Amanda Johnson

Love the life you have and have the life you want


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Being Grateful Can Happen Without the Turkey

In the spirit of Thanksgiving this week, I am reposting my blog on gratitude and its benefits. Enjoy the holiday season and remember that being grateful can be a daily practice — even when there is no turkey.

There are plenty of things to complain about in this world. But there are also a ton of amazing (and not-so-amazing, quite ordinary) things that are worthy of our acknowledgment on a daily — if not hourly — basis.

Practicing gratitude has a number of benefits. And who wants to be a “Negative Nancy” all the time?

Curious what these benefits are and how to cultivate them on a regular basis?

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I admit, I have said many a negative thing in my life. But I don’t like the way I feel when I say those things. When those negative thoughts start to emerge — which they still do — I immediately try to interrupt them and ask “what are you grateful for?”

Then I list off three or five things that I am grateful for in this very moment.

It is amazing how much better I feel and how quickly those terrible things don’t seem so terrible anymore.

Expressing gratitude can sometimes slip our minds. But the benefits far outweigh the effort required to implement a regular gratitude practice.

There is a growing body of knowledge in this area led by highly esteemed researchers such as Robert Emmons, Ph.D. Check out some of the benefits found during this gratitude research.

  • In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
  • A related benefit was observed in the realm of personal goal attainment: Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.
  • daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others). There was no difference in levels of unpleasant emotions reported in the three groups.
  • In a sample of adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in greater amounts of high energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of one’s life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality, relative to a control group.

“So, how do I go about doing this more often?” you might ask.

Establish a system that works for you. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Keep a gratitude journal and list a few things in it each day before going to bed that made you smile or that you were grateful for.
  • Participate in or create a gratitude challenge on Facebook with your friends to post 3 “grate” things on a daily basis.
  • Ask a friend to be your “Gratitude Buddy” and send each other one thing you are grateful for each day — not only does it reap the benefits, it helps you develop a deeper connection with a friend you might not otherwise connect with as often.
    Next time you find yourself saying something negative, try the gratitude treatment. I bet you’ll have an easier time finding things to be grateful for than having to complain about.

What are 3-5 things you are grateful for right now? Spread the gratitude bug by sharing your thoughts below.

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3 Ways to Live a More Fearless Existence

Ah, fear.

That sickening feeling of not knowing what could happen. The paralysis of the body and mind. That which keeps us from exploring the unknown or living a fuller existence.

We all experience this very primal sensation. It is a biological firing of nerves and adrenaline we experience when our fight-or-flight goes off. Then, we get in our heads and label it “fear.” We allow this fear to limit us, make decisions for us and, more often than not, add an extreme amount of stress to our lives.

The good news? We don’t have to turn this biological sensation into anything more than an awareness to what is happening in the present moment. We can all live a more fearless existence by keeping a few things in mind.

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Part of being present is to remain non-judgmentally aware of one’s mind, body and life situation without attaching to any specific outcome. This can prove quite challenging when entering unchartered waters.

This year has been full of entering the unknown for me. First, I decided to quit my day job without any “plan B.” Then, I recently attended a development program in a different state from where I live and, while there, decided to return one week later to take another 10-week training program. This felt quite uncomfortable. I was relocating temporarily with very little time to plan or even think about what I was getting myself into.

I can definitely say that many times during this year I have experienced a sensation that I label as “fear.”

So, how do I practice presence in the face of all of this uncertainty and discomfort?

First of all, sometimes I don’t. But, I have noticed a significant increase in my ability to live with the discomfort and the fear. It helps me in these moments to keep a few things in mind.

Remember that fear is not reality-based.

The sensation we often label as “fear” is more often than not a lack of information. We then find ourselves feeling anxious about what might or might not happen in the future which keeps us out of reality. Everything happens in the present moment — nothing happens in the past or future.

“The psychological condition of fear is divorced from any concrete and true immediate danger. It comes in many forms: unease, worry, anxiety, nervousness, tension, dread, phobia, and so on. This kind of psychological fear is always of something that might happen, not of something that is happening now.”

It’s helpful to take the time to shift our focus to remain open and take in as much information as possible in each moment instead of worrying about the non-reality of the future.

Ask: What’s the worst thing that can happen?

“The reason why you don’t put your hand in the fire is not because of fear, it’s because you know that you’ll get burned. You don’t need fear to avoid unnecessary danger — just a minimum of intelligence and common sense.” – Eckhart Tolle

When we are faced with something that we are unfamiliar with or do not know which way to go, we can ask ourselves, “what is the worst thing that can happen?” This helps ground us and bring us back to the reality of the situation and not get caught up in the endless scenarios of the mind.

Sometimes we may even be surprised that the worst thing isn’t really that bad after all.

Move through the fear.

Courage is not about doing something with the absence of fear but rather moving through it. Sometimes we experience a sensation in our bodies when we do not have enough information or a similar experience to draw upon from our past. But this is just a bodily sensation.

Moving through the fear means that we experience the physical sensation without labeling it or creating additional emotions or stressful thoughts around it. As Eckhart Tolle says, “You can always cope with the present moment, but you cannot cope with something that is only a mind projection — you cannot cope with the future.”

When we let fear drive our decision-making, we are putting our life in the hands of a non-reality based emotion that restricts us rather than expands us.

We limit ourselves when we allow our fears to go beyond the initial reaction. This can happen a lot when we are going to make decisions. And when we make fear-based decisions, we are saying “no” to life rather than “yes” to possibilities.

How do you let fear limit you? What are other ways you practice presence in the face of fear? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.


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The Power of the Domino Effect

Kindness Blog has generously published another Presence Matters blog on the power of the Domino Effect.

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One of my favorite things to do when I was a child was to line up dozens of dominoes in an interesting configuration, tip one of them over and watch all the others elegantly follow suit.

Sometimes I think that people are a bit like dominoes.

When one of us is “nudged” to do something good, many others elegantly follow suit.

Read the article to see how one person’s seemingly small action can spur positive change.


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Presence Matters Has Been Published Again on Elephant Journal

I am excited to share that Presence Matters has once again been accepted to publish articles on elephant journal!

This is a really important step for spreading the message of having peace and ease in life.

I invite each of you—my supportive readers—to take a moment to check out my latest article, Improve Your Relationships by Remembering These 3 Things.

Have you ever struggled with maintaining a centered sense of self whilst in an intimate relationship?

Maintaining this more enlightened state seems to get harder the closer we get to people.

In the hopes of making this a bit easier, I started to pay attention and discovered that we can all experience more conscious relationships by remembering three important things.

You can help out greatly by clicking this link and, if the article inspires or resonates with you, re-share it on your personal social media pages.

Thank you for seeking and spreading the art of improving the experience of life!

With gratitude …


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Improve Your Relationships by Remembering These 3 Things

Have you ever struggled with maintaining a centered sense of self whilst in an intimate relationship?

Maintaining this more enlightened state seems to get harder the closer we get to people. Relationships offer a number of challenges including how they seem to make this whole “presence thing” more difficult.

In the hopes to make this a bit easier, I started to pay attention to when I felt further from my centered self and what seems to help put me back on the more mindful path.

Through this exploration, I discovered that we can all experience more conscious relationships by remembering three important things.

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I’ve recently taken a lot of time to get to know myself and work on me. I began to notice that I am making some significant strides in terms of how I interact with myself, how I interact with my friends and how I move through the world as a more present, mindful human.

Then … I got into a romantic relationship.

This was my first serious relationship in two years. And, with my new sense of self, I started to think that maybe I had figured out this whole relationship thing after all.

Then it started to become obvious to me that the work I did with myself didn’t necessarily translate seamlessly to being with another person.

I was reminded that there are still deeper, darker areas I have yet to explore and work on in order to be more mindful and conscious when with another person and not simply moving through life alone.

Strive to be wrong

Going with the flow can come quite naturally to us. Humans are great at enduring change. We are highly adaptive. And, yet, have you noticed how ironclad fisted we can get about being “right”? It can cause so much unnecessary pain and suffering — specifically in close relationships. Not only can it harm the other person at the receiving end of our righteousness, it also hinders us from growing.

In order to learn and grow, we must be wrong. Think about it, if we know everything already then there is nothing left we can learn. If we are not learning, we cannot grow.

It is only when we release our hold on being “right” that we can truly be open and enjoy the beauty of a close relationship.

Take responsibility for our emotions

“He just makes me so mad.” “She ruined the whole evening.” “He really gets under my skin.”

When we say things like this we are immediately casting blame outside ourselves for how we feel and react in this world. Sometimes it might seem like the actions of others cause our reactions or feelings — but this is not the case. The actions of others do have effects in the world just as our actions have effects. However, our emotions and thoughts are purely the effect of our own causes.

The more we can take responsibility for our inner state of being and release the need to be responsible for someone else’s, the easier and more peaceful life becomes.

Notice what the other person exposes in us

When we see something we like, it’s a projection of what we like within ourselves. When we think someone is angry, it’s a projection of what we know anger to look like based on how we react when we’re angry. When we allow ourselves to get irritated with something (or someone), it is because that thing reminds us of a trait we have and don’t like.

It is through this exposure that we can choose to either get angry and push people away or expect them to change, or we can use this as an opportunity to more deeply explore ourselves and better understand what it is we are uncomfortable having exposed.

It is by exploring the parts of ourselves that we don’t like — not changing others — that we can experience happier and healthier relationships with ourselves and with others.

When we are wiling to be wrong, take responsibility for our emotions and examine the dark corners of ourselves, we can experience empowering, sustainable relationships — whether they are with the stranger in the supermarket or with our lifelong partner.

What tips do you have for being more mindful in relationships? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.