Three Mindfulness Exercises You Can Try Right Now!

Mindfulness is all the rage these days. Within the last twelve months, I’ve found John Kabat-Zinn, the ‘father’ of mindfulness practice in the US, quoted or referenced in a self-help book[1], a birthing book[2], a parenting book[3], and a business-coaching book[4]!

According to the Wikipedia article on Mindfulness, “The practice of mindfulness involves being aware moment-to-moment, of one’s subjective conscious experience from a first-person perspective.[5]

Last week we talked about the concept of ‘quieting the mind’ and we mentioned how engaging our “Task Positive Network” can help us do that.  Because the Task Positive Network contains regions of the brain that operate both the ‘Internal Sensor’ and the ‘External Sensor,’[6] engaging it is one way of bringing us solidly into the present.

As noted above, one primary goal of Mindfulness is also to bring us to the present moment. A former meditation teacher I had summed up the reason for doing that perfectly. She said, “We can’t change the past and we can’t change the future, the now is the only time where we can actually effect change.”

We can only change the now, and yet many of us are a bit lost in our Default Mode Network; rehashing events and conversations of the past or planning the future. Although there’s nothing better for developing present-moment awareness than establishing a regular sitting meditation practice, some people are simply not ready.

In light of that, here are three easy ways to bring ‘Mindfulness’ into your daily experience without sitting criss-cross applesauce or saying a single Ohm;

Mindful Walking

You might be surprised by how much you walk each day. There is a type of meditation, walking meditation, in the mindfulness / insight canon. This typically requires walking v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y and bringing attention to each individual movement associated with the simple act of walking.

While I certainly recommend everyone try it at least once, it isn’t necessary to have done walking meditation to practice mindful walking. When we practice mindful walking, we aren’t trying to change anything about our walk – we’re just observing it.

We can observe ourselves walking in a myriad of ways – one of the reasons why mindful walking is such a pleasure to do! For example, when we walk we can bring our awareness to the bottoms of our feet. We can wonder at the difference in sensation when our feet our connected to the Earth or when they are ‘in the air’ between steps.

It’s winter here in Chicago and I practice mindful walking over the ice and snow! Bringing my awareness to the bottoms of my feet as I step on new-fallen snow has certainly saved me from slipping more than once.

When the bottoms of our feet get a bit boring, we can bring attention to the cadence of our walk; the rhythm. Do we walk to a type of beat? Is it even or irregular? When we walk very slowly (as with walking meditation) it can be hard to keep our balance, yet when we walk at our regular speed we find balance in the momentum of our walk.

When we watch a child learning to walk, one of their biggest challenges is determining how to distribute weight optimally – this isn’t a mental challenge, but a physical one. Most of us have been walking so long we take this natural shift in weight for granted. Spending a few moments just observing that beautiful balance we find when we walk at our natural speed can be a lovely exercise in present moment awareness.

If those two ideas aren’t enough, we can draw our attention to our various muscle groups when we walk. How does it feel to walk just bringing awareness to our thighs, for example? Or our glutes? What if we focus on our shoulders as our arms swing back and forth?

Mindful Eating

How often do we “multi-task” eating? We grab something to-go, sit at our desk (or wherever) and chow it down while we work, surf the internet, or do anything but actually pay attention to the food in front of us!

When we eat a meal ‘mindfully’ we’re bringing our awareness to this under-appreciated activity. Similar to mindful walking, there are many ways to eat a meal mindfully. In her book Mindful Birthing, Nancy Bardacke describes an exercise of mindfully eating a raising while we think of everything that had to come together to put that raisin in front of us; the farmer growing the grape, the drying of the grapes into raisins, the distributors bringing the raisins to a store, etc.

I confess, this isn’t my favorite way to mindfully eat – as it still keeps me in my head, but it is one option and certainly something to try. The other ‘mindful eating’ exercise is more sensory in nature.   We bring our awareness to the texture and taste of what we’re eating. We can attend to our muscles as we chew – some foods require so much chewing that our jaw may get sore!

I have found, when I eat meals mindfully, I start to really notice how they taste! Too often, I’ve purchased ‘food’ items that are over before I’ve even appreciated the taste of them; a donut, for example. When we eat ‘unconsciously’ we’re less satisfied.

When we eat mindfully, in contrast, when we bring our full attention to how food actually tastes, we may notice when all we’re eating is just sugar or fat versus a meal with depth of flavor. A candy bar is more enticing, but when we eat mindfully – we may find that a raw red pepper has a more full-bodied experience to offer.

Mindful Posture

Posture is something we can always ‘check in’ on – in fact, you can do it right now! When we mindfully attend to our posture we can notice if we’re slouching, or tensing our shoulders or neck muscles. Many of us unconsciously tense up while we’re working – the more often we bring attention to this, the more likely we are to relax those muscles regularly and save ourselves from soreness later.

It takes less than a minute to bring awareness to our posture. Although there aren’t as many different avenues of awareness as found with mindful walking or eating, it is such a fast and easy check that we can do it at any time; in a meeting, sitting at our desk, even lying in bed at night!

A ‘posture check’ would be an easy alarm to set for a few times a day on a cell-phone. After only a few instances, your mind will be conditioned, when the alarm goes off to start automatically bringing attention to your posture.

Closing Comments

I hope one day you start a regular meditation practice. Scientific studies on the benefits of meditation on our health and well-being are piling up. However, even if you are unable to bring regular sitting meditation into your life at this time, the tips in this post can be a way to start bringing more mindfulness into your daily life.

 

Tune in next Wednesday when we start a five part series on Energy, a concept I have referred to often on the blog.

 

References & Footnotes

[1] Thanks for the Feedback , Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen, Penguin, March 2015

[2] Mindful birthing, Nancy Bardacke, Harper One, July 2012

[3] Getting to Calm, The Early Years Laura Kastner, ParentMap, August 2015

[4] Coaching Agile Teams; Lyssa Adkins, Addison-Wesley Professional, May 2010

[5][5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness#cite_note-Baer_defines2-1

[6] Reference, Mindfulness MD

What does it mean to ‘Quiet the Mind’ and How do we Do it?

If you’ve experimented with meditation at all, you’re probably familiar with one of the proposed goals; to ‘quiet the mind.’ The mind doesn’t make any noise, though, so what does this cryptic directive mean?

To help us find an answer, we’ll look to an interesting source; science 🙂 – neuroscience to be specific. Two specific brain networks tend to show up in scientific studies on meditation; the Task Positive Network (TPN) and the Default Mode Network (DMN)

The Task Positive Network represents the regions of the brain that are engaged and communicating with each other when we are actively engaged in a task. Meditation can be one example of such task. In contrast, what’s known as the Default Mode Network is often active when we’re not actively engaged in a task.

The Default Mode Network is responsible for some really important aspects of humanity like self-reflection and empathy. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to learn from our mistakes or experience compassion.

On the other hand, when the Default Mode Network is too active it tends to cause effects like mind-wandering, obsessing over the past and future, and over-analyzing one’s own or others actions.

Unsurprisingly, an overly active Default Mode Network is associated with depression and anxiety disorders. Several studies on meditation have shown that practitioners can change the way their brain operates in relation to these two networks – even when they’re not meditating[1].

For many of us, the Default Mode Network is active often throughout the day, perhaps even when we’re performing routine tasks that don’t require our concentration or attention. This is responsible for what we think of as ‘mental chatter’ and is the very activity we are trying to reduce or suspend when we ‘quiet the mind.’

Many meditation traditions start practitioners with ‘breath meditation’ a minute-to-learn exercise that has us draw our attention to various aspects of the breath. As noted earlier, our intense focus on the breath pulls us out of our Default Mode Network and engages the Task Positive Network. I love breath meditation. For a beginning meditator, however, a directive to ‘focus on the breath’ may not be enough to anchor our attention.

Although all meditation practices that use breath meditation as a starting point emphasize that the expectation is not that individuals will be able to solely focus on the breath for the entire meditation, that part of the point is to train the attention to keep coming back to the breath. Even so, the experience may be frustrating for beginners if breath meditation is the only tool in their kit.

Below are a few ideas to help supplement your meditation practice (or help you start one if you haven’t yet).

Start by finding something that requires intense focus

Provided we don’t live an overly sedentary lifestyle, we can probably think of some activities that require our active concentration. Playing a sport or an instrument, driving in the snow, and cooking might be some examples. The key is that these activities must require our active attention. Cooking a recipe we’ve made a hundred times before may not qualify.

If you’re struggling to come up with an idea, remember that doing something new, especially an activity that requires you to pay attention to your surroundings may be a good place to start. I believe this is why many people find intense physical activity to be mentally cathartic – it gets us out of our heads for awhile.

In high school gymnastics, we girls noticed that we best performed our routines when we simply doing. After a slip-up, a teammate would often explain by saying, “I started thinking.”

Try to notice when you aren’t thinking. When you have found one – or more – activities that put you into this ‘zone,’ look for ways to bring them into your daily routine. Even though you aren’t actively ‘meditating’ you’ll be increasing the amount of time overall that you spend with a ‘quiet mind’ and this can help bring your Task Positive Network and Default Mode Network in balance.

Expanding on the Quiet Mind

Once you’ve found an activity that ‘quiets’ your mind, try to expand on it. Try to ‘catch’ yourself ‘not-thinking’ and then immediately pull your attention to the breath to gently hold (or ‘be in’) that open, silent space.

If you catch yourself ‘not-thinking’ you may think Oh No! Now I’m noticing I’m not thinking – I’m going to start thinking again. Don’t panic! J You can re-engage your quiet mind my bringing your awareness to a particular aspect of whatever activity has engaged your attention.

Are you cooking? Bring your awareness to the smells around you – don’t worry about categorizing them, or identifying them, or determining whether you ‘like’ or ‘don’t like’ them; just smell them. Bring your awareness to the temperatures around you. Are your hands warm? Are your feet cold? Focus on stirring a pot or allow yourself to watch the bubbles rise in a boiling pot of water for a few moments.

Maybe you are engaged in a more active pursuit; playing a sport, for example. You can expand on a quiet mind during physical activity by bringing your awareness to your body. What muscles are being used? How do your feet move? Or your hands? What is your breathing like – fast? Halted? Are there sounds of shoes on a gym floor, squeaking? Clothing rustling? People yelling?

We sometimes think of meditation as a mental activity, but it’s actually the opposite. In my experience, meditation brings us out of our heads and into contact with our present existence – an experience that is largely sensory in nature.

Two areas associated with the ‘Task Positive Network’ in the brain are the “Internal Sensor” and the “External Sensor.” Thus, if we’re using our senses, if we’re actually paying attention to the information they bring in, our mind will automatically quiet down.

Using a ‘Visual Aide’ during Meditation may help

If you’ve tried the first two ideas successfully, but are still struggling with an actual sitting meditation, you might try a visual aide. When my mind is churning during a sitting or breath meditation and wants to rehash events of the day, I visualize a point of mist expanding outward and gently ‘pushing’ thoughts to the side.

I keep my concentration on the central point where the mist expands from, rather than on the boundaries where all the thoughts are. Another angle on this same concept would be to imagine water droplets in the center of a still pond, the ripples of the waves pushing thoughts to the outer reaches.

If it feels more relevant or powerful, the expansion can be tied to exhalation. Each exhalation gently pushing thoughts further and further to the outer reaches.

By focusing on the point from which expansion starts, the mind has an image to work with. As the mist or water expands from the center, the ‘open’ space in the mind, too, feels larger, more spacious and free.

I know that many mindfulness experts instruct the beginner to ‘watch’ the thoughts without attaching to them. The phrase “Let them come and let them go” comes to mind. That’s fine. If that works for you, by all means keep doing it.

In my personal experience with meditation, however, having thoughts running around in my head gets in the way of a deep personal connection with my energy and my body. For me, thoughts are not all that helpful during meditation so I prefer to just move them out of the way altogether. Some find there way in here and there, but largely it’s quiet.

If you have difficulty not attaching to your thoughts during meditation, you might want to try some variations of the practices listed here and see if they help.

[1] See information from the NIH and a particularly good post about this here.

Find Lasting Love – Step 3 – See THEM

Welcome to Part three of this three part series on finding lasting love. If you haven’t read the first two installments of the series, I highly recommend doing so as the elements build on each other.

One of the biggest obstacles to a happy, lasting relationship can be that our own insecurities (as covered in step 1), and filters (as covered in step 2) get in the way of even seeing someone else for who they are. If we’re hiding behind our own walls, how can we possibly see anyone else?

Whether we are looking for new love or in a long-term relationship, if we can’t see our partner, we can’t engage with them in a meaningful and fulfilling way. Our fears and insecurities as well as filters inform many of our emotional interactions. All of our relationships are impacted by this, but since our love relationships are often characterized by emotional interactions, they tend to see the heaviest impact.

We should expect that our partner (or potential partner) has just as many fears, insecurities, and filters as we do. Perhaps a previous partner told them they were a boring lover and now they’ve researched every kama sutra position and aphrodisiac there is. No one will ever call them boring again!

Meanwhile, you’re thinking I don’t want to do gymnastics in bed! Can’t we just have sex? Or perhaps you’re even intimidated by all this expertise – what if they think you’re boring? When both partners are operating from a place of pre-existing (or even newfound) insecurities and fears without sharing them with each other, it’s a recipe for discontent.

Before we go further, though, a gentle warning. Seeing our partner for the whole person that they are is not the same as psycho-analyzing their every action and delivering a diagnosis with little to no input from them. ‘Seeing’ your partner is not an excuse to avoid a difficult conversation, it’s an invitation to have one.

‘Seeing’ your partner is recognizing they have their own fears and insecurities about the relationship and creating a space in which you can share that information with each other. Obviously, in a brand new relationship this would be heavy first-date conversation, so it’s enough in such a case to be aware that your date is a human being who comes to the situation with their own “baggage” and that what they carry is no less valid than your own “baggage.”

If we want to see our partner clearly, we need to train ourselves to enhance our observations of behavior and reduce the ‘spin’ our own filters and fears put on them. In Marshall Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication, he notes that, “Judgments of others are alienated expressions of our own unmet needs.”

He goes on to say,

“When we express our needs indirectly through the use of evaluations, interpretations, and images, others are likely to hear criticism. And when people hear anything that sounds like criticism, they tend to invest their energy in self-defense or counterattack.” [1]

If we’re going to change the way we see our partner, we must do more than change the way we communicate – we must change the way we think. We need to train ourselves, internally, to separate behaviors from our interpretations of them independently of when we feel a need to talk to our partner about a particular behavior.

This way, when we do feel a need to communicate on a behavior, we can approach from a point of open curiosity not because we’re trying to lead them to a particular point, but because we genuinely feel that curiosity – “I notice that you do ‘x,’ why is that?” This is an invitation for both partners to understand more about each other, versus one partner having a particular ‘view’ of a behavior that they are trying to ‘help’ the other person understand – no matter how compassionately phrased.

It’s important to me that you know, as a reader, that I do not share this advice from a superior position. All three of these steps are continual work I have to do in my own relationships; all of my relationships. Sometimes I do this really well, sometimes I fail miserably. I feel good about myself for trying, though, and that’s the key thing to take away from this series – the importance of making an effort.

Early on in our marriage, my husband used to wake up on Saturday mornings and agonize about the state of our apartment. “This place is a disaster, we need to be cleaning right now.” I would look around totally dumbfounded, there was nothing different about the ‘mess’ we had on Saturday morning versus Friday night – or Monday afternoon for that matter.

We had many, many weekend arguments about this until one day, after a particularly tumultuous fight-and-make-up series I observed, “You know, I notice this only happens on Saturday mornings. Is there something particular about Saturday mornings that causes an acute sensitivity in this area? Why don’t we have this same fight on like a Tuesday evening, for example?”

After some quiet reflection, my husband shared that when his family moved to this country, because they could no longer afford a maid, his mom would get the whole family up in a frenzy on Saturday morning and they would spend the early part of the day cleaning. Subconsciously, when he saw our apartment as a mess on Saturday mornings, he felt anxiety that we weren’t following this cleaning pattern he had become accustomed to.

That was one half of the mystery. It takes two to fight though – why did I resist his impulse so strongly? The apartment was a mess, why didn’t I just accommodate his wish to spend the Saturday morning hours cleaning?

I shared, for my part, that on the Saturday mornings I grew up with the family slept in and took it easy. It was the first day of the weekend after a long week of school or work and the last thing we did was more work at home. So I had been reluctant to give up what I viewed as my relaxation time.

The important thing to note is that this was also a pattern. These two conflicting patterns, meeting on Saturday mornings, triggered many explosions.

Once we had come to these realizations about our own behavior, we were able to choose how to move forward. I agreed that the apartment could benefit from more frequent cleaning and my husband agreed it would be nice to relax on Saturday mornings. Once we had freed ourselves from these unconscious influences, we never fought about cleaning on a Saturday morning again.

The exercise for this week is a bit more long-range than the two previous installments. Over the next few days and weeks make an effort to observe your partner. Not judge, just observe. Try not to creep them out! J

How do they get up in the morning? Do they seem well rested or always tired? How do they come home from work? Energized and happy? Disappointed and drained? How do they interact with you? How do they interact with others? What are their regular habits and how comfortable do they feel breaking those?

I can’t say this enough (because we all do it naturally), but really try to avoid judging or interpreting. For example, we want to avoid moving from “My partner hasn’t done the dishes in the month we’ve been together” to “My partner is lazy.” The first is an observation of a behavior, the second is a judgment on the cause of that behavior.

The goal of this exercise is not to deliver any kind of evaluation, but to start really seeing your partner in an effort to understand them better.

Even better than just watching your partner is to watch yourself watching your partner. Notice when you have an emotional reaction (especially a negative one) and ask yourself why you feel that way. You may find connections to some of the fears, insecurities, and filters identified in the first two exercises.

It can be invaluable to have this exchange with yourself before you address a behavior with your partner as it will allow you to explain to them “where you’re coming from” versus representing your viewpoint as an objective or obvious “truth” that they seem to be ignorant of.

Keep in mind that, at heart, most people don’t really want to be seen at this level of detail. At least, not by just anyone. However, if you see your partner from a point of love and compassion and not-at-all from a point of superiority, they probably won’t mind being seen so much.

All’s fair, though, and you can’t see them while hiding yourself. If you allow them to see you with just as much clarity and openness, the two of you will have the foundation for a relationship where love is supported by the kind of learning, growth, and sharing that makes relationships last.

I hope you found reading this series worthwhile and maybe found a tool here or there to try in your own quest for love or in an existing relationship. This post was inspired by my own experience with relationships, but the books Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen and Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg provided an excellent and helpful framework for organizing and thinking about my own relationship experience. I can feel their influence in the series overall and this post specifically. I highly recommend those books if you are looking for a more thorough and well-developed structure for the ideas in this series.

[1] Both quotes come from Rosenberg, Marshall Nonviolent Communication loc 1234 on Kindle

Find Lasting Love – Step 2 – Clear Your Filters

Note: This is part two in a three part series on finding lasting love, if you haven’t already read it, please see last week’s post. Each step builds upon the previous one

Roughly ten years ago, I was in a very bad place. My marriage was on the rocks and I was terribly unhappy in it. Whether or not my husband and I would stay together was, at least for me, a day to day question. Then I heard some advice I really took to heart and it changed our relationship for the better, forever.

I can’t recall whether it came from the pages of a book, the sounds of the radio, or if I overheard it in a conversation, but the advice was this, “Never let your idea of marriage, get in the way of your actual marriage.” This stopped me short. It was exactly what I had been doing, not just during this tumultuous period, but for our entire marriage.

I had all these ideas about what married life would or should be like and I constantly compared our marriage to them. When it became obvious our relationship was not going to be the idyllic love cocoon I’d imagined, disappointment, self-doubt, and depression set in.

I was angry with myself (Why wasn’t I attractive enough? Loveable enough?) and angry with him (Why did he act one way when we were dating, but differently now that we were together full-time?)

Idea Overload

The ideas we have about love, or anything really, can become like filters. An applicable definition of filter here comes from the Merriam Webster online dictionary, “Something that has the effect of a filter (as by holding back elements or modifying the appearance…)”

We think love, a relationship, a marriage, should flow along particular lines and the occurrences and behaviors that align with those pass through the filter. Everything else positive is left at the curb. In contrast, we use the events, ideas, and occurrences that don’t align with our ideas as evidence for what is not working about the relationship.

This can be unhelpful for either finding a new partner or for the longevity of an existing relationship

The concept of clearing our filters builds on last week’s exercise in self-love. Not only do we have many fears and insecurities about ourselves in love and relationships (the focus of last week’s post), but we also have many ideas about how the relationship itself should be. Sometimes these can be completely independent of our fears and insecurities (although you’ll undoubtedly find some influence of your fears and insecurities on your filters).

Maybe we think our partner should do everything with us, or conversely, we think they should let us be free to live our own life and do many things without them. Maybe we think a good relationship is characterized by lots of sex, or copious cuddling, long walks on the beach, or lots of intelligent conversation.

Regardless of what we think, these are our ideas of what makes a good relationship and not objective truths. Any partner we meet is going to come to the relationship with their own ideas of what makes a good relationship. Many of these, on both sides, will be hidden from view until after the honeymoon period is over.

Get a Heart Exam

One thing we can do to combat the detrimental effects our ideas of relationships have on our actual relationships, is to start looking at those ideas with a clear mind and eye. Take a moment to write down everything you can think of that makes a ‘good’ relationship or an ‘ideal’ partner. I recommend avoiding generalities like “mutual trust and affection” and being as specific as you can.

For example, do partners in a good relationship share the chores? Do they avoid nagging each other about housework completely? Should your partner take care of all the housework? Should you? Do partners in a good relationship allow opposite sex friendships? Do they not? How are finances handled? Should you or your partner take care of making sure the bills get paid and the mail gets opened? What about cooking? Eating? Political alignment? Etc.

As you can see, there are lots and lots of ideas that one can have about what makes a ‘good’ relationship or an ‘ideal’ partner! Although you don’t have to get quite as specific as I have above, you probably have more specific ideas than you realize. The more of your specific expectations that you capture, the more your own filters will start coming into view.

For example, you may expect your partner (or potential partner) to ‘clean up after themselves.’ For you, this may be an obvious basic. Your partner on the other hand, may have grown up in a household where a parent always cleaned up after them, or maybe they had a maid, or maybe they’re happy to live in a total mess. Your partner may not-at-all see this as a ‘basic’ component of a healthy relationship.

You may feel (when your partner doesn’t pick up after themselves) that they don’t respect you or that they treat you like a maid. Meanwhile, your partner may be perfectly happy living in unkempt conditions – they didn’t ask you to pick up after them – and completely dumbfounded why you ‘freak out’ about this all the time. Which one of you is ‘right’?

Neither. You both have different expectations. Even if ten people agree with you and only two people agree with your partner, it doesn’t change the fact that you have different expectations. The gap will be easier to navigate, though, if you recognize that this is one of your filters.

Let it Go

Once you’ve written down everything you can think of (and you can always come back and add more), see if any clear patterns emerge. Take each idea (or relevant group of ideas) and ask yourself why you have this idea about an ideal partner or a good relationship.

Is this idea representative of how you were raised? Is it something you saw in your parent’s relationship? Maybe it’s the opposite of how your parents interacted (if their marriage ended in divorce, etc.)? Is this something you saw on TV? Or read about in a book? Advice from a Friend?

All of our ideas come from somewhere. When we allow ourselves to see that, we may not feel so attached to them. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but many of my own deep ideas about romance and relationships came from fairy tales and, in my later teens, romance novels. When I was willing to see that about myself, it became easier to let those ideas go.

Unlike the subjects we study in school, our ideas about relationships largely come from our own life experience, making them especially subjective and especially entrenched. On top of that, we are all subjected to a fair bit of gender-based societal and media conditioning around relationships (although, thankfully, that is starting to ease up).

Bringing it back home

After you’ve explored where your ideas about relationships have come from, it’s time decide what you want to keep and what you want to let go. To be fair, this exercise will probably be an ongoing one, but it can be helpful to spend some time taking a first crack at it.

Recognize that it is entirely up to you which ideas about relationships (or an ideal partner) to hold on to. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having ideas about how a relationship or a partner should be. It is your awareness that these are your ideas and not “the gold standard” that will make it easier to deal with relationship interactions that don’t align with your expectations.

Practicing the self-love from last week, you can feel good about your willingness to take a look at this part of your life with a critical eye; it can be a challenging and emotional exercise.

Once you’ve gone through your list, you are ready to take a closer look at your relationship (assuming you are already in one). Pay attention to all the things your partner may be doing that are beneficial or positive in the relationship that you may not “count” because they didn’t necessarily “match” one of your ideas of how a relationship should be.

For example, maybe they make sure all the bills are paid on time. Maybe they warm up the car for you in the morning. Maybe they share cooking responsibilities or maybe they’re a really good parent. I had a co-worker who lost a dearly beloved husband and told me that one of the hardest things for her (practically) after he died was realizing all the things he just ‘handled’ that she never even knew or thought about.

Working on our filters is a continuous process throughout our lives. When we start this crucial work, though, we can look at our relationships, and our part in them, through a clearer lens. We may find unexpected elements that we really like and we may find the things we thought we didn’t like help us learn about ourselves, our partner, and relationships in general.

When we’ve started to clear our filters, we’re one step closer to finding lasting love! Check in next week for the final step in this series!