Bringing My Best Forward

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My best self is who I wish to bring to the table when preparing for my day, project, or success path. In my last post, I spoke about how I wish to show up in 2018. In this post I want to expand showing up into a broader context known as Best Self exploration and practice.

Who am I when I show up as my best self? Who are you at your best?

In every situation I bring myself. Sometimes I am present as my best — mindful, soulful, listening, open, and firmly rooted in my strengths. Other times I am not my best self and I bring my crankiness, judgement, impatience, and less than present self. When I am not at my best, I shortchange my experience and leave others confused and/or empty from our shared experience. At my best, I move in slower motion because full presence requires pausing and settling fully into my most positive self.

In 2001, Laura King, a professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, conducted a study on Best Self practice using writing over a period of several days. Her work showed that when we explore our best self in reference to a future time or goal, we are happier. Best self practice has also been written about in Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book, “The How of Happiness.” Lyubomirsky says that imagining a best possible future helped participants build their best possible self today that can lead to their future vision coming true. Through writing, they were able to recognize what they could transform in themselves in order to work toward their goals. Writing leads to better understanding of “your priorities, your emotions, and your motives, your identity, who you really are and what’s in your heart.” Writing allows us to see a bigger picture of our goals, see what’s possible, and work toward our imagined future with more purpose and well being.

I am sharing this writing exercise for you to begin to identify and explore your best self so you can bring more of you into your year, your project, and your daily life. I, personally, like to write with pen and paper so I involve more of my senses and bring more focus to the practice. You might find that using a computer works just as well for you. Either way, prepare to write for 15 – 20 minutes daily for the next 4 days. By identifying your Best Possible Self in detail, you will be more present with positive results.

Taking the time to imagine your best possible future and who you are at your best allows you to more clearly integrate all of you into your present and your future. You will also increase the likelihood of success. Going for the detail is what stands this apart from New Year’s resolutions or a list of goals & intentions you wish to realize this year. When I write and add to this exercise during each day of writing into my imagined positive future and my best self, I refine and prioritize my lists.

This exercise asks us to imagine our life once our goal is accomplished whether a week from now, a year, or longer. What will you be doing? How would you be living? How will you feel? How will your life change for the better? By writing daily you can move beyond the initial goal – the to do list and on to a positive imagined future (as if it has already happened).

Identifying & imagining how I will feel, do, and be in my life is clarifying who I am at my best. Through my writing I explore and play with how my life could be better by being more of my best self. This practice can be done in all areas of life: professional, romantic, social, physical, spiritual, or any area you wish to focus on. Choose one goal or area for the exercise.

Exercise #1: Best Self Exercise. Choose a goal or intention you have for the next year (or any time line).

1. Sit quietly and imagine that you have already accomplished your goal and that everything has gone as well as possible. For a moment, settle into the feeling of accomplishment. Imagine the details of your life as you stand in your future — look around you. What is different? How do you feel? How are you different? How does your daily life look?

2. Now, spend the next 20 minutes (I like to set a timer so I don’t need to look at the clock) writing about your accomplishment in the future you imagined. Describe in as much detail as possible your completed tasks. Describe who you have been in order to bring this task to fruition. How is your life different? Better? More fulfilling? How do you feel as you look around you? Where do you feel in your body? What did you let go of?

3. For the next four days, repeat the exercise. You can begin again or continue writing & expanding the detail from the day before.

4. Now look back at what you wrote. How did you participate in creating your imagined positive future? What strengths did you exhibit or use? Who did you need to BE in order to accomplish your imagined future?

[Note: I’ve added a second exercise to fill in gaps in our perceptions of ourselves.]

Exercise #2: Reflected Best Self. This exercise asks you to reach out to family, friends, and/or coworkers. It is a different approach called the Reflected Best Self — especially useful because others see us differently than we see ourselves.

1. Ask several people you know (family, friends, coworkers) to tell you or write to you about how they see you accomplishing tasks. Can they provide some detail of strengths they see and who they see when you are at your best? Ask each to provide one or two specific examples of how they see you at your best.

2. Compare what others think with what you think. You may find that you can expand who you are when you are your Best Self.

Have fun with these and let me know who you are at your best!

Note: In a future post I’ll explore how to mine your experience — both past accomplishments and your imagined future — and identify greatness, magnificence, strengths, thoughts, and actions that inform you on who you want and need to be in order to live life more fully at your best, both now and in your imagined future. Stay tuned!

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As A Year Ends… A New Year Begins

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Today is the last day of 2017 with 2018 only hours away. Do you celebrate New Year’s Eve? Do you party with friends? Do you do anything to acknowledge one year ending and another beginning?

I have my personal ritual that I do each year beginning with the Solstice — I place two pieces of poster sized paper out in plain sight. One piece is titled, “What I did in 2017”; the other is titled, “What I want to do in 2018”. For the couple of weeks before New Year’s I create a list on each piece of poster paper. For the last year, I reflect on what I did. As I began creating my list this year the image of filling a jar with stones became my metaphor.

At first, I am almost always certain that what I did will be a short list because I only focus on the big things that immediately come to mind — the accomplishments, crises, those events that occupied a lot of emotional and mental real estate and are easy to remember. I am aware that some of these events were unplanned and, yet, important because they required my attention. These big things are the big rocks I place in my jar first. Oh how quickly they fill the jar!

As I walk by the list day after day, however, the list grows (when I thought it wouldn’t). No longer the big rocks, but smaller stones that filled my months — the routines of work, hikes in the woods, day trips to new places, memorable conversations, etc. I am aware that what I thought was full with the big rocks became even more full with smaller stones filling in between the large rocks.

Each day, I continue to add to my list until I am adding what I’ve done day to day — these become sand added to my jar. These are my daily practices that have carried me through. Daily practices fill in the spaces between the stones giving my days substance and meaning, a quiet support for the larger stones.

This image of filling a jar beginning with rocks and continuing to fill the jar with smaller stones and then sand led me to how I want to begin my list for this next year (I don’t do sure to fail or be forgotten resolutions). After the sand is added and it seems that the jar is full once again until… I add water. I can see that full was an illusion. There is plenty of room for water and I watch as the water touches everything and is as important as the big rocks I can barely see. Water to the top of the rim and the jar is now truly full.

What does the water represent? The water, for me, represents how I have shown up in my life that truly shapes what I do and how I do anything. My intention is to always be true to myself, honest, and be (mostly) positive. This last year, I showed up in a variety of ways — some I liked, some I didn’t. Mostly, I was positive, open, kind, hopeful, and loving. I was also frustrated, angry, sad, and (at times) felt hopeless.

Also on my list of what I’ve done are the books I’ve read. Throughout this year I have been inspired by a list of writers such as Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Terry Tempest Williams, Mary Oliver, Amy Cuddy, Robin Wall Kimmerer, John O’Donanhue, Dan Buettner, Adam Grant, and so many more (can you tell I am an avid reader?). From each of them, I’ve learned (especially when reading a book for the second time) and been inspired to show up as my best self — full of integrity, truth, and a willingness to be my Self in strength and resilience. Each of these authors have become my teachers and mentors for living life fully on purpose. They have inspired me to follow my “Yes”. Most importantly, they have laid a foundation for next years list that sits next to my reflections list.

For this next year, at the top of my list is my focus on how I wish to show up each and every day. I know that mindful attention on how I am showing up will shape my year in positive ways no matter where life actually leads. Mindful attention will also set the stage to navigate the challenges that come along — they always do. Then, I also have my bucket list of what I’d like to do and experience. I will finish this year tonight with a meditation — saying good-bye to 2017 and welcoming 2018.

How will you show up next year? How can I support you to be your best self? Let’s plan on supporting one another.

Have a blessed and happy New Year!

Reflections, Foundations, and Intentions

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Here we are, days before this year ends and another begins. What do you do to prepare for the next year? Do you prepare? I do!

Reflecting… What’s been done? Who have I been?

I begin preparing by reflecting on the last twelve months. My journal pages fill as I ask, “What have I accomplished and completed this year?” and “Who have I been?” I write for days and one thought leads into the next as my list grows. You see, when I begin, I often think that very little has actually been accomplished. Every day is busy and full. I find it is easy to forget once I’ve finished a project or accomplished a goal and I am already onto the next adventure. Allowing myself time to reflect is like looking at a photograph or into the woods. At first, I look at the whole scene, take in its feeling without the details. The longer I look more and more details emerge that I hadn’t seen on the first look. Nuances of color, wildlife pausing in camouflage, a bird perched on a branch watching me, a fallen tree that I didn’t see in the initial looking. There is always more to see as my focus changes and deepens. The details are both in the scene and in me, my own inner landscape in response to the outer landscape.

Reflecting back over my year requires that I take time to allow details to emerge — those details I’ve forgotten. Looking at the whole I can see and feel an experience (even the sense of non-accomplishment). My initial list is simple — drawn from the whole. As I stay with the list and begin to focus on parts (month by month or day by day) details emerge and I remember — listing the details. After a week my list has grown and I am both surprised and happy that I’ve done so much. I am grateful that most of my intentions, written a year ago, have been fulfilled. And there were many pleasant surprises as well. I always love the adventures I didn’t count on yet were an outgrowth of my intentions.

A New List Builds from The Last List…

From the list of the last year, a new list begins to form. I have a new question, “What is in me that wants expressing this next year?” My new years list has begun with events already planned — workshops, writing, travel, etc.

Another question I ask is, “Who do I want to be this next year?” These are my inner intentions — equally important for these create the environment for many surprises. For example, I wish to be even more of my Best Self this coming year — appreciative, curious, open to new possibilities, and living more fully into the spirit of giving and loving.

Long ago, I dispensed with resolutions — those actions inspired by what I haven’t done. You know them — join the gym, eat better, write that book, finish that list of projects, etc. These nearly always end in the trash bin of unfulfilled hopes that I can later use to berate myself. Resolutions don’t grow from my Best Self. They grow from thoughts of not being good enough. Not good enough isn’t a firm foundation for growth, success, or surprise.

Foundation of What Worked…

What provides a firm grounding for awe, curiosity, and positive growth come from my Best Self. For example, one of last years intentions was to remember what I deeply love about yoga, hiking, and the sweet surprises that I am grateful for every day. Looking back, I did remember what I love which led me to more varied hiking, appreciating the yoga retreat I just went on (that I hadn’t planned for) and every day was full of moments of gratitude. Looking back and reflecting, I am in awe of all I’ve done and experienced in 2016. This is my foundation built on what worked.

Carrying Forward & Intentions…

Beginning with 2017, my foundation is being my Best Self, allowing nature to be my mentor for living in trust and giving, and honoring community whether near or far. I’ve ended 2016 with a new appreciation of the importance of community. I intend to carry that forward in 2017. I’ve remembered and learned that all my relationships need nurturing just as my gardens need tending in order to assist in the best harvest possible. Some practices I will continue — gratitude, living from my strengths, my yoga, my daily writing practice, and my journeys into nature. These form my firm foundation for the next cycle of intentions. Some intentions already forming are taking action over inaction, allowing room for my voice to inform my actions. I’ve learned that action creates momentum and upward movement while inaction creates stagnation and downward motion. I like the upward spiral into positivity even if inaction is sometimes the familiar and easy way ‘out’. Action always leads me somewhere — adventure, new community, resilience, and fresh perspectives.

An Invitation…

I invite you to reflect and plan for your next year. Begin with listing what was done last year as a foundation for the coming year. Write them down (if writing works for you), share them with someone you trust, create a work of art expression, and then appreciate all you’ve done.

Here are some questions to help frame your intentions and planning:

1. What did you accomplish, complete, learn, and experience in 2016?
2. Who were you?
3. What will you carry forward and upward in 2017?
4. What is already in motion or planned for 2017?
5. Who do you wish to be this next year?
6. What strengths and qualities of your Best Self will you cultivate and nurture?
7. What intentions will begin 2017 for you? Consider both specific plans and broader experiences in your intentions — leave room for surprises and opportunities yet to be discovered.
8. If resolutions work for you, write them as well.

As we prepare to say good-bye to 2016, let’s go forward into the next year open to sweet surprises and fulfilled intentions in the most positive way.

Happy New Year – may it be filled with peace in your heart!