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Angela Spaxman, a Career and Executive Coach based in Hong Kong (and long time friend) talks about Mindfulness, and in particular about Mindfulness in the corporate world as the next big trend.  In her blog about the top benefits of mindfulness, she lists better listening ability, better moods, and in particular more control of your thinking as you are mindful of the negative thoughts that arise and take control of those thoughts by noticing them and replacing them with positive ones.

This is a perfect example of one way to control your memetic environment!

In the womb, we gently rock in a bubble of amniotic fluid.  As mothers, we rock our babies to sleep, in our arms or in a cradle.  When my babies wouldn’t sleep, we’d often put them in a car seat, and let the gentle motion of the car ride, put them to sleep.

And scientists have finally confirmed that gentle rocking (think hammock or waterbed)  propels us into sleep faster, and allows us to sleep more deeply. The Better Brain Life  blog quotes Dr. Sophie Schwartz, one of the researchers:  “The use of rocking to soothe sleep thus belongs to our repertoire of adaptive behaviors in which a natural mechanism of sleep … has been harnessed in the simplest manner since immemorial times,” wrote Dr. Schwartz and her colleagues in the report of their findings, published on June 21 in the journal Cell Biology.

There’s no question that some environments allow for better sleeping than others.  Imagine trying to sleep in a bright room, with a lumpy bed, and a jack hammer working away outside your window.  (Although I suspect my husband could do that with no problem.) It’s important to create the proper environment for sleeping, and that not only includes the absence of lighting and loud noise, and the proper bedding, it also includes creating a bedtime ritual for yourself.

It’s long been proven that children do better with a consistent bedtime ritual.  A warm bath, brush your teeth, get into fresh jammies and have mom sing you a lullaby or read you a story (or two or three.)  Adults would do well to create one as well. If you can, try going to sleep at the same time every night. Check your calendar for the next day and prepare ahead so you start the day without stress.  Wind down the day with soft music, or a bit of quiet reading. This is not the time to answer some more emails, watch the news (who decided that 11 PM was a good time for news?) or start on a new project. By doing the same thing night after night, you’re signaling your brain that it’s time for sleep.

My nightly ritual includes my nightly face ablutions, reading, and a sleep sound machine set to rain.  (And ok, I admit it, sometimes a bit of the Cooking Channel.)

Can’t get to sleep?  Try taking deep slow breaths, or doing a relaxation exercise or meditation.  Visualize a calm, peaceful place and then starting at your toes, tense all the muscles as tightly as you can, then completely relax. Work your way up from your feet to the top of your head.  If you still find yourself wide awake, don’t fight it.  Make yourself a cup of chamomile tea or warm milk, daydream about something pleasant in a dimly lit space, and then let yourself drift off into sweet slumber.

I wonder if someone will make a king-sized cradle?

Our environment effects our thoughts, and our thoughts affect our environment. Your surroundings (or Physical Environment) are composed of the tangible aspects of your life: your home, your car, your office, artwork, “toys”and nature. This environment presents observable clues of what’s going on in our lives. So if things are vibrant and going well, it’s likely your home and office reflect that.  When chaos reigns in our lives, it’s likely that clutter, damaged items, noise and chaos are reflected in our homes.

Everyone has different needs when it comes to their Physical Environment.  Some people need simplicity, some vibrant colors, and for some opulence and elegance are what they need.  Your Physical Environment can affect your creativity, your mood, motivation and even your energy.  The Chinese knew this and developed a complex system for creating an ideal environment in Feng Shui. However, you don’t need to hurry out and hire a Feng Shui consultant. Begin by figuring out what you need in your environment. What in yours is currently working for you? What’s not? Our environment  isn’t ideal when it lacks a quality we need, whether that’s nature, beauty, serenity, scented candles, or even sounds such as water or music.

And that’s not to say your environment needs to be picture perfect or ready for House Beautiful. Years ago, I was invited to someone’s home for lunch.  She had a few things she needed to complete for work, and led me into her living room to wait for her to finish.  The living room was a showpiece.    White plush carpeting, white sofas, white marble coffee table,  beautiful artwork on the walls.  All very expensive, all very sterile.  There was not an ounce of color.  The throw pillows were white, and the coffee table was bare…not a magazine or object in site.  I was almost afraid to move.  After a few minutes, I went looking for another spot to sit, and found the very cluttered den, complete with magazines, toys all over the floor and knick knacks everywhere.  I breathed a sigh of relief, and sat down.

You don’t need to do an immediate renovation, although sometimes rearranging the furniture can have an immediate impact.  Do however take some time each day to scan your physical environment.  Are there things out of place, out of date, or out of order?  Take care of them immediately.  A wise man once told the child me that “a truly lazy person will put things away immediately, because that means there will never be a huge amount of work to do all at once.”

Well designed environments can naturally increase performance, creativity and effectiveness.  They can inspire you and give you energy as well as calm you.As you walk through an area, look at your possessions and ask yourself three more questions:  Is it beautiful?  Is it useful?  Do I love it?  If you answer yes to any of those, that’s a keeper.  If you can’t answer yes, put it in a box and donate or trash it.

Now go ahead and ask yourself these questions:

Are my home, office and car clutter free?

Do my home, office and car express who I am?

Do my home and office inspire me?

Are all my possessions in good repair and up to date?

Does everything in my physical environment pass the “I love it” test?

Is there an area in my home where I feel more energized and inspired?

This morning someone sent me a video in memory of 9-11.  There it all was again. The planes hitting the towers.  The burning.  The chaos.  The faces.  All set to poignant music.  I’m sure for some, this was an appropriate way to remember, for me it was a smack in the face.

I don’t need to see this sad reminder of hate and devastation.  I knew people who died.  I am surrounded by communities that lost hundreds to this horror.  I’m no stranger to this tragedy.

I’m a bit astonished that we’re approaching the tenth anniversary of 9-11!  It’s not just that a decade has passed since that awful day, but it also marks ten years that I have not watched or listened to the news, with a few exceptions.

I was sitting at my desk that morning, when a friend called and said, “turn on the news, something has happened at the World Trade Center.”  As a result, I was watching it live as the second plane hit.  After remaining glued to the TV, for I’m not sure how long, I finally pulled myself away from it temporarily to drive the short distance to the beach where I, along to the dozens other who gathered there, watched the billowing smoke rise from the towers from afar.

For the next few days, like everyone else, I remained glued to the news whenever I was home.   I listened to speculation about what happened, watched the commentaries on how things were handled, and found myself anxious, angry and disturbed by the often conflicting information.

After a few days of this I knew I had to stop watching.  I turned off the TV, turned on some classical music, and within hours had reclaimed my equilibrium.  It was not that I was unaffected any longer, more that I had taken control of my memetic and emotional environment and chosen how I would respond.

I know someone will ask…but how do you get the news then?  How do you know what’s going on?  I see the news online of course — at sites of my choosing. I read the headlines and if I’m moved to learn more, I read the rest.  I am signed up to receive news alerts, and the husband or friends keep me abreast.  But I no longer fill my consciousness with the rapes, murders, house fires, war, starvation or the disease of the day.  I no longer listen to someone’s political agenda, spin on the news, or the continuing rhetoric and hyperbole.

In contrast, my mom has two TVs and a radio set to different news stations all day long.  She is constantly worried (and tries to tell me about it) about the economic conditions, the tainted food in some far off state, the latest pronouncement about what’s bad for you (often the exact opposite of what she heard last week.)  It causes her needless anxiety.  But she can’t stop herself, much as I try to get her to watch some mindless TV, or film, or the Food Network (my default station.)

She won’t control her memetic environment, but you can control yours.  Decide what information you will allow into your life.  It may surprise you what a difference it makes.

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