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Have an inner smile

Do you find yourself taking yourself too seriously sometimes? Striving too hard and losing your sense of humour and your perspective?

When this happens, we lose a sense of lightness and joy and fail to appreciate the beauty that is this life.

Having an inner smile means that we greet our experience with kindness, openness and a sense of wonder. As Thich Nhat Hahn says, "You need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow."

Holding an inner smile also reminds us to keep a sense of humor and avoid being too hard on ourselves.

Maintaining an inner smile involves intentionally and gently smiling to yourself. It is more of an inner experience than an outward gesture. Of course, it may spill out from your heart onto your lips, and if it does, so much the better!

Let this smile remind you not to strive too hard or to criticize yourself. Allow it make your thoughts, words, and deeds more gentle and accepting. You may begin to notice how human beings can be rather amusing...

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Be an observer

Social science researchers spend a fair bit of time people watching: observing how people behave and interact with each other teaches them a great deal about human behaviour and relationships even without saying a single word to them.

It can be very easy to see for example, if one spouse in a couple is making attempts to connect with the other spouse who may be distracted by their smart phone. While the other is distracted, observers may be able to notice just a hint of sadness when their bid for connection goes unanswered. While the distracted spouse may not understand why their spouse seems distant and upset for the rest of the evening, the observers can better understand the dynamic from their observations.

It is not difficult to see such interactions in others and understand what is going on. It is much more challenging to become an observer of ourselves in this way and it is a very effective way to develop equanimity.

Try this fun exercise: imagine yourself leaving your body,...

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Live in a bubble

There are times when we know we are heading towards a situation which will test our emotional balance. We have been in this situation many times before and we often end up getting hooked and triggered in ways which are the opposite of mindful.

When we are knowingly heading towards a situation like that, it is time to conjure up a protective bubble around ourselves.

Here's how: Take a few moments before you are entering this situation and imagine energy circling around you and creating a transparent, protective bubble. The bubble is thick and protective (verbal bullet-proof!) but completely transparent so only you know that you are inside it.

Allow yourself to enhance the protective qualities of the bubble by endowing it with all the positive energies you desire while deflecting negative energies and comments so that they cannot impact you or touch you.

Feel free to watch with amusement as the negative comments and energies bounce back without impacting you or disturbing your...

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Develop a mantra

A highly effective way to practice equanimity is to talk to ourselves in the third person. In this process we become our own coaches for the moment and talk ourselves through the situation.

It is fun to come up with a creative mantra that we can use as a signal to calm down.

When I find myself getting triggered, I imagine a big hook waiting to hook me into a predictable and familiar overreaction. A reaction that will most surely cause me to regret what I say. I then remind myself:

"Come on Marzia, remember to 'engage brain before operating mouth'".

Using your first name in the 3rd person in this way is a highly effective way to remind yourself of your values and coach yourself through a situation which would usually trigger you.

So go on, develop a mantra or two for yourself to help you when you find yourself getting triggered.

Here is a really good example (a 9 min video clip):

 

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How do we develop equanimity?

As we said, Equanimity means to keep cool even in difficult situations and not get triggered in response to what others say or do.

Keeping cool does appear to come naturally to some people. For most of us though, it takes intentionality and practice. The good news however, is that it is a learnable skill. We can learn how to respond to others based on our values rather than react angrily to something they said that triggers us.

How do we develop equanimity?

The first step is to recognize and understand the concept itself.

When someone pushes our buttons or triggers us, there are several physiological signals that tell us that we getting triggered and in danger of reacting. Our breathing becomes more shallow, the heart begins to race, we may begin to feel a build up of tension in our muscles (especially in the hands, the neck and shoulders), we might feel pressure building up behind our eyes, or in our temples.

All these are the body's signal that it is going into fight or flight...

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What emotional reactivity looks like

We have been talking about emotional reactivity in communication and the opposite of reactivity which is equanimity.

Before we talk about how to develop equanimity, let's get clear on recognizing reactivity.

Sometimes we think that if we are not screaming or shouting and we look calm, we are not reacting. But our calm surface might be covering up an internal storm. This is not equanimity.

Looking calm and being calm are two very different emotional states.

Emotional reactivity is as much about what is happening internally than it is what appears on the outside.

If we are having negative thoughts and ruminating about what someone has said, we may be internalizing or "imploding" rather than exploding which is equally unhealthy. Equanimity is not about gritting your teeth and bearing it.

If we shutdown or stonewall during a stressful conversation, we are anything but calm. We are using emotional distance as a way of managing our reactivity which will hurt us and our relationships.

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Equanimity

The opposite of emotional reactivity is a state called equanimity which means mental or emotional stability or composure, especially under tension or strain; it is a state of calmness or equilibrium.

Equanimity is a fancy word with a simple meaning: it means that we are not "triggered" by what others do or say. That we can exhibit calm in the midst of chaos. That we can live our life based on our own values and principles rather than let what others do or say control us.

Think of it this way: if you throw a pebble in a small bowl of water, it will cause large ripples. So large in fact, that some water might spill out of the bowl. Now if you take the same pebble and throw in into a larger bowl, the ripples will be smaller while the very same pebble will cause hardly any ripples at all in the lake or the sea.

What changed was not the force of the throw or the size of the stone but rather the increased capacity of the body of water to bear the disturbance caused by the throwing of the...

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Emotional reactivity in communication

Do you ever notice yourself getting "triggered" in conversation? Being triggered is when the person you are communicating with says or does something that causes an intense emotional reaction in you. The trigger usually causes you to say or do something that is generally out of proportion to what the other said or did. In other words, you 'overreact'.

The problem with emotional reactivity is this: when our words or actions are triggered by something or someone outside our self, they are usually not in alignment with our values. Instead, these words come as a reaction to someone else's words or behavior. It is as if we have given the remote control of our words and actions in someone else's hands.

If you are still wondering what we are talking about, let us take a few examples of things that we say when we are triggered:

You make me angry
Don't make me hit you
You are making me scream

Sentences such as these imply that someone else - "you" - controls my behavior. They put the...

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Foundations of mindful communication – Recap

Today let us remind ourselves about the five foundations of mindful communication that we have discussed.

To practice mindful communication,

1) Get in touch with your intention. Cultivate positive intentions for your communication and remind yourselves of these before you engage in conversation with others
2) Have an attitude of curiosity and compassion. An attitude of curiosity helps us listen better and get to know people while judgmental attitudes block communication.
3) Be willing to learn and to act. Change and growth means that we are open to learning new ways and willing to act on our learning and put it into practice.
4) Practice self awareness. Shine the light of awareness on how you interact with others and be open to feedback.
5) Be mindfully present, which means having your attention in the same place where your body is.

Which foundation do you find the most challenging?

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The iPhone effect

Continuing our conversation about being present to those we are trying to communicate with, have you ever heard of "The iPhone Effect"?

The iPhone effect is a term researchers came up with to describe the impact of the smartphone on communication.

The researchers split people into two groups. One group sat down and chatted with someone they had never met while a smartphone was visible on the table next to them. The other group sat down and chatted with someone they had also never met while a notebook rather than a smart phone was visible to them.

Guess what?

The group who had the smartphone in sight reported a significantly diminished quality of interaction vs. the group that did not have the smartphone in sight.

Here is the interesting thing: the phone was not ringing or pinging during the experiment. In fact the phone did not even belong to the people that were participating in the study – it was someone else's phone! The MERE PRESENCE of the smartphone diminished the...

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