Surprise Puzzle Addiction

Have you ever tried to do a very complicated puzzle? Have you ever wondered why once you start the puzzle, it is intoxicating to finish it? Let me tell you, I had no idea how addictive a complex puzzle would be.

My husband and I decided to choose something to do together. Thinking it would be like…a date night and/ or scheduled time together to relax and maybe drink a glass a wine. Seemed like an inexpensive and relaxing way to connect and chat.

We decided to tackle a moderately difficult puzzle, 1000 pieces. We set it up on the table in the living room and asked our teens to join in the fun. We started with organizing the frame pieces and putting the edges together. This was fun and we did this within an hour or so and called it a night.

The second night was a Friday. We got about 15% of the inside puzzle completed and then something clicked in us that changed the way we were thinking. Now, we are thinking it’s not going fast enough. We need a new strategy to tackle the sub pieces in the puzzle. Piece sorting and categorizing started in. After setting up the new strategy, with the sorted pieces we called it a night.

Well, Saturday we were all ready to go. And boy did we go. We were hunched over that puzzle for 8-10 hours that day. It was like we were on a mission to complete this puzzle. We missed breakfast, and one of us broke away to make some sustenance to get us through lunchtime. Full on addiction. By Sunday morning we had completed the puzzle. Success. Accomplishment.

I’m exploring why puzzles do this to us. I heard that the mind with a clear goal can get into Flow and even increase dopamine production with the sense of accomplishment of each piece. I’ve also heard that a puzzle can bring you to a state of meditation or mindfulness. My next post I will try to find some research on the benefits of puzzles and also start another one.

Coronavirus – Mindfulness Derailed

3 simple things we can do to move forward in times when mindfulness is difficult.

If you’re anything like me: full time employee, mom of children in school, daughter of mother with alzheimer’s, spouse to now anxious husband…your mindful journey may be disrupted too. How do we get back on track. How do we keep our friends and family on track around us?

For some, their kids are out of school, others may have been home teleworking, and some have been sick. I’m praying, that anyone that gets this virus we recover quickly. And praying the financial stability of our world will return quickly.

Praying, (if you do this) is a way of releasing control…giving it to someone or something else. This is a great way to allow yourself to let go of things that may be too big to conquer alone. Ask yourself what it would feel like to give it to someone else to worry about while you plan for what’s to come.

Letting go, to me, is simply accepting what is…to be prepared for what’s next.

I’m not suggesting we stick our head in the sand. We can definitely take a moment to think of what we do have control over. For me, I have control over how I react to the craziness around me. I have control over not spreading panic or negativity. I even have some control over my health and wellbeing. I have some limited influence over reminding family and friends to be mindful in times like these. In turn, it is also a reminder to my own journey.

Bring it on.

So, what are some simple things we can do to proceed in times of mindfulness is difficult. It entails some planning for the days ahead to prevent heightened anxieties…I’m going to do the following for my family.

  1. Plan for items that promotes good sleep. Such as journaling, reading, or relaxing music before bed. Journaling can consist of just writing down things/feelings on your mind or even a simple todo list. Remind family and friends of these techniques.
  2. Plan for 15 minutes a day for something mindful with someone. Such as coloring, walking meditation, or observing nature (like photography). I’ve been finding these to be helpful and alternating between them..even before the stress of a virus.
  3. Let go of what is not in my control. This is where praying comes in to play for me. It could be other things for you. Such as, having gratitude for the universe and people we hold dear.

There are several more things we can do to promote mindfulness. But these are the ones I have in my toolbox at this time. They seem reasonable to me and I am a woman of moderation at heart.

We will persevere through these times.

Create Optimal Experience.

This is a follow up to an older post Free Your Mind, with the idea that focus and intention may free your mind to true happiness. In my quest to train my mind to be more focused and in the moment, I came across articles mentioning this concept of “Flow”. I decided to listen to the book “Finding Flow: The Psychology of engagement with everyday life.” by Csikszentmihalyi.

link to buy your own copy.

I figured it was worth digging a little deeper to get a better idea of the concept of Flow. I listened to the audio book on Audible during my commutes back and forth to work. I was surprised what a quick listen it was, it maybe took about 4 one way trips varying from 20-30 minutes. I listen to my books at 1.25x speed. I will provide an overview, but it may not do it justice in one post.

So, what is Flow?

In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.

wikipedia

So this state closely aligns with the ideas of intentional, mindful mental state that can create a more calm and collected feeling, thus giving us more enjoyment, more connection, and happiness. This state of mind is also a place that reduced distraction and chaotic thoughts.

I enjoyed the listen, but I will sum up the book here. There is a zone in which we can obtain Flow when we are intrinsically motivated and skill and challenge are balanced.

Skiing is a good example of Flow, if you’re not a skier I’m sure you could imagine another activity that this may relate. Let’s say you enjoy skiing, so this an intrinsically motivated activity. You’re on your way down the slope, going quickly with full attention to your skis, your movement, complete concentration on the task at hand. You’re thinking of nothing else and your body is using muscle memory skill to navigate down the mountain. To a competent skier, they are “in the zone”.

Csikszentmihalyi walks us through many research results (using Experience Sampling Method, or ESM) on groups of people logging their activities and the level of happiness. Although, the author seemed to feel, the happiness results were suspect because the participant was not doing something meaningful (which I felt was a bit subjective). I think the author wanted the results to align with the model of optimal experience, not only for the individual, but the community as well. TV watching was low skill and low challenge, but a participant would mark it as a happy experience.

The author divides our time into three main categories:

  1. Maintenance – scheduling,bills, house cleaning, tending to family
  2. Leisure – hobbies, media, social
  3. Work – employment, volunteering

I believe Csikszentmihalyi might be a little behind the times on gender stereotyping in this book. But, I will give him a break, due to his age and the timing of the research. He does go into detail about the differences of male and female experiences with Flow and when each experience better flow. Although, he does integrate the idea of a working mother and indicates that women tend to have the majority of the maintenance tasks that may not have a high intrinsic motivation.

The book points out several ways to change your mindset to experience Flow more often, even with the maintenance activities. It goes on with an example of thinking through a maintenance activity, such as doing the dishes. Instead of thinking “I have to” do the dishes, to think “I get to” do the dishes (Yay, <insert sarcasm here>). But, in all seriousness, I think the idea works in the mindset of what our ‘why’ is. Instead of thinking of it as a drudgery, to think of it as achieving the goal of keeping a tidy house free of bugs. In this way the goal provides the path for the intrinsic motivation to do the task.

He elaborates on this with an example of setting performance goals associated with these maintenance activities such as doing the dishes faster than the last time, or more efficient than the previous time. Make a game of it, to increase skill and complexity…therefore increasing Flow opportunity. Here is a post that might help…

9 Unique Ways to Use Less Water when doing the dishes

Keep the goals closely aligned with skill as to create a challenge that is not too overwhelming. Small increments to challenge to build the skills.

As I got to the end of this book, I thought the exploration of social and religious comparisons of creating positive Flow activities were interesting, but I think they drifted a little further than my intention for the topic and what I was looking for.

I couldn’t help thinking, while listening, how do we reduce the chaotic consciousness from interfering with flow. Things like text messages, kids emergencies, parent illnesses, scheduling conflicts, etc. The the narrator got right to it. You have to prioritize and proactive with your time and be intentional about doing or not doing activities as to reduce the chaotic thoughts.

My next thought, was what if my list outways my time. The very next section indicated to draw a line under the planned tasks for the day and not let anymore be added to that day. < insert small chuckle and shrug >

So, I’m going to refresh my daily task organizer and prioritize. I will start up my 7 habits program again. Which seems to be very much in alignment with the philosophy. I would say this book was motivating and revisited a lot of things I’ve already learned, but I may have lost that intrinsic motivation on.

Free Your Mind

I love the idea that focus and intention can free your mind to true happiness.

“The path is to free your mind, become more focused, bring yourself into a proactive, calm and positive state of mind.”

https://humanperformancepsychology.com/2020/02/21/from-outside-your-comfort-zone-and-into-the-zone/

Validation for me that having more focus is crucial to the journey of development and growth in life. Why do we lose focus and what does it take to regain it. From what I’m learning, it’s our fears that creep in that allow us to get in a comfort zone. We may not even realize we have fears or what they are. This comfort zone creates the willingness to allow attentions to be divided. Being proactive and deciding to face the fears, or even just figure them out along the way can create the path for greater quality of life.

The article makes reference to Flow. The book “Flow” by Csikszentmihalyi.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience teaches how, by ordering the information that enters our consciousness, we can discover true happiness and greatly improve the quality of our lives.

Csikszentmihalyi now has a newer book called “Finding Flow: The Psychology of engagement with everyday life.” I have just ordered it on audible credits.

Who doesn’t want to free your mind to true happiness?

When I’ve completed the book I will post a follow up. For now, have a great day.

Improve Focus

What to get out of this post: 3 mindful activities that can help increase the ability to focus. They have equal benefit for men, women, and children.

  1. Coloring
  2. Walking
  3. Connecting with Nature

Coloring

I find the coloring is pretty easy and good way to practice a laser focus on the ‘here and now’. You want to be intentional about the activity. Meaning, set a time and a find a place you are undisturbed…keep your attention to the coloring and when your mind drifts off (which it will) redirect it back to the physical act of coloring, choosing colors, the texture of the paper, the pens or pencils, the sounds, etc.

Walking

I used to walk and just let my thoughts wander and go from thought to thought, I would work out problems to solve or plan things I needed to do that day. Which is valuable, but the practice of mindfulness walking that trains the mind for focus is a bit different. It is an activity of intention and discipline to stay focused. Each step having intention and observance of the action, and feeling every motion and interaction with the feet to the ground.

The following information is a good to start: A guided ten minute walking meditation by MrsMindfulness. She also posted a soundcloud guided meditation.

I really like the following quote from the guided walking meditation.

“…Aiming to put aside any mental commentary, labeling or judging about what you see, and instead just being present with what is here to be seen…”

https://mrsmindfulness.com/guided-walking-meditation/

Connecting with Nature

Connecting with nature can be done in multiple ways and I’m only scratching the surface here. One way is to observe nature and really focus on the details of what you see. When other thoughts interrupt, use the study to refocus on the nature you are observing. Think about the texture, the smells, the movement, colors, etc.

I started adding pictures and videos of nature on the lifeinspiredreflections instagram account. It’s been really fun to work with my daughter to capture these and post them. We will continue to post more. Here is one of a flower.

Another way to use nature for practicing mindfulness is picturing in your mind of something in nature you’ve seen before. Sit without distraction and close your eyes and visualize every detail…try to rebuild the image in you mind. Even better describe it to someone else with you. It’s harder than you think and does take some practice.

There are several more out there related to nature. The main thing I’m getting out of these is the practice of keeping the mind focused. I find distraction in almost every corner these days and I used to be very intentional with my focus. I am working to get that back and attempt to make it a subconscious skill again.

Thank you for reading…stay tuned for more ways to practice in simplistic ways. Please comment or email easy ways you’ve practiced mindfulness.

Mindful Rain

Yesterday was a torrential downpour of rain in the morning. I had just dropped off my daughter at ballet and was sneaking in a well deserved cup of coffee before headed in to my exercise class. As I pulled up to the cafe, the downpour started. It doesn’t rain much where I am, so the rain was a huge event. I stayed in the car a little nervous to get out, until a little letup emerged and went in for my coffee.

I took a seat next to the window and watched the rain for a bit. Now that I’m inside and warm, thinking to myself, is this mindfulness? Watching the drips of rain coming down the windows, observing it hit the tree leaves and run off onto the tables outside. Watching the grey clouds drift by. It felt very comforting and took me away from the day to day grind and the disruption of the rain itself. I couldn’t help myself to do a quick google search on rain and mindfulness.

I got a ton of hits. But not what I was expecting. It surprised me to find there is an acronym RAIN and a practice that is used to be more mindful. The following are a few links that came up that were very helpful in understanding this practice in way more detail than I can discuss intelligently.

But the jist of what I turned up, while sitting in the cafe, will be very helpful in our mindful journey. So, as I read these posts while sipping my coffee and listening to the rain outside I decided to try it with this new tool. Here is how I thought through the RAIN method with my adventure in the rain. It has four steps…

STEP 1 – Recognize

This is the recognition of what is happening around you. For me it was raining, and raining pretty hard. I had no umbrella or jacket with me. At first I thought of it as a total disruption. I was recognizing that I was stressed about getting soaked right before my workout, the fact I don’t carry an umbrella in my car, and being delayed for my nice warm coffee adventure.

STEP 2 – Allow

Allowing the acceptance and acknowledgement of the situation. I cannot control when the rain will come and now it’s here. I may not like the timing, but none the less it is here. The ability not to resist the reality of the rain presenting itself. The water from rain will dry or maybe the rain will pass quickly.

STEP 3 – Investigate

As some of the articles say, this step may not be needed in all cases. Just allowing the situation to exist may be enough for some. But this step can be used for the why did my emotions rise, creating a resistance to the reality of the rain. I thought this through with my situation. At first I was almost going to scrap my coffee outing and sit in my car and sulk about the rain, but I persisted to work around it. This may not come naturally to some, so I’m thinking this would be very helpful to ask the “why”. I think the why for me is the rain seemed to come out of nowhere and derailed my plans.

STEP 4 – Non-Identification

This last step is the recognition that you are not your thoughts and that you can observe your thoughts. I love the analogy of thoughts are like clouds and they are always passing by. Sometimes they are white and fluffy and sometimes they are grey and dark. Yet, they are always passing through. This step can allow us to just go inside for a cup of coffee when the clouds are raining on us.

Thank you for joining me on this journey, we learned a lot today and found some good resources on the RAIN practice. My example was probably a little light, but I would imagine this practice is especially helpful in very strong emotional responses too.

Grounded by Plants

The kids are out of school this week and today, being Friday, it’s the last weekday of the vacation. We had plans to go rollerskating, but plans fell through. We’ve been doing a lot of indoor activities lately, so we thought doing a little planting in the backyard would be grounding to the mind. So, we all jumped in the car with a small budget and headed to home depot.

We got to home depot, parked, and walked into the garden center entrance. The pollen hit us like a wall. I tried not to mention all the medicines traversing in my mind that we may need to take when we get home. It wasn’t long before the kids all remembered how allergic they are to pollen. I reassured them we would make the trip short and queue up some allergy meds when we get home.

The succulents were the attraction today. The are so little and cute and some have bright colors and others are grafted with cacti. My teens immediately turned to adopting a succulent instead of gardening in the sunlight and transplanting flowers in the effort to refresh the yard. Of course they didn’t realize I had plans to sit with my spouse and have a nice glass of wine after their hard work of refreshing the planting. But, I couldn’t resist their enthusiasm to adopt a small house plant for their rooms, with the condition we still do the refresh.

So, the plan worked. We meandered through the garden center and found some amazingly beautiful plants within budget to make the yard pop with color. As we chose the annuals, we enjoyed the pollen and the busy bees. Without panicking during the observation of the bees, I redirected the kids down another isle. Right in the middle of my redirection, my older daughter immediately calls me out on the redirection and reminds us that mom is allergic to bees. She’s totally on to my tactics.

As we were checking out I was remembering how amazing it is to have your hands in the soil and planting in the sun. How mindfulness is just a byproduct of this activity. I was excited to share this with the girls. We got everything in the car and headed home.

We got home, brought in the plants, and started planning out the refresh in the back yard. I forgot how small our backyard is and from planning to executing this mindfulness activity took a total of about 15-20 minutes tops. The actual walking around the garden center was the most time staking part of the journey in this event. But, the girls completed the journey we set out for and we had a great time together. They feel pretty accomplished with the refresh and that is what we set out to do. So, I think my glass of wine will be mom’s mindful activity today watching the sunset.