046: How To Stay Present, Benefit From Past Memories, and Plan For The Future with Laurie Cameron
Laurie Cameron is the founder and CEO of Purpose Blue, a mindfulness consultancy that has delivered coaching and leadership training to Fortune 100 companies including Google and Cisco, universities, and other groups all over the world.
She is also the author of The Mindful Day: Practical Ways to Find Focus, Calm, and Joy From Morning to Evening, which is the #3 bestselling book on mindfulness for 2018, and my most gifted book of all time. Lots of people roll their eyes at the idea of mindfulness, but her practices have had a profound impact on my life – and many others’ as well.
Today, she joins the podcast to share the story of how she became so focused on mindfulness, how she helps coach her clients as they transition into retirement, and the tools and strategies she uses to stay in the moment and live each day as she wants to live it.
In this podcast interview, you’ll learn:
- Why our brains are almost always by default thinking about the past or the future – and how to retrain ourselves to be in the present.
- How being overworked, overwhelmed, and overscheduled led Laurie on her mindfulness journey, and how she learned to practice it on command.
- Laurie’s advice for someone who is getting started planning their retirement – and her unique strategies to help her clients decide what matters most.
- How Laurie helps her clients revisit childhood, working careers, and past experiences to use them in new, exciting, interesting ways in passion projects that improve the world.
- Why mindfulness helps us notice when we’re anxious – and what we’re anxious about.
- How Laurie uses loving kindness meditation to “tune her instrument” before she goes out in the day to live the day she wants to live – and the tools she recommends you use to make it a part of your daily practice.
“We can train ourselves to strengthen our capacity for attention and the skill of attention. A foundation in mindfulness is a superpower these days because we’re very distracted with our phones and the media and the uncertainty and the political landscape.” – Laurie Cameron
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Casey: Today’s guest is Laurie Cameron. Laurie is the author of The Mindful Day, which was the third best-selling mindfulness book in 2018 and before you go and start rolling your eyes at the idea of mindfulness, which to be honest, was my first reaction when I picked up the book, this book has quickly become my most gifted book of all time. I’ve implemented many of the practices laid out in the book, which we’re going to discuss today and it has had a profound impact on my life and I know it can do the same for you. Laurie is the founder and CEO of PurposeBlue, a mindfulness consultancy that has delivered coaching and leadership across the US to some of the largest companies in the world like Google and Cisco, also to universities like the University of Maryland. Laurie speaks on the topic of mindfulness not just in the US, but around the globe. She’s going to discuss with us how to stay present in every moment of your life while benefiting from past memories and planning for the future.
She talks about managing the overwhelming nature of retirement, the dangers of free time in retirement, and how to maintain a routine while still maintaining your flexibility and freedom. And, of course, she will share with us how she has helped coach others on finding their purpose as they make the transition into retirement. Without further delay, I offer you Laurie Cameron.
Casey: Welcome to the Retire With Purpose Podcast. This is your host, as always, Casey Weade, and today we are joined by Laurie Cameron. Laurie, welcome to the podcast.
Laurie: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Casey: Well, Laurie, I’m really excited to have you on as a guest. Almost every single one of my guest has written a book at some point during your career and always make it a point to read that book before I come in and sit down and start this conversation and yours is one that I was able to pick up and really get engaged in and actually take a lot of actionable advice out of and implement right into not just my life but my wife’s life. I’ve already gifted your book. I guess I’ve got three people that are currently reading it and they all really enjoy it and so this has already become my most gifted book of 2019 and that is The Mindful Day. Laurie, tell us a little bit about mindfulness and Mindful Day because I got to say, when I first picked up the book, gosh, mindfulness. I run across these podcasts on mindfulness and I’m quick to just move on and listen to something else or meditation, I’ll move on and listen to something else thinking this is just something kind of fluffy out there that I’m not going to be able to connect with and I was really surprised at how useful it was in life. Can you tell us and just so everybody gets an idea what mindfulness is and what it really means to you and in your life?
Laurie: So, mindfulness is simply paying attention in the present moment here and now. So, the reason that sounds so simple but is so hard is that what we found in neuroscience is that 50% of our day, 50% of the time that we’re awake, our mind is not present and we’re not paying attention where actually, our mind goes into something called the default mode and it’s actually thinking about the past or projecting into the future or replaying a conversation from this morning or worried about something that happened or worried about something that’s coming up and that’s the heart of anxiety and worry and rumination. So, that’s what we’re designed to do. Our brains are designed for survival and in order to stay alive, we need to have our mind roaming and our attention kind of looking around seeing what could potentially threaten us or hurt us. So, we’re designed not to be in the present.
Mindfulness is about being present and tuned in to what’s happening in the here and now, paying attention to our direct experience. So, what that means is, is right now I’m paying attention to sitting in this yellow chair in this old schoolhouse of a house in Maryland and just being aware of you and being aware of my thoughts and emotions on the inside. So, I’m tracking my external experience so exactly what’s going on around me and also what’s arising inside, emotions, am I anxious? Am I excited? Am I grateful? Am I nervous? So, whatever feelings are happening on the inside I’m also tracking. So, mindfulness is really powerful because if I’m able to be present, if you’re able to be present, a little bit more than 50% of the day, it gives you more life. It’s a way to extend life and that’s what I think is the biggest benefit. And we can talk about there’s so many benefits to mindfulness both physiologically as well as cognitively and your listeners might be really interested in those.
But the thing that’s most motivating to me is it gives me more of my life. I’m more present, connected, paying attention, I hear more, my relationships are deeper because I’m actually listening to what my husband or daughter says, and I’m more creative so it’s really and actually one of the biggest ones is I can savor life. I can savor the way my hands feel in my golden retriever’s fur as I just pet him or the way the coffee taste in the morning. I’m actually present and noticing what’s happening.
Casey: It’s really just this awareness I believe and I think your book, congratulations, was number three on the list of mindfulness books of 2018 and I think that was probably because a lot of the stories you told about your own life and what led you to mindfulness so people could really connect with. You weren’t always like this. You didn’t always have this present awareness of where you are, connecting with those that you’re with. You did struggle with always focusing on the past or is planning for the future. What led you to where you’re at today and what led you to this focus on mindfulness?
Laurie: Well, a couple things led me to today. One is when I was in high school my father had a heart attack when he was with me. I was 16, he was 44, and he didn’t survive the heart attack and I did CPRM. I was actually trained in that, believe it or not, from being a Girl Scout and he didn’t live and that event was very transformative because it taught me the preciousness of life that how each moment in each day is so fragile in a way that we could really go at any time. It’s unpredictable. So, I learned that at a very young age. I think we often learn that when we get older, but that was sort of a driving focus for me to go into a career where I focus on human development and flourishing and resilience. So, I’ve always done that but, in that career, I started to become kind of really, I don’t know, overwhelmed, overworked, overscheduled. Really, it almost that same thing in losing my dad made me try to get the most out of every day and drive and achieve and make him proud.
I really started to live less in the moment because I was working so hard and one of my clients I was living in San Francisco, an engineer who came here as a child from Vietnam actually introduced me to the concept of mindfulness. And the powerful thing she taught me was that we can deliberately engage in specific mental practices to train our mind to be in the present. So, being in the present is not just a Reader’s Digest aspiration. I’m going to live in the present, I’m going to be more aware. We actually can build the mental muscles to do that. So, she taught me that in the mid-90s more than 22 years ago, she taught me how to use mindful breathing, how to bring my attention to my breath on-demand, and that’s the birthplace of awareness so I become aware of my breath, breathing in and breathing out, and even in one breath, I stop that monkey mind, that popcorn machine of thoughts, and I can get right into the breath and I’m present.
So, that was transformative too in the mid-90s when I started to learn that we could train. We were not, a lot of people identify themselves as scattered or ADHD or, “Meditation, I’ve heard of that. I tried it one time. That’s not for me. You don’t know what it’s like in here,” and I say we’re all like that, all of us. The power is that we can train ourselves to strengthen our capacity for attention and the skill of attention, which a foundation in mindfulness is a superpower these days because we’re very distracted with our phones and the media and the uncertainty and the political landscape. I live 6 miles from the White House. Uncertainty in the markets, in the economic markets, there’s a lot happening right now and we’ve got input all the time. So, mindfulness teaches us to find a moment of calm presence and that’s a skill that we can train in and at any age.
Casey: Well, and you’ve been doing this for now over 20 years, practicing this mindfulness on a daily basis. And what would you say have been the biggest benefits to you in your life?
Laurie: I would say that really, I’ve developed what’s called equanimity and that’s another way of saying sort of an easygoingness that pervades my life so that big difficult things don’t rock me and big joyful things. I feel them, I savor them, maybe even more deeply, but I don’t get thrown off. So, equanimity is really powerful and we train that in mindfulness by being aware of our thoughts and aware of our emotions and we relate to our thoughts and emotions almost as if they are actors on a stage and that we’re in the balcony watching them like, “Oh, sadness just walked on from stage left,” or, “Oh, I’m sensing some anxieties here.” So, I can relate to my experiences really differently as a witness or an observer of what I’m experiencing that if I’m not aware so here comes unaware and I’m inside the emotion or inside the event and then I feel more whipped around by emotions or whipped around by the situations in my life. So, this has been really a superpower is to be able to be a witness or an observer. In neuroscience and psychology, that’s called meta-attention or metacognition. So, I’m cultivating attention and meta-attention. I see what’s happening in my present moment. And that’s been wonderful.
Casey: Well, it seems like, I mean, this is something that would be very valuable for those who are going through difficult times. My wife lost her father here not too long ago and that was a really difficult time for them and some of these practices of just being aware, awareness, and a new chapter on grief was very helpful for them and I think there’s a lot of different struggles whether it’s a loss of a loved one, or just transitioning into retirement for that matter. I see a lot of individuals are overwhelmed as or making that transition into retirement, not just with, well, what’s next but the decisions they have to make. And you talk a lot about overwhelm and how mindfulness can help you deal with overwhelming situations whether that’s grief or whether it’s making permanent financial planning decisions. I mean, a lot of the decisions people are making as they’re stepping into retirement, as one of our past guests, Jamie Hopkins, talked about, that’s the longest period of time you’re ever going to plan for your life. You plan for college and that’s four or five years.
But when you step into retirement, you’re playing for 30 or 40 years and so it’s not just thinking about, well, what’s the best investment. It’s trying to figure out, well, what’s my income, what’s my budget, how am I going to put together the proper income strategy, how am I going to battle inflation, potential healthcare expenses down the road, potential rise in taxes, leaving assets to loved ones, estate planning, long-term care planning, and that can be very overwhelming. What kind of advice would you give to someone who is getting ready to sit down and begin their retirement planning and they’re feeling a little overwhelmed by all the different decisions that you feel they have to make?
Laurie: I think rather than start from the bottom up, looking at all those products and services and decision points that we need to make when we build a retirement portfolio and a retirement plan, I think another way in could really serve and I do this exercise with Google executives, Capital One leaders. I teach at the business school at University of Maryland, School of Business and I often lead people through this exercise, which helps them get to purpose and from there, you can make decisions around your finances which will most serve that. So, one of the things to do to think about purpose in life and meaning is that when we can envision a picture almost as if you’re watching a movie of your life, it’s very powerful and clarifying what matters most. So, Robert Fritz is an author and cinematographer and business leader and I worked with him when I was VP of Leadership at Blue Shield. And he taught us that when we hold two pictures in our mind, our future ideal life and our current life almost after two movies where you’re seeing yourself then what happens is we create structural tension and we create a desire to move the current life closer to that ideal life.
And as we’re envisioning our future life, which I would think and for me that’s what I do and all my clients do, we create that picture first before we go in and look at do I want a SEP? Do I want a Roth IRA? What do I want? What are my products and services? And then we choose, I get a clear picture of that and a way to do that is to journal. So, you can set your timer for 20 minutes and journal what will my ideal life look like in 10 years or 20 years, depending on your age right now. It could be 30. It could be five. What does it look like? Where am I waking up? Am I waking up in the city or by the sea? Am I my waking up with a partner or alone? And what am I doing that day? Am I serving? Am I a volunteer? Am I a business mentor? That’s a big movement now in modern elders and people cultivating skills to be a sage in their later years. Am I living near grandkids or am I on an island? Am I living in Tuscany? So, getting a clear picture of what your life looks like, and underneath that, the pillars of that are your values, what you care about most, what your strengths are. So, a lot of people are cultivating skill sets and expertise and that can serve them in creating that picture and what brings you joy? Because joy and flow and meaning are the key factors for well-being in later life.
We can enable that with finances but we need to consciously and intentionally journal out that picture and bring your senses into it. What am I smelling in the morning? What am I hearing? Am I hearing ocean waves or car horns in Manhattan? And really get that picture and then from there we can look at the next set of questions. So, it’s very methodical. Okay, if that’s my ideal life, what am I going to need to support that? Do I want to be generating a little bit of income? Do I want to have conservatives vehicles to save my money and some maybe cash accounts to help me do what I need to do? So, then we can go back and with the help of a financial advisor lay out what those tactics are. But the envisioning is creating that picture so that we can throw all the other decisions up against that.
Casey: Well, I think that’s such an important topic and one of the things when people come and visit with our team, the first thing we’re going to talk to them about is what’s your purpose for retirement? Why do you want to retire? And one of the exercises we like to do is plan out your ideal day. Where do you wake up? What do you eat for breakfast? Where do you go for lunch? Who do you go to lunch with? What are you doing in the evening? And I like the idea of journaling too. I think this is something that I really want to get implemented into my life. I had been taking steps in the morning to integrate the things that you had recommended in your book from waking up, meditating, focusing on body, focusing on mind, having gratitude, being intentional about the day, and then just smiling, and I’ve started to do that with our Vice President Marshall here. He’s doing it every morning as well. And my next step is journaling and I’ve never journaled before, but I’ve heard of so many people recommending journaling as a great practice to use every day. I never actually thought about utilizing journaling with the family that I would be working with to help them really identify their purpose in retirement.
I think this kind of goes hand-in-hand with intentionality as you said in your book. When you’re being intentional, if you know what it means to be intentional then that can help you lead your way to your purpose.
Laurie: Yes, and/or I think they can go either way. I often get clear on purpose and then set intentions that serve as a rudder or a compass for my day-to-day choices in how I show up and how I’m showing up with you. So, purpose is the bigger picture. How am I serving in the world? What gives my life meaning? Who am I showing up for and why? How am I using my strengths? And then day-by-day I’m setting intentions so they go really well together. And I’m so glad you brought up journaling and I love that, by the way, I really commend you that you’re doing that envisioning exercise with your clients and it’s very powerful to just augment what you’re already doing by having them either take 15 minutes in your office and journal. It’s research fact that when we journal, there is a translation process that’s happening in the mind kind of as we form the words and frame and think about how we’re going to say something that really helps with clarity. So, their picture will get even clearer with journaling and so will yours if you start journaling.
Casey: Yeah. Well, I’m getting after. We’re doing getting good. I was going from five minutes of meditative practice. I got to 10 minutes and the next 10, extra 10 minutes early in the morning to get started with journaling, and then I got sick and so I had to sleep in a little bit but I’m going to get back to it as soon as I possibly can, but that’s the neat thing about retirement. I mean, a lot of people said, “Wow. I’ll never have time to journal. I’ll never have time to meditate.” You set in the retirement and now you have more time for those things that can help you just have a better life. And your company, you have a company called PurposeBlue where you do some of this coaching where you help people identify their purpose. And I’m wondering if you can share with us an example of someone that you’ve worked with through your organization or someone through your coaching programs, someone who you help identify their purpose, especially if they’re transitioning into retirement, that’d be great to hear.
Laurie: Yeah. So, with PurposeBlue we do one-on-one coaching and we work with teams and companies and leadership groups and the purpose work is always part of the roadmap that we do because it really drives everything else and I had a number of clients that had really successful careers or even careers that have had a variety of components to it and then in a fairly young age that get to retirement some 40s, some 50s, some a little bit older and the world is really wide open at that point, but it can’t. That transition can be challenging. And so, one example is a woman that I work with in Washington who was a speechwriter for one of our presidents and her kids grew up and they went off to college and she was very uncertain about what to do next. Should she keep speechwriting? Should she move to a house in the country and kind of change her whole life? And through our work together, getting really clear about what she was most interested in, her passions and interests. And the key about purpose is where purpose comes in. As we looked beyond her individual life, like not just her skills in writing or making meaning or having your finger on a pulse of the political context. But what does she really care about influencing and where did she want to serve something outside of herself?
And so, what she really cared about was translating the stories of one of our most beloved presidents, the senior George Bush into a set of stories that could inspire people. So, she was my client. We work together for almost a year and she put together the screenplay and then produced a film, a documentary film, on the senior president called 41 on 41, which was 41 stories of people talking about how he impacted them. And it was amazing people from Barack Obama to world leaders to athletes and that was a story that really inspires me working with her because that documentary impacted so many other people and she didn’t see that. All the skill she developed in her career were so relevant and then we translated how they would work for her and creating a very different project, a very creative project but very different.
Casey: A lot of the coaches that I’ve interviewed and seen how they work with their clients is a lot of times were going back and revisiting not just your working career or maybe in your childhood, but how can you take things out of your past experience in your work. How do you take those skill sets, even some things maybe you didn’t like that you are really good at? How do you take those and turning them into a passion that you can really enjoy and maybe improve the world or focus on utilizing those skills to fulfill something that you always wanted to do in your childhood? Another part in your book was about a wandering mind and you talked about the dangers of a wandering mind and that got me thinking. While we step in retirement, we might have more time with our hands to let that mind wander. Are there dangers in that? Do you think we have a greater risk of a wandering mind as we step into retirement?
Laurie: I don’t know that I would use the word danger for a wandering mind, but what it robs us of is a feeling of well-being and positivity and attending to things that we care about, but I don’t know. Now, that I’m thinking about it, I do like the provocative word, danger, because I think what’s at risk is that we lose time and that is our most valuable resource. More than the money in our portfolio, our time, no matter what your age is, is our most viable resource. So, when your mind is just kind of floating all over the place, you’re not living in that moment. Your mind is somewhere else so that if we can create sort of a blueprint for life. I work with clients to help them almost create a grid or structure for their day and I’m an entrepreneur. I’ve worked in many companies, Accenture, and many others, but now my time is one of my own and me and my team. So, I’ve had to do that for myself, really create an intentional flow of the week, an intentional flow of the month and a quarter and a year so that the things that matter most to me, my values and the elements that were in that journaling exercise are actually showing up in my day. And that’s part of the reason I wrote the book is that mindfulness is not some strange new age-y, esoteric, Eastern thing that’s only available to people in California or the Himalayas, but it’s a way to train the mind to live more consciously.
So, I think it’s a wonderful exercise to lay out what matters most and then say what are the two or three things I’d like to really contribute this year. What projects do I want to do or where do I want to serve or who do I want to work with? What do I want to create? And then break that down and create a life where our attention is focused.
Casey: Often I ask individuals so what are you going do in retirement? They say, well, I’ll figure that when I get there or I’m going to go ahead and I’m going to step in retirement. I’m going to spend the first couple years just kind of doing what I want, when I want to do it, and I just want to get away from the schedule. I don’t want to schedule anymore. I don’t want to have to be here or be there. It feels restraining and that’s exactly why I retired in the first place. And as you’re saying that you’re kind of setting the intention for the day, you’re setting intention for the week, for the month, the quarter, the year. It kind of sounds like work.
Laurie: Yeah. Well, I’m using a framework that they understand or a lot of people that were in business understand quarters and years but one of my biggest things that I emphasize, Casey, is experimenting and I hear you that idea that, “Oh my God, the last thing I want is to schedule. I’m not even going to use Google Calendar,” but fences create freedom, boundaries, a line in the sand, a sandbox in the backyard. It creates freedom to play, freedom to travel, freedom to learn new skills like cooking or foreign language, to take up a painting class, to serve the homeless, to fight immigration, whatever it might be. So, I really invite your listeners to experiment if they have a belief that a schedule feels confining. And we’re all different so I am a leadership development expert, so I know a lot about personality and how that shows up and there are personalities that love having the day scheduled. I have a personality that does not like schedules, does not like structure, so I learned this the hard way, but what I find now is that having a blueprint where I know that, I’m training on Tuesday, Thursday, and yoga’s Monday, Wednesday, Friday. I’ll visit client sites on certain days of the week. I protect time in my year for silent meditation retreats an entire week at a time. I block that out, top down.
If we don’t block out time for what matters most and we don’t have to use the word schedule if that creates a trigger for someone but we might have a wandering mind, we might have a day that kind of unfolds in a random chaotic way and that’s not associated with well-being.
Casey: This got me thinking. I wonder what are your thoughts on this would be. Often here, I’m sure you’ve heard this before. Retirees always say, “Well, I’m busier now than I’ve ever been.” I’m just running around all over the place. I’ve got so much things to do. I’m busy all the time and I just don’t know how I got it all done when I was working. I wonder if that is a factor of no longer keeping a schedule. Now, they’re not constrained to time and that can lead to this hectic feeling or letting time get away from you.
Laurie: Yeah. And busy, we almost have an addiction to busyness in our Western culture. We have a belief and there is a physical reaction to it that that busyness is good, that busyness equals productivity and productivity is good, but busyness and productivity on things that do not matter most are actually sucking the energy out of your day and they’re putting us in a state that’s not optimal. We’re not relaxed with people we love. We’re not creative when we want to write a book or a blog or a painting or do whatever. We’re worn out. We’re tapped out. So, a lot of people take their habituated self that they cultivated as workers, which is I got to have a full schedule and I’m busy and I’m running around and I’m over volunteering and I’m doing whatever and they take that. That’s a behavior pattern, a habit pattern and they move it right into retirement. And what they lose is the opportunity to have a life that might be a little more, a little richer, have a little more meaning, have moments of calm in a day. And I’ll go back to that takes conscious intention and that takes some level of planning.
So, I love telling my people to kind of audit their time for a week, retired or about to retire, and just see where their times going and also, this is something I have all my coaching clients do is start to jot down in your 10 minutes of journaling a night, where did I feel most alive today? What brought me the most joy? So, whether you’re in retirement or not, to start to be conscious of where we feel that most alive and then do more of that in the future days and weeks and less of the draining stuff and it might mean giving up a few volunteer roles or it might mean stepping down from a couple boards and only serving on the boards that are connected to your purpose. So, it’s about dialing down the busy, hectic, go, go, go, and taking our precious time, which is even more precious in retirement years and spending it in a way that’s very fulfilling.
Casey: If you’re ready to take the next step towards securing the confident retirement you’ve always wanted, then stop by RetireWithPurpose.com. You have three options to get started. If you want to stay on top of current retirement trends, you can sign up for my weekend reading for retirees where I offer up four trending articles on retirement from experts in the field with my own personal insights directly to your inbox every single Friday. Or maybe you’re ready to see what a purpose-based retirement strategy would look like for you, then apply to receive a free copy of one of my latest retirement planning books. And if you have specific questions you’d like to get professional guidance on, you can sign up for a complimentary consultation. It’s up to you. Again, that’s RetireWithPurpose.com. Now, back to the podcast.
Casey: Well, you just said that time is more precious as we step into our retirement years and I often wonder if mindfulness is becoming more important as we age as well and more difficult maybe because being mindful means being present and not constantly thinking about the past or the future, and now we get to be 65, 75, 85. We have more in our past to think about so there’s more memories there for us to hold on to, grasp, and go back to and revisit and then we have this limited future ahead of us and it’s like my grandfather. He’s 92 this year and every time I talk to him he says, “Well, I may not be here next year,” or, “Well, it was great when we did this, great when we did that,” or, “Oh, we’ve got a few months more left,” and it just feels like he’s got a lack of actually being present. Do you think that becomes more difficult as we age due to that, say, lack of time that we have in the future that develops out lack of time focus and then also having that vast depth of past experiences as well?
Laurie: I think it could for some. I know I just lost my father-in-law in October last year. He was 92 and he was a magnificent storyteller and what I appreciated was that we would gather with him, he would tell stories so telling stories as in the present. It was a way for him to pass on what matters most, to teach us, his children and grandchildren, and then my sister-in-law actually went and interviewed him and we got many, many, many stories actually captured and we wrote them all down. We all have them in the family book. So, I think thinking about what we’re most grateful for, what were the wonderful highlights of our life, what were the difficult things? What were the things that shaped who we are? It’s really a good thing to do. I think it’s wonderful to do that at any time in our life but when we’re retired. I think that mindfulness helps us notice when our mind is anxious about the future or anxious about money or an illness or a diagnosis. Many of these things happen as we get older and mindfulness helps us to see that as a phenomenon that we’re experiencing as a human.
Okay, I just got this diagnosis, I have high blood pressure, I’m borderline diabetes so what are my intentions around that? How can I plan for that? What can I change or do differently to deal with this? So, we can instead of ruminating and spinning and worrying which we tend to do anyway as humans, what we do is notice our thoughts and name it, worrying. Worrying is here and then return to the present and say, “Okay. What skillful action, what intentional appointment or nutritionist can I meet with to take care of that?”
Casey: That was one of my questions was just this idea of, well, as you started, being mindful is being present, being aware of your feelings, being in the moment, not being stuck in the past, not thinking about the future which we spend as you said at least half of our time thinking about the past, the future. I think I’ve heard higher statistics than that in the past as well because I feel like the concern could be, well, I read this book. It told me to stay present all the time and so, I’m staying present all the time. Why would I worry about the future? And I hear that from people sometimes, “Well, I don’t know if I’m going to be here tomorrow so I’m just going to be present today. I’m going to live today like it’s my last day on earth.” And I think it’s still important for us to be mindful, but also remember the past. How do we stay present and I think that’s kind of what you’re alluding to here is that reports of staying present and still recognizing the importance of those past memories and still planning for the future?
Laurie: So, I think that’s a terrific question and I really love that you brought up, “Gee, I can’t be present all the time,” and you won’t find that in my book or a lot of my mindfulness teachers I hang out with. Because the idea we really can’t be present 100% of the time and also, I do want to mention that sometimes when our mind is wandering, we can have really creative insights. So, it’s okay to take a walk in the woods or to be in the shower sometimes and the mind’s wandering and that’s when you solve a problem but what we’re doing is being aware of our thoughts, aware of where our attention is. So, if I’m sitting in my chair in my living room and I’m almost lost in thought and I’m replaying scenes or I’m slipping into regret or wishing our nostalgia in a way for the past that’s sucking me into the past and I’m not enjoying my life right now. That’s a problem. And I think that is a danger of not being in the present. So, being in the present allows me to consciously choose what I’m going to do with my mind and I might decide to tell stories to my grandkids and that’s a conscious thought. I also might decide to plan for the future.
So, thinking, using my rational prefrontal cortex, my thinking mind, planning for the future, setting goals, being wise is absolutely recommended so we’re never thinking about the future. That would be unwise, but to just know where my mind is and to choose where your mind is, is what mindfulness is about.
Casey: Wow. Not understanding that could have some long-term detrimental effects if we didn’t pay attention to the future and learn from the past and incorporate that into the present and I’m kind of getting when it came to meditation which I want to get to that kind of morning routine and I think this will kind of lead us right in there. I’m getting from you this idea of preparing for retirement and planning for retirement, which often has especially the onset has nothing to do with money. First, we’re envisioning what that future is going to look like, projecting ourselves forward 5, 10, 20, 30 years, whatever it is. I had Dr. Paul Ward on recently said, “Write your speech for your 100th birthday,” and that’s along the same lines we’re envisioning what the future’s going to look like. We’re putting ourselves there and then kind of working that backwards and building on a schedule for the year for the quarter or for the month, the day. And then I think we get into putting together a daily routine and what that daily routine looks like. What are we going to do every morning we wake up? What are we going to do at the end of the day?
And I think that just becomes incredibly helpful right now for my family. We’re getting up, I’m getting up in the morning, I’m practicing routines, and then I am making sure we’ve got a scheduled breakfast every morning as a family and then we know what we’re doing next. And then on Sunday evening, we’re getting together for our opportunities to sit around and just share gratitude as a family and how the past week went and making sure we have dinner together every Sunday night and I can already see the effects of that routine is having in my life. What about a retiree? What’s that look like for them to put together routine when they said, “I don’t really want to have routine in the first place.” So, I think we have to outline what’s the importance of having a routine even when you don’t want to have one and what’s that routine look like?
Laurie: Yeah. I think that’s so beautiful. I love hearing the examples from your life, Casey.
Casey: And I can’t remember the name. What you called the tea, sitting down having tea. It was the name or something along those lines.
Laurie: Well, I have a chapter on having tea with your family or people you care about.
Casey: Yeah. And my wife was ecstatic because she loves hot tea.
Laurie: Yeah. And it really becomes a fun ritual of brewing the tea and what tea are we having tonight, just having a tray with pretty flowers or we have nice teapots and which one we’re going to use. So, that becomes fun if you have kids too. And I really encourage folks that are retiring with their adult children or grandchildren to do that as well. I want to emphasize that, creating a routine or creating a schedule or blueprint for the year should be held as not a striving, “Oh my God, I got to do this,” but held with joy and with lightness that, “Wow. I’m so lucky to be here. This is how I’m thinking about every day. I’m so lucky to still be here.” And I think about what do I want to do as Mary Oliver, our wonderful poet who just died last week at I think she was early 80s, 82. She said, “What are we going to do with this one wild and precious life?” And that’s a motto that I live by so we can look at that for our day and I have friends that are in retirement communities. One of them actually just started a weekly mindfulness group and they get together once a week and you could listen to I can send any of your listeners. They can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send them guided meditations that they can play and then listen to the guided meditation for 10 minutes and then talk and have tea together.
There might be mindful locks, you know, that that’s in my book, like taking a mindful lock as a family, taking a mindful lock in the morning in nature with people in your community or neighbors, people you live with. It could be that you say like for me I’m very intentional about creating structure to see friends. So, here is that structure word again but I meet with my high school friends that I graduated 30 years ago every six weeks and we have lunch and I meet with friends from another part of my life every two months, and so on. So, creating my mother did that until she met with her high school friends for 60 years once a month for lunch. That’s not even in a book. I learned that. But having routines is serving my mom. I volunteer at the church Wednesday nights and was there every Sunday. So, dropping in for days of the week routines and rituals that foster connection and help us serve and that foster gratitude like you’re doing on Sunday nights and I just heard some interesting research you might love given that you’re focused on purpose too.
University of Berkeley Science Center reported that gratitude is more impactful at creating purpose and clarifying your purpose than the exercise that I share with you and the one that you do with your clients about envisioning an ideal day. So, visioning an ideal day.
Casey: Well, actually good for me.
Laurie: Yeah. I know.
Casey: My wife’s word for – every year we have a word for the year, a theme for the year. This year her word was intentional and my word was gratitude. And so, we just combine those two things and we’re doing really good.
Laurie: You guys are doing awesome. So, when we practice gratitude, when we pause and actually generate gratitude as a generative skill, I’m going to stop and generate thoughts about what I appreciate, what I feel grateful for and the key with gratitude research is to not say the same things every day. So, it’s better to practice gratitude once a week. Say every Sunday we’re going to do gratitude practice than every single day if you do the same things every day. You can do a 21-day challenge and have a partner or your family or people you live with in your community and say for 21 days we’re going to do gratitude and it’s going to be something new every day. And then we start to get really granular. It’s a great practice but whichever practice you do, gratitude, generating gratitude, and then defining purpose is even more powerful but I recommend doing both than journaling and envisioning an ideal day. So, what I do now with my clients is having to do both and what researchers think is that gratitude gets us in a state of deep appreciation and that is a springboard for thinking about how we want to get back in the world and what we want to do. That’s another thing you can add to your client meeting.
Casey: Yeah. Well, the daily routine you said don’t use gratitude every day and be thankful for the same things every morning. I’ve been making that part of my routine is to practice gratitude than lean into intentionality and I am finding sometimes probably every time I am being thankful for, thankful for my wife, thankful for my kids. You end up saying that you’re thankful for a lot of the same things. So, I guess I’ll have to be more intentional about being thankful for other things every single morning and being a little broader.
Laurie: Or I’ll say one of the ways to do it is specificity. So, last night like you, I have a cold and last night my husband brewed a really nice tea for me and brought it for me. And so, instead of just being grateful for my husband in general, being grateful for the cup of tea he brought me last night. So, that makes it new and fresh every day is bringing specificity to it.
Casey: Interesting and I know you have a fairly strict routine. I don’t know if the word strict is good to use but you have a daily routine that you go through every day. Can you walk us through what your routine looks like on a daily basis?
Laurie: And the word that I’m playing with now that I love is daily-ish. So, the daily-ish routine and/or delicious. No, it’s daily-ish. And so, my routine is I wake up and the first chapter of my book is Wake Up To Joy and I wake up without a phone or device near me and my eyes open and I just couldn’t do a light body scan. I just bring my attention into my body and just noticed how I’m doing and how I’m feeling and then often I’ll bring my attention to my breath and I do that because I have a tendency to my mind will go right into thinking about the day and what I need to do and worrying. And so, to offset that, the counter move, the jujitsu move is to focus on my breath, which brings me right into the present and then I think about what I’m looking forward to or what I’m grateful for. And then I get up and do a movement exercise either qi gon or yoga for 10 minutes or so, really stretching and getting my circulation going and movement of my body. And then I do a sitting meditation. And I have a meditation room in my main floor and I love how it set up. For Christmas, I got myself some new natural linen cushions and I’ve got some beloved pieces in there of art and Christian statues and Buddhist statues, things that influence my own spirituality and pictures of people I love.
So, having that specific place can be really helpful. Whether it’s the same chair people sit in each morning or the front porch or back porch or a walk in the woods, but I have this place that I love to go to and it’s usually dark at least it is right now in the winter and I light a candle and that is very calming and inviting, and then I do mindful breathing for about 10 minutes focusing on my breath, noticing when my mind wanders, and then bringing my attention back, very simple. And I have a very kind attitude to myself. So, it’s not a strenuous thing I don’t want to do. It’s lovely. And then I practice what’s called loving kindness meditation where I use a methodical mental set of phrases that I repeat to send good wishes to myself and then to other people in kind of widening circles. So, first to myself, “May you be happy, may you be peaceful, may you be healthy, may you be strong, may you live a day of grace and ease.” And then I bring up an image of my daughter, her face in my mind, and my husband, and do the same for that whole wishing well. And then to people I might meet that day, so meetings I have or lunches I have or what I’m going to do, I’ll just bring them into my mind and wish them well.
And then sometimes I go wider to all beings and what this does is the science shows us that this meditation actually generates positive activity in the brain, the part of the brain associated with love, connection, and well-being is activated. So, by doing that, it not only orients my mind of the positive, it generates a very positive loving state in my body. So, I think of these actions of the body with yoga, mindful breathing for my mind and attention and the loving kindness. It’s almost like tuning my instrument before I go out in a day. It kind of creates a state in my human beingness to have a day a certain way instead of being frenetic or bored or anxious. I’m actually kind of primed. And then I meet my family and we have all three of us. My daughter’s 14 but we all have lattes in the morning and connect and share what’s important for that day, our intention, what’s coming up, if we’ve got something big, and it can be short time, but it’s a connection point and that happens each morning and then they leave and I’m a writer. So, I’m often at home if I’m not out speaking or teaching. So, then I will – I might go walk my dog. I do that a lot in the woods and sometimes I meet a friend so that I can get into nature.
Because if I can’t take a walk in the morning, I’ll step outside and sip my coffee from and just look at the trees and connect to the birds because the science is showing is that nature calibrates our nervous system and everything happens from the nervous system, our sense of well-being. So, even just stepping out, if you’re in the city look out your window and that’s really powerful. So, I try to get into nature in the morning and I also do that during the day. That’s my morning routine and I could take it through the whole day.
Casey: Well, as I was talking to a friend about this, I was talking to him about mindfulness, I was talking to him about meditation and he said, “It sounds kind of hippy-dippy liberal for me,” and I said, “Well, you pray every night, don’t you?” and like, “Yeah. I pray twice a day.” “Well, prayer is really very darn close to meditation and mindfulness and it’s really one of those practices that you’re using. It just happens to be part of your religious practice, but you’re practicing gratitude, you’re thinking about your intention for the day, and that is just a core piece of what prayer is really all about I think.”
Laurie: Yeah. Let me speak to that. In the morning I first focus on the breath and do the loving-kindness meditation and then I pray and I also do that in the evening. And in a few weeks, I’m leading a retreat, a women’s leadership retreat for about 50 women up in the beautiful woods and nearby in Harpers Ferry and it’s a Christian retreat, and I’m the retreat leader and I’m going to be talking about the role of mindfulness to increase my presence with God or our presence with God and one of the scenes we’re talking about is mindfulness in prayer and I know as a kid when I would pray that I would start praying and then my mind would wander and I would be gone. Think about all kind of things and then I always would say, “Oh, my goodness, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. God, I’m back, I’m back. Where was I?” And then I’ll start praying again and I always felt really bad about that. And what I’ve known…
Casey: My wife is the same thing.
Laurie: Yeah. Oh, man, I’m sitting here and praying and I’m totally gone. And what I’ve noticed is that I was a person who grew up going to church three times a week and I learned to pray, but I didn’t learn how to focus my attention and sustain it and I didn’t learn how to notice where my thoughts were, and bring my attention back in a way that could build a muscle to do that. So, mindfulness has strengthened my capacity to pray and to be present and to also notice my state so when I’m getting upset or when I’m anxious or when I’m triggered or angry during the day or something happens. It allows me to stop and create space and calm and come into the present and from there I can have very skillful conversations with God. This for me, prayer is something I do in a structured way in the morning and evening, but I also just have a conversation with God all day long. So, it’s a way for me to just have that conversation from a clear space.
Casey: Well, you’ve got all these practices that, I mean, it can almost be overwhelming. You’ve got all these little things that you’ve implemented into your life over time, and you’ve done it over time. So, if you’re new to mindfulness and this concept, where would you say the first place is to start?
Laurie: So, thank you for bringing that up. Things happen over time and I recommend starting small, very small, with a small habit and the way we get a habit to stick is to hook it to something we already do. So, if your listeners have coffee in the morning every morning, that can be something that they hook a habit to or if they brush their teeth. So, I recommend that people start with even two minutes, two minutes of mindful breathing because mindful breathing which is simply bringing attention to the breath, noticing the feel of the breath coming in the body and out. So, not thinking about breathing but feeling the body breathe for two minutes and even five and working up like you are, hooking that to something they already do will help it stick and then the way to help a habit stick is to notice the reward. So, if you stop and breathe for two minutes in the morning or it could be at lunch. After lunch, I’m going to stop and breathe. I’m going to do mindful breathing for five minutes or it could be before bed but I recommend in the morning because it sets the tone. And then notice how you feel. What’s present?
Because people will find that that mindful breathing, which is like going to the mental gym, it’s strengthening the mind brings immediate rewards. It can calm and center us and we can start the day from there. So, I would start with mindful breathing five minutes a day, adding prayer to that if that’s something that people practice is a beautiful thing or hooking mindful breathing to a morning prayer. Setting intentions in the morning is also something I do and that’s really key for just deciding how do I want to show up today. I’m priming the mind. Do I want today to be a day where I’m really fit and I’m conscious about what I’m eating? Do I want to have a day where I’m very compassionate for myself and others? So, setting an intention for how we want to be doesn’t take a lot of time, but it’s an easy thing to do to that morning practice of stillness. I originally titled that chapter in the book that says Sit Still For Five Minutes and the book’s published by National Geographic, and they were a wonderful team to make this very practical. So, that’s the second title.
The original title was Meet Yourself In Stillness and I just love that invitation that I’m actually going to spend five minutes with myself in stillness and quiet because we don’t do that very often and that’s where we can begin to learn to appreciate ourselves and be kind to ourselves and all the other good habits follow, good eating, exercise, vacation, just listening to good music, all that follows with me when we care about ourselves.
Casey: Well, I think that five minutes of alone time is just so important and something that really I got away from over the last year or so right after our son was born. He was born with some congenital defects that caused a lot of stress in our lives. We didn’t have a home at the time. We just sold our home. We are building a new home. We were running a business, renovating an office and trying to get back and forth between the hospital that was several hours away and so every single night, I was up until 2:00, 2:30 in the morning, taking care of our newborn and I would take 5 to 10 minutes just staying outside and look at the trees. But I think that really help me get through that period of time in a very calm way. And during that period of time, I used a meditation app that I had and in your book, you talked about, you just talked about this is kind of being like exercise on a regular basis and I think there’s a lot of different tools out there today for this that can help you with, say, mindfulness. You go to the gym, you pick up weights, or you hop on a treadmill or you get on one of the machines. There’s always these different tools that you use in exercise. So, when it comes to exercising mindfulness, what are some of your favorite tools?
Laurie: My favorite app is Insight Timer and I mentioned that in the book. I love it because it’s free and a lot of apps are charging now beyond the very basics and there’s beautiful bells in Insight Timer so you can pick a favorite bell and set it for two minutes and just set your phone down and the bell will go off in two minutes or five minutes so you can relax in the morning knowing that this bell is going to ring. You can also there’s a lot of teachers there and you can find your favorite teachers. I am now on Insight Timer and for free, you can listen to a five-minute mindful breathing guided meditation that I do and I’m recording now in studios and I’ll be uploading a lot more to Insight Timer, the body scan, the loving-kindness meditation that I shared. So, I think that guided meditations are wonderful. It’s very easy to set everything up the night before. I got my favorite chair. I’ve got my pictures of things that I love, things that would bring me joy in this favorite spot. And there’s my phone because it’s not by my bed. It’s another place where I’m going to sit for five minutes and then I’ll just plug in. It makes it very easy for people to do. We want to set ourselves up for success and I think it’s so rewarding to do. And gratitude is a very powerful science-backed practice and we can slip that into before we eat just like a prayer of giving thanks, some people do that. We can give thanks. What we do is both.
We do a blessing for the food that I’ve done since I was little, but we also share gratitude at the table. What are you grateful for that happened today that’s a way of connecting? So, there are ways we can slip this in but I love the Insight Timer app. I also really like a lot of business people I work with like 10% Happier and I’m going to be on a new app called Wise@Work and there’s going to be series for work-life balance and mindfulness at work so I know your listeners are either planning for retirement or heading into it, but if they’re still working or have friends that do, they might really like those.
Casey: Well, I will definitely put links to those in the show notes. So, if you want to download those apps, you don’t have to jot them down while you’re driving down the road right now. Just go to RetireWithPurpose.com/Podcast. We’ll provide you with all the links to everything that we have talked about here today with Laurie and I’ve got so many other questions that I want to get to, but if people want to get in contact with you, if they want to join you for coaching purposes or how can people interact with you, Laurie, and get in contact?
Laurie: Oh, it’s very easy. I have two websites actually, one for the company PurposeBlue. That’s PurposeBlue.com and they can join my community there. I love writing and I write personal newsletters and share stories and research and tips on living with more intention and compassion and purpose. And my author website LaurieJCameron.com shares about the book and things coming up. It just came out on audio which I’ve been hearing from listeners around the world. It’s been so great because they’re taking me with them on their hikes and their walks, and as they’re hanging out because they’ve got audio now. So, I’d love to have them join my community. It’s really vibrant and I also love Instagram and I don’t know if you got visual users of social media. It’s a very visual social media platform and Facebook. Of course, I’m on there too. So, please join me. I can’t wait to meet them.
Casey: Awesome. Thank you so much for your time, Laurie, and I can’t wait until the next book and we’ll catch you next time.
Laurie: Great. Thank you. I love being here.