Today I read an article about how important it is to let your thoughts wander from time to time. In today’s world of optimisation and efficiency increase, lost thoughts are rather seen as counterproductive. But far from it. The corset in which we like to put our mind regarding the many things to be done and with which we want to make it work and work out in a controlled way, might have just the opposite effect. Yes, focus is good and important. When we devote ourselves to a task, we should be there with full attention. But when focused concentration turns into strained short-sightedness, productivity is quickly dying. Maybe you know this – it feels as if your mind winds into a task. Your gaze becomes narrower and narrower, your mood more and more strained, your neck stiffer and stiffer. You forget to drink, eat and you sit on it for hours. But instead of an exhilarating flow you feel slower and slower. Sometimes your mind wanders away exactly in such a situation. But instead of calling it back strictly, let it go. Maybe it is especially important to get you out of your tension in that moment. Sometimes your thoughts drift away if you give them space to do so. Just take a deep breath and lean back.
“I have never made any of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.” Albert Einstein
From whatever situation your mind decides to go its own way – release it and follow it with ease and curiously on its (sometimes chaotic) path. Allow yourself and your mind the mental relaxation exercise and enjoy the mental break like a walk – just for the sake of the walk.
Maybe you will come up with new ideas. The best ideas and solutions are usually found in the most unusual moments (especially when you are not looking for them). However, it will certainly be easier for you to concentrate and to devote yourself to your tasks again with pleasure afterwards.
So how was your week? Should you have done more sports? Should you have called your family? Shouldn’t you be much further in this online course? Would you much rather see everything on the to-do list checked off?
Look back – what you did last week and what you have completed successfully, whatever you spent your time with, is a mirror for what was important to you (consciously or unconsciously). It is simple: If you didn’t do the “should – would – could”, it was not important to you. Or something else was more important to you. And if you look back and recognize that you did a lot of things that were not important to you – then it is high time to take a closer look at how this could have happened. Reality Check. Face it – even if might be uncomfortable. Insight and acceptance create clarity and clear the way. Save yourself the “should-would-could” whining – and the energy. Invest it wiser. There will always be more tasks and opportunities than time. It makes a difference, however, whether things “fall down the drain” (maybe exactly the ones that are important to you?) – or whether you consciously take them off the agenda, e.g. say no, or simply allow yourself a realistic time management – to ensure that there is time and space for “should-would-could”.
You have the choice – do you want to go through the next week as a designer or a driven one? What is your should-would-could? What is important to you next week? Don’t write it on the To Do list, but do it – if possible right away.
What you spend your time with and what you do shows the world and yourself what is really important to you.
I love the forest. All year round. But especially now in autumn, as it is a feast for the senses. These colourful leaves, the intense scents that are even more intense due to the humid air, the soaked, soft forest floor, leaves that slowly sink to the ground ….
And because temperatures are now falling and the weather is more often dominated by rain showers and high air humidity, it is particularly important to spend time outdoors. Anyone who now continuously parks their body in the warm flat and on the cosy couch is particularly susceptible to colds – not only when exposed to colder temperatures.
Exercise in the fresh air is good for your health and exercise in the forest even strengthens the immune system. It is scientifically proven that just one day in the forest increases the number of our natural killer cells by almost 40%! And for seven days. And what could be more important than a stable immune system right now?
The positive effect of the forest on our health has been well researched. It was in the early 1980s when the Japanese Forestry Commission recommended that spending time in the forest regularly should be established as an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle. This resulted in Shinrin Yoku, the so-called forest bathing.
What the forest can do for us
It has been proven that the forest is like an aromatherapy. It can …
contribute to relaxation with its calm and natural sounds and smells
lower the cortisol level in the blood (relieve stress)
help you to switch off from everyday life with its impressions
relieve muscle tension
moisten the airways and mucous membranes
prevent depression and burnout
lower blood pressure
prevent cardiovascular diseases
How the forest helps us
There are several conditions in the forest which contribute to its health-promoting effect:
increased concentration of oxygen in the air
increased air humidity (good for the defence function of the mucous membranes)
environmental influences such as heat or cold are alleviated by the leaf canopy
the leaf canopy also serves as a noise barrier and provides a soft light whose green tones have a calming effect
Terpenes, messenger substances released by plants, have a positive effect on our immune system. We absorb them through our skin and breathing.
How you can benefit from the forest
Even regular walks in the forest have a positive effect on our immune system (as little as 20-30 minutes per day help to reduce the stress hormone cortisol in the blood). If, in addition, you wish to bathe in the atmosphere of the forest according to Japanese tradition and thus enhance its positive effects, you can enrich your walk by
consciously perceive the surroundings with all your senses – listen to the rustling of the leaves and the sounds of the animals, immerse yourself in the colours that appear to your eyes, perceive the smells that surround you, walk consciously and feel the soft ground under your feet, let your fingers slide over the rough bark of a tree, lean against it…
choose a rather slow pace
go to a time when you are not under deadline pressure
take breaks and drink regularly. Take a pot of your favourite tea with you and enjoy it consciously
combine the walk with relaxation exercises such as Qi Gong, breathing exercises or a little meditation
The other day a friend told me that he is in the process of entering his CV into his employer’s system. His employer already had his CV – but not in a form that “fits the system”. So he had to invest more time to transfer the data accordingly.
After our conversation, the following questions came to my mind: Do we live in a society and time in which we run the risk that chose form over content? Wouldn’t it be much more important to devote our time and attention to the essential, content-related aspects instead of the formal ones? More than that: do we dwell on formal things in such a way that we overlook or neglect the really important ones? Don’t we miss this way a lot of discoveries, openness and learning opportunities?
This affects almost all areas of life. Be it acquisitions, meeting new people or looking for a job.
With a view to my reality, I spontaneously thought of a few examples where I almost missed wonderful opportunities due to my pre-set filters. The search for my flat, new friendships, buying a car. My flat, for example. I am totally happy with it and to have been selected by my landlords. But to be honest, I almost didn’t want to see and check it . Only because I still was “in the swing” I thought, “Oh come on, one more or less won’t make the difference.” But honestl, this flat had a lot of aspects that would have made it being killed by my filter: a bit over budget, landlords live in the house, there is no storage room in the basement, it’s in the center of the village (probably very loud!!), there is a terrace – but facing the north … Putting my filter aside made me discover the following: Landlord in the house? Fortunately! I now know two more wonderful people, whom I am happy to call my landlords! In the middle of the village? The possibility to reach everything within walking distance, be it a bakery, supermarket or yoga studio is just as phenomenal as the peace and quiet – it is the quietest place I have ever lived in. The house is in the second row, my bedroom is located at the back of the house. A bit over budget? Worth every Euro! Completely renovated with great extras like an amazing kitchen, a huge terrace where you can sit outside even on hot summer days (because facing the north :-)) and a mega cool built-in wardrobe in the entrance area which more than compensates for the lack of basement space (and how cool is it to have everything in the flat and not always have to go to the basement!?)
I am grateful for this discovery and glad that I have managed to put my ideas of form aside. For the future, I plan to become more aware of my filters in other areas of life as well, and to question them more often or even courageously put them aside and approach things with open curiosity.
Where do you choose – consciously or unconsciously – form over content? Where do you miss magically new experiences because situations, things or people don’t match your filters at first sight?
Kill the Filter! – there is so much to discover. Let your curiosity win and plunge into adventure!
“Must” and “relax” in one sentence – a contradiction in terms, isn’t it? But it happens more often than you might think. We are aware that we should create a balance to the stressful everyday life, that we should pay attention to our health, get enough sleep, drink a lot, eat healthy food and, oh yes, do sports. And not just cardio training so that the heart remains strong, but also something for strength so that we keep posture. And kaching – at least three points more on the daily To Do List. Sometimes there mediation is added. And there we sit, restless, with our monkey mind … “Meditation is not for me. I tried so hard not to think, but it just doesn’t work. And then I get angry at myself for not being able to do it,” someone said to me the other day. I couldn’t help laughing. Especially since I know the effect myself. We plan for something to make us feel better, to calm us down – and exactly the opposite happens. Mostly because we transfer the performance principles of our everyday work-life to our leisure time and relaxation activities. And suddenly our anti-stress programme stresses us out. And we are not totally with ourselves in the yoga class, for example, and pay attention to our well-being and our limits, but instead look at our trainings mate next to us to see if we are the one that performs better.
I still remember when I was doing training for a half marathon. That was at a time when I had to travel a lot in my job. But the training schedule had to be adhered to if I wanted to achieve my time target. What happened was that suddenly running was no longer fun for me, it had become a duty, a compulsion, a compulsion I had imposed on myself. In the end I was not fitter but even more exhausted after the running sessions. I ran the half-marathon anyway – but I decided: running should not have this taste in the future. Meanwhile I’m running again – out of joy. Regularly, yes, but as often and as much as I like. And I have made room for other sports and leisure activities that I enjoy. Feels smoother. More relaxed. And sometimes I take a nap instead of meditating. Or a walk instead of running. My inner voice has become my compass for relaxation. It is very reliable in knowing what would be good for me in that moment, what I need to feel better. It only needs stillness to perceive it – and the will to listen to it.
How do you “plan” your relaxation? Why don’t you try to create “neutral” islands of relaxation in the coming week. These can be a few minutes in between, but also longer periods. Then pause, breathe consciously, come to rest and listen inside yourself what you feel like. Follow the first impulse and be curious, what happens!
For someone who writes about happiness and well-being, this article may be a bit unusual. Maybe also not everyone’s cup of tea. But quite effective if you immerse yourself.
The title of my article today is a quote from Stephen R. Covey. It came back to my mind in the last few days when I was thinking about who and what we give how much space and time in our lives.
During my little break the other day I also passed a cemetery and just sat down on a bench for a while. There were many graves of people who had been given 80 years and more by life. But there was also one of two brothers who had died at the age of 17 and 18. Spontaneously I had the thought that we often live as if we live forever. And that we do not like to deal with our finiteness. But how can I have a “good finish” if I suppress the fact that at some point the chequered flag will fly?
That immediately brought up the next questions: What would be a “good finish” for me? What if the flag were to fly tomorrow? Or in a year’s time? What would have to have happened or still be happening for me to be able to say that I can go in peace, I had a good life?
And – how much of it is happening in my life right now or have I already taken it into my own hands? Too quickly our days, weeks and years are “full”. Professional and private commitments, all kinds of activities … Some of these we choose consciously, some we have no choice and then there are the many little things that sneak in so secretly.
After some thought, it was clear to me that I would like to have as little “if I only had” as possible left at the end. The question is: at the end of the day, week, year, have we given enough attention and time to the people and activities that are really important to us?
Do you know what is important to you?
To set the right focus for the “good life”, clarity can help in the following four aspects:
1. What is important to me? – Do you know your values? Your values are the best way to find out what is important to you. Values are closely linked to your convictions, ideals, needs and inner attitude. They are important for making the right decisions according to your definition and provide you with motivation and orientation. Imagine them as guiding stars in the sky. Always there – even if there is a cloud in front of them from time to time. When we succeed in living in harmony with our values, it feels right, flawless and good. Values can also change in the course of life due to experiences or new priorities (such as parenthood). That is why it is good to review them from time to time. It is best to take a blank piece of paper and write down a maximum of 10 values that come to your mind. Then delete 5 of them in the next step and 2 again in another step.
2. How do I live what is important to me? – How can you recognise that you live your values? Once you have determined your most important values, you are already there half way. Now, values on paper are not more than big words. But the question is, what do they mean in everyday life? How are they lived? If you ask 5 people how they define honesty, for example, you will probably get 5 different answers. Does honesty mean always saying everything – no matter what the consequences? On the other hand, does not saying something mean to be dishonest? Here it is important that you find your definition. How do you recognise that you live your values? Which behaviours and actions mirror your values? With whom or what and how would you have to spend time if you put the focus on them? Write down a definition and at least three behaviours / actions for each of your values.
3. Where do I stand at the moment? – Hand on your heart! Now taking your definitions of point 2 – to what extend do the match what’s already happening in your life? Now this step it is especially important that you are honest with yourself – even if there are some sobering insights at one point or another … These insights are important to initiate changes with step four.
4. What is to be done? – Set sails! With a view to steps 2 and 3, it should now be easy to change your course – if necessary – so that you come a little closer to your “good life” in the coming days, weeks, months. What do you want to change? Who or what do you want to devote more time to? What do you want to do differently?
Starting with the end in mind may be a pretty strong approach – but the forces that pull at us every day are not to be underestimated either. And only when we are really clear about what is important to us and are aware that we do not have eternal time, do we get into action – and into action in the sense of what each of us defines as a good life.
Last week I took some time off. Completely offline, mobile phone off, immersed myself into nature. Hiking with a map – yes, a real paper one – and attentive perception of the impressions around me. Amazing how many waypoints and features nature has in store to find some orientation. A beautiful and intensive experience.
On one of my tours I was particularly impressed by a stately, very tall, old tree. I think it was a beech. It had a trunk that was so high that I had to put my head far down into the neck to see its crown of leaves, which was swaying in the sun above most of the trees around it.
But what impressed me even more than the size of this tree was its bark. It was dark and firm, with furrows, elevations and niches. The traces of the years and the weather had left an uneven and yet harmonious structure on it. I let my fingers slide over it and discovered that spiders and other insects had made their home in the furrows and niches. This made me smile and think about how the traces left by life can have their uses.
Aren’t the scars and wrinkles that we get over time a sign that we have been exposed to life? And isn’t every scar also connected to an experience from which we were able to learn and which we can pass on to others – a scar that makes us a little bit wiser, despite the pain we might have felt when we got it?
Of course nobody wants to consciously scar themselves or have experiences that cause pain, grey hair and worry lines. But if we dare to expose ourselves to life, to the storm and fire as well as the sunshine, consequences will show up. But whether they make us older or more alive is up to us.
If we manage to look conciliatory and with a smile at the traces that our experiences have left behind, if we see them as a sign of what we have achieved and mastered and if we begin to be grateful for what they have taught us, then they suddenly become beautiful, the “traces of life” (on us and on others!). Because
“Everything you look at with love is beautiful.” Christian Morgenstern
And often we are much better able to make peace with the events that have scarred us, to accept them as part of us without grieving about them for long or to revive them as justification for further events that are causing pain.
Let’s look with love and respect at the furrows and niches in our physical and mental bark and use the wealth of experience they have given us for ourselves and others.
“The meaning of life lies not in our expectations of it, but in the tasks it sends us”. Victor Frankl
Do you sometimes feel misunderstood by your partner? Do you want to be seen and loved as you are? So let me ask you a provocative question: do you really show yourselve as you are?
If we want real connection, we must allow ourselves to be really seen. – Brené Brown
And have the courage to show ourselves fully and go all in.
To do this, we must first be aware of what is going on inside us – and then dare to express it. This is easy with good feelings, difficulties start, when we do not feell well. The feeling itself is uncomfortable – and now, weakened as we feel, we are supposed to show ourselves vulnerable? No way!
So we tend to lean into strategies which may look as if we tell about ourselves. But in fact, if we take a closer look, they help us distracting from our own discomfort. They are attractive, because they make us feel better in the short term. However, in the long term they emotionally separate us more and more.
One of these strategies is to objectify our feelings and communication. Instead of “I am unsure what this means” we say something like “the situation leaves many questions open”. I had halo moment the other day when I wanted to tell someone in a message how I am feeling. A friend read what I had written and said: “That sounds like a business letter. Why don’t you really write about what’s going on inside you – the way you feel, not so formal. Get naked!” First I didn’t get it at all. But when I read the message again, I suddenly realised what she was trying to tell me. The sentences were well thought out. Controlled language to the last word. And when I started to rephrase, I felt the increasing discomfort. Interesting moment – and very valuable, because I became aware not only of what I was feeling – but also of what I was afraid of.
Another strategy is to wrap up our bad feeling in an accusation against the other. It is easier to blame the other person than to appear vulnerable. Not saying anything and expecting that the other person has to feel how you feel is also belongs to this strategy. Instead of “I miss that you ask questions” we say something like “I wish you would show more interest in me”. Without asking the other person, we have interpreted the lack of questions as disinterest. So it’s not surprising if our partner reacts defensively rather than empathically.
That it is not easy for us to open up is normal and can have different reasons:
The level of trust we have built up with our childhood caregivers
Our general level of trust and confidence in life
Our mindset towards other people
Fear of rejection
Fear of being hurt
But it’s our choice whether we use these reasons as justifications to leave everything as it is or whether we dare to take the step into the unknown and learn.
If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. -Henry Ford
If you are looking for more clarity, bonding and empathy in your relationships, then it is worth taking a closer look at these three aspects:
Emotional self-consciousness (clarity): Are you aware of what you feel? What you miss? Can you name it? Can you accept it?
Courage to take risks: Do you have the courage to talk about it? And if so …
Speak about yourself: How do you express it? Are you talking about yourself or are you falling into one of the strategies?
It’s true, opening up, “getting emotionally naked”, makes you afraid, makes you vulnerable, is a risk. But having the courage to do so also sends a singal of trust to your partner. And it is this trust that creates real closeness and a real, deep connection.
Once upon a time we used to use it to make phone calls – now the mobile phone has become a smartphone. It is an alarm clock, book, notebook, calendar, torch, navigation system, daily newspaper … the list goes on and on.
It’s amazing what these little devices can do – and I admit I’m a big fan of our digital toys myself. Used properly, they can certainly save us time and increase our effectiveness. However, we also run the risk of them eating up our time. How many times have I caught myself picking up my mobile phone because I wanted to write something down – and four emails and six WhatsApp messages later I found myself on Facebook and thought: what did I want to do?
Especially in today’s world, where information from everywhere is coming at us, it is very important to oben the digi-umbrella from time to time to have self-determination over our time and to be able to decide more consciously what information we consume and when.
When, why and how often do you reach for your mobile phone?
Sometimes it is also very interesting to reflect in which situations we reach for our mobile phone and why.
Out of boredom? Because we are looking for self-confirmation or fun? (e.g. when we wait and hope for answers to our messages) Or is it distraction because we don’t like the situation we find ourselves in or would rather be somewhere else?
Experience more and more consciously without digital filters
Consciously going offline can therefore also strengthen our ability to accept unpleasant situations (no more distraction possible – at least not with a mobile phone …) Above all, it sharpens our perception because it is easier to focus on the here and now in the analogue world if we are not distracted by digital toys.
The way can be perceived (and remembered!) more consciously if we look for road signs and waypoints – and do not let ourselves be guided by the navigation system alone. A conversation with my counterpart is so much more focused when I don’t have my mobile phone on the table. The beauty and details of nature can be enjoyed and remembered much better with the naked eye and all the senses if there is no camera lens in between. It is much easier to get in touch with people if you ask real people for directions – and not Google.
Planning to switch off consciously
Just give it a try. You don’t have to give up the wonderful functionalities of your mobile phone completely. But how about planned and conscious offline times?
Place your mobile phone in a fixed location at home, for example. That way you can resist the temptation to look at it all the time. Put it there from a specific time in the evening to a specific time in the morning. (And this place should not be your bedroom.) Or leave the mobile phone at home, e.g. when walking the dog. If you don’t have a dog, make the decision to switch it off or put it aside for another occasion – e.g. when eating (also and especially when you are alone!) And if you’re bold and curious, try not to use your mobile phone for a day or two on your next holiday – and be surprised how you feel and what happens.
If you’re switching off for a longer time, it’s a good idea to let people close to you know so that they don’t worry. After all, we nowadays often expect an answer from the other person within at least 24 hours.
And now – switch off, relax and enjoy the freedom. Because: switching off begins with switching off.
I love to leave the windows and doors open in summer. Fresh air floats the apartment, brings a little bit of nature into the rooms.
Unfortunately this also applies to all kinds of small animals that fly through my rooms during the day. The other day, when I watched a fly in my kitchen bounce off the slanted window again and again when trying to get out, even though the terrace door next to it was wide open, I felt caught out.
Don’t we sometimes do the same? Completely convinced of something we get ourselves a bloody nose. This has got to work. He must understand me. It worked out this way the last time. And instead of pausing, thinking, learning, questioning, we make another attempt. Maybe it’ll work if we just hit harder. Or more often? Or more convinced?
Some flies don’t make it. The morning after, they lie on my windowsill, died of exhaustion. Not all flies suffer the same fate. There are also successful ones. They are usually the ones that manage to get away from the window and fly around the room. Often they fly right after that through the open door back outside.
Maybe it is coincidence. But I like the thought that they succeed because they have managed to widen their view, to see the situation from a different perspective and to free themselves from their convictions.
Where do you still regularly get a bloody nose because of stuck beliefs? Do you keep running into the same wall with a narrow gaze and overlook the fact that the open door is close by?
Let’s be fly 😉 and smarter than the flies on our window. Here’s to a week of new perspectives!