“Do a short guided meditation”, Tanya J. Peterson and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Make a list of things to do during your break that involve stepping away from what you’re doing. I have a small vase filled with craft sticks on which I’ve written quick activities such as “Run up and down the stairs one time,” “Step into another room and sip tea mindfully,” “Check in with my […]

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Make a list of things to do during your break that involve stepping away from what you’re doing. I have a small vase filled with craft sticks on which I’ve written quick activities such as “Run up and down the stairs one time,” “Step into another room and sip tea mindfully,” “Check in with my vision board,” “Go for a gratitude walk around the block,” “Enjoy 5 minutes of reading,” and “Do a short guided meditation.

As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewingTanya J. Peterson.

Tanya J. Peterson holds a Bachelor of Science degree in education, a Master of Science degree in counseling, and is credentialed by the National Board of Certified Counselors as a National Certified Counselor. Drawing from her professional and personal life experiences, Tanya writes books and articles, creates courses, and delivers presentations and workshops to help people empower themselves to both reduce obstacles like anxiety and move forward despite them to create a quality life. She draws great inspiration from her past experiences as a teacher and counselor in a traditional high school and in a nontraditional school for runaway and homeless adolescents.

Tanya has created a mental health and wellbeing course for kids ages 8–12 called Mindful Brain, Flexible Body: Wiggle Your Way Out of Your Worries and Into Your Life and a curriculum for middle and high school students called Find Yourself, Keep Yourself. Her books include 101 Ways to Stop Anxiety: Practical Ways to Find Peace; The Mindful Path Through Anxiety; The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal; The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety: The 8-Week Solution to Help You Manage Anxiety, Worry & Stress; The 5-Minute Anxiety Journal: A Creative Way to Stop Freaking Out; The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, and Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 Steps. She’s written several award-winning mental health-themed novels as well to help increase understanding, empathy, and compassion for those living with mental illness. Tanya also is a regular contributor to Choosing Therapy, a national therapist directory and online therapy platform, and writes extensively for the mental health website HealthyPlace.com, including their weekly Anxiety-Schmanxiety blog.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was an active kid. I loved to be outside doing things like riding my bike, playing softball or tennis, climbing on the jungle gym, swimming, or generally running around playing some sort of active game. I also loved to write. When I was in second grade, I wrote a story — something about forest animals — and the teacher let me share it with the class. It didn’t go over well. Some kids laughed, and others called it stupid. It bothered me, and for a long time I believed them. I thought that the things I created were dumb, and it affected my confidence. Thankfully, I never did give up my passion for it, and I loved writing papers for my classes as I progressed through school. As I discovered subjects I love and gained success, my confidence grew, and I continued to pursue things that I loved. I became first a teacher, then a counselor, and now I’m a writer sharing what I know about mental health and wellbeing with others so they can equip themselves to create their own version of a quality life. I think the fact that I loved being so active when I was a kid helps me succeed now. I still love being active, and this helps me dive in fully and do the things I need to do even when they’re hard. For me, it’s a way of engaging with life that spills over into all the things I do.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

I enjoyed teaching (I’ve been a teacher and counselor at a traditional high school and a nontraditional school for runaway adolescents), and my students inspired me to pursue a career in mental health. I became a counselor because I enjoyed talking with teens about their hopes and dreams and problem-solving ways to overcome various obstacles they were facing. I saw students face seemingly insurmountable obstacles and overcome them with support, and it was inspiring to me. I wanted to be able to work directly with people to help them develop their own inner strength and resilience to meet their goals and beat problems, so I became a counselor. When I was a teacher and later a counselor, I worked with kids who were trapped in toxic relationships, and I wanted a way to reach as many people as possible with a creative way to show them what a toxic relationship looked like so they could see the signs before things got out of control. Because I’ve always loved writing, I thought that a story might be a good vehicle to do this, and my first novel (and my only book thus far for young adults), Losing Elizabeth, was born. I’ve now shifted fully to writing (a variety of fiction and non-fiction/self-help books and articles) so I can reach and help a wide audience.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

I feel very blessed to have supportive people in my life. My parents have encouraged me to pursue my passions from the very beginning, and their encouragement and belief in me kept me going even when something seemed impossible. I’m lucky to have a spouse who believes in me and supports me rather than pressuring me. When I was a teacher, I had the good fortune to team teach a class with an experienced and talented teacher who became not just my teaching partner but my mentor, imparting insight and wisdom and providing encouragement not just about teaching but about life in general. He and I are still in contact. I treasure the texts he sends me every morning with a quick greeting and simple but powerful words of encouragement.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

When I first began writing, I worked with a publicist to help me gain some exposure by finding book reviewers and bloggers who would be willing to post honest reactions to my novels. He was a great help in finding people, and he’d include me on email threads with each reviewer so I could jump in and interact, make arrangements, etc. Most of these reviewers were incredibly nice (of course they wouldn’t promise glowing reviews, but they were very open, friendly, and encouraging). One reviewer, though, was pretty forceful and actually rather mean, bluntly stating what she considered to be beneath her very high standards. I responded to the man I was working with, telling him that this reviewer seemed closed-minded and that I was actually a little afraid of her, and I asked him to be the one to respond and decline working with her. When I received a scathing response from the reviewer, I realized to my horror that I hadn’t in fact emailed my publicist but had emailed the reviewer! I’ve learned two very valuable lessons that I take to heart to this day: first, double- and triple-check the recipient of emails before sending them, and second (and most important), if you’re writing something in an email that would make you feel mortified if it fell into the wrong hands, just delete it and write something else!

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

Believe in yourself fully and completely. You have the passion you do because it resonates deep inside of you, which means that you inherently have what it takes to accomplish it. Yes, you will have things to learn and lots of mistakes to make. Embrace these as part of the process, and always continue forward along your path. When you do encounter difficulties and mistakes (you will if you’re human and probably even if you’re not!), be gentle with yourself. Rather than thinking of them as signs of incompetence or failure, reframe them as life experiences that will make you better and better at what you’re doing. Have goals and visions, and then live one moment at a time. When you catch yourself worrying about the future, thank yourself for caring about your goal and then return your attention to your present moment and the action you can take right now to create a good moment. You’ve got this! Allow yourself to embrace that fact.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

When I was a very young child, I had a book that was called “What Good Luck, What Bad Luck.” (Or something similar). Sadly, I can’t remember the author. I can still see the illustrations in my mind, though. I remember my parents reading it to me, and we’d talk about it. Basically, the character kept encountering situations that initially appeared as either good or bad. At one point, he fell out of a plane, which was bad luck. But he had a parachute, so he was happy with his good luck. However, the parachute didn’t open — obviously, bad luck. What good luck, though, because he landed on a soft haystack! The whole book was this way, and the guy remained calm and just went with what happened. For me, this laid the foundation for a couple mindfulness concepts that are important and helpful for me today: nonjudgement and acceptance. Nothing is either all good or all bad, and when we are open to what happens, accepting things for what they are rather than judging, resisting or reacting emotionally, we position ourselves to fully experience life and to respond to things calmly and keep going no matter what obstacles we may face.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

I have many! But one of my favorites is from Jon Kabat-Zinn: “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” I think this is very empowering. It’s a great reminder that we are completely capable of dealing with challenges that come our way. We can’t always choose what happens, but we can choose our responses to them, and we are strong and capable of learning, growing, and flowing with life.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I’m very excited to be combining all my passions — teaching people about wellbeing and sharing tools and strategies for them to enhance their lives in meaningful ways, counseling people around mental health concerns, and writing. This year, I’ve had publishers release my new books, and I’ve created and published a course in wellbeing for kids ages 8–12 (but the concepts apply to all ages and the whole family!). The course addresses things like anxiety, minduless, yoga, and other healthy life habits. I am working on more books and, hopefully, courses, so I can continue to write and teach and help people create the best version of themselves and their life.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?

Habits are essential to our lives. They are actions we take to live with purpose and intention. Without habits, we tend to drift. Even if we have personal or professional goals, without healthy habits, we end up simply reacting to what happens around us and to our thoughts and feelings instead of taking the lead in creating our own lives. Of course, we can’t always take the lead or bend everyone and everything to our will; still, though, having habits to guide us allows us to respond thoughtfully to whatever comes our way. Habits are meaningful actions that allow us to be the way we want to be in any situation we encounter.

I think Colin Powell’s sentiment illustrates the importance of good habits very well: “If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.” Habits are actions, but they are more than that. They become who we are and influence everything we do.

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

The habits I’ve formed keep me mentally and physically healthy. Having habits helps me stay on track to meet my goals, and they help me feel well so I want to continue to pursue success. Healthy habits help make life enjoyable and keep my outlook realistically positive so I can face obstacles and transcend them. For me, my habits are an important part of who I am and allow me to build my life from the inside out.

I don’t want to spoil everything that follows! Therefore, I will simply say and assure everyone that every healthy habit that follows is one that I personally use in my own life for optimal wellness and success.

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

When creating habits, it’s often most effective to establish a greater purpose and goal and then list habits you want to form in order to achieve that goal. When your habits have purpose and meaning and they align with your vision of your ideal self or life, you’re more likely to commit to developing them. Having a reason for your habits helps you build and maintain them. Write down your goal, and even create a vision board (you can use a bulletin board in a prominent spot or a vision board app on your phone or computer) to keep you focused and motivated. Each morning, revisit your goal or board to remind yourself of your greater purpose, and set an intention for engaging in your habits. An intention is a simple statement that embodies a commitment to yourself to take the necessary steps to achieve your goal and create the habit.

For example, if you want to enhance your athletic performance, know and embrace your purpose. Why do you want to enhance your athletic performance? Your reason will be highly personal and thus motivating because you know you are creating good habits for yourself and your personal reason rather than to meet a generic ideal of great athletic performance. Initially, you might state that you want to perform better. Go deeper. What’s your end goal? Perhaps you want to prove to yourself (and maybe even to others who have doubted you) that you have what it takes to make a certain team. Now, you have a guiding, higher purpose. Next, break that goal into steps that will help you accomplish it — small actions you can take every day to consistently work toward your goal. To help these action steps become regular habits, set daily intentions to motivate yourself to do them. One action step and intention to engage in it might be, “Today, I will work toward my spot on the team by going to the gym and targeting my legs by doing these five lifts (and then list the specific lifts for the day).”

Also list the bad habits that are holding you back from achieving your goal. Then, start with only one negative habit to replace with one positive habit. It can be overwhelming to try to make too many changes at once. Similarly, making your habits short and sweet is more powerful than trying to make big changes in your day. For example, if you’re used to overworking and scrambling to meet deadlines, trying to take several big breaks during the day will feel stressful and impossible. Instead, start by taking just one three to five-minute break in the afternoon to reset. You can gradually increase the number of healthy habits and length of time spent on each one as you get used to how they feel in your life.

Another important key is to approach habits holistically. When developing good habits, think of the entire mind and body as one system, and create life patterns, habits, and rituals that nurture your whole “bodymind” (Deepak Chopra and Rudolph Tanzi use the term bodymind in their books The Healing Self and Super Genes, explaining that it’s more accurate than the concept “mind-body connection,” as the latter still implies that mind and body are separate components). To use the above example involving improved athletic performance, concentrate on only your muscle strength by lifting weights leaves out the rest of your system. Developing small habits that optimize your entire being, your whole self, helps you reach your goals more efficiently and completely. As you gradually add healthy habits to your routine, incorporate total wellness — such as nutrition, sleep, and stress management.

When you are guided by a sense of purpose and when you address your whole self, your habits are easier to establish and more effective in helping you reach your goal.

Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.

The same core guidelines underlie habits in each of these three important life areas. As mentioned (it’s so important that it bears repeating!), when creating new habits to replace unhealthy habits in order to achieve optimum wellness, it’s important to define your purpose, set daily intentions, incorporate your total self, your entire bodymind, and approach habit-building in small, manageable steps.

A good habit for wellness is mindful eating. This combines two important components of total wellbeing: mindfulness, which is giving your present moment your full attention — focusing on things you can take in with your senses rather than on negative thoughts and emotions — and eating nutritiously to nourish your entire bodymind. The good habit of choosing healthy foods can help us equip ourselves with the right nutrients and avoid putting things into our bodies that hinder the way we function and feel. Mindful eating means eating without distraction, paying attention to the act of taking in food. Watching TV, being on our phones, or trying to work while we eat can increase stress and contribute to overeating. Slowing down to enjoy a nutritious meal helps us feel well and remain powered up to face what’s next. Setting an intention such as, “Today, I will make a healthy sandwich for lunch rather than buying fast food, and I will take a 15 minute break to enjoy it without distractions,” can help you practice and stick to this habit for wellness.

Another essential habit for wellness is deep breathing. When we’re stressed, we often begin to breathe shallowly and more rapidly without even realizing it. This reduces the amount of oxygen the brain receives, and it causes the brain to react as if there is an imminent danger; consequently, it puts us into fight-flight-or-freeze mode, which increases our sensation of stress. This is hard on both our physical and mental health. The simple act of pausing regularly to breathe slowly and deeply can keep the brain from starting and maintaining the stress reaction. Deep breathing quiets the sympathetic nervous system to stop the fight-flight-or-freeze reaction and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the one often called rest and digest. When you make slow, deep breathing a habit, you maintain a sense of calm and wellbeing even in the face of stress.

A third habit for wellness is creating time for relaxation and enjoyment. Setting aside time every day to do something enjoyable helps our whole being let go of the rush and stress of daily tasks and engage in something just for fun. This gives the mind a rest from overthinking and the body a break from its repetitive tasks of the day. This doesn’t have to be fancy or time-consuming. It might involve an evening stroll, reading in a comfortable chair, pursuing a hobby, connecting with a friend or loved one — anything that offers a shift away from duties and provides some joy. An intention to help you do this could be something like, “Tonight after dinner, I’ll relax in my favorite chair and get lost in music.”

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Once you have the habits you wish to develop in mind, list specific action steps you can do to help implement them. Remember, though, that trying to break a bad habit and/or start a new one all at once can be difficult. Give yourself time to develop your first habit gradually, getting used to each step and integrating it into your daily routine. As one step becomes routine, add more to it. Then, you can do the same process to build your next healthy habit.

Building on the above-mentioned habits for wellness, action steps to consider include:

  • Brainstorming a list of healthy foods you like to eat
  • Replacing one unhealthy food with a healthier alternative for one meal a day (If, for example, you are accustomed to grabbing fast food for lunch every day, start to improve your nutrition by eliminating french fries and replacing them with a crunchy vegetable you can eat like a french fry, like carrot or celery sticks. If this is difficult, try reducing the amount of fries you eat and adding just a few vegetables.)
  • Picking one meal to eat mindfully, with no distractions.
  • Setting a timer on your phone to sound every hour. When it rings, pause for one minute and take several slow, deep breaths. Gradually increase the frequency and time spent breathing.
  • Listing some activities you enjoy, have enjoyed in the past, or have wanted to try
  • Picking one simple activity, something that is easy to do, and setting aside a specific time of day to do it. Gradually increase the time you spend doing it, and mix it up with different activities from your list to keep it fresh and pleasurable.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.

Meditation does wonders for enhancing performance. This is the formal practice of quieting and focusing the mind, and it’s powerful in honing our mental abilities so we can be sharp and perform well without mental distractions. There are different types of meditation, and the practice often involves sitting quietly for a set period of time and attending to one thing such as the breath, a motivating word or phrase, or a sound. To be most effective, meditation is done regularly, incorporated as a habit into daily routine. It can be done any time of day, but it’s often a great way to begin the day as it creates a positive mental mindset for heightened performance. Soon after rising, sit in a chair or on the floor in a cross-legged position in a quiet room, close your eyes, and begin to focus on the sound and feel of your breath. Begin to repeat a mantra that is meaningful and motivational to you, and when your mind wanders, simply notice it and return your attention to your phrase. Be patient with yourself as you develop a meditation practice, as meditation can be difficult. Remember that it’s not a single session that enhances performance but the cumulative benefits of meditating as a regular habit. To help, set an intention as you go to bed at night, reminding yourself, “I will start tomorrow positively and with purpose by meditating for 10 minutes when I wake up.” Of course, choose the amount of time that works for you, beginning with short amounts of time (even less than five minutes) and gradually increasing it as you build your healthy meditation habit.) Guided meditations are often very helpful when you’re first learning to meditate and forming the habit. Find free ones on apps like Insight Timer or Calm, or on Mindful.org.

To enhance your performance in any endeavor, getting into the habit of doing yoga daily is often helpful. Yoga is a mindful movement practice involving the union of mind and body that yields tremendous mental and physical benefits. Yoga helps reduce stress and calm our entire system: brain, mind (thoughts and feelings), and body. Further, it increases both physical and mental flexibility. Forming the habit of doing even short yoga sessions, perhaps 10 to 20 minutes first thing in the morning (or at a time that is convenient for you) can be both relaxing and energizing, boosting your mental and physical health. This boost, in turn, can enhance performance in your everyday tasks. You can find free yoga videos on YouTube (my personal favorite and one I do daily is Yoga with Adriene). To facilitate this habit, you might set this intention before going to bed: “I will wake up 15 minutes earlier in the morning so I can practice yoga to prepare my whole bodymind for my best mental and physical performance through the day.”

For optimal performance in any area, the body needs sleep (seven to nine hours is the recommended amount for adults). When pursuing a goal, it’s tempting to work harder and longer, forgoing sleep for the sake of productivity and progress. However, getting enough sleep is essential for productivity and progress. Every cell in our body needs a chance to rest and rejuvenate. When we give ourselves the opportunity to do this through proper sleep, we are more productive, accomplishing more in fewer hours. Restorative sleep can also help prevent setbacks like injury or burn-out. When I was first starting out in my career as a writer, sleep was my lowest priority. To juggle deadlines, family, and other aspects of my life, I’d stay up late and wake up early, operating on just three or four hours of sleep. Initially, it seemed necessary and productive, but it caught up with me. Lack of sleep affected my physical and mental health, and it negatively impacted my performance. I made a conscious decision to develop the habit of healthy sleep, and it has made a noticeable difference in my performance and total wellbeing.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

To develop healthy meditation, yoga, and sleep habits, incorporate small steps into your current routine, such as:

  • Setting aside just 10 minutes a day at a regular time to either do yoga or meditate (start with the one that resonates with you, and when you’ve begun to do it regularly, add the other)
  • Gradually increasing the amount of time you spend with the habit, adding five minutes every few days or so
  • Going to bed 15 minutes earlier every few days until you are sleeping at least seven hours at a time
  • Facilitating quality sleep by limiting your screen (computer, phone, and television) time in the two hours before going to bed to give your brain a break from the stimulation (replace screen time with other relaxing, enjoyable hobbies)
  • Creating go-to list of yoga videos you enjoy to make it easy to select something and begin immediately (search YouTube for programs or try apps for your phone or computer, and experiment to find ones you prefer)
  • Compiling a list of motivating mantras and placing it in your meditation space so you can select a phrase to silently repeat as you meditate in order to set your tone for your performance

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.

One of the most powerful tools for optimal focus is mindfulness. Mindfulness is similar to meditation (discussed above as a healthy habit for performance), but it stands on its own. While mediation refers to a formal, often seated practice done for a set period of time, mindfulness can be that plus more. Mindfulness can be done “on the go” and can be the way you approach life. Mindfulness is focus. It’s paying attention to what you are doing in the moment you’re in. With mindfulness, you use one or more of your senses to concentrate on your task at hand. It’s a deep level of engagement. When you set a goal to complete a certain task, you can commit to giving it your complete attention while you are working on it. You might promise yourself, “As I work on this project, I promise to pay attention to what I’m doing and stay focused on it. If I think of something else I need to do or someone I need to talk to, I will simply make a note of it and then stay present with my project.” It’s often easier to stay focused when you ground yourself by noting the details of what you see or the nuances of related sounds like the sound of your keyboard as you productively work away at your computer. Know that mindfulness doesn’t mean that your attention won’t wander. It means that when it does, you purposefully return your focus to what you’re doing. The next habit helps with that.

Tuning into yourself (as opposed to your surroundings) and mindfully noticing your actions and/or distractions is a great habit to improve focus and concentration. The human brain becomes distracted very easily, especially when we try to multitask. Before we know it, we’ve tumbled down rabbit hole after rabbit hole and stray far from our task at hand. Knowing what you want to accomplish in a given time period (an afternoon, for example) and keeping a visual reminder of that task can help you know when you’ve strayed off course. As soon as you notice yourself off task, pause and reset by taking a few deep breaths to refocus, and then return to your project and give it your full attention. An intention to help you do this might be, “Today I will catch myself being off task, step away from my desk to take three slow, deep breaths to reset and refocus, and then return to my project and pay attention to what I’m doing.”

Take regular breaks. It may seem counterintuitive, but taking breaks helps you be more focused and less distracted. When you give yourself a chance to back up a bit and shift gears, you can return to your task at hand with renewed vigor and ability to concentrate. Breaks don’t have to be long. Even just a few minutes away from your workspace with your attention relaxed can offer the rejuvenation necessary to sustain focus when you return to what you’re doing. Be intentional about your breaks, doing something to give your mind a rest in order to strengthen it. Use breaks to fuel your bodymind with something nutritious, move your muscles with a very short walk or stretch, look at photos or images that remind you of your purpose, think about something for which you’re grateful that keeps you going, or simply take a few deep breaths. I used to find breaks stressful, and I believed they would make me less productive. Now that they’re a habit, though, I relish them and their ability to improve my concentration. Admittedly, there are days when I don’t purposefully take breaks, and by mid-afternoon, I feel more frazzled, less focused, and less productive. Taking breaks really does help rather than hinder your forward progress.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

  • Practice mindfulness often as you go about each day no matter what you’re doing. Actively notice sights, sounds, textures, smells, and tastes (when applicable). This trains your brain to tune in and focus on something, anything, in the here-and-now, which teaches it to do it when you need to concentrate on a project.
  • During a short break, engage in a quick 5–4–3–2–1 mindfulness exercise: Note 5 sights, 4 sounds, 3 textures, 2 smells, and one taste (pop in a mint and concentrate on it, for example)
  • Set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself to take a break. Start with just one per day, and gradually increase the number. If you’re worried about unintentionally spending too long on your break, also set an end alarm. If you only want your initial breaks to be two minutes, that’s fine. That’s still a break, and it will help build your healthy habit.
  • Make a list of things to do during your break that involve stepping away from what you’re doing. I have a small vase filled with craft sticks on which I’ve written quick activities such as “Run up and down the stairs one time,” “Step into another room and sip tea mindfully,” “Check in with my vision board,” “Go for a gratitude walk around the block,” “Enjoy 5 minutes of reading,” and “Do a short guided meditation.”

As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

Flow is a very real concept that is an important component of wellbeing. It comes to us primarily from the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and the field of positive psychology. A state of flow is a state of mindfulness, where all of our attention is on what we are engaged in at that moment. All other thoughts and emotions drift away. We’re not stuck in anxieties about the past or future, we’re not multitasking, and we’re not criticizing our work as we’re doing it. We’re fully flowing with the work. Just as there’s no true separation between mind and body, in flow there’s no separation between ourselves and the activity. The more often you can experience flow, the better it is for your overall wellbeing, so I encourage you to explore and discover what helps you create flow and then make that activity (or activities) a habit so flow can be a regular part of your life experience. Flow isn’t something that can be forced, so first and foremost, discover what brings you joy and is just challenging enough to prevent both boredom and frustration. This can be work or leisure activities. Then, let yourself enjoy them by being mindful and nonjudgmental while you’re doing them. When you catch yourself caught up in unrelated thoughts or feelings, gently return your attention to what you’re doing with a sense of gratitude that you have the opportunity right now to be doing it. The more you enjoy the activity, the easier it is to be present with it; the more present you are, the less preoccupied you are with other things and the more you are in flow.

For me, flow often occurs when I’m writing about a topic I’m passionate about and that doesn’t feel tedious or incredibly difficult. (That doesn’t mean that I don’t ever write about things that are tedious or difficult. That’s part of life! I just don’t experience flow in those situations.) When I’m in flow, time flies and distractions melt away, and whatever I’m writing seems to write itself. Of course, I don’t think about being in flow while I’m engaged this way because then I wouldn’t be in flow. With flow, you simply are doing what you’re doing. It’s only later that you realize that you were in flow. Then, acknowledge it, relish in the experience, and set an intention to do more of what creates this flow in your life.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I think a movement for joy would be a very good thing for the world. Joy encompasses so much: happiness, gratitude, inner peace, lightheartedness, meaning, success, and more. I like to say that en-JOY is an action verb, and I try to help people develop strategies so they can take action to experience joy in their own lives. Joy doesn’t mean the absence of problems and difficulties. Joy is experiencing positivity in spite of problems and difficulties. To be joyful requires mindfulness, so I would definitely incorporate mindfulness into my movement. When we’re living in our minds, we’re caught up in thoughts about our lives, especially the past or the future, and sadly, those thoughts are often negative or anxious. When we’re living in our present moment, mindfully attending to what is real and tangible right now and finding things that are right and gratitude-worthy amidst challenge and chaos, we create true joy. Imagine how we could treat and help ourselves and each other if we were all operating from a place of joy!

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

I would absolutely love to meet and share a meal (or just a cup of tea) and conversation with Sharon Salzberg. Her work in meditation, mindfulness, compassion (for self and world), and being in life amidst problems is so incredibly inspiring. I’ve never had the opportunity to attend her workshops, retreats, or other events in person, but I’ve attended online events featuring Salzberg. Even through a screen, she radiates peaceful presence and compassion and an ease of being amidst stress and difficulties. Sharon Salzberg seems genuine and authentic. We seem to share similar philosophies, beliefs, and approaches to life, and to meet her would be awe-inspiring.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I love to connect with people! The easiest way to find and reach me is through my website, tanyajpeterson.com. From there, anyone can just follow the links to my various social media accounts and/or explore the site to find links to my books and course for kids.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

I’ve really enjoyed this opportunity to share some insights on healthy habits. Thank you so much for this great opportunity!

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