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Self Improvements

Self Improvements (5)

Changing Patterns

When it comes to making change in our lives, there is an old adage – “If you do what you always do, you’ll get what you’ve always got.” It makes sense. Most of us know it. But to change the patterns of what we’ve always done can be the challenge. We slip into grooves. Comfort zones. And while perhaps we may crave a different and improved situation, the mere idea of change may incite panic in many of us. We want to move to a new place within our lives, but we aren’t prepared or don’t know how to take the steps to get there.

What can we do when we are stuck on our path, perhaps riddled with frustration and confusion, wishing to be somewhere else but unable move forward? The good news is that simply acknowledging our situation is a signal that we’re open to making the change. This awareness allows us to open the door and simply look at the situation more clearly. But we may need to dig a little more deeply.

According to business studies done by Chris Argyris, a business theorist and Professor at Harvard Business School, people have mental maps with regard to how we react in situations – the way we plan, implement and review our actions. Despite our personal theories and our best intentions, which may be different, these mental maps become our default and influence our actions.  “Think of these rules as a kind of “master program” stored in the brain, governing all behavior. Defensive reasoning can block learning even when the individual commitment to it is high, just as a computer program with hidden bugs can produce results exactly the opposite of what its designers had planned.” (Chris Argyris, Harvard Business Review May-June 1991 Issue.)

So how do we change or reprogram these mental maps? According to Argyris, we should begin with our approach. As explained in his study, many people approach learning as merely problem solving – identifying and correcting errors in the external environment. He has described this as “single loop” learning. In order for people to change how they act, they must also look inward – reflect critically on their own behavior, identify ways they may inadvertently contribute to problems and then change how they act. His studies refer to this as a “double loop” learning process.

According to an interview and article in the New York Times, David Chang an internationally renowned, award-winning Korean-American chef, restaurateur and owner of the Momofuku restaurant group, did the tough work of “double loop” learning to reengineer his path. He spent years cooking in some of New York City’s best restaurants and apprenticed in noodle shops in Japan. When he started Momofuku Noodle Bar, he worked 18 hour days and could barely pay himself a salary. He couldn’t figure out why the restaurant was failing. But rather than point fingers or even quit, he did a brutal self-assessment. Then he dramatically changed course. He and his cooks worried less about what dishes to cook and looked for inspiration in fresh produce at the market to come up with wild, flavor-packed food combinations of things they would like to eat. Everything shifted – people started showing up, rave reviews and awards accumulated. Today, Momofuku and David Chang are well-known culinary stars.  
While this is a simplified version of a well-known business theory, it can also be applied to our everyday lives. Here are a few suggestions on how to simplify changing our patterns to affect change in our lives.

Awareness – Identify the problem or obstruction that’s blocking your path. Sometimes we need to step back from the confusion and emotion. It can be as simple as saying I’m stuck or this is working anymore.

Ask Tough Questions – The questions may be tough because the answers tap into our emotions. If we need to lose weight, it may sound as simple as cutting back on food intake and increasing our activity. But if it were only that simple there wouldn’t be millions of people struggling with weight issues. We may be stuck in a job we don’t like or a relationship that’s toxic. How did we get here and why can’t we seem to make the change?

Be Honest with the Answers -It’s tough to be brutally honest with ourselves because we are admitting that we are less than perfect. But when we are able to cut through the emotion, a more vibrant picture of the situation shines through. The only caution is to also inject some self-love into this process. We may not always like the honest answers and we often beat ourselves up for perceived missteps. Or conversely, we may begin to point fingers at others for our predicament. Either approach can be destructive and self-limiting. We always contribute to our own circumstances. We need to examine our role and be honest with it.

Let Go of Comfort and Embrace Fear –Personally, when I am stuck in situations that are less than ideal, it usually takes me a long time to make change. I hold onto things for longer than I need to. For me, it usually boils down to two words – comfort and fear. Despite the feeling of being ‘stuck’ in less than ideal circumstances, there is a certain degree of comfort in the situation. When it comes to finding a new job, learning a new skill or doing something totally out of my comfort zone, it means a leap of faith into the unknown. The learning curve might feel steep. The people might not be friendly. What if it’s too time consuming and interferes with my family life? What if I fail? Ultimately, I have stepped away to begin something new – a few times. The end result was sometimes rocky but I when I took the leap of faith discovered a few things: I could still land on my feet, I actually learned something new, I met some wonderful new people and it opened up doors to more knowledge and experience. It was part of my learning curve. A step closer to where I needed to be.  

Courage – It takes courage to change the patterns in our lives. There is so much advice on how to implement change but it is ultimately our choice and our actions that will steer the course in our lives. I have only walked in the steps of my own life. I recognize my patterns. Some I have successfully rerouted my path, but there are many grooves that I continue to slip into and follow despite my best intentions. When I have stepped forward into the unknown, there was a degree of worry and fear. But in those situations, I had the courage to make the change. And the knowledge and memory of this courage, along with any subsequent successes or failures, gives me the strength and courage to move forward and make changes as they arise in my life.

In some situations taking the leap of faith feels like a destiny, but sometimes that debilitating fear has me hovering at the ledge longer than need be. In those situations I look for the wisdom of my life lessons and use the tools of my yoga. Pause. Take a deep breath. Stay in the moment with each breath. Find my center. Move forward with confidence that I have all that I need within me. And trust.

Then I remember the words of Lao Tzu:

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”


How to get more out of your work day?

Take a break!

In today’s deadline-oriented workplace, long hours and overflowing in baskets often mean working through breaks to get the job done. But recent studies indicate that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creativity. And in fact, not taking the time to step away for short breaks throughout the day can actually increase stress and lead to exhaustion.

In a study conducted by the University of Illinois in 2011, researchers found that simply taking two brief breaks enabled participants to stay focused. According to Psychology Professor Alejandro Lleras, lead researcher: “You start performing poorly on a task because you've stopped paying attention to it.” As a result Professor Lleras and his team propose that people deactivate and reactive goals to stay focused. “Our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks, brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!"

Another study on lunch break patterns amongst office workers, conducted by Univerity of Toronto also suggests that breaks, freely chosen by workers, can improve productivity. According to John Trougakos, Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour & HR Management, at the University of Toronto Scarborough  and the Rotman School of Management: “Mental concentration is like muscle. It becomes fatigued after sustained use and needs a rest period before it can recover.”

Despite studies pointing to the benefits of taking breaks throughout the workday, many people still work through breaks and even take lunch at their desks while working.

Here are tips for quick breaks that make a difference:

1. Get up from your desk and walk around. During the winter months, this may just mean taking a walk to the cafeteria but in the summer months, enjoy the outdoors. Find a park and sit for a few minutes under a tree.

2. Step away from your desk for lunch. Try not to bring lunch back to your desk. Take 15 minutes to enjoy your meal away from your work area.

3. Eat a healthy meal. Try to avoid fast food and sweets for lunch. Protein helps boost energy. Greasy, carb laden foods cause afternoon sluggishness.

4. Drink Water. When you step away from your desk, fill up your water bottle. Water replenishes. It helps the kidneys function and energizes muscles. And it has no calories!

5. Take short stretch breaks. Remember your body as well as your mind. Sitting at a desk all day long can cause discomfort in our backs, necks and hips. So roll your chair away from your desk and find stretches to move your shoulders, open your hips and relieve back tension.

6. Remember to breathe. Yes of course you breathe. But when stressed, the breath becomes shallow or you may even hold your breath. By taking conscious deep breaths, your body settles into its natural state and eliminates stress response. The mind eases and the whole body relaxes. So simple!

7. Listen to Music. If you can, play your music softly at your workstation. If that’s not an option, bring along your favourite tunes to listen to when you go for a short walk.

8. Read something non-work related. Take a few minutes, to read something for pleasure. You’ll find it clears the mind.

9. Turn off your cell phone. Even if only for a half hour. The constant barrage of text messages, calls and even multiple emails, can drain energy. Taking a reprieve from your cell phone doesn’t have to be ignoring the communication, shutting off for a short time.

10. Laugh for a few minutes with a co-worker. Not only does laughter change your perspective, it also has positive health benefits. It relaxes the whole body. It boosts the immune system, triggers the relief of endorphins as well as improves blood vessel function and increases the blood flow to benefit the heart.  And it’s fun.

11. Unclutter your desk. Clearing clutter can help calm the mind. Looking at an overflowing in basket can be overwhelming. Having a clean work area can free our mind to concentrate on the task at hand, improving productivity. 


A New Year’s Resolution with Purpose

There is a Sanskrit word ‘Sankalpa’ which means will, purpose or resolve. For many, it’s a yogic resolution. Unlike our traditional New Year’s resolutions focusing on things we may be doing wrong or material things we think we need, Sankalpa comes from our hearts rather than our ego. Instead we focus on our intention and a decision to move forward with purpose. For me, Sankalpa is more of spiritual journey rather than a To Do list of resolutions. It is an intention to let go of the past in order to connect with my heartfelt desire or life’s purpose. What a lovely thought to look forward to the New Year with hope for the magical possibilities to come rather than focus on what has gone wrong in the past so we can create rules for the future. Here are few ideas to help you celebrate the New Year as you find your own Sankalpa.

Listen to your Heart

Whether it’s sitting in meditation, taking a quiet walk in nature or simply resting quietly in comfortable place at home, we all need time to step away from the constant busyness of our lives in order to hear our inner voice. So take some time to yourself. Shut off the noise and still your mind. As you’re in this relaxed state, take a moment to celebrate where you are at this very moment in your life. Then let go of anything that no longer serves you. Now think of what you would truly like to do – is there a personal goal or dream that you keep setting time because it isn’t practical or you just don’t have time. Find that dream. Let it settle in your heart. Think about what you would need to do to make it come true. What would be your next step? Now imagine yourself on your path to that dream. Don’t think about how long are difficult the path while be, just take that first step and then maybe the next one. 

Enjoy the Journey

While your Sankalpa may be profound, it doesn’t mean that every moment along the way has to be intense and serious. Remember to take time to look at the scenery. Have fun. Laugh. Connect with people who share your joy. Smile. You’ll find the whole world becomes much brighter when you share your light.

Trust, Trust, Trust

There is no wrong path. So stop looking over your shoulder thinking about what might have happened if you took the other road. You’re not going that way, you’re moving forward. Release the worry when you come to a fork in the road. Trust that you will know which road to take and it will be the best road for you. And if the road becomes treacherous and difficult, trust again. Keep going. You can do it. You won’t know what magic awaits you until you get to the other side.

Be Open to New Possibilities

You are now carrying your dream in your heart. You have started your journey to fulfill it. Life is still busy, but you’re focused and on track. So far so good. But what happens when you discover another dream? You didn’t plan for this. Time is limited. Do you keep walking? Ditch this dream for a new one? There can be more than one dream in your heart. Sometimes the possibility of one dream opens the door to more exciting opportunities. That doesn’t mean you have to entertain every single one of them. But step away and take some time to think about the new possibility. Allow yourself to truly feel it in your heart. You’ll probably find that it will lead you along a similar path to further enrich your journey.  

It will be a Happy New Year. And the world will be a much richer place because of your Sankalpa.

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”
Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go




Making Time for Office Yoga

In May 2013, 3PLQS joined the ranks of Forbes, Nike, Apple, Google and other Fortune 500 companies by offering employees a chance to practice yoga at the office. For almost seven months, employees have signed up for lunchtime classes offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays (choice of two classes each day). While not everyone takes advantage of the opportunity to step away from their desk to stretch and de-stress, employees who do practice regularly are already appreciating the many benefits of yoga.

According to Charlene, a Call Centre Specialist with TQS Logistics division, practicing yoga has helped her better manage stiffness, pain and inflammation caused by osteoarthritis of the spine.  “Although I was very afraid to start yoga, I pushed forward to try it and give it all I have. To my surprise, I am truly amazed at the benefits of incorporating Yoga into my daily lifestyle. I have now become addicted to practicing and really could not do without it,” she says. “Yoga has made me feel stronger, more flexible, along with a feeling of release in the body and mind. I also sleep much better at night.”

For Joseph, a Business Analyst with the TQS Technology division, yoga had been on his ‘to do’ list to complement his more intense workout sessions at the gym. While he admits to being a bit leery of its benefits at first, he quickly embraced his practice. “The sessions were hard initially (in fact they still are most of the time) but my body learned to adjust. I learned that practicing diligently on the fundamentals improved my overall wellbeing,”

Ivona, a Web Designer for 3PLQS, thought yoga might help alleviate some issues with her hip and shoulder. “I’ve noticed subtle changes in my body, with my hip and shoulder problems I have to be really careful when doing some poses. But I am feeling stronger overall, my arm strength has improved and I am becoming more flexible. Yoga is hard, very challenging but it is rewarding too. You feel better after each class and less stressed.”

Some days, the biggest challenge is showing up on the mat to practice. Not surprisingly, last minute work emergencies arise and conflict with class schedules. Because classes are small, participants are able to communicate with everyone and either delay a class or rearrange their schedule to take the later class. There are times when someone will have to skip a class, but it doesn’t happen often. Most participants have discovered that rather than take away from the work day, yoga actually helps rejuvenate energy levels for the afternoon work schedule.

“Some days your day may run a bit longer or it may be more hectic but if it’s important to you, you will find a way (to practice yoga),” Charlene says. “I am very grateful and thankful for yoga and hope to aspire to a greater lifestyle because of practicing.”

As an employer, Chris Mattice, President of 3PLQS, chose to offer yoga within the workplace as a means to promote employee health and well-being. “Employees need time to step away from their desk to stretch and relax. Yoga is the ideal activity for this because it offers the chance to do both. It also has an added side benefit of allowing employees to interact in a non-work situation. Overall, I’m very pleased with the results,” he says. Chris also takes the time join a class as well as encouraging employees to step away from their desk to keep their commitment to yoga. “Personally, I have noticed an improvement in my own flexibility as well as a greater sense of ease in managing stress.”

Moving beyond the six month mark, yoga has definitely integrated into the corporate culture. And yogis are discovering how a yoga practice reaches beyond the mat.  Sometimes it’s just a simple matter of breathing mindfully.

According to Ivona, “I started to be more conscious about my breathing and using breathing exercises throughout the day. It helps me relax and de-stress.”

Yoga brought subtle changes to Joseph’s day-to-day life. “I have made a conscious effort to apply yoga practices in my everyday life. All of a sudden the 400 series highway traffic stress could be alleviated by focused breathing,” he says. “Yoga really has penetrated into my life. I enjoy mornings when rather than moving around stiffly after waking up, I can do a few rounds of Sun Salutation to limber up.”


Developing an Optimistic Outlook

“Your attitude determines your altitude in life.”

While most people believe that a positive attitude contributes to our personal happiness and success, a recent research study by Harvard School of Public Health in Boston found that people with a more positive and optimistic outlook had a reduced risk for heart disease. In fact, the study found that people with a more positive outlook on life exercised more, ate healthier and slept better. Additionally, they were physically healthier, and were less likely to have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or be obese.

But even knowing the health benefits of an optimistic outlook, it’s so easy to slip into a dark place, overcome with negative emotions - feelings of contempt, fear, anger, envy, jealousy or sadness. Negative emotions can be stirred up by our reaction to an event or another person’s comment. For instance, you may feel envious when a friend buys the latest phone or car that’s on your own wish list. Or you may feel overlooked and angry if a co-worker receives a promotion at work because you thought you were more deserving. These responsive negative emotions, can lead you down an even darker path where you begin to think you’re not smart enough, not good enough or that the whole world is conspiring against you.

There is a popular quote by Greek philosopher Epictetus: “It’s not what happens, but how you react to it that matters.”

Here are a few simple tips to turn negative thinking into a more positive mindset:

  1. Recognize and Identify:The first step to positive thinking is to recognize that you have slipped into a negative mindset and identify negative phrases and emotions that have become a natural part of your life. If your response to even day-to-day conversations has a negative slant, it’s time for an attitude adjustment. Try to remember one of the Dalai Lama's famous sayings "One can overcome the forces of negative emotions, like anger and hatred, by cultivating their counter-forces, like love and compassion."
  2. Develop and Maintain:Developing and maintaining a positive outlook on life is a constant work in progress. Each time you notice yourself thinking negatively about a person or an experience, change the chatter in your mind. Don't allow your feeling to manipulate your mood. Work to strengthen your emotional stability and enhance positive moods. For example, if you are stuck in traffic, take the time to listen to your favourite music or simply focus on your breathing to calm your body and mind. Rather than stressing out about an upcoming presentation at work, think of it as an opportunity to showcase your strengths. It’s all about replacing negative thoughts with a more positive outlook.
  3. Surround yourself with positive people. Remind yourself no one wants to be stuck with someone with a negative outlook. So while you’re working on a more positive approach, also take the time to socialize with positive and supportive people who share your new optimistic outlook on life. You will always encounter negative people in your life, but it’s important that you don’t allow their outlook to influence your mood and attitude.
  4. Choose Gratitude: Give gratitude for what you have in your life rather than focusing on what’s lacking.  Dr. Robert Emmons, a research professor at University of California and author of Thanks: How Gratitude Can Make You Happier, has discovered through his research that people who view life as a gift and consciously acquire an “attitude of gratitude” will experience improved emotional and physical health, as well as strengthen relationships. Practicing gratitude strategies can be as simple as keeping a daily journal, reviewing a list of all the things in your life to be grateful for at the end of each day or beginning the day with a simple thank you.

By implementing these suggestions in your daily life, you will gradually change the world you live in. Over time with practice, your new positive outlook will become second nature.

These are suggested practices only. If symptoms of sadness and depression persist, consult your family doctor.


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