Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Blog is Moving


I will no longer be posting here. All my old posts are available on the new site. Please join me there!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How to Change Your Focus

If you aren’t hitting your target, then there is a good chance that your focus is not on what you want and you are being distracted. So how do you keep your focus tight ? The steps below are not sequential, but rather different practices that allow you to strengthen your focus and can be used separately or together.

Step 1 : Become Aware of Your Focus
Until you become aware of what you are thinking your focus will automatically follow your thoughts. To create awareness of your thoughts you need to create a conscious practice throughout your day where you stop for 5 minutes and allow yourself to be the observer. I imagine it as me stepping outside of myself for a while so that I can watch my thoughts flittter by. You will find when you start that you get pulled into your thoughts and the story that they are telling. This is natural simply because it is what you have always done. When you find yourself engrossed in the story, stop, take a deep breath and start again. The more you practice, the more aware you become of what you are thinking and how your thinking affects your actions.
Practice : For 5 min every hour stop what you are doing and just watch your thoughts.

Step 2 : Practice Choosing Your Focus
Becoming aware of your focus is a long term strategy that requires continuous practice. A more direct approach to creating the right focus is to consciously choose it! What do I mean by consciously choose it ? Well, during your day how often do you remind yourself of what you have chosen to focus on ?

How do you start your day ? Do you just jump into your day ? Or did you spend 5 minutes creating a focus for your day with a set of things you want to achieve and ways of being you want to attain ? If you didn’t then your day will almost definitely not be yours and at the end of it you will find that you were pushed and pulled in any direction but the one you wanted to go.
Practice : For 5 min before you start your day, create it in your head first.
During the day, when you find yourself in a challenging situation or when your plan suddenly falls apart, do you stop and allow yourself to just check where you are and remind yourself of what your focus was ?
Practice : For 5 min every hour or so, remind yourself of how you created your day that
morning. Repeat, repeat, repeat
Focus on what you want or what makes you smile We are taught to focus on what isn’t working and if you pay attention during the day, you will start to hear that most of the conversations are about what is wrong. Well, what if nothing was wrong ? What if all that needed to change was how you see the world ? Start consciously looking for what is working and you will start to see more of that. You will also start to see more opportunities where other people just give up.
Practice : List 5 things that are working right now! List 3 things that made you smile!

Step 3 : Focus on what you have and be grateful.
I know, who doesn’t tell you to be grateful ? If you do one thing that will make a difference today it is this, just be conscious and grateful for what you have But it is important enough to be a step on its own and if you do one thing, do this. Being grateful is not a habit most of us have – instead we focus on what is missing, never being present to what we already have..

Step 4 : Know what you want to Create !
And if you don’t know, start to become aware of what you like and don’t like. Take the time to end each day with a short review…what worked today ? What didn’t ? What made my smile ? What didn’t ? And then tomorrow, focus on what is working.

Step 5 : Keep Practicing, especially when you are 'failing'
It sounds obvious, but this is a new habit you are creating. Don't get despondent when you find yourself failing to get it right first time. Keep practicing!!! And give yourself permission to fail!

It doesn't matter where or how you start, just start. It doesn't matter for how long, in fact sometimes less is more, just start! Why ever not ?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Not Hitting Your Target ? Why You Need to Manage Your Focus

Yes, it is about being good at what you do. But what happens when you have the skill set but you are still not getting where you want ? How do you pull it all together and create your ultimate goal ?

That was the big question I found myself asking back in 2000 after yet another year of getting nowhere diving. I was stuck at 121 meters and nothing I did really seemed to make a difference. I knew how to dive. I had practiced the skills over and over until they were unconscious reactions, yet somehow I could just not get that dive that would take me to the world record. I had to change something, because obviously what I was doing was not getting me where I wanted to go, but what ?

Hindsight being a wonderful thing I can now look back and see what I needed to let go of, what I was focusing on. For almost three years I was stuck because all I could see was how I wanted it to be. The more I wanted things to be the way I thought they should be, the more stuck I became. Let me put it another way – I was focused on the people around me and trying to get them to change. I was focused on the outcome, all things that I had no control of. What I needed to do was change my focus onto what I could control and what I could control was my skills and my choices.

This is where it can get tricky because you only have choices if you are able to accept what is, which means letting go of the word,‘should’. To do that I had to first become aware of how much time I spent bemoaning the fact that nothing was the way it should be. But here is the thing – things are what they are and wishing it is different will never change anything. The only way to create change is to use what you have and not wait for things to miraculously change.

I love this idea of changing my focus from the outcome which I can’t control, to myself and my actions all of which I can control. The moment I do that it feels like a huge load has suddenly been removed from my shoulders. I don’t have to control things anymore. I am not responsible and to blame for things I have no influence over! Now that my focus is on what I can do I feel more confident. It feels right because I am now the Master of my own Destiny!!!
The short and sweet summary
  • Stop focusing on the outcome and focus on what you can control, which are your actions.
  • Become aware of how often you expect the world to be the way it should be, which is not how it is and how that creates conflict and changes your behaviour
In case you were wondering what happened on my dive, well the moment I let go of forcing the world into the way I thought it should be and started to act on my own behalf, acting as if diving to world record depths was easy, as if I were already the deepest woman in the world, well, the moment I started that I went solo to 141 meters and that dive gave me full corporate sponsorship, an entire dive team and in the space of 6 months, my first world record dive attempt ( I reached 186 meters which would have been the Guinness record if an Italian diver had not made 211 meters the month before me).

I will blog about how to change your focus later this week, but until then, start practicing:
  • Become AWARE of what you are focusing on.
  • Do you focus exclusively on the outcome ?
  • Are you using the word SHOULD a lot ?
  • How aware are you of what ‘is’ ?
Start with something simple, like your golf game, but start!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How to NOT be Frustrated - A Beginners Guide

I don’t know about you, but living in today’s world is one non-stop frustration. If it isn’t traffic in the morning, it is queues to get anything done or irritating neighbours. The only time I am not irritated seems to be on those few and far between holidays…and even then something normally intrudes. Hardly an enlightened outlook and one that definitely does not fit into my stated objective this year of not letting other people and situations determine my responses and or emotional state of being ( a goal that I am not being wildly successful with), but as I have learnt over the years, the first step in changing a habit is becoming aware of how deeply entrenched that habit is. Gulp!
The more I pondered living an un-frustrated life the more I was reminded of a story from a story (The Inspector Shan series by Elliot Pattion, a really good series combining interested murder mystery in Tibet with a healthy dose of spirituality). Entrenched in this series is the life of the old monks in Chinese prison camps and how they still manage to keep who they are even under extreme physical stress. One of the quotes was how they see it as a challenge to their faith and serenity, the ultimate test if you will. That connected nicely to the concepts that Viktor Frankly talks about in his book , Man’s Search for Meaning (for those of you still exploring the book shelves who have not come across Viktor Frankl, he is an Auschwitz survivor) - here again is an example of a man who did not lose himself even though the people and circumstances around him insisted he should. What did they know that I did not ? How do you retain control over your emotional state of being regardless of who or what is around you ? Because that, that is the ultimate freedom.
Can you imagine not being controlled by the people and events around you ? Imagine how easy life would be if you could just be you, no matter what ?
One of my tricks when I face these challenges where I don’t want to be something is to imagine a situation that frustrates me (enter really irritating neighbours who live practically on my verandah and love loud music) and then imagining the situation the way I want it to be. Well my first guess on this is to remove the neighbours, but that is not something I control. Nor do I control the volume they play their music at, which brings me to what I can control (because if wishing my neighbours away and their music dead worked, we would not be having this conversation). If I took away the frustration I would be at peace with myself, I would be noticing everything BUT the thing that is frustrating me...what was that ?
I would be noticing everything BUT what was frustrating me! Hmmm! It made sense – when something irritates you the only thing you can focus on is that thing. It is instance. There I will be, quietly listening to TV, not noticing the neighbours at all…and then there is a quiet patch and now I can hear them…. End even when the show gets going again, all I can hear is them. I go from sane (well relatively J )…to insane in microseconds. My thoughts are fully hooked in.
But what if  I started to practice focusing on other things ?
What if the problem with anger or frustration (or any of the emotions that require active, consistent fuelling by thoughts and attention) is simply that I am focusing on what I don’t want, rather than what I want ?
Putting it into Practice:
1)      Know the rules :
-          You can’t create a negative, so what would replace the thing you don’t want ?
-          You can’t wish away things you can’t control, so stop focusing on them, on the people or the outcome and bring it back to yourself, what can you control ?
2)      Practice
3)      Give yourself permission to get it wrong. Change requires practice.
What would change if I started to focus on what is working in that situation ? Like the sound of the birds in the garden, the way the light reflects off the clouds, the warmth of the summer sun. To my surprise it worked. But it took effort to distract myself and unhook from those pesky thoughts.
It is indeed humbling to think that I have spent years blaming other people and events for my emotional state of being, only to discover, I had the power all along, but now that I know…. I will practice until I can spend a day at peace, no matter who or what is in my life. Could you ? Why not ?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Most of Us No Longer Fit in, so Now What ?

I was struck by a comment I heard myself make, that one of the problems we are experiencing in South Africa is that no-one seems to fit in anymore. I definitely don’t - I am the wrong race (white), the wrong gender (female), the wrong weight (over), live in the wrong place (northern suburbs), drive the wrong car (cheapest) and either have too much or not enough money depending on the audience. You would be wrong to assume a darker skin would solve this problem – successful Africans no longer fit in because they have betrayed their culture by somehow being successful (the term used is coconuts) – which is totally bewildering because the whole point of the new South Africa was to create success across all race groups and sexes.
It used to be easy to find your place and fit in - there were strong traditions that told you exactly where you fitted, except these days those traditions seem more and more antiquated and restrictive – who wants to be told that they can’t live the life they want because of a label like gender or ethnicity ? Who wants to be just like the 60 and 70 year older leaders who insist things have not changed ? Who wants to be stuck in the past ?
But what is the present ?
If I Can’t look to tradition, then where do I look to find my fit ? The magazines and TV shows that punt Hollywood consumerism ? Well, I don’t fit into that either. So who am I ? Where do I fit ? What happens if I refuse the labels society and tradition are forcing on me ?
I want to be the master of my own destiny but it is more than that, I want to feel confident and capable and able to manage any moment of any day - no matter what that moment might be. The problem is that until I find a strong identity I have no voice. How do I react ? Who do I look to for guidance ? Where are my role models ? All I felt was lost, desperately trying to be who the person in front of me wanted me to be, trying to find out who I should be.
The more I searched the more lost I felt and then it occurred to me that maybe I didn’t need to fit in. What if I could choose for myself who I am ? What if this was not so much a process of finding myself but a process of defining myself?
I tried it out in one of the most disempowering situations I have ever been in - watching my husband-to-be battle to recover in hospital after a bad car accident. I was held hostage by the nursing staff – if I complained they stopped even pretending to care and if I didn’t complain, they would not step up their game and actually give him the care he needed. In desperation I phoned my life coach and she asked me the question that changed my life, “How I wanted to feel ? “
Suddenly I saw a way out of the darkness. If I knew how I wanted to feel, then I would know who I wanted to be which meant I would know how to react, what to say and to who. It wasn’t easy by any means, but it was strangely liberating knowing that every decision I was making wasn’t based on what my vague idea of what I should be doing. I could not control the outcome, but I would know that I had stepped up and done what I needed to do to have no regrets no matter what.
Perhaps you are one of the lucky one’s with a very clear sense of who you are and so how to act and react and manage every moment of your day, but if you are not, then why not start to choose ?
Why not choose how you want to feel ?  Why not choose who you want to be?  It doesn’t matter who you were or who your parents were, in fact, the past doesn’t matter at all in this process. What matters are the decisions you start making now! What matters is this moment, the present because your present becomes your past.
It is not about who you are now, it is about who you want to be, so get that clear in your head. Find the emotion you want to be feeling and then do whatever it takes to create that. You have nothing to lose, so why not start to find yourself by choosing yourself.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Lessons on Mastering Your Life – Letting go of the Fight (#MasteringMyLife)

The essence of #ClaimingMyself is to create freedom and empowerment which translates into the ability to actively create joy and the life I want to live. In that search I read almost continuously, finding inspiration at the oddest moments, triggered by the oddest things. The following story from the Dalai Lama is one that just would not let me go. It just seemed to connect, speaking to the constant struggle and fight that seems to be my experience of life. When asked why he didn’t fight back when the Chinese took over Tibet, the Dalai Lama looked down, swung his feet just a bit, then looked back up at us and said with a gentle smile,
“Well war is obsolete, you know!”.
Then after a few moments, his face grave, he said, “Of course the mind can rationalise fighting back…but the heart, the heart would never understand. Then you would be divided in yourself, the heart and the mind, and the war would be inside of you”
I have never before labelled the turmoil inside, ‘war’, but what if I was at war with the world ? It made sense – the conflict between what feels right and what my thoughts insist is right and it got me asking what it would take to let go of all that ? Could I let go of the fact that no-one seems to respect the traffic laws placing my life at risk speeding and overtaking dangerously ? Could I let go of the need to force the world into what it should be and accept what it is ? What about things that I fundamentally believe are wrong - Murder, rape…all those nasties ? Could I simply breathe in and let it all go ? Imagine not being responsible for changing any of that ? Imagine the freedom, the relief ? Who am I without the fight ?
The possibility of living calm, accepting serenity regardless of what is happening around me is an intriguing one. I recently started to read a series of books based in Tibet by Eliot Paterson (The Inspector Shan mysteries) in which a convicted Chinese ex-party man meets Tibetan monks in the Chinese/ Tibetan prisons. A hard read – in fact I put the first book down, unable to read about the torture and sheer decimation of Tibetan culture that the Chinese have and are enforcing. Then I picked it back up and didn’t stop reading until I had finished all five books. Somehow Paterson was able to weave in the essence of what it means to be spiritually advanced. One of the most telling moments was where Chan is describing the life of the older monks in the prison camp. He says that he wonders if for the old monks they even notice the Chinese guards and the physical conditions, torture and pain connected as they are to another world in their meditations. Their lives are simply about compassion and non-war, no fight.
My life is hardly as extreme, yet the challenge doesn’t seem any smaller for that. Can I let go ? Probably! After a long struggle with myself that exhausts me I will finally find that moment of balance and let go. It is a hard thing to let go of - being right and expecting the world to be better than it often is.
But I can’t seem to let go of it. What if ?
What would open up for you if you let go of the fight ? What would your life be like if you could remain at peace with yourself ? What would it take to create that ?