RFS Blog | by Karl W. Palachuk – Relax Focus Succeed. Learn more at www.relaxfocussucceed.com

CAT | Meditation

I was watching a movie recently and it struck me that people were panicking when they could choose not to panic. The core action was about someone accidentally starting a fire. Okay. I admit that’s not good. Burning down a house is not a positive experience.

But while that character sat sobbing and feeling like she had just “ruined everything,” her sister started yelling and screaming – without pausing for one second to ask what happened.

Yes, I get it. That’s what makes drama good. But in the real world, it’s the kind of behavior that only adds negativity to the situation.

Then it occurred to me why I could never be a fiction author or playwright. Due in large part to my meditation practice, my first reaction to almost any situation is to stop, look around, and assess the situation. I wonder what people are going through – and I try to get their perspective.

And more importantly, I look at what is actually happening versus what I think, observe, or fear is happening.

It’s almost like a self-coaching or self-therapy session. Am I actually in danger, or just afraid of the danger? I see an activity, but is it really obvious what happened to cause that?

Human beings are really good a filling in the gaps. Even as infants, we connect things in surprising ways. If we see one end of a stick on the left side of a blanket and the other end of a stick on the right side of a blanket, we believe that it’s two ends of the same stick. When we’re correct about our observations often enough, we start making these conclusions faster and more frequently. Pretty soon, most of what we “experience” is actually made up from a series of observations.

I love to tell people that my favorite situation comedy [insert you favorite show here] episode is the one where someone overhears two others talking, but doesn’t hear the context. He (or she) then comes to the wrong conclusion, followed by plotting, anger, confrontation, and then realization that they got it all wrong from the start.

That happens all the time in movies and real life as well. It’s the drawing-the-wrong-conclusion part that’s avoidable. We can stop the action in our heads for just a second and ask, “Is what I’m perceiving real?” or “Does this mean what I think it means?”

Stepping outside yourself (your own brain) to look at yourself more objectively is a benefit of meditation.

But just be aware that it takes a lot of the drama out of some movie scripts.

:-)

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Jun/19

18

Single File, Please

In his autobiography Even This I Get to Experience, Norman Lear relays a story told to him by a therapist. He says to imagine a crowded room with about fifty people in it. Suddenly there’s smoke and someone yells “fire.” Some people escape, but others are jammed in the doorway and can’t get out.

The lesson: “Your thoughts are no different from those people who rushed to the door and are crushed there. Let the people out one or two at a time and everyone gets out. . . . Same thing with your thoughts, Norman.”

Single File

Someday I’ll come up with a less gruesome example. But it really struck me that this is an important lesson about our brains. So many people complain that their brains are over-active. They can’t think straight because of self-diagnosed ADD. Or their lives are just busier than everyone else. Or they can’t meditate due to monkey mind.

Here’s the deal: We’re all like that. We all have a million thoughts a day. We are all super-ridiculously busy. We all have monkey mind.

And for all of us, focus comes when we begin choosing to address the situation instead of using it as an excuse to be parallized by a tangled ball of thoughts. Despite all the research verifying that there is no such thing as multi-tasking, many people embrace it. For some, this is because it keeps them in the middle of the whirring, buzzing busy-ness and doesn’t require them to take responsibility for not making progress.

Everyone can focus. Everyone. When my daughter was born, I was amazed at how she could entertain herself watching the ceiling fan, or the faces of people going by. Then, I was amazed at her ability to play with blocks or books for hours. At every stage – even when the world said “Kids at that age are impossible” – she had periods of intense focus.

For some reason, many people don’t acknowledge their own ability to focus. Whether it’s reading, gardening, carving wood, painting, or just working really hard, we all have periods of great focus. But we don’t notice what’s going on in the moment.

When you’re focusing intently, you don’t notice that your brain has quieted down. You don’t notice that the thoughts have moved to the background and are forming a nice, orderly line. That’s because, once you’ve set your sites on the one thing that needs attention, your brain relaxes a bit and digs in. You choose to focus and it works hard to help you.

Intellectually, we know this is happening. We know we can do it when we need to. But we really love the story about millions of competing thoughts and monkey mind. That story gives us an excuse not to be focused.

Here’s the reality. If you know you can focus once, then you can focus again. You can choose to take a little time and be aware, in real time, how your brain and body feel when you’re focused. You can almost step outside yourself and catalog what’s going on. Try it.

The next time you are doing something super focused (anything from frosting a cake to balancing your books), do a quick cataloging exercise. How does your brain feel? How are your emotions? Are you relaxed? Is your heart going fast or slow? Are you muscles tight or loose? What does this kind of focus feel like?

Note: Focus can be very different for different situations. If you’re mountain climbing, your physical senses might be very highly tuned in and hyper aware. If you’re much safer and less intense, such as planting flowers, you are more likely to be very relaxed with a lower heart rate.

Once you’re aware of these moments of intense focus, you can start figuring out how to get back there. What’s the setting? What’s the task? What time of day? etc.

One of my favorite rules of life is Slow down, get more done. This is certainly an example of that. In the end, you get a lot more done when you only try to do one thing at a time.

Next time I’ll talk a bit about setting priorities. As long as you’re going to line up those thoughts single file, you might as well figure out which is at the front of the line!

:-)

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Jun/19

11

Embrace Imperfections

Many people consider me to be odd because of my meditation practice. In fact, I think it has been central to my personal health and business focus. If nothing else, it helps me to slow down and take a measured reaction to events. It also helps to see from outside myself and understand my situation more quickly than if I take action first and think later.

One of my favorite meditations is on rocks or pebbles. I collect pebbles from beaches that I visit (and the occasional mountain top). And every once in awhile I collect a piece of coral or a sea shell.

An imperfect piece of coral

All too often in life, we tend to think that things are not “beautiful” unless they are perfect. In fact, there’s research to show that human faces are considered more attractive if they are perfectly symmetrical.

But the real world is rarely filled with perfect symmetry.

About five years ago, a friend and I were in Australia and we saw a number of perfectly symmetrical trees. They were so perfect, they looked fake. We commented to each other that, if you drew one for an art class, the teacher would tell you to add some imperfections because no natural tree is that perfect.

At the same time, we all know that it is our imperfections – our uniqueness – that makes us who we are. It’s also what we find appealing in others. If you meet someone who looks like everyone else, talks like everyone else, and does what everyone else does, they are very forgettable. It’s the people who are a little different that you remember.

I love the coral in the photo above. When you examine the individual coral polyps, it’s easy to see the beauty and magnificence of these creatures that become huge reefs (and white sand beaches).

But click on the picture and look at the detail. You’ll see the broken parts. The imperfections. Those are also part of the coral. In fact, that’s where the story is. Did the weak area cause this piece of coral to break off more easily? If it was snapped off by a parrotfish, why wasn’t it ground into dust?

Perhaps we need to be a little kinder about imperfections, both in ourselves and in others. Perhaps we should focus on the interesting story. After all, perfection is a lot less interesting.

:-)

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Dec/18

23

Only Do Three Things per Day

Most of us have too much to do. We are overwhelmed at work and overwhelmed at home.

And guess what? Most people are even more overwhelmed when they start making to-do lists. Why? Because they write down dozens of items and can see that the list will eventually have hundreds of items.

Most people aren’t good at managing their to-do lists for two simple reasons: First, they’re overwhelmed. So, second, they don’t make lists!

The real problem is not the number of things on your list. The real problem is confusing urgency with importance. Here’s a sad rule of life that is nevertheless true:

Everyone in your life is willing to put items on your to-do list; Only you can decide what actually gets on that list.

So, how do you make such decisions? Well, for starters, you have to spend enough time in introspection to know what’s truly important in your life. This starts with an understanding of your values and guiding principles. Once you focus on what’s most important in your life, it becomes easier to figure out what’s important this year, this month, this week, and each day.

I’m a big believer in meditation or morning quiet time. I know some people find it hard to do, but that’s mostly because they don’t really try. You can’t do anything effectively if you try for five minutes and decide it’s not for you. That includes meditation as well as playing the piano.

With regular meditation, you can identify the most important values and goals in your life. After that, tackling to-do lists and daily activities becomes much more manageable.

The key to success is to identify no more than three “roles” in your life that you will act on today. For example, your role as parent, employer, spouse, or community member. We all play several roles in our lives. But of course we can’t do everything every day!

Here’s how this helps you lower your stress and actually get more done: Choose only three things to do each day. More specifically, for each role in your life, choose one thing. If you’re lucky, you will accomplish those three things. And if you actually accomplish more, you should feel good about that.

But please don’t sabotage yourself. You will be tempted to choose three things per role, or two things per role. That sounds good, but leads you quickly down the road to overwhelm.

As a completely separate project (as more of an intellectual exercise), it is a good idea to keep some big master list of things that need to be done. But only do this if it relieves stress rather than adding more.

In general, you can reduce stress by focusing on the highest priority items in your life. It also helps a lot if you train yourself to stop worrying about all the low-priority stuff. I know: Easier said than done. But remember that most of that low priority stuff was put on your list by someone else.

When I first moved to California, Blue Diamond Almonds had an ad campaign with amond farmers saying, “A can a week. That’s all we ask.” This is sort of similar.

Do three things each day. That’s all I ask.

:-)

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Sep/18

24

Your “Before” Picture

Here’s a quick exercise for you. Take a selfie with your cell phone and label it “Before.” How do I know that this is your “before” picture? Because change is coming in your life.

Portrait of a happy young man making selfie photo on smartphone isolated on a white background

You might know what’s coming. It could be the book you’re writing, the goal you’re working toward at work, the new degree, the new child, or a million other things. Or you might not know what’s coming. Life has no shortage of surprises for us. But something’s going to change.

This might be the time before you get a raise, before you make a new friend, or before you get an unexpected day off. Whatever is coming might be large or small. But change is all around us, all the time.

When we look back, we can easily define the before/after moments that affected us the most. Before we learned to read; before we learned to drive; before we got married. And of course, there’s the before and after of all of our family and friends. Before my child was born; before she graduated college; before she bought her first house.

While it’s easy to identify these points after the fact, you can also tune in as life progresses. How is life going for you right now? How about work? And family and hobbies? All those things are going to involve change in the next year. If nothing else, start a “now” journal or a “before” journal and take stock.

It can be very exciting to be self-aware when you’re in the middle of change. So often, we let life happen to us. But if you know you’re in the before time and you choose to tune in to it, you don’t have to be passive. If you tune into change, you can choose to mold that change and affect what it looks like.

One very common way we do this is to create some ceremony around change. We have graduation paries, give greeting cards, and take friends to dinner. We acknowledge certain points in our lives.

The only real difference between responding to change and affecting change is that we choose to do one or the other. We all play both roles, depending on the circumstances.

I encourage you to use some morning quiet time to take stock of how things are going in your life. And then speculate what “after” is going to look like. After all, the more you spend time thinking about it, the more you’ll be able to influence it.

:-)

 

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Jul/18

23

Priming Your Brain – Part 2

In my last blog post, I introduced the reticular activating system (RAS) and talked about it’s basic functions. The RAS helps us filter the world around us. That has two primary features. First, it keeps out millions of things we don’t need to pay attention to. After all, we’re exposed to literally millions of impressions per day. Second, it helps to focus more clearly on what IS important.

That second part is the most interesting to me because we can “hack” our RAS to help us focus even more. Because the RAS helps us decide what is important, we can feed it stimuli. Your conscious brain can literally seed what your unconscious brain pays attention to.

In my book Relax Focus Succeed, I give an analogy between the brain and a filing system. All day long, you go through your day pulling cards out of the filing system and throwing them on the floor. Some cards are problems, some are experiences, some are ideas. And then, at night, your unconscious brain picks up the cards, sorts them, and files them away again. Every once in awhile it picks up a “problem” cards and an “idea” card that match. Your unconscious brain has solved a problem!

But you’re asleep and you’re not aware that you’ve solved a problem. That’s where meditation comes in. It allows your brain to relax and do that background work while you’re still awake.

Of course it’s all much more complicated than that. But here’s how you can use meditation to seed your RAS so that your focus is pointed directly where you want it.

You’ve heard of “mindfulness” meditation. Many people define this as a type of meditation where you try to clear your mind of all thoughts. For example, you just sit there and, when a thought wanders into your mind, you acknowledge it and then set it aside. Other people define mindfulness as simply experiencing what’s going on. In this variant, you sit there and name the things that enter your attention. A truck driving past. A bird. The breeze. Someone walking.

In both variants of mindfulness, you are attempting to NOT think – no not solve problems, not worry about money, not plan the day ahead, etc. It seems miraculous, but this lack of focusing on anything often results in major epiphanies. We’ve all had the experience of coming up with a great idea while you’re in the shower. That’s because it’s just you and your brain with no outside stimuli from radio, TV, the Internet, etc.

Let me suggest a technique that I use. I think you’ll be amazed at how easy it is.

First, choose an object for focus. It might be a poem, an idea for work, a problem with the kids, etc. Anything. Sit quietly and think about the object of focus. If you wish, take notes. The overall idea is to simply fill your mind – your attention – with thoughts and questions about this topic. I generally take anywhere from five to thirty minutes for this. The more time you give it, the more focused you become.

Here’s what’s going on physiologically: You are telling your RAS in no uncertain terms that you have something that needs your focus. You are doing this in a relaxed manner without frenzy or panic. You are, in fact, simply setting its agenda and letting it know that this is important to you.

Second, put an end to that and move into mindfulness meditation. Find a technique that works for you. STOP thinking about the problem you just spent time on. Focus on your breathing. Or do a whole body scan. For beginnings, I think full body scans or Yoga Nidra is excellent. Take as much time as you can. I recommend no less than fifteen minutes. If you can do thirty, that’s even better.

There’s no cheating here. You really are trying to clear your mind of everything. Clean the slate. Relax. Be open. Just experience your breath moving in and out. When ideas float by, acknowledge them and then move your attention back to your breath.

Third, go about your day. That’s it. Just do whatever you need to do. Go to work. Cook dinner. Have a beer. Enjoy some television. Whatever you do, just do that.

Here’s what’s really going on: You have put serious, focused attention on an object (problem, idea, etc.). That has given your RAS notice that you want attention on this. And as you go through your day, you will notice that lots of things seem to be related to the object of your focus. People you meet have ideas that are related. Snippets of news you see on the Internet are related to it. Comments you overhear are related.

It’s as if the world has conspired to help you achieve your goals, solve your problems, help you find funding for a project, or whatever you need. In reality, you have simply applied a filter. You are paying less attention to little, unimportant things, and more attention to the one thing you identified as needing your attention.

Imagine if you do this every day. Figure out what is the most important thing that needs your attention. And then spend the day finding that thing everwhere you look.

Way back in my college days, I was a camp counselor for the YMCA. Session after session, I had a cabin full of seven year olds. One of my favorite distractions was to give them a basic assignment such as:
– Everyone go out and bring back a red leaf
– Everyone go out and find a stick with a “Y”
– Everyone go out and bring me a small, smooth rock

These were simple assignments and everyone was always successful. This exercise with your RAS is basically the same thing. You’re telling your unconscious attention span to go focus on a specific object . . . and it does just that. – “Go find me a solution to this problem.”

The best part about priming your attention span is that it just works. The simple fact that you put your attention on something creates the focus that stays on that thing all day.

Try it! I would love to hear your results.

:-)

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Jan/18

6

Meditating . . . on a Pebble

I often meditate with pebbles. Well, one pebble at a time, really.

I’ve mentioned this from the stage and had several people inquire about exactly what that looks like. So I’ve put together a free audio program. It is delivered as a zip file with two MP3 files and a couple of photographs.

 

The first MP3 is a description of what the meditation is about. Basically, I use a physical object (the pebble) as a focus of attention. This makes it very easy to ignore distractions that come through my other senses. I also like the physical focus of the pebble because it makes it easy for me to “name” what I am experience.

One form of mindfulness meditation is to clear your mind and then name interruptions. For example: the sound of a bird or a car driving by; the thought about taking the car in for an oil change; or the feel of wind on my face. Once you name the distraction, you set it aside.

With a pebble, I simple name the sensations of hard, smooth, cracked, etc. I find it very easy to keep focused on the object of my choice.

I have several small bowls on my patio with pebbles I have collected over the years.  Most are from beaches I’ve visited as I travel. A few are from mountains (The top of the Andes; The top of Mt. Kilauea volcano.). One I bought. A few are gifts.

Taken as a group, it’s a wonderful collection of textures. Perfect for a little meditation.

You can download the 30MB file here: My Free Stuff Page.

Note: Free stuff has to be processed manually, so when you order, there’s a slight delay as either Kara or I process orders. Thank you for your patience.

I welcome your feedback on the audio program.

Happy Meditating!

:-)

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Feb/17

5

Mindfully Unplugging

I’m an amateur photographer. So when I see something really cool that I could share with others, my natural reaction is to take a picture. But there’s one important time when I can’t.

I love my hot tub. From this relaxing location I look across my back yard to a vine-covered fence where orange trumpet flowers invite hummingbirds. It’s also a resting place for birds and a playground for squirrels. And every once in awhile I see something that would make a perfect picture.

My hot tub is also a great place to meditate. I’m totally unplugged, warm, relaxed, and I have great scenery.

( I didn’t take this picture )

A few days ago I spotted a mommy and baby squirrel making their way across the top of the vines. Every once in a while they would stop and all I could see was two tails sticking up from the leaves. I thought, “What a great picture!”

But here’s the deal: I’m not taking my camera in the hot tub. It would take me less that a minute to either drop it or splash it. So I’m just not going to take the chance. And while I have a bit of frustration about that, it’s also a blessing.

There are times when you need to put down the technology and just enjoy the moment – knowing that it cannot be captured. You can choose to live in this moment or spend your time fretting because you can’t do anything but live in the moment.

Some people define “mindfulness” as emptying your mind. Dismissing all thoughts. Stopping the flow of images and ideas through your head. But that’s not the only way to look at it. Being mindful truly means to stop and notice what’s going through your head. It means acknowledging what you see and hear. And then, without dwelling on it or passing judgement, continuing the journey of being mindful.

People often ask me if their running or swimming or other exercise counts as meditation. My answer is always: As long as you are unplugged. Exercising while listening to a book or songs with words is great. But you’re filling your head with those words. And as a result, you’re not fully focused on the activity and the experience. It’s not bad in any way. But it’s not the same as mindful meditation.

Even if you don’t have a hot tub, you can choose to unplug and practice quiet time without external stimuli.

Sometimes the experience is as simple as a chattering squirrel.

:-)

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My latest Relax Focus Succeed video is live on YouTube.

Some people are reluctant to get into “mindfulness” meditation. First, they’re not sure what it is. Second, they are afraid they won’t do it right.

Along those lines, many people have tried some kind of meditation and report they they “just can’t do it” because they can’t sit quietly. You need to be aware that you can’t do anything once and be good at it! So you can’t try sitting in a chair for sixty seconds and report that you’re not able to be mindful.

Mindfulness consists of simply being aware of what is happening right now at this moment.

It takes practice to quiet your mind. But you start by being overwhelmed with monkey mind thoughts. Every step along the way from noisy to quiet is part of the process of quieting your mind. So you can’t do it wrong. You simply need to try to experience what’s happening. Quietude will happen over time.

In the video I give the example of simply sitting and being aware of what’s happening to you. You may find it easier to sit quietly with your eyes closed just because visual stimuli can be quite enticing. So it’s easier to avoid distraction if you simply close your eyes. Eventually, you will enjoy opening your eyes and add that information to your mindfulness.

Why practice mindfulness? That’s a lengthy topic for sure. But the short answer is that there is tremendous value in observing what is happening in your life in real time. In many cases, we would all be better served by taking a few seconds and evaluating what is happening to us before we respond. But all too often, we respond almost automatically. Why? Because we have no practice of stopping and observing things as they are in the moment.

The practice of mindfulness while sitting in your chair at home can be the first step at viewing the world as it is without filters. With practice, you can choose to try this when you’re going through your normal daily routine.

Please watch the video. Like it if you like it. Share it.

And leave any comments you have.

:-)

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Relax Focus Succeed®

– Balance Your Personal and Professional Lives and Be More Successful in Both

Taught by Karl W. Palachuk, Author and Coach

– Five Tuesdays – June 28 – July 26, 2016 – Register Now

– All classes start a 9:00 AM Pacific

 

DESCRIPTION:

Relax Focus Succeed (R) by Karl W. PalachukThis course will show you how to master the concepts of Relax Focus Succeed® – a program for balancing your personal and professional lives and finding more success in both.

This course is intended for anyone who is stressed out, over-worked, and ready to take their whole life to the next level. We all lead busy lives, filled with too many demands. Many of us don’t get enough sleep or exercise. We fight to be successful at work and at home.

Taught by someone who’s been there. Karl Palachuk was diagnosed with debilitating Rheumatoid Arthritis at age 39 and spent several years getting the disease under control. With two businesses to manage and a young family, he found himself unable to work more than a few hours a day. That’s when he developed a process for achieving goals at a very high level without working himself to death.

Many of us chase the entrepreneurial dream – but few of us reach our entrepreneurial vision.

In this course you’ll learn a new approach to balancing the demands in your life – and learn some strategies for building the life you want and deserve.

This is an intensive teleseminar course over a five week period. All assignments are voluntary, of course. But if you want feedback on assignments, please complete assignments during this course and email them to the instructor.

You will learn how to:

  • Balance your personal and professional lives
  • Focus on the single most important things in your life
  • Develop your vision for self-fulfillment
  • Relax – in a meaningful way
  • Be the same person in all elements of your life (overcome Jekyll/Hyde syndrome)
  • Put the past – and your present – in their place
  • Build your muscles of success
  • Stop working 50- or 60- or 70-hour weeks
  • Avoid being interrupt-driven
  • Slow Down, Get More Done
  • Work less and accomplish more
  • Define Goals: Long-term, Medium-term, and Short-term
  • Build quiet time into your life

The course will include a number of recommended do-it-yourself exercises.

Registration includes a copy of the book Relax Focus Succeed® by Karl W. Palachuk.

Includes five weeks of teleclasses with related handouts, assignments, and “office hours” with the instructor.

 

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