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The one question that has saved my relationship

In every relationship, you are going to make each other angry. Through thoughtlessness, naiveté, and ignorance, we are all going to flub it up with our partners every now and again.

How do you know if you should bring it up? If you mention every little thing that irritates you, it will quickly devolve the relationship into a paranoid bickering match. But if you bottle things up, they will eventually come out in a messy, gargantuan tirade and may spell the end of the relationship.

Fortunately, I’ve found a middle ground.

When my sweetie does something that irritates me, I check in with myself using the five-year rule. I ask myself, “Will I remember this incident in five years?” If the answer is yes, then it’s something I want to address with him. If the answer is no, then I let myself be angry (on my own) for as long as I need to get it through my system and then I forget it. If it’s not something that I will even remember happened in five years, how important can it be?

The odd occasion when the dishes are left in the sink? I won’t remember that in five years. That weird, nerdy thing he said to my friend at a dinner party last week? I won’t remember that in five years. The mud tracked in when he was working in the yard? Nope, I won’t remember that in five years either.

When he said that I’m not as good about exercising as he is? Ouch. Um, yeah, I’ll remember that in five years so it’s time for a talk, buddy.

It may be that as a mental exercise, you’ll need to start with a ten-year rule or an eight-year rule. Make it however much time would have to pass before you’d look back on the incident and either laugh at it or not even remember it happened. Then test it out. How does it feel to let things go? Do they simmer for weeks inside you or do you move on faster than you would have thought?

Let me know in the comments if you’ve tried this and how it works for you! Remember as Buddha wisely said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping at a hot coal with the intention of throwing it at somebody else; you are the one who gets burned.”

A simple way to become more loving

Self-compassion is the ability to be compassionate (kindhearted, caring and gentle) with yourself. It has been shown to increase levels of happiness, optimism, and a sense of well-being. We’re all quite skilled at being compassionate with other people like our friends, family, and children. However, we aren’t as good at doing this for ourselves.

When was the last time you were gentle and kind with yourself after you made a big, embarrassing mistake? It’s so much easier to forgive others for their mistakes then it is to forgive ourselves. We tend to beat ourselves up and rehash the failure over and over, rather than giving ourselves words of encouragement and support.

When you can learn to be as kind with yourself as you are with those friends and family you hold close to your heart, you will start to see so many aspects of your life, your happiness, and your health improve.

Self-compassion is when you accept, validate, and treat with care any and all things that happen to you. If you make a mistake at work and get called out by your boss, accept what happened, validate the truth of the situation and figure out how to fix it, and then tell yourself that you did your best at the time with the resources you had. Resources always include time, materials, emotional state, energy level, interest level and more. At any given time, you can only do your best with what resources you have at that moment. If you snap at your kids or partner after a long day, accept that you made a mistake, apologize, and give yourself the grace of knowing that you are a good person but at that moment your resources were spread thin.

We all make mistakes. It’s part of the school of life class in which we’re all currently enrolled: “Being a Human: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

Be kind to yourself. It makes a huge difference in your life.

My secret weapon for staying balanced

Over the past 10 years I have been practicing mindfulness.  It has made a world of difference in how I interact with others and how I process all the ups and downs of life. It has helped me to remain balanced and have a perspective that I never knew I could have. Mindfulness has given me a space where I can observe myself, the situation, and my reaction and actually choose how I want to proceed before I get caught up in the whirlwind of  automatically reacting with anger, anxiety or fear.

Mindfulness is basically about keeping your thoughts and awareness on what’s going on right now. By right now, I mean at this exact moment. No, wait! That one just passed. Okay, this exact moment. D’oh! That one passed too. Okay, this exact moment.

You get the picture. Mindfulness is about only paying attention and letting your thoughts be about this exact second. Any moment that has passed or any moment in the future should not be occupying your thoughts or feelings. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction said that mindfulness is, “bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis.”

This is harder than it would first appear because we are trying to go against what our mind has been trained to do. Our minds fill our day with all sorts of thoughts. What should I eat for lunch? Did I remember to pay my cell phone bill? I wonder if my friend is annoyed at me? I flaked on her and now I haven’t heard from her in a few days. That guy is cute, I wonder if he’s single?

Mindfulness is about having those thoughts, feelings, stressors come up… and then letting them go as the moment passes. Mindfulness isn’t about not having thoughts. Asking your mind to stop having thoughts would be like asking your heart to stop beating. That’s its job! Your mind will have thoughts, but if you let them go, if you don’t allow them to carry you on a tangent of worry or stress or guilt, then you won’t feel the emotional and physical ramifications of that tangent. You will simply have the thought, and let it go. The thoughts won’t be able to suck you down the rabbit hole of stress, fear and worry.

Mindfulness has been shown to have a number of beneficial physical effects when practiced on a regular basis. It can decrease anxiety and stress, increase focus and memory, increase creativity, and increase both self-compassion and compassion for others. That’s a lot of good stuff, isn’t it?

There are a lot of good resources on the web for starting a mindfulness practice. I want to stress here that the key word is practice. When you first start out, your mind will wander like crazy. Don’t stress out or get annoyed with yourself. Just say, “thank you, mind, for doing such a good job of thinking. However, right now, I’m trying my best to not get caught up in thoughts.” And then, gently and lovingly, bring yourself back to your mindfulness practice.

Here is a simple mindfulness practice you can do while eating. I’ve used raisins here, but you could use the same idea with any food.

Mindfulness Raisin Exercise

People often don’t notice what they are eating or whether they are still hungry. While they are eating, they may be talking on the phone or doing work or playing around on the computer. What if you just ate and did nothing else for a change? Mindful eating involves noticing how and what you eat, from one bite to an entire meal. By taking the time to eat your food, you can begin to learn what foods actually taste like and which ones you like and dislike.

To try eating mindfully, take three raisins. Look at these raisins as something you have never seen before. Set two of the raisins aside and take the third in your hand. Look at what you are about to eat. Think about how it got to you. Think about the seed that was planted to grown the plant. Imagine the roots sprouting from the seed and the leaves pushing up through the soil and to the sun. Think of the sun’s warmth and energy, feeding the grapevine as it grows. Think of the farmers who tended to this plant, watering it, feeding it and pruning it. Think of a grape, growing on this vine, becoming plump and sweet, full of juice. Think of the person who picked this grape and placed it in a basket. Think of the people who laid the grapes out in the sun for days, allowing them to become raisins. Think of the person who drove these raisins to the market, the person who stocked them on the shelves.

Give thanks for what you are about to eat. How do you feel about putting these raisins in your body? How does your body feel, knowing that you are going to eat?

Use your senses to experience this raisin. Notice what it looks like. Roll it around in your hand; what does it feel like? Hold it to your nose; what does it smell like? Place it near your ear; can you hear anything? If you move it between your fingers, can you hear something now?

Place the raisin against your lips, then lick your lips and notice the taste it has left. Put the raisin into your mouth without chewing it. Close your eyes, if you like, and let it roll around on your tongue. Put it between your teeth and feel it there, without biting into it yet. Notice any saliva that is present. Pay attention to the change in the raisin’s texture after it has been in your mouth for a bit.

Bite into the raisin, noticing any tastes you experience. Slowly chew it for as long as you can. Right before you swallow, notice what it feels like to want to swallow this raisin. When you are ready, swallow the raisin. Notice that it is now in your body.

If you notice yourself getting distracted by your thoughts, take a moment and refocus on the raisin. Repeat this process with the remaining two raisins.

You can follow these steps with any food of your choosing, from one bite to an entire meal.

What are some tools that you use to stay balanced? Share your ideas in the comments below so we can all try them out!