Year in (P)review: Reflecting on This Year and the Next

A year in review, a year in preview. I’m gearing up to do this in the next couple weeks, and I hope you’ll find a chance to do so as well. The basic idea: take some time at the end of the year to reflect on the year gone by, and to set some intentions for the year to come. Maybe people do a version of this by having a New Year’s resolution, but I’m talking about a much more in-depth thing. Not just coming up with one item for a to-do list as you clink glasses on New Year’s Eve.

Instead, it’s a drawn-out process involving substantial reflection and introspection from a variety of angles. It can involve movement, meditation, long walks, bubble baths, sitting by a fire. Activities that turn us inward and allow us the opportunity to be quiet with ourselves. Sans smartphone.

I like to start with the year gone by. It can help to organize the internal conversation by asking some questions. Start simple. What happened this year? What were some of the big events? What were some of the small events that made a big impact? What was the overall feeling in the year, and how did that evolve?

Then, we can get into more substance. It helps if you went through this reflection process a year ago as well, but it’s by no means necessary. What was I hoping for this year? Did I move closer to that goal? Did I realize I needed to pivot those intentions? What worked? What didn’t? As Bob Ross said, “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.” No need to think of the things that didn’t work as failures. They are places for growth and learning.

But we do need to get into them. We won’t gain much from our failures unless we allow ourselves to examine them. If we repress, we lose the lesson and build up future pain. What would I have liked to have done more? Done less? What was valuable to my life as a whole? What took a lot of time, but proved not to be valuable? Again, no judgement against the self, we just recognize these things.

Asking these questions allows us to get a deeper impression of the year. We can begin to ask some less tangible questions. What brought me joy? What did I love? Who were the most important people in my life? What can I do to express that to them, to show gratitude to them? How can I show those same qualities to myself?

There are unlimited questions we could ask ourselves about the year gone by, and it is valuable to come up with a few yourself, based on what’s important to you. At a certain point it is time to transition from the year gone by to the year to come. I’ll try to take at least a day for each. Not necessarily sitting at a journal all day, but having that intention for the day. Bringing it with me to yoga class, to the coffee shop.

The year to come represents enormous opportunity. One could argue that the transition to the new year is purely theoretical and arbitrary. Sure, I agree. The solstice is Tuesday, New years is in a week and a half. There are all sorts of other landmarks around this season that can be used. But regardless of what is arbitrary or true, the idea of transition and new beginnings can be very effective for bringing in new energy to our lives.

Imagine: if you wanted to, you could change everything in your life in just a matter of the next few weeks. If you are out of shape and overweight, you could start on the path of health and fitness by exercising every day. You could make that part of your life and your routine, part of who you are. You can start a new hobby, a new craft, and eventually make that into your life’s work. Never done much art? You could start painting every day, again making that part of who you are, and by the end of the year you would have enough talent and work to begin to sell art in a real way. These things won’t necessarily be easy, but they are achievable.

Or the changes could be much more modest. You could spend substantially more time with your family, your kids. You could cut out habits, get away from screens and pocket vibrations. You could start jogging regularly or learning how to throw pottery. All these take a strong will and a set of powerful intentions. They take more than a half-hearted New Year’s resolution. But New Year’s is still a great time to do them.

As we begin to look forward, we need to keep in mind the reflection we’ve done on the past year. Frame the questions in a similar way. What do I want to do? What big events would I like to accomplish? Any travel? What are some small things I could do that might make a big difference?

And get bigger: How do I want to live? What are going to be the main focuses of my energy? Who do I want to share my life and my love with? What one thing would I do every single day, if I could? What do I want to create? How do I want to grow as a person?

If you’d like, come up with a word for the year to come. Something that embodies the values and intentions you’d like to live.

There is reason to be optimistic. We have the power to create our own lives. Even with the complications and guidelines put on us by society, we always have the opportunity to choose how we respond to the world. We can create an internal state that is resonant with our values and with the people we love.

I encourage you to give it a try. Even if it’s just an hour sitting down with a notepad for the past year and one for the next, this exercise has enormous potential. The days are nearly the shortest they’ll be all year, and this is a natural time for reflection. Treat yourself, and have some fun with it!

The Inner Self vs. The Outer Self

Yesterday I listened to a podcast while painting a bathroom. This is the great thing about podcasts — they make you want to write blog posts. This particular one was “On Being” with Krista Tippett, and for the bathroom-painting episode, she was interviewing Seth Godin, who is hugely popular in certain internet circles, especially for his ideas and writing about authentic marketing.

Seth and Krista were chatting about how to get your message out, and who to connect to, and what makes that connection meaningful. If you want to know all the details about this, I recommend listening yourself. The super boiled-down version that I took away was: it’s not about how many people you connect to. It’s much more about connecting with the right people, with your tribe, and feeling part of that community.

This is not a new idea for me. I doubt Seth invented it (if he did, bravo!), but it’s at this point it’s widely dispersed on the web, and I’ve even written around the idea before. But something clicked for me this time. An analogy, or parallel, or metaphor (oh, the power of metaphor!), that I’ve experienced personally with the disconnect between the inner self and outer self.

Basically this: so often, we do work because we’re good at it, or because we think more people will like it, or like us. I do this all the time. All the time. And on the surface, it’s useful. It makes it easier for people to like us, it makes us relatable. These are great things! They contribute to meaningful relationships. But this bending of ourselves also has negative aspects to it. Over the long-term, it wears us down. It keeps us from intimately knowing our deeper selves. It allows us to repress things we don’t think will mesh well with everybody else, and I would argue, from developing a strong sense of character.

And for me, sometimes I do feel like I lack character. I worry that I’m boring. That by being some kind of meditation/mindfulness guide, I’m not supposed to have strong opinions about things, or at least not express those feelings. I love guiding meditation and leading mindfulness workshops, but I worry that I give the impression of being chill and passive all the time. Don’t worry friends, I am not always chill and passive!

Here are some things about me that are not encompassed by this mindful/deliberate internet persona I’ve somewhat intentionally created:

  • I love long, intellectual novels. Infinite Jest is my favorite book even though everyone says it’s pretentious. Anna Karenina and War and Peace are tied as my favorite Tolstoy novels, and I think Proust is a baller.
  • I’m often pretentious and arrogant. I think I’m right about a lot of things, even though I spend a lot of time trying to convince myself I’m not right about everything.
  • I’m a huge fan of Bernie Sanders, and consider myself to be a socialist. I think capitalism is evil, and exploits humanity’s most base tendencies.
  • Sometimes I care a lot about money and capitalism.
  • I don’t meditate everyday, and sometimes I go weeks without doing it at all. I do notice a difference in my life (things aren’t as good) when I’m not meditating regularly, but that isn’t necessarily enough to get me to get back in the routine.
  • I exercise a LOT (ideally twice a day), and believe that that is the number one most important thing we can do for our mental and physical health. Way more than meditating.
  • I keep meaning to see a therapist, but keep avoiding it.
  • I like getting absorbed in board games, and I’m good at them. Some combination of being competitive and good at math.
  • I’m good at math.

As you can see, this is kind of a silly list and the things are not a big deal. I doubt any of them are going to cause me to lose my “tribe.”

So, let me pose a question. What are the things about you that you repress, or don’t like to bring into the public eye? Why is that? Is that something you want to change? It’s not necessary to do so, but I think it’s a good thing to acknowledge and be aware of. There’s the mindfulness coach talking again…

Meditation sounds

Being Yourself to Attract the Right Business

This has been a bit of a personal conundrum lately. Basically, I have a small business doing meditation and mindfulness coaching for offices. This does not resound with everyone. Clearly. Many people don’t get it, and only a small portion of the ones who do are willing to pay for it.

So, I’m faced with a choice. Do I water down or change my message to try to attract a wider audience? Or do I stay more true to myself, even if it means pushing certain people away? I’m not sure if this is an obvious choice or not, or if it is, in which way it’s obvious.

The first option has appeal. “I want people to like me!” This fits with our most natural desires for love and belonging. We want to be accepted and celebrated by as many people as possible. The fulfillment of this desire is why celebrities tend to be so strange, I think.

It also sounds good for business. It means attracting more clients, potentially selling more product, basically doing better all around.

Not so. At this point I’m convinced of the opposite. It may be different if you’re selling to the masses (although maybe not: Apple has way more personality than IBM, and their stock reflects it), but especially for small businesses and solopreneurs, being true to oneself is best for business.

Here’s why. When we work for ourselves, we’re constantly selling our business and we’re constantly selling ourselves. We are our business, and the two are relatively inseparable. When people buy our service, they’re buying us, and they’re doing it because they like what they see. They like the potential and hope we’re giving them.

When we water down or alter our message to fit the crowd, we attract people who aren’t quite as good a fit for us. This might be fine once in a while, but if it becomes the norm, we’ll be forced to put on a facade that satisfies clients who are not our ideal clients. These clients will want a business that is not what we strive to offer, that is not truly us.

We take this as reinforcement of how we should be and act. We see that it works to not be fully ourselves, and we compromise even more. We do work that is less and less true to our ideals, and that begins to strain our self-perception and self-awareness. We lose track of who we are and we lose interest in our work.

By staying true to our own selves as much as possible, we attract a (potentially) smaller group, but one that resounds more with our message. We attract our true supporters. Given the opportunity, these followers will become the champions of our work, promoting it to their tribes and friends. Having business we’re excited about will create more business we’re excited about. Vicious cycle averted, virtuous cycle embraced.

The real question is how can we: A) know our true selves, B) project that out into the world, and C) be receptive to accepting positive energy back into ourselves. Meditation and mindfulness are great for working on all three of these things, and that’s basically what this whole blog is about.


Side note: I’ve got a Beginner’s Meditation eGuide coming out in the next couple weeks. Get excited!

Side side note: With all this talk of finding our supporters, if you like these blogs, please share them however you feel comfortable doing so. It means a lot to me!

Meditating Buddha

Strategies for Dealing with Discomfort

I’ve written before about sitting with discomfort. It’s a big piece of the puzzle that is “mindfulness,” and something I think about a lot. As Americans (not to exclude everyone else, I’m sure this happens everywhere), we tend to view discomfort as this untamable beast that will destroy our picture-perfect lives if we let it show its teeth.

But discomfort is a fact of life. It’s going to part of our experience no matter how hard we try to protect ourselves and our loved ones from it. And it goes further: discomfort is where the most of our personal growth happens. It’s not even a bad thing. If we are to expand our boundaries and comfort zones, we have to accept that discomfort is a part of life and even embrace it at times.

There are five main strategies we have for dealing with discomfort. We can either try to avoid it in the first place, ignore it and push through, sit with it and observe, deal with it ourselves, or ask for help. My experience with mindfulness is that it has shifted how I respond to discomfort from avoiding and ignoring to observing and healing.

I made this awesome pie chart to how regular contemplative practice can change our experience with dealing with discomfort. This data is 100% made up, but the colors are great and having a chart on a blog makes it look so real. SO REAL! Check it.

Discomfort Chart

Let’s take a quick look at each one.

Avoid it. Classic move. Here we don’t even get far enough to admit that the discomfort could be a possibility. We go to great lengths to avoid it, in all likelihood creating more discomfort (or else building up internal shame and repression) along the way. This is generally bad news. There are certainly some discomforts that we should avoid (Life Pro Tip: Get a good mattress. Long-term back pain is not worth the cheaper alternative.), but for small, natural discomforts, it’s better to just face them and get some good practice dealing with it. Sore from going to the gym? Learn to love it!

Ignore it. Again, this is a favorite of the success-driven world. Power through! Haven’t gotten enough sleep for a few nights (or weeks)? Drink more coffee! Energy drinks (eww)! This is a big one in relationships. We ignore the difficult conversations we need to be having, and instead opt for business-as-usual. Ignoring discomfort tends to allow it to build up until it reaches some kind of breaking point, which won’t be pretty. Sometimes we need to do this for short stretches to meet deadlines, create meaningful work, and provide for our families, but we should always be aware of what’s happening and keep in mind that it should be temporary.

Sit with it. This is the main point of the post I linked to earlier on. By sitting with discomfort and just observing it, we learn to be comfortable in more challenging situations. This allows us to grow and develop a deep sense of happiness.

Deal with it. Some discomforts aren’t good to sit with for a long time, particularly if they are related to an injury (physical or emotional) in the body. Often when I’ve been neglecting my yoga practice, my body feels discomfort in the form of tightness and aches. I’ve learned that this is a sign that I need to get back into it and deal with those discomforts. Right now I’m icing my hamstring for a minor strain. I know I’ll feel better about everything if I clean my house. Take action!

Ask for help. Oh boy, this is a hard one. Sometimes we need a good friend, and sometimes we need a professional. We can’t do everything for ourselves all the time, and we’ll run ourselves into the ground if we try. Western medicine has taken an approach of only focusing on the extreme cases where something is obviously damaged. Most of the time we’re not in this situation, but we may still need healing or help. Seeing a therapist is always a good idea, regardless of how positive we’re feeling. Acupuncture, massage, chiropractic, meditation, reiki, and whatever else you’re into, can all help us go beyond our baseline feeling of “not injured” to feeling great (they can also deal with some of those injuries!).

Once we recognize these different approaches to discomfort, our contemplative practice will begin to provide us the wisdom to know which is the most appropriate route, or combination of routes, to take at any given time.

Demystifying Meditation: The Three Basic Types of Meditation

What’s the deal? What is meditation, anyway? I’ve been working on a short E-guide which I’ll be publishing in the next few weeks here called “How to Kickstart Your Personal Meditation Practice.” Writing this has made me realize that there isn’t a wide understanding about what meditation is. Of course, it’s a vast topic, and at the same time it’s supposed to be the simplest thing there is. Just sitting? This should give some basic insight into what’s going on up there when we’re quiet.

Meditation activates (and deactivates) a variety of brain regions, and different kinds of meditation actually do different things. I’m not going to get too deep into the neuroscience, but I want to describe the three main types of meditation. Nearly all styles and traditions of meditation fall into one of these categories, or bridge more than one of them.


Presence meditation is all about developing attention and concentration. It often involves the breath or focus on a single object. It might be called “present-moment awareness,” “anapanasati” or “attention-focusing” meditation. This is a hugely helpful technique to practice, as it brings awareness and concentration to all our actions.

Presence meditation is also the foundation for most other meditation techniques. Before delving into the mind or emotions, we must be able to pay attention to what we’re doing. This doesn’t mean it should be discounted as less advanced than other techniques — some people practice exclusively presence meditation, and it is extremely rewarding. It might be the best tool we have to fight against the attention-drain caused by all our devices and tech.


What is the mind? Perspective meditation includes all techniques that involve observing one’s own mind. This means watching one’s thoughts, cultivating an understanding of how and why they arise and pass away, and beginning to see through the illusions the mind creates around us. This is also called “meta-cognition,” which is an awesome word.

The more perspective we gain on the self, the more we understand that the ego is a construct of the mind, and not something which truly separates us from the rest of the universe. This style of meditation moves us toward an experiential understanding of the oneness and interconnectedness of the universe. It can be a bit heady. With regards to achieving traditional enlightenment, this is probably the fastest route (but don’t expect to get there in this lifetime!).


Affective meditations focus on developing certain positive qualities or thoughts. The most common forms are “loving-kindness” or “compassion” meditations. It is less about achieving a transcendental state and more about cultivating a life that’s worth living while we’re here. It is an extremely effective method for training our emotions and generally feeling good about life.

Affective meditations typically involve some kind of visualization, which allows us to experience certain feelings, such as love and gratitude, and strengthen the neural networks that are responsible for them. This brings those experiences to the fore, integrating them into our lives as a whole. Compassion is the most common elevated experience we practice through affective meditation, as it is universally perhaps the most valuable characteristic we can possess. Theoretically, you could practice any emotion, though.

Each meditation style affects the brain differently, lighting up different brain regions under fMRI. By activating those regions, the neural networks become more dense and used to working together. This brings the lessons we learn while meditating into the rest of our lives. It is a slow process, and the results are often not tangible, but if we are committed to the practice, they are undeniable.

Only with regular practice over a long period of time do we begin to notice that we are less stressed, more open and compassionate, and more understanding of our own thought processes and emotions. Just because meditation is hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it — in fact just the opposite. As any meditator will tell you, a consistent meditation practice is one of the most important things we can do with our time and energy.

If you’d like to get going on your own meditation practice, keep an eye out for the E-guide I’ll be publishing here in a few weeks. Or just take a few minutes to sit quietly and see what happens! It’s amazing what the brain will do.