Was it really such a bad day after all?

Dealing with adversity

Days spin out of control, or go down the tubes, pretty quickly if we let them.

Challenging situations, unexpected delays, or a few irritating moments, especially early in the day, have a tendency to colour the day with challenge. We often drag the feeling of challenges and irritations from one moment to the next, bracing for the next frustration to arise. Jaws and shoulders tense, brows furrow, and patience grows short as we mentally stockpile the day’s irritations.

It used to feel like I was putting on armour to be prepared for the next thing to happen, almost looking for it.

I carried each challenging situation and offending person with me throughout the day, and then took them home with me in the evening to share with my loved ones. I had a habit of cherry-picking the negative stories from my day. Nice, hey? Quite honestly, I shopped my mind to find some gripe-worthy tidbit to share when I got home.

I wanted to share the love and thought complaining was a great conversation starter. Really Corinne?

This is where mindfulness came in. Awareness is curative.

I started to pay attention to how it felt in my mind and body when I was the recipient of others’ stories about every idiot on the road or what the guy at work did. I could feel myself bracing for the onslaught of negativity simply by looking at another’s face and demeanour. It didn’t feel good inside me as I let myself get pulled into the drama, experiencing the irritations from another’s life. Heck, I didn’t even need to meet “that guy.” I got to experience the effects of others’ ineptitude as a third-party. I could feel tense without leaving the house. Gaining awareness into myself and my own personal tendencies was fascinating.

As I paid attention to what was happening around me, I recognized I was not alone in my habit of reliving and reciting the negative. It’s a cultural tendency. We love to swap stories of the stupid and outrageous. As I recognized the power and control I was giving to unskilled individuals, I made a different choice.

It’s up to me to choose my focus of attention. It’s interesting to notice what we tend to focus on and which stories we feed.

It was powerful to ask myself to get real. Was it really a bad day filled with challenge, or was it really a few minutes of irritation that I fed throughout the day? What would it look like, and how would I feel, if I started to capture stories of the good stuff? Who on earth would be interested in hearing about the delights of my day?

Well, it turns out most people are.

I had to change and uproot that old bias for negativity I was born with, and had practiced so well. I began keeping a mental list of all the good things that happened and the things that went well, and reporting on those when I arrived home.

My brain started to change and I found myself looking for, and paying attention to, all of the good in life. This is what I choose to feed and nurture. I’m not pretending, or wearing rose-colored glasses, I’m just choosing which events I’m going to give my greatest attention and energy to.

Why on earth would I cause myself to suffer all day because of another’s actions or a challenging situation? How far do I want to carry them?

I notice when I slip and start to mentally compile a list of bad things. And then, I pause and ask myself an important question—did I really have a bad day or did I have 10 or 20 minutes of challenge during the day?

I’ve found there’s much more positive in life than negative. There’re more kind and intelligent people than challenging ones. Good stories are the conversation starter when I arrive home. I’ve upped the ante. Now, I not only speak about all the good, I write the good things down in my gratitude journal. I can hardly wait to reflect on my day and record the wonderful things.

The crazy thing is, I was the one whose mind, body, and emotions suffered as I fed the negative stories. And, I’m the one who benefits from my change of focus. It’s a simple practice, but it’s benefitted my life greatly.

We all could use a little good news today.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Outward success is the wrong measure

The wrong measure

Beautiful, talented, rich, and famous; all markers of success and happiness in the world we live in.

Yet, as we’re learning, this often isn’t the truth. Outer appearances aren’t always reflective of the inner experience and, as humans, what matters most is our inner experience.

The recent suicide of country singer Naomi Judd raises again for me the awareness that, too often, behind the external façade of success and achievement—even wealth and power—lurks an internal hell.

In working with successful people who’ve achieved great success and acquired every external thing they believed they wanted, too many tell me they’re feeling empty inside and are living empty lives of quiet desperation.

Beneath outer appearances of success resides a deep sense of unhappiness and loneliness. So, the search continues and the sense of isolation grows. We get busier, create more outer goals and check-lists of things to accomplish in the world, when what most needs attention is making friends with ourselves and developing a sense inner happiness.

We do the things we do, pursue the goals we’ve set, in an effort to feel fulfilled and to live a good and happy life. At the end of the day, what we really want is to be happy. When we’ve acquired or accomplished the things we’ve wanted but still feel lacking, we’re left to wonder what’s wrong with us and we can feel alone.

Happiness isn’t a wild goose chase. We’re simply looking in the wrong places. We’ve had it backwards. It’s not the outer-world version of success that creates lasting happiness. Happiness begins within ourselves.

What I’ve learned, on the road to gathering all this grey hair, is nothing I’ve ever accomplished in the world, none of the degrees and accolades in the outer world, have changed how I feel inside. It’s never been the job or situation that’s made me happy or unhappy. Trying harder to accomplish more only led me to burn-out.

As humans, we’re led to believe achieving all of our goals and completing things on our check-list of life will make us feel different inside. It does not. Where we need to turn our attention is within.

When we look to the outer-world accomplishments for our markers of success, we’re looking in the wrong place. In raising our daughters, it’s never been about the degrees they’ve accomplished or jobs they’ve held, my bigger question is always, “are they happy?”. What I want most for them is happiness.

It’s from our inner sense of happiness that success arises, not our worldly successes that determine our happiness.

In my journey to happiness, I had to first make friends with the person I was. I was a mess at the time, and I had tried hard. I had to quell the negative self-talk and start to care for myself the way I’d care for someone I love. I had to become my own best friend and learn to develop self-compassion. It was very challenging at first, as I was so conditioned into believing the constant internal criticism and listening to the negative thoughts I’d practiced for too long.

I had to reach out to others for help, some personal and some professional, to help support and guide me on the way. It was important to begin sharing what was really going on inside of me, instead of presenting only my Facebook version of myself to the world. I had to show-up for myself the way I did for people I love and care about.

I’ve learned that so many people felt the same way I did, that I wasn’t alone in feeling lacking, inadequate and unhappy. All of us had made the same mistake; believing the same myth of, “I’ll be happy when…” and chasing happiness in the outside world. As I share my story, I see the relief people fee when they learn they’re not alone; the relief often shows up in the form of tears.

In that shared humanity and knowing I wasn’t the only one feeling the way I did, that I could begin the journey upward into living a happy and fulfilling life. In my journey, spiritual community and mindfulness were essential to my recovery.

I now teach, write and speak about my journey for only one reason, to let others know they’re not alone. It’s no longer a surprise how many people see themselves in my story of burnout and recovery.

We have to start talking about these things. Reaching out and connecting with others and letting them know how you really feel. Seeking out a caring network of people to support you on your journey is essential because, trust me, you’re not alone.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Only you can write the story of your life

Writing a new script

The first chapter doesn’t tell the whole story. If it did, the rest of the book would have no purpose.

Every bestselling book is far from predictable, and is filled with plot twists, surprises, and enticing foreshadowing that beckons the reader onward. It’s delightful when the author throws in unexpected twists and the story has a surprise ending.

Even with the best books, once I’ve read a chapter, I’m done with it. There’s no need to go back to re-read previous chapters because I’ve been there, done that. If I do go back, it’s because there’s an important piece of information I want to retrieve, an insight I want to gain, and then I return to where I’d left off, and begin reading anew.

What’s true of books isn’t always true in the way we live life. As humans, we have a tendency to revisit and relive some of the most difficult and painful chapters of our history, and often believe the previous chapters determine how our lives must continue.

Earlier in my life, I spent most of my mental-coin reviewing past chapters. I rarely experienced the gifts and potential of the present moment. The chapters I revisited most were those filled with times of difficulty, pain, disappointment, failure and challenge. The negative situations were sticky and held power over me.

This human tendency to focus on what’s hard or painful is called the inherent negativity bias. This is an evolutionary capacity whose purpose is to increase our chances of survival, paying more attention to the challenging, the life threatening. For me, this tendency wasn’t at all helpful for my survival but, instead, was sucking the life out of me. I know this is true for many others.

Living in the virtual reality of the past often keeps us trapped in re-living painful chapters. Our minds and bodies re-experience each painful event as though it’s still happening. And we suffer, often limiting ourselves and what we’re willing to try, based on the difficulties of the past.

The good news is, with conscious awareness, we can learn to balance this negative tendency and allow more of the good stuff into our awareness. We can write a new chapter.

Freedom arrived when I realized I alone am the author and principal actor in my own story of life. Learning to create my own plot twists, turning the first chapters of my life on their ears, I’m living a life I never could have imagined. The early chapters of my life have simply become the back story from which surprising endings are created.

As it sits, my book of life is still incomplete, but I am betting it ends with a happily ever after. Each day offers us new possibility to write a different chapter.

Nobody else can write our book for us. It’s up to us to write our own story.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Feeling overwhelmed with all you have to do? Then STOP

STOP and take a pause

The faster I go, the further behind I get.

It often seems like there’s not enough time in the day for it all. When life feels like one big to-do list, we lose out and become stressed, as we miss out on the fun and pleasure of life.

If and when we get all of those things done, how much do we have left over to enjoy the product of our labour? Where’s our happiness?

With many demands placed upon us, and the many more we place upon ourselves, we’re left feeling stressed, as we’re pulled in several directions at the same time. At the end of the day, we fall into bed exhausted wondering where the day went. We may have trouble sleeping, thinking about what we didn’t do, or what we have to do the next day.

I used to have a tendency to get up earlier and work a little later when I had more to do. I felt spent, all used up, with nothing left. My brain grew hazy and unclear as the busyness pulled me forward. While lists helped keep me on track and eased some of the stress, I questioned my own mind. Simple solutions or things I needed to recall seemed elusive. At times, I thought I had early onset dementia. This, in and of itself, caused me additional stress.

Like many people, I had a habit of “crazy busyness.” I was overwhelmed, and felt like an elastic-band under tension, ready to snap. And often, I did.

At times, I honestly wondered what life was all about. I wanted the world to stop and I wanted to get off the hamster wheel. In this, I was closer to a solution than I realized at the time.

When we’ve got lots to do, how can we best support ourselves? How can we reduce feeling overwhelmed and still tend to what’s required of us?

The answer is simple—STOP!

A portable, quick and powerful way to recalibrate our brains, and ability to think clearly, is to practice the mindfulness STOP skill.

• S: Stop and take Stock. Whatever you're doing, take a moment to pause. What’s going on in your body, emotions and mind?

• T: Take a breath. Re-connect with your breath. The breath is an anchor to the present moment.

• O: Observe. Notice what’s happening. What’s happening inside you, and outside?

• P: Proceed. Continue with what you were doing.

Taking time to make time creates spaciousness in life. It’s like hitting the reset button.

The stress response is deactivated, allowing us to think better and more effectively. Our bodies benefit as we reduce the flow of stress chemicals through our body. Our decision-making and problem-solving improves. We’re better able to notice solutions we’d been blind to in our state of busyness.

These days, break times are often spent checking social media, keeping us stuck in the perpetual state of thinking. This doesn’t allow for relaxation and rejuvenation. Making STOP a frequent habit pays great dividends.

I’ve had a morning sitting-practice for a very long time now. It’s lovely, but I’ve found my experience of life improving dramatically as I take simple mindfulness practices and sprinkle them throughout my day.

I’ve become more effective and efficient I’ve become as I pause and STOP several times a day. And more importantly, I’m happier.

My memory has gotten better instead of worse as I age. I never realized how much stress affected my ability to remember and think. Mindfulness is a pill like no other, and it’s simply a practice of taking time to make time. The fuller my schedule, the more I pause.

Taking time to calm myself, to become aware of the present moment, and simply breathe has reduced the tension on the rubber band. This leaves me, and those in my life, without the ever-present fear of the band snapping.

Don’t wait until you feel like you’re going to explode. Begin now and see the difference you feel.

STOP is free, it’s portable, with no harmful side effects. Try it, you just might like it.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

An assistant minister at the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, she is a retired nurse with a master’s degree in health science and is a hospice volunteer.  She is also an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan and currently spends her time teaching smartUBC, a unique mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. 

She is a speaker and presenter and from her diverse experience and knowledge, both personally and professionally, she has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people gain a new perspective, awaken and recognize we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts, stress or to life. We are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 44 years and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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