Monthly Archives: March 2012

Meditation: Is It For Me?

 

If you’ve been curious about meditation, but maybe also a bit intimidated by the New Agey vibe associated with it, this article is for you. I’ll give you a simple explanation of mediation, so you know what it is (and what it isn’t), and then I’ll explain the benefits of it, why people choose meditation, and finally how to get started if you think it might be a good tool for you.

What Is Meditation?

Mediation is a silent approach to finding peacefulness. Although it is all about you and your mind, it has nothing to do with God or praying. It is really a state of being where you, in a sense, “empty” your mind. Meditating is a way to clear your mind so that only your consciousness remains. One way to look at it is this – If you have a lamp on, but you remove all the objects in the room, the lamp still goes on giving light. Meditation does the same thing, but in your mind. You remove all the “objects” (thoughts, worries, aches and pains) from your mind, and only your consciousness remains. True meditation is that state you are in when it is just you and your consciousness without any particular thoughts.

This isn’t guided imagery where you picture yourself in a peaceful place, and it isn’t a relaxation technique where you focus on something like your breathing. You aren’t thinking about anything. You are clearing your mind of everything to find a place of peace.

Don’t be scared off by the idea of reaching your “consciousness”. It means nothing more than just clearing your mind completely.

Why Do People Meditate?

People meditate for a lot of different reasons. Usually, individuals are drawn to meditation when their lives are getting a little too hectic, and they are yearning for some balance or peace of mind. If you ever feel like your life is a bit out of control, or you are just running from one thing to the next all day, meditation can really help you calm the chaos in your mind.

Other people arrive at meditation not to counterbalance chaos, but more for treatment of generalized problems. For instance, people who struggle with anxiety (even mild anxiety) find meditation to be helpful. Also, people who are feeling stressed – even if they can’t necessarily identify all their stressors – find that meditation helps them lower their stress level. Think of it as a medicine without having to clearly diagnose your ailment. It helps your overall mental health, even when you haven’t thought about what led you to struggle in the first place.

If you’re always on the go and sometimes feel like you need a moment to catch your breath for your own sanity, meditation can be a great tool.

What Will Meditating Do For Me?

Besides the sense of calmness or inner peace that meditation can bring you, there are also numerous studies showing the physiological benefits. People who meditate have been found to have stronger immune systems to fight diseases (not just viruses but systemic ailments like cancer too), lower blood pressure, lower heart rates, and healthier hearts.

Another interesting benefit to meditating is the changes in your mental health. People who meditate report feeling like their minds are sharper. They are better able to focus on both physical tasks and problem-solving, and they actually find they are able to resolve concerns and stressors easier. This makes sense, since when you meditate, you clear your mind for a time period. In a way, it’s like clearing any clutter from your mind that is impacting your thoughts and other mental tasks.

How Do I Start?

Even if you aren’t sure whether meditating is for you, it is certainly worth a try. Give it a week and see how you feel. If you don’t want to commit a lot of time to something you aren’t sure about, that’s okay – you can give it just 5 minutes per day.

If you think it might feel a bit awkward to just sit in a room and try to focus on nothing, start at an easier step. Just do this:

  • Go in a quiet room that you can darken, and where you won’t be disturbed.
  • If you’d like, turn on some quiet, soothing music.
  • Find a comfortable sitting position – it doesn’t have to be the traditional meditation pose on the floor with legs crossed. Just be comfortable.
  • Now just breathe. I know we talked earlier about this not being a breathing exercise, but if you’re new to meditation, it’s a good place to start. Just breathe in and out quietly for five minutes (or longer). If you find yourself thinking about things you need to do, shift your focus to something quieting – like a cloud or a tree or a field. If you find yourself listening to what someone is saying in another room, try to tune it out. That’s all you’re trying to do here – tune out all the things that normally crowd your mind, and just be still with a quiet mind.

Once you get comfortable with breathing and clearing your mind – you are meditating! There are actually two kinds of meditation – mindful meditation and mantra meditation.

Mantra is the type you’ve heard of where people repeat a single word in their head (such as “om”) while they meditate. This helps to give you something quiet to focus on, while still allowing you to completely clear your mind.

Mindful Meditation is mediation where you focus on one of your senses or your breathing or even the thoughts going through your head, and but you do so without judging yourself – instead just letting thoughts and feelings flow freely in and out of your mind. You can decide whichever one works better for you.

  • Don’t forget to repeat. New habits are hard to instill, and even more so when you aren’t sure about something new you are trying. But you probably won’t feel the benefits of meditation from just one session. Try to do it every day for a week, and then see how you feel. If you think you might be starting to feel a bit of a sense of calmness, promise yourself another week to keep working on it. If you can, increase the amount of time you spend meditating – as much as 20 minutes each day if possible.

Of all the many benefits to meditating, the favorite one I’ve read about is that it extends your life! Something so simple and calming can have so many positive effects on both your physical and mental well-being AND extend your life! Why not give it a try?

If you have tried meditating before, let me know how it worked for you. And, if you try it now, be sure to report back with your results. I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Appreciating Art Is Good For Your Heart: 4 Ideas To Help You Love The Arts

Are you someone who enjoys the arts – music, paintings, or theater? A new study presented at the 12th Annual Spring Meeting on Cardiovascular Nursing in Copenhagen Denmark, showed that patients who had an appreciation for the arts recovered better from heart disease than those who did not. This particular research focused on stroke patients, and it found that “stroke survivors who saw art as an integrated part of their former lifestyle, by expressing appreciation towards music, painting and theatre, showed better recovery skills than those who did not,” according to the study’s lead author, Dr. Ercole Vellone.

Dr. Vellone’s study separated into two groups the stroke patients who had an appreciation for the arts from the patients who did not. Overwhelmingly, the art appreciators were better at healing and improving – they had better general health, found it easier to walk, and had more energy. Dr. Vellone’s understanding is that art may make long term changes to the brain that actually help it recover when things go wrong.

So what does this mean for you? Even if you are not into ballet or opera, there are many ways you can uncover your interests in the extensive range of activities that art encompasses. If you’re looking for something new to do on a Saturday night, why not broaden your artistic horizons? Use this guide, based on your current interests, to see which areas of the arts might interest you as well.

If you like listening to the music - You probably have a favorite radio station or two, or maybe a few favorite artists you depend on to lift your mood. If so, that’s great! But you can do more. Have you ever thought about trying a whole different genre of music? Don’t rule it out before you give it a chance. I, for one, have never been a fan of country music, but just last night I heard Lionel Richie (popular in the ’80s) has a new CD coming out, and it’s made up entirely of country music stars (including Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton, and Kenny Chesney) joining Richie to sing their favorite song of his with him. Interesting idea, huh? The album is called Tuskegee, and I think it just might make me give country music a chance (if just this once)! Is there any genre of music you might be willing to try – maybe just once?

If you like cooking - Why not take a baking class? Better yet, how about learning about cake decorating? Cooking and baking are creative processes in their own right – you are assembling ingredients to create a final product. But if you can incorporate decorating into your masterpieces too, you will be adding a little art into your life. If you’re looking for a place to start, there’s a book called Contemporary Cake Decorator’s Bible: Over 150 Techniques and 80 Stunning Projects that has tons of photos and also includes detailed instructions that are easy to follow.

If the only thing you can draw is stick people - That’s me! My mom has an incredible talent for drawing, as does my sister – but the gene skipped me completely. If you can’t draw but think you might like to learn, you have some options. Many art museums offer drawing classes on weekends. Some city recreational departments do too. You can also check local art associations and community colleges for classes.

If you don’t think an art class is your thing, even periodic visits to an art museum can help bring out your appreciation of art. You might not be able to draw, but you can probably appreciate people who can! There’s a lot more to art museums today than ancient paintings that are boring and stuffy. Check online for  your local modern art museum, or even look for galleries that feature a specific type of art you might like – ceramics, photography, glass – art is limitless, and finding something that interests you can be the beginning of a long term hobby of your own.

If you’re a fashionista - Fashion design is an area that is often overlooked in the world of art, but I find it endlessly fascinating. If you enjoy the latest trends or like to put together fun ensembles, try doing some reading about fashion history. There’s a wonderful two-book set of fashion history books called Fashion (Taschen 25th Anniversary) by the Kyoto Costume Institute that will keep you entranced for hours. Better yet, if you can find a fashion museum in your city, nothing beats seeing these works of art up close. It’s all about taking an art-related curiosity one step further.

I hope this gave you some inspiration to start looking for – and appreciating – the art around you. Dr. Vellone’s study led him to understand that art appreciation leads to better quality of life overall, and that’s something we can all appreciate!

What kind of art do you enjoy most? In what ways do you nurture that interest? I’d love to hear from you in the comments, and you can also find me at @onemoveforward on twitter!




 

6 New Dos & Don’ts To Get Better Sleep Tonight

 

Do you ever have trouble falling asleep or trouble staying asleep? Or maybe you fall asleep, stay asleep, but in the morning you don’t feel rested? You have probably heard the usual tips for getting good sleep: avoid caffeine, maintain the same sleep schedule throughout the week (even on weekends), make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet, and use your bed only for rest – not for watching television or catching up on office paperwork.

If you’ve tried all those suggestions and still need help, I have created some Dos and Don’ts for getting better sleep. And believe me – I know a thing or two about this! A night owl by nature, I have to regularly and diligently monitor and adjust my sleep habits because otherwise I will easily fall into a habit of staying up until 4 a.m. and waking up at noon!

DO

Exercise - Besides all the other many reasons you know to exercise, it also helps you get good sleep. Exercise gets your heart rate up and burns calories, but for sleep purposes, it also adds an element of physical tiredness. Think of it as a “beneficial stressor” to your body. Your brain actually compensates for the physical stress of a good workout by increasing the amount of time you spend in deep sleep (also called Stage 4 sleep).

Just be sure to exercise earlier in the day and not right before bedtime, otherwise the adrenaline rush and increased body temperature could also interfere with your sleep!

Use the sunrise and sunset to help - If you can, go outside or stand in sunlight immediately after getting up in the morning. Your body interprets the sunlight as a signal that it is time to wake up. The sun can actually help tell your body’s internal clock to register that time of day as your time to wake up. When you do that, the clock will also set itself as “time to sleep” approximately 14 to 16 hours later.

You can use the sunset for a similar purpose. Although the sun probably sets at a time earlier than your bedtime, if you spend a few minutes outside as the sun is setting, it does help your body recognize that this is the time to wind down.

Use a relaxation technique - This isn’t a New Age trick you need to learn – you already know a few relaxation techniques. Counting sheep (really!) is one. The idea is that you want to occupy your mind with something relaxing and somewhat mundane, so that your mind can relax too.

Another technique you can use is deep breathing. Just do a long inhale, hold for a few counts, and then do a long exhale. You can do this quietly and focus on your breaths to clear your mind.

One technique I learned years ago that I still use today is a gradual relaxation from head to toe. You focus on each body part and consciously make the effort to relax it. Start with your head and relax it by allowing it to feel heavy on your pillow while also feeling it completely supported by your pillow. Next make your eyes feel heavy, then your mouth, then your neck. Going through each body part really creates a feeling of whole-body relaxation, and I’m usually long asleep before I even get to my shoulders!

DON’T

Shower before bed - If you routinely shower in the morning, that can help wake you and it can be another signal to your body that this is its time to wake up. If you prefer evening showers, however, make it at least two hours before your bedtime. Warm showers or baths raise your body temperature, and your body temperature actually needs to be lowered in order to go to sleep. So if you raise your body temperature right before bedtime, it will take much longer for you to fall asleep.

Go straight from busy activity to lights out - Bedtime rituals help signal your body that it is time to sleep. It also puts you in a sleeping state of mind. For some people, a bedtime routine is as simple as walking around the house, turning off the lights, and checking on the kids. Other people need more elaborate bedtime rituals.

Personally, because I’m a night owl, I have a long wind down process that gradually goes from reading in bed to turning out the lights, to playing a mindless game on my phone with the brightness turned way down. I have to gradually make things calmer, quieter, and darker so that I can get to sleep. You might find a little soft music sets a calming tone, or maybe journaling helps you put some closure to the day. Try to find a routine that works for you – it can make all the difference.

Let your mind keep running - If you turn off the lights and find instead of winding down, your mind is spinning with thoughts of things you need to do, ideas for a work project, or errands you need to run, try making a To Do list before you turn in for the night. This might make it easier for you to disengage with your day and set aside all the other things that are going through your mind. Your nighttime routine will help with this too. The point is that you want to calm your brain and feel relaxed before you try to sleep.

Getting good sleep is important for your health. Although you might be accustomed to sleep deprivation, it really does impair your judgment and reaction time. Lack of sleep also affects you in more profound ways. It weakens your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness, and research also suggests that appetite-regulating hormones are affected by sleep and that sleep deprivation could lead to weight gain. In two studies, people who slept five hours or less per night had higher levels of ghrelin – a hormone that stimulates hunger – and lower levels of the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin than those who slept eight hours per night.

If you have trouble falling asleep or maintaining a regular sleep schedule, try some of the tips above. You may find you actually look forward to going to bed, instead of dreading the nightly tossing and turning that you might endure now. And, as always, if you have any sleep tips, please share them in the comments or share them on our facebook page!

3 Powerful Tips For Becoming A Good Listener – Even When You Disagree!

 

You’ve heard it many times before – communication is the lifeblood of a strong relationship. Not only should you be able to talk with your partner about your feelings, but it’s also important to be a good listener.

Listening is an important skill because you want your partner to feel that he can talk to you, and that you will really hear him. If he doesn’t, he’s likely to find someone else who will – his buddy or workout partner or mom. This won’t build the strength of your relationship, and it won’t help the two of you grow your bond together.

This is true in all relationships, not just with your spouse or significant other. The more your friends, children, siblings, and others feel you really hear them when they talk, the more likely they are to come to you when they need help – whether it’s an issue between the two of you or even just something the person needs help with in her daily life. And the more that happens, the better your bond with that person will be.

So what does it take to be a good listener? And how can you communicate to people that you are hearing them?

Pay Attention - There are lots of ways to show a person you are paying attention when they are talking. Maintaining fairly steady eye contact is an important (and easy) one. Of course, you don’t want to be staring at them to the point of making them uncomfortable, but at the same time, make sure you aren’t looking around the room, looking at other people, or glancing at your phone when a person is talking. Maintain enough eye contact to make it clear to the other person that they have your undivided attention.

Paying attention also means not interrupting. Anytime you interrupt a person when she is talking, you run the risk that she will lose her train of thought or respond to your interruption in a way that derails the point she is trying to make. It also communicates to her that what you have to say is more important than what she has to say, which is not the case if you want her to feel heard. If questions or comments come up in your head while she is talking, don’t interject. Instead, wait until she is done and then chime in.

The third part of paying attention shows in the expression on your face. If a person is telling a sad story, that should be reflected with a sympathetic look from you. A happy story should evoke a smile from you. There’s no need to fake an emotion or otherwise react in a way that isn’t expected, but if you are paying attention and really listening to the story, it would show when the talker is looking at you. Let her see how engaged you are, and she will likely open up more.

Reflect Back What You’re Hearing - When you use words like, “So you think ___” or “What you’re saying is ___,” you are reflecting (or mirroring) back what the speaker is saying. This has a few advantages.

First, it lets the speaker know you are paying attention and trying to understand.

Second, it allows the speaker to clarify his point if he doesn’t think you understand or if he feels the need to put a finer point on what he is saying.

Third (and most importantly) when you reflect back to the person who is talking, it often helps that person dig deeper into his own feelings. Take a look at this example:

Kelly: Ugh, what a long Monday!
Jeff: Bad day?
Kelly: The boss was on my case all day.
Jeff: Was he breathing down your neck a lot?
Kelly: Yes, and it just makes me take longer to finish my work because it makes me nervous.
Jeff: Sounds like the more he crowds you, the more your anxiety goes up.
Kelly: Yes! Exactly! And then it takes longer to get everything done, and we all get frustrated!

See how Jeff simply mirrored back each thing Kelly said, but just with different words? The more he did that, the more he communicated that he “got” what she was saying. And when he got it, it allowed Kelly to keep digging to really express what was going on. In the end, she feels better for venting, and she feels like Jeff really heard her. In the future, she’s likely to open up to him again because she walked away feeling acknowledged and validated.

Keep in mind that mirroring what a person says does not mean you agree with them. It just means that you heard them. Use the reflecting technique even when you don’t agree with someone. The point is that you want the speaker to feel like he was heard, and that you listened. If you feel strongly about expressing why you don’t agree with him, do so only after you have sufficiently (several times) mirrored back what he said, so you can be sure he felt heard, and you can also feel sure you understand his point of view.

Listen Without Formulating a Response - When someone is telling you something, it’s easy for your mind to go to a lot of different places. You might judge the person for what she’s saying, you might already start thinking of solutions to the problem she’s discussing, or you might even think about why what she is saying is wrong. Try your best not to do any of these things, because if you are, you aren’t truly listening.

Instead of forming an opinion or devising a solution, make a conscious effort to instead put yourself in the speaker’s shoes. Try to feel what she is feeling. She is talking to you for a reason. She wants you to see her point of view or understand her feelings or convince you of an opinion.

To be a good listener, you have to see where she is coming from. Instead of thinking about what you are going to say next, or instead of waiting for her to stop just so you can say what’s on your mind, really listen without formulating a response. Listen empathetically, get a good understanding of what she’s saying and feeling, and then reflect that back to her.

Remember, good communication makes a strong foundation for a relationship, and listening skills are a big part of that. Even more, when a person knows that his partner will really listen objectively, it makes him more likely to open up – and to be honest when he does. Be attentive and give your partner, kids, and friends your time and your open mind. You will see your relationships reach new levels, and your bonds will be stronger.

Do you consider yourself to be a good listener? Are there things you could do differently to better communicate that you’re really hearing the person who is talking? What do you do to show your favorite people that they are being heard by you? Please share it in the comments! I look forward to hearing from you!

Related Articles:
Good Communication and Stress Management – Strange Bedfellows?
Make a Good Relationship Better: Equal Partnerships Are Built To Last

4 Ways To Stop Worrying and Start Building Positive Energy

 

Do you sometimes spend too much time worrying? For some people, it might be an ingrained habit, but it’s not a very productive one. All of us worry from time to time, and that’s okay. If you sometimes get in a worrying rut, though, or if you tend to be a worrier, it might be time to make some changes.

When you stop worrying and instead focus on the positive in your life, it makes you more encouraged and motivated. And when you do something that makes you feel more positive, you automatically will start looking for ways to get more of the same. Shifting your mindset and creating a life where your tendency is to be positive instead of a worrier (negative) will help you to go through life in a much happier state.

There are four important reasons to end the habit of worrying:

Worry doesn’t help anything. When you worry about a problem or something that might or might not happen, you aren’t actively solving the problem. Worrying literally does nothing. It’s unproductive, and it wastes your time and your energy.

Worrying literally makes you ill. It sounds silly, but it’s true. Worrying causes anxiety, which can get pretty out of control for some people. Anxiety is not good for your mental health, and it negatively impacts your state of mind.

Worrying puts the focus in the wrong direction. When you worry about something, you are not focusing on a solution. Instead you are getting yourself worked up, making yourself unhappy, and expending energy on something terribly unproductive.

Worrying doesn’t prepare you. Some people think that if they think about (and focus on) a worst case scenario, then at least they will be prepared for it. In fact, the opposite is true. Worrying makes you expect the worst. Focusing on the bad things that can happen often result in those things happening. Instead of preparing yourself for something in case it happens, prepare yourself for the good thing that can happen if things go well – they probably will!

If you are a worrier, here are four things you can do to try to break the habit:

Think about the solution. When you are worrying about something, try to shift your focus to the solution of the problem instead. If you are going to expend energy on the problem, make it productive!

If you’re worried about a tornado coming through your neighborhood, change your focus to thinking about how you might create a safe space for your family in case you need shelter. If you are worried about your kids not getting into a good college, think about ways you might help them with their schoolwork or with college applications. If you’re worried about how you might care for your aging parents, think about how other people you know have managed the same challenges.

Shifting your focus to the problem’s solution helps you to keep your mind on things that are positive and productive. Even if you don’t actually take any steps toward the solution, just thinking about it and knowing how you can handle it (because you can!) helps you to feel more empowered and less helpless.

Take an action step. If you have a hard time shifting your mental focus from the worry to the possible solution, go a step further and take an action step. Buy a weather radio and learn how to prepare for a weather emergency. Review your kids’ grades to reassure  yourself they’re doing just fine. Research assisted living places and find out which places would suit your parents’ interests and their budget. You get the idea!

And if you are worrying about something that doesn’t seem to have a viable action step at this time, try to give yourself a break. Rest in the knowledge that you are a very capable person, and you will take an action step when you can.

Break down the irrational fear. Worrying has its roots in fear and the unknown. Try to think rationally, rather than letting your mind run with what could happen. Realize that your fear of what could happen (when there’s no real evidence that it will) is grounded in fear and not in reality.

Take the example with your kids and college. What is your real fear when you worry about them getting into a good school? Really, your irrational fear is that they won’t get into a good school, won’t have a good career, and then will end up unhappy and broke. This isn’t rational thought. You know they’re doing okay now, and you know you will help them with whatever bumps come up along the way, so you know they’ll be fine. Take your big, irrational fear and break it down to see whether it is even logical that the fear will be realized. Once you have it broken down into the steps that would lead you to that irrational conclusion, you can see where the small steps can be taken that will lead you away from it. Just like that, your path will become clearer.

Exercise. You’ve heard it a million times, and it really is the answer to whatever ails you. Exercise doesn’t just help you to clear your mind, but it also helps your body produce endorphins, those feel-good hormones that can boost your mood. Go for a walk if the fresh air and new scenery will help. If you think you will just think about your worry more on your walk, try an exercise that’s more demanding, like strength training or working out on an elliptical machine.

And if you’re so wrapped up in your worry that you can’t even think about exercising right now, try any other activity. Sometimes the best way to combat negative thoughts in your head is to simply immerse yourself in something completely different. Bake some cookies, play hide-n-seek with your kids, or do some other physical activity that gets you moving and your mind occupied.

Worrying is a habit that can get worse over time. Don’t give in to the temptation to do something that is so unproductive. It’s never too late to change a habit (and learn to make it a permanent change). You can’t control the future, and worrying about it won’t help. Let go of your worries today, and start building a more positive life for yourself!

What are your worries, and how can you look at them differently now? Let me know your thoughts in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!

Related Articles:
Building Self-Esteem: What Are You Saying To Yourself?
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Build Critical Thinking Skills: The 3 Questions To Always Ask Yourself

 

The ability to think critically is an important part of your intellectual wellness. With critical thinking, you build your ability to see things differently by examining your (and people’s) thoughts and judgments on any topic. Why is that important? Well, it’s as simple as not believing everything you hear – and maybe not anything you hear. You become aware of (and take control of) your own thinking, which leads you to be able to better define your own thoughts and opinions.

Your goal is to make sure that your beliefs are really your own, not simply ones that are passed on to you by others. Whether someone states an opinion or fact, or if you are reading a book or magazine or even an advertisement, with critical thinking, you will be less easily manipulated, and you will think more independently.

When you think critically, you learn about new things based on your own experiences and what you know to be true. You create your own beliefs and judgments and have a basis for thinking and acting more rationally and reasonably. You also protect yourself from being taken advantage of because logic and deductive reasoning insulates you.

You want to form your own opinions, as opposed to just going with what others think. To do that, listen/see/read with an open mind, and start with these three tips when faced with any opinion or statement of fact:

1. What’s the speaker’s purpose? Pay attention to what the speaker’s true purpose is, and that will help you decide how to assess his statements. Is he trying to convince you of something? Does he want you to believe his opinion is true? Is he trying to get you to accept a fact? Maybe he is making a statement as if it is a fact, when it is actually an opinion. Once you get a better grasp of the speaker’s goal, you know if you should question his statements.

2. What assumptions does the speaker want you to make? Whatever the speaker is trying to tell you or convince you of, ask yourself: Is there a basis for his opinion? Is it even logical? Is it plausible? Think about a commercial for laundry detergent where the voice-over says, “Now with Kleen Krystals that get out the toughest stains!” The advertiser wants you to make the assumption that Kleen Krystals are made up of an extra strong substance that’s good at stain-removal. But that’s a pretty big assumption, since you don’t even know what a Kleen Krystal is! So when the advertiser tries to convince you that the detergent is even stronger now because of the Krystals, the critical thinker in you realizes there really is no basis for that opinion, there’s no logical explanation that convinces you what he is saying is true, and you aren’t going to make the assumptions he wants you to make.

3. What’s the evidence? Evidence answers the question, “How do you know?”, and that’s a question that a critical thinker always wants answered. Is there any evidence to support the speaker’s opinion? Is the evidence complete? Is it believable? With any information you get from any source, it’s a great critical thinking exercise to ask how the speaker knows what he is saying is true – and keep asking it, even when you get your first answer.

When someone tells you something as fact, ask how he knows that to be true. Because someone told him? Well, how did that person know? Because she read it in a book? Well, how did the author of that book know? Because he read it in a study? Well, who wrote the study? You get the idea.

Asking yourself these three questions helps you to clarify your own thinking. The more you do it, the more it becomes second nature. Once you are in the habit of questioning what you see, read, and hear – consider yourself a critical thinker! Then try to apply your new skill when you’re in these situations:

When someone is telling you something about someone else - Do you know what she is saying is true, or is that just her interpretation of that person? If you and your friends tend to gossip about others, try to use it as an opportunity to work on your critical thinking skills. Realize that one person’s opinion isn’t fact, and that when someone relates something about someone else, her opinion of that event is just that – her opinion. It’s always much better to form your opinion about someone based on your own observations and interactions.

When you are watching a commercial on TV - Think about the characteristics of the product that the advertiser is trying to sell you on. A food that tastes better? Only you know what tastes better to you. A car that handles better? Your car handles just fine. A household cleaning product that wipes out more germs? The products you use clean your house just fine! You get the idea – watching television commercials are a great way to hone your critical thinking skills because they are always trying to convince you of something, and it’s easy to spot the parts you should be questioning.

When you are reading a news article - It’s a little tougher to practice your critical thinking skills when reading a news article, because your assumption might be that news outlets should be unbiased. But that’s what makes this a great exercise. Go to washingtonpost.com or nytimes.com and pick a news article. Skim through it and ask yourself how much of that is fact and how much of it is opinion based on fact. For the part that you think is fact, think about whether the columnist has first-hand knowledge or if the facts came from someone else. Obviously news columnists won’t always be present at the time a news event is happening, but that might help you realize how important it is to question what you are reading, even if it does seemingly come from an unbiased source.

To be fair, I sometimes read columnists who I know will have a particular slant on a topic, but I go into it knowing the columnist has that bias. It’s certainly okay to read something you know to be biased, as long as you are aware of it and always try to remember to question what you are reading.

Thinking critically means you don’t just accept something at face value. Instead of letting something answer a question for you, you question the answer. Critical thinking can be learned at any age, it just means you approach facts differently. What do you think of your own critical thinking skills?  Do you think you have areas in which you can improve? Try the questioning approach above, and let me know how it works!

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Weight Training for Weight Loss: How To Get Started

 

While many people understand the importance of staying active, they often don’t realize that strength training is also a key part of maintaining their health. It’s not just about getting toned, but strength training slows the muscle loss and bone loss that accompany aging. It also helps you improve your joint flexibility, improves your balance, and decreases your blood pressure.

Strength training is also an important part of any weight loss regimen. While you can lose weight by simply creating a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you take in), you burn more calories when you have stronger muscles. Your muscles need energy to work, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn during the course of the day. For every pound of muscle you have – even if you do nothing else all day – you burn an extra 35 to 50 calories each day.

Some women are hesitant to start weight training because they are concerned they will end up building big, bulky muscles. Don’t worry, though. Women typically don’t have the hormones needed (testosterone and others) to bulk up. When women build muscle, they look toned, not built.

If you’re interested in starting strength training, there are a few different ways to begin. Read about them below and think about what would fit you, your personality, and your lifestyle best.

Do you need to be accountable? I recently read a story about a woman who pays for a gym membership, even though she has all the gym equipment she needs at home. Why? She needs to be held accountable, and she knows with the gear in her basement, she can always put it off another day. But when she pays for a gym membership, she refuses to let that money go to waste!

If that’s you, you have a few different options. Your local Y probably has lower prices than the fancy gym in your neighborhood, and they have plenty of equipment to get you started. The Y also has family memberships, and many provide child care.

Some people prefer the camaraderie of like-minded people at a big gym. At the Y there will be kids groups and (maybe) crowds, and it’s certainly a no-frills approach to working out. At a gym, though, you will find people who are mostly strength training or working on their cardio on treadmills and ellipticals. Your local gym probably has later hours than the Y also, and many are open 24 hours.

Do you want to work out with your own gear? Many people are more comfortable working at home, which also affords them plenty of flexibility in terms of fitting a workout into their schedule. For some, as I wrote in a previous article about sticking to a new exercise plan, part of the process is gearing up for the big change. It gets them excited about the new change when they buy the equipment, get shoes, and move toward a new goal.

If that’s you, don’t worry – you don’t have to buy a home gym! Start small with dumbbells and DVDs. A good starter set for dumbbells if you haven’t worked out with weights much before is the Altus Athletic 32-Pound Dumbbell Set which you can find at a heavily discounted price on amazon. It has a pair of 3, 5, and 8 pound weights, which is a good place to start. If you know you’re ready for heavier weights, check out the Cap Barbell 40-Pound Dumbbell Set, which goes up to 35 pounds on a single bar and is also very reasonably priced on amazon.

You can also get DVDs that will guide you in your workouts if you aren’t sure where to begin. Some libraries carry these, and you can borrow them for free. Just be sure to look for ones that aren’t more than a few years old and make sure they target all three areas: upper body, lower body and core.

There are a couple of good beginner strength training DVDs that I would recommend, and they’re fairly inexpensive. One is called Step By Step Strength Training. It covers upper body, lower body, and core, and although it’s set up as a 30-minute program, you can do as few or as many as you have time for. Another one, called The Great Dumbbell DVD not only has a great workout routine, but also is very specific in teaching form for those of you who are new and want to make sure you’re doing it right!

If you have some experience with weight training and want something a bit more advanced, check out Tracey Staehle’s Sculpt Sweatfest DVD This one not only covers more advanced strength training with dumbbells, but it also incorporates moves with an exercise ball and BOSU.

Do you just want to get started without buying any equipment? If you think you want to start strength training, but you’re not ready to spend money on any weights or other gear, that’s okay. There are countless exercises you can do using your own body weight as resistance, and you can even use items from around your house (books, canned foods, etc.) to add weight.

Pickthebrain.com has a good outline of simple and effective exercises you can do at home without weights. That’s a good place to start, but if it gets too repetitive, just search the web for bodyweight exercises, and you’ll find more options. There’s an excellent book called You Are Your Own Gym: The Bible of Bodyweight Exercises that does an excellent job of teaching exercises that use your body as resistance. Exercises are divided into four groups (push, pull, core, and legs & glutes), and you workout just four times per week (one group per day). One thing I really like about this book is that there are different programs for different levels, so you don’t need to figure out which ones to do or in what combination. It really is a great place to start if you don’t want to buy equipment, you don’t want to have to figure out any workout routines, and you just want to get started!

Regardless of your age, weight, or fitness level, it is never too late to get started with strength training. Your body will burn more calories, even when you are at rest, you’ll increase your metabolism, and you’ll make your physical body more resistant to injury.

I hope you decide to get started on weight training if you don’t already do it! And if you know someone who is thinking about getting started, I would love it if you would share this post with them too! If you’ve come across some good workout DVDs or have other recommendations to share, let us know in the comments!




 

Make a Good Relationship Better: Equal Partnerships Are Built To Last

 

We all want good relationships with the people around us. Family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors all play a role in our social wellness. Some of those relationships (supervisor/subordinate, parent/child) might not be built on equality. With your spouse or partner, though, equality is vitally important. Equal partnerships foster closeness, which results in a stronger and happier relationship. When partner are equal, they feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings, causing them to feel better about themselves, their partner, and the relationship as a whole. Couples with an equal partnership also report more stability in their marriage, less conflict, less dependency, and less resentment.

There are eight types of interactions that are associated with equality in a relationship. You and your partner may be stronger in some areas than others. By knowing, understanding, and implementing the following behaviors, you can foster a healthier relationship and a stronger bond.

Negotiation and Fairness - When you and your partner are trying to resolve a problem, find resolutions that really work for both of you. In an equal relationship, neither person’s wants and needs are more important. While both partners should be willing to compromise, neither should be expected to give up or give in just to satisfy the other.

Respect - A big part of having respect for someone comes in how you listen to them. When your partner is talking, hear her out before responding. Listen to her without judging her, and try to respond in a way that shows you really heard her. If you can do those things, she might feel like she can tell you anything.

Being respectful also means affirming your partner in a positive way. By valuing opinions and acknowledging emotions, you create a space in which both partners are comfortable sharing all of their thoughts and feelings.

Trust and Support - In an equal relationship, both partners’ life goals are supported by the other – not one person’s more so than the other. You also trust each other so that each of you can have your own feelings, friends, activities and opinions.

Economic Partnership - If you are striving for an equal relationship, it is also important that you and your partner make money decisions together. This doesn’t mean you have to check with each other before any purchase is made (as some financial independence is also important), but big decisions like the family budget, significant purchases, and savings and retirement accounts should all be discussed and decided together.

Equality also means that both partners benefit from the financial arrangements, and one isn’t feeling controlled by the other through money. Both should have equal say and equal access when it comes to family funds, and neither should feel pressed to give up his own wishes to allow money to be spent based solely on his partner’s preferences.

Non-Threatening Behavior - It’s also important for both partners to talk and act in a demeanor that makes the other feel safe and comfortable expressing herself and doing things. In other words, both people should be comfortable being themselves around the other. If one partner is particularly critical or domineering, for example, it could create an environment where the other feels s/he has to act or say or do things a certain way in order to avoid being criticized.

There rarely is one right way to do any one thing, so give your partner space to be him or herself without you responding with your own critique.

Responsible Parenting - Equal partners also share parenting responsibilities. That doesn’t mean you necessarily have to take turns each time the baby needs to be changed or the teenager needs homework help. Usually one parent or the other is better at certain tasks and will handle the bulk of those  parenting duties. But what it does mean is overall both parents should work equally in the process of raising their children, and they should both constantly make the effort to be positive role models for the children.

Honesty and Accountability - Creating equal relationships is a continuing process, and it’s rarely perfect from the start. Part of that equation in reaching equality is that both partners must accept responsibility for themselves.

Acknowledge things you have done or said in the past that were hurtful to the relationship. Admit when you were wrong without trying to make someone else share the blame. Taking steps to make sure past wrongs won’t be repeated also makes you more accountable. Saying you were wrong and you’re sorry isn’t enough until you demonstrate how committed you are to not making those mistakes again. Communicate openly and truthfully with each other to avoid passing blame and keep working toward resolution.

Shared Responsibility - You can’t have an equal relationship if one person isn’t pulling her weight around the house and the other person feels he is having to do everything. If there is an imbalance in your house, work together to agree on a fair distribution of work. Once you do that, be responsible about your commitment.

Saying you’ll do something and actually doing it are two different things. If you want an equal relationship, both partners have to contribute fairly and responsibly to helping the house run smoothly.

It’s also important to make family decisions together. Both partners need to have equal input and both need to be heard by the other.

When you build these behaviors into your relationship, you will strengthen your relationship’s foundation. Each partner will feel better about her/himself, feel more positive about the other person, and value the relationship more.

How would you assess the equality in your relationship? Are there areas that are particularly strong? Are there other areas that you think you and your partner could do better? Take some time to think about how you can improve in those areas, and talk with your partner. Listen to each other, make some changes, and let me know how it goes!

4 New Ideas for Better Work-Life Balance

Work-Life balance isn’t just about balancing your time in the office with your time out of the office. It means balancing work with all the other things in your life that are just as important. I previously wrote about the importance of identifying your personal values and then making decisions based on the real you. This means when you are able to have better balance between office time and personal time, you want to make sure your personal time is productive too – not in terms of getting chores done or zoning out in front of the TV, but in terms of nurturing what’s important to you.

So how do you go about better managing your work time, so you can get more personal time? And once you do, how do you make sure you use that time for the things that are truly important to you?

First, remember what you know. I’m sure you’ve often read suggestions such as setting goals at work in order to keep on task, learning to say no to projects you don’t have time to take on, and limiting the time you spend at work, so you aren’t always trying to get one last thing done. You’ve heard that all before, right? If those aren’t working or you need something more, read on…

Delegate - Some of us are control freaks, some of us believe the only way to get things done right is to do it yourself. Whatever your reason, let it go. I’m sure if you thought about it, there are a few small projects (letters to write, appointments to make) in your office right now that you could delegate to someone else. If you really want to create some work-life balance, this is truly the best place to start. Until you are more efficient at work, you won’t be able to spend less time at the office. Efficiency at work is the key here, and delegating is the foundation.

Delegating is also a useful tool at home. If you have small children, they can help with clean up. Older kids should have chores (and let them pick up some extras to earn spending money), and if they have their driver’s license, have them run some errands. You can make it fun or give them extra rewards, as long as you are freeing up some of your own time – everyone’s happy!

Maintain Your Energy - Unless you take good care of yourself, you won’t be able to maximize your time at work or at home. There’s no point in  learning to be more efficient at work if you’re just going to crash once you get home, right? Keep your battery charged by eating nutritiously as often as you can, exercising, and getting enough sleep. When you take care of yourself and are able to maintain a high level of energy, you’ll be more efficient in your time spent at work, you might be able to sneak out a bit early, and you’ll be more present when you are home.

Rethink Your Errands - I know a lot of people spend a fair amount of running errands. Nobody likes them, but they need to be done, right? Think about your work errands. If you have a job that has you running out to do things occasionally during the day, think about whether that’s the best use of your time. Would your company allow you to hire a courier? Can an intern pick up supplies for you? Rather than running out to get lunch, can you bring your meal from home? If you spend part of your work day running in and out of the office, it really won’t allow you to be efficient even when you are there.

You can also rethink your personal errands. Just about anything you need to go somewhere to purchase you can also order online. Groceries can be delivered. You can avoid the bank, post office, and pet store by banking online, ordering stamps, and even ordering dog food online.

Also consider that some businesses will run your errands for you. There are dry cleaners who have drop off and pick up services. You might even hire a local college kid to be your personal courier – no more running to the library to return books, to blockbuster to return movies, or to other stores where you might have to return a purchase.

It doesn’t have to be pricey either. You can pay a flat fee for a set amount of time, and then only give her the errands that are reasonable to get completed in that time.

Change Your Scheduling Habits - If you work eight hours per day and sleep eight hours per night, that means you’ve got an additional eight each day plus the weekends to schedule however you see fit. Try this: pull up your calendar and block out the times that you’ll be at work or sleeping. Next, pencil in other things you would like to do. Not the laundry or the housecleaning or other things you need to do, but what you want to do. That means after you block out work and sleep, write in when you want to watch a movie with your partner. Next write in when you’d like to build a blanket fort with your toddler. Schedule a time to bake some cookies with your teen or a bike ride by yourself or whatever it is that you really want to do but never seem to get around to doing. After you schedule all your priorities, then write in the chores and errands that you want to get done.

It’s a great exercise that can really help you shift your priorities. After all, isn’t good family bonding time much more important than cleaning out the closets?

The point is to think outside the box as you work on creating work-life balance. There are a lot of different ways to do the things you do. You just have to find the most efficient way that works for you.

Being more efficient at work leads to having better balance between work and everything else. Once you have that in place, make sure you are using your time for the good stuff – the things that most matter to you, that feed your soul, that reflect your values.

One last warning: In researching this article, I came across a column on work-life balance that ended with this: “Know when to seek professional help.” Wow! Don’t let that be you! :)

Have more time-saving ideas? What tips do you have for ensuring your time is well-spent on the things that matter? Let me know in the comments, so I can learn from you too.

Gardening is Green! How To Know What To Grow

 

Spring is here! Actually, here in Kansas City it feels like we skipped straight to summer. But that just means it’s the perfect time to start planning a garden.

In our continuing quest to make our lives more balanced, it’s important to think of the environment and make sure we are reducing our impact on key  resources (using them conservatively) and also making positive choices that contribute to everyone’s quality of life – people, animals and plants included.

Growing your own vegetables and herbs – if you do it in an environmentally sound way – is a great place to start, since it’s beneficial to the planet and to you. Plants help prevent global warming by using carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas that traps heat) to make energy for themselves. Not only do plants use carbon dioxide, but they put out oxygen, which is what people and animals need. So more healthy oxygen and less carbon dioxide is good for us and the planet.

Another consideration is the small impact you can make as part of the bigger whole. More people planting food in their own gardens means fewer trucks on the road transporting fruits and vegetables, less pesticides being used, and overall energy and fuel conservation. Everybody who plants a garden makes a difference, just as everyone who recycles or uses energy efficient bulbs or carries home groceries in reusable bags makes a difference.

If you haven’t planted a garden before (as with anything new), you can start small.  There are just a few things to consider when deciding what to grow, and then you’ll be on your way to fresher, healthier, greener food.

Location - For the most part, in many areas of the US, you can plant just about any vegetables or herbs. You’ll have more success with certain fruits in southern states where it stays warmer longer. Weather.com has a terrific tool that will show you all the best flowers, trees, vegetables, fruits, and herbs based on your zip code. It’s a great place to start!

Space - There is no space too small or too large to grow a garden. Even if you don’t have a yard, you can grow plants! Here are some ideas that will work in different size spaces:

Large outdoor garden - There are some vegetable plants that really spread when they grow, and they’re fun to watch because they grow so fast. If you’ve got the space, consider cucumbers, green beans, and tomatoes.

Small outdoor garden - If you don’t have a lot of space, consider vegetable plants that won’t spread out too much or vegetables that grow in the ground. Some ideas would be carrots, cherry tomatoes, beets, or scallions. There’s a great book called, Fast, Fresh Garden Edibles: Quick Crops for Small Spaces that has a lot of suggestions on what to grow in small spaces, and also includes details about caring for your garden, which might be a bit different, depending on how small your space is.

Along a fence - This is a great area for bushes with berries such as raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. Others that are less common are gooseberries, rhubarb, and (my favorite!) red currants. Depending on the type of fence you have, it can even serve as support for the growing bushes.

Front yard - Yes, you can have garden space in your front yard and still maintain your home’s curb appeal! Sunflowers work great in the front, and you can also landscape with strawberries or herbs.

Indoor planting - Even if you don’t have a yard for a garden, you can still grow a variety of edibles, especially if you have a balcony. Start with herbs on a windowsill. If you want your plants to double as decor, try combining them in bigger pots. There’s a great book, Grow Your Own Herbs in Pots that has all sorts of suggestions on which herbs go well together based on height, color, leaf shape, and even fragrance. You can also grow vegetables in containers such as five gallon pails, planters, or even plastic bags, as this lady suggests for potatoes.

Healthy variety - There’s a new study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry indicating strong evidence that a variety of berries can protect the aging brain from memory loss and other degenerative changes. Leafy green vegetables like leaf lettuce and spinach are rich in vitamins and minerals and can decrease your risk of cancer and heart disease. Carrots also help you fight disease and of course help improve your vision. Even sunflower seeds are packed with vitamins, especially Vitamin E.

Depending on what your health priorities are, you can plan your garden accordingly. The agriculture department of North Dakota State University put together this easy list of foods and their benefits that makes it easy to pick and choose. Or check out this fun chart if you are hoping to help a certain ailment (but see your doctor if it’s warranted).

Truly going green - Keeping in mind our goal of benefiting the planet, I have to tell you – it’s time to give up all your pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, and other chemicals. I know, they’re easy and cheap and they get the job done, right? But they’re also defeating your purpose.

By adding chemicals to your garden, you are potentially serving cancer-causing agents to your family. They also pollute the soil and water, and in general are harmful to the environment.

I’ll cover the hows and whys of natural gardening in a future post. For now, though, you might be interested in a helpful guide called The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control: A Complete Guide to Maintaining a Healthy Garden and Yard the Earth-Friendly Way. It has tons of tips  and information about how to naturally avoid pests and diseases, how to maintain your healthy garden all season, and even new ideas on what to do if you still encounter problems. It’s a much healthier approach, with less impact on the environment.

Are you ready to start gardening? What are you thinking about growing this year? I’m definitely thinking about corn, but still deciding on other veggies. Maybe green beans? Let me know your gardening thoughts. I’ll see you in the comments, and you can also like One Move Forward on facebook!