Positive Psychology

Up Your Game on Gratitude

Katrina Calihan Gratitude Newsletter.jpg

Happy Thanksgiving!  In the spirit of this week's holiday, I want to share some thoughts with you on gratitude - why it matters, and how you can easily up your gratitude game.  

Our brains are hardwired to repeat habitual patterns of thinking, and for many of us, that means a negativity bias.  Left unchecked, this becomes a detrimental mindset through which we experience the world. The data suggest it’s worth the effort to become more positive.  Research by positive emotions expert, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, demonstrates the benefits of a mind brimming with positive thoughts and emotions.  Her studies show that people with a higher ratio of positive to negative thoughts and emotions experience elevated levels of well-being, increased creativity, and better connections with others.  

One of the simplest ways to access more positive thinking and emotion is by developing a gratitude practice.  It's a practice because gratitude is created through thoughts, emotions and actions.  It starts with getting in the habit of frequently directing your thoughts and attention toward what you are grateful for in your world.  Doing so triggers cultivation of the emotion of gratitude.  For me, it shows up as a warm, softening sensation in my chest.  When I stay with that sensation, it makes me feel more open and receptive to the world.  Gratitude becomes an action when we share it with others.  This gives both the receiver and the sharer a boost in well-being.  
Here are 2 challenges to up your gratitude game:

Challenge 1: In the spirit of Thanksgiving, share 1 gratitude with someone each day for the next week.  With whom do you want to share your appreciation and thanks?  Who has supported and cared for you? Been kind or generous to you?  Gone out of their way for you?  Sincerely tell them how grateful you are and why.

Challenge 2: Start a Simple Gratitude Practice. What I'm about to share is perhaps the most researched activity in positive psychology that has repeatedly proven to increase human flourishing - The Gratitude Journal.  
If the word 'journal' makes you sweat, let me break it down for you.  For the rest of 2017, identify a place to capture your thoughts.  This can be a notebook, spreadsheet, phone app - whatever you prefer.  A few times a week or daily, take 5 minutes to reflect on and write down what you're grateful for or what went well that day.  Aim to do this at the same time each session to build the habit.  What you're grateful for can be big or small.  Maybe it was a fun lunch with a friend, a success you had at work, a relaxing yoga class, or a good night's sleep.  Maybe your focus is on relationships and loved ones.  When you play a role in making good things happen - note it.  For example, when you were having a stressful week, you prioritized attending a yoga class because you knew it would help you de-stress and focus better at work the next day.  

The upside of a Gratitude Journal goes beyond the few minutes when you're engaged in the activity.  By looking back, focusing on, and remembering the good stuff, we shift our thinking patterns toward recognizing and anchoring on positive thoughts.  We may actually become more optimistic and resilient, create more positive memories, and develop an orientation toward hunting the good stuff every day.  

Challenge accepted? 

Let me close by saying thank you to you, the friends of Point of Arrival. The past 2 years have been an amazing journey, and I'm so glad you've been along for the ride.  Thank you for your continued interest, curiosity and support.  I'm grateful to this community!

Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving, Katrina

How to Start a Meditation Practice in a Few Minutes a Day

If you’re like most busy professionals I know, you probably spend most of your week moving between meetings, with a mile long to-do list, and a pile of personal commitments.  This means you are not only physically busy, but you’re mentally busy and may be overloaded.  One of the most in-demand topics from my coaching clients and groups is how to build mindfulness practices into their daily lives to counter life’s hectic pace.  So today, I’m bringing this topic to all of you – the friends of Point of Arrival.
The brain is hard-wired for continuous thinking and has 2 preferred time zones – it spends most of its time churning on past events or planning and worrying about future ones.  The body, on the other hand, only lives in the present.  Mindfulness joins the body and mind together in the only space and time we actually have - the present. Researchers have long studied the benefits of meditation – increased creativity and problem solving skills, improved concentration, self-control, memory and emotional intelligence, and reduced stress and reactivity – just to name a few.
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a renowned mindfulness researcher, defines mindfulness as “the act of paying attention on purpose and being aware in the present moment without judgment or attachment.”  While we can do this anytime of day and wherever we are, one of the most beneficial ways to practice mindfulness is through mindfulness meditation. 
I have good news!  Mindfulness meditation is simple!  And yes, even if you’re one of those people who are terrified to be alone with your thoughts, even you can do it!  So, here we go…

  • Take a comfortable seat – either in a chair or on a cushion on the floor.  If possible, do not lean your back on anything.  Sit upright with good posture so you feel a lift through your spine but aren’t straining
  • Set a timer – I use the free version of the Insight Timer in the Apple App Store – it has lovely sounds to ease you in and out of the practice
  • Close your eyes or take a soft gaze a few feet in front of you on the floor
  • Focus on your breath and body – what it feels like to breathe in and out through your nose, how your chest rises and falls with each breath, scan your body and release any tension, feel your heart beat in your chest, with every breath soften and tune in

That’s it!  It really is that simple.  I know what you’re thinking…. ‘What about my monkey mind? I’ll be terrible at this!’  First, it’s important to remember that this kind of meditation is a non-evaluative experience.  You cannot be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at it – you are just where you are, and it’s perfect for today.  It’s normal, especially for beginners, to have streaming thoughts during meditation.  Each time you have a thought, notice it, label it as 'thinking', and come back to focusing on your breath.  Through this method, you are not giving your thinking any credence, attachment or judgment. 
When you catch your mind making a grocery list, thinking ‘I hate this right now’, or stressing about work tomorrow – recognize and label it. Say to yourself, ‘that’s just thinking’, and come back to your breath.  You might do this every few seconds.  Remember, meditation is a practice, and its benefits are cumulative.  Like any new practice, I promise it gets easier with time.  In short order, you will notice you’re training your brain to quiet its noise.  You’ll feel clearer, calmer and more focused both on and off your meditation cushion.
What are you waiting for?  Give mindfulness meditation a try, and commit to sticking with it for a few weeks.  How much time is ideal? Whatever you can do consistently that feels accessible!  Start with 3 to 5 minutes and gradually increase your time.  Daily is best, but a few times a week is better than none!  Try it for yourself, and send me a note to share your experience.
My favorite spiritual teacher, Pema Chodron (check out her incredible audio collection on Audible), reminds us through her teachings that meditation is not about feeling good.  In fact, it can feel darn right hard and uncomfortable.  Instead, meditation is about showing up for yourself on a regular basis, and learning to hold space and sit with the full range of human experience – the good and bad, the joy and sorrow, the pleasure and pain – without grasping or aversion.  Through this practice, we begin to know ourselves more deeply and become self-aware of our triggers and patterns, of what serves us and what does not.  From that place, we begin to adjust, grow, and more capably respond to whatever comes our way in life.
Here’s to your inner peace and wisdom, Katrina

4 Steps to Maximize Your Summer & Well-Being

Kyoto, Japan - April 2017

Kyoto, Japan - April 2017

Meet our new rescue pup, Keeper!

Meet our new rescue pup, Keeper!

Happy Spring! 
Wherever you may live, I hope you are enjoying the return of warm weather as much as I am in Chicago!  Much has happened since my last newsletter…. In April, I spent 2 blissful weeks vacationing in Japan during the cherry blossom festival, a week after returning I adopted a dog, Keeper, (whom you have definitely met if you follow Point of Arrival on Facebook), and last week I traveled to the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business for the annual Positive Business Conference

All of this excitement has me thinking about how magical this time of year is. As Mother Nature emerges and blooms to life, there is a real sense that each of us is coming back to life, re-energizing, and enjoying a fresh start.  What I’ve also experienced is that this season is fleeting if you’re not mindful.  This brings me to the focus of this month…

4 Steps to Maximize Your Summer & Well-Being

Step 1: Spend Your Money on Experiences, Not Things
Friends often comment to me that I’m always up to something and never let the moss grow under my feet!  The reason for this is that I value adventure and experiences, and there’s good reasons that you should, too.  Research shows that we get more happiness and enjoyment from experiences than we do material possessions.  You’re able to prolong and savor experiences in 3 ways – planning and anticipating, experiencing the event itself, and reminiscing about the memories.  Also, many experiences include others, adding a relationship-enriching connection that no new clothes you buy will provide. And, people like to talk about each others’ experiences, adding another layer of social bonding. We ask people about their weekends, hobbies and trips, not their possessions.  Experiences make us more interesting, and our commonalities build bridges between us.
Step 2: Get Outside
Nature and the outdoors are good for your mind, body and soul.  No time is better than summer to enjoy it!  There’s a veritable mountain of studies that reveal how time spent in nature lowers stress, increases cognitive functioning, and how even your proximity to green spaces in urban environments may alleviate anxiety, depression, and a long list of other ailments.  I regularly hear stories from others about how nature encourages deep self-reflection and spiritual connection.  At a minimum – we’re up from our chairs and moving our bodies, something most of us need more of.
Step 3: Be Mindful and Present
When you’re in the midst of your summer experiences, check-in with yourself frequently by asking, ‘Where is my mind right now?’  The mind has 2 preferred time zones – past and future – while the body only has 1 – the present moment.  It takes practice to join the mind and the body in the present moment.  The more you practice this, the more you will dissolve stress and worry and allow yourself to appreciate the only experiences you actually have access to – the ones happening RIGHT NOW! Not to mention, the people you’re with will be grateful for your undivided attention and presence.
Step 4: Be Planful and Intentional
This is my client’s #1 complaint – ‘I’m too busy!’  The Washington Post and Huffington Post have both run articles recently about the risks of wearing busyness as a badge of honor and status symbol.  My friends, this is a slippery slope to burnout, unproductive social comparison, unhealthy measurements of self-worth, and an inability to cut through and prioritize what is most important in your life!  To some degree, busyness is a choice.  Let’s all SLOW DOWN and increase our time spent ‘human being’ rather than only ‘human doing’.  If you’re not planful and intentional, these next few months of summer will go by in the blink of an eye.  Maximize your summer by pausing and thinking about what you want to experience and get out of this special season.  Do you want to get out of town, host dinner parties in the backyard, go on retreat, spend time with family?  Whatever it is, make a list, get out your calendar, and start planning!

May your energy, experiences, joy and well-being bloom as abundantly as the season! 
Here's to sunny days lived to the fullest, Katrina

Sakura Festival - Tokyo, Japan - April 2017

Sakura Festival - Tokyo, Japan - April 2017

Are You Still Fun?

        A few years ago, my husband and I went to a destination wedding of a college friend.  The maid-of-honor was larger than life in a way that was absolutely and ridiculously playful, hilarious and downright silly.  Her charm gravitationally pulled everyone in through the wedding weekend – she brought out in each of us our hidden self that dances like no one is watching, laughs until our belly hurts, and plays with reckless abandon.  That wedding weekend was so inordinately fun, that it gave me pause. I turned to my husband on the drive home and said, “Am I still fun?”  It wasn’t that I didn’t fully enjoy my life; it was that the weekend had been so standout fun and playful, it made me wonder if I had become too serious in my adult life?  Had I forgotten what it was like to channel my inner child?

        It turns out the majority of us have done just that.  Children laugh an average of 400 times a day – adults, just 17 times.  Integrating play into their activities is effortless and natural, as is curiosity and questioning.  The volume of questions adults ask steeply declines as we approach adulthood, and with it, our creativity.  Organizations that rely on innovation are tuning into this and intentionally creating cultures that hone creativity and design thinking to solve difficult problems by welcoming curiosity and questioning. 

        Since play is linked to creativity, happiness and productivity, gone are the days we should work in order to play.  Instead, we should look for ways to infuse play into our work.  What type of work day do you enjoy more – one that is all-business or one that allows you to enjoy a laugh with your colleagues and have some fun in the process?

        What I found to be good news was that there’s more than one way to play, so if your kind of play is not the Maid-of-Honor, life-of-the-party-type, there’s hope for you!  Yes, you can still have fun and be fun.  In his book Play, Dr. Stuart Brown explains that play comes in a variety of formats - it can be social, imaginative, involve objects or rough-housing (think sports!), or be experienced as a spectator. 

        The bottom line is that regardless of how you experience play, we all need more of it.  While research on play and the brain in humans is burgeoning but still limited, we know from research on mammals that those who play more live longer, have better survival instincts, and develop more complex brains.  Signals from others of playfulness - from body language, voice or facial expression - communicate that we are safe in our company and help to establish trust.  And when our brains do not detect threat, we decrease our stressors and are free to enjoy the feel-good stuff in life and express ourselves more authentically.


        Let’s help each other to play more, laugh more, to not take ourselves too seriously, to be unencumbered, and to reconnect with what brings us joy!

Here’s to more LMAO, dancing-like-no-one-is-watching moments!

Rio in Flow

Photo by CelsoDiniz/iStock / Getty Images

            The Olympics are a big deal in the Calihan house.  During the past 2 weeks, we were glued to the games.  Watching the best athletes in the world come together – the energy, the passion, the sheer joy – to do what they’ve worked their entire lives for on a global stage, is nothing short of mesmerizing.  Watching athletes like Phelps, Ledecky, Biles, and Bolt make history in their events, I couldn’t help but draw questions and connections about what these performances teach us about creating joy and satisfaction in our own work.

           Research informs us that engagement, or flow, in our lives is a significant factor of our overall well-being.  These are the activities that fully absorb your focus – when time stops for you.  When the challenge at hand matches and slightly pushes the edge of our skills and strengths, we have optimal conditions to experience flow.  To watch Simone Biles on the balance beam is to witness flow.  She is not thinking about her homework or distracted by the floor routine music in the background – she is totally and completely focused and immersed in the flow of her routine.  Flow is the ultimate form of living in the present moment and enjoying it.  It is a perfect balance of concentration and ease.  When you’re in flow, you’re often doing and creating in ways that enhance your skills and mastery while making valued contributions to your organization.

Challenge: Create Flow in Your Work This Week

           You can create more flow experiences in your work by intentionally planning and participating in your flow activities.  Consider: in your job, what are you doing when time stops for you?  What are the activities that absorb your attention – in which you’re challenged, able and interested?  What are you doing when you’re fully present?  What conditions enable this for you - do you need silence or music or an inspired atmosphere? Does it involve being alone or collaborating with others? 

           Identify your flow activities, create the conditions that foster it, and carve out time for them.  In the coming week, intentionally schedule a work block into your calendar for this activity.  Notice how the experience makes you feel both during and after.  Relaxed, centered, energized?  What did you accomplish?  How might regular time spent in flow at work enhance your experience, job satisfaction and contributions?

           I love hearing from you!  Please send me a line to share your experience with creating more flow this week at katrina@point-of-arrival.com.

Flow on!