude today and every day?  Are you ready to raise your level of tolerance for vulnerability and pleasure?

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What is The Conscious Life Project, anyway?

The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. - James A. Baldwin

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor. -Henry David Thoreau

The Conscious Life Project was born because deep down I knew there was a better way to live than the way I was existing.  I knew that I wanted to have a self-approved life, a life that was meaningful to me.  I wasn’t sure exactly how to do that, but I was going to find out.

I figured the worst that could happen in this experiment is that I would end up in the same state I started.

So, I enrolled in personal development courses, immersed myself in spiritual books and teachings, and hired coaches to help me.  I also made the conscious choice to do more of the things that made me feel alive and that I wanted to do.

As a result, I began to embrace failure as a way of learning.  When something did not work out, I moved on to the next, not being attached to outcomes.

Being aligned with my values made all the difference.

We exist in a culture that places tremendous value on status, money, and material objects as the primary elements of success and happiness. So, it is no surprise that we chase after these things to get to the Holy Grail. That is not to say that money and things are not important and even necessary, but pursuing them for their own sake will not make us happy.

We become hamsters on a wheel – exhausted, constantly striving, and never arriving. And even though there is a lingering sense of dissatisfaction and the feeling that something else, something bigger is calling us, we are terrified to jump off.

There is security in the known, no matter how painful, and uncertainty in the unknown.  Oh, the fear of not knowing!  Yes, that dreaded sensation that stands between us and our vision.

Rather than succumb to fear, could there be a more empowered way?

Clearly, approaching happiness from the outside in isn’t working.  With all the material ingredients of success present, many of us are still unhappy. What if we instead used an inside out approach?  What if we placed our intrinsic need to do meaningful work, be in genuine relationships, and engage in activities which bring us joy ahead of external rewards?

What if we replaced the stress of going after a paycheck with the enjoyment of doing work we love? What if we do the things which come naturally to us and money flowed easily as a by-product? What if by listening to our heart, we hear the voice of our calling?

What is possible when we challenge conventional wisdom and our limiting beliefs and use our fears as the vehicle to propel us towards our dreams?

Would you like to find out?

Join me in The Conscious Life Project, and let’s run the experiment together to see what opens up when you reclaim your power and follow your heart.

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How to deal with toxic people when you can’t avoid them

‘If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.’ – Daniel Goleman

Ever had the narcissistic boss who believed the world revolved around her, insisted on always being right, and had temper tantrums like a two year old when she did not get her way? Count yourself lucky if you haven’t.

Unfortunately, people who trigger us are everywhere – in our homes, at work, and even in the grocery store – and as much as we would like to avoid them, that’s not always possible. Though we find them annoying, they can be our best teachers.

How do you deal with them in a way that keeps you empowered and not do them bodily harm?

A few days ago I had an encounter with someone who was pushing all my buttons. As the conversation went on, I felt my stomach churning and my heart beat increasing. I thought of all the things I could scream at this person including how despicable she was and the countless ways in which she lacks integrity. Oh, yes! And as I was adding to the list, it did not feel good. I was getting very worked up.

The tendency when dealing with toxic individuals is for us to get defensive and prepare for fierce battle or to crawl into our shells and let them have their way. Neither is empowering. In the end, we feel depleted and empty or end up in a tailspin.

When faced with someone of this nature, we are presented with an opportunity to make a new choice, a different choice, an empowering choice.

In the situation I was in, I chose to get really present using my breath. Instead of unleashing all the negative judgments I had, I asked myself, “What do I want here?” I wanted to feel calm and peaceful.

One of my teachers told me that the opposite of hate is not love; it is indifference. That is, you are not affected by what the other person says or does. You can only control yourself, i.e. your thoughts, the meaning you give to events and people, and your reactions.

In addition to getting present, there is a technique I learned called EFA which I find very useful. Empathy, Fact, and Action are employed to clearly and assertively state your point. For example: “I understand you want an answer by today (Empathy). However, the due date is Friday (Fact). I will get back to you by then (Action)” or “I can see how you feel that way about the work I do (Empathy). However, I enjoy it (Fact). I would appreciate if don’t make such comments again. (Action)”. Then, politely end the conversation. If the person keeps going, try repeating the fact and action parts of your EFA script.

Are there people in your life with whom you could use these techniques – getting present and utilizing EFA? Try them the next time, and see what happens. You are only in control of yourself, and you have the amazing ability to choose the reaction that keeps you empowered….and perhaps even out of jail.:)

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Transformative Book: The Seven Spirtual Laws of Success

The most creative act you will ever undertake is the act of creating yourself.” - Deepak Chopra

You will be transformed by what you read.” - Deepak Chopra

About four years ago I was reading Deepak Chopra’s The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success:  A Practical Guide to the Fulfillment of Your Dreams on my train ride to work, and a guy walked up to me and announced that the book had changed his life.  I looked at him, smiled, and kept on reading.  At that time, the concepts on the pages were merely spiritual entertainment.  Three months ago, I picked it up again, and this time I read it slowly as part of my morning practice.  I can now say that I understand the transformative effect this book can have.

I would like to share the seven laws with you with the hope that you can apply them in your life to make conscious choices and live your dharma.

Without further ado, the laws:

  • The Law of Pure Potentiality:  we are pure consciousness, full of unlimited possibilities.  To access this level of infinite creativity, take time to be silent in meditation and with nature and accept everything as it is without judgment
  • The Law of Giving:  You are constantly exchanging energy, giving and taking.  This is the flow of life.  The more you give, the more you receive.  Put this law into effect by giving everyone you meet something, be it a smile or a compliment.  Also, show gratitude for the gifts you receive from others.
  • The Law of Karma:  Rather than being triggered automatically by people and stimulus, take a step back as an observer and make conscious choices.  There is only one choice that will create happiness in each moment.  Be in tune to the choices you make and what your heart says.
  • The Law of Least Effort:  It is our nature to manifest easily and effortlessly without resistance when our actions are motivated by love.  Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.  What is this moment here to teach you?
  • The Law of Intention and Desire:  Embedded in every desire and intention is a way to achieve it.  Have faith that when things don’t go the way you planned, there is a bigger force at work.  Accept the present moment and manifest the future though your desires and intentions.
  • The Law of Detachment:  Give up attachments to outcomes and step into the unknown, where the possibilities, freedom and creativity lie.  Attachment is based on fear and the known, which cause us to end up prisoners of our past.  Embrace uncertainty, and don’t impose your ideals on others.
  • The Law of Dharma:  Each of us has a purpose.  There is something that you can do better than anyone else to fulfill a need in the world.  This comes easy to you, and time passes joyously without notice.  By living your purpose, you create unlimited abundance.  Be your best self.  What are your talents and how do you love to express them in service to the world?

These laws are a stark contrast to what the western world teaches us is needed to be successful – attachment to outcomes, always being on the go, a lot of effort and planning.  The seven laws almost sound too easy.  What if it is not supposed to be hard?  What if you learned to trust your heart and intuition?  How about if we operated from love instead of fear and the need for security?  What would you do differently?  How can you start today?