Blog Swap - Five Mindfulness Practices to Use Throughout your Workday

Blog Swap - Five Mindfulness Practices to Use Throughout your Workday


Guest post from: Jill Graham

Jill Graham is the business development manager for the MindSpace at Work corporate mindfulness program. The team at MindSpace loves giving employees and employers tips on how to bring more mindfulness into their workplace and everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out MindSpace's blogsmedia, follow @mindspaceclinic on Instagram or @mindspaceclinic on Twitter, or like them on Facebook.


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While many of us value the focus, peace-of-mind, and resilience that mindfulness cultivates, it can be challenging to fit practice into a busy work day. In this post, MindSpace’s corporate mindfulness program director Jill Graham proposes 5 impactful practices and the 5 key moments into which they can be integrated.

  1. The morning mindset. Before turning on your computer, try a 3 Minute Breathing Space. This helps you take stock of what's on your mind that morning, settle the mind into the present, and then create a clear and focused mindset for the rest of the workday. Capitalize on this state of mind to decide on 2-3 priorities for the day. How to: Sitting up in a dignified position, close your eyes and tune into whatever thoughts, feelings and body sensations are present from the morning. After about a minute of this observation, bring your attention to the sensations of breathing at the belly. Set the intention to be fully present with the breathe for about a minute. Finally, expand awareness to take in your entire body, letting the breathe in the broader context of the body. After practicing in this way for about a minute, open your eyes and set the intention to bring this spacious awareness into the rest of your day.
     
  2. Coming to your senses. Lunch can be a great time to restore your mental energy after a busy and depleting morning. Shift your brain from thinking mode to feeling mode by connecting with your senses. How to: Instead of eating your lunch in front of your computer take a few minutes toeat lunch mindfully. Pay attention and tune into the taste and smell of your food. Another option is to go for a short walk. If you can’t (or don’t want to) go outside, walk mindfully to the washroom, printer, or boardroom: pay attention to each step, notice how your legs are moving, how your feet feel in your shoes, and the contact between your feet and the floor.
     
  3. One act of kindness. Get a virtuous cycle of positive interactions going by helping make your colleague's life a little easier. Not only will you feel good about contributing to their workflow, but a colleague might step up to support you when you really need it. How to: Step up if a colleague asks for help. Notice if a colleague is struggling with something or seems stressed out and ask if you can help out in some way. Make sure to clearly express gratitude and generosity when the opportunity arises.
     
  4. Taking a purposeful pause. Meetings can be a drag on productivity, especially when attendees are distracted or uninterested. If everyone at the meeting took a couple of minutes to focus their minds and set the intention to communicate mindfully, meetings progress more efficiently and decision-making will be much more reliable. How to: One volunteer can invite the group to sit in silent practice for a minute or two at the beginning of the meeting. He or she can offer the additional instruction of noticing the sensations of the breath and letting go of distractions when they arise. Before the practice wraps up, participants can be asked to set an intention for how they want to contribute to the meeting.
     
  5. Body Scan in Bed. Getting a good night's sleep is essential for feeling well and being effective at work. Ruminating on unresolved issues can really eat into those precious hours of sleep. To let go of a stressful day and allow your body to relax, spend a few minutes doing a body scan. How to: Starting with the feet, allow yourself to feel the different sensations that are present. Continuing up the body, noticing the legs, hips and pelvis, abdominal area, lower back, chest, upper back, neck and shoulders, arms, hands, head, and face. Bringing full awareness to whatever sensations arise and giving yourself full permission to let go of whatever preoccupations linger in your mind. Don’t be surprised if you fall asleep before you finish!
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It’s fall already?! 5 ways to cope with end-of-summer blues

It’s fall already?! 5 ways to cope with end-of-summer blues

       September is often a time where we get a high volume of referrals at the Connecte Montreal Psychology Group – and that’s not entirely surprising - the warm weather is fading and the reality of back-to-school/work (whether for ourselves or our kids) is setting in. All of this can contribute to feelings of heightened sadness (as we ‘mourn’ the end of summer) or anxiety (as we picture the next few months like a mountain of upcoming work projects and dread the inevitable shift to colder weather). Some research even shows an association between vitamin D (which we get in part from the sun) and mood (Anglin, Samaan, Walter, & McDonald, 2013). It might seem like an objectively undesirable situation that we just can’t do much about. As it turns out, we have a lot more control than we may realize. In this blogpost, I’ll suggest some specific things that you can do to make this transition to fall more bearable, and hopefully even enjoyable.

#1. Take things one step at a time. It sounds cliché, but it’s true! Take the example of a student who, on her first day of school, looks at her syllabus and sees every chapter she will have to read, every assignment she will have to write, and every exam she will have to take for the remainder of the school year… of course she would feel overwhelmed and/or anxious! And she’s right, at some point she will have to undertake all of those challenging tasks. But viewing the school year that way is akin to looking at all of the food she will eat in a semester piled up on her kitchen floor – that would be enough to make even the biggest foodie lose her appetite. Instead, we want to take things one step at a time. For example, instead of thinking of everything you have to do in the upcoming semester, try instead to focus on what you have to do that week, that day, or even that morning. This change in perspective can make things more manageable. Indeed, much research has shown that the way we think about things can have a tremendous impact on our mood (Greenberger & Padesky, 2015).

#2. Shift your basis of comparison. If you love warm weather and find yourself feeling down after comparing the current 12-degree weather to the sunny 22-degree days that we enjoyed just a few short weeks ago, try to then compare the current weather to the much colder temperatures that we have endured (‘well at least it’s not anywhere near as cold as it was in February!’) or that people in other countries are currently exposed to. Maybe there are some things you could do without from the summer months – like the sticky humidity or those pesky mosquitos! Shifting our baseline can have a big impact on how we perceive our current situation.

#3. Consider whether there is anything you actually LIKE about the change in seasons.

a. Maybe you think it’s super interesting that we in Montreal get to have four seasons, whereas temperatures in some other places stay pretty constant over the course of the year; this gives us the opportunity to see our city through an entirely new lens – doesn’t your neighborhood look totally different when the streets are basked in sun versus colorful fall leaves or a blanket of fresh white snow? That variety can keep things novel and exciting should we choose to look at things this way.

b. Make a list of all the fun things you can do in the upcoming season(s) that you didn’t get to do in the previous one. Maybe you finally get to go skiing again once the weather gets cold enough - especially if one of your values is being healthy/active or being in nature. Or maybe you just love watching your kids roll around in the colorful fall leaves. Maybe you have been meaning to take up photography and the changing city views are leaving you inspired. Instead of looking back longingly at the lovely summer we just had or dreading the upcoming winter, why not plan fun things that you can look forward to doing in the coming month or two? Maybe you can rent a cozy log cabin with your family or friends, or maybe you can look forward to the winter holidays.

c. If you’re having a hard time thinking of something you actually like about the colder months, one of my favorite ways to do this is to follow the lead of children! Those little people know how to have a good time – and they can be a great source of inspiration – snow fights, rolling down a mountain, etc. 

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#4. Instead of trying to deny or disconnect from the inevitable fact that the season is changing, practice heightening your awareness by being mindful about these changes; try to be fully conscious and aware of the present moment, without being judgmental of your experience (click here for a review of the positive effects that mindfulness can have on mental health). Consider the difference between walking out of your house and grumbling to yourself about how the weather is getting colder versus taking a minute to notice how the crisp fresh air feels on your cheeks, how the crunchy leaves feel when you step on them as you walk down the street, etc. For more information about mindfulness, check out my colleague Dr. Natsumi Sawada’s blogpost.

#5. Increase self-care. Self-care can mean different things to different people; examples include taking time to prepare a healthy meal for yourself, reading a book by your favorite author, going to bed early, going for a run, or carving out time to catch up with a good friend. You might even talk to that good friend about how you notice a dip in your mood around this time of year; he or she might feel similarly, and it might help you to feel that you two are in it together. Self-care can contribute to improved mood, and pre-emptively engaging in more self-care activities can be especially helpful if you have noticed that your mood has tended to dip around this time of year in the past. Check out my colleague Dr. Jodie Richardson’s 3-part blogpost for more information about self-care.

Importantly, these same tips (e.g. shifting your baseline, increasing self-care) can be applied to many other life situations that might have you feeling down. Although the end-of-summer period can be rough for many of us, my hope is that these tips help to make that transition a bit easier!


Simcha Samuel is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


References

Anglin, R. E. S., Samaan, Z., Walter, S. D., McDonald, S. D. (2013). Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: Systematic review and meta-analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 202, 100–107.

Greenberger, D. & Padesky, C. A. (2015). Mind over mood, second edition: Change how you feel by changing the way you think. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Keng, S.-L., Smoski, M. J., & Robins, C. J. (2011). Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: A review of empirical studies. Clin Psychol Rev, 31, 1041–1056.

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My Grandma Washed Clothes in a Creek, and I Get Upset when my Washing Machine Breaks: How to Keep Perspective in our Daily Lives

My Grandma Washed Clothes in a Creek, and I Get Upset when my Washing Machine Breaks: How to Keep Perspective in our Daily Lives

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Last summer I visited Greece, the country from which my parents emigrated. On one sun-soaked day, I was sitting with my uncle and my partner, enjoying some freshly picked figs from my maternal grandparent’s olive farm. We were sitting beside the ruins of my mom’s childhood home - An old, stone, two-room house, where she and her 10 brothers and sisters grew up. As we’re sitting there, my uncle describes that one his most vivid memories of my grandmother is her hunched over the small creek that runs through their property, washing clothes for hours on end. My heart sank. The thought of my grandma spending her days hunched over a muddy creek washing clothes elicited a mixed bag of reactions in me - shame at my ungratefulness for the relatively luxurious life I lead, sadness for my grandma (was she happy?), as well as an acute awareness of how lucky I am and all the opportunities I’ve had that my grandma could not have dreamed of. The mental image of her washing clothes in the creek still takes my breath away, and makes me feel at the same time like a privileged jerk and a deep sense of gratitude.

Back in Montreal, a few months ago, my washing machine broke and for various reasons couldn’t be fixed for a few weeks, so my partner and I were left carting our laundry to the local Laundromat, which I haven’t done since my university days. I was not happy. That image of my grandma easily slipped back to the forefront of my consciousness, and so my laundry “crisis” got me thinking more and more about how difficult it is for us, in our day-to-day lives, to let go of the small stuff and connect with what really matters in life. It seems easier to hold onto this grateful mindset when major life events happen, like when a loved one falls seriously ill, when we lay eyes on a newborn baby, when we get sick and aren’t able to do the things we normally do. But who wakes up every day, or even most days, thinking wow life is so precious, and feeling deeply grateful? Not me. I think most of us wake up sleep-deprived, pressed for time, ruminating about a conversation we had the day before, feeling fat and like we haven’t been working out enough.

So how do people like me, those lucky enough to be well-educated, able-bodied, and living in the first world, keep things in perspective and remain grateful in our day-to-day lives? Here are a few tips that I’ve found personally helpful.

Practice mindfulness

I hesitated to write about mindfulness, because it seems mindfulness these days is presented as a cure-all, and you might be tired of hearing about it. But, I wanted to be honest about what helps me, and I do find mindfulness (and specifically when I practice it through meditation) a great tool for helping me keep things in perspective. One characteristic of mindfulness includes noticing the “stories” (vs. the facts) we tell ourselves about a situation. For example, when I’m getting caught up in the small stressors of life, I might be telling myself things like, “Things have to be a certain way for me to be okay. I need this to be a certain way. This is a huge inconvenience.” If I’m remembering to be mindful, I can take a step back from these stories, and with compassion and curiosity, ask myself what are the facts of the situation? Am I catastrophizing? Am I excessively focusing on the negative? Is this a huge hassle or a minor bump in the road?

Add a little diversity to your life!

It is so easy and normal to get caught up in our own lives. Most of us likely spend the majority of our time with our family, close friends, and co-workers, and those people are often very similar to us in terms of cultural background, social status, etc. To top it off, our social media feeds make it seem like everyone else's life is sunshine and rainbows (and babies and kittens), making it even more difficult to maintain a sense of how lucky we truly are. For keeping things in perspective, I find it helpful to get outside my bubble. I love, for example, reading about other cultures in National Geographic, and of course travelling is an excellent way if you have the time and financial means. Reading the news is another great way to keep things in perspective. Here are some tips on how to stay informed in a balanced, healthy way: How To Avoid Being Psychologically Destroyed By Your Newsfeed

Notice the invisible things you have to be grateful for!

I don’t know about you, but my brain is really great at focusing on the negative. It loves to hang onto all the things that went wrong during the day. I find gratitude, simply taking the time to notice the positives, like a breath of fresh air in all this chatter. If you want to up your gratitude game, check out this podcast, Why is My Life So Hard?, where social psychologists explain that we often fail to notice the invisible advantages that help us along, like a free society, our ability to walk, talk and dance, etc (1). The authors suggest, when practicing gratitude, ask yourself, “What are the ways I’m boosted along? What are the invisible things that are helping me?”  

Let go of first world guilt

Of course we have first world problems; we’re living in the first world. We will feel annoyed when our washing machine breaks down, because in the context of our lives this is an inconvenience and a hassle. However, beating ourselves up over “first world problems” is not an effective way to foster gratefulness. Instead, notice without judgment when you’re feeling bad over something relatively small, and try out one of the techniques above, or something else that helps you put things in perspective. When you notice yourself getting frustrated or anxious over “first world problems” you might even take it as an opportunity to pause and list a few things you’re grateful for.

A quick shout out to the emotion of anger before signing off - Feeling grateful and cultivating humility does not mean being okay with the bad stuff. Racism, sexism, etc. still exist in the first world. Anger and frustration are important emotions too – they let us know when we are possibly being disrespected, and they are activating and empowering. You can be angry at injustices AND grateful at the same time :)


Lisa Linardatos is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


References and Resources

1. Davidai, S., & Gilovich, T. (2016). The headwinds/tailwinds asymmetry: An availability bias in assessments of barriers and blessings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111(6), 835.

For more on mindfulness, check out Mindfulness: An Introductory Guide.

For more on gratitude, check out What’s the Big Deal about Gratitude?

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Want to change the world? Start by connecting to you: Part 3

Want to change the world? Start by connecting to you: Part 3

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It’s not about proving to yourself that you can do it, it’s about figuring out how you can make it happen.

This is the last blog of a 3-part series on self-care. If I can summarize our self-care formula in 3 parts it would look like this:

1. Know WHY. Get in touch with your personal reasons for prioritizing your self-care. (See part 1)

2. Know WHAT. Figure out what self-care is for you (not what someone tells you to do or what other people are doing). Find what truly nourishes you. (See part 2).

3. Figure out HOW. Find the formula or routine that will allow you to keep practicing self-care even when life wants to get in the way.

We’ve discussed #1 and #2 in previous posts. So today I want to talk about the things that can help you make self-care sustainable (rather than a 1-week stint).

Here are a few tricks.

1. Find a daily connect to your WHYs. This is something that will remind you of what is important to you on a daily basis. This could be a daily prayer, night time reading ritual, morning meditation, a daily snuggle in the morning with your partner, anything that helps you see the big picture. Try making it something you like doing or already do so that it doesn’t take much effort. Mine is waking up earlier than everyone in the morning to have my “me time” before the day starts. If I don’t have that daily connect to myself it’s much harder to choose how I want my day to go.

2. Find your lead WHAT. Or your lead domino [as Tim Ferriss (1) might call it] or your keystone habit (as Charles Duhigg calls it in the Power of Habit (2). This is the habit that, if acted out, will make all of the others fall into place, or at least come easier. For example, many of my clients find that if they exercise in the morning they are more motivated at work and feel like eating healthier during the day, and in order to make the morning exercise happen they drink less alcohol in the evenings and go to bed earlier. So, they just have to get that morning exercise habit to happen and it has a self-care domino effect on the others.

3. Make an action plan and write it down. A lot of evidence suggests that writing down the what, where & when for a new habit will help you actually do it (3)! One thing that works for me is getting in my exercise by running or biking to work (or home from work). But, this takes a lot of planning because it means remembering a change of clothes at work, organizing with my husband drop offs or pick ups of the kids, etc. So if I sit down and plan out my week in advance I can decide which days I’m running to and from work & plan accordingly. Some other plans that help people get their exercise in are packing their gym bag the night before, or writing their exercise in their agenda.

4. Try temptation bundling (4). This is a term coined & researched by Katherine Milkman, Associate Professor of Operations, Information & Decisions at The University of Pennsylvania. She finds that if you bundle a hard to do behavior (like exercise) with an instantly rewarding behavior it can help you get motivated to do it. For example, you might decide to only watch your favorite TV shows at the gym (like she does) or reward yourself with a day off of work when you finally get your mammogram.

5. Try telling someone about your self-care habit or eliciting the help of a buddy. You can think of it as accountability, but I prefer to think of it as building self-care into your identity. “This is me and this is what I do to take care of me”.  Keeping it to yourself will not make it happen and it will not make you believe it is important to you. Tell your friends or loved ones what you’re doing, make it real, and elicit their help if you can. For example, find a morning running buddy. Join a walking group with friend. Start a recipe swap with a family member and try a new meal together each week.

The hardest part of self-care habits is keeping them going. If you see it as a healthy challenge rather than a task or a threat it is almost fun figuring out how you can make self-care work for you!! Come join our network of self-care warriors :) Follow us on Instagram @connectepsychology for your daily connect to self-care.


Jodie Richardson is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


References

1. Borrowing this term from Tim Ferriss and The 4 Hour Workweek.

2. Great book by Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business.                                    

3. Read more about Professor Katherine Milkman’s research on temptation bundling here. Listen to Professor Katherine Milkman talk about temptation bundling (among other behavioural tools) in this Freakonomics episode, When willpower isn’t enough.

4. Gollwitzer, P.M. (1999). Implementation Plans: Strong Effects of Simple Plans. American Psychologist, 54 (7), 493-503. 

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WANT TO CHANGE THE WORLD? START BY CONNECTING TO YOU: PART 2

WANT TO CHANGE THE WORLD? START BY CONNECTING TO YOU: PART 2

This post is a continuation of my last post, which can be summed up nicely by this quote my colleague Andrea recently posted on Instagram:

“You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.”

In that post I asked you to get in touch with all of the reasons WHY you want to keep your cup full. These are your WHYs for taking care of you: the values and people you want to nourish in your life. If you haven’t read it, it’s short, please take a moment to do so: Want to Change the World? Start by Connecting to You.

In this post I’d like to talk about WHAT self-care is for you? I think a common misconception is that self-care is all about tea and massages. These are great ways to recharge if they work for you! But personally I find going for a run or sitting around a dinner table with my friends just as nourishing as going to the spa. Last post I also suggested that you should not start with what other people tell you you should do to take care of yourself or what your inner bully tells you your “lazy butt” should do to take care of you. I think the most nourishing self-care moments are actually when we connect our actions with our values (our WHYs). So, let’s look back at those lists we created last time. Here’s my short list:

My WHYs

Who is important to me? (1)

  • My family
  • My friends
  • My colleagues

What is important to me? (1)

  • Growth
  • Hard work
  • Authenticity
  • Creativity
  • Connecting with people
  • Feeling part of something bigger than me
  • Taking care of my body
  • Being in nature
  • Freedom
  • Fun

I’ll try to give you an example of how you might try to connect your self-care actions with your WHYs in the area of health. Most of us know that exercise is an important piece of self-care, but for many of us it feels like a chore. I was in this boat for a long time. When I was a kid I played many sports, mostly just for fun, because my friends were doing them. But as I got older my friends did fewer team sports and by the age of 18 I was left sport-less. My husband is a professional athlete and when we met at the age of 20 I was inspired to get back into exercise. So, I tried to jump on the gym bandwagon. My husband spent his days at the gym, there must be something good about it right? And so I would go to the gym a few hours a week to work out and it was fine. But then slowly but surely the gym would creep down my priority list and ooops I would find myself months without going to the gym at all. Anyone recognize this pattern? And the pattern continued for years and years until near the end of my 20s when I decided I was tired of feeling bad about not going to the gym and gave up on exercise altogether. Phew what a relief! But then months later, feeling sluggish and unfit, I asked myself “is there another way?” Can I personalize this exercise thing so that I actually like it and it might stick? So I looked back and asked myself what I used to like about exercise? For many sports it was just the social aspect but there were no sports that all of my friends were doing anymore (and I’m not that good at making new friends) so that might not work. But then I realized the two sports I really loved, just for me, were horseback riding and cross-country skiing (neither of which is done in a gym, Aha!) So why did I like them? 1) Because they were both done outside, often in the forest (which connected me to nature), and 2) taking off for hours of trail riding or skiing totally disconnected me from “real life” and rejuvenated me (which gave me a sense of freedom). And so, with less time in the schedule as an adult I decided to try out something similar but more practical: running. I loved it and haven’t looked back since. What I learned is that if you turn exercise into something is meaningful to you, the motivation will come much easier.

Since then I have tried this with different aspects of my life. I’ve broken down self-care into 4 domains for myself: Health, Leisure, Work, and Relationships (1). And asked myself in each of these domains what is a meaningful self-care activity for me? Remember we can find meaning by looking to our WHYs.

Here are some of the self-care activities that work for me (my self-care WHATs):

Domain: Health
Self-care WHAT: Running
WHY: Connection to nature; feeling of freedom

Domain: Leisure
Self-care WHAT: Dinners with friends (especially outside)
WHY: Connection with people; feeling part of something bigger than myself; fun

Domain: Work
Self-care WHAT: Blocking off hours in the morning once a week for writing
WHY: Freedom; creativity

Domain: Relationships
Self-care WHAT: Long weekends up north with my husband
WHY: Connection; nature; growth as a couple, as parents; authenticity; (and freedom from the children!)

If you like the idea try it out and see how it works for you!

“Make a chore into a meaningful decision, and self-motivation will emerge.”
From the book Smarter Faster Better, by Charles Duhigg

I know I promised to talk about finding your lead domino (2) and making daily commitments to action. I did not forget. So stay tuned for part 3 of Want to change the world, start by connecting to you!


Jodie Richardson is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


References

Great book by Charles Duhigg, Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business

Check out this fun video by Dr. Russ Harris: Values vs Goals     

Intrinsic motivation is proven to help us reach our goals long-term. See: Koestner, R. (2008). Reaching One’s Personal Goals: A Motivational Perspective Focused on Autonomy. Canadian Psychology, 49(1), 60-67. 

Also see: Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation, Edward L. Deci

1. These are really great questions that Benjamin Schoendorff asks in his ACT matrix training to get at what’s truly important to people and to break down life into important domains. You can find out more about the ACT matrix here. Clinicians can check out his book: The Essential Guide to the ACT matrix.

2. Borrowing this term from Tim Ferriss and The 4 Hour Workweek

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