6 Essential Practices for Hard-to-Reach Stressors

This summer we’ve decided not to go home. We’re here, in Tokyo, living out our sweltering summer amidst the asphalt and kakigoori (also known as the best thing made from ice ever invented).

My mom’s here visiting. That’s super nice. Occasionally she comes to see us and get a taste of our life between worlds. I’ve been talking to her quite a bit about the stress of this lifestyle. It feels particularly acute because we’re here and not in Austin. I always feel like the only place in the world I’m supposed to be in the summer is Austin. It makes the universe feel a bit off kilter to be here and not there.

I realize in talking with her that it’s not the everyday stressors of expat life that most get to me (although, of course, there are many), but rather what I think of as background stressors. The deeper, more intimate questions of – Will all this work out in the end? What does our retirement look like if we’ve never had a home? Will our kids wish they’d stayed in one place? Where will we be living this time next year? What does it mean to be an American overseas during times like these?

When we think about stress-management and self-care – we often think about the everyday skills and habits that help us deal with the surface stressors of life. Going for a nice long run, getting a massage or calling a friend largely helps us handle that sort of stress.

But background stress is different because it can be hard-to-reach and difficult to figure out what’s actually going on. It lurks under and behind everything we do. It nags – like losing your keys or forgetting the name of that girl you used to know in middle school, the one who moved to Hawaii. Those stressors are there whether we notice them or not and they pile up. Background stressors can leave us feeling unexpectedly down, lost, irritable or just plan weird.

While having positive self-care habits like exercise, sufficient sleep and healthy eating definitely help ease the intensity of background stressors, I’ve found that these stressors also take a separate and distinct type of engagement.

To deal with the challenges that hit at our egos, our values and our sense of purpose – it’s important to develop habits of self-reflection and insight. Taking the time to look more closely at who we are and how we fit in the world can be difficult. Sometimes the effort can feel daunting. We may not be sure we’ll like what we find there. On the other hand, deep down most of us know it’s important to do this type of inner work so that we can grow and develop into our full selves.

One way to cultivate a more reflective state is to develop practices that naturally foster paying attention to our experiences. These skills can help us turn towards what’s going on inside and around us, giving us more information about the source of background stress.

This can include practices like:

Attending to Judgment – Learning to become aware of our judgments and assumptions.

Attending to Emotions – Asking ourselves what we’re feeling.

Attending to Physical Sensation – Paying attention to our body and asking what it may be trying to tell us.

Cultivating Stillness – Spending time in “not doing” to see what insights might come.

Engaging Ambiguity – Learning to become more comfortable with what we don’t or can’t know.

Aligning with Vision – Asking, “Who do I want to be in this situation?”

These practices (from the Personal Leadership model for intercultural communication) are great for those moments when you feel that nagging sense of uncertainty. Those times when you sense something’s not quite right, but you can’t put your finger on it or those times when you feel like you’re just floating along – neither completely engaged nor disengaged.

Sure, you’ll still go for a run, call a friend, write in your journal or enjoy a little “me time,” but for all the stress that just keeps on giving learning to turn your attention towards what’s going on, just might be the key.

To hear a bit more about these practices in detail, check out this blog post from my 7-Part Facebook Live video series – What Does It Take to Practice Mindfulness? To learn how you can apply these practices in your own life, consider joining the fall session of Finding Your Way: Everyday Mindfulness for Critical Moments.

Five Ways Mindfulness Helps Me Find Home

It’s no secret that I’ve found a daily mindfulness practice to be a key ingredient in my ability to manage the ups and downs of our international life.

Despite common misunderstandings about mindfulness practice, it’s really not all that complicated. Mindfulness is quite simply the practice of paying attention and seeing clearly what’s happening while it’s happening.

Perhaps it’s not surprising then that, in the unpredictability of expat life where pretty much everything can feel strange and unfamiliar, becoming more mindful can help us navigate our experiences with increased ease and resilience.

Here are just a few of the ways that’s played out for me.

Mindfulness allows me to practice feeling homesick…and also not homesick.

I make a point of reminding the people in both my personal and professional life that there are no “good” and “bad” emotions. Emotions are neither positive nor negative. Sure – some feel better than others, but ultimately, everything we feel comes from somewhere and serves a purpose in helping us navigate our experiences.

Mindfulness practice enables us to pay attention to what we’re feeling without trying to:

  • change it (what we often try to do when we’re feeling emotions we don’t like),
  • chase it (what we like to do when an emotion feels good) or
  • judge it (what we do when we feel our emotions don’t align with how we’re “supposed” to feel).

When it comes to living life around the world, practicing mindfulness by developing a more reflective and compassionate relationship with our emotions can support us in learning how to deal with whatever comes our way.

Mindfulness helps me see home as a state of being created in my own mind.

Another key element of mindfulness practice, is learning to see things as they really are, not simply as we want them to be. Mindfulness inspires us to ask questions about what we’re witnessing and examine what we find there. While this isn’t always easy, being able to tune in to life as it truly is is a huge benefit of mindfulness practice.

What does this mean practically speaking?

Imagine I’m telling myself, “I hate it here! I’m never going to fit in. There are no work opportunities. This is a disaster!” Mindfulness doesn’t eliminate our ability to feel lost or overwhelmed, but it does enable us to stop and examine our perceptions. I can then start to ask questions like:

  • How much of this is really true and how much of this is a story I’m telling myself?
  • Is there anything that is working right now?
  • What can I learn here?
  • Are there things that I don’t hate?
  • What previously unnoticed options do I have in this situation?

Now, that doesn’t mean you suddenly start loving a place that just isn’t working for you, but it does help you get more creative, offering you the opportunity to make decisions based on a clearer, more thoughtful way of seeing.

Mindfulness reminds me to notice the details.

One of my most treasured benefits of maintaining a daily mindfulness practice is the way in which it has deepened my ability to pay attention to the “small” things.

When we move from place to place, it’s so easy to think that we should be unfazed. It becomes common, I think, to feel that we’re able to adapt at a moments notice and that our unbelievable flexibility means we can make these shifts with little or no disruption to our body or our mental state.

When we develop basic, everyday mindfulness skills, we engage the practice of slowing down and seeing the little bumps in the road. Sometimes small disruptions – the noise outside your new apartment that causes you to sleep poorly, the times you spend hungry because you’ve yet to stock your pantry, the frustration of slow internet connection that means your calls to your best friend are mess of static, feedback and silence – can actually have a huge impact.

When we take a moment to be still and really pay attention, we may notice the physical sensations, the emotions, or the discomfort of uncertainty that live in that space. We learn from seeing those places of unease and becoming mindful of them enables us to make much-needed adjustments.

Mindfulness encourages me to practice ritual.

Before we started our international life, I wasn’t really someone who stuck to a routine. Sure, I attempted to create positive habits (going for a run, reading before bed, etc.), but I never felt much pressure to really keep up with them.

Moving from place to place has made my healthy habits all the more important and my mindfulness practice supports me in staying awake to their significance in my life.

Mindfulness and mindfulness meditation inspire me to establish rituals and routines because the habits themselves (whether seated meditation or simply performing tasks with attention and care) foster dedication. In other words – by committing myself to being more mindful in my choices, actions, observations and interactions, I’m laying the foundation for commitment to other positive health habits as well.

Morning meditation, a daily jog, cooking healthy meals, taking frequent work breaks throughout the day and reading before bed are habits that I rely on during transition to create a sense of inner balance during upheaval. Additionally, when I notice these habits slipping, it’s my commitment to everyday mindfulness practice that helps me return to these supportive rituals.

Mindfulness supports me in building relationships.

A great deal of mindfulness practice is about developing an awareness of our inner dialogue – our thoughts, emotions, and judgments. However, it’s important in mindfulness practice to recognize the way in which our relationship with ourselves (and this internal dialogue) relates to how we connect with others.

Mindfulness helps me to take time with people. It supports me in active listening so that I can better understand how the moving experience affects my husband and children. It enables me to slow down and see better the ways in which those around me may be suffering or the ways in which they’re brought to life by something new in our world.

Moving is almost always a time of great stress. It’s a time when our tempers are short and we’re more likely to lash out at those around us. Mindfulness doesn’t always prevent that from happening (we’re all human after all!), but it can give us the skills to turn back to generosity and kindness when we realize we’ve behaved poorly towards others.

And, mindfulness helps us make friends. Research says that our ability to understand our own emotional experiences makes us better at understanding the experiences of others. That, in turn, makes us better friends – and that goes for the friends we’ve left behind and those we’ll make in our new home.

What about you?

Do you have an informal mindfulness, meditation, or spiritual practice or other ritual that supports you in practical ways as you move? If not, what would it take for you to start something like this?

Share with me in the comments what’s worked for you or what’s sparked your interest in reading this post. Click here to learn more about how I can help you bring these skills into your own life.

What Does it Take to Practice Mindfulness?

This past week I had so much fun creating a series of Facebook live videos where I answered the question, “What does it take to practice mindfulness?”

This is such an important topic to me and I love to support people as the learn simple, easy-to-access skills to engage more fully, live more deeply and connect more authentically to themselves and the world around them.

Mindfulness can be an everyday practice – something we do throughout our day in small ways that can lead to big change. These skills take commitment and patience, but they’re actually quite simple and completely doable within your daily life.

Everyone can practice mindfulness!

Below you’ll find the entire Facebook live video series. Day One is an introduction to the concept of mindfulness and the subsequent videos outline the 6 mindfulness practices offered through the Personal Leadership model.

Heads-up: If the videos are muted when you click on them, simply right click to unmute.

If you’d like to learn more about what you see here and get support in putting these skills to work in your own life, here are some ways we can work together:

Day One: What does it take to practice mindfulness? Intro.

A couple of notes for this video: Here is the book I mention – 10% Happier by Dan Harris (ooops, I say Dan Brown in the video). Also, this video cuts a bit short – apologies, but nothing missed other than me signing off.

What does it take to practice mindfulness?

What does it take to practice mindfulness? *The first video of a 7 part Facebook live series. Join me over the next 7 days to learn about the 6 mindfulness practices I use in my coaching and mindfulness programs.

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Tuesday, January 23, 2018

 

Day Two: Attending to Judgment

Be sure to check out the book Personal Leadership: Making a World of Difference.

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 2 – Attending to Judgment

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Wednesday, January 24, 2018

 

Day Three: Attending to Emotion

This is the resource I mention for expanding your emotional vocabulary.

What Does it Take to Practice Mindfulness? Part 3 – Attending to Emotion

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 3 – Attending to Emotion.

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Thursday, January 25, 2018

 

Day Four: Attending to Physical Sensation

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 4 – Attending to Physical Sensation

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 4 – Attending to Physical Sensation

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Friday, January 26, 2018

 

Day Five: Cultivating Stillness

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 5 – Cultivating Stillness

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 5 – Cultivating Stillness

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Saturday, January 27, 2018

 

Day Six: Engaging Ambiguity

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 6 – Engaging Ambiguity

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 6 – Engaging Ambiguity

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Sunday, January 28, 2018

 

Day Seven: Aligning with Vision

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 7 – Aligning with Vision

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 7 – Aligning with Vision

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Monday, January 29, 2018

Crafting a Vision for 2018!

Happy New Year Friends!!

I’m a total New Year’s lover! I love the clean slate. I relish taking the time to reflect and think about what’s past and what’s up ahead on the horizon. It’s one of my favorite times of the year.

I also love it because it’s the perfect time to realign with my values and ask myself the important questions about who I want to be – especially when it feels like I’m constantly having to reinvent myself with every move! For me, as you can guess, this is about becoming more mindful. It’s about taking the time to turn inward so that I can be my most engaged self as a reach outward to the world and people around me.

One mindfulness practice that is central to the Personal Leadership® model is Aligning with Vision. This practice is about learning to stop in the moment and ask ourselves, “Who do I want to be in this space?”

I love it because, contrary to simply paying attention, it enables us to see the choices we create by being more mindful in the world. It taps into the idea that we can pay attention to who we are and then choose how we want to connect with the world around us. We’ve just wrapped up the vision crafting section in the beta-test of my Finding Your Way program and it’s been really moving to see how the participants have found their voices in their respective visions.

Part of learning to align with vision is crafting a vision that speaks to you. While there is always a place for goal setting as we enter a new year, this vision is not about the goals you want to reach or the things you want to have. It’s not a bunch of fancy magazine images on a poster board.

Rather, it’s about understanding who you want to be so that your intentions are driven from that place and not from some outside criteria. It’s the kind of stuff we almost never take the time to think about, but when we do – we see things from a whole new perspective. It’s the deep down stuff.

I love it!

I’m excited to share that throughout the month of January I’ll be taking this short little section of my Finding Your Way program and offering it to clients who want to craft a vision for 2018. This is super fun, super deep work that can make all the difference as you move into the new year.

What happens when you join me:

  • We start with a single one-hour coaching session to begin crafting your vision. Think of it brainstorming with a sounding board and lots of questions.
  • After that, you take a week to work on the vision on your own. Think it over. What makes sense? What moves you? Where does your heart feel drawn? I’ll be available via email.
  • Then, we come back for a 45-minute wrap-up session to talk about how you can begin to Align with Vision as you enter 2018.
  • You finish with a vision that is from the heart, connects to who you are at your highest and best and deeply aligns with the way you want to be in the world. Your vision will be the answer you turn to when you find yourself asking, “What now?”

Program Logistics:

Send me an email to register. I’ll send you a little bit of paperwork, your payment invoice and a link to schedule your sessions (we’ll meet online via Zoom or by phone).

Program Fee:

$150 includes both sessions. No additional discounts are applicable.

See you soon and Happy New Year!

New Year’s Reflections for the Globally Mobile

I’m so happy to share my latest article for I Am a Triangle.

Click here to read about how turning your New Year’s resolutions into New Year’s questions can be a great way to tune in and reflect on where you find yourself during this important transition.

And, as always, consider joining the I Am a Triangle online community through Mighty Networks! It’s a great way to meet like-minded, internationally mobile people doing great things. Click here to join.

Meaning vs. Purpose…

For most of us, it’s probably not too terribly difficult to consider and describe the ways in which our lives have meaning.

If we are a parent, a spouse, a partner, a child, a friend – then we can recognize that we offer love and comfort to someone. We mean something to the people we love and they in-turn mean something to us. That creates meaning.

If you care for plants or pets or you’re responsible for the upkeep of an organization or the day-to-day workings of a business – your life has meaning. If you weren’t there, the work wouldn’t get done. If you didn’t have the work or the responsibility you’d feel a lack of a sense of meaning.

Most of us can find that sense of meaning without too much searching.

Purpose, on the other hand, can be more difficult to nail down.

Purpose implies a larger reason for why we take time to do the things that create meaning in our lives. For some people, that reason is ascribed to a higher power. For others, it’s simply the awareness that we have a limited time on this sphere called Earth and there’s probably something we’re supposed to do with that time.

I had a client once describe it this way:

She loves her daughter and that is one of the many ways in which her life has meaning. Her daughter needs her and she feels a deep sense of love and connection in being her mother. However, while loving her creates meaning, it does not, in and of itself establish purpose.

My client feels that her life’s purpose is rooted in helping people, in making the world a better place, in teaching and supporting others. She feels as though, in her relationship with her daughter, she fulfills purpose by modeling opportunities for growth, for happiness, for compassion and for empathy. Loving her daughter would probably always be enough for her to feel meaning, but deepening that love through the conscious decision to model the above qualities enables this client to fulfill her life purpose each and every day.

I think this is a great illustration of the difference between the two and the way in which meaning and purpose support and reinforce each other.

It’s really quite a fascinating idea if you stop to think about it.

I find that separating the two enables us to see they ways in which meaning and purpose are and are not connected. The above description also helps us to see that meaning and purpose are related to each other. They don’t run parallel, they are interwoven – one supports the other and vice versa. They are different, but they matter so much to each other.

What I think is even more powerful about this is the way in which recognizing the difference between the two can teach us more ways in which we can consciously choose to live our life’s purpose through the things that bring us meaning. This alignment means that each day really does matter just as much as the next.

Think about it this way – how many times have you gotten to the end the day and thought, “What did I really do today?”

If you could begin to see how meaning and purpose are different but related, would it create a greater sense of integrity in your life? Would you have fewer of those moments that seem to just slip away? If you were able to recognize your purpose, would it give meaning to things that have started to seem mundane? If you look at what brings you meaning, is it possible you would see a greater purpose?

I can’t claim to have the answers here, but I can’t help but think this is something we often overlook. It certainly gets me thinking!

What about you?

Are you inspired to delve deeper into this? Check out the questions below. They might shed some light on meaning and purpose in your own life.

Leave me a comment too! I’d love to hear how you see the intersection of meaning and purpose.

Some questions to help you consider meaning:

  • Who do I love?
  • Who loves me?
  • When do I feel joy?
  • When do I feel sadness?
  • What moments do I most look forward to?
  • In what moments do I feel a sense of flow – as though I am completely in the zone or totally in my element?

Questions that might help you look at purpose:

  • What do I want people to most remember about me when I’m gone?
  • If I were to find out today that I only had one year left to live, what would I want to do with that time?
  • What do people seek me out for? When the question arises, “Who can…?” when am I the answer to that question?
  • Complete this sentence, “I am here to…”

Get started on finding your meaning and purpose with one of my self-paced, online courses.

Back to School and Back to YOU!

Let’s face it – you love your kids, but you might…just might…be happy they’re all back at school. Right now it’s possible you look like the lady in that photo…right?

If there’s one thing I hear from friends, clients and colleagues alike right now it’s that a return to the school year means a return to regular schedules, normal bedtimes and a better sense that you can come out from under everyone else’s stuff. It’s heavy under there!

And that means it’s the perfect time for you to turn the focus back in your direction for a bit.

I want you to do that! I love more than anything supporting people in reaching their goals, finding their sense of self and moving forward one step at a time in connecting with what matters most in their lives.

Join me in celebrating this newest transition by taking advantage of my latest coaching program offer.

From now until the end of September 2017, take 20% off your coaching program fees. Click here to see if you’re eligible for additional discounts. Installment plans are available for my 8- and 12-week programs.

If you’re ready to get started – simply email me at jodi at worldtreecoaching dot com.

Have you been thinking about coaching, but you’re still not sure if it’s right for you? Never considered coaching, but now you’re kinda’ curious?

Read what past clients have said here. Or click here to schedule a time to chat with a FREE, 45-minute consult session!

You Are Layers Upon Layers Upon Layers

Every one of us is made up of layers and layers of experience. Our personalities, our likes and dislikes, our success and failures and our dreams and nightmares are all part of who we are.

For those of us who live a globally mobile lifestyle, those layers are further complicated by the fact that we can be one person in one place and an entirely different person in another. Or, at least, it can often feel that way.

I hear this so often from my coaching clients. One of the most common expat feelings is the sense that some of our most cherished personal qualities get buried under the stress and anxiety of moving from place to place. Alternatively, some of the parts of ourselves that we most desire to change, end up sticking around because let’s face it – doing our personal work is hard even if we stay in one place.

But with practice and dedication, we can learn to reveal more of our layers. As we do this, we begin to live more as our complete selves which, in turn, can help us feel more secure, confident and fulfilled – even if we’re moving around a lot!

Here are just a few ways some of my most successful clients have learned to honor their multi-layered selves:

  • They take time to find out what those layers are. Make a list of the keys areas of your life. I like to include these 7 areas: emotional, spiritual, professional, social, intellectual, practical/physical environment and health. For each of these areas, write down some of your most important needs, priorities or values.
  • They practice saying, “I am…”. I am a writer, I am an artist, I am a poet, I am a runner, etc. Do you have a passion or skill that you feel shy about sharing? That’s normal, but with practice comes acceptance – from yourself and from those around you.
  • They tell people what they’re working on. Whether it’s something you’re proud of or something you’re hoping to change – don’t keep it a secret! Getting trusted companions involved in our growth helps us feel accountable to the changes we’re hoping to make and it reveals layers that may not always be evident to the outside world.
  • They share stories. Story telling is a great way to learn more about the complex layers of our lives and it also helps others (especially when we’re making new friends in a new place) see how dynamic we really are.
  • They commit to being a good friend. One of the best ways that we learn about ourselves is to invest in relationships. Taking time to honor the people around us enables us to bring forth our best selves. Read here for some of my favorite skills of socially adaptable expats.
  • They ask a lot of questions…and then they ask again. All the time – to themselves and to others. They get really, really curious.
  • They know that the things they love are not frivolous or silly. If you have a unique interest of hobby, recognize that this interest is a key part of making you feel like yourself and then find people with whom you can share this interest.
  • They stop shrugging. This is so common! I do it all the time! When we have something special to share, when we receive a compliment, when we have the opportunity to open up – we often do it with a shrug of the shoulders. In an effort not to standout, we hide behind the shrug. Instead – square your shoulders and go for it! Own up to all the layers of yourself!
  • They never stop growing! Give yourself space to revisit things that are working well for you and areas in which you feel stuck. Get help when you need it. Remember – you’re always a work in progress – layer after layer, year after year.

Living a globally mobile lifestyle doesn’t have to be an excuse for staying in one place on the inside. Your layers are amazing – let them show!

4 Reasons Baby Steps Are the Key To Success

When my oldest son was two and a half, we were putting in a new garden. Part of the process included shoveling loads of rocks from a giant pile into the garden beds. Despite his diminutive size, my son shoveled and shoveled all day, dirty sweat dripping from the tips his long golden curls, dust covering his oversized, white t-shirt, smudges of sand in every rolling crevice of his pudgy face. And he just didn’t let up. He had some monster baby steps to take that day.

I like to tell my clients that baby steps count. They usually respond with a shy laugh. The idea, I think, is that somehow baby steps (even if they do count) are not really up to the level of grown-up accomplishment. Perhaps taking baby-steps is for people who can’t quite make it, I can imagine them thinking.

But what I really want them to hear is that baby steps are a key element to success. Referring to something as a baby step does not diminish its capacity for significance or greatness. In fact, just the opposite is true. Here’s why…

The lead-up is huge.

Think about all the time that an infant puts into deciding to walk. She gets up, she falls down, she starts over. She tries again. She thinks about it. She employs trial and error.

The determination that it takes to get up the nerve to try something new is part of the process. You do the exact same thing in preparing for your baby step. All that work – the lead-up, the trial and error, the critical thinking – is an integral part of the process of doing something challenging.

Everything a baby does is badass.

This is a fact. Babies and toddlers accomplish so much in all those tiny steps! We don’t ever tell them, “Not good enough today baby. You were a little wobbly on the sit down.” Never. We recognize that they’re doing something new and that that alone is worth recognizing.

The same is true for you. We all live each day with our own set up hang-ups and baggage. Sure, we’d like to believe that every last thing we accomplish is done with complete confidence and ease, but that would ignore the fact that life is filled with an amazing number of challenges, shifts, changes, let-downs and surprises. Sometimes “just” showing up means you’re accomplishing some pretty amazing feats.

Babies are freakishly strong for their size.

Right?! Like my son with the shovel – they have no sense of what could possibly hold them back. Babies get a lot of shit done from their pint-sized frames. In fact, the higher, the heavier, the louder – the more committed a baby is to taking it on.

You too are stronger than you think. Anyone who’s ever faced a major hurdle and found themselves quick on their feet, anyone who’s taken on an unbelievable upset with grace and anyone who’s sacrificed their comfort for that of a friend or family member – knows this. When you take on something really big – you find strengths you never imagined you had.

Babies go for it, regardless of the outcome.

Babies might learn what to fear, but at the outset – they are amazingly fearless. They don’t worry about falling because somewhere deep down, their instinct tells them that falling is part of the process.

Hey! You do that too! Even when you think you might not succeed, you try. You give it your all because you know that living from your values, connecting to your authentic self and finding purpose means sometimes you have to be daring.

So there you have it. Baby steps. Every single one’s worth it…so start counting.

 

How Paying Better Attention Can Create a More Fulfilling Expat Experience

We’re all watching the world go by. We absentmindedly read the news, scroll through Facebook, eat lunch with one eye on our laptops and drive home without even remembering how we got there.

To be fair, it’s a little bit harder to become fully zoned out when you’re living outside of your home culture. Not paying attention could land you eating some bizarre, new food or telling the cashier, “I don’t need a bath,” instead of “I don’t need a bag” (true story). So naturally expats tend to be a bit more observant.

But, no matter where we are, we get into habits in our daily routines. We take our feelings, our thoughts and our actions for granted. Much of the time we don’t even notice that the strain in our neck came after the disagreement with our spouse or that the third cup of coffee fuels the sloppy emails or late night media binge.

I believe there’s an additional layer to this for people who are living away from home. Our thoughts, feelings and actions are complicated by the unpredictable and unusual way in which we live. There are more distractions…and simultaneously more ways in which to pay attention.

Often, people who thrive in this lifestyle do so by learning to pay better attention and by adopting a level of intentionality in their daily lives despite all of the spinning around them.

When I talk with people about this, no one ever disagrees. Yes, of course, we should pay attention to what we’re feeling and thinking. But, how? Should I journal? Talk with a friend? What about going for long walks…listening to woodwind instruments over the sounds of the sea…drinking one less gin and tonic?

Sure. But really, it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

There are surprisingly easy ways to adopt a higher degree of intentionality in the things we do. And, contrary to what you might think, it can start in small and specific ways at any point in the day.

When we’re able to pick a couple of things to do on purpose, we’re strengthening the part of our brain that pays attention. At first we simply pay attention to a couple of seemingly innocuous events, but before we know it, that heightened sense of awareness has come to support us in noticing the more significant ups and downs of our daily experience.

But pay attention to what?

I like to say, “Think of yourself as a scientist.”

In that vein, paying attention can be anything from really noticing the sensations of washing your hands to making a head-to-toe scan of your body when you sit down at your desk each day. It can include actually observing yourself making your coffee or sitting on the train, noticing the world around you (not reading your phone).

Brainstorming a list of ideas is a great way to start. And there’s nothing that says you have to choose everything you write down. Maybe just one to start and then add two or three as the weeks progress.

What you’ll notice is that the noticing, instead of the brushing-aside, becomes the habit. The paying attention starts to feel normal. It’s an exceptional way to tune in to your daily experience. And that, in turn, creates greater insight and can improve decision-making and relationship building.

None of this happens over night. It’s like doing push-ups. You get stronger and more skilled, little by little, until (before you know it) you’re aware of things you never noticed before.

If you’re stuck – this exercise might give you some insight into how to try out paying attention.

I also love this TED talk about developing habits. I watched it as part of a Personal Leadership program I’m participating in. While he’s not exactly talking about paying attention, the presenter’s ideas for micro-practice could help you establish a regular routine for paying attention.

And, if you want to get a better sense of how to observe your thought and emotional patterns, check out this activity from my book, The Expat Activity Book, here.