Have you made The Shift in your life?

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For many of us something happens in the middle of our lives. Suddenly you notice that the things and values that have always been the most important for you, just aren’t that important anymore!

Some people do this shift of focus because of something radical that happens, like losing the job, having a grandchild or experiencing a friend’s death. Almost overnight you perceive the world with new eyes. But for most people this shift comes slowly, without you really noticing it. There is just this feeling, which is growing stronger and stronger, that you’re not happy with life the way it is anymore. Relationships that are based on old values don’t seem satisfying anymore or you feel that you are working on a career that isn’t that exciting any longer. If you allow yourself to stop and reflect for a moment, you realize that you want something different form life now. You have everything that you need, but you’re not happy.

In his wonderful drama-documentary The Shift, Dr. Wayne Dyer talks about a research on this topic. A group of men and women in the USA have been asked what they find the most important things in life. They are in the “morning” of their lives, about 20 – 50 years old. This is what it looks like:

The top 5 important priorities in men’s life before the shift
1. Wealth. The accumulation of money.
2. A sense of adventure.
3. Achievement. To see that I have accomplished something.
4. Pleasure.
5. To be respected.

The top 5 important priorities in women’s life before the shift
1. Family.
2. A feeling of independence.
3. Career.
4. Fitting in.
5. Attractiveness as a part of my value.

Then comes, what the research institute calls, “The moment that turns your values upside down”. Several years later (in “the afternoon” of their lives) the same men and women are interviewed about what they find important in life and their answers are quite different!

The top 5 important priorities in men’s life AFTER the shift
1. Spirituality. A sense of being connected to something else.
2. Personal peace. Less stress.
3. Family
4. God’s will. I have a sense of purpose.
5. Honesty. How honest am I with myself?

The top 5 important priorities in women’s life AFTER the shift
1. My own personal growth.
2. A sense of self-esteem.
3. Spirituality. A sense of being connected to something else.
4. Happiness.
5. Forgivness.

Just look at the difference!

For men the primary focus changes from “wealth” to “spirituality”! “Family”, which comes on third place, wasn’t even on their first list! And the women had nothing in their 5-top list that was actually about their own happiness, but only about what others might think about them. After the shift they are so much more concerned about their own value and growth.

So it’s not that strange if your marriage suddenly starts to shake. What happened? Nothing has changed in terms of job, children or different life style. No but big changes might have started to grow in you or your partner. If you’re not aware of this probability it might cause you to make unnecessary decisions. Start to talk about your new feelings and thoughts instead. You’re most certainly not alone!

Will it look different in other cultures? It probably will, but still I think the before and after lists will differ a lot.

I’d be happy to hear your comment on this! And if you like what you’ve read, please share it!

My mood changes with the falling leaves

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Today I walked home from a friend, looking at all the leaves falling from the trees around me. The street workers were busy gathering the leaves in big stacks. It was much colder today. After a while I got aware of my feelings. They were my typical “autumn feelings”; a mixture of slight depression and calmness. Things are slowing down after a hectic summer. Suddenly I started to laugh for myself. It’s not autumn! It’s spring! It’s just that here in Shanghai the leaves didn’t fall from the trees last autumn, but now when the new spring leaves push them off the branches they fall.

That makes me wonder what the Chinese feel. Do they get the typical spring feelings from falling leaves? Probably.

Isn’t it amazing how our moods are suddenly influenced by things around us? Sometimes I know exactly what it is, like a special song I hear. Immediately I get a happy or sad feeling, depending on the song. But I’m sure that my feelings are affected by a lot of situations, sounds, smells and things that I don’t even notice consciously. I might wonder why I am suddenly happier or more worried than before, but the reason that triggered my emotions has already passed.

Is there anything I can do to prevent myself from being negatively affected this way? I don’t know. Is there?

Just being more aware of my mood might be a good start: “Okay, I’m a bit irritated today. Why?” I might not know why, but just to get aware of it I think will make it possible for me to change it. To do something nice, something that I like. Or just breathe and accept the feeling.

So if you concentrate on your inner feeling right now – what do you feel?

How can I reduce my stress level?

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I’ve been seeing a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) doctor for some months together with a friend here in Shanghai. Today he told my friend that her energy level has risen up to the stomach, which is good, but now it has to come up to the head. “You have to reduce your stress level”, the doctor said, putting some acupuncture needles in her feet, but not giving any further advice on how to reduce the stress.

Later she asked me “So shall I just go home and sit in my sofa reading books all days, or what?”

I think this is a problem many of us share. We can clearly see sometimes that we have to reduce the amount of tasks to be done, to not be overwhelmed or too stressed, but that’s not enough. My Stress Coach teacher and world known expert on Mental Training, Lars-Eric Uneståhl, talks about two different types of stress in our bodies. One is the tension we get when we perform something. If we climb a mountain our leg muscles will be pretty tense after a while or if we try to solve a huge problem our brain will be tired.

“Stress is not harmful at all. What is harmful is the lack of recovery.“
Lars-Eric Uneståhl

Since we don’t pay attention to the amount of recovery that is needed every day to be in balance, we produce another kind of stress. That is the basic tension that we have in our body even when we are not performing anything at all. There has to be a small basic tension, because even when we sleep there are autonomous actions in our body that requires energy and produce motion. But unfortunately we go to sleep with tense muscles around our eyes, in our cheeks, stomach, neck, legs and so on. There is this unnecessary tension that we have no use of, a tension that only stops our normal body functions to heal and repair itself.

But there are a lot of things we can do to help our bodies and minds to relax and let go of this unnecessary tension. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Take three deep breaths 2-3 times a day. Concentrate on your diaphragm and fill it with air. Keep your breath for some seconds and let go of it. Make sure that you empty your lungs completely and let there be short moment of stillness before you take the next breath. Don’t overdo this, because it can make you dizzy. Three breaths can be enough to make your body calm down.

2. Meditate on your body. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine strait. Close your eyes and start to concentrate on your different body parts. Is the feeling in your feet good, bad or neutral? What about your legs – good, bad or neutral? Go through your body and give a statement about each part. Try not to think about anything else but the feeling in each part.

3. Meditate on your breath. Sit comfortably as above and this time concentrate on your breathing. Inhale, in a relaxed tempo, exhale, and count 1. Continue like that until 10 and do it all over twice. Try not to think about anything. Just enjoy being.

4. Progressive Muscular Relaxation (PMR). Here I think the best thing is to find a recording that can guide you through the body. The idea is to tense and relax a muscle at a time to learn how to control each muscle and be able to make it relax by will. Usually we have no idea how to relax our right calf muscle for example! Google Progressive Muscular Relaxation or try this very short one from Orrion: Progressive Muscular Relaxation

5. Be mindful about something you do several times every day. For example washing your hands. Each time you wash your hands you give yourself the time to concentrate fully on the experience. How does the water running over your hands feel? Slowly rub the soap into your hands and enjoy the feeling. Just be in the moment. This also gives your body a moment to lower its basic tension.

If you have serious troubles because of your stress you should of course also talk to your doctor!

Remember that you have probably built this basic tension up to this level for years, so don’t expect to be completely relaxed after a few minutes of meditation! It takes time to learn how to relax.

I’d be happy to hear your comment on this! And if you like what you’ve read, please share it!

 

The four stages of cultural shock

IMG_0115.JPGMy new neighbor was not at all happy with her life in Shanghai. She had been here for a month and found everything dirty and different. Her young children hated it at school and were crying every morning. She had no friends and wondered what on earth she was doing here. That exciting, adventurous life she had expected was not appealing at all. She just wanted to go home.

Because it’s my second time moving, with three years in Istanbul and now four months in Shanghai, I stopped by the playground trying to comfort her. “This is just the way it should be. Your feelings are following the culture shock schedule exactly. After 2.5 month, or so, you and your children will enter the next phase and everything will be better”, I told her, hoping that this information would make her feel that she was not alone in this, that there was actually an end to this stage in her transition.

1.5 months later I got a message from her: “Yes, it turned out exactly as you said. Just suddenly at 2.5 months it was as if all problems started to dissolve. Unbelievable! And so incredibly GOOD! We are now 6 days into this new phase!”

Finnish anthropologist Kalervo Oberg was one of the first to do research on “culture shock”. He stated four stages; honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment and mastery. Below are some explanations, “translated” from academic language into my own words.

Honeymoon
Everything is new and exciting. Perhaps you are staying in a hotel and live more like a tourist in this new fascinating culture.

Negotiation
Now you start to notice how different everything is, how strange people behave, how dirty and insecure it feels everywhere. You don’t know how to buy and cook proper food or get around doing everyday life tasks. You’re alone and disconnected. Your children are switching from hysterical unhappiness to excitement about their school life every second day and your working partner is busy with his/her new job. If you find some people from your own nationality you will feel extremely dependent on them.
(This is just where my neighbor was when I met her!)

Adjustment
After some more months (maybe 6-12 months) you get into a more normal life. You have found your ways around and have even got some new friends. The children have become accustomed to the language and the school system much better. You are getting more and more used to the strange behaviors of the host country people and are even starting to see the charm about it.

Mastery
When you come back after the summer break (not everyone is moving at that time of the year of course), your home in this new country feels much more like a true home. This is your life now. You might even have missed some parts of it when you were away! You don’t feel like you and your family have become a complete part of your host country, but you have found a sort of bicultural level.

My experience is that the three first levels can go a bit back and forth if something new is introduced in the everyday life. And the rest of the family members might not go from one phase to the next at the same time as you do. But I think it is pretty good to have some understanding of the different stages, knowing that it is a very natural series of reactions. Later I will write more about what you can do to feel better in each phase.

 

I’d be happy to hear your comment on this! And if you like what you’ve read, please share it!