All posts by takingmulligans

It’s Better to Give AND Receive: Unwrapping Our Gifts

The early days of a new year are my designated time for cleaning up, cleaning out, consolidating, and turning my attention to what I’ve been missing. I often find valuable nuggets amid the rubble of my office that I can use to direct me toward the next waypoint on my journey.

Amid this year’s stacks of papers and stupefying collection of random stuff* that somehow ended up in my office, I find two gifts.

The first is smaller than my computer mouse and wrapped in purple paper. I remember watching the store clerk (possibly at Kripalu) wrapping it, but can no longer recall what is inside or who I intended to give it to.

The other gift creates a different dilemma. It’s a bag of chocolates that I received in 2016 and never opened. I realize this only after I send a lovely thank-you email to the person who gave it to me, thinking it was a gift from this Christmas. Needless to say, Jenny was a little confused about my expression of gratitude—and we both wrote off the mistake as a side effect of midlife memory loss.

But, in fact, it was much more than that.

You see, I seem to have some kind of clinical blind spot about gifts—I like to buy them, but often get cold feet about actually giving them. And, while I like to receive them, I often don’t actually unbox or use them for a long time (if at all), and have even been known to leave them unwrapped.

Let’s just say this was not the first time that I was able to place this year’s Christmas gifts next to last year’s as they sat new in their boxes, stacked neatly for 12 months in the far corner of my office.

As I write this, both of these “gifts” still sit there in limbo—gifts in name only, since one was never given and the others, not really received.

Before you jump to the conclusion that this makes no sense (with which I would wholeheartedly concur), take a minute to consider the thought that dawns on me as I look at these artifacts.

Are these abandoned gifts signs of something deeper? Maybe I (and maybe you, too) have other “gifts” that have been hoarded or unappreciated.

What gifts do we have in our lives that are similarly ferreted away—ensconced in some kind of veil that keeps us from knowing what’s inside us?

Are there character strengths, talents, skills that we have developed that we’ve kept to ourselves? Do you have resources, ideas, or support that are available to be given freely, but something is keeping you from doing so? What do we have that can help someone else?

Or, conversely, are there gifts that we have failed to appreciate the way these kids have?

Are we ripping open our wrapping with gratitude and embracing all our gifts? Is there something inside us that we’ve declined to receive or to fully integrate with who we are as a person? Do you sit there, like I have, and look right past what’s been there all along?

Are people trying to reach out to you? Are you enjoying, embracing, and enhancing your life with the compassion and joy that life is offering you?

Is love being offered? Forgiveness? Empathy? Collaboration? Are you too set in your ways at work to be inclusive of others who can help? Are you too proud to let people share their resources and unique contributions with you? What are you refusing?

At work, do you really take the effort to find out what you and your colleagues can contribute beyond what you’ve been allowed to do?

At home, could you be a tiny bit more vulnerable, and more deeply appreciate what your family is giving you now? Or are you stuck measuring your loved ones solely by what you want them to be in the future?

For it is truly better to give and receive.

May this new year of 2018 be the time we share more of the gifts we have for others, and appreciate and accept the abundance that is right in front of us.

I’ll start by tasting these chocolate caramels. It’s never too late for that.

*For the record, this heap included a lost flathead screwdriver (whose replacement I bought just last week), a set of puzzle books, a Buddhist coloring book, mulling spice kits, a magnetic refrigerator clip, sunglasses, a $30 Justice coupon, an old iPad, a new Amazon Fire, automobile repair receipts, ticket stubs, four courtside seats to upcoming 76ers games, a hand-strengthening gadget, two and a half phone chargers, an old credit card, a camera, reader glasses, and a bottle of Icelandic water.

This post was originally created for Wholebeing Institute as a part of my installment series on the fundamental concepts and stories of positive psychology.  For the entire series, or to sign up now for a free two-part video training series and free e-workbook on evidence-based tools for flourishing, click here.

No Willpower Needed: From Rituals to Lifestyle Change

Discipline is like patriotism—in theory, we may all be for it, but each of us can have vastly different interpretations of what it actually is. Is patriotism guarding the flag to reflect the beauty of our freedom, or burning it in protest to reflect the very same thing?

Likewise, to some, discipline is a value—the moral fiber to refrain from what’s bad. To others, it’s behavior—the fortitude to push through resistance or complacency in search of a higher goal.

Several years ago, when I was a new father trying to figure out how to raise a young family, I fell into a job with perfect timing. I became an editor of parenting books and discovered with great relief another definition: Discipline is teaching. I loved this one, since I thought it reflected better on my self-image. I could see myself much more clearly as a teacher than as a disciplinarian.

I thought I had a fair amount of self-discipline, at least in certain things, like working hard, meeting deadlines, training for sports, and being vigilant in the protection of my children.

Yet when it became necessary to impose discipline on my kids, that was something else entirely. It seemed a little arbitrary and self-serving. I mean, wasn’t the real reason I wanted my daughters to behave properly as much for my sake as theirs?

Like people who shy away from excessive displays of patriotic symbols because of the injustices that have been perpetrated in the name of the flag, I hesitated. I was happy to teach, but did not want to be the kind of dad who tried to impose his will at every opportunity. It was their childhood, not mine.

 

 

When I enrolled in the Certificate in Positive Psychology (CiPP) course with Wholebeing Institute at Kripalu,  the course teachings took me one step further and I found an even better definition of discipline: overrated.

The basic idea here is that, at our age, we each have a certain amount of self-discipline. And no matter how many vows we might make to develop more, in order to meet some new goal in our life, there’s only so much to go around. (This may explain why in those other areas of my life, like late-night eating and social media, I have been unable to demonstrate the discipline to do what I know is best for me.)

Despite every good intention, if we set goals that require self-discipline levels that we are unable to sustain, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and aggravation.

Do the words “constant struggle” sound familiar?

Rest assured, there’s a better way to raise ourselves up to new heights without relying on miraculously finding new caches of discipline—through ritual.

Ritual is yet another word that can strike us in different ways. I recently had a session with a shamanic healer who shared with me his understanding of the power of rituals to help transform the parts of us that defy logic and language.

The rituals that he uses in his work are experiences of sound and symbolism that he, and the ancestors who passed along their knowledge to him, believe can move us into new realms without prolonged analysis or painful acts of discipline. His teaching is that the rituals he performs can move us in ways we could not consciously move ourselves alone.

While that’s not the kind of ritual that we became familiar with through CiPP, it draws on a similar concept—that sometimes it is better to think less and act more.

When we can translate a goal into a series of acts that can be performed regularly and routinely, we grow around those tasks in the direction we want to go. It is no longer a constant struggle; it becomes a way of life.

The classic example is that most of us don’t have to wrestle every day to summon the discipline to brush our teeth. We simply do it by rote (or mindfully) in pursuit of our goal of good health and hygiene. And we’ve been doing it that way for years and years. Every morning. Every evening. Not a struggle at all.

When it’s something new we are looking to add to our lives, we can find success with a similar approach. With transformation in mind, we can see the benefit of performing some kind of small behavior every day for 30 days. Yes, it might take an ounce of discipline to get ourselves started—but it can deliver pounds of results.

Each small step we take can build and build to a crescendo of action that becomes effortless (like the magical footage at 2:32 of this video).

One Day At a Time

With daily repetition, tiny actions quickly move from discipline to ritual. And from ritual to habit. And from habit to lifestyle. At that point, when this new skill has become part of your lifestyle, it’s suddenly more challenging to stop doing something than to continue it. (Imagine if I told you to stop brushing your teeth for 30 days!)

In fact, when I began to look at it this way, I realized that it wasn’t that I lacked the discipline to refrain from late-night eating and Facebook hovering, it’s that these actions had inadvertently become rituals in my life. I didn’t need more discipline, I needed new rituals.

The rituals we adopt become the girders on which we build our life, even when it feels like we’re being dragged around by the fleeting ebbs and flows of emotions and fatigue.

Fall is my favorite time of year to launch new initiatives in my life (less pressure than New Year’s resolutions). It’s a perfect time to challenge myself to do a 30-Day Practice, to do the little things it takes to move my life forward.

 

This post was originally created for Wholebeing Institute as a part of my installment series on the fundamental concepts and stories of positive psychology.  For the entire series, or to sign up now for a free two-part video training series and free e-workbook on evidence-based tools for flourishing, click here.

How (and Why) To Enjoy Every Toothache

How is your toothache feeling today?

If you actually have a toothache (or headache or some other physical discomfort), I hope it’s feeling better. If you don’t have one, I hope it feels worse for just a second.

I’m not being sadistic, really.

If you are like me, you did not wake up this morning and declare how happy you were to not have a toothache. Or not to be grieving some kind of tragic loss. Or not to be deep in a personal drama immobilizing you with fear.

All those things happen from time to time. They have all happened to me at various points in the past several years. And when I am in such pain, such drama or dire circumstances, it is hard to think of anything else. I just want that toothache to go away. I want that person to come around and see things my way. I want a friend to get her health back.

So that toothache that you don’t have? Imagine you do have it, for just one sharp second of pain. Then another. Imagine how awful that tiny little inconvenience is—how it disrupts your thinking and can compromise your whole day. Now imagine the blessed relief you feel when it finally goes away and you are where you are right now—without that toothache.

When things like toothaches happen, they force us to pay attention—and when they pass, we celebrate.

But today, I didn’t give attention to all the joyful things that are already in place—or celebrate the cessation of pain. I didn’t celebrate what is for what it is. I didn’t acknowledge the beauty, the safety, or the love in my life.

I just laid in bed, like I do so often, thinking about the little things that were bothering me, the crappy stuff I really didn’t want to do today, the slurry of emotions that had somehow crept into my mind overnight.

I’m lazy. When I’m doing well, I tend to just coast and enjoy it—until I’m not coasting anymore. I turn to tried-and-true positive psychology tools like a gratitude journal only when I’m struggling the most. And that practice, undertaken for a few minutes before I go to bed, never fails to help ease me into a better place. Even if I don’t write them down religiously, making a mental list of what I’m grateful for reminds me of a guiding principle of positive psychology that Tal often describes as “What we appreciate, appreciates.”

In other words, what we bring into awareness will grow in value.

It’s not just through the practice of a gratitude journal that we can do this. It can happen throughout the day, over and over again. When we stop to see and acknowledge and give words to what we appreciate, we create the awareness of what’s working in our lives. Not just what’s wrong, but what’s strong.

This is especially true and powerful when we appreciate the people in our lives.

This morning, when I woke up, I made the decision to appreciate the challenges, pitfalls, and yucky feelings I had when I woke up this morning. So they grew a little. I gave them audience, and they responded with a command performance. But it could have gone differently.

Luckily for me, I had the impetus to write this today, to help remind me that there are other aspects of my life that wait politely in the wings, waiting to be appreciated—and grown.

Luckily for you, you made it this far to help remind yourself to do the same.

 

This post was originally created for Wholebeing Institute as a part of my installment series on the fundamental concepts and stories of positive psychology.  For the entire series, or to sign up now for a free two-part video training series and free e-workbook on evidence-based tools for flourishing, click here.

Your Pulse Is Not Your Heart: Permission to Be Human

For some reason, I find it difficult to find my own pulse. Which tends to remind me of a limitation we often have: We are not always in the best position to see our own humanity. It’s why a considerable field of study called psychology rose up to illuminate aspects of ourselves that others can help us see.

This notion—that we lose sight of our humanity from time to time—is one of the guiding principles of positive psychology. It is known as Permission to Be Human. To me, this means much more than just admitting that we make mistakes (we do) or asking forgiveness (we should).

To me, Permission to Be Human is more about looking at ourselves—taking our own pulses.

Try this. Grab a timer and take your pulse right now. Maybe you’ll be better at this than I am. (I ended up just buying a heart rate monitor.) Place your index and middle fingers on the underside of your wrist, just below the base of the thumb. Count the number of beats (pulses) for 15 seconds. Take this number and multiply by four to find your heart rate in beats per minute.

Okay, now that you’ve got a number, tell me. Is it good or bad?

I hope you didn’t answer that. Here’s why: That number changes all the time. It’s sometimes higher and sometimes lower. Did you just walk up a flight of stairs? Have you been sitting down for a while? When’s the last time you ate? Did you exercise earlier? What time is it? Did you just think of something you forgot to do? Did you just yawn? All of these things can affect your heart rate. It rises and falls with variability triggered by the situation you are encountering.

Watch this video for look at HeartBot, the drawing machine that is controlled by the heartbeat of the viewer.

HeartBot Imaging

Our changing heart rate is an analogy for what it means to give ourselves (and others) Permission to Be Human. To accept the emotions we have at any given moment as part of who we are—and not worry too much about labeling them as good or bad. Whatever emotions we feel in the moment and whatever actions we are undertaking that trigger those emotions, they need to be understood in the context of our broader lives.

Our first job is to be aware of our emotions and accept them for what they are—temporary responses. Then we can work toward the goal of broadening and building our positive emotions in light of what we’ve learned about ourselves.

Physical training and nutrition can guide us toward heart-rate responses that signal and orchestrate our health and well-being. So, too, can we guide our minds toward healthy responses to our emotions as we process them. We can train our bodies to be stronger and our minds to be more resilient, capable of success and sustainable happiness.

Keep in mind that the art of being human can shift us toward peak performance through both mind and body. That’s been described in a phrase that makes me smile: Permission to Be Magnificent.

Magnificent, in my estimation, is simply another word for human.

 

This post was originally created for Wholebeing Institute as a part of my installment series on the fundamental concepts and stories of positive psychology.  For the entire series, or to sign up now for a free two-part video training series and free e-workbook on evidence-based tools for flourishing, click here.

‘Lion’ Named Running Movie of the Year

Lion, the Academy Award-nominated film based on the true story of a child’s accidental separation from his family in India, has been selected Running Movie of the Year by TakingMulligans, a website that explores the emotional side of running.

The movie depicts the young Saroo’s natural reliance on running, not as a sport, but as an integral part of how he lives his life.  Saroo, played as a child by Sunny Pawar, doesn’t run for fitness or personal records, he runs because he is compelled to by circumstance. He runs because he can and because he has to.  In running, Saroo finds deliverance not only from imminent and nefarious threats to him as a child, but also later in life, in the imagery and emotion that the activity has seared into his memory.

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Sunny Pawar plays the young Saroo in Lion, Taking Mulligan’s 2016 Running Movie of the Year

 

It is for this poignant, visceral and dramatic demonstration of the power of running to protect us physically and nurture us emotionally that has distinguished Lion as Running Movie of the Year.

Running serves the hero of the story in several pivotal ways.  First, in a practical way: it is how the small child navigates the harsh realities of living in his tiny village. He runs to do his work and return safely to his home.  He even finds safety in a mad dash for medical care after a startling childhood accident. Running also becomes his escape route when threatened by child kidnappers who prey upon his vulnerability.

Finally, when the boy, now grown into a man, and played by Academy Award nominee Dev Patel, seeks to reconstruct the clues to his childhood, running serves him one more time. As he relives the moments of his youth, he sees himself again through the eyes and emotions of that running child (with a little help from Google Earth).  Through the imprint that running to and through his village has made in his memory, the grown-up Saroo unlocks the answers of who he is and where he comes from.

 

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Throughout Lion, the Academy Award-nominated film, the hero finds safety, deliverance and life-altering redemption in the physical and emotional gifts of running. (photo by Mark Rogers)

Other nominees this year included ‘Race,’ the story of  Jesse Owens and his triumphant victories in the 1936 Berlin Olympics in the days leading up to World War II, and Sully, the story of pilot Chesley Sullenburger, who found running to be a source of strength and emotional refuge which contributed to (and helped him deal with the aftermath of) his daring landing of a passenger jet in the Hudson River.   Sullenburger was featured in this Runners’ World article when the movie premiered.

Taking Mulligans’ Running Movie of the Year is chosen to reflect how running is more than just a sport or fitness activity, it can unlock emotions and serve as a catalyst for change and positive developments in life.

Mulligan Moment of 2016 – Running Edition

As loyal readers of Taking Mulligans know, the disappointing circumstances of my final high school track meet started a thread of endeavors that led me to, more than 30 years later, write an upcoming book and two major features stories for Runners’ World (The Mulligan Mile, Cross Country Romance).   I can only imagine where Justin DeLuzio’s final college cross country race will propel him.  Other than a cornfield.

In November, he was about a mile into running that race for Gwyneed Mercy University, when a deer blindsided him and knocked him airborne– and into the viral running clip of the year.   Click below for ESPN’s coverage of it.

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CLICK HERE for Viral Running Clip of the Year

Getting knocked down may win you viral clip of the year. But it’s what’s not on this clip that won him our Mulligan Moment of the Year– getting back up to finish the last 4 miles of the race.   And what’s more, it’s a few thoughts he shared in this interview with NPR that resonated most with Taking Mulligans.  Listen and you’ll hear some good advice for going forward into 2017.  Surprisingly, he’s not the one in the interview that encourages us to get back up when we get knocked down.  His advice?  No resentment.  Be grateful.  Be aware.

And for that, Justin DeLuzio, an actuarial science student from Limerick, PA, wins Running’s Mulligan Moment of the Year.

photo from PennLive.comjustin-deluzio-4683b2d412c5a580_png__png_image__620-x-466_pixels_

CLICK HERE for Talking With Justin  to hear and read an interview with Justin.

 

 

 

 

Mulligan Moments of 2016 – Public Activism Edition

Sometime a mulligan is more than just a mulligan.  It’s a way forward that breaks abruptly with the past and establishes a whole new perspective on the world.  Here are two Mulligan Moments that may be harbingers of new understanding and appreciation of what’s best about our great nation and the towns that we live in.

The most startling and emotional moment came at the contentious location of Standing Rock, when a gathering of veterans offered a very public apology for transgressions of the United States government, military, and citizens upon the native peoples of the land of North America.  Seeking forgiveness is a humbling step.  And accepting forgiveness is a tremendous gift to all parties involved.  May this moment be the mulligan that heals and protects  and brings peace and justice to our nation and our Native American family.

 

A dear friend and inspiration of mine, Joyce Marin, pointed out that that not only do people have comeback stories, but a town can too.  Joyce, the executive director of RenewLV, reminded me of Iron Works Catasauqua and the work of their municipal council to push this project forward over the last 10 years.  According to Joyce, this year the council, led by Vincent Smith, Catasauqua, PA’s borough council president, passed the mixed-use zoning required to take a former industrial site and turn it into a new 13 acre walkable-bikeable neighborhood connected to their downtown.   May it be the start of something even bigger for what may become the Lehigh Valley’s Mulligan Town.

 

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Begin again. Now go.