Up Your Game on Gratitude

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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

A Recipe for Cultivating Passion

Katrina Calihan Point of Arrival Passion.jpg

I had the privilege recently of attending a performance of The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and Jon Batiste. Individually, the musicians had an immeasurable amount of prodigious talent, but collectively, the music was soulful and magical.  It was clear there was something ethereal happening; an energetic wave was born on that stage and washed over us all.  It got me wondering – what are the ingredients that generate this kind of passion and energy in our own lives?  And, what is the ripple effect into our communities when we tap it?
These questions were the basis of my graduate school dissertation and are ongoing for me.  Here’s what you need to know about how to cultivate more passion in work and life:

  • Nurture your talents and actively use your strengths – What are the talents, skills and abilities that come naturally to you, that are energizing and you cannot help but express in the world?How will you nurture them so they continue to grow? We often discover our passions by pursuing our strengths. When we connect with and use our strengths in service of our passions, we are more likely to engage in those activities, be resilient when we're challenged and generate better results.  
  • Focus, hard work and practice – Focus on what lights you up!  Work tirelessly and energetically toward improvement and mastery, knowing that a growth mindset, continued learning and practice will only make you better at what you love. 
  • Follow the path for its own sake – In terms of generating meaning and purpose in life, intrinsic rewards far outweigh the extrinsic ones.   Do what you’re passionate about because of the sheer joy it brings you, because time fades into the background, and because you cannot keep from doing it!  The activity is the reward. 
  • Architect a community of support – Who are the people who encourage and inspire you?  Who has complementary gifts, that when joined together, spark magic?  The whole is more than the sum of its parts.  Other people matter, and we need community for exponential impact and engagement.
  • It doesn’t need to pay the bills – While some of us will connect with passion through our paid work in the world, many of us will not, and that is perfectly okay!  What’s of the utmost importance is that we are cultivating our interests and passions in at least one domain of our lives.  Passion energy is a wellspring of positive emotions and meaning.  Do something ongoing that is energizing and brings you enjoyment and happiness. 

Watching the stage that evening, I witnessed passion coming alive in the foot tapping, bodies swaying, ear-to-ear smiling and harmonious sound.  A lifetime of nurturing talents, discipline and practice enabled that symphonic moment.  Those individual musicians, in ensemble, reverberated musical grandeur that touched the souls of everyone in that theater.  Thank goodness they showed up and shared it!  Here’s the bottom line: participate in and share your gifts with the world, for your own sake and the collective, we need them more than ever. 

In service and gratitude, Katrina 

Why the Pursuit of Perfection is Riddled with Flaws

Point of Arrival Katrina Calihan.jpg

It doesn’t take much investigation to reveal why so many of us have been hooked by perfectionism.  Through bombardment of mainstream and social media – where so much of what is celebrated is airbrushed and what is showcased is a selective editorial of only our fabulous moments – the message is clear: being perfect, whether it’s having career success, physical beauty, or having the perfect family, is the path to happiness and worthiness.  Many of us received messages from the time we were small that perfect performance and behavior bought us love and attention.  Pressure to pursue perfection is pervasive, but the path is riddled with flaws.  It’s time we wake up and create a new aspiration to live authentically instead of perfectly.

I know you’re probably thinking that your boss wants you to be perfect at work, but I would guess you’re wrong.  Perfectionism has a dark side, and it’s distinctly different from being hard working, having appreciation of excellence, holding high standards, and being committed to results.  Everyday in my coaching practice with clients, I see the damage derived from perfectionism.  A few of its hallmarks are:

  • Holding yourself to an unattainable bar that sets you up for disappointment and the feeling of ‘never [fill in the blank] enough’
  • Overworking in an unsustainable way that leads to burnout
  • Not producing timely results because you’re over-iterating
  • Micromanaging your teammates in an attempt to control every detail
  • Adopting a self-critical and judgmental inner voice that is harsh on yourself
  • Playing it safe and not taking risks for fear of failure
  • Hiding mistakes and pretending you’re ok, even when you’re crumbling inside
  • Never asking for help for fear you’ll be found out as an imposter

For most people, all this striving for perfection strips us of true satisfaction, happiness and actually enjoying our work and lives.  Perfection is a dangerous path where people are especially prone to the error of thinking that self-worth is equivalent to the ability to be perfect.  In the end, perfectionism is an anxiety inducing, often obsessive, and disconnected way of living your life.

The good news and bright side is that with courage, self-awareness, openness, and willingness to experiment and dispute your thinking, you can unravel and eventually undo perfectionism.  Here are some tips and actions to help you along your path to authenticity:

  • Become aware of your inner voice – notice how you talk to yourself and begin talking to yourself like you would a sweet friend, with compassion
  • Embrace that what you do, how you look, what others think of you, how successful you are, etc., does not equal who you are – you get to create your identity and self-worth
  • Ask for help when you need it – and pay attention to what happens
  • Take a risk or try something that feels out of your comfort zone – we learn so much through new experiences and mistakes
  • Admit your mistakes – especially at work, your team wants to know you are human.  It gives them permission to be honest about their mistakes with you
  • Know when good enough is enough – challenge yourself to prioritize what needs more attention and what does not
  • Don’t boil the ocean – focus on the 80/20 rule – what 20% of activities will give you 80% of the results
  • When someone else comes up less than perfect, be compassionate - none of us are perfect
  • Reach out and get support to build resilience – share what you’re working on with a friend, trusted colleague, mentor or coach – ask for accountability 

When we hang up perfection for authenticity, we make way for courageous connection, richer learning experiences, cultivation of a growth mindset, honest living, and perhaps the best gift of all – an improved, more loving relationship with ourselves. Let's let the ivory tower of perfection fall!

May you embrace your imperfections today, and may you still be perfectly enough, 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