Mindful Living

action without outcome

An anecdote for anyone stuck in a creative rut, or a life rut:

It dawned on me recently that I’ve been doing a lot of marinating about what to do next and not a lot of actual “doing.” I realised it was because I’d been thinking a lot about the outcome I wanted, and not so much about the process, so I decided to do an little life experiment: choose a task, and do it with no care for the outcome.

I decided on 30 days of painting, because it’s meditative and I felt I needed that right now. It’s also been something I’ve wanted to spend time doing at home as a hobby for ages.

I challenged myself, at the very least, to put a brush full of paint on paper AT LEAST once a day for 30 days. This instantly felt really light when compared to the “goals” I’d been setting myself. Rather than threatening to be another source of guilt if I didn’t complete it, it felt like a permissive “here Ella, you get to spend the next 30 days doing this thing you’ve always wanted to… and better yet, your paintings don’t have to be good because that’s not the point, the point is to put paint to paper daily.”

Outcome 1. Some days when I reallly couldn’t be bothered, I’d just add a random layer of colour… On the days where I was more motivated or had more time, I eventually transformed it into something resembling an ocean.

Outcome 1. Some days when I reallly couldn’t be bothered, I’d just add a random layer of colour… On the days where I was more motivated or had more time, I eventually transformed it into something resembling an ocean.

It was my way of tricking myself to be in the moment more. Similar to the way kids do things; with zero pressure behind their actions, just “because.”

I’m onto day 16 and so far, taking action without the burden of an outcome in my mind has been freeing and easy. It feels like I’ve been given permission to play like I did when I was a kid. Once the paint is all set up, I end up painting more of course, but the leniency of my challenge makes it realistic.

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If all I can do one day is paint one line, no worries. If on another day I get inspired and paint a whole picture, that’s amazing, but either way really doesn’t matter because that’s not the point. The point is to trick myself into take action by making it dead-easy and free of any pressure to do good work, by focusing entirely on the process. So far, it feels good, forward-moving and motivating. It’s been just what I needed and I thought I’d share in case it inspires at least one of you out there.

An unfinished, not-so-masterpiece (but I had fun doing it)!

An unfinished, not-so-masterpiece (but I had fun doing it)!

The 7 best podcasts and books I've been listening to lately

What I love about reading most is getting lost in either a story, or someone else’s perception of the world for a while. It’s a nice break from your own mind and sometimes it can even change your mind, (or your life if you’re lucky).

Reading is so enhancing for our lives, but in saying that there’s also invaluable knowledge to be gained simply by listening to ourselves. In a world where the default is to consume over 20,000+ words a day, our minds need idle time to process. Nowadays I try to listen to myself instead of follow a reading routine. When I am reading or listening to podcasts however, this is what you’ll find in my library:

The Expanded Podcast with Lacey Phillips 

Like any other self-realizing pursuit (yoga, meditation, working out, neuroplasticity), manifestation is also a practice that takes repetition.

Lacy Phillips is the founder of Free and Native, an online portal teaching manifestation using her own personally developed method. Steeped in psychology, neuroscience and her energetic gifts, her disillusionment with the ‘think positive’ and superstitious style of manifestation is what compelled her to develop her own modality. The Expanded Podcast was designed to do just that; expand the perception of what’s possible through weekly interviews that delve into the emotional and spiritual side of each interviewee’s journey to get to a more aligned and successful life. She has a knack for asking the hard questions and getting people to open up more than they might in another context.

Rich Roll Podcast

“Pursue what’s in your heart, and the universe will conspire to support you.” 

This is my go-to when I feel like being inspired. Rich was once an out-of-shape corporate type who turned it around in his 40’s, opting for a vegan diet and running ultra-marathons. He now hosts his highly successful podcast and interviews people in the wellness or personal development sphere that are at the top of the game. From meditation teachers, vegan body builders, to ex punk rockers turned hare krishna’s — it’s informative, funny at times and always inspiring.

Braiding Sweetgrass — Robin Wall Kimmerer

“In some Native languages the term for plants translates to “those who take care of us.” 

I joined the book club of my dreams recently organised by Jasmine Christie of Anamundi Studios and this was the first book off the rank. All about indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants, it’s poetically written with anecdotes about her life as a botanist, mother and member of the indigenous Potawatomi nation of Oklahoma. My perception about life and the natural world has been affected from her insights, one of the most impactful being the way language shapes our relationship to the world. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s ancestor’s Algonquian language use verbs instead of nouns to describe nature, positioning nature as a place full of ‘someone’s,’ not ‘things’ and ultimately giving their nation a greater respect for all living things.

Tara Brach’s Podcast and Meditation 

“Clearly recognizing what is happening inside us, and regarding what we see with an open, kind and loving heart, is what I call Radical Acceptance. If we are holding back from any part of our experience, if our heart shuts out any part of who we are and what we feel, we are fueling the fears and feelings of separation that sustain the trance of unworthiness. Radical Acceptance directly dismantles the very foundations of this trance.” 

I use an app called Insight Timer to time and track my morning meditation and spiritual author and psychologist Tara Brach’s meditations are available free of charge there. A gong sounds you in and out of the meditation and Tara’s calming voice guides you throughout. Her Podcast is ideal listening when feeling stuck in your thoughts and needing to ground back into your body. She takes life back to the fundamentals of what’s most important, and very gently brings you back to the present and your higher self. She’s the real deal, someone you can tell put years of work in to become the awakened soul that she is — there’s no ego, or preachy/guru vibes — she just lives, breathes and shares.

What a time to be alone — Chidera Eggerue

“Your purpose transcends desirability. You are here to lead a full life.” 

I feel like this woman is a modern superhero here to slap the archaic beauty standards right out of society. I first found her on Instagram and was struck by her fiercely articulate messages on female empowerment and body acceptance, like “there’s more than one way to be beautiful, it’s not about how perky your boobs are. Impressing men isn’t even a goal worth making. There is literally no wrong way to be a woman… nature doesn’t recognise beauty standards.” It was this that made me curious enough to do a cheeky kindle download and skim through her new-paradigm view of the world.

The Celestine Prophecy — James Redfield

“We must assume every event has significance and contains a message that pertains to our questions...this especially applies to what we used to call bad things...the challenge is to find the silver lining in every event, no matter how negative.” 

As someone that experiences a silly amount of coincidences, I was recommended this book by a friend and didn’t emerge from its pages until I finished it a few days later. It’s a great little fictional read with themes like synchronicity, energy work and intuition woven throughout an Indiana Jones style narrative. This definitely served to colour my perception of life a little differently and give me a better understanding of my own intuition.

The Mind Gut Connection: How hidden conversations within our bodies impacts our mood, our choices, and our overall health — Emeran Mayer

What we sense in our gut will ultimately affect not only the decisions we make about what to eat and drink, but also the people we choose to spend time with and the way we assess critical information as workers, jury members, and leaders.

I haven’t read the whole book yet, but so far it has blown my mind. It becomes apparent when reading that there’s still so much we don’t understand about the intelligence of our bodies. Sharing the latest scientific findings on the relationship between our gut and mind, Emeran Mayer manages to distill all this in a compelling way for a book about human anatomy. My favourite takeaway from this book so far is how the role of our intuition has been completely validated through these findings and have shown that intuition is often a more reliable source than our minds for making decisions.

How to listen to your intuition

Indigenous cultures have kept wisdom that western society has ignored for a long time until recently. Not the wisdom of the intellect, but of the heart and gut, otherwise known as intuition.

The Australian Aboriginal word ‘Dadirri’ translates to a “state of deep listening,” it describes listening to our whole body, not just the mind. It’s said we only use 10% of our brain, so perhaps the remaining wisdom we’re yet to call upon is our intuition.

Otherwise known as a gut feeling, intuition is something that science has begun to acknowledge in recent years. In his book The Mind-Gut Connection published in 2016, Dr. Emeran Mayer writes, “After a long period of neglect the enteric nervous system has been recognised as the ‘second brain.’” Western science is now discovering what indigenous cultures have known for an eternity; that our heart and gut are better guide to navigate our lives when compared to the mind.  

“It’s wrong to assume that only minds think. The body and our emotions have a key role in the way we think and in rational decision making.” 

The problem with ignoring our intuition

When I was travelling Sri Lanka, a friend shared a story that made my jaw hit the floor. In 2004 her friends mother booked tickets for her family of five to go to Thailand. Shortly before they were due to leave, her friends mum had a bad feeling about going, and cancelled the trip. Her friend thought her mum had lost the plot, until news broke that a Tsunami had hit Thailand on the exact dates they planned to travel there.

Our mind as a tangled fishing net

In ancient cultures, intuition is taken just as, if not more seriously than the mind. Sharing what he learnt while spending time with an indigenous culture, English explorer and TV personality Ed Stafford discovers the word ‘Nandipiru,’ used to describe both the human mind and a tangled fishing net.

“They said that the reason western people confuse life so much is that they live in this logical brain, it’s a tool,” Stafford says “Everything is meant to start in the gut. They were trying to tell me that the more you live in your heart the more problems and anxieties and doubts you’ll have, but the moment that you come from an instinctual place, all of that just evaporates.”

He goes on to describe how daily decisions start in our gut and are filtered through the heart before reaching our logical mind. Author of Descartes Error Antonio Damasio similarly states “it’s wrong to assume that only minds think. The body and our emotions have a key role in the way we think and in rational decision making.” 

The gut makes faster connections than the brain can, which explains why it can seem illogical. But listening to our seemingly incoherent gut feelings can in some cases save us from real danger or a bad decision.

“There are 100 million neurons and every class of neurotransmitter in your gut used to process external stimuli and send signals to your brain,” says Damasio. It’s an intelligence similar to that of wild animals that sense a storm or natural disaster coming way before we can.

So how do you know if you’re listening to your intuition or fear?

As I explored the topic of intuition deeper, I was worried I’d get fear and intuition mixed up.

After reflecting and comparing the feeling of fear and my previous experiences of a gut feeling, I found that fear feels presents as a knot in my chest and throat, while a gut feeling is deeper, subtler sensation in the lower belly or evenly throughout my whole body.

After a bit of research, I found others make the same differentiation between the two. I love this article as an example, by The Fearful Adventurer. Torre Deroche writes that the mind can feel like you’re in a room with several radio stations on at once and it can be hard to know which voice to listen to. One station might be playing the news and the other hard rock. Meanwhile, a sports commentator and gentle blues plays in the background. Deroche continues; “Given the urgency of the first three stations, which track do you think will be the easiest to ignore? That’s right. Al Green. Al Green is your intuition. Your intuition is soothing, loving, nurturing, undemanding and dressed in a brown tweed suit. He’ll never be untrue. He loves you – whether times are good or bad or happy or sad…”

How to listen to your intuition

Send your awareness to your body

Unlike the mind, the gut gives definitive answers that can at times seem irrational. We don’t know why we feel this way about a certain decision, but we just do. Becoming more in tune with our gut takes practice and we can do this by sending our awareness to our body more often. In meditation, connecting to our physical body is also a technique used to ground into the present moment. After your awareness is settled there, ask a question and notice if there’s a reaction of some kind in your stomach or around your heart centre. It might sound esoteric, but sayings like “it just felt right,” or “I should’ve listened to my gut” are deeply engrained in our language, even despite the fact we’ve lost this wisdom.

Also, try listening to your gut with small, every day decisions. Studies have shown that shoppers feel better about big purchase decisions when they listened to their intuition rather than slowly working through the pros and cons of buying in their logical mind.

Release your worries

Entering the English language in 1810, the word ‘strategy,’ came about to describe Napolean’s success on the battlefield that made him the emperor of Europe. In his book On War, Carl von Clausewitz boils down his strategy in four steps. First, take examples of experienced and studied history and keep them in the back of mind. Second, free your mind of all preconceptions about the problem you’re solving and what solution might work, this is called ‘presence of mind.’ Third comes the flash of insight itself where a new combination of examples from history connect to give birth to a new solution. Fourth, is the part where you to take action on the new strategy that your intuition has gifted you with. In other words, learn stuff and then it let go so you can make room to be in the present. Presence (a mind so preoccupied with this moment that it isn’t worrying about the past or the future) is the necessary ingredient to call upon our intuition.

This Is The Price We Pay For Closing Off Our Hearts

[Originally published on Thought Catalog]

An open heart is our greatest strength and it’s been written and re-written for as long as human’s have been on this earth.

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Rumi said it, in the 11th century when he described the importance of keeping our heart open after it breaks, instead of protecting it for future encounters:

“You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens”

The Dalai Lama described it as an infinite resource;

“A heart full of love and compassion is the main source of inner strength, willpower, happiness and mental tranquility.”

“An open heart is an open mind.”

Brenee Brown gave it a different name in her talk on venerability.

“Most people believe venerability is weakness, but really venerability is courage.”

But the clearest, simplest, argument I found for the importance of keeping your heart open at all times was in a book I read recently, called The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer.

“By closing your heart, you are not really protecting yourself from anything, you are just cutting off your source of energy and locking yourself inside.”

It was a timely recommendation I received while working in Sri Lanka, because it this country was teaching me something I hadn’t grasped before; the power of the heart.

The locals inspired me with their capacity for generosity. There was no sense of individuality, it was always “we,” and every expat I met reported the same thing. Strangers on the train and tuk tuk drivers would feed me chocolate and chickpea snacks, I was invited into their family home for dinner, treated to rice and curry from strangers on the top of a mountain and tea from taxi drivers. The biggest thing that struck me was that their goodbyes were as heartfelt and venerable as if they were old friends; the locals I’d met were unafraid to show that they cared, even if they didn’t know when they’d see you again. Their loving culture was the perfect backdrop to reinforce something I’d began to notice before I arrived. Although a broken heart is often associated with a bad thing, after I experienced it, I genuinely felt like I opened up a greater capacity to empathize and feel love and kindness.

Singer gives so many convincing arguments for why it’s important not to close our heart. One being, that it’s energy giving. That same fulfilled energy that keeps us going without needing to eat or sleep when we’re in love, is a side effect of a temporarily open heart. As a yogi, I’ve learned to call it the heart chakra. The problem is, we only reserve it for few people in our lives, but Singer argues we can always be this open and as a result:

“You get for free what everybody else is struggling for: love, enthusiasm, excitement, and energy. You simply realize that defining what you need in order to stay open actually ends up limiting you. If you make lists of how the world must be for you to open, you have limited your openness to those conditions. Better to be open no matter what.”

He argues the only reason we don’t feel this energy all the time it because our knee jerk reaction is to protect and block it by closing our heart and mind in situations where we feel threatened. The side effect of this is we feel low energy and unmotivated.

“The most important thing in life is your inner energy. If you’re always tired and never enthused, then life is no fun. But if you’re always inspired and filled with energy, then every minute of every day is an exciting experience. Learn to work with these things.”

In that space of love-filled high energy, we have greater reserves and purpose behind what we do. I’ve found the best way to cultivate this, is first practicing unconditional kindness towards myself. From this space I feel nurtured enough to share that energy outwards.

I began to try and encounter everyone with the same love I’d give to my family.

If a driver tried to charge more than what we agreed on, in the past I might have closed off to him and tried to defend myself, but this time, with an open heart I tried to imagine where he was coming from and why. The result of this was not an argument, but a pleasant exchange and a compromise where instead of antagonise and defend, I tried to make him feel understood. I could tell this took them by surprise, in a situation where they might’ve expected or been accustomed to an argument with a tourist. The outcome was most often a compromise, but if it wasn’t, I was okay with that too.

This is one minor example of a powerful practice that I’ve tried to continue in all situations and have since felt a huge improvement on my sense of peace, wellbeing, my relationships and my relationship with myself. I became more interested in understanding people than being understood, because I already knew what I stood for was enough, because it was based on love.

how to journal for creativity and clarity: 3 writing prompts to help you find balance

Writing thoughts to paper is good for many things. It can clarify confusion, inspire, or help us manifest what we want in life. It's been my natural outlet for over 10 years and each time I write is different, but it's always exactly what I need at the time. Whether it's a to-do list, a 5-year plan, or my internal dialogue, I've found it to be a wonderful tool. 

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I heard once that a particular Australian aboriginal dialect uses the same word 'Dadirri' for both a tangled fishing line and the mind. They believe the heart and gut are a more accurate system to navigate life with. Writing brings thoughts from the intangible whirling space of the brain, onto physical paper and helps make room for the heart and gut to speak louder. 

Lately, I've found that writing a question at the top of my page can create powerful results. Many people seek tarot readers, therapists and psychics to find clarity these days, but I heard once that all the knowledge and guidance we need is within us and this made a lot of sense to me, seeing as no one knows ourselves as intimately as we do.

I've found that asking the right questions leads to the answers we need. Here are three powerful journal prompts that can help soothe, clarify, or manifest what you want in life. 

Paradise is...

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This journal prompt is designed to flex your visualisation muscle. By visualising life as we'd like it, we can connect to the feeling and vibrate at the same level as if it's already happening. This vibration can open up creativity and ideas that you might action towards manifesting these things into your reality. Rather than saying an abstract statement like, what do I want to manifest? I've found that writing "Paradise is..." at the top of the page and letting thoughts free-flow from there, is an easier way to day-dream. The key here is to be as honest with yourself as possible. You might catch yourself hesitating to admit something onto paper, but these are the biggest gems of insight, so make sure you write it down anyway. 

What do I need to hear right now?

This one is a form of self-soothing for those days where you need a bit of comfort, or to know that everything is going to be okay. While a hug and a chat to someone we trust is a great way to feel better, sometimes our loved one's aren't readily available to help us, or maybe they don't understand the situation properly, or know what to say to make you feel better.

Writing "What do I need to hear right now" at the top of the page is a great way to provide yourself with exactly what you need. You might write something like "I need to hear that everything's going to be okay, that I'm exactly where I need to be and that the right thing is coming my way and will arrive at the perfect time." Think about it, whatever you write is just as real and valid as an opinion from your loved one, but instead, you're giving it to yourself exactly as you needed to hear it. Our inbuilt negativity bias in our brains is a protective mechanism that tends itself towards finding all the ways that something might not work out, so asking this question opens up the expansive part of our mind. If you're going through a tough time, it may also help to read this every morning as a way to help you calm negative thoughts.

Evidence that the universe has my back...

This is a bit of an ongoing practice but a powerful one, especially if you're someone that frequently finds yourself dropping into a victim or negative mentality. Keeping a log like this on your phone is a handy way to accumulate feel-good moments that we easily forget. Since our brains are wired to remember the bad things more often than the good things, it's a great way to even the score. You might right down 'evidence' in the form of simple things like "the man in front of me paid for my coffee today," or something like "I've easily managed to score a few job interviews and an amazing house since living in this new city," or whatever it is that you're doing. Life constantly unfolds in incredible ways, introducing us to the perfect people and situations at the right time. What we focus on expands, so the more we acknowledge these little synchronicities in our life, the more the world returns in more of these cosmic encounters, coincidences and perfect timing.

 

 

 

11 life-changing books for your spiritual journey

Reading time: 3 minutes

As the old saying goes, in life, “we’re standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us” and this is also true for spiritual growth. There’s a practice called Jnana (wisdom or knowledge) yoga, which is the practice of using the mind to inquire into its own nature and transcend its identifications with thoughts, and the ego. Soaking in the knowledge of wise and awakened people who’ve come before us in their spiritual journey’s, is one of the most effective ways to move towards a life with more meaning and innate peace, freedom and joy. Here’s 11 books that have and continue to change the lives of those who read them:

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The Four Agreements

Don Miguel Ruiz

This beautiful book was published in 1997 and sold 5.2 million copies, remaining on the New York Times Best Seller list for seven years. The author Don Miguel Ruiz was born in rural Mexico and shares ancient Toltec Wisdom in his book The Four Agreements. In it, he teaches practical wisdom that helps to free ourselves from the beliefs that create limitation and unhappiness in our lives. The four agreements are:

1.     Be impeccable with your word.

2.     Don’t make assumptions

3.     Don’t take anything personally

4.     Always do your best 

Changing the lives and outlook of many people for the better and is said to be compulsory reading for anyone on a path to awakening.

The Baghavad Gita

Most yoga teachers you know will have read this ancient Hindu text that’s now recognized as the first book of yoga. It’s universal, timeless message is embedded in the narrative about two sets of cousins competing for the throne. The dialogue between Arjuna — the the leader of one side, who’s hesitant to battle against his family and friends — and Krishna, who’s message in a nutshell, is to let go of the fruits of one’s actions.

“When a man completely casts away, O Partha, all the desires of the mind, satisfied in the self alone by the self, then is he said to be one of steady wisdom. 56) He whose mind is not shaken by adversity, who does not hanker after happiness, who has become free from affection, fear, and wrath, is indeed the muni of steady wisdom.”

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The Untethered Soul

Michael Singer

The remarkable author behind The Untethered Soul began his life much like Steve Jobs; seeking nothing but solitude before letting life take over and lead him to become the CEO of what’s known today as WebMD (among many other accomplishments following his awakening). The Untethered Soul quickly became a #1 New York Times Best Seller and teaches in clear terms how to tap into the traditions of mindfulness and meditation, how to let go of limiting habitual preoccupations of the mind.

Women Who Run with the Wolves

Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Maya Angelou said of Clarissa’s work; “Everyone who can read should read this book” and it’s true, this book will truly make you think differently. Written by an American born poet, Jungian Psychoanalyst, and post-trauma recover specialist, Clarissa is also a cantadora or a ‘keeper of old stories.’ Clarissa uses these old folk stories to support her analysis of common elements of the human psyche, and help readers better understand themselves and heal.

The Alchemist

Paulo Coehlo

Most people will likely have heard of Paulo Coehlo and the best-selling Brazilian author’s most famous book; The Alchemist, a journey of an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago in search of an Egyptian treasure. Introducing many concepts relevant to life, this is a book about self-realisation and how everything you need in life is already with you.

Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill

Matthieu Ricard

In his early life, Nepalese French writer and Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard earned his PHD in molecular genetics and went on to write about the intersection between science and spiritual philosophy like in his book, The Quantum and the Lotus. Dubbed ‘the happiest man in the world,’ after scoring significantly above average at a university experiment on happiness, Mattieau is a living example of the happiness that’s possible when we put our focus towards awakening the innate peace and stillness already within us.

Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change

Pema Chodron

American Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chodron, went through two divorces before being ordained a disciple of the legendary meditation master, Chogyam Trungpa. With a knack for making Buddhist concepts accessible and relevant to the modern individual, her book Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change is a valuable source of wisdom to draw from, particularly during challenging times. 

Awakening Shakti

Sally Kempton

Sally Kempton was a New York journalist back in the 70’s, before experiencing a spiritual awakening, which diverted her path to a life of teaching meditation and tantric philosophy. Her book Awakening Shakti, teaches meditations that invokes different Hindu deities, to create deeper and more transformative experiences on the mat. Introducing the basics of tantric philosophy and the interplay of Shiva and Shakti in our lives, the book is a great introduction towards integrating more positive energies into our lives.

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

Eckhart Tolle

Drawing from a variety of spiritual traditions, The Power of Now is a potent text that brings all emotional problems back to our human tendency to over-identify with the mind. His antidote to this, is to practice continually bring the mind back into the present moment, instead of worrying about the past or future neither of which exist here and now.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Venerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love Parent and Lead

Brenee Brown

For the past 16 years, Brenee Brown has been studying courage, venerability, shame, and empathy and went on two write three #1 NY Times Best Sellers, one of which is her book Daring Greatly. Teaching the importance of keeping our heart open at all times, Brenee’s book has become one of the most important dialogues of our modern day, where people are re-learning to better connect with themselves and others to create happier lives.

The Mastery of Love: A Practical Guide to the Art of Relationship

Don Miguel Ruiz

Another classic by author Don Miguel Ruiz, The Mastery of Love helps readers to remove the assumptions and beliefs that undermine love, and lead to drama in our relationships. Showing us how to heal from emotional wounds and recovering joy and freedom that we innately have, his book is a practical guide to better relationships.

2 Swedish words that will improve your life 

Beyond their practicality, learning languages gives insight into the ingrained beliefs of different cultures that are worth borrowing from time-to-time, or at least knowing about. In Brazil, they have saudades; a word that means many things, like the deep sense of longing and wistfulness for something you once had. In Spanish there’s duende, used frequently in Flamenco dancing to describe certain moments where god visits the dancer as they transcend worldly capabilities. Then of course, the word hygge (pronounced hoo-geh) which describes a lot of things; from cosy moments and enjoying life’s simple pleasures.

Two of my favourite Swedish words are lagom and fika. Let’s have a look at what they mean and how they can be adopted for a better life.

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Lagom

[ˈlɑ̀ːɡɔm] – adverb

Not too little, not too much. Just right.

The core of the word lagom is contentment. To be content with the way things are is to put down the pursuit of constantly chasing more — as we do in the west — and instead chase just the right amount. The idea that “enough is as good as a feast” emphasises the virtue in practicing moderation, which is something that western culture practices very little of. Anna Hart writes of the Brits; “We opt for the feast/famine rollercoaster of the 5:2 diet over slow-and-steady sensible eating, — and we’ll take pride in pushing ourselves to breaking point in the office, so that we can spend our entire weekend in the pub moaning about how busy we are.”

The perfect antidote to a society that gives us instant access to anything and everything, lagom is a reminder that contentment comes not from having things, but of cultivating an internal state of contentedness with the way things are. Phychologist, Dr Jessamy Hibbert describes it as a “break from the business of constantly checking our phone, driving forward and being 'on’.”

Here are 2 ways to apply the idea of lagom into everyday life:

Switch from valuing what’s best for the individual, to valuing what’s best for your community:

It might look like donating to a charity once a month, reducing the amount of plastic you use and thinking more about the environment. In my own life, I’ve noticed a feeling of greater purpose result of trying to think more for the community around me. So far I’ve donated a lot more frequently to charities and put more of a focus on showing kindness and consideration to the people around me. A few ways I’d like to continue growing this mindset is through volunteering. Swedes have some of the highest taxes in the world, which speaks of their focus as a collective, ‘shared pot.’ This mentality led Scandinavia to be one of the happiest regions in the world despite bitter cold temperatures in the winter. Maintaining a broad middle class is valued over extremes of wealth. They have generous parental leave, quality medical care and systems that keep the community healthy as a whole, instead of only looking after a small wealthy minority. The benefits of adopting this world view in day-to-day life is a less egotistical outlook, which relieves stress through creating greater feelings of belonging, connection and building better relationships.

Buy less and look after what you have

In light of all the self-help material out there on minimalism and tidying up, ‘Swedish death cleaning’ has emerged to poke fun at the craze, as well as add another layer of motivation to de-cluttering our lives. The incentive of Swedish death cleaning, is to consider the burden we might have on our loved ones if we pass away and leave them with a pile of endless belongings. It’s obvious to see lagom practiced in so many facets of Swedish culture, whether it’s through their minimalistic home design, or their sustainable and community oriented politics.

Even reluctant Swedes can see the value of this mentality. “Maybe I’ve been fighting not to be lagom my whole life like a unruly teenager revolting,” says Swedish producer Johan Hugo “but I have grown up to realize lagom is very important part of a sane walk through life.”

You’ll seldom find a Swede dressed in gaudy attire with a cluttered space. We can adopt the benefits of this Swedish way of life in every facet of life. From decluttering our wardrobe, buying less and buying quality; the focus changes from constantly needing to earn and consume, to enjoying life’s simple pleasures; like time with loved ones, being in nature, or creating. These are better ways to your time that lead to greater wellbeing than living in extremes.

Fika

[²fiːka])

Is a concept in Swedish culture with the basic meaning "to have coffee," often accompanied with pastries, cookies or pie.

It may seem indulgent at first glance, but Fika is more than a term for coffee and cake. Fika is another manifestation of the Swedish attitude of moderation and a peaceful revolt against overworking. It is also a time to connect; as the country’s largest export Ikea describes on their website, “More than a coffee break, fika is a time to share, connect and relax with colleagues. Some of the best ideas and decisions happen at fika.”

I first heard of Fika when I went to a café in London named after the custom and ever since then, I’ve used it as a kind of slang to remind myself to slow down and these simple moments in my own life. As someone that’s self-employed, my own culture would make me feel guilty for taking a break. But since learning of Fika a few years ago, Sweden validated my full and uninhibited enjoyment of taking a break to spend time with friends and drink coffee.

 

The Key to Real Motivation is Love

A success strategy without love behind it, puts us in danger of reaching our goals and feeling empty.

In this brilliant article “How to Program Your Brain to Get What You Want,”Zat Rana says, the key to motivation is to be engaged in proactive, not reactive behaviour.

Reactive, or unproductive behaviour comes from the originally developed reptilian brain, which is responsible for fear.

It’s often at odds the modern brain, the centre for forward planning and proactivity. The primal brain is so clever that it can sabotage the most sterling intentions of the modern brain to ingrain positive habits by using fear, to stop us from venturing into uncharted territory.

In knowing this relationship between the modern and primal part of our brain, Rana says, we can forward plan for success by asking the question “am I being mindlessly reactive or am I being proactive?”

But what about those days where the reptilian brain gets the better of us and we wake up wanting to stay under the covers, instead of being proactive?

there’s two ways to motivate ourselves in this scenario:

Either fear pushes us with a sickening urgency to be more, do more and achieve more. Surging in manic waves of lethargy and haste and feeling kind of empty, desperate and like punishment.

Or,

Our love for ourselves, others and the world inspires us to give, serve and help more. It feels meaningful and our motivation intrinsic and endless. In love, we’re not in danger of feeling empty when we finally reach our goals, because our motivation was grounded in love, not success — it never needed validation.

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.” — John Lennon

The primal brain is responsible for both our love and stress hormones. It releases the comforting hormone oxytocin, which is has the complete opposite effects of the stress hormone cortisol. It’s at this point, that I can’t help but think about Voldemort and Harry Potter “for neither can live while the other survives.”

Just like fear and love can’t exist in our brains at once, real and lasting motivation therefore, must come from activating your proactive love hormone, instead of your reactive fear response.

Read more about bringing more love into your life here.

3 Ways We Can Stop Taking Things Personally

"Nothing other people do it because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live." - Don Miguel Ruiz

Put Yourself In Their Shoes

The secret to growing a thick skin has nothing to do with developing a protective armour. The real secret to not taking things personally, is to grow our empathy muscle. They say "hurt people, hurt people" and thinking back to what we were feeling the last time we hurt someone can help us make sense of why we behaved that way and make a similar hypothesis about why someone else behaved badly towards us. From cutting someone off in traffic on the rush to work and in fear of upsetting our boss, to being cold in a social situation because we fought with our partner. Whatever it is, next time someone is unkind, it helps to acknowledge that there's a story behind it. With practice, we may start to feel empathy towards the people that hurt us, which helps to diffuse feelings of animosity and connect better with each other. 

Realise That They're Filtering Everything Through a Single Perspective

I'm going to make a bold statement (with absolutely no scientific backup), and say that ninety percent of what people say to us is almost always about them. People's perspective of the world is filtered by their perception. Taking something personally is choosing to embody a single person's perspective, in the grand scheme of endless perspectives that are available. Everyone has their own set of standards, emotional triggers and things that make them impressed or unimpressed, so statistically, we can't be responsible for what other people think and there's not much point in trying to control it or letting it get to us. Trust that if someone has negative perception of you, it's to protect you from a relationship you don't need, or because it's time to move in a better direction. 

Don't Be Guided By Their Opinion, Be Guided By Yours

While feedback is a wonderful way to accelerate growth, we ultimately get to decide whether someone's opinion resonates with us or not. When we're worried about the opinions of others, we're worrying about something that's out of our control and letting it control us. When the only opinion we take stock of, is the one we have of ourselves, we begin to hold ourselves accountable for being our best person we can be. Cognitive Dissonance describes the uncomfortable state when deep down, the wiser, more intuitive part of yourself knows that you're procrastinating from doing something that will help you grow. The only opinion we need to worry about is the opinion of our intuitive self, because that's the opinion that will lead us to our ultimate truth. If we listen to others and try to make everyone happy, we'll end up living completely out of alignment with ourselves. 

8 simple ways to live with more ease

There’s a TED talk I watched years ago called “Life Is So Easy,” by a man named Jon Jandai. He talks about how he moved from his homeland in Thailand to work 9 to 5 in Singapore. He soon realised that despite working more hours; he was financially poor, time poor and his relationships were suffering.

He moved back to Thailand and began building his own house on a farm, harvesting his crops only three months of the year and taking the rest of the year off to read, spend time with his family and enjoy life. He had less money, but he had more time and financial freedom.

This is just one example of someone that decided that life didn’t have to be so difficult, it could actually be enjoyable and heaven forbid, it could be easy. So why do some of us make our lives so hard?

A lot of it has to do with our beliefs. If we’ve grown up with the belief that working ‘hard,’ is the only way to get through life, then we're not going to live a life with much ease. But what if there was another way, what if we could make it easy for ourselves?

Well, we can; it all comes down to changing old habits and beliefs. It’s like a domino effect; once we start implementing habits one at a time, they eventually grow to become a whole new way of life. Before we know it, we're looking back on your old way of life, wondering how we ever lived that way.

Here are 8 simple ways to start living life with more ease today;

Adopt positive physiology

Our bodies are a direct reflection of your mind and the way we walk, talk, breathe and smile say a lot about us, so by bringing awareness to these things, we can begin notice when our breath is short and tense or our posture is defeated. Practicing longer and deeper breaths has the opposite effect of fight-or-flight, signalling to the brain that we’re safe and everything’s alright. Hunching is also a defensive posture and indicates that we’re retracting from the world or protecting our heart, but we can change our physiology very simply by standing tall, making us feel instantly more empowered and open to the world. The words we use are also a good indication of our self-talk. When we’re kind to ourselves and back ourself up, we're available to be kind to others and our interactions with each other feel easier and less-judgemental. If we have no idea how to implement these things, yoga is a great way to open up our posture, to smile and breathe when things are difficult and to adopt positive inner-world. 

Make movement a natural part of life

When people talk about exercise like it’s a chore or a form of self-punishment, they’re making their lives phenomenally difficult because every time they go out to exercise, it’s attached with a feeling of obligation, rather than a feeling of joy. But there’s another way to look at it. Movement was once a natural part of our everyday lives, but our 21st century lifestyles are more sedentary than they used to be. When we become hyper-aware of how many hours a day we might spend sitting down, we'll naturally start to feel inclined to move our bodies more. Exercise doesn’t have to be a separate part of life that need to be ‘completed,' it’s much easier when we can make a natural part of our lives. If we work close to home, there's the option to ride a bike, if we're catching up with a friend, we can go on walk instead of sitting at a cafe. Not only does it help develop a healthy attitude towards moving, but there's no need to find the motivation when it's genuinely enjoyable.

Be kind to yourself

How do we practice Self Kindness? We can start by noticing our internal dialogue. It might be surprising at first how, often it's negative. If we notice we put ourselves down a fair bit, it’s time to stop and become our own number one biggest fan, because we'll soon realise that all the validation we ever needed was within ourselves all along. Backing ourselves up no matter what happens in life is not a form of egotism, it’s essential. Ironically, the biggest critic we need to back ourselves up from the most, is ourselves. Next time we notice negative self-talk, we can practice giving ourselves the same patience and understanding we’d offer a friend if they made a mistake, by saying “it’s okay, I’ve learned for next time, I’m only human.” Becoming our own ally makes life a lot easier, because when our inner world is a better place, so is our outer world. Buddha said “you yourself as much as anyone else deserves your love and affection.”

Start educating yourself of new ways of living

In school, they don’t teach us how to have good relationships, replace limiting beliefs with expansive ones or how to be more productive — but thankfully, there’s plenty of resources available to teach ourselves these skills. There are so many books, articles and podcasts available that are great to listen to when commuting to work or during a morning walk. A lot of the time, we’re influenced by the same people over and over again, our colleagues, our friends and our family. Introducing new influences from books, travelling or meeting new kinds of people can change beliefs rapidly. When people travel, they often come back saying they’ve ‘found themselves,’ but what’s often happened, is they’ve met new people that have exposed them to new influences and new ways of living that have made them see new possibilities for their lives. 

Let go of beliefs that make you feel low and un-empowered

Beliefs are the linchpin of everything, they’re the difference between feeling lethargic or feeling energised and positive throughout our day. If we don’t believe you can live the life we want, then we won’t allow ourselves to dream of it, let alone reach for it. What’s more, if you do try reach for something, but our beliefs aren’t in the right place, our subconscious mind will find ways sabotage us in the process. Our minds don't discriminate and it believes whatever we tell it, whether that’s positive or negative. Programming our minds to believe work is fun or we have the power to change, can be the difference between living a life with ease and pushing a bolder up a hill. 

Embrace doing things the easy way

If our problem is productivity and organisation; there’s a book for that. If it’s feeling anxious all the time; there’s endless information in forums, podcasts, books that can help to move through it. If we want to find easier ways to change our beliefs; there’s a book for that. Whatever it is, go out and find a better way; there’s always an easier way — knowledge is power. 

Let this moment inform your life

This one is simple, we can only do what we can do in the moment. The past has already happened and the future is not worth worrying about because it’s all a hypothesis. Letting thoughts of the past or the future contaminate the present moment, only causes us to lose focus, spontaneity and joy. Words to live by; “If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever."

Accept the full Spectrum of your emotions

Anger, sadness, guilt and anxiety are the perfect messengers and allies. They’re either there for our survival or to let us know when something in our lives is out of balance. We can welcome each emotion to our door, let ourselves feel it fully, no matter how uncomfortable or painful it is and listen to what it’s telling us. These emotions tend to push us in the right direction if we use them as a gauge to make positive changes, rather than unpacking our bags and living there. If we’re anxious for example, it might be an indication that something in our lives needs changing, whether it’s a relationship for example, or our beliefs about a relationship — it’s all there to teach us. When we look at it like this, we begin to see that there’s no bad emotions, only teachers.