Meditation Will Make you Happier, Healthier, and Help You Achieve Your Goals

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I’m not a seasoned meditator by any means. I only started meditating roughly six months ago. I tried my hand at it before that, but was never very successful. All of that changed recently though, and now I want to tell everybody, including you, about meditation.

I’m a practical gal who likes to know how something might benefit me before I do it. I also like to know that there is some kind of research to back stuff up. I could just write a little post about how meditation has changed my life and leave it as that, but I think I own you a bit of an explanation. I also hope to compel you to give it a try if you’re not doing it already.

The benefits of mediation …

Meditation reduces your stress and anxiety levels. This was especially attractive to me because I used to be quite a worrier. Since beginning a meditation practice I’ve noticed a steady drop in the amount of worrying I do.

Worrying kills your ability to solve problems and zaps your creative energy. When you meditate your heart rate decreases and your breathing slows enabling you to relax. Boy, does that make a difference when you are trying to make art. Just being able to relax gives a boost to my ability to create.

Meditation helps build brain connectivity. It may even slow the thinning of connections associated with age related problems like dementia.

It helps increase your awareness. I don’t know if you know anyone who seems like they sleepwalk through life. Maybe you feel like you do that yourself. I think a lot of people do, but once you start meditating you become more aware of what is going on in the world around you. That may be connected to the increased brain connectivity. They found that monks who meditate have heightened sensory, auditory, and visual perception.

By far the most interesting research I read about meditation suggests that people who meditate are better at self-regulation. They are better able to change their behaviors to help them achieve their goals.

You can read about the research behind these claims by clicking the links above. With all these benefits why wouldn’t you try meditation? It seems easy enough and it only takes a few minutes from day.

I’ll give you a good reason or what I thought was a darn good reason. It’s hard. It’s hard to think about nothing and to quiet my thoughts. It’s hard to stop looking at the computer, all the gosh darn time. Think about this, how much would you benefit if you just decided to do something that may be hard at first that will change your life?

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Since meditating I’ve noticed a marked decrease in my stress and anxiety levels. I’m better at managing my time. I’m better at getting things done. Somehow taking time to meditate actually seems to give me more time during the day, not less. On top of all of that, I’m way more creative. If I can’t think of anything to write taking a few minutes to do a quick meditation really helps.

Here are some You Tube videos I used to help me learn to meditate. Starting out doing these guided meditations helped me figure out what to do. Now I meditate without them.

Try it. Take just a few minutes starting today to be calm, and quiet, and still. It will change your life if you stick with it, I promise.

How to Start Writing

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Writing is hard work. That’s why so many people who say they want to write a book never get around to doing it. It takes discipline and determination to sit down and confront that blank page day after day.

Most people are completely capable of that kind of discipline. Most people could write a book if they really put their minds to it, but most people don’t have a strong enough reason to do it. You find the courage to write if your reason to write is strong enough.

I write because I have a story to tell. I have a message that I feel compelled to share with the world. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you already know what the message is. It is that we have limitless potential, but as people we tend to sell ourselves short and settle for less than we should. It’s a shame really and if my  writing inspires just one person to step out into the big wide open and start living their dream, I’ve done my job.

So, why do you want to write? You don’t have to have a big message to tell. You might just want to entertain people after they’ve finished a hard day at work. That’s great. Entertainment is an important part of life.

So, what’s your message? What do you want to share with the world through your writing?

It is important that you have a strong sense of purpose because that sense of purpose will carry you through when times get rough. That sense of purpose will keep you motivated when it seems like the words just won’t come out of you.

Now that you know why you’re writing, it time to get to the business at hand … actually sitting down and doing the writing. Here are some tips to help you get started.

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Set aside a time to write. If you don’t schedule writing into your day, it’s more than likely that you just won’t get around to it. That’s why you need to set a time that you will dedicate to writing everyday. You might have to get up a bit earlier than usual to get the time alone you need to work. Many people do that so they can have some quiet time. I’m not a morning person so I tend to write at night. Whatever time is best for you is fine. We’re all different.

Find a space. You’ll need a space to write. It should be a quiet corner of your home that doesn’t get a lot of through traffic. I write in my bedroom. Right now I don’t even have a desk. I just have a TV table set up in the corner and a good chair. Put things in that space that inspire your creativity. Hang some paintings and pictures you like. Put quotes on the wall that motivate you. Keep inspiring books nearby.

Tell people in your household about your new writing schedule. Make sure people know that this is your writing time and not to disturb you. Don’t take any phone calls or surf the web. This time is for you and your writing.

Get rid of all distractions. I just mentioned phone calls and the internet. Phones and the internet can be the top distractions for writers. If you have a computer that doesn’t have an internet connection that you can use to write on that’s great. If not you might want to consider using a program like Cold Turkey that limits what you can access on your computer during times that you set. I use it to block me from getting on distracting sites like Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube.

Now that you’ve got your writing space and time set up you need to figure out what to write.

A lot of your writing time early on might consist of sitting and thinking. That’s fine. I find that I like to think about a story quite a bit before I actually start writing it. It is important to get words down though otherwise you’re not writing, you’re just thinking.

Start out by doing some stream of consciousness writing. Just write down what’s on your mind and see where it takes you. I have found that  I can end up with a story or personal essay that goes in some pretty interesting directions just from writing down some silly thoughts in my head.

Writing prompts can also be helpful. I never use them, but a lot of people do. They can be a good writing exercise. Writer’s Digest puts writing prompts up on their site to give you ideas for stories. Find them here. There are lots of sites that put up writing prompts. Just do a “creative writing prompts” search online and you’ll find plenty of sites.

When you’re feeling stuck sometimes just changing something will help. Write outside on your porch or at a park if the weather is nice. Go to the library to write.

When I’m feeling stuck about what to write, I find that simply changing the way I’m writing helps a lot. For example, I wrote the first draft for this post in a notebook. I often write by hand when I have trouble getting started. It works for me just about every time.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Just write. Don’t look back at it and get all judgmental in the beginning. You’re just trying to start the habit. As you practice you’ll get better. There is always a gap between what you want to do and what you can actually do. That’s healthy. It keeps you growing and striving.

So get to writing and don’t forget to have a good time while you’re doing it.

 

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How to Reclaim Your Creativity

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The buzz of an alarm clock woke you up this morning. You showered, dressed, saw your family off to school and work, before joining the masses commuting to their nine to five jobs. You sit in traffic listening to the radio and wondering when your life turned into this.

Why are you spending most of your days at a job you don’t care about anymore? Why are you working so hard to build someone else’s company? Whatever happened to your ideas … your dreams? Whatever happened to you?

When you were younger you had time to dream, to create. You painted. You drew. You wrote stories that brought your thoughts to life. You wrote songs that laid your heart bare to the world. Doing all of that made you feel so alive.

Sometime between then and now you stopped creating. You got too busy. Life got in the way of that meditative time alone when your mind was free to imagine and dream. I know how it happens because it happened to me too.

Now you’re ready to reclaim your creativity, recapture your dreams, and feel alive again. Here are some steps to help you get started.

How to reclaim your creativity …

Remember that it’s possible. Look back at your old work. Read a story you wrote in college. Look through your old art portfolio. Find those recordings of songs you wrote and listen to them. Don’t be judgmental or harsh with yourself. Leave your inner critic in the next room, and look, and listen with an open heart. Remember how the act of creating made you feel.

Find inspiration. Go to a museum. Look at the work of your favorite artists online. Listen to the music you love. Read an author that inspires you.

Write down your ideas. Inspiration hits you when you least expect it. Carry a small notebook with you where you can jot down ideas when they hit. Often times, I get great ideas for stories or blog posts in bed just before sleeping. If I don’t write the idea down, I never remember it in the morning. The ideas that you write down will help you when you’re sitting in front of a blank page feeling stuck.

Set aside time. This may be the hardest part. Having no time is the reason you stopped creating in the first place, but I assure you that if you make art one of your priorities, you’ll be able to find time. Start with just fifteen minutes a day. Just take fifteen minutes everyday to work on creating something. You might have to wake up fifteen minutes earlier to do it. You might have to give up a television show to find the time. Look at your schedule and find fifteen minutes that you can dedicate to your art. Once you get into creating, that fifteen minutes will soon become thirty or an hour or more.

Enjoy the process. For me the best thing about art is the feeling I have while I’m doing it. Don’t judge yourself. Don’t look at what you’re making, decide it sucks, and then give up. Be in the moment and enjoy the process of creating. Feel the joy in it and start to live again.

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What’s Your Motivating Principle?

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What do you believe in? What is the motivating principle behind what you do? What is the idea that makes your soul hum? Do you have one? I’m sure you do, you just haven’t acknowledged it yet.

Having an overarching principle that you stand for will help motivate you when times get tough. It will help keep you focused when you start to drift.

Mine is written as the subheading for this blog, and I thought I’d take a moment to explain it to you.

Imagine the possibilities …

Many people sell themselves short. They don’t have a broad vision for themselves. They don’t see what is possible in their lives. Instead they follow the status quo and live the lives they feel like they should. They may ignore their dreams. They might not even think that they can dream, but every success starts with a dream. Every big change begins with a tiny idea that grew.

I know that people are often times capable of much more than they give themselves credit for. They can do amazing things that change the lives of others and change the world. They just need to have that vision for themselves first. Then they need to start taking consistent action to make that vision a reality.

The first step is having the dream. The first step is being able to imagine what is possible for you. That’s why the phrase imagine the possibilities is at the top of this blog. That’s why I write. I want to inspire people to recognize what is possible for them.

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That’s what I stand for, but what do you stand for? Why do you do the things you do? If you don’t know yet start to think about it. What are your interests? What common thread runs through the entertainment you seek out … the conversations you have … the books you read? Name it. define it. Write it down so when you find yourself drifting you can remind yourself what you’re doing and why.

What principle motivates you?

Consistent Action is Key

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I did a headstand today. It may sound like nothing to you, but for me it really mattered. You see, I’m not exactly the most graceful person in the world. I’d trip and fall all the time. I drop stuff a lot, especially in stores. Luckily, I shop mainly in thrift stores, so if I break a vase it’s probably not going to cost me anymore than a couple bucks.

Anyway besides being clumsy, I do yoga–clumsy yoga. I have for a number of years, but there are certain postures that just always seem beyond me. Headstands and handstands are two of them. It’s a combination of skill and fear that prevents me from doing these two postures.

Recently, I’ve decided to take a new approach to both my yoga practice and my life. I’ve decided to chose on thing and focus on getting it done.

There are so many distraction in today’s society that it’s no wonder that most people feel overwhelmed. The day comes to an end and even though you were busy all day you find yourself wondering what you did exactly. At least I do.

Setting aside time each day to consistently work on a specific task has helped me accomplish something I thought would be impossible. Part of the solution was breaking the task down into definable steps. Learning to do a headstand started with doing more shoulder strengthen postures and putting my head down like I was going to go into a headstand but not doing it yet. I was just practicing the first steps and putting together the individual pieces … strong shoulder girdle, strong core, hip and leg flexibility.

With consistent daily practice I was able to do a headstand in thirty days. That’s pretty good considering how impossible it seemed to me when I started this task.

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I’ve been using the same technique to finish the podcast I’d recorded of my first novel, The Box. I’ll be editing the last bit of it today. Then I’ll just need to figure out how to make the files into MP3s.

Both of these tasks seemed too large to accomplish just thirty days ago, but committing to work on them for a few minutes daily made them totally achievable.

Consistent action is the key. If you have something that you’ve always wanted to do that just seems impossible, try breaking it down into smaller steps. Then work on it for a short amount of time everyday until the task is accomplished. You’ll be surprised at what you can achieve.

This Too Shall Pass … Long-Term Thinking will Help You Manage Short-Term Problems

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Yesterday wasn’t a good day for me. I discovered aphids on my tomato plants. I’ve been editing together chapters of my novel, The Box, into a podcast and managed to lose the edits for an entire episode. I’d been working for hours on these edits trying to figure out how to use effects to make my voice sound good and all of my work was lost. I know I should be saving as I go, but we don’t always do what we should. On top of that my head ached all day long and the pain just wouldn’t subside. I just felt generally like there were far too many things to do and not enough time.

We all have those days when we feel like dropping everything, driving to the airport, and hopping on the next plane to Turkey. Come on, I can’t be the only one.

There was a time when the events above would’ve sent me into an anxious worried state that prevented me from getting anything done at all. I would’ve dealt with the day by going back to bed, but I’ve turned over a new leaf … or at least I’m trying to.

One of the things that has worked the best for toning down my anxiety and helping me get through less than ideal situations is simply realizing that this too will pass. It seems cliche, but sometimes cliches are true. When you’re in the moment, it’s easy to get so wrapped up in it that you feel like it will last forever. Remembering that it won’t really goes a long way for me.

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Thinking in the long-term brings your life into perspective. I’ll do something about the aphids. I’ll be re-edit that podcast episode tomorrow. My headache is most probably not an aneurysm and will go away. Looking at these concerns with today’s perspective they seem silly, but at the time they were huge to me. Maybe I’m a bit of a drama queen.

Remember to look at the long-term. We are constantly moving through time. Nothing lasts. The good and the bad all pass eventually. Experience them, feel them, and let them pass through your fingers tips to make room for the experiences that lay ahead.

Each day brings new experiences and new opportunities. The question is, what are you prepared to do with them?

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Rest in Peace Dr. Maya Angelou

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I was in a thrift store looking at vintage coffee pots when I heard the news on the radio. Maya Angelou had died and my heart grew heavy with grief.

Even as a young girl, Maya Angelou was someone I admired and respected. Then the cadence of her voice mesmerized me. I sat in awe of this tall black woman that everyone seemed to listen to. As I got older and started to understand more of what she said her wisdom astounded me. I used to wonder how someone could live such an exciting life. I used to wonder how anyone could experience so much in one lifetime.

She was one of the reasons I decided to become a writer. She was one of the reasons I started writing poetry. For her influence I will forever be grateful because this woman who I never really knew helped form some of the fundamental parts of me.

The world has lost a great woman today. She will definitely be missed.

Cole Haan “Maya Angelou (Director’s Cut)” from Ben Hughes on Vimeo.

Overcome Negative Thinking with These Two Simple Steps

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Some of us are naturally negative thinkers. Worry, complaints, and negativity just seem flow into our heads. Despite what you may think in the past I have been known to do a bit of worrying. Actually I still do, but I’m overcoming it. So I thought I’d use this post to tell you how I’ve been getting my act together. I’m far from perfect and still find myself slipping back into worry sometimes, but when I do I have the tools to stop.

Negative thinking is natural. We all do it sometimes. Some of us do it more than others. The problem with negative thinking is the effect it has on your life and your well-being.

When I was first trying to overcome my problems with negative thinking, I read that I should replace all of my negative thoughts with positive thoughts. I tried that and on my goodness did it give me a headache. There were just too many negative thoughts in my head and attempting to replace them all with positive thoughts took up so much brain space that I was finding it difficult to do much else. The average person has 55,000 thoughts a day. Trying to manage all of those is just exhausting.

So I decided that replacing every negative thought with a positive one was just not going to work for me. Instead, I decided to take a simpler course of action, acknowledging the negative thought and then letting it go. I used to hold onto negativity with all my might. I was like a clinched fist all the time. It was so stressful, but when I decided to release those negative thoughts I could feel my body relax.

I don’t know about you, but I used to go into a negative spiral. I would hold onto and kind of riff on a negative thought for quite a while. Then I’d turn my attention to another, and then another.

Not holding onto those negative thoughts and feelings is the first step to overcoming negative thinking. There is an important second step too. This may seem a little touchy feely and new agey to you. I hate to admit it, but I’m a little touchy feely and new agey. That’s just how I roll.

As you start this practice of letting go of negative thoughts, you should also start a practice of gratitude. That’s right I said it. I promise you it won’t hurt. It won’t make you start wearing crystals and seeing auras, but it will help you remember all the reasons you have to be happy, and that certainly does improve your life.

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When you get up in the morning take some time to quietly reflect on life. I like to take my dog for a walk first thing in the morning. After you’ve had some time to clear your head get out a piece of paper and write down ten things you’re thankful for. Be detailed. You’ll be doing this every morning so it’s important to be detailed. You shouldn’t try to write down different things everyday without repeating. Once you make your list fold it up, and put it in your pocket, or your purse, or whatever you carry around with you during the day. Take your list out three times during the day and read it. Don’t just skim it. Really read it and think about the things you wrote on it.

Combining these two activities, releasing your negative thoughts and gratitude, will help you think more positively in your daily life. Don’t believe me? That’s your prerogative, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to try it out. Changing your thinking is the first step to changing your life, and you’re probably here because you’re ready to do just that.

Try it out for thirty days. I made a little gratitude journal to help kick start your gratitude practice. Just sign up for my mailing list below to get your free PDF gratitude journal. Take the first steps toward change. I’ll be there to cheer you on alone the way.

Inspiration delivered directly to your inbox …

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Age is No Excuse … Start Living the Life You Imagined Today

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On Monday, I turn forty. That’s a big deal birthday, but to be honest, I haven’t really thought much about it until today. At ten all I wanted was to be grown so I could do whatever I wanted whenever. At twenty I felt like the world was one big, terrifying adventure. The possibilities laid out before me where endless. At thirty I cried when I realized that I was a full-fledged adult and I no longer had any excuses.

Do I have regrets at forty? Yeah I have plenty, but fretting about the past won’t accomplish much. The future still lays out before me with all of its possibilities. Whatever I dream I can make happen with work and a clear vision of where I want to be.

Many people use age as an excuse as to why they can’t do something.

“I’m too old to learn a foreign language.”

“It’s too late to change careers.”

“I have too many responsibilities to travel the world.”

You know what. I’m tired of excuses. We only get one go around on this planet so you better make it gosh darn good. What do you want to do? What impact do you want to make? Who do you want to help?

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I’m forty now (not technically now, but in a few days) and there is still a whole pile of stuff I want to get done. I can decide that I’m too far gone to start anything new and piddle away my days doing things that don’t challenge me at all or I can set some goals and get busy achieving them.

Time is going to keep on passing no matter what you chose to do. Next year you could be a whole older and a year closer to accomplishing your big dreams or you could be a year older and a bit more annoyed with yourself because you never even tried to live your dreams.

Do you want to write a book, or learn to play the guitar, or speak Spanish, or learn to draw, or bike ride across the country, or become a public speaker… The possibilities are endless. Well get busy doing it. Time waits for no one as they say. The future will look so much better if you take some time to imagine the possibilities and start moving toward them.

Be Yourself … The World Will Just Have to Adjust

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There are a ton of expectations for us in this world. We’re expected to go to school, graduate, and get a nine to five job. We’re expected to buy a house and have a family, but what if the things you want most in life are completely different from the expectations?

I struggled with societal expectations my entire life. I was constantly worried about what I should be doing or what was expected of me by friends and family. I didn’t pursue the paths that truly interested me because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. Never mind the fact that I was disappointing myself.

Why did I let my desires take a backseat to the expectations of others? Maybe it’s because I was taught to please others. Maybe it’s because I never thought of my voice as important enough to matter. Maybe it’s because deep down I thought I had little value in this world.

I don’t really matter … that was the story I told myself again and again. It didn’t matter if it was true or not. For me those words were a convenient excuse–a cop-out. They allowed me to live small and not put my heart and soul into anything. They allowed me to live a life that I’d been assigned instead of choosing my own life.

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That whole situation ended up not really being good for anyone. I was miserable, and because I was miserable I was unable to be the best friend, daughter, or wife I could be. I was moving through this world trying desperately to be someone I was not and just ending up feeling desperate all the time.

There is no payoff in trying to be someone you’re not. It doesn’t make anything better. It might make life seem a bit easier on the surface, but in reality what you’re sacrificing is worth so much that life isn’t really easier at all.

Life is short. When you’re young it seems like you’ll live forever. As you get older forever starts to go by really fast.

I’ve stopped living the life that other people want me to live. I took some time to really examine what I was doing with my life and  realized that it was all wrong for me.

What do you really want? What are your passions? What are your dreams? Are you being authentic and living in a way that truly reflects your character? If you’re not you’re selling yourself short. If you’re not you’re robbing this world of your gifts.

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You are a unique individual who has a lot to offer to this world. If you are feeling the pull to follow a certain path, but ignore that, what exactly are you ignoring? You’re ignoring an opportunity to explore the possibilities that lay in front of you.

The future is wide open. The decisions you’ve made in the past have gotten you to the point you’re at today. If you start making different decisions right now, you’ll be building a new future for yourself. Let’s make that future one that is full of passion, inspiration, and a zeal for life.

Imagine the possibilities and then take the necessary actions to make those possibilities realities.

Be yourself. The world will just have to adjust.