How to Tell When You’re Overwhelmed

How to Tell When You’re Overwhelmed

You’re here because the thought that you’re overwhelmed has crossed your mind. You feel the overwhelm slowly creeping in but somehow can’t acknowledge what’s truly going on. Between all that you’ve got going on at work and home, it’s not surprising that you have questions.

No one ever sets out to intentionally overextend themselves. And overwhelm is sneaky. In most cases, the physical signs alert you to the fact that something isn’t right. Because although your mental state is often the first clue, it’s also the most commonly ignored.

But physical symptoms are not as easily ignored. Maybe you just can’t seem to drag yourself out of bed in the morning. Or your ability to concentrate has taken a nose-dive.

And that nagging cold that just won’t go away? Could it be something more than just your kid who makes it his life’s mission to constantly sneeze in your face?

It’s one of those things where you’re fine one minute. But in the very next, you find yourself googling “how to tell when you’re overwhelmed.” And so, here you are.

You’re not alone. Overwhelm is real and can make life feel like a drag. But there are also real steps you can take to start feeling better.

This post may contain affiliate links. As an affiliates of Amazon, I may receive a commission at no extra cost if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information. I take no credit for the images appearing on this page. All images courtesy of Canva.

Overwhelm or Something Else?

Symptoms of overwhelm can mimic a variety of health conditions. If you’re consistently feeling down, depressed, or have had changes in sleep, appetite, or other areas of your life, it’s essential to see your primary care provider.

Although I am a nurse practitioner, I am not your nurse practitioner, and this post does not constitute medical advice. It is for educational and entertainment purposes only. You and your healthcare provider are the only ones who can collaborate to diagnose and treat underlying medical conditions.

Once you’ve ruled out medical issues, it’s time to take back your life and put a stop to the overwhelm!

Physical Signs That You’re Overwhelmed

Although mental or emotional signs of being overwhelmed often appear first, they can be the easiest to dismiss. The physical symptoms often cause you to stop and question what’s happening underneath all that unchecked anxiety and a general sense of crankiness.

Shortness of Breath

If you’re a runner or are active in other ways, you’re probably familiar with the heart racing, short-of-breath feeling you get when working out. But if you get these feelings outside the gym, it could be a sign that you’re overwhelmed.

If you have shortness of breath accompanied by dizziness, nausea, vomiting, or a sense of impending doom, please head to the emergency room ASAP!

But if you find yourself chronically short of breath and your heart and lungs are fine, it could be a sign that your body is chronically stressed. In other words, your brain is getting the message that danger is everywhere. And it’s trying to compensate by releasing chemicals that make you feel a certain way.

Our bodies have amazing coping mechanisms to balance in the short term. But these coping mechanisms have a shelf life. After they’ve expired, you can be left with long-term damage that’s difficult to reverse.

Fatigue

Are you having trouble shaking that “didn’t get enough sleep” feeling? It may have more to do with having too much on your plate than getting too little sleep at night.

Fatigue can permeate every area of your life, making all the things feel way more complicated than they have to be. It can be sneaky too. If you’re a high-achieving type-A person like me, you can fool yourself into thinking you’re simply not getting enough shut-eye.

But in reality, you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. And your brain can’t possibly fathom taking on anything else at this point.

Constantly Sick

Do you find yourself battling one cold after another? If so, it’s possible that you’re overwhelmed.

Our bodies are a fascinating combination of complex systems, all working together. When your brain is stressed, you feel the effects in your body as well.

As a form of overwhelm, stress sends chemical messages that alter how our bodies function. In this case, chronic stress impacts your body’s immune system. This results in frequent colds and other minor illnesses.

Although rarely life-threatening, frequent colds are annoying!

And even minor illnesses can mess with your concentration, mood, and motivation.

Mental and Emotional Signs that You’re Overwhelmed

It takes practice to identify overwhelm before it reaches the point where you have physical signs. This is especially true for high-achieving, type-A personalities because, just like Olivia Pope, we handle things.

We are driven and feel that our drive is the reason for our success. And sure, we feel overwhelmed much of the time, but where would we be without the overwhelm?

It’s almost as if we wear overwhelm like a badge of honor.

But what if I told you that overwhelm is stealing your joy? It’s clouding your vision and making you less effective than you could be.

Would it inspire you to get serious about recognizing overwhelm for its hazard?

Crankiness

Do you find yourself in a general state of crankiness much of the time? Almost as if you’re ready to go 9 rounds with anyone at any time?

If so, it’s entirely possible that you’re overwhelmed.

Irritability and mood swings can be your brain’s way of putting the brakes on your ever-growing list of obligations. Crankiness is also a subconscious way to keep people at arm’s length and guarantees they’re less likely to ask you for favors, thereby increasing your workload.

Generalized Anxiety

Do you feel nervous all the time? Maybe you’re overwhelmed. Is the word “relax” not even in your vocabulary? You’re overwhelmed.

You don’t have peace if you’re running here and there, trying to get things done. You don’t have the time or space to just be. Your brain gets in the habit of being in constant overdrive.

And because there’s so much to do, you get trapped in this negative cycle of overthinking. After a while, it’s tough to feel any joy because all you can think about is checking things off your list.

But the more you check off, the more you realize there is still left to do.

Overwhelm and anxiety feed off each other. This is especially true if you are a Type A personality. The fear of not getting something done, missing a deadline, or doing a task imperfectly drives you and is a big reason you’re overwhelmed.

You Can’t Stay Focused

It’s no wonder that it’s difficult to concentrate when overwhelm takes over. Overwhelm, mixed with a bit of anxiety, zaps your energy and makes focusing on anything other than your long list of obligations impossible.

To get even more done, you may also have started multitasking. According to multiple studies, multitasking is actually your brain quickly switching from one task to the next, a process that zaps your energy at a remarkable rate. Although multitasking seems efficient, your brain can’t focus on more than one thing at a time.

A tendency to multitask also means that you may tend to ignore the little things in life. You become so focused on becoming efficient that you forget to stop and simply enjoy the little things.

But the little things make life worth living, thus the reason anxiety, and even depression, eventually take over.

Now that we’ve explored both the mental and physical signs that you’re overwhelmed let’s talk about how you can start feeling better!

What To Do When You’re Overwhelmed

Although overwhelm is familiar, you don’t have to let it rule your life. You are in charge of your life.

Overwhelm becomes a mindset that clouds your vision and darkens your world. But if you take action, the sun will come out once again, and you can finally find peace.

Watch for Catastrophes

The language you use matters. It can either build you up or tear you down. Words like “always” and “never” make anything seem worse than it actually is.

And in those moments when you’re overwhelmed, look for ways to accurately describe what’s happening. For example, which of these two statements sounds more reasonable?

  1. “I’ve got so much going on today. I’m completely overwhelmed and have no idea how I will make it through the day.”
  2. “I’ve got 2 meetings at work today, and I have to finish that presentation by noon tomorrow.”

The second one sounds manageable, right? Describing precisely what needs to be done and when takes the panic and mystery out of overwhelm. Sometimes, the simple fear of the unknown adds an extra layer of negativity to your thinking. And by taking the time to lay out what’s bothering you, you’ll suddenly realize that it’s actually not as bad as you thought.

Stop Multitasking

Along with accurately describing why you’re overwhelmed comes a commitment to stop multitasking. Research shows that it’s not effective anyway, so what’s the point?

Take time to enjoy the small moments in life. Stop and enjoy a beautiful sunset. Laugh with your kids. Leave your phone inside and stretch out in your backyard, watching the clouds float by on a sunny day.

Multitasking re-enforces the idea that you have to be doing something every minute of every day. It leaves no time for living and loving life. And it’s fooling you into thinking that you’re making progress when all you’re actually doing is sucking out the joy and feeding anxiety.

Set Boundaries

It’s easy to feel like you’re overwhelmed if you’re saying “yes” to everyone but yourself. If you find that your people-pleasing tendencies are taking over your life, it’s time to set some boundaries.

I’m not saying you should never do anything you don’t want to do. But I am saying that there needs to be balance in life. And you need to be realistic about what you can actually get accomplished in a day.

A great place to start is by establishing priorities. What areas of life matter most to you, and how can you optimize those areas?

Whenever new opportunities come up, you can then match them against your priorities. If they don’t align, don’t feel bad about saying “no.” There’s somebody out there who would be thrilled with the opportunity that simply doesn’t feel right to you. And by saying “no,” you open a door for that person.

Pretty great, right?

Exercise

I have yet to find a self-improvement topic that doesn’t involve exercise in some way, shape, or form and this one is no different. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop and move your body. Take a walk. Go for a run. Grab your bike and take a ride.

Whatever it is, clearing your head with a little fresh air and movement does wonders for shaking out the cobwebs and anxiety related to overwhelm.

Exercise stimulates the release of feel-good hormones that immediately improve your mood and lessen anxiety. It’s an all-natural way to stop the hamster wheel of overthinking.

Meditation

If you’ve never tried meditation, now is your chance! Meditation teaches you the valuable skill of controlling your thoughts, especially important when overcoming overwhelm.

If you struggle with insomnia, meditation just might be the answer you’re looking for! The practice of meditation helps ground you into the here and near instead of the past or future. Sometimes overwhelm is more about the habit of worrying about the future. But by keeping yourself in the present, you can start enjoying life.

There are several apps to teach you the basics of meditation. Headspace is my favorite app. It has different meditation to help you with insomnia, stress, and even self-esteem.

You can also find meditations on YouTube. Give it a try! You might be surprised by how well it works for relieving overwhelm.

Choose Gratitude

Your brain is phenomenal at picking up patterns. And your subconscious is always looking for ways to help you out. What this means for you is that your brain will find what it thinks you want.

If you wake up telling yourself that today will be awful, your brain will find ways to support this thought. When you spill your coffee, your kids miss the bus, and you’re late for the meeting, the message that this day is terrible wins out.

But if you wake up telling yourself that today will be a good day, instead of being angry, you’ll be thankful that you spilled the coffee on your kitchen counter instead of on your brand new skirt. Or that you’re happy for a few extra minutes with your kids because you have to drive them to school when they missed the bus. You’ll even be thankful that you missed the small talk you hate so much at the beginning of the meeting.

You are in control of your thoughts. And since thoughts drive emotions, you also have the power to change how you feel. If you feed your brain negativity, you will feel negative. And if you fail to set boundaries and are constantly multitasking, you’ll feel like there simply isn’t enough time in the day for it all.

But if you decide that you’re in control of your life and your schedule, overwhelm will become a thing of the past. Start seeing the good and stop embracing the overwhelm.

Find Inspiration

There are some great resources out there on tackling various aspects of feeling overwhelmed. Here are a few of my favorites:

, ,

Be Realistic

Although gratitude can take you a long way in life, being realistic can bring you the rest of the way. There honestly aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all.

It’s time to accept this truth and set your priorities. If something isn’t a priority, forget about it. Or at least re-schedule it to a more reasonable time.

It’s ok to let things go if they don’t fit into your priorities at this moment in time. There will always be things that were important to you at one time, but simply don’t make the cut anymore.

You’ve grown and evolved as a person, and it’s ok to let it go. You can always pick something up again later if your priorities shift.

The small, daily stress adds up quickly, and it’s simply not worth it if it doesn’t align with your major priorities.

It’s Your Turn

Everyone gets overwhelmed at times. But you can take steps to ditch the overwhelm and take control of your life.

Don’t get fooled into thinking that overwhelm is normal. It’s not. It will steal your peace, joy, and ability to be your best self.

Hopefully, this post has inspired you to find a new way. Fight the urge to give in to overwhelm. Set your priorities and weigh out your obligations. If something doesn’t align with your major priorities, ditch it.

And the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, describe exactly what’s causing the overwhelm. Putting language to your feelings helps you realize that it’s not actually as bad as your brain is trying to make you think it is.

As always, please drop a comment below to tell me your thoughts on this post! How do you recognize when you’re overwhelmed? And what steps do you take to start feeling better?

If the post resonates with you, please share it with a friend or social media.

You may also enjoy the following posts:

Until next time, thanks for stopping by, and best wishes on your personal development journey!

5 Simple Tips to Help You Be More Productive

5 Simple Tips to Help You Be More Productive

How’s life going for you? Is it everything you ever thought? Or are you feeling trapped on a hamster wheel of never-ending obligations that suck up all your emotional energy?

Over the past few years, I’ve felt stuck. A constant sense that I’m not getting enough done follows me everywhere.

I remember a time when I didn’t feel this way. Work stayed at work, and my home life was blissful.

But then I decided to go back to school.

This post may contain affiliate links, and as an affiliate of Amazon, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information.

A Downward Spiral into Negativity

From that moment on, I constantly felt the need to be more productive. If I wasn’t checking off a box every second of the day, I was indeed behind at work, home, school, or maybe all 3.

Deep down inside, I didn’t believe that I could successfully navigate all these worlds. That it was ridiculous even to try.

The self-doubt eventually spiraled into an all-consuming cloud of negativity. I became obsessed with wondering whether there was enough time in the day to do all the things.

Instead of spending my time actually being productive, I began obsessing about time. I felt guilty about anything and everything because somehow, nothing felt enough.

And I was always making wrong choices with how I spent my time. Or so it seemed at the time. At work, I was thinking about how little time I was spending with my kids. And at home, I fixated on the low probability of finishing the mountain of homework always waiting for me.

After graduation, I thought things would get better. I thought that I would suddenly feel normal again.

Nope. Those stubbornly obsessive negative thoughts continued to plague my every waking moment.

After a great deal of reflection, I finally made a decision. My happiness and inner peace depended upon shattering the negativity I had built around time and productivity. It was time to embrace a new perspective on how to be more productive!

If any of this resonates with you, keep reading because I promise to bring you a few unique solutions to the age-old problem of getting more done in less time!

1. Cut the Crap to Be More Productive

What do you actually want to accomplish in life? It’s easy to get caught in a web of “busy.” But “busy” is a very non-specific way to quantify your time. And without a sense of direction, you end up wandering the vast wasteland of coulda, woulda, shoulda.

Unfortunately, there are very dark forces at work in your life. And you may or may not even be fully aware of these forces. In her book called How to Get Sh*t Done, Erin Falconer describes some of the invisible constraints holding you back:

  • Women feel a constant need to prove themselves.
  • Unspoken work expectations mean women are saddled with more responsibility (the type that no one else in the office wants!) that will mean neither increased status nor pay.
  • After putting in a full day at work, women come home just to put in more work.
  • People-pleasing tendencies increase involvement in activities you may not otherwise choose for yourself.
  • The joy-sucking power of “should” is constantly playing over and over in your head.

The first step is always awareness. Falconer does an outstanding job of shedding light on everything that’s cluttering up your life.

And by doing so, you can start to abandon everyone else’s expectations in favor of your version of productivity.

Image courtesy of Namara Creative Studio via Canva

2. Craft Your Unique Version of Productivity

After you strip away the busyness, what’s left? Who are you underneath all those obligations? Are you someone who thrives among people? Or do you prefer a quiet spot to complete your work?

What makes you feel alive inside? And what makes you want to poke your eye out with a pencil?

It’s shocking how little we often know about ourselves simply because we haven’t taken the time. Also shocking is the impact society and those around us have on our aspirations. But when you strip everything away, what you have left is the freedom to make decisions based on you. Not society. And not everyone else in your life.

But you.

Falconer guides you through the process of getting down to you in a seamless and thought-provoking way. If that all sounds intriguing, make sure to check out her book.

3. Comparison Isn’t Always a Dirty Word

Our culture is all about comparison. It starts in grade school when you learn the concept of grades. And it follows you through middle and high school with sports tryouts. Thanks to social media, comparison continues to follow you well into adulthood.

But comparison in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing, and you can use it as a force for good!

Dr. Benjamin Hardy is an organizational psychologist with fascinating advice on flipping the negative to the positive. I recently discovered his work on the School of Greatness podcast and was immediately inspired.

Dr. Hardy suggests that it’s our comparison to others that results in negative thought patterns. As an example, you see a fellow mom posting flawless pics of her family on social media. Their beaming smiles are brilliantly complemented by perfectly coordinated outfits and a gorgeous fall scene.

Upon seeing the pics, you take a turn to negative town. After all, your last family picture was taken 7 years ago. Before your kids were born.

And you immediately feel like a #momfail.

The truth is, you feel like a failure because you’re making an impossible comparison. You have no idea what else is going on in that woman’s life. We are all fighting battles that we share with only a select few.

And you have overcome some pretty tough stuff in your life as well. Therefore, the only way you can feel accomplished is to compare the woman you were with the woman you are right now.

I guarantee that you will immediately feel accomplished!

So the next time you feel compelled to make a comparison, make sure it’s between the current and past versions of yourself. Because at the end of the day, the only person over whom you have control is yourself.

If you’re curious about Dr. Hardy’s work, check out one of his books:

, , ,

4. Make a Done for Today List

Have you ever actually finished everything on your “to-do” list? I’d be lying if I said “yes” to that one. Although I always think seeing things crossed off my list will feel satisfying, it somehow never does. Instead, I constantly focus on everything that remains unchecked.

But here’s a new take on an old and tired concept. I recently heard this advice from an interview with Greg McKeown on the Science of Success podcast.

At the beginning of the day, figure out 3 things that, once complete, will also complete your day. Once those 3 things are done, give yourself the freedom to relish in accomplishment.

Reward yourself! Don’t try to use the extra time to sneak in more stuff. Take some time for yourself. Do something that fills your cup. Or do something that lights you up inside.

But most of all, enjoy the feeling of DONE.

As a type-A achiever, I never feel “done” with tasks in my day. And I think this leads to burnout because nothing ever feels good enough. I’m always trying to check a box.

So after hearing this particular tip, I’ve committed to being DONE every day. Regardless of whatever else is on my list, I’ve started celebrating my accomplishments and not only feel more peaceful but also 10x more productive.

5. A Tale of Two Teams

In the podcast, Greg McKeown goes on to tell the gripping tale of two teams racing against the elements to be the first to reach the South Pole.

Each team had opposing views on how to emerge victoriously. And their vastly different approaches made all the difference between victory and death.

The first team was British. Their leader pushed the team to their very limits whenever the weather was tolerable. On days when the weather was inclement, they camped out and weathered the storm.

The second team was Norwegian. Their leader determined that the best approach would be to advance 15 miles each day. Come fair weather or storm; they would only travel 15 miles.

Guess which team made it to the South Pole first? I’ll give you a hint … slow and steady wins the race.

The Norwegians made it to their goal an entire month before the British. And not only did they win, but they lived to tell the tale. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the British team.

Defining Your Daily Minimum to Be More Productive

Image courtesy of Netfalls via Canva

Everyone has a daily threshold for productivity, and there’s only so much you can accomplish in 24 hours. The Norwegian team dramatically highlighted this reality by claiming the victory. And the British team just as dramatically highlighted it through their ultimate demise.

You must set clear boundaries for yourself. Or you, too, will become overwhelmed and burned out.

McKeown suggests setting daily minimum goals for yourself. Figure out how to make this goal effortless. Making it effortless helps you achieve the goal and will leave you wanting more.

As an example, I’ve been trying to publish blog posts on a more consistent basis. But I have a mental block about time. My perception is that it takes time I currently don’t have.

After hearing McKeown’s advice, I decided to set a daily 30-minute writing goal. I have found that I no longer try to procrastinate my writing because 30 minutes feels very attainable.

And once those 30 minutes are up, I stop. I don’t force myself to keep going even if I’m in the middle of writing flow. Stopping when I’m in flow is crucial because I know when I begin again tomorrow, I will be excited to get started.

One of the worst things as a writer is a block, and stopping when I’m mid-paragraph, or even mid-sentence ensures I have something to pick up the following day.

Taking small, daily steps towards your goals increases your odds of success. Find ways to make the process enjoyable, and you’ve suddenly become dramatically more productive.

It’s Your Turn to Be More Productive

You define productivity. And with your unique definition comes freedom. The freedom to say “yes” to anything that feels aligned and “no” to everything else.

Narrow down your big goals to 3 or less at any given time. Go all-in on those goals. And when starting a goal, stop asking “how.” Dr. Hardy explains that “how” is a word that causes procrastination and overwhelm. It immediately adds an element of impossibility to the equation.

You instead need to ask “who.” Who can help you achieve your goal more quickly? Do you need a coach? Or maybe you need a course designed by an expert in the field. Making investments in someone who is already skilled helps you achieve your goals infinitely faster.

As important as “who” is the concept of effortlessness. Once your goal has been defined, how can you make it as easy as possible? Greg McKeown offers brilliant advice on finding joy while making goals feel effortless. Sadly, the perception of effort has held me back personally in all areas of my life. I, therefore, adore his philosophy on productivity!

And remember that slow and steady wins every time. There’s simply no need to make things overly complicated or overwhelming. I would even suggest that if you feel overwhelmed, you need to take a step back. Figure out your priorities. And cut everything that doesn’t make the grade.

Find the person who can help you. And make it effortless.

Additional Resources

If you’re looking for even more resources, make sure you check out any of the following books:

, , ,,

And make sure to check out the following posts for even more great personal development!

Image courtesy of With Faith & Love via Canva

Easy Brain Hacks to Upgrade Your Piano Playing

Easy Brain Hacks to Upgrade Your Piano Playing

Do you ever feel stuck in your piano playing? You feel as if you put in the practice time but just aren’t making the progress you’d like.

Or maybe you do feel like you’re making huge strides in your playing but want to take things to the next level.

As a lifelong pianist, I’m always looking for that slight edge to take my skills to the next level. And I’m ecstatic to present you with a few easy brain hacks to upgrade your piano playing!

This post may contain affiliate links, and as affiliates of SkillShare and Amazon, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information. All images on this page courtesy of Canva.

Background on Brain Hacks to Upgrade Your Piano Playing

I’ve written a bit about my academic background in other posts but will mention it again for readers new to the blog. My first degree was in music, but I have since obtained a doctorate in nursing practice.

This means that I LOVE to research and pass along credible information to my readers, especially as it pertains to the science of playing the piano. In other words, I am constantly looking for the crossroads between art and science.

And because there’s an absurd amount of inaccurate information out there, my goal is always to cut through the crap to present you with only the truly useful stuff.

The Book

With all that being said, I recently stumbled across a fantastic book written by a development molecular biologist named John Medina. His mission in writing the book is to bring forth simplified research findings of how the brain works to the general public.

The book is called Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School. And although the book is not written specifically for pianists, I feel it is both relevant and crucial information to anyone interested in upgrading their piano skills.

The Research

For me, one of the very first things that struck a chord about the book is Medina’s equal attention to quality. All research he presents must first be published in a peer-reviewed journal. This means that it must pass an extremely rigorous process to make sure the information is scientifically accurate.

Medina then requires the research to be repeated, meaning it wasn’t simply some type of fluke. He then takes it further by boiling the research down to information that anyone can understand.

As someone who has read countless peer-reviewed articles, believe me when I say that researchers don’t write for clarity! Deciphering this type of writing is an art in itself. And so, I appreciate Medina’s mission to present high-level research to anyone in plain English with a side of humor.

The Brain

This sounds crazy, but despite massive research advances over the past century or so, we still understand little about the brain’s inner workings.

To put it into perspective, Medina makes this comment, “In truth, if we ever fully understood how the human brain knew how to pick up a glass of water, it would represent a major achievement.”

Take a minute to process that statement. We still don’t even understand the fundamental task of how the brain takes us from thirst to drinking. Mind-blowing, isn’t it?

And if we don’t understand something as simple as picking up a glass, we are lightyears from a solid understanding of something as complex as playing the piano.

Although I don’t promise a complete understanding of the complex interplay between cognition, memory, muscle, and emotion that occurs when playing piano, my goal is to present a few of my aha moments from the book.

And as the title suggests, my goal is to present brain hacks to upgrade your piano playing. But keep in mind that Medina’s brain rules apply to life in general.

So take this gift of knowledge and apply it liberally, both at and away from the keyboard. And if you’re thirsting for more, make sure you pick up the book for yourself. I promise that it’s both exciting and informative, and you will come away with tips to improve your life and relationships.

And so, without further ado, let’s dig into brain hacks to upgrade your piano playing!

Images via Canva

Brain Hacks to Improve Your Piano Playing: Exercise is Key

I promise to come back around to the piano in a minute but first, let me take you on a detour with my alter ego in the healthcare field. My career in healthcare started in the nursing home. And to this day, my practice continues to be based in this setting.

What this means for you is that I have extensive experience working with a population heavily impacted by cognitive decline. So much so that up until a few years ago, I never realized the significant bias I had developed by my work in the nursing home.

You may be asking yourself what cognitive decline has to do with playing the piano. My response to you would be that it has everything to do with it. Playing the piano begins and ends with cognition.

And by understanding the factors that impact healthy cognition, you can understand how to become a better pianist.

My Anecdotal Evidence

Until a few years ago, my only frame of reference for people older than 80 had been exceptionally frail people who seemed to show a steady pattern of physical and mental decline.

And so, imagine my surprise when I began my outpatient clinical rotation and was suddenly introduced to a whole new world of older patients. These were patients well into their 80s and 90s who continued to lead full and vibrant lives. They were driving, working, and even functioning as (gasp!) organists for large congregations.

I distinctly remember almost falling off my chair when one particularly delightful 90 something-year-old told me that he continued to mow his own 1+ acre lawn. With a push mower.

Mind. Blown.

This was the moment when my curiosity around the distinctly different outcomes in aging was first sparked. It left me questioning whether there are distinct actions people can either take or avoid to preserve cognition over time.

And although countless factors ultimately contribute to cognitive function over time, something deep inside whispered that this 90-something push mowing his lawn was on to something.

The Research

It turns out that my hunch was correct. According to Medina, “A lifetime of exercise can result in a sometimes astonishing elevation in cognitive performance, compared with those who are sedentary.”

And he goes on to describe research-proven time and again that points to an improvement in areas including long-term memory, attention, problem-solving, and even fluid intelligence in people who consistently exercise.

If you’re thinking those skills are suspiciously similar to those needed for playing piano, then you too are on to something!

You may be asking yourself what this means if you haven’t exercised regularly up to this point in your life. Hang on because I’ve got some great news for you!

As a whole, research supports the idea that even if you haven’t been a regular exerciser in your life, it’s never too late to start. And bumps in cognition come with even relatively mild exercise regimens.

Exercise has proven to preserve cognition over time, and there is also research to support its effectiveness in treating anxiety and depression.

I’m not sure about you, but this might be one of my favorite brain hacks to improve your piano playing!

Brain Hacks to Improve Your Piano Playing: Make it Exciting!

Would it surprise you to learn that our brain ignores boring things? And yet, how much attention do we give to making our learning experiences, including piano practice, interesting?

Zero.

Up until recently, I’ve had a very dull approach to practice. My practice sessions start with a scale warm-up or two, move on to some technical practice, and finish with one or two repertoire pieces.

Repetition has historically been at the core of what I do in the practice room. And I suspect many (if not most!) pianists have been conditioned to take the same humdrum approach to their practice.

It does leave you wondering whether all this boring practice does anything to advance your skills.

The Research

The short answer is no. According to Medina, “The more attention the brain pays to a given stimulus, the more elaborately the information will be encoded – and retained.” In other words, “Better attention always equals better learning.”

Not only does improved attention translate to better retention, but our attention spans have a very short expiration date. As a general rule of thumb, sustained attention is only maintained for about 10 minutes before our mind starts wandering.

Given that my practice sessions typically last around 30 minutes, how much am I actually retaining? Most importantly, how can I improve retention to make the most of my practice time?

Improve Retention With Short Practice Segments

My first thought comes straight from Medina’s lecture model as described in the book. Given our short attention span, chunk material into 10-minute sections.

Spend the first minute on a broad concept and the next nine looping in details related to the larger one. Once the 10 minutes are up, start with another broad concept.

For example, spend 10 minutes on a very specific task, such as improving rhythm in section A rather than attempting to improve all aspects of an entire piece over that same time frame. And once the 10 minutes are up, move on to the next clear-cut practice task.

Incorporate Emotion Into Practice

Any time you can incorporate emotion into learning, retention will be enhanced. To demonstrate this phenomenon, think back to a song that holds special meaning for you.

I’m willing to bet that every time you hear that song, you’re flooded with a very specific emotion. Whether it’s your wedding song or a break-up anthem, you probably go right back to a distinct time in your life whenever you hear it.

My suggestion for you is to attach emotion to your playing. Hone in on a unique feeling with every section. And get creative with this. Don’t limit yourself to happy, sad, or mad.

Try incorporating euphoria, despair, and angst into your playing. Maybe spend time differentiating between just how different you can make “boredom” and “apathy” sound.

Find the Meaning

Our brains love patterns. And any time you can make a connection between new and previously learned information, retention becomes both more accessible and potent.

My previous post lists a couple of resources for creating meaning in playing the piano. One involves creating a visual map of a piece, and the other consists of brushing up on music theory. Both are fantastic ways to transform tiny figures on a page into a compelling musical performance.

Check out the post here.

Other Thoughts on Brain Hacks to Improve Your Piano Playing

It’s difficult to articulate all the valuable information contained within this one book. But if there’s one thing to take away, it would be that our brains are designed to solve problems by exploring.

In the (admittedly somewhat morbid) words of my favorite Downton character, Violet Crawley, “All life is a series of problems which we must try and solve, first one and then the next and then the next until at last, we die.”

Our brains have been helping us navigate complex problems for centuries. We learn by doing. And by exploring.

So I would encourage you to keep trying. Keep searching for ways to improve. Look for unconventional ways to improve your piano practice. Experiment. Play what you love. Always be on the lookout for opportunities to be creative.

If you’re a classical pianist, try jazz. Or improvisation. You could even try your hand at composition.

And get some sleep! Medina has an entire chapter devoted to the massive impact sleep has on learning.

Most importantly, you can conveniently get your copy of Brain Rules by clicking the picture below.

It’s Your Turn

I hope you have found a few brain hacks to upgrade your piano playing after reading this post! If you’re looking for more inspiration and piano playing resources, make sure to check out my previous posts:

And that’s it for this week. As always, I wish you all the best in the practice room and beyond!

Image via Canva

5 Mindset Secrets to Boosting Your Piano Playing Confidence

5 Mindset Secrets to Boosting Your Piano Playing Confidence

“We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.”

Carol Dweck

Learning to play the piano can be intimidating. After all, there are thousands of talented pianists showcasing their skills on YouTube, TikTok, and Facebook. Many of them have studied with the best teachers. And they’ve performed on the best pianos on the biggest stages around the world.

Watching these performances can lull you into thinking these pianists were simply born talented. It can seem as if you were not born with the same abilities that they were.

In thinking back to my days studying piano in college, I firmly believed that talent won out. I was convinced that some people are born more talented than others. At that time, I also thought that there was a limit to my improvements. In other words, I completely discounted my abilities to improve through hard work.

All of these beliefs chipped away at my self-confidence and significantly worsened my existing performance anxiety. Instead of watching other pianists with the intent of learning how to improve my skills, I chose to feel intimidated. Ultimately, this led to less practice time and more shaky performances than I’d like to admit.

But deep down, I love the instrument! I knew I’d never be able to walk away from it and began searching for ways to improve my piano playing confidence.

And I’m happy to report that I’ve found an inspirational resource that has revolutionized my thoughts on talent. It’s a book called Mindset written by Carol Dweck, and it’s a must-read for anyone who has ever desired improvement in their life.

This post may contain affiliate links, and as an affiliate of Amazon, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information.

Mindset

“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times of their lives.”

Carol Dweck

It’s funny that the most significant in my search for piano playing confidence have, for the most part, occurred away from the keyboard. But perhaps this only drives home the point that mindset matters more than I ever imagined it would.

Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, has spent her career researching mindset. Dweck asserts that ultimately, “the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you live your life.”

She spends the remainder of the book detailing real-life examples of two opposing mindsets. One is the fixed mindset, and the other is the growth mindset.

If these are entirely new terms to you, don’t worry! Before reading the book, they were also foreign to me but are relatively intuitive when you understand the basics. Dweck describes the fixed mindset as “an urgency to prove yourself over and over.” It’s the belief that your intelligence, abilities, and personality are fixed and unable to be altered. I would refer you to the introduction for more on the fixed mindset.

On the other hand, the growth mindset is a belief that you are capable of change. Although the shift often occurs due to effort, hard work ignites a passion for learning. In the growth mindset, “failure is about not growing. Not reaching for the things you value. It means you’re not fulfilling your potential.”

Now that you have a basic understanding of the two mindsets, let’s explore how to improve your piano playing confidence dramatically!

1. Play to Learn

“Becoming is better than being.”

Carol Dweck

Imagine for a moment that you are preparing to give a recital. You’ve been working on the repertoire for months and feel prepared but struggle with performance anxiety. You’re not sure how you’ll get through it without either throwing up or running off stage mid-recital.

Luckily, your teacher is a wise woman who always knows exactly what to say. She tells you to consider each of the following statements carefully and adopt one.

“Everything comes down to this one performance. I can’t miss a single note, or I’ll be found out as the imposter I am. I’ve got to prove my talent for playing because if I screw this up, I lose my right even to call myself a pianist.”

“I’m nervous about performing but am confident in all the work I’ve put in. This is an incredible opportunity to practice the art of performance, and I’m going to learn everything I can. Even if I miss notes or completely screw something up, I will come away with valuable information I wouldn’t otherwise learn.”

Now I ask you, which mindset would you rather adopt going into that recital?

Even if you’re not preparing for a recital, start making your piano practice about learning. Make it about becoming 1% better than you were yesterday, and you’ll quickly see your piano playing confidence go through the roof!

2. Focus on Yourself

We live in the best and the worst of times for improving your piano skills. Best in that we have unprecedented access to music and recordings unlike any in history. Worst in that, all these performances can create a tendency to compare ourselves to others.

And comparison can easily transition to feelings of demotivation and inferiority.

All those videos may cause you to question whether you’re wasting your time. You may feel like you’ll never be as good as insert name here, so what’s the point?

The point is that insert name here has spent thousands of hours practicing to get where they are today. They’ve put in the time and energy required to pull off that Rachmaninoff concerto successfully.

And you can either use your energy to feel down on yourself or to figure out to improve your skills. Stop making comparisons because it’s never fair to yourself.

Instead of comparing, shift your mindset to one of growth. And keep records of your progress so you can look back and realize just how massive your growth has been. There’s nothing that boosts my piano playing confidence quite like a look back at where I’ve been and where I am currently.

Don’t have a microphone yet? Check out this microphone for easy, no fuss recording!

3. Challenge as Opportunity to Skyrocket Your Piano Playing Confidence

“No matter what your current ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment.”

Carol Dweck

My third mindset secret for improving piano playing confidence goes hand-in-hand with the second. It involves seeing challenge as an opportunity rather than as a roadblock.

Learning to play the piano is fascinating in that there’s always something to improve upon. I would argue that it’s impossible to learn all the repertoire out there. And there will always be nuances that are more difficult than others.

As an example, memorization has always been tricky for me. And I could choose to forget about memorizing as no one is forcing me to do it. But I love the challenge of continuing to learn a skill that doesn’t come naturally to me.

And as a result, I have found that memorizing is now easier than it ever used to be. It’s also become way more fun than I remember it being in my college days! I love taking a piece from sight-reading to memorization because I know how hard I have to work to make it happen.

And it makes the feeling of accomplishment that much sweeter!

I encourage you to start seeing the opportunity in the challenge instead of writing anything off as impossible. If nothing else, I hope you’ll understand the personal enjoyment that comes from doing something you once thought impossible!

4. Identify Your Alter Ego

Even the most positive thinkers among us have an alter ego. This alter ego loves to remind us of our limitations and past failures. It delights in cautioning us from taking chances to avoid embarrassment.

And if you think about it, the negative alter ego often aligns closely with characteristics of a fixed mindset. Although it hides under the guise of protecting you from the unknown, it only serves to hold you back from fantastic new opportunities. Or in the case of the piano, it feeds into the energy of low self-confidence, performance anxiety, and imposter syndrome.

And identifying this negative voice can be tricky!

But in her book, Dweck gives incredibly useful advice for managing these mindsets. She recommends clearly identifying your alter ego, going so far as to name it. By doing so, you can clearly distinguish between the two mindsets and begin to identify triggers for a fixed mindset clearly.

In time, you can start shutting down those negative thoughts before they’ve had a chance to take root. And with a firm grasp on growth mindset, I’m positive you’ll see your piano playing confidence go through the roof!

5. Look for Opportunity to Improve Character and Your Piano Playing Confidence

“Effort is one of those things that gives meaning to life. Effort means you care about something, that something is important to you, and you are willing to work for it.”

Carol Dweck

If there’s anything I’ve learned from life thus far, it’s that anything worth having takes effort. And nothing I’ve gotten easily has been of much value.

So it is with piano.

I would be lying if I said that I always feel like practicing. Or that I never get frustrated with various technical aspects of the instrument. But at the end of the day, I know all these challenges are transforming me into a stronger pianist. And a better person.

I hope it’s the same with you. Regardless of whether you’re working through a beginner book or are learning a Chopin etude, don’t give up! Keep at it and look for little ways to stay motivated. Embrace the growth mindset in piano and in life.

And if you’re looking for other ways to improve your piano playing confidence, make sure to check out these posts:

I also highly recommend you check out Mindset by Carol Dweck. It’s an easy read and applicable to both piano and life!

As always, I would love to hear from you! Where are you struggling in your piano journey? Or do you have any secrets to overcoming piano-related barriers? Do you relate to the concepts of fixed and growth mindset?

Please drop a comment below so I can address your questions and challenges here on Only Getting Better! And until next time, stay safe, healthy, and never stop seeking the best version of yourself!

The ONE Thing: A Case for Narrowing Your Focus

The ONE Thing: A Case for Narrowing Your Focus

“If you chase two rabbits, you will catch neither one.”

Russian Proverb

If you’re a blogger, a business owner, or someone with varied interests, I’m sure you’ve heard the advice before. “Find your one thing and channel all your energy into it. Niche down or fail.”

Take a look around, and you’ll see countless examples of wildly successful people. Presumably successful because they’ve gone all-in on their ONE thing at the expense of all else.

As I write this, the summer 2021 Olympics are just wrapping up. And if you think about it, can there possibly be a better example of niching down than an Olympic athlete?

Decades of hard work, sacrifice, and intense focus all come down to one moment. ONE moment that ends in either joyful celebration or heartbreakingly devastating defeat.

And if you’re anything like me, this extreme example is precisely why the advice to niche down falls on deaf ears. I don’t argue the fact that intense focus yields extraordinary results.

It’s the other half of the equation, or the loss of everything else at the expense of that ONE thing, that scares me.

This post may contain affiliate links, and as an affiliate of Amazon, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information. All photos courtesy of Canva.

A Tale of Multiple Interests

I’ve always had an array of potentially all-consuming interests. As an example, my full-time gig is as a nurse practitioner, but I also have a fine arts degree in music.

I started this blog to indulge my love of writing and personal development, but I also moonlight as an organist in a few local churches. And let’s not forget my fascination for anything involving horses but especially the art of dressage.

One could argue that perhaps I put a little too much stock in that old saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

I thrive on variety.

But at times, it feels like I can’t move ahead in anything because my focus is so broad. And to make things even murkier, throw a husband, 3 kids, and the weight of maintaining a house in the mix.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that some days feel like slogging through a lake of molasses in January.

I’ll be the first to admit that the sludge is my own doing through a failure to pare anything down. And my resolve to excel in various fields has only been spurred on by works like Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.

But sometimes, the chaos of chasing so many dreams drags you down. It causes you to look around for an alternate perspective. ONE perspective to fit all those individual puzzle pieces into a cohesive picture.

I found such a perspective in The ONE Thing by Gary Keller.

Success Comes from Subtraction Rather Than Addition

“Extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus.”

Gary Keller

The ONE Thing is a book that frequents top 10 personal development lists. It’s mentioned over and over by self-help gurus.

The book is written by Gary Keller, founder of the largest real estate company in the world. An internet search reveals his net worth of around $35 million.

Keller describes his success as partially attributable to figuring out the ONE thing that makes everything else easier. And once you figure out that ONE thing, everything else falls into place.

Success, therefore, comes from weeding out the excess rather than taking more on. It’s a simple matter of subtraction rather than addition.

And the concept of doing less is a refreshing one in a culture constantly preaching the philosophy of doing more.

There is No Such Thing as Multitasking

Did you know that multitasking is a myth? It’s physically impossible for your brain to process two conscious thoughts at once effectively.

To prove my point, try this little experiment. In your head, add up 546 and 376 at the same time you spell OUTSTANDING aloud.

Did you do it? If so, you might have superpowers!

But if you weren’t successful, take heart. You’re human! Our brains aren’t designed to consciously perform multiple functions simultaneously.

There are tasks that your brain has learned to automate, such as walking and chewing gum. But neither job typically requires deep thought.

True success, however, comes from the type of sustained focus that can only be achieved by blocking out all distractions. Regardless of your end goal, breaking each step into pieces and focusing solely on the tiny action steps is crucial.

Mastery is More of a Journey

“Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason, mastery demands all of a person.”

Albert Einstein

Do you know the one thing that the most successful people in the world all have in common?

They never give up. No matter what life throws in their way. They keep moving forward towards their ultimate goal of mastery.

Successful people realize that success isn’t about a destination. It’s a journey.

Success means showing up day after day. It means putting in the work even when it’s unattractive, demanding, or boring.

It also means blocking out all else to become truly great at their ONE thing. Sometimes that means permanently shelving other passions or interests for the sake of moving forward in one specific area.

At other times, success means scaling back on other interests for a season to clear space for that ONE thing which will then make everything else easier.

A great example of this is pursuing a degree. Being in school means devoting large chunks of time to school-related activities. And because we all have the same 24 hours in a day, you typically must cut down on other activities to ensure success in your academic program. But the hope is that once you finish, your higher level of income will then support your various interests.

And the journey to mastery never ends because there’s ALWAYS another level. There’s always another post to publish, sales quota to meet, or product idea waiting to be created.

Mastery means breaking barriers and pushing limits, both complex tasks when your attention is spread too widely.

Balance Doesn’t Exist When Pursuing Your ONE Thing

I may have mentioned this before, but my interests have bounced around dramatically for most of my life. Although they have all remained relatively stable, there are certain times of my life when I pursue one more strongly than the others.

And I’ve found that I tend to chase interests at the neglect of all others. Although I make progress in one area, I then felt a sense of guilt about the others due to the lack of progress.

It had me questioning balance and whether I was setting myself up for a life of hopeless imbalance.

This again inspired a bit of guilt, and so the cycle continued.

Fortunately, Keller’s philosophy on balance differs from most of social media. He asserts that there can be no balance when you’re genuinely pursuing your ONE thing because success depends upon excluding anything that doesn’t involve that thing.

Imbalance naturally follows mastery.

It’s a strangely profound and comforting reassurance that my efforts are not entirely off base.

Living Without Regrets

“A life worth living might be measured in many ways, but the one that stands above all others is living a life of no regrets.”

Gary Keller

Although there are many great takeaway messages from the book, one of the most powerful is to create a life free of regrets. And as someone with a huge variety of interests, it can be easy to make excuses rather than feel the sting of regret.

Excuses about why I’m not as far along as I’d like to be in a particular area. Or excuses about my limited ability to devote time to any one pursuit.

But the benefit of applying all your focus to ONE thing is that your power is magnified. Focus means you find that thing and forget the rest. And by doing this, you can look back and know that you gave it your all.

Not some half-hearted attempt at trying. Or a bunch of excuses about why you never achieved your goal.

You have the satisfaction of knowing you either succeeded or gave it your all in the attempt.

How to Apply The ONE Thing to Your Life

I’ll admit that I was skeptical when starting this book. Mainly because I consider myself to be multi-passionate, and I initially didn’t care for the thought of giving anything up.

On the other hand, I adore seeing progress! I love being able to look back at where I started and tell that my hard work has made a difference.

And thanks to having my hands in so many pots, I’ve not had that type of satisfaction as often as I would like. Even before reading the book, frustration over not making significant strides has caused me to contemplate simplifying my life a tad.

I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t read personal development unless you intend to improve your life. There’s so much value out there if you’re willing to open your mind to alternative perspectives.

And with that being said, The ONE Thing has encouraged me to narrow my focus to improve my impact. The following are specific ways in which I intend to implement what I learned.

If you too struggle with feeling spread too thin, check out the book. Try a few of these tactics and watch your outlook (and feelings of accomplishment!) dramatically improve.

Accept Chaos

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably spent your entire life avoiding chaos. You love wrapping things up into neat little packages.

But the flip side is that you likely feel stressed when life doesn’t go as planned. You spend so much energy fighting the chaos that you have little left over for actually living.

It’s time to release your need for control. Fighting the chaos isn’t getting you anywhere, so why not embrace it?

Accept that when you focus intensely on one thing, everything else gets put on the back burner.

I’m not saying you should forget about your husband and kids to focus solely on starting your business. Or let your house return to its natural state of decay while you spend hours happily blogging away (guilty as charged on this one!).

But I am saying you can expect chaos in your life when you choose to narrow your focus. And that’s ok.

Time Blocking for Your ONE Thing

Throughout his book, Keller embraces the concept of time blocking. If you’re not familiar, it involves dedicating larger chunks of time to very specific activities.

His more specific recommendation is to chunk out at least 4 hours each day for your ONE thing. He does acknowledge that you may have legitimate reasons why you may need to shorten your daily time allotment.

The main point is that you need to prioritize the activities that will promote progress in your ONE thing.

Question Everything

“What’s the ONE thing you can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

Gary Keller

Throughout the book, Keller refers to the ONE question you need to ask yourself to stay on track.

He recommends asking yourself this question first thing in the morning and periodically checking in with yourself throughout the day. Questioning yourself ensures you stick to the straight and narrow path of focus.

It also helps to cut down or eliminate all those little unnecessary distractors we all engage in throughout the day by forcing you to remain accountable.

For me, those distractors include checking email, Facebook and stopping to chat with people during the day.

Time is our most valuable resource, and we have to protect it continually, or it vanishes without a single thing to show for its presence.

Say “No”

And speaking of priorities, Keller is very clear about the need to say “no.” A lot.

You must keep your ONE thing front and center. Consider everything else a distraction.

As a serial people pleaser, saying “no” is sometimes incredibly difficult for me. But hearing that saying “no” is crucial to my overall success somehow takes the stigma out of it.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say again that it’s refreshing to hear the message of less rather than more as a secret for success.

Toast Your Wins

As a high achiever, I have a difficult time celebrating success. I tend to jump from accomplishment to accomplishment with scarcely a breath in between.

Despite Keller’s advice on buckling down and focusing on the task at hand, he implores you to celebrate your wins. Big or small, I wholeheartedly agree.

If you don’t take the time to enjoy life, what’s the point of working hard? Without celebration, life turns into one obligation after another on a fast track to burnout.

For your quality of life, you absolutely must celebrate those milestones!

It’s Your Turn to Find Your ONE Thing

Whether you’re trying to balance a full-time career with a side gig, have too many hobbies, or anything in between, I truly hope you found this post helpful!

Despite my initial reluctance to dive into the book, I have to admit that it was well worth the read. I’ve already started implementing a plan to narrow my focus, accept chaos, and toast my wins, big and small.

For even more great advice, make sure you check out The ONE Thing by Gary Keller. Below are a couple of additional books I consider essential reading for high-achievers.

,, ,

As always, make sure to leave a comment below with your thoughts on the post. Are you struggling with multipotentialite tendencies? Have you ever considered narrowing your focus? And what would you need to get started on your journey toward more tremendous success?

5 Powerful Ways to Halt Limiting Beliefs in their Tracks

5 Powerful Ways to Halt Limiting Beliefs in their Tracks

As the name implies, limiting beliefs are beliefs that hold you back in some area of your life. These beliefs about yourself or the world keep you stuck in toxic patterns of guilt, sadness, and inadequacy.

They keep you from flourishing into the person you’re meant to be.

Limiting beliefs live deep in your subconscious, fueling fear and driving your decision-making.

And do you want to know the worst part?

The fact that limiting beliefs stem from your subconscious rather than your thinking mind means that identifying and reversing them can be tricky.

Tricky but NOT impossible!

Stick with me as we unpack limiting beliefs, including examples, where they come from, and most importantly, powerful ways to reduce their influence in your life.

This post may contain affiliate links, and as an affiliate of Amazon, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information.

One Shark and Several Fish

Have you heard of the shark and fish experiment?

It’s a potent example of how limiting beliefs can replace even the most fundamental instincts.

As the story goes, a marine biologist decided to see whether a shark could be conditioned to stop eating fish.

The biologist started by putting a shark in a tank with small fish. Obviously, the shark ate the fish.

The next step was to create a physical boundary between the shark and fish. As you can imagine, the shark made an aggressive attack on the plexiglass, initially injuring itself.

The shark continued its fruitless attacks on the fish. Eventually, the shark’s attacks grew less and less aggressive.

After a while, the marine biologist removed the plexiglass.

And guess what?

Not one fish was harmed. The shark did not attempt to attack even though the physical boundary was gone.

With the plexiglass gone, the shark could have feasted to its heart’s content. But the shark couldn’t overcome the limiting beliefs that overrode its basic survival instincts and eventually died.

Unfortunately, the same thing can happen to our dreams and goals if we don’t identify and breakthrough our self-constructed barriers.

What are limiting beliefs?

In most instances, limiting beliefs are formed in early childhood. At the most basic level, limiting beliefs start as the brain’s attempt at rationalizing a situation.

Let’s look at a widespread limiting belief that millions all over the world share: “I am not important.”

When you were growing up, how many times did you ask for your parents’ attention? I’m guessing it’s somewhere around the millions.

For whatever reason, your parents were unable to give you the attention you were seeking at that moment. And they may have had a perfectly legitimate reason for not paying attention.

But at that moment, your little brain came up with a story. A story that has stuck with you to this day.

And the story deep down inside is that you don’t matter.

Since that time, the thought that you’re not important has become so deeply ingrained within that it runs on autopilot. Much like the shark hitting the plexiglass, you’ve constructed stories that keep you from reaching your full potential.

Limiting Beliefs as a Safety Mechanism

Although I’ve painted a grim picture of limiting beliefs as a whole, it’s worth mentioning that they do serve as a safety mechanism. They keep us from inherently questionable decisions like picking up a random hitchhiker or stealing an ATM.

To backtrack a bit, when you boil down the most basic of all brain functions, safety is the #1 priority. It’s your brain’s job to keep you safe.

And although you may be aware of this primary function of the subconscious, seeing it in action isn’t always obvious. But your subconscious is constantly on the alert for potentially “dangerous” situations.

Over time, the definition of “dangerous” has changed drastically. Danger used to mean an attack from a saber tooth tiger or a gang of marauding pirates.

But nowadays, danger comes in the form of public speaking, a job interview, or even a difficult conversation with your spouse. It’s a far cry from the immediate threat of life or limb.

And to be fair, the constant processing of environmental stimuli is a tremendous job. It’s way too big for the conscious mind to tackle, thus the reason for the subconscious.

But when the subconscious picks up on negative emotions, it feeds stories to the conscious in an attempt to keep you far from danger.

The Fine Line Between Safety and Stagnation

And when your subconscious picks up on negativity, those limiting beliefs come out in full force. They form a barrier that can be difficult to overcome.

In days gone by, the barrier would be a good thing. It would’ve kept you alive.

But in today’s world, the barrier keeps you from honestly expressing yourself or going all-in on something you’re passionate about. Negativity, therefore, starts a feedback loop fueled by fear and false stories you’ve concocted based on events you may not even have fully understood at the time.

Although the stories were created when you were young, it’s never too late to reverse them.

Let’s explore how you can halt limiting beliefs in their tracks!

How can you expand your limiting beliefs?

It’s difficult to reverse limiting beliefs about yourself unless you’re crystal clear on what those beliefs are. Asking yourself a series of questions and capturing the responses by putting pen to paper is hands down your best bet.

It turns out that writing is one of the best ways to unite the logical left brain with the creative right. This “whole-brain” approach is an effective way to access complex emotions and thought patterns. A

In other words, journaling connects the two parts of your brain in a way that enables you to understand yourself and the world around you more deeply.

If you haven’t already incorporated journaling into your daily routine, now is the time! Let’s walk through how you can apply this powerful technique to unlock your limiting beliefs.

Step 1: Uncover Your Limiting Beliefs Through Journaling

In the first step, you will consider the various areas of your life and determine where you’re at in this moment.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the goals I’m working toward? (self, home, work, relationships, hobbies, etc.)
  • Am I satisfied with the progress I’m making in each of these areas?
  • Are the results in each area consistent with where I would like to be?
  • And are there areas where I would like to make progress but just can’t seem to get ahead?

Step 1 is a brainstorming session. Now is NOT the time to censor yourself!

Remember that no one has to read what you’re putting on paper. The most crucial piece of uncovering your emotions and thought processes is honesty with yourself.

Step 2: Analyze Your Writing

As you write, pay close attention to your mood and energy levels when you think about all the different aspects of your life. If you have particularly negative thoughts or feelings about something, consider those feelings a red flag for limiting beliefs.

Equally important are your explanations about why you’re not getting results because those stories almost always have their roots in limiting beliefs.

As you think about what you’ve written, carefully consider whether the stories you’re telling yourself are serving you in any way.

Remember all that stuff about the subconscious and safety? This is where all that comes into play. As an example, one of my most deeply rooted limiting beliefs is that I’m not good enough.

This belief manifests itself as significant performance anxiety in my work as a pianist. Although I love playing the piano, the limiting belief that I’m not good enough causes my hands to shake and my heart to beat faster.

Both physical reactions make playing accurately infinitely more challenging.

Deep down, my subconscious has hard-wired feelings of inadequacy, resulting in physical changes in a performance situation. And all this happens because my brain interprets fear as a negative emotion to be avoided at all costs.

Step 3: Flip the Script

Once you uncover your core limiting beliefs, it’s time to challenge those thoughts. Remember that most of your limiting beliefs were formed in early childhood when your understanding of the world around you was incredibly limited.

And seeing them written in black and white in front of you has a way of uncovering them as the lies they’ve always been. Because your thoughts are deeply personal, it’s easy to believe that thoughts are truth.

But in most cases, thoughts are simply thoughts. Neither positive nor negative. It’s only when you assign some type of meaning to them that they can exert their influence one way or the other.

Writing your own script, therefore, becomes crucial.

For each limiting belief you uncover, use your story-telling prowess to concoct a belief that positively serves you.

Step 4: Find the Evidence

“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”

Henry Ford

Once you’ve come up with a new story, it’s time to solidify it. You can lock the new story in by looking for evidence around you that supports your more positive belief system.

And it may sound crazy, but there’s an area of the brain designed specifically for this task.

It’s called the reticular activating system, and its job is to filter out millions of stimuli to find those most relevant to you. B

The reticular activating system is why you hear your name in a noisy room. Or why you buy a red car and suddenly see red cars everywhere.

We recently added a Goldendoodle puppy to our family. Before bringing him home, I rarely saw other doodles out and about. Since his addition to our family, I see at least one doodle wherever I go.

And the truth is, doodles were always everywhere. But until getting one, my reticular activating system never alerted me to their presence.

What this means for you is that if you look for evidence to support your positive beliefs, you’ll find it. Unfortunately, the converse is also true. And up until now, your reticular activating system has been programmed to find evidence supporting your limiting beliefs.

Step 5: Personal Development

I’m not here to sugarcoat anything. Reversing your limiting beliefs takes work. This process takes serious effort! But the alternative is to stay stuck in a negative cycle of guilt and inadequacy.

Ain’t no one got time for that!

As you create new belief patterns and are looking for evidence to support those narratives, don’t underestimate the power of personal development.

Whether in the form of blogs, podcasts, or even masterminds, filling your mind with positivity is powerful.

I also highly recommend paying attention to your mood and energy levels. If your mood and energy are low, it’s much easier to get sucked into being a negative Nelly.

It becomes difficult to break out of your comfort zone and away from those tired old limiting beliefs. Taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally is something I can’t recommend highly enough.

It’s the key between telling yourself that you matter and actually feeling as if you matter.

If you’re looking for some quality personal development, check out some of my top posts:

And if you’re looking for further inspiration, make sure you check out my top book recommendations:

, , , ,

Feel free to drop a comment below with the limiting beliefs you’re struggling with right now. I’d love to support you on your journey toward a more positive inner (and outer) world!

A: Purcell, M. (2016, May 17). The Health Benefits of Journaling. The Health Benefits of Journaling (psychcentral.com)

B: van Schneider, T. (2017, June 22). If you want it, you just might get it. The reticular activating system explained. If you want it, you might get it. The Reticular Activating System explained | by Tobias van Schneider | Desk of van Schneider | Medium

How to Dramatically Improve Your Mental Focus

How to Dramatically Improve Your Mental Focus

The world is full of distractions. Thanks to technology, we can now follow any breaking news story in even the most remote corner of the world. Or stay caught up with friends from high school without as much as a phone call. We can even entertain ourselves for hours on end simply by watching 30-second video clips made by strangers.

All these distractions can make focusing on one task for any length of time feel impossible. And it can seem as if the world discourages the deep mental focus necessary for goal achievement and true mastery.

The good news is that there are ways you can dramatically improve your mental focus. Even if you’re not training for the Olympics or to be a cab driver in London, learning to improve your mental focus has incredible benefits. From stress relief to momentum to a greater sense of accomplishment, taking the time to improve this vital skill is well worth the effort!

In the following post, I’ve broken down the various ways you can improve focus both in the moment and over time. Although each tip requires effort, the benefits over time far outweigh the time spent up-front.

This post may contain affiliate links and as a member of the Amazon Affiliate program, this means we may receive a commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

How to Dramatically Improve Your Mental Focus NOW

Although there are long-term tactics and daily habits which compound to better focus over time, there are also ways you can improve your mental focus right here, right now.

Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

Check the clutter. Does your environment encourage you to focus, or is it distracting? I’m speaking from experience when I say that focusing surrounded by messiness is nearly impossible.

As an example, I give you Exhibit A, my living room, when I sat down to start this post yesterday. It gave off an incredibly messy, cluttered, and chaotic vibe. And although I tried as hard as I could, I wrote barely ten sentences.

Yikes … did a typhoon hit my living room?!

Getting into the flow of creativity felt impossible.

So I took a break. I hit up Pinterest and got my organizational groove going. And then I made a quick Wal-Mart stop.

Three short hours later, my living room was well on its way to Better Homes & Gardens greatness. Maybe it wasn’t quite impressive enough for a magazine, but things feel 100% more relaxing.

Huge improvement! Ready for my photo shoot …

And when I’m relaxed, it’s much easier to get into a creative flow.

Needless to say, after taking a timeout to organize my environment, my mental focus improved by leaps and bounds. If you’re also struggling to get into a creative flow, take a quick check of your surroundings. It may be well worth your while to take time out to be more productive in the long run.

Limit Distractions

It’s ironic that as I type, my 5-year-old is whispering, “and now the chickens have the ball” into my ear. And the dog has wrapped himself up around the patio furniture for the 16th time today.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I’ll say it here. Life is one huge distraction!

Although distraction comes in all shapes and sizes, it’s not all bad. I love my family more than anything and acknowledge that my kids are growing bigger every day. At some point, they will no longer be whispering random phrases about chickens in my ear.

I’m thankful for the distraction my family brings because it reminds me of what’s truly important.

But having limitations on my time and attention means I’ve learned to limit wherever I can. One of the ways I’ve done this is by shutting off phone app alerts. As a result, I am no longer interrupted every time I get an email. Shutting off phone alerts is one of the simplest ways to improve your mental focus.

Although stopping a task to respond to one email may not seem like a big deal, it adds up over time. Research shows that it can take around 23 minutes to re-focus on a task after an interruption.1 Multiply that one email by the total number of emails you get in one day, and it’s easy to see why limiting interruptions matters!

Add Variety

This next tip is for you if you want to improve a skill or to understand a topic on a deeper level. Whether you’re trying to become a better pianist or pass a business law exam, get creative with your study time.

The more creative you can get, the better! For example, if you’re studying for an anatomy quiz, bust out your lyric writing skills and pair that previously boring material with your favorite pop tune. You could also try creating a quiz, explaining the topic to a friend, or even writing a blog post about it.

And when practicing a skill or studying, keep in mind that learning doesn’t stop at remembering the information. You have to also practice retrieving the information you’ve stored in your brain. Finding creative ways to store and access the information ensures stronger neural connections and the ability to apply the knowledge in various settings.

Using a variety of techniques to learn keeps things exciting. And when something is interesting, it’s much easier to improve your mental focus.

Don’t Scratch the Itch

Have you ever been trying to get into a creative workflow, but all these intrusive thoughts keep popping up?

“I wonder if Jessica had her baby yet. I should check Facebook.”

“Is it going to rain later today? I should check the weather.”

“What are the current COVID-19 rates in my state? Maybe I should check the news.”

It’s almost as if your brain knows it will be working hard, and it wants to avoid the work by distracting you. And it usually distracts you with incredibly superficial ideas. The type of ideas that take almost zero energy to address.

And since these ideas take no energy, one would think they’re not a big deal. Except for a couple of things. Remember how long it takes to re-focus when you’ve been distracted? Multiply that one distraction by the number of times your attention shifts from the topic at hand during the day.

The other thing is that distraction can become a habit. Give in too many times, and your brain forgets how to do the challenging work necessary for goal accomplishment.

My brain loves to throw superficial distractions at me constantly. I’ve found that when I consistently give in, it’s much tougher to get into a creative flow. But I’ve learned a simple trick to thwart my brain’s attempts at laziness.

Whenever a distracting thought comes up, I tell myself that if I still have the burning desire to check Facebook in 5 minutes, I will. Problem solved! And by the time 5 minutes have passed, I’ve completely forgotten about it.

If you’re looking for more tips on getting into a creative flow, make sure to check out this post.

Take a Break

After you’ve put in focus for a length of time, give yourself the reward of a break! Breaks are essential if you’ve been focusing intensely for a sustained period because your brain needs to recharge.

So indulge in that guilty Netflix pleasure or chat it up with a friend. You’ve earned it!

How to Improve Your Mental Focus Over Time

Now that you have a solid understanding of quick fixes for how to improve your mental focus, it’s time to switch gears to habit changes over time.

Set Goals

Although setting goals is essential, one of the more important tasks is to review your progress. Are you attaining the goals that you set for yourself? When you look back at where you spend your time and energy, are you satisfied?

There’s a ton of advice out there about setting goals. Anyone can sit down and write a list of things they would like to accomplish. But setting goals is the easy part. The hard part comes when you commit to a goal and focus on making it happen.

Although it can be difficult to acknowledge this truth, you actually can’t do it all. And depending on the size of the goal, you have to make tough choices. Pursuing one goal often means saying “no” to 26 others.

But you can accomplish great things if you align your goals and actions.

And you can dramatically improve your mental focus by gaining clarity and becoming specific about your goals. Our brains love clear-cut and measurable when it comes to goal-setting, while vague only results in mental clutter.

Therefore, if you want to improve your mental focus, consider whether your goals align with your actions. If they don’t, it’s time to make tough choices about where to devote your time and energy.

Check out this post for how to gain clarity on your life and goals.

Make a Plan

After taking time to seek clarity on your goals, it’s time to set a clear direction for where you want to go.

It may sound counterintuitive, but you only need to figure out the next step or two. You don’t need steps 3-5 or even 8-11 when you’re just getting started.

Take one step at a time. The next step will reveal itself when you’re ready for it.

Even if it’s a concise one, having a plan helps to reduce mental clutter and improve your mental focus over time. And, if nothing else, it gives you a way to track your ongoing progress.

Improve Your Mental Focus by Sleeping & Exercising

Sleep and exercise go hand-in-hand with better cognition. Each has a role in reducing stress and promoting feel-good chemicals in the brain. Both are vital components of overall health.

Since we’ve already established that specifics important, try to get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, pair with 150 minutes of aerobic exercise weekly, and you’ll be well on your way to improved mental focus!2

And if you’re looking for tips on improving the quality of your sleep, make sure you check out this post.

Meditate to Improve Your Mental Focus

Alongside sleep and regular exercise, meditation is rising to the top as a practice beneficial for decreasing anxiety and improving mental focus.

Although there are different types of meditation, mental focus is central to most practices. In some instances, it may be awareness of the breath. Focusing your thoughts on a specific image or feeling may form the basis of other meditative practices.

Regardless of the type, meditation also involves regularly refocusing after distraction. And being able to refocus after distraction is a beneficial skill in today’s highly distractible world!

Although research into meditation and the brain is relatively new, results have been positive. One study even demonstrated enhanced focus among people who regularly meditate compared to those who do not.3

Meditation offers a host of other benefits to those who practice it regularly. It may just become your new favorite self-care activity!

Play Games

I’m not kidding! There is research to support specific games having the ability to improve your mental focus.4 Mario Kart didn’t quite make the list, but if you’re a fan of sudoku and crossword puzzles, you’re in luck!

You could also try chess, word searches, and jigsaw puzzles.

These and similar activities improve both working and short-term memory while improving problem-solving skills. How amazing is that?

Stop Multitasking

It may come as somewhat of a shock, but did you know that our brains can’t multitask? Although it seems as if we can do two (or more) tasks at once, our brains can only do one. What you are experiencing when trying to do multiple tasks at once are micro shifts in attention that facilitate the completion of tasks.

But the micro shifts in attention come at the cost of both efficiency and accuracy. And I have to think that multitasking regularly prevents the deep, mental focus required for specific tasks. It encourages superficial and distracted thinking, which is the exact opposite of focus.

Multitasking is difficult for me to break free from because my work and home life are inherently filled with it. I find myself in a constant state of distraction, and finding the time and mental energy to focus is challenging.

But I’m always searching for ways to improve. And by trying each of the above strategies, I’ve improved my mental focus over time.

It’s Your Turn to Improve Your Mental Focus

And there you have it! Actionable tips you can try to improve your mental focus both in the short term and over time. Give them a try, and let me know how they work in the comments below.

If you’re looking for even more resources, check out these life-changing books!

, ,

1. Wong, K. (2015, July 29). How Long it Takes to Get Back on Track After a Distraction. How Long It Takes to Get Back on Track After a Distraction (lifehacker.com)

2: Harvard Health Publishing. (2020, October 1). Tips to Improve Concentration. Tips to improve concentration – Harvard Health

3: Gowin, J. (2012, April 20). Brain Scans Show How Meditation Improves Mental Focus. Brain Scans Show How Meditation Improves Mental Focus | Psychology Today

4: Raypole, C. (2019, September 3). 12 Tips to Improve Your Concentration. How to Improve Concentration: 12 Science-Backed Tips, and More (healthline.com)

Become Unstoppable by Learning to Believe in Yourself

Become Unstoppable by Learning to Believe in Yourself

“You must find the place inside yourself where nothing is impossible.”

Deepak Chopra

What would you do with your life if you knew you couldn’t fail? Would you start the business of your dreams? Perhaps you would finally ask for that long-overdue raise. Maybe you would even take the first steps toward a brand new career.

Taking action on your dreams requires you to believe in yourself. But how many of us can honestly say we truly believe in ourselves? How many of us trust ourselves so profoundly that it no longer matters what anyone else thinks?

Thanks to many factors, we are in a crisis of self-doubt. And as a result, we are not living up to our full potential. We aren’t starting businesses, helping the people we could be helping, or stepping outside our comfort zones.

We’re playing small.

But by understanding where self-doubt comes from, you can start learning to believe in yourself again. You can boldly step into the life you were meant to live.

Let’s get started!

This post may contain affiliate links, and as a member of the Amazon Affiliates program, this means we may receive a commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

Why is learning to believe in yourself essential?

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”

Henry Ford

Self-doubt is a killer because it quietly lulls you into feeling inferior. Feelings of uncertainty turn up the volume on your inner critic. And distrust in yourself blocks any ability to celebrate your accomplishments.

The worst part is that you may not even recognize self-doubt for what it is. You may not recognize a failure to believe in yourself because it shows up as procrastination. It also appears as self-sabotage, imposter syndrome, or any number of other negative coping techniques.

Therefore, you may think you’re dealing with one problem, but a completely different one lurks beneath the surface.

And until you dive down to the root of the issue, absolutely nothing will change. You will continue struggling with indecision, uncertainty, and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle fueled by forces both outside and within your control.

What is the origin of self-doubt?

Disbelief in oneself is a learned behavior. We are born with an innate sense of our value and ability to conquer challenges. But somewhere along the road of life, our self-confidence is shaken.

And one of the most obvious examples of intuitive self-confidence is learning to walk. Have you ever noticed a baby’s reaction to failure? Babies don’t know that failure is a possible outcome. They don’t make comparisons between their abilities and those of other babies.

When learning to walk, babies fail over and over and over again. And then they get back up and try again.

As babies, we believe so strongly in our capabilities that we can’t even consider alternate outcomes.

It’s only when our awareness increases that something inside shifts. Maybe it’s a limiting belief imposed on you by a parent. Or pressure from a friend to act a certain way. Perhaps you struggle with rejection from others.

Whatever it is, you stop believing in yourself.

And although doubting yourself is a devastating outcome, you already have everything you need to flip the script.

Believe in Yourself by Listening to Yourself

“Our intuition doesn’t always tell us why. Listen anyway, and you’ll find out later.”

Kate Northrup

One of the biggest reasons we stop believing in ourselves is that we stop listening. We start ignoring what our bodies are telling us and therefore lose connection to our intuition.

And in a world that values being busy, it’s all too easy to hush our quiet inner voice. In all its hustle and bustle, turning instead to the outside world’s raucous noise is straightforward and expected by society.

But blocking out all that noise is exactly what you need to believe in yourself. If you don’t start to ignore the buzzing all around, it’s impossible to hear, much less trust, yourself.

I recently read a life-changing book that tells you exactly how to welcome the quiet voice inside you. And until reading the book, I had no idea how little attention I was giving myself.

I also never realized the massive impact listening to my intuition could have on my outlook and life. It’s a truly transformative way to believe in yourself.

And if you’re looking for more tips on improving your emotional energy, make sure to check out this post.

One Day at a Time

“All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision.”

James Clear

A second reason we lose faith in ourselves is an accumulation of past failures. We set massive goals without any clear path toward success. Then we are bewildered by our inability to achieve the goal despite having no definite plans on how to move forward.

Not only do we fail to accomplish the goal, but we lose confidence in our ability to achieve goals in the future.

But the truth is that if you dissect your goals into tiny pieces, you are virtually guaranteed to accomplish them. This is especially true when you learn how to incorporate goals into your life seamlessly. And once you start achieving your goals, restoring trust in yourself becomes effortless.

Start small. Think about how you can be 1% better with every day that passes. And read this miraculous book on habit change.

If you’re curious to learn more about habits, check out this recent post.

Find Your Strengths

Learning to believe in yourself starts with knowing who you are and what makes you tick. Without a solid foundation of who you are, it’s difficult to find inner trust.

Discovering your strengths is one of the best ways to learn about yourself because it lays the groundwork. Seeking clarity on this one area of your life lays the foundation for every other area by giving you a place to jump off.

I have found that self-doubt pops up as I approach the unknown in my own life. It happens when I’m thinking about trying something new or expanding beyond my comfort zone.

But knowing areas where I excel gives me the confidence to embrace new opportunities. This knowledge encourages me to believe in myself even when I’m traversing the uncharted.

And if you’re looking for a way to uncover your strengths, check out this helpful guide.

Start a New Hobby

I’m a massive believer in the power of hobbies to bring joy and fulfillment into your life. Hobbies are a creative outlet and means of self-expression.

And as someone who has a wide range of interests, leisure activities provide the perfect means for exploration. However, until recently, I felt that maybe there was something wrong with me for never having discovered my “one” thing in life.

Guilt about my apparent inability to commit began clouding my life. I couldn’t understand why honing in on one thing was so difficult.

And then I discovered this mind-blowing book that transformed everything I thought I knew. It confirmed the value inherent to leisure activities, and suddenly, the cloud of self-doubt lifted.

Exploring your interests allows you to listen to your intuition and play to your strengths. Hobbies also provide an avenue to expand your social circle.

These are all powerful strategies to begin learning to believe in yourself.

Check out this post for more compelling reasons you should start a new hobby today!

Believe in Yourself Through Positive Self-Talk

“You’ve been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”

Louise Hay

The way we talk to ourselves matters. Everyone has a running commentary in their head, comprised of conscious and unconscious thoughts. Unfortunately, we become so used to hearing that voice that sometimes we forget to make necessary adjustments for our good.

And before you know it, your harsh inner critic is dictating your entire internal dialogue. It’s no wonder why you lose faith in yourself when that happens.

Negative self-talk only fosters feelings of being inferior and a failure. This type of commentary brings you down emotionally and convinces you that you’re not worthy of trust.

But you are the creator of your thoughts and have the power to make positive change.

Learning to shift the conversation takes practice. It’s a daily awareness of your emotional state and the employment of specific tactics to switch it around.

Certain practices such as journaling, visualization, and surrounding yourself with positivity are potent steps toward a more positive thought life. Start prioritizing these types of self-care activities in the way you already prioritize physical care. I guarantee that you’ll be amazed at how much easier it becomes to believe in yourself!

And if you’re looking for another resource in positive thinking, check out this recent post.

The Importance of Self-Love

Love and trust go hand-in-hand. This is true of marriage and in life. If you don’t show yourself the same love and compassion that you show others, trusting yourself becomes a challenge.

Loving yourself means forgiveness when things go wrong. It means asking for help. And it means living according to your core values.

Struggling with self-belief sometimes means you’re not living up to your guiding principles. But by taking the time to uncover what matters most, you send a message to yourself that you matter!

And when you sincerely believe that you matter, trust soon follows.

If you’ve never done it before, I highly encourage you to think about which values matter most to you. And if you’re not sure where to start, check out this list of common core values.

Find Inspiration

There’s nothing like a little inspiration to restore trust and faith in yourself. Sometimes we are led to believe that we can permanently fix whatever is going on mentally by reading ONE book or listening to ONE podcast.

But mental fitness is similar to physical fitness in that it takes repetition to make lasting change. You must commit to a better thought life by daily practices such as meditation and journaling.

Tiny practices completed daily result in massive change, so don’t give up! The more you work to improve your inner life, the more you will begin to believe in yourself.

And if you’re looking for inspiration, make sure to check out one of these posts:

Or one of these phenomenal reads:

, , ,

It’s Your Turn

Learning to believe in yourself is a journey. It doesn’t happen overnight or even in a week, a month, or a year. It’s a habit that takes time.

It takes time because listening to that still, small voice inside feels incredibly counterintuitive. In this noisy, tumultuous world we live in, we are so used to hearing only the loudest voices. It takes practice to listen for the silence.

But it’s in the silence that you will find yourself. The slight twinge of inner tightening you sense when something doesn’t feel right. Or the massive lightness inside when you know you’re on the right path. Your path.

Even when the world screams rejection, it’s your inner knowing that pushes you through to greatness. It’s the belief in yourself that propels you to new heights.

I asked this question at the beginning but will ask it again. What would you do with your life if you knew you couldn’t fail?

I’m hopeful that this post inspired you to go after whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. The world needs your unique contributions, so go out there and leave your mark!

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post in the comments below. Is there anything you’ve done to foster trust in yourself? And what have you been inspired to accomplish?

What to Do When Your Emotional Energy is Drained

What to Do When Your Emotional Energy is Drained

Do you ever have those times in your life when you feel overwhelmingly tired? When EVERYTHING feels impossibly tricky, and you have zero energy. Even getting through the day feels like a marathon of marathons.

Maybe you’ve even lost interest in doing things that once brought you great pleasure. Or you feel as if your work and home lives are crushing you beneath a gigantic mountain of obligation.

There are countless reasons you may be feeling fatigued. Maybe you’re not getting enough sleep at night. Your diet is a bit off-kilter. Or perhaps you are even having issues with your thyroid.

But what happens when you’ve ruled out all possible physical causes for feeling fatigued? What then?

I’ve been there before. I struggled to find answers about why I feel caught in a dense fog of weariness. And the search for answers led me on a journey of self-discovery toward a transformation in both mindset and energy.

This journey led me on a path toward doing less, being more present, and, most importantly, tapping into the power of emotional energy.

This post may contain affiliate links and as a member of the Amazon Affiliates program, this means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

What is emotional energy?

To understand emotional energy, we must first acknowledge our bodies as being comprised of equal parts, physical and psychological. Each impacts the other and therefore contributes different types of energy.

In the most basic sense of the term, emotional energy is the energy we obtain from our emotions. And there are experts, including author and psychotherapist Mira Kirshenbaum, who believe the emotional contribution is even larger than the physical one.

I think everyone has their concept of emotional energy, and we are conditioned to believe that we are at the mercy of our emotions. There’s also a belief that the experience of having feelings is deeply embedded in our brains at birth. And if this were true, it would mean that we have very little control over our emotions.

Believe me when I say that I was as shocked as anyone when I recently listened to a TED talk by Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett that challenged everything I thought I knew.

And what I learned is that your brain is constantly making predictions in an attempt to create meaning. Emotions are, in fact, neutral until you assign significance to them. And that significance comes from your brain’s ability to make predictions based upon past experiences.

In other words, your emotions are created entirely by you. And as such, you have far more control over your emotions than you thought.

Why is emotional energy significant?

Not only are our brains in charge of assigning meaning to emotions, but biologically speaking, our brains are designed to look for danger. A primary function of the brain is keeping the body safe and it accomplishes this by constantly searching for potential threats.

Left unchecked, our natural tendency to focus on the negative and construct worst-case scenarios can deplete emotional energy and leave us feeling completely and utterly drained.

I have to confess that I’ve spent much of my life avoiding strong and predominantly negative emotions. It’s almost as if I thought I could deny their entire existence and never have to face feelings such as embarrassment, shame, or sadness.

Unfortunately, this practice of ignoring a specific set of emotions led to an overall decreased awareness of all emotions. And in fact, failing to recognize the impact of emotional energy in my life is just as harmful as not treating high blood pressure or diabetes.

Our mental and emotional well-being is just as essential to our overall sense of wellness as our physical state. Unfortunately, there is a shocking lack of credible information out there about how to care for our emotional well-being.

It wasn’t until I stumbled across an incredibly thought-provoking TED talk by Dr. Guy Winch that I suddenly realized how little I knew about emotional energy and its impact on how one feels physically.

Armed with this new knowledge, I began piecing together a completely new outlook on emotional energy. And the new outlook is based upon the knowledge that what you think about is what you get.

The Mind-Body Connection

Remember all that stuff about physical and emotional components? As it turns out, emotions can trigger a physical response in the body.

Think back to a time when you were extremely nervous about something. It could be a test, a performance, or even a difficult conversation. How were you feeling physically?

In my experience, being nervous means my heart races, my palms get sweaty, and my hands shake. Maybe you have similar physical sensations when nerves start to rise.

Regardless of your exact sensations, apprehension is the easiest to begin connecting emotional energy to physical awareness. And once you make this connection, it becomes easier to tap into the more subtle emotions.

As a general rule, negative emotions typically result in physical sensations of contraction within the body. The sensation is very similar to the rock, which suddenly appears in the pit of your stomach with bad or unexpected news.

On the other hand, positive emotions often present as the sensation of expansion. Think about the light, airy feeling you get after completing a complex task you have been dreading for weeks.

Understanding how to interpret your emotions is crucial to conserving and enhancing your emotional energy because it’s tough to change something about which you’re clueless!

It also gives you the ability to manage emotion on a deeper level because we often feel emotions physically before our “thinking brain” has even had a chance to process the event. And the better we are at identifying emotions, the easier it becomes to manipulate our emotional energy.

How does your emotional energy get depleted?

Although the ultimate goal is to improve your emotional energy, it’s vital to first understand how it gets drained in the first place. One of the biggest culprits is chronic stress.

Chronic Stress

Life is stressful. But nothing drains your emotional energy faster than prolonged and unrelieved stress. The type of stress that comes from high-pressure jobs, intense schooling, or even the decision to have kids.

All three are scenarios where you often feel as if you have no control over your life. And without positive coping strategies, you may begin suppressing your emotions to get through the day without a breakdown.

Suppressing your emotions may be effective in the short-term, but it leads to emotional numbing and even depression over time. And it takes you further and further away from happiness and an overall sense of well-being.

Being Indecisive

Another huge drain on emotional energy is being indecisive. Indecisiveness zaps all your energy by causing you to continually go back and forth, mentally weighing out the pros and cons of a particular situation.

The pitfalls of indecisiveness are especially evident with big life decisions, but it can also happen with too many small, daily choices. It’s almost as if you have a set amount of emotional energy and instead of focusing it all in one area, you spend a little bit everywhere without anything to show for it at the end of the day.

No Boundaries

A lack of personal boundaries is a classic source of drained emotional energy. It’s similar to being indecisive in that your emotional energy gets spread too thin.

Even worse is the fact that you’re probably spending your energy in places that aren’t even that important to you. Energy is, unfortunately, a finite resource and requires careful consideration before spending it. And when you have no boundaries, your energy gets scattered here, there, and everywhere.

Perfectionism

Yet another source of drained emotional energy is perfectionism. Contrary to popular belief, perfectionism is more than high standards. Perfectionism is the belief that one can attain completely unattainable levels.

And what’s worse is the fact that more often than not, we often impose perfectionism upon ourselves. It’s an internal form of aggression that is particularly destructive because you can’t escape yourself. Nor can you ever feel satisfaction at a job well done because you’ll never reach the standards you set for yourself.

How Can You Improve Your Emotional Energy?

Now that you understand the significant contributors to a drain in your emotional energy, it’s time to move on to how you can plug those drains!

Identify the Source

One of the first things you can do to improve your emotional energy is to pay attention to your emotions. There can be many contributors to feeling down, but until you correctly identify the one(s) explicitly impacting you, it will be challenging to make positive changes.

I recently read this transformative book called Do Less by Kate Northrup that suggests you start listening to yourself. Pay attention to your body and how specific thoughts make you feel on a physical level.

We often spend so much time ignoring our emotions and physical sensations in the name of productivity that we lose that valuable connection. But if you start small such as with decisions about what to have for breakfast or how you should spend a couple of free hours this weekend, you’ll soon see huge returns on your overall well-being.

Reverse Chronic Stress

Once you incorporate listening to yourself again, you may realize that chronic stress is at the root of your emotional energy crisis. Although solving this type of issue can be a bit trickier, there are small steps you can take to start feeling more revived.

If the energy drain is your career, try to identify the specific situations causing distress. Spend some time digging into both the situation and your response to see whether it’s possible to transform your mindset and approach it from a more positive angle.

As a nurse practitioner who strictly sees patients in the nursing home setting, this past year has been incredibly stressful for me. After reflecting on my low energy state, I was finally able to recognize the full impact my career has had.

Switching careers isn’t exactly an option at this point, so I began searching for other answers. My search led me to a book called The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer.

This book taught me how to let go of situations where I had no control and be present. These are both essential tools to begin dealing with significant stressors you may not necessarily have complete control over. I learned that sometimes acceptance is the best way to start feeling better.

And although acceptance is one option, choosing to leave a situation you can’t overcome is undoubtedly another valid one. Whether it’s a toxic work environment, a career you chose to appease someone else, or a relationship that simply isn’t working, walking away is sometimes the best option.

Find Your Tribe

Have you ever noticed that certain people energize you and others who completely drain you? It’s fascinating to think that, unlike physical energy, we can get emotional energy from the people around us.

And I’m sure you’ve heard that famous saying about how we are the average of the five people with whom we spend the most time. It’s so true and points to the importance of surrounding yourself with people who fill your cup rather than dump it.

Start paying attention to who you spend your time with and if they change your vibe for the negative, consider searching for a new tribe.

Resolve the Unresolved

Whether it’s perfectionism, indecision, or a lack of boundaries, start taking steps to resolve whatever is draining your emotional energy. Start taking measures to not only recognize what’s holding you back but to take action toward solving it.

In my own life, meditation and journaling have been incredibly beneficial in helping me step towards higher emotional energy states. Meditation teaches you how to stay present, especially if you tend to gravitate toward the past or the future.

Journaling helps bring up thoughts and feelings hiding deep inside but are draining your emotional energy. There’s something about putting pen to paper that releases negativity and truly enables you to resolve whatever is holding you back.

It also highlights the fact that we can’t out-think our brains. In other words, simply telling your mind to stop with the negativity and hamster wheel of worst-case scenarios is entirely ineffective. But learning how to connect the physical with the psychological is influential and critical to truly transforming your life and improving your emotional energy.

Other Resources to Improve Your Emotional Energy

Whether it’s a lack of energy or juggling too many projects at once, my passion is helping women overcome whatever is holding them back. I’ve encountered barriers in my own life but have also experienced the triumph of overcoming them and want to help others do the same.

Check out these posts for more motivation and inspiration to overcome that one thing threatening to hold you back!

And if you’re looking for even more tips to improve your emotional energy, here are a few of my favorites!

, , , ,

I sincerely hope this post has inspired you to examine your life and work towards a higher emotional energy state by addressing the negative and channeling the positive. Remember that you are amazing and have a unique contribution to make in the world. But you need positive energy to make your impact!

Leave a comment below with your thoughts on emotional energy and what you think may be holding you back from a higher energy state.

How to Change Your Habits and Transform Your Life

How to Change Your Habits and Transform Your Life

We are only a month or so into 2021, so I have two questions for you. First of all, did you make a New Year’s resolution this year? And secondly, are you still sticking with it?

If so, I’m sending you a virtual high five! And if not, I’ll still send you a shout-out because resolutions are hard!

In thinking back over the last several years, I’m not sure whether I’ve been able to stick with even one resolution past January 10th. And if you’re anything like me, abandoning a resolution has nothing to do with motivation.

It also has nothing to do with the inability to recognize the need for change.

We all have things in our lives that we know we need to change. Whether it’s exercising regularly, eating healthier, or changing our mindset, opportunities to live a better life abound.

And the start of a new year offers a compelling beginning to what we hope will ultimately be that better life.

Except it never entirely turns out that way. Let me tell you why.

This post may contain affiliate links and as a member of the Amazon Affiliates program, this means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

The Myth of the Resolution

While driving around one day, I noticed a somewhat cryptic sign which read, “resolutions are for quitters.” It happened to be shortly after the New Year, and the sign was advertising a burger place.

For whatever reason, this phrase stuck with me. And I can’t say whether the marketing ploy motivated anyone to suddenly abandon their resolutions and pull over for a delicious burger with a side of fries chased down by a frosty cold one.

But in its own strange and slightly mysterious way, the sign spoke truth to me. Because resolutions really are for quitters.

Resolutions are all but guaranteed to fail. The whole concept of suddenly starting or stopping some profoundly ingrained habit is a bit ridiculous just because the calendar flips over.

As if anyone could suddenly change themselves simply through grit and sheer willpower.

Despite my skepticism around resolutions themselves, I truly believe in the transformative power of change. But this sign had me thinking that maybe resolutions get a bad rap. That perhaps the difficulty isn’t in the concept of the resolution itself but instead in its execution.

Resolutions, Habits, or Both?

I know I started by talking about resolutions. But resolutions are only one small piece of the equation.

Whether it involves getting into shape, writing a novel, or becoming a better pianist, you’re going to need more than the simple desire for change to achieve the desired outcome.

You could consider resolutions as the goal itself, while habits are the small, daily steps you take to achieve that goal. And the outcome depends upon your habits.

Let’s think about the following (highly unscientific) equation:

Resolution + Habits = Success

Unfortunately, the following equation is equally valid:

Resolution + Habits = Failure

As you can see from both equations, you can start with the same resolution but, depending upon the habits, end up with entirely different outcomes.

Habits either bring us closer to the life we want, or they push us further away from it.

And these small actions repeated over time add up to massive change.

If you think about it, making a resolution is the easy part. The piece most people miss (myself included) is the habit.

So how do you effectively change your habits to transform your life?

Unfortunately, what you think you know about habits just might be leading you astray.

The Myth of the Habit

How many times have you heard that all it takes to form a habit is repetition?

That if you repeat some action x number of times, it will suddenly stick. And boom! Instant transformation.

I’ll admit that it’s a great concept. Repeat and be transformed.

Except how many times do you need to repeat something for it finally to stick? Thirty? Sixty? 302?

Despite thorough searching, I’ve never uncovered the exact answer to that question.

It also doesn’t address what to do if you break your streak. Do you have to start all over from the very beginning if you miss a day?

If so, that sounds more than a little depressing.

There’s also very little advice out there for the logistics of fitting this new habit into your life.

Like, should you just haphazardly shove it into your lunch hour? Right away in the morning? Or maybe before bed?

Most of the information out there is broad, generic, and implies that changing your habits is insanely hard. Period. End of sentence. Good luck and best wishes!

It’s no wonder there’s such a negative stigma around resolutions and habits!

Fortunately, I recently read a book that changes everything I thought I knew about habits. It sheds light on why habits typically fail, and it provides a clear road map for positive change.

The book is called Atomic Habits, written by James Clear, and if this is the first time you have heard about it, now is the time to take a closer look!

Change Your Habits Intuitively

Before discovering this book, I felt overwhelmed by the entire concept of habits. It was almost as if the accumulation of failed past attempts to change my habits made me think that future change was therefore improbable.

Despite these feelings, a small piece of me knew the untapped potential inside if I could unravel the habit puzzle.

And so, I picked up Atomic Habits, which changed everything I thought I knew about habits.

It completely dispels the myth that change has to be complicated. Instead, the book suggests that you can achieve actual long-term change if you start small and work with rather than against your current habits.

Throughout the book, Clear shares dramatic stories of how tiny changes transform lives. One pound lost leads to two, and eventually, over one hundred pounds are gone. Sports teams so terrible they have no chance of winning a game, much less a championship become the best in the league. Clear even writes about his recovery from a horrific accident and how his path to discovering better habits eventually led to a bestselling book.

These stories quickly establish Clear as an expert in the field. But it is his straightforward approach to the somewhat complex subject area that gives you hope that you (yes, you!) can make positive changes in your own life.

In short, Clear breaks the concept of habits down into such minuscule pieces that making considerable changes to your life is significantly less intimidating. He teaches you how to incorporate habits seamlessly into your life instead of haphazardly shoving them in wherever they happen to fit.

And that is honestly worth its weight in gold.

Better, Little by Little

I’m not sure about you, but I tend to get overwhelmed by the mere thought of change. I have perfectionist tendencies which often result in completely unrealistic expectations about my performance. My mind goes into overdrive and happily spins off into unimaginable tangents about why change will fail. Or it will conjure up images of the enormous sacrifice required for even the slightest habit change.

These tendencies mean that I don’t always move forward as quickly as I would like to habit change.

But Clear introduces a straightforward concept. It’s a concept that quickly dispels any attempts by my ever-helpful brain to complicate.

This concept is becoming 1% better every day. The theory behind it is that you don’t have to make colossal changes in a short amount of time. All you need is to be 1% better than you were yesterday. Eventually, those small gains add up, and after a while, you’re significantly better at whatever it is you’re trying to do.

Clear’s is perhaps the least intimidating approach to habit change I’ve ever come across. It’s also an ideal response to my perfectionist tendencies, leading me down the path of negativity and eventual failure when left unchecked.

It’s oddly comforting to think that massive change only requires improving by 1% every day. Not 50%. Or even 25%. But simply 1%. This concept makes transformation attainable and realistic.

You may also enjoy reading this post about perfectionism.

Consider Your Identity

Another concept I found extremely valuable in the book is the relationship between habits and identity. Your daily actions (your habits) work to either prove or disprove your identity.

And the way you think of yourself determines your habits to some extent. Habits and identity weave closely together.

This is a powerful concept that takes habit change from something you haphazardly force into your life at the start of a new year to simply who you are as a person.

Let me walk you through an example from my own life.

Piano Player vs. Pianist

I’ve played piano since the age of 7 and even went on to study music in college. Ultimately, my career took me down a completely different path, but my love for music remains.

A few years ago, I decided to improve my piano technique and repertoire, even if it wasn’t my career. I resolved to play more advanced piano repertoire. And the habit that would get me there? Effective daily piano practice.

And so, I tried to incorporate practice into my life daily. But I hit multiple roadblocks. Work. School. Sick kids. I would go months without even touching the instrument.

As time went on, I drifted further and further from my goals.

After months of frustration about my lack of progress, a question suddenly popped into my head straight out of nowhere. What are some easy ways I can incorporate this goal into my life?

I began looking for ways to do just that by listening to podcasts and reading blog posts. And I lowered my practice standards from 30 minutes daily to whatever amount of time I had.

Not only did I relax my standards to reach my goal more quickly, but I changed my entire identity.

I essentially began thinking of myself as a pianist instead of someone who just plays piano on the side.

And although I subconsciously reached this conclusion before Atomic Habits even came out, while reading the book, I immediately recognized the concept as one which has already yielded massive success in my own life.

The book gave language to a technique I had somehow stumbled upon in everyday life.

Powerful, isn’t it?

You may also enjoy reading this post about how to improve your piano practice.

Change Your Habits by Considering Your Identity

The primary reason why considering myself a pianist rather than someone who happens to play an instrument is so powerful is that it shifts the focus. Instead of focusing so much on making sure I hit my daily habit of practicing, I see myself as someone who enjoys piano practice.

The constant frustration of not meeting practice requirements is gone because I can’t wait to sit down and play daily. Piano practice is my creative outlet and satisfies my desire to think deeply while putting the day’s stress behind me.

The daily practice supports my identity as a pianist, reinforcing my desire to practice. Defining my identity gives me a frame of reference from which I can decide my habits that further support or oppose this identity.

The concept of redefining your identity is the type of stuff missing from other advice out there about changing your habits. And this is the powerful stuff that transforms your life!

It’s Your Turn

Until stumbling across this book, I truly felt that existing information on how to change your habits was vague, disheartening, and impossibly difficult to incorporate. Atomic Habits covers information that had previously been missing in my life, and I can guarantee you will also find value in the book!

It’s a step-by-step guide to re-imagining your identity and then living up to that identity. But not in an overwhelming way which makes you question whether the change is worth the effort.

Instead, the book gently guides you through small and straightforward transformations that support your own identity. It reinforces what you always knew deep down about habits but somehow never could bring forth.

And it’s the missing key to transforming your life.

I genuinely hope this post has inspired you to get out there and change your habits for the better! Make sure to grab your copy of the book here:

Don’t forget to comment below about habits and how you are incorporating this into your own life!