#83: Put down the phone

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Put down the phone and be present. :) 

CC licensed image by Flickr user Jordi Puig

The creation of a new need

Last week, I shared this post on picking up the phone and making a more meaningful connection through phone calls. This week, I’m suggesting to put down the phone. I remember learning in business school that marketing is not about satisfying customer needs, but about creating customer needs. The Smartphone industry has created a need to be constantly accessible and a need to regularly fill quiet space with digital activity. This need has turned into a habit and a normative practice of constantly looking down to our screens to check our phone. But what does this really imply about the way we are living and being?

I am completely guilty at times, of interrupting a focused activity and impulsively checking my phone because I  have succumbed to the lure of the ‘ding!’ that chimes from an incoming text message. However, as someone who is trying to be better every single day, I prefer to be more intentional, effective, and mindful of how I use my phone.

The genius of Smartphones

I don’t think there is anything wrong with Smartphones in and of themselves; in fact, I think the contrary–they are remarkable devices that can be leveraged wonderfully to live more effectively and innovatively. The ability to access data instantly, use applications to improve our work flow and communicate globally from any location, is a testament to the genius of this technological era. However, I think the hyper-convenience of Smartphones has given rise to a new kind of challenge in living more mindfully and more present; with ourselves and with others. As I wrote in this previous post, the only moment we have is the present moment so how will you make the most of it?

When Smartphones are not used smartly, I think they can become a crutch for distracting us from what we don’t want to deal with (i.e., looking at one’s phone to avoid making eye contact with our neighbour; feeling insecure, whether consciously or not, about ‘missing out’; not wanting to be alone with our thoughts; etc…). It also facilitates a new kind of forum for individuals to live in isolation, thereby altering (or even reducing) the nature of traditional social exchanges (i.e., face-to-face discussions, meeting in groups, working in teams, etc…). When I envision two people sitting across from each other at a dinner table, each of whom is looking down at their phone (and they may actually continue to talk to one another while simultaneously looking down at their phones), I consider this not a ‘face-to-face’ interaction, but a ‘crown-to-crown’ interaction–that is, two people facing the crowns of their heads to each other and spending most of their meeting in this way. It’s somewhat comical, actually!

Being smart about Smartphones

Everyone’s circumstances and needs are different, but for my personal lifestyle, it is not imperative that I be accessible at all times (other than rare exceptions with my children), so these are 3 simple strategies for putting down the phone that I try and be mindful of and implement, within reason:

a) Being present during face-to-face interactions (i.e., having a meal with family or friends), by putting my phone away and out of sight (unless there are extenuating circumstances, or unless I am using it for note-taking). I also prefer turing my ringer off when I really don’t want to be distracted from meaningful activities (which includes working, doing a special activity with my family, or reading).

b) Checking my text messages intentionally, when I know I can pay attention and respond properly.

c) Checking my personal emails intentionally, once or twice a day at a time when I can answer immediately, as appropriate. I have found this to be extremely useful in being prompt, thorough and organized. By checking and responding to all my emails in one or two large chunks, I don’t have to keep thinking about getting back to someone, throughout the week. I also don’t have a data plan on my phone, which also helps me avoid checking my emails mindlessly throughout the day. I prefer to respond to emails using my computer instead of my phone.

These are very simple tips and there are an abundance of more ways to effectively put down our phones as well as incorporate them into our daily lives without forming negative habits or addictions. All that being said, I think we can make a conscious effort to live our best life, by using our devices in ways that enhance our core values and goals of who we want to be and how we want to live. What does that mean to you?

#82: Pick up the phone

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The good old days😉 CC licensed image by Flickr user John Richardson

 

There I am, standing in the kitchen at 8:30pm, thinking about my friend that I haven’t spoken to in a while. “I should call her”, I think. But I am tired after an exhausting day and I have many other things I want to do as well. The thought of picking up the phone to make a phone call seems a little over my effort threshold at the moment, so I pick up my phone while walking up the stairs to do my laundry, and I send a quick text : “Hey! How are you? Thinking of you!”. I put the phone down and continue on with my evening.

Although this scenario may seem harmless and is quite normal in today’s digital world, I admit that deep down, my lack of willingness to make that extra little bit of effort to pick up the phone and call my friend points to a level of avoidance in connecting on a more personal level. Hearing a person’s voice (when you cannot see them in person) is exponentially more personal than communicating via text message or email and certainly takes more time and effort. However, before cell phones and emails became so mainstream, phone calls were the norm and were not perceived as effortful; it was all we knew and as such, we would just pick up the phone and call someone if we wanted to convey a message to them. Now, the convenience of technology has created a relative perception of burden and effort. Born out of this digital age, a society of great efficiency and convenience has arisen, but so has a resulting side effect of a culture of avoidance, discomfort, resistance and in some cases, fear of actually making a more personal, meaningful connection with someone.

Close your eyes and imagine the voice of someone you know well: their unique sound, intonation, inflexion, and personality that comes through in the way they speak. The way they may happily exclaim, deeply sigh, softly say ‘mhmm’, the style of their laugh, or even the way they pause in thought. Think of the register of their voice, the ‘colour’ of their voice, the way their voice lends to their personality, and the way their voice makes you feel. So much of the way we respond when interacting with someone comes from our interpretation of the messages they are communicating, not through words, but through the tone of their voice and, when in person, their body language. I was talking to a girlfriend of mine on the phone the other week and she was telling me about a blissful new relationship she was in. As she was speaking, I told her that I could “hear her grinning from ear to ear through the phone” and she told me she was! What a beautiful moment of connection I was able to share with my friend.

I critically ask myself: when did using my device to communicate, excusably become an easy way out of connecting with someone more meaningfully through a good old fashion phone call? More importantly, do I value my relationship with a given friend, family member and myself enough, to step out of my comfort zone and my ‘too busy/too tired’ mentality in a particular moment, and put a little extra effort to pick up the phone and talk to them?

Now don’t get me wrong, I still use text messages and emails regularly and still more often than talking on the phone, and I certainly think that text messages and emails are extremely beneficial when used in the right contexts–to quickly convey specific information (i.e., meeting details, an address, informing someone you are running late etc…). However, when conveying more personal or open-ended sentiments such as ‘How are you?’ or even ‘Happy Birthday’, although digital communication can be used in such situations and still lets someone know you care (and I do genuinely care when I send personal messages through email or text), I think the depth of love, authenticity, empathy and connection that you can get out of those communications will be wonderfully richer if you can hear and experience such moments through a present interaction instead of reading words on a screen. Communication is not just words, it’s an entire experience of connection.

Below is a link to an episode from a podcast I love, called the Good Life Project by Jonathan Fields. This particular episode elaborates on the topic of technology and its impact on empathy, communication, connection and education.

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/owned-by-your-phone-its-complicated./id647826736?i=1000354841246&mt=2

 

 

#81: Splash proudly, splash humbly

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This is the second poem passed on to me by my grandmother and mother.

Last week I shared a poem that was passed on to me by my (late) grandmother and my mother. This week, I share another poem that my grandmother passed along (my apologies for not having a reference). While it may not change the world, I think the message is extremely important and difficult, especially considering the status-driven world we live in. Humility is such an admirable quality that I believe can make someone more effective in making a difference. When one is not so concerned about recognition, power, labels and status (and selfies!), one can more clearly see what needs to be done and act in a rational, authentic manner, keeping the best interests of the overall goal a priority. Leaders who have the ability to stay genuinely humble and deeply connected to the issues and people in need, have the capacity to make a measured difference in the world. Unfortunately, I think they are few and far between and often it is those who work behind the scenes and are unnoticed, who are actually the humble heroes and silent leaders, supporting the change taking place. However, I don’t think humility needs to be equated with being silent or only behind the scenes. In fact, I think that someone who can authentically communicate their good work and promote important messages with humility and without a personal agenda can truly empower, inspire and motivate those around them (a rare and incredible quality to possess!) Do you know any of these rare gems?

When I need to keep my ego in check and return to a place of humility, I find it helpful to remind myself of the sheer magnitude of this world we live in. There are over 7 billion people in the world; people of all different ages, incomes, genders, cultures, histories, skills, intellects and communities. People in all different corners of the world, of all walks of life, all waking up, going to bed and living their lives in different ways. People who possess different types of talents and abilities and who contribute to our global community in ways that we may never come to imagine: at this very moment, there may be a child genius sitting in his room inventing a new musical instrument; or there may be a wildlife researcher sitting atop a lonely snowy mountain waiting to catch a sighting of a rare species; or there may be a woman in a remote village hiking for hours and doing back-breaking work to provide water for her family; or an effective altruist who has just donated 50% of her income to deworm school children in India (something that has been shown to be one of the most effective initiatives to help children stay in school); or a recovering drug addict who is just trying to make it to the next day; or a group of children jumping through a fountain (and could care less about me, you, or what’s trending.) Who knows? I am humbled by these thoughts and have barely scratched the surface here. There are such a vast number of possibilities for human greatness beyond what our minds can conceive and there are so many people and things out there doing extraordinary things…or even regular things. The point is that we are all human beings living our lives in our own way. At the end of the day, we are all fatal and no one is any more invincible to this than the other (unless you have the ability to freeze or clone yourself…? A topic and digression for another time and another blog!).

I’d like to know your thoughts on the poem, the value of humility, how one stays humble in the world we live in, and if you have any examples of humble leaders.

#80: Do the little things of yesteryear

Poem-To My Grown-Up Son

Poem To my Grown-Up Son 2
This poem was passed on by my late grandmother, to my mother, who passed it on to me (my apologies as I don’t have  the original reference.) 

My maternal grandmother (Lalu is what we called her for short) was a beautiful person. I grew up visiting her in India every few years and, although she passed over a decade ago, she has always remained a role model to me. She had a way about her that was peaceful, wise, and connected. She devoted herself to social work, tirelessly helping destitute women and kids off the street in India, and was an accomplished English scholar too. But most of all, she had a loving presence that shone from the inside out, through her sweet smile and twinkling eyes. For my most recent birthday (which was several months ago), my mother passed on two poems that my grandmother passed on to her. The first one, entitled To My Grown-Up Son is something I can really relate to, during this particular time in my life–a time when I am trying to stay afloat in getting through each chaotic, zany, crazy, fun, exhausting and precious day with two little ones at home (at the time of writing this post, my older son is almost 3 and my baby is 9 months old). On those days when my patience is being tested, the dishes are piled up, my clothes are being tugged at by a whining, grubby toddler or a wailing baby, I am sleep deprived and exhausted like never before and on the brink of SNAPPING at my kids in UTTER FRUSTRATION (ahhhhh! mothers with young kids–I’m sure you know what I’m talking about here!); I glimpse into the future to a time when I will no longer have my little boys jumping on and around me and vying for Mommy. And then…I pause…and take a moment to just truly BE with them in the present moment. I wouldn’t trade that moment for anything in the world.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the poem. Can you relate and if so, how? Do you have any strategies for dealing with the pull of the day-to-day duties that must get done while also making the most of your precious time with your loved ones? Stay tuned for next week’s blog post where I will share the second poem that Lalu passed on to my mother (my apologies as I do not have the sources of these old clippings).

 

#79:Live each day as if it were your last

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CC licensed Flickr image by new 1lluminati

The time is just flying by and I can’t believe it’s been over a month since my last post. Life with two little ones (both under the age of 3) has been so incredibly busy, especially while trying to integrate other activities, such as reading, working (I’m running my Brains and Bonds program at the moment), sleeping, and even eating! The days just whiz by and there never seems to be enough hours in the day. Somehow, with just a blink of an eye, the hustle and bustle of the morning has already transitioned into my final shut eye for yet another day, and before I know it, a week and then a month or more, has passed. I see how quickly time is passing with the development and progression of my two little ones and I just want to tell time to slow down so I can soak it all in just a little more!

I can’t slow down time, but I can slow down my thinking, which sometimes gets ahead of myself when I feel an urgency to solve all of life’s problems, mysteries, challenges, questions, all at once. The introverted side in me loves sitting in various percolative thoughts and contemplations, but in many instances, my kids are with me, playing around me…and I’m not really with them. I’m in my own head, giving them inattentive responses. Then, usually within a couple minutes (thankfully), I snap out of it with a reminder to myself to live in the present and, as cliche as it sounds, live each day as if it were my last. If today were my last day, would I want to spend it in my head, or with my children? Would I want to spend my last day filled with negative thoughts or a smile on my face? Would I want to spend my last day stressing over the small stuff or savouring the little joys? Would I want to take or give? Furthermore, if someone were to tell me that I only had a day, a week, or a year left, would I regret doing or not doing certain things? These questions are quite useful in getting me back to where I want to be in a given moment. As it stands right now, I feel that a day spent being present with those I love, myself and the earth, expressing gratitude, love and kindness to those around me (through actions and words), and a day doing good, would be a satisfyingly good last day. What about you?

 

#78: Wear lipstick

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CC licensed image by Flickr user Simon Evans

Women.  We make daily life beautiful.  We keep communities bonded, children fed, spirits dancing, faces smiling and hearts connected.  Women are the centre of the social network, keeping the family unit flourishing.  Women are resilient, humble and strong.  We bring colour to life through beauty.  As Zainab Salbi, says: women keep life going.

I have often felt conflicted about the role that physical beauty plays in our society and in the life of women.  Beauty can be defined in many ways, but the external, physical aspect of beauty is undoubtedly a big focus in our global society.  Until very recently I had much cognitive dissonance over the role and importance of physical beauty in my own life. On the one hand, I would enjoy looking presentable, dressing up and wearing some makeup. On the other hand, I would often feel turned off by society’s obsession with physical appearance, especially when there are much graver and more urgent issues to be focussing on with one’s time.  When I was in my 20’s, I would actually resist looking presentable (by putting little time and effort into my physical appearance and wearing the baggiest pair of sweatpants I owned!), as a way of going against the grain of society’s superficiality, and as a way of upholding my belief that what is on the inside, is what counts most.  I still fundamentally value the inner self above external appearance, but Zainab Salbi’s interview on TED Radio Hour gave me an ‘aha’ moment, that really changed my perspective into the role that physical beauty plays in the life of many women.  I now see that the way we present ourselves to the world can have a meaningful connection to one’s sense of respect, dignity and sense of vibrancy, expression and beauty in daily life.

Zainab Salbi was a woman who went through war.  She witnessed war first-hand and heard the back-end stories of other women during war.  As she discusses in her talk, women kept daily life going during war: they kept their heads up high,  kept the children’s playful spirit going, and kept themselves looking presentable, even when the threat of bombs and snipers were real and imminent every single day.  During the TED interview, Salbi tells an anecdote of a woman she met, who was living in war-torn Bosnia.  Salbi asked this woman about any supplies she may want or need for herself, to which the woman answered: lipstick. Of all things that this woman could want or need during the time of war, this woman wanted lipstick!  Lipstick was the one thing this woman put on every day in the face of war, to demonstrate that she was enduring and that she was upholding her spirit of beauty in daily life.  It was a symbol of resistance during the war to show that she would not look, feel or be battered, and, if the time ever came when she would be face to face with a sniper, she would want her killer to remember that he killed a beautiful woman. 

From now on, I will assuredly wear my lipstick as an external representation of my inner beauty and of the self-respect and vibrancy I will continually strive to bring to the world, as a woman.

 

 

#77: Bond with your family

Family connectedness is at the cornerstone of a happy and secure life. When I was teaching middle school, I spoke to many parents who felt somewhat flustered as to how to keep up with the fast-paced lifestyle of their children’s in-school and after-school activities, while also maintaining a connected family unit. Many parents wanted to know how to better understand their children, support them socially and academically, and flourish as a family.

My friend and colleague, Meghan, and I, are offering a family program called ‘Brains and Bonds’. Through this program, we aim to provide a medium for families to connect, create, and communicate meaningfully, in order to grow stronger as a unit…all while having loads of fun. Join us if you can or contact us if you would like to know more.

Brains & Bonds Flyer

 

 

 

#76: Envision your billion dollar life

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CC licensed image by Flickr user 401(K) 2012

If you had a billion dollars, what would you want to do with your life? What would provide long-term fulfillment for you?

What do you instinctively answer? Your answer can help you realize what you want to do with your time, what you value and what truly interests you. When we are not living to earn the next buck, to receive external gratification through money and hence power, we are living authentically. What does your answer tell you about yourself?

This question helps remind me what I would want to do regardless of money. I would still want to spend ample amounts of time with my family and friends. I would still want to dance like no-one’s watching, to jump through ocean waves, to laugh with my kids and to savour scrumptious food. I would still want to dedicate myself to helping the world become a more equitable place.

What would you enjoy doing each and every day if the societal fabrication of money and wealth was irrelevant to you?

#75: Remind yourself that ‘This is It.’

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CC licensed image by Flickr user Forest and Kim Starr

This. Is. IT.

During one of her many mind-opening podcasts, Byron Katie said these words and they really stuck with me. The only moment that one actually has is this very moment right here, right now. Thoughts of the past and plans for the future are ideas in one’s head, but REALITY is in front of you, existing with you, right NOW. Then, the moment is gone in an instant, and another moment comes, only to start and end in a split second, followed by another one. Each moment is whole, important, real, and finite. Each moment is an end goal, a final destination in and of itself. Each moment is all there is. This is it. There is no reality beyond the moment we are in. As I type the words on this page, this is my reality, my existence, and as simple as each small instant of this typing experience may be…it’s awesome.

I’ve come to realize that part of mastering the art of being present is to appreciate the finality and thus preciousness of all the infinitesimal moments that we are blessed to exist among. Once I remind myself of this, I am better able to appreciate what the singular moment I am in, has to offer (the softness of the couch I am sitting on, a view of the trees outside, my breath, my child’s sparkling eyes looking at me), and revel in it. It’s easy to take these moments for granted, letting our thoughts, wishes, fears and busy schedules carry us away from reality and leading us to assumptions that we have an abundance more moments to come…assumptions that are themselves thoughts outside of reality.

I find myself saying these 3 words to myself as a tool to help me guide my mind back to the present moment. We never know what the next moment will hold, or even if we will have another moment, and it really doesn’t matter. This moment right here, right now, is all there is. This is it. Full stop. Enjoy it.

#74: Fulfil yourself

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CC licensed Flickr image by WindLight Wonders 055

 

Happy 2016 readers! 2015 was an interesting year for me–with a new pregnancy, a move to a new house, a new baby and my eldest son turning 2, we certainly had our hands full! I didn’t blog as much as I would have liked to, but hopefully that will change this year.

I’ve revamped the blog a little to reflect some changes in my focus. Helping the World for me is inextricably tied into helping myself live better. Helping ourselves live better lives will be a topic I will likely explore more this year. To start, here’s a little story:

I have an acquaintance who was on a long and intense quest to find her perfect mate–her Prince Charming, her Soul Mate, her One and Only, her missing puzzle piece. She dated for many, many years, never settling for anyone until she could find that perfect fairy tale romance and lifelong partner that would complete her. When people would ask her what her criteria was, she would say that she was searching for ‘that feeling’. A feeling, or a spark of some sort where she would just know. A feeling that she had never felt but was hoping to realize at some point. And guess what? She did.🙂

I think I’ve been on a journey to discover ‘that feeling’ too, but with regards to my life mission of living well and doing good. After many years of reflecting on this, I believe that I am not necessarily striving for a particular goal, or even for an ultimate sense of happiness, or a defined purpose or meaning (and it can be argued that there really isn’t any meaning to our circle of life), but a certain feeling. A feeling of…fulfillment. A feeling of completeness in my being, where what I am being and doing on both a broader scale and in each and every moment of the day feels peacefully unified, cohesive, assured, full and right. So, even if I were to feel less than perfectly happy on a given day, I could still feel fulfilled. Even if there were no ultimate meaning or purpose to my life, I could still feel fulfilled on a daily basis. I am still on a quest to discover and live this perhaps elusive ‘feeling’ of fulfillment. Maybe it will never come. Maybe fulfillment will be found in embracing the journey to strive for it. Maybe the key is accepting that the present moment is the only place to live in that feeling. Maybe it is the synergy of all the small fulfilling moments and of its related components, such as experiences of joy, triumph, achievement, wisdom etc. Or maybe it is in the balance of enjoying life and giving back as optimally as possible, which is what I am exploring through this blog.  Years ago, when I started this blog, I wrote a quote to represent my thinking on this: “A fulfilling life involves feeling life’s wondrous gifts in earnest, and acting in such ways that others can experience this too”.

There is so much to explore on this topic. For now, I am curious to know, what does fulfillment mean to you and do you feel it in your life?