Tag Archives: mindfulness strategies


Kanji: Gratitude as Action

The philosophy we follow at Embolden is to add seemingly small but significant things to your life. Instead of taking things away; which actually leaves a vacuum that often fails to be sustained. Our strategy is Stones Across The River. Adding a few small things every day, every week, every month creates new ways of being (neural pathways). It’s important to think of things that personally speak to you.

Here are some ideas for our New Year:
-Drink more water. Most of us are more dehydrated than we know.
Not drinking enough water causes fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, attention and concentration difficulties, even hunger pangs. Get a water bottle that you love. You can prepare it in the morning and add fresh sliced fruit, lemon, lime, or cucumber if desired. Start with drinking that throughout the day. Once it becomes more of a habit, you can even refill it halfway through the day.

-Support local restaurants. If you’ve always been drawn to the familiarity of larger or chain restaurants, get to know your neighborhood businesses. You will meet some great folks, and probably establish relationships, not to mention eating some delicious food that you may not have experienced otherwise. You can try new spots every month. As a bonus, you are helping sustain businesses that may need it.

-Make specific playlists. This is actually a mindfulness exercise. What songs or music make you feel energized? Sleepy? Relaxed? What helps you work? Music is a very powerful medium that can evoke different moods and activities. When you use specific playlists, your brain goes into a certain mode, from working out to unwinding. Listening to music actually makes you exercise or work for a longer duration.

-Journal. If you dislike writing, there is a new strategy that I’ve been recommending called one line a day. Buy a journal or notebook that speaks to you; whether it’s a sleek black leather-bound one, pictures of cats or dogs, or just beautiful photos/art. At the end of the day, write a sentence or three about how you’re feeling or what’s on your mind at that moment. Doing this consistently is good for your mental health.

-Go outside. Go for a stroll or even a hike. You can pick a time of day that works for you. Do you like sunrises or sunsets, do you prefer to be alone or with somebody? You can find a walking partner, canine or human. If you don’t love being outside, start by simply being on your own street or block, and back.

-Compliment someone. This actually neurologically creates a boost in endorphins both for the giver and the receiver. It doesn’t have to be creepy. Just think of something you genuinely admire or observe about that person and try it out. Very often we are trained not to speak to somebody’s traits or strengths because we will “turn their head, seem fake or a brown-noser, or make them vain.” A compliment given properly is a gift and can actually make somebody’s day better. Yours and theirs.

-Clean/organize one thing. If a closet or an entire room is too daunting, start with a drawer, a cupboard, or your car. This is an area where people become easily overwhelmed especially if they haven’t cleaned or organized in a while. Each time you accomplish one goal, it builds self-efficacy. Self-efficacy expectations are your own ability to believe that you can accomplish something. Like working out, it requires one step at a time. You literally build your own confidence.

-Grow or tend something. If you are daunted by gardening, start with a house plant or two. Many are low maintenance. If you like to cook, you could start a small kitchen herb container garden.

-Read. Start with one book a month. It can be a graphic novel, fiction, or something that you’ve wanted to learn more about. You can have a reading buddy if you don’t believe that you can sustain being in a larger book club.

-Do as you go. If you are someone who ends up with large piles of laundry, a sink full of dishes, and copious amounts of pet hair on your floors, it often becomes a Herculean task. Taking care of a few dishes after a meal, putting things back where they should go, and completing and folding laundry regularly actually ultimately saves time and helps unclutter your mind.

-Pay off one bill at a time. As you notice your interest rates and penalties going down, it increases mental flexibility and a sense of freedom.  For three months at a time, see what it’s like if you give up one thing, whether it’s Starbucks or saying no to that extra pair of shoes, and pay off a bill instead.

-Keep in touch. From a group chat, to a couple of friends that you care about or text/email regularly, connection decreases anxiety and depression. If you don’t have the energy for a phone call, keeping in touch even briefly creates a sense that you’re not alone.

-Pick your battles. Although it might create a brief adrenaline rush when you vent online, argue with relatives, or comment on somebody’s seemingly astounding content, you just lost an hour of your life, probably raised your blood pressure, and the psychology research indicates the chances are extremely low that you made a dent in their thinking. If you want to vent, get an online therapist, commiserate with friends, or journal.

-Ask for help. This is often something that’s very hard to do. Vulnerability is not easy. Like anything else, practice helps. Here are some practical tips: How to Ask For Help Without Feeling Weird.

-Rest. People have reported feeling unusually tired. It’s a pandemic. We have an all time high allostatic load (elevated stress levels and hormones, without sufficient alleviation). We require sleep for consolidation of memory. We use REM and deep sleep for metabolizing experience (day residue). We must have rest for muscle recovery, no matter how fit we are. We need downtime from work or else our attention is going to wander anyway. We can’t focus efficiently without rest. Yes, we can muscle through temporarily, or take medication. When it wears off, you will be completely worn out. Sleep disorders are at an all-time high. Your body is going to force you to rest eventually. Make it a conscious decision.
See Making Sleep Your Best Friend for more info.

-Ride your best horse first. I learned this from a friend of many years. She emphatically believes you should always use your good candles, your best lotion or skin products, drink your favorite wine, use the gorgeous glasses or mugs, buy that great food at the market, enjoy your softest blanket/wear your fancy outfit/get that massage/ use the special jewelry, use the stunning purse you generally store in its bag. As humans, we want to hoard what feels special. For what?

-Where you can, make your life easier. One client who is very frugal, struggled with his laptop that was creating a lot of problems in his daily schedule. He spent hours daily fixing kinks and slow speeds, leading to frustration and even tears. He finally invested in a fairly modest but extremely updated life machine, as I term it. Not everyone can afford it, but where you can without creating hardship, make life a bit easier. If you truly despise cleaning bathrooms and you can afford to have somebody clean for you once a month, the mental relief is worthwhile.

Small but powerful.

See Stones Across the River, Or Mindfulness As Practice

Walking as Mindfulness

Mindfulness in everyday life is a big topic in my work with patients. Most of the time walking is utilitarian: we go from point A to B. Our mind is focused on our destination, what we aim to do when we get there, or various other concerns. Even when out for a stroll in the park or nature, we can find our attention captured by thoughts, engrossed in conversation, or lost in planning. How often do we miss hearing the birdsong, or seeing a tree in bloom, because we are absorbed in something else?

When we can learn to walk with full awareness (mindfulness), ambulation can become a force for soothing and training our minds to dwell more completely in the present. In fact, mindful walking confers a pretty wide range of benefits, including decreasing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and ADHD:

  • It strengthens concentration and focus.
  • It can help release worries or concerns about the past and future.
  • It can facilitate creativity and new ideas.
  • Mindful walking can calm difficult emotions; it lifts mood and calms anxiety.
  • It increases mindfulness and all of its positive effects.
  • Walking is great for physical health and digestion.
  • You can do it anywhere.

There are many ways to walk. This is a walking mindfulness that I teach patients, but walking has infinite possibilities.

First, walk while keeping your eyes still and watching the view change as shapes and objects shift in and out of your line of vision.

Next, focus just on the soles of your feet, aware of different sensations there as the surface changes.

Then, focus on sounds. Those of your own footsteps, as well as the changing sounds in the world around you as you move.

Lastly, focus on smells and tastes in the air, and how they change depending on where you are.

If desired, you can add a personal mantra as you step. Mine is: No One to Be.

See also Stones Across the River, or Mindfulness as Practice.

Bend Like a Willow as a Psychotherapy Strategy

Photo: Getty Stock Images

There is an ancient wisdom by Lao Tzu that a strong wind may topple the sturdy oak, but the willow bends and lets the wind pass through. Life sends plenty of wind our way; a belligerent person, unexpected hardships, losses, grief, and difficult changes. In the face of that foul weather, we often glorify those who “stand up” to the winds or “hold their ground” or “don’t let them get away with that.” An alternative common message is to get over it, or “suck it up.” The thing is, over time, these oak trees get brittle, and when being tough proves ineffective, their egos suffer. When the wind gets strong enough, even the “tough” oaks will break if they’re too rigid to bend.

The willow tree rarely falls, as it survives storms with bendable, flexible branches and, of note, an extensive, supportive root system.

Clients say to me that they can’t bear it. A terrible boss, a narcissistic partner, health problems, grief and bereavement, or, like 2020 where the blows keep coming. They feel besieged.

Bending like a willow is NOT passive. Its not weakness. It’s a mindful decision to let the storm buffet, and even tear off some branches. But you stay standing, and the root structure remains strong, with watering from our support network, our self-care, our personal spirituality, and when needed, from therapy. It’s putting up with the storm knowing that it’s temporary. We can learn a lot from trees.

Stones Across the River, or Mindfulness as Practice

In my practice, I teach a personal mindfulness strategy, that I have previously written about, and named “Stones Across the River”. Think of a wide river that you must cross. I help patients to notice moments (stones), by learning a daily practice of paying mindful attention to the seemingly small activities in a day that, together, can help ford the rapids of life without falling in.

Take a few moments of your day to observe your breathing. Take a longer inhale than you usually do, and then take a longer exhale than you usually do. Do it again. This practice will help you to calm yourself down during stressful situations, while simultaneously observing your physical and emotional state.

Look at yourself in the mirror.
Looking yourself in the mirror or even taking a selfie helps you see YOU. You can see how you look when you smile or when you frown, even when you are feeling angry. This helps you connect with yourself.

Savor every bite while you eat.
Focus on chewing while eating. Put your devices aside, and turn off the television. Enjoy every bite of your meal. This will help you practice focusing on your current action and appreciating the food you are eating.

Listen to soothing music.
Turn on relaxing and soothing music and really listen to it. Lay down or sit in the most comfortable position, close your eyes and feel the music in your soul. You can even use it while you’re working on a long or tedious task. Classical music has been shown to create brain waves that are very similar to meditation. I personally also enjoy trip hop, which has a steady beat that can help with focus.

Read a book or poem everyday.
Reading helps you form a focused meditation. While you are going through every word, you are practicing mindfulness and attention skills at the same time.

Go for a walk.
Our legs are our unsung heroes that are there for us, day in and day out. Going for a walk gives you the opportunity to show gratitude to your legs as well as your entire body, while appreciating the things around you. Research shows that you also get a clearer mind after a good walk.

Organize something at work or home.
Having your home or workplace in disarray can contribute to anxiety and stress. Environment matters. Getting organized is a way to reduce your stress and improve the quality of your life. While you are picking up objects during the process, you are also practicing mindfulness as you consciously observe each placement of the object while organizing.

Write in a journal.
Research shows that people who practice writing in a journal reap physical and emotional benefits. Dr. James Pennebaker, clinical psychologist, found that writing stream of consciousness in a journal for just 10 minutes a day (without editing or filtering), helped reduce clinical depression, across several studies.

Cook a meal.
The aromatic scents of cooking have beneficial effects to your mood. The process of cooking, like chopping vegetables and the various steps involved can actually take the edge off a stressful day. Interestingly, because preparing a meal is a multi step process, it is also good for executive functioning. I assign cooking a meal for the family or for friends, including planning the menu, making a grocery list, preparing the meal, and serving it, as a regular assignment for my teenagers and young adults who have executive functioning problems.

Set small daily goals.
Breaking down your goals into smaller ones helps you be more specific to what you aim to achieve on a daily basis. It can be as simple as taking your dog for a walk or cleaning up a closet. Take the time to acknowledge each goal that has been accomplished. For several patients, I have had them make a list of things they have accomplished that day, rather than the ubiquitous “to do list”. People are often astonished at how much they actually do in a day, because we are always focused on the things that are not done.

Help someone.
Research indicates that individuals who regularly engage in community service and volunteering show lower rates of depression and stress. I believe this gives people a mindful awareness of a purposeful life beyond their immediate family or circle.

Laughing releases endorphins and brings more oxygen and energy into your body while also improving your immune system. Talk to a friend who is witty, watch a show that makes you smile or laugh, play with a pet.

Engaging in creative work helps you get into a flow state of heightened awareness and consciousness. Creative activities like drawing or doodling help you quiet down your mind and help you focus on the moment, improving your practice of mindfulness. For my clients with ADHD, I actually encourage them to doodle while they are listening to a lecture or seminar. It creates more focus than attempting to sit still.

Turn off your devices.
Every once in a while, turn off your devices and engage with the people around you.

Work out.
When you exercise, you focus your attention on your sensations, breathing, and the movements of your body.

Write sticky notes.
Jotting down your thoughts in a few words is an incredible way to train mindfulness. Simply write down things that you want to remind yourself to remember and stick them around your house or your desk at work. You can jot down “smile” or “breath” to remind yourself to do the simple gesture you normally get distracted from.

Take a bath or hot shower.
A soothing hot bath relaxes your tired muscles and provides you with a relaxing atmosphere. It helps your breathing become slower and deeper, allowing you to stay in the present moment. I work with many patients who have sleep disorders. Taking a hot bath and then going to bed as your body cools off actually parallels REM sleep, during which your body temperature also drops.

Give a compliment.
Give someone you know a genuine compliment at least once a day, and be specific with it. For example, you could tell them something like, “I appreciate the way you smiled generously in the waiting room earlier today,” or “you are so generous to pick up all these supplies for the office.” One of my friends said to me, I love the way you become so excited when you learn something new. This practice of noticing what people around you do well and giving genuine compliments adds warmth, intimacy, and responsiveness to your connection with them.

Embolden Psychology

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

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