Painting + Flow

There is the patter of rain on the windows and roof, I am settled into my seat, lemon water at my side and my tummy rumbling for a sweet treat – I keep cookies in my desk drawer for these occasions. I am feeling good – processed. I recently missed an opportunity that I thought might be for me. It was disappointing and I allowed myself to wallow yesterday. I needed a day to be angry and frustrated. Today, I needed to get into flow, so I painted.

An easel sits across from me in my office. It typically holds a painting that I am working on or a blank canvas waiting to be filled. Today the paint and my ideas flowed. I am feeling quite satisfied to have created something I know to be beautiful and believe to be good. I also have had the idea to ask the local frame shop if on Friday afternoons I might paint in their front window – possibly to draw customers in and hopefully sell a few of my pieces. It might be fun and it is something that occurred to me as I painted.

That’s the beauty of creative work, it frees the mind to wander. And gives space to let the imagination roam. There’s actually a pile of research on the benefits of somewhat mindless activities like painting. These tasks help us get into slower brain waves that bring us into flow and help us to make connections in our brains more efficiently. When our brains are in the state of flow we’re able to bring together a variety of ideas to create a new and unique solution. To learn more about the research I would encourage you to read The Art of Impossible by Steve Kotler. 

When I create I get to consider imaginary situations, topics that I have thoughts on but haven’t had the time to process. For me painting is meditative. When I am in the midst of my work it is easy to loose track of time. I feel completely absorbed in the best way possible, choosing colors, creating patterns or destroying them. It is powerful and empowering to simply focus on my work and what I want to do next. Painting frees me to finally think clearly. It gives me a fun medium in which I can make mistakes or change my mind and the consequences are minimal. It is freeing and makes my soul sing.

Whatever you do today I hope you give yourself some space to create. I notice that when I don’t make room in my life to act on my inspirations I feel cranky and stifled. Why make ourselves miserable for no reason? With that in mind I am grateful and excited to see what beauty we create in the world next. For now I’m focusing on this canvas and what colors and images come next. It’s a very good day, I hope yours is too!

Prolonging Happiness

According to positive psychology research Joy is a temporary emotion – something brought about by a singular moment or situation that sparks a momentary lift in emotional satisfaction. Whereas happiness is more sustainable, an emotion we can prolong for a stretch of time. We can feel happiness over minutes rather than just seconds. In order to prolong happiness we must first prime the pump, or get into the habit of feeling happy. 

To feel happiness more regularly we must first familiarize ourselves with the experience. When we get comfortable and aware of what makes us happy we ready ourselves to engage, experience, and eventually prolong happiness. We begin by noticing and paying attention to what makes us happy so that we may attune our attention to it.

Often when we talk about happiness we remember brief moments in time. It could be a night out dancing with friends, a child’s laugh, the euphoria of dating someone special. These are all delightful and serendipitous events that we can’t necessarily plan for – simply because all of these moments are joy. Happiness however, that more sustainable sensation, can be created through deliberate choice making and attentiveness. 

We are attentive to our happiness when we stay in it. We don’t distract ourselves or “forbade joy,” which Brenee Brown describes as staring at a peaceful child sleeping or watching an idyllic scene from a movie and anticipating something horrible happening. To be clear, foreboding joy is a natural inclination and something that we all experience. We do it because our happiness in that moment is so great that we fear loosing it. Therefore, we imagine the end of that happiness. Despite that preparation being of no use to us and costing us the loss of the very real happiness of that moment. To avoid slipping out of happiness and into fear, anger, or any other strong emotion the key is to first stay in gratitude. 

Staying in gratitude when things are good is the first step to sustaining happiness. Gratitude allows us to linger in that blissful sensation of peace and serenity. As we experience prolonged happiness or even just a burst of joy it is important to notice what is happening. Are we talking to a good friend or preparing a homemade meal we enjoy? Being aware of our bodies and selves in those moments helps us notice the signs.

Think back over the last week and write down the moments that brought you the most joy. Maybe you bought a new sweater or made a fresh batch of cookies for dessert. These don’t have to be major accomplishments. Sometimes our favorite song comes on the radio and that’s enough! When that happens write it down. When you have a list of five or ten moments of joy review the list. What, if anything those moments have in common?

Now that you have your list, you have a place to start. How can you create at least one more moment of happiness in the next day, week, month? These are simple opportunities where you can incorporate happiness into your life. If all of your moments are around food, could you make a meal at home and amplify the sensation? If your happiest moments are around friends, could you schedule a gathering monthly so you not only enjoy fun in the moment but also the happiness of looking forward to gathering? Come up with your own ideas and give yourself the gift of happiness. 

Incorporating happiness and prolonging happiness improves the quality of our days and lives. How can you enhance the quality of your own life today? If you need more ideas on recognizing happiness, we have some other creative happiness tips here.

Building Mental Strength

I have been thinking a lot lately about how the muscles we exercise are the muscles that we strengthen. When we focus on our arms or legs we first increase flexibility, endurance, and then begin to see gains. Increases in our ability to lift or move larger objects. The endurance to run longer distances without overexertion. The ability to work harder, longer, faster, etc. All of these capabilities that were not ours at the outset of our exercise become easier for us. This happens too with our mental strength and resilience.  

I’m realizing that as I observe and take in information that is primarily negative that these are the mental muscles I am choosing to exercise. When my perspective is of judgement, suspicion, or worst case scenario that is what will likely appear. As I look for the negative I will find it. Much as if I look for the positive I would find evidence of that. The choice is ours of what perspective we decide to bring to our interactions. Am I looking for help, hope, and optimism? OR am I looking for judgement, hurt, and negativity? 

When we fixate on the negative or worst case scenario those are the thought patterns we encourage to grow. This happens easily when we fixate on negative news, or patterns. However, we can give ourselves grace as the pursuit of any goal takes time. As we work toward any goal – writing a book, painting, or yoga – we give our attention to that goal. The more time and energy we devote the better we get at that activity. As we focus our attention we learn more. Testing theories and learning from our mistakes.

The mental muscles and the patterns that I want to strengthen are those focused on drawing joy, hope, generosity, light and love into my life. I do that by being attentive to those patterns. By shifting my focus from, “What is wrong with this picture,” to “What is going right here?” Or better yet, “How can I improve this picture?” 

With a renewed and optimistic perspective I am striving to make a positive impact not just in my own life but also in the world. This mental strength shift requires intention and attention. It also requires that I do the work of looking for the good in others, in myself, and in the world. It means that my mental strengths need to shift from judgment to support and aid. With time we will start to see the good things first in one another and ourselves.

Let’s try a new mental workout routine to shift our perspectives from disengaged boredom to being the change we wish to see in the world. I hope you will join me.

Reclaim a Positive Mindset

This month I’m noticing a shift in how people are showing up. As we prepare for a blast of snow storms here in the midwest there is an edge of negativity and and frustration. This post pandemic reality has not been easy on any of us. I want to take a minute to remind us all of the power we have to reclaim a positive mindset. 

The negative feedback loop does not just happen on social media, it can happen in our own minds as well. Following simple steps is helpful so that we don’t get pulled down into negativity. That said if you feel like you are depressed or need additional help, please seek out a professional care provider. You are not alone and there are experts available, don’t feel you have to face this challenge on your own. 

If however you’re simply looking to lighten the load and brighten your perspective here are some tools we can use to get out of a negative mindset:

Social Media – Revise your social media follows. Pay attention to the media you consume. If you find yourself dragged down or feeling sad or empty after scrolling, start by taking a break from your social feeds. After a break from screen time clean your virtual house. Clear out any account that makes you feel less joyful than when you first view it. It does not matter if these are accounts that belong to people you know, news sources, or causes you believe in – if the content is leaving you drained or in a negative head space, root it out. You can come back when you’re ready but for now it is time to cleanse and take a break.

News Sources – Being an informed and engaged citizen is important but if you are feeling overwhelmed by the content you are observing give yourself permission to let it go. You are not obligated to carry the weight of the world in order to be informed. Choose a positive news source or limit your consumption to one short block of time a day. In the 24 hour news cycle most information does not serve you. Do not allow yourself to be guilted or held accountable for knowing all. Your peace is more important. 

Connections – Pay attention to how you feel after talking with friends and family. Do you feel refreshed and enlightened? Do you feel bogged down or tired? There are some people in our lives who can suck all of the joy out of the room and others. After an interaction it can take hours, days, or weeks to recover. Pay attention to how you feel when you’re with others and if you notice things are heading south, get out. You can begin with boundaries and remind yourself of them as needed. 

Another idea is to make time to spend with people who lift you up and make your life brighter. Be attentive to who those people are in your life and make a point to spend more time in their company.

Mental Health – And again, if you find yourself feeling down more often than usual, seek out a professional mental healthcare provider. Caring for yourself is your most important job. You are your most important thing. The world is a more radiant and beautiful place because you are in it. We cannot win or finish the race if we do not take breaks to rest and recover.

Give yourself everything you need to thrive, feel nurtured, and grow. Reclaim your positive mindset. Care for yourself as you would a small child, pet, or plant. We need sunlight, water, warmth, and care – these things do not come by accident, they come by intention. Be generous with your self-care. Not only are you worthy and deserving, you are also unique and wonderful. There’s no one else like you in the world, so please take care of you. 

Positive Morning Routine

I have recently transformed my morning routine. Based on recent research I have formulated a new strategy for shifting my perspective. More about the science of this research here. I found that when I started my day it often began with to do list items and whatever conflict or negative pain point was most impactful in my life at the moment. Despite all of the wonderful things happening in world there was always something stuck in my craw. When I started my day this way I just felt like it snowballed. Instead of paying attention to the good things – I was seeing only conflict, negativity, and unmet expectations. So I decided to shift and create my own positive morning routine.

Here’s what I do now to brighten my mood at the beginning of my day. I’ve noticed that even on days when I have a heavier mental load to lift I find it hard to get back to powerlessness or frustration after doing this exercise. This is a writing practice. I’ve mentioned before that writing my morning pages helps me to sort out my emotions and ground myself each morning. To learn more about those, please check out my blog on morning pages and the genius of Julia Cameron’s work. 

Purge – I begin by purging, that first paragraph or two are just my dumping whatever mental load I am carrying, if it’s stress about work, a toothache, or family drama. All of it just gets dropped. This way it won’t need to distract me from what I do next. 

5 Affirmations – I write out five things that I love about myself or that I need to hear.

  1. I am strong – I can face any challenge in my path.
  2. The universe needs me and my work.
  3. Using my creativity is my gift to the universe.
  4. I am brilliant, bright, and bold.
  5. My work is necessary and important – no one else will do this work like me.

3 Anticipations – Things I’m looking forward to doing. These don’t have to be big or momentous – it could just be clean sheet night!

  1. Family dinner tonight.
  2. Sleepy cuddles from my kiddos when they wake.
  3. It’s sunny and I get to go to the pool today!

3 Gratitudes – This can be specific or broad. I included some vague ones below to help you get started. Though, I am truthfully grateful for those things too.

  1. My health.
  2. My family.
  3. Sunshine and blue skies.

One good thing that has happened in the last 24 hours. Just a few sentences here to remind myself of the good things that have happened in my day. This simple step helps my brain to look for the patterns of good things that go on in my life and not just the negative ones!

After I write out these things I find it’s really difficult to slip back into negativity. I find myself writing more about what I’m proud of myself for doing, who I’d like to spend more time with, or how I can improve or grow. This transformation reshapes my day, my perspective, and my mood. It invites me to begin from a place of peace, centeredness and joy. Instead of guilt or anger I am greeting my day with gratitude, anticipation, and full of love. If you try this positive morning routine please let me know how it works for you!

Prevention: Combat Negative Self-Talk

Having a safe place to call home begins with being a safe place to call home. Being a safe place begins with being gentle with ourselves and healing our mental space. We do this by questioning the negative self-talk that is happening inside our heads. Research has shown that almost 80% of the commentary that is running through our minds is negative. And worse than that these thoughts are repetitive. It is downright obnoxious to hear unwelcome criticism all day and fortunately there are tools to combat negative self-talk.

Now, there are some of us who do not have this problem and to you I say, congratulations! Pop over and read another post because you have already skipped this level. Research has shown that not everyone has an internal monologue, let alone a negative commenter that opines on every choice we make from which shirt to wear to how we drive. If you’re interested in learning more about this phenomenon in layman’s terms IFL Science has a great article on it.

For those of us with that ongoing negative stream of consciousness it is important to question your inner bully. Basic questions can quickly derail this voice. And beyond derailment you may be able to free yourself for the repetitive negative messaging. You can ask, is what they are saying true? Would you let someone talk to your best friend or child like that? If you wouldn’t, it’s time to question that inner bully and make them prove what they’re saying is true. Spoiler – it isn’t.

To get out of this negative mindset I find it easier to start by bringing my attention to the present moment. We cannot solve the problem in the same state we created it. Try some of the following and go with whatever works best for you.

Breathe deeply


Take a 20 minute walk

Whatever helps you get away from the situation for a moment and give yourself the gift of fresh air and a fresh perspective. 

When you’re ready the following tools can help you to question your own inner monologue.* The best way I have found to do this is by writing. Ask your inner bully questions and write back the answers you receive. If something is not true, call them on it and see what they say. Make time to do this before you’re feeling at your lowest. Like an oil change, an intervention every so often is much easier than a full engine overhaul. This way as your inner bully attempts to build momentum, or get in the way of your success, you already know the tricks it will use. 

You also quickly realize that this voice is not speaking the truth about you. Recognizing that the voice, even though it is in your own head, is not honest makes a big difference in how you feel when you hear it. A lot like medical advice, from a trained physician familiar with your health history is appreciated. Medical advice from a stranger on the street or the gas station attendant may be suspect. 

When you recognize that just because you think something, that doesn’t make it true, you free yourself to believe the real and good things about yourself. 

When your head is a healthy and supportive place to be then you can move mountains. The disappointing news is that that voice never goes away. But when you stop responding by feeling worse about yourself it gets quieter and you are free. When you combat your negative self-talk you no longer need to live in negativity. And you are no longer held back from pursuing your goals because a voice in your head told you not to. You take away the power of that voice to limit your growth. 

We are all spending more time with ourselves these days and having a practical conversation with your inner bully is a quick way to set new ground rules, to reframe the conversation and make your mental space a comfortable and healthy place to be rather than the first place you hear negative feedback. Give yourself the gift of creating a healthy headspace and see if it doesn’t shift your perspective and your life.

How have you found ways to ignore or get through the negativity of your inner bully? What steps do you take to remind yourself that what you are hearing from your inner critic is not necessarily true?

*As always, please seek the help of a professional if you don’t feel comfortable taking on this exercise on your own. We can all benefit from professional guidance and assistance when focusing on our mental health.

Healthy Routines: Honoring Yourself First

Today I took a bath and had a long call with my grandmother. I drank tea and a breakfast smoothie because when I feel physically good, I have more energy to be kind to others and myself. When I punish myself and do not tend to my needs the cycle of negativity keeps flowing and sometimes gains strength until there is that breakdown, an emotional cloudburst of activity and moments I regret or am embarrassed by, more sadness, more darkness to experience and process. But then closeness, more connection and deeper love and trust. 

Oh the dance of relationships and existing goes on and on and inside all of our emotions are raging. Look at this, feel this, it’s like when I am soaked in the luxury of sustained joy and the universe reaches out – all of these long dormant relationships suddenly seek to rekindle, the labor of boundaries becomes real and necessary. 

When I give more than I am ready to give I feel the strain, at first it’s slight a twinge, I will stop but only after this NEXT time. I abandon myself and am left feeling raw, ravaged, not because someone else dared to ask me for help, but because I chose them over me. I made them the focus and not myself. I gave away my power, not because I wanted to but because I wanted them to like me. Their liking me was more important that my liking me. I gave in because I wanted to please them, I wanted them to be happy and in doing so I made their happiness the priority and mine secondary. I abandoned myself. I gave away my torch, my power, my light to someone else who unapologetically and likely unaware of my circumstances accepted my generosity because I encouraged them to, I gave them permission and then behaved as if it were no big deal while inside I am raging. I have inconvenienced my own family, my own priorities in order to please someone else. Made their life easier and mine more difficult, why? Why did I do this? In order to be liked. In order to fill some void in myself externally that needs to be filled internally. 

And that is the deeper lesson, that finding my value needs to come from internal reflection and self-love. I cannot seek my self-worth in the approval of others for then I will be like a well in the desert – poured into but never satiated. Always thirsty for more while never grateful for what I have. And I don’t want to live like that. I want to be able to see my own intrinsic value. To look at myself in the mirror and see myself the way I see my dearest friends. With love, appreciation, and highest regard. And that comes from seeing myself the way I see those I love – it comes from self-work, and care. It comes from attention to my own needs first and caring for my inner child as I would any other little girl who is in need. And caring for myself, loving myself is where my value and strength lie. 

My value does not exist in the approval of others – which is fleeting and inconsistent. My value does not exist in service to others or in what I am able or willing to give away. My value exists because I exist. My value is ethereal and human. My value is intrinsic and unchanging – it is real, and it is unearned. It cannot be taken away or diminished. My value – and yours – is limitless, boundless, and free. I am working to celebrate this and make this the focus because when I am full from the inside, I am full enough to overflow. I am so deeply nourished and cared for that I have enough to share, more to give. And that is when I am ready to give to others. That is what I am able to give to others without resentment or feeling jealous that I don’t have what I am giving. I give what is extra, I give what I do not need, I give the excess that I cannot possibly absorb or use. I give from abundance and grace – I do not take the food from my mouth to give to another. I take the food from my overflowing table and share that. I welcome friends because I have so much. I do not starve myself or my family to feed yours because if I am starving I have nothing to share. 

And this is biblical – remove the plank from your own eye before removing the splinter from someone else’s – or in airplane jargon – affix your own mask before doing so for another passenger. We cannot serve others if we are already depleted. We cannot complete the race if we do not rest or stop for water. Pressing on through pain and exhaustion is not a mark of heroism. Martyrdom is no a gift it is an attempt to shame others into giving more than they are able because you do not have boundaries. And that is not ok. That is not to be celebrated. Give yourself the gift of self-love, care, and nourishment. Tend to your own wounds before attempting to operate on someone else. Let your own well be filled, and share with others the sweet water of life that you no longer need because you are refreshed and satiated. Do not take from yourself and give to others because that is false, that is giving from resentment or because you value the approval of others more than you care for yourself. Love yourself first, love your family first, and then give from that abundance. Rejoice in giving freely and without reservation or strings attached. Leave the gifts on the table with no thought of getting something back or of your gift being appreciated, accepted, or taken. We give the gift and pull our hands back and hope that it is received with the same intention it was given – freely and with love. Love that has no expectations because we have enough to share.