In my mind, one of the biggest failings of how we live is the amount of effort everything takes! We have deified productivity to the extent that any form of rest gets undermined by thoughts of “I should” or even just “I could” be doing this useful thing instead. As a result, we often mistake numbing out for resting. We have to go to an extreme to allow ourselves to ‘do’ rest at all.
Well, when I began to look into how the big things in my life have actually happened, they haven’t come from a place of effort. They have come from a place of heartfelt desire, open mindedness, and relaxation. Don’t believe me? Here are 6 ideas that can lead you to the same place.
1. Relax into things. Both your body and mind function better in a state of relaxed alertness.
Your body experiences the benefits of regulation across all its systems – for example, a well regulated nervous system is highly responsive, which means that it moves in both directions – heightened awareness and then back into calm and relaxed. Similarly the study of heart rate variability demonstrates we want variability – heart springing into action to pump more blood around the body when needed, and then returning to a gentler rhythm. We seem to forget that the return to baseline is just as important as the spring into action, and so often feel tired, wired or sick as a result.
The mind is similar. If you make your decisions from a state of tension and stress, you no longer have access to all your creativity and resourcefulness. The ability to see things anew, from different perspectives, is far more switched on when we are relaxed, and even particularly when we’ve taken a step back and done something else for a bit. I’ll always remember an early teacher of mine, William Bloom, talking about watching football when he had a big decision or an emotional upset, and then only taking action afterwards. The football got him out of the stress state (or at least into a different type of stress state!) and then he could think clearly and decide on his next intentional move.
So, to summarise my first point – RELAX, Then Think, RELAX, Then Do.
The coherent breath (breathing in for a count of 6, breathing out for a count of 6) is particularly good for creating relaxed alertness, as opposed to extending the out breath, which is better for relaxation where you can wind down and rest for a while.
2. Accept yourself as you are and then set yourself up for success.
Much of our schooling is based on bringing ourselves up to scratch in subjects we don’t excel at, rather than in focusing on developing our strengths into superpowers. Whatever you may think of that as an educational choice, as an adult you can choose where to put your focus, and my strong suggestion is that you focus on where you’re at your best, based on the person that you are. For example, if you are someone who thrives on variety – think about how you can give yourself that both in your work and your leisure time. Even simple things like varying your route to work, spicing up your exercise routine, or trying some new recipes will help.
In the workplace, what support do you need from others around you? Are you someone who needs to be left alone with clearly delegated levels of authority, so you know exactly when you need external sign off? Or do you need lots of interaction with people? Do you do better working in the morning, or are you better in the afternoon or evening?
The point is, there isn’t a right way to be, there is only YOUR right way. Reducing friction in your route to personal or professional success makes sense.
3. Love yourself better.
Think of a small child – how often do they thrive when criticised, belittled, ignored or berated? And how often when encouraged, celebrated, supported, guided and loved?
Why treat yourself any differently? Yours is the voice you hear the most, inside your head – make it a kind one and see how things slowly begin to transform in your life.
4. Embrace the experience of your life.
It is hard when life is serving us something other than what we want – yet I have found embracing the situation as it is to be more effective than sticking my head in the sand. The more you resist the parts of life you don’t love, the bigger those parts grow, taking up disproportionate amounts of your time and energy. If there is nothing you can change, then the most practical solution is to accept it as it is and look for ways to make it more bearable – can you be more effective? Can you incentivise or reward yourself?
I have often found that when I step out of resistance into acceptance, I find elements of the situation that I can gain satisfaction from, and indeed come to enjoy.
And of course, if life is serving you delight, why would you not want to embrace and amplify it?
5. Connecting to something larger than you will help you feel better.
We are familiar with the concept that you can’t pour from an empty cup, even though as a society it can still feel like it’s tricky to move out of a wellbeing deficit into a plentiful supply for all the tasks and responsibilities demanded.
One of the simplest and most effective things you can do to increase your supply of wellbeing is to connect to something larger than you.
This is why going out for a walk is so helpful – connecting you to nature and the wider world – for example. Or getting away from your daily tasks to your choir, or your fitness class, or your church. Connecting to people, to the natural world, to what lifts your spirit. In those things we regain a sense of perspective that the minutiae obliterate.
That sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself is also a great succour when loneliness is gnawing at the gates.
6. Gratitude is the emotion with the highest vibration.
This is a message that I’ve found in so many different places over the last decade – from The Mayo Clinic to Brené Brown, from spiritual teachers and coaches, from the person in the queue ahead of me in the supermarket. We know that gratitude is transformative. Now it is time to actively practise it. I’ve never been that keen on the ‘list three things you’re grateful for’ approach.
I prefer to magnify gratitude when it occurs, for example by sharing it with someone, and to actively look for opportunities to express it.
I find then I can feel the gratitude and feel the shift happen in real time. Something about sharing and expressing gratitude to and with others elevates everyone. It is beautiful to experience.
What do these 6 ideas have in common? They are ways to relieve stress, to heal and to intentionally seek out the best – in yourself, in others, and in situations. We are capable of doing hard things, yet whenever we can, why not make them easier by cultivating a creative, resourceful and positive state of mind.