What are the big rocks in your life?

One of the recurring issues in my own life is managing priorities. Even when I am interested in doing something, such as reading a new book, I often put it off for some time because of various other 'urgent' matters. I use quotes on the word 'urgent' because I know that we can always make time for the things that are most important to us if we organize our priorities. Not only can we, but we must.

When I was a child, my father told me the story of a motivational seminar he had attended at work. The speaker brought in a large empty jar and a few containers of materials-- sand, pebbles, small rocks, and big rocks. The speaker poured the sand into the jar to demonstrate how the sand took up so much space that fitting the other items in the jar would be impossible.

He then emptied the jar, putting the sand aside, and talked about how to organize the materials. He said that the big rocks must go in the jar first, then the smaller rocks, then the pebbles, and lastly, the sand. As he spoke, he put the various items in the jar. The big rocks took up a large amount of space, but the small rocks and pebbles easily fit around them. The sand, which had taken up so much space in an empty jar that the big rocks could not fit, was able to fill in all the space around the large rocks, small rocks, and pebbles when it was put in the jar last. The jar was full, but all of the materials fit inside of it.

The speaker said this was a metaphor for life. He said that we must decide what our big rocks are and put them into our jar (life) first. These might be family, work, a favorite sport or hobby, etc. Next are the small rocks, which might be details related to the big rocks. Next are the pebbles, things that matter but not so much as the rocks. Finally is the sand-- all the little items that seem to consume so much of our time and mental space. But the sand must be last; otherwise it will crowd out the larger, more important items.

Although I didn't see the demonstration, the way my father spoke about it, the awareness it brought to him, had a big impression on me. Shortly after that, he started coming home earlier from work and began coaching my brother’s little league baseball team. I could see that it wasn't just an interesting story about something that happened at work, but was instead an important message.

From time to time, I have to take stock and remind myself what my big rocks are. Sometimes it’s an effort to put the sand last but I make an effort to prioritize. How about you? What are the big rocks in your life? Are you putting them in your life first?


Playing to Your Strengths

All of us have characteristic strengths and weaknesses. It's important to have a good idea of what yours are so that you can make the most of your strengths and improve on your weaknesses. The problem is that many of us do not have a clear idea of what our strengths or weaknesses are. How can you find out?

The other day a friend recommended I check out the Authentic Happiness website to take a survey of characteristic strengths from a 240-question survey. Answering so many questions takes time, but the results might surprise you.

Law of Attraction

I have written about gratitude before. It is something we often forget to acknowledge when we see others with more than we have or when situations do not turn out the way we would have liked. It's easy to focus on the negative; it's so glaringly obvious. Positive things can be so much more subtle, like good health or a perfect train connection.

Perhaps you've heard of the Law of Attraction. The short version is this: energy flows where attention goes. If you focus on the negative, you get more of it. If you focus on the positive, you get more of that. It's important to recognize and be grateful for the good things so that the universe knows we want more of that.

I have a friend who puts the Law of Attraction to work for her by making a list of all the things she is grateful for every night. The list can include everything from a great cup of coffee to an abiding love for her husband. While I occasionally take stock, I don't remember to do this nightly. It's a good habit to take up.

New in 2014

In March, I participated in TEDxTokyo Teachers, presenting on how criticism in the classroom can affect students. Please see the talk below.

From January to June, I mentored a JMEC team. The team researched the feasibility of developing a yoga class reservation app, and we all learned a lot about yoga and social media marketing in the process. I also lectured on How to Write a Winning Business Plan in the JMEC lecture series. My advice for any writer is to start early and edit, edit, edit.


What Can You Achieve in 2013?

I participated in the Japan Market Expansion Competition (JMEC 18) during the first half of 2012. This meant that every weekend was given over to working on a project for the competition. Together with a team of six people, I put together a business plan and presentation for a mid-size company that wanted to know how to position and price their product in a competitive market. Our findings were presented to a panel of judges that voted on the best plan and presentation among eight teams. My team won first place in June and was recognized at The Entrepreneur Awards Japan at the US Ambassador's residence in November. Our prizes included membership to the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan and a HP Envy laptop. It was a great feeling to work together with a team of dedicated hard-working people from a variety of backgrounds and win first place.

As a hypnotherapist, I assist many people in achieving their goals, but working together with others to do so as a team was a new and different experience for me. I really enjoyed the camaraderie and the dynamics of the team. If you are working on a goal, I recommend you find a partner to support you in achieving it or work on the goal together. Enlist a friend, a colleague, your spouse or child, and make goal achievement a team effort.


Positive Changes for 2012!

Happy new year and welcome to a world of change!

I used to be afraid of change. I liked things to always be the same, consistent, predictable. I felt safe that way. I felt in control. Life is not about safety though; it is about growth. And safety is not always what it seems to be.

I've heard it said that A ship in harbor is safe - but that is not what ships are built for. The Tohoku earthquake and the ensuing tsunami proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that ships in harbor are not always safe. They can in fact be smashed to bits. The earthquake and the aftershocks showed us that safety is an illusion. We can never be perfectly safe, nor should we want to be.

Resisting change makes life harder than embracing it and choosing to go with the flow. This is easier said than done of course, but we can always change when we want to change. And we can endure anything for short periods of time. Humans always have.

In 2011, many changes were forced upon us, but now, at the start of 2012, we can choose what changes we want to make for ourselves, for our own betterment, this year. Do something new this year. Let the resistance wash away and free yourself. Check out the TED talk below for inspiration!


Grab a Book!

When I was in high-school or home on a college break, my mother would often catch me with my nose in the pantry or the fridge. When she did, she would say, "Stop that restless grazing! If you're bored, read a book!" I would dutifully close the door and go grab something from my mother's bookcase.

My brothers ate constantly because they played sports like football and wrestling, which required them to bulk up and maintain weight. I also played sports and burned off calories quickly, but I didn't need to eat like they did. I snacked because I saw them doing it, and my mother redirected this into more productive behavior. I am glad she did, as reading has never harmed anyone but overeating certainly has.

In the days after the earthquake, I found myself doing a lot of two things: sleeping and eating. The sleeping I saw as beneficial. I felt much calmer and clearer after a nap. The eating, not so much.

At first, the food was comforting. It was reassuring to know that I had access to food when so many people did not, and some foods, such as sweets, release dopamine. I also rationalized the eating as biologically driven: bulk up now to withstand impending scarcity. By the third or fourth day of one meal blending into the next (punctuated only by naps!), I recognized my behavior for what it was: restless grazing. I picked up a book and started to read.

Once I started reading, I felt a lot better, a lot calmer. The book took my mind off the news, the crisis, the emails and reports coming in from around Japan and the world, and the constant wondering what the best course of action was. Caught up in the story, the world of my book, I didn't have any desire to eat.

The hysteria is dying down now. The tension of the first few weeks has faded. I am not so wound up that I retreat into slumber, food, or books.

I learned a lot about myself from my reaction to the crisis. I sleep and I eat. Next time, I will sleep and read.


Crisis Resources

Here are some useful resources for residents of Tokyo and/or Japan

Foreign Residents Advisory Center (Tokyo Metropolitan Government)

Migration Agency
-Earthquake and tsunami information for foreigners in Japan

Metropolis Magazine
-Information on electricity and train operations, Tokyo radiation levels, earthquake relief, and more

Tokyo English Life Line
-Suicide prevention line and telephone counseling
-Earthquake news, help, and resources


Reduce Stress with Sleep (Earthquake & Aftermath)

I hope this post finds all of you well. Certainly in stressful times like this, the best thing to do is to stay calm. In my case, staying calm has involved lots of sleep. Sleep restores the body to its best condition, better able to think and cope with the challenges we face while awake. If you are having trouble sleeping because of the stress, I suggest any of the following if possible in your part of Tokyo (access to milk, running water, etc.):

*journalling about your fears to process emotions
*drinking hot milk to induce sleepiness
*drinking chamomile tea or hot water to relax
*taking a hot bath to soothe the body
*stretching to release lactic acid and tension in the muscles
*exercising to burn off tension and restless energy
*deep breathing to release CO2 from the lungs and clear your mind
*meditating to center your mind
*hypnosis to relax mentally and physically

I am available for skype sessions if you need help relaxing or processing the emotions stirred up by this situation. Stay safe and get some sleep!

Best wishes,


Combating Stress with Hypnosis

There can be many factors contributing to poor health, but one major cause is stress. When we are under stress, our autonomic nervous systems switch into survival mode, slowing down functions that are not essential to surviving. These include the immune, digestive, and reproductive functions. This is why people who are chronically stressed get sick more easily and heal more slowly, develop ulcers and digestive problems, and experience irregular menstrual cycles, infertility, and sexual dysfunction. A form of hypnosis called guided meditation can be an effective means of combating this stress.

Few of us experience true danger in our daily lives, but our nervous systems react to traffic, time constraints, loud noises, and other stimuli in the same way that we used to respond to bears, battles, and other dangers. Stress causes the body to prepare for fighting, fleeing, or freezing, not growing, eating, and reproducing. To bring these normal, healthy functions back online, we need to shut off the survival response. We can do that by relaxing, but many people find that to be more easily said than done.

True relaxation requires mental and physical relaxation. Most of us know how to relax physically but many of us find it hard to relax mentally. Even while receiving a massage, for example, our minds might be active. A mind full of worries or woes is triggering all the same physical stress responses that a massage, a bath, a game of golf, a beer, etc., is trying to remedy. Unless we can quiet the mind, the body cannot achieve complete relaxation.

The best way to quiet the mind is meditation. While there are many different styles of meditation, most people find it easiest to begin with a guided meditation. Most forms of meditation focus on clearing the mind of all thought or focus the mind on a single concept or mantra. In guided meditation, the thoughts are directed. Because the imagination is engaged, guided meditation is actually a form of hypnosis rather than true meditation.

Guided meditation combines progressive relaxation with positive imagery. The progressive relaxation induces a hypnotic state, thereby switching the nervous system out of survival mode into growth mode. The positive imagery then redirects the mind away from obsessive thoughts towards peaceful thoughts, such as imagining a beautiful garden. Since it addresses the needs of both the mind and the body, guided meditation helps you relax both mentally and physically.

By consistently practicing guided meditation, your body will gradually learn what a normal, healthy state feels like. If you have been stressed for a long time, you body may have become stuck in fight or flight mode. Guided meditation will help you to retrain your body to switch out of survival mode so it will become less responsive to stressors and recover more quickly when exposed to them. Your mind will be more peaceful when you replace an active mind with a peaceful mind. Between the mental and physical benefits of guided meditation, you'll feel calmer and more in control of your life, and your immune, digestive, and reproductive functions will flourish.