Receiving the Liebster Award and Paying it Forward

The Liebster Award was created to recognize new blogs in a “pay it forward” manner. The word ‘liebster’ is German for ‘favorite’ or ‘dearest.’

I am grateful to Dorlee M from the Social Work Career Development blog for nominating my blog, My Balancing Act, for this award (

The origins of the award are unclear and the rules have varied over time. In this incarnation of the award, the rules, as I understand them, are as follows:

  • Thank the person who nominated you for the Liebster Award.
  • Answer the 10 questions posed by the person who nominated you.
  • Pay it forward by nominating 10 blogs with less than 3000 subscribers or Facebook fans.
  • Create 10 questions for your nominees to answer if they choose to accept the award.

10 Questions Dorlee posed for nominees to answer: 

  1. What are the best three words that would describe you?

genuine, caring, and determined

  1. What do you hope to achieve with your blog?

I am working on achieving a more balanced life and decided to share my process to help keep me honest, and to help others who are striving for greater balance, by offering tools and strategies gleaned from my personal and professional knowledge and experience.

  1. Which of your blog posts is your favorite, and why?

The post on body scan meditations is one of my favorites, because I did something different by recording a guided meditation and including an excerpt in the post.

The Greatest Love of All is also a favorite, because I used lyrics from a song that is meaningful to me to illustrate my point and shared about my passion for singing and how I turn it into a form of meditation.

  1. What has writing taught you?

Writing this blog is challenging me to be more courageous and transparent about my own struggles, to help me to grow and to help others to know they are not alone when life’s journey is difficult.  It is also challenging me to let go of my perfectionism. If I am tweaking the wording or the layout or looking for the source of a fact I want to include and it is taking too much time, then I am learning to let it go.

  1. What advice do you have for pushing through fear?

I actually wrote about this in my post, Balancing Mindfulness of Emotions with Lovingkindness. I wrote, “It is the fear of fear that causes us to avoid it and try to block it from our minds.  When we face our fears, they become more manageable.”

To illustrate this point, I like to tell clients the story of Vishne and the Hindu gods, which I first heard at a training presented by Linda Sanford.

Vishne and his fellow Hindu gods lived in a castle in the sky. One day Vishne had to go away on business. After he left there was a knock on the door. When the Hindu gods opened the door, they discovered a monster standing there. They became frightened and the monster gobbled up their fear and got bigger. This made them more frightened and the monster gobbled up that fear as well and grew even bigger. This continued for some time with the monster getting bigger and bigger as the gods became more and more scared, until the monster had taken over almost the entire castle. Then Vishne came home and took one look at the situation and knew exactly what to do. He walked up to the monster, shook his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Vishne. Who are you?” And the monster became smaller and smaller and smaller until he was much smaller than Vishne and not scary at all.

  1. What are some of your favorite quotes?

“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?” –Hillel

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

“You must be the change that you wish to see in the world.” —Mahatma Gandhi

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” ― Vivian Greene

  1. What do you do for self-care and/or relaxation?

Meditation, exercise, reading, doing puzzles, listening to music and singing, I also love to swim and do tai chi.

  1. How did you find your current position?

I’m in private practice so I created my current position.

  1. What advice do you wish someone had given you before starting your career?

I wish someone had explained how important it is not to overextend yourself, to guard against unintentionally encouraging dependency in your clients, and not to be so sure that you are right that you fail to listen to another point of view.

  1. What are three things on your bucket list?

Becoming a serious student of Qi Gong and Tai Chi, becoming fluent in Spanish and Hebrew, and writing a novel about the parallel lives of a psychotherapist and one of her clients.

Paying it forward- My 10 nominations for the Liebster Award:

Allison Andrews, PsyD – Practical Strategies and Emotional Support for the Parents of Quirky Kids

Judith Barnard, MSW, RSW  – From Distress to Peace: A Mindful Life

Dr. Ann Becker-Schutte, PhD – Help at the Intersection of Physical & Mental Health

Mirel Goldstein, LPC – Goldstein Therapy – Clifton, NJ Counseling Blog

Ricky Greenwald, PsyD – Once Upon A Time… Trauma Institute/Child Trauma Institute Blog

Cathy Hanville, LCSW  – Thoughts of a Psychotherapist

JoAnn Jordan, board certified music therapist  –  Music Sparks – Music to spark a better life

Barbara Lavi, PsyD – The Wake Up and Dream Catalyst

Kathy Morelli, LPC – BirthTouch – Marriage, Motherhood, and Mental Health

Carolyn Stone, Ed.D. – Blog about helping special needs children and adolescents and their families

There are many other blogs that I enjoy reading. I chose these because they are relatively unknown and deserving of greater attention, and new posts are added regularly, at least once a month. Also, to my knowledge, they have not been nominated before. Otherwise, Dorlee’s blog would definitely be on my list!  Even though it was difficult to choose which blogs to nominate, it is my pleasure to pay it forward.

10 questions for my nominees to answer:

  1. What is your vision for your blog? What are you hoping to communicate via blogging?
  2. Which of your blog posts is your favorite? Why?
  3. What are the 5 things you like most about yourself?
  4. What is your proudest achievement?
  5. What is your greatest challenge?
  6. What are you most grateful for?
  7. What do you do for self-care?
  8. Who do you admire and why?
  9. What are your favorite quotes?
  10. What do you hope to be doing in 5 or 10 years?

Nominees, I hope you will all accept this award and then pay it forward, as I have done with you.

Accepting this award led me to do some reflection on my career and my life to enable me to answer some of Dorlee’s questions. It was a worthwhile challenge that enabled me to get some new insight and perspective. So thanks again, Dorlee, for honoring me and my blog with this award.



The Greatest Love of All

The greatest love of all
     Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
     Inside of me
                                                  The greatest love of all
                                                       Is easy to achieve
                                                  Learning to love yourself
                                                       It is the greatest love of all

The song, The Greatest Love of All, has a lot of meaning for me.   I resonate with its lyrics on a deep level.  And I love to sing.  Singing is one way I express myself.  I have fond memories of belting out the words of this song, with great feeling, with a close friend. It was a very empowering experience.

Singing can also be a form of meditation for me.  I choose a song that speaks to me and sing it mindfully, several times in a row, while reflecting on its meaning and how it impacts me and my life.  On several occasions, I have meditated on this particular song.  One thing that I have reflected about is that learning to love myself was not “easy to achieve.”  It was a journey that involved many years of therapy and other growth work. But once I reached that destination, I discovered how powerful self-love can be.

I’m not saying that I am perfect at it.   I still have occasional doubts.  During the Real Happiness Meditation Challenge  this month, I discovered that these moments of doubt are more easily overcome with regular meditation practice.  I came to appreciate that mindfulness of emotions, letting go of emotions and thoughts, lovingkindness meditation, and shifting the balance to more frequent mindful noting of the  positive, were a powerful combination of practices that have already helped me to strengthen my self-awareness, self-compassion, self-acceptance, self-regulation, and self-love.

It has been two months since I began to develop my daily meditation habit. Now, even when I falter for a day or two, I easily get back on track.  It no longer feels like an effort to meditate daily. It feels like a part of me.

The Many Benefits of Gratitude

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” –Epictetus

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” –Oprah Winfrey

Gratitude is an important practice for optimal well-being.  It helps us to appreciate what we have, instead of focusing on what we don’t have.  Research studies have demonstrated that people who cultivate a sense of gratitude have lower levels of stress and depression, higher levels of empathy, generosity, and helpfulness, and are generally more satisfied with life.

Robert Emmons and his colleagues have been studying the nature of gratitude and its potential impact for human health and well-being for the past decade.  In addition to the above effects, their studies indicate that  people who adopt a daily gratitude practice have more high energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others,  better sleep quality and duration, and higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to control groups that focused on hassles or social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others). Those who kept weekly gratitude journals  exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, and were more optimistic about the future compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events. The researchers also noticed that participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important academic, interpersonal and health-based goals over a two-month period compared to those who did not make gratitude a focus of their attention.

Sarah McLean describes how to make a gratitude list in her book, Soul Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks with Meditation. She writes about how difficult it can be to think of things to be grateful for when experiencing challenging life circumstances and points out that gratitude is even more essential when we are suffering, because it can transform our perspective about difficult situations.  She suggests that when it is hard to come up with things to put on the list, we can appreciate our ability to perceive the world around us with our senses and how amazing our bodies are at automatically sustaining life through our beating hearts and flowing breath.  We can also be grateful for having enough food to eat, a roof over our heads to keep us dry, and clothing to keep us warm.  In her gratitude meditation, Sarah McLean also encourages us to appreciate our own positive qualities, such as wisdom, creativity, awareness, stability, flexibility, and love.  I would add to the list the qualities of passion, humor, playfulness, determination, perseverance, compassion, and generosity.

It is the 24th day of the Real Happiness Meditation Challenge. Focusing on what I feel grateful for in my daily meditation has helped me to  develop greater life balance, fostering a more positive attitude about negative situations. In the course of my life, gratitude has helped me to transform suffering into meaningful growth and purpose. How has gratitude helped you in your life?

Balancing Mindfulness of Emotions with Lovingkindness

It is the 17th day of the Real Happiness 28-Day Meditation Challenge. For the past two weeks, I have been working on mindfulness of emotions at night.  I have mostly been using a guided meditation by Sharon Salzberg that encourages noticing what emotions arise while initially focusing on the breath, which can be found on the CD in Real Happiness and on the Workman Publishing website:  I have also tried Ron Siegel’s Stepping into Sadness and Stepping into Fear meditations, which can be found in his book, The Mindfulness Solution and on the website for the book:  These two meditations helped me to fully experience difficult emotions.

Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach all talk about a four step process of becoming mindful of emotions that can be remembered with the acronym RAIN – recognition, acceptance, investigation and non-identification.  Achieving balance involves noticing, accepting and exploring our emotions, while being careful not to identify with them. We strive neither to avoid nor to cling to our emotions, but to be mindful of them in the moment and notice how they come and go, like waves in the ocean.

I noticed some lingering sadness about a couple of losses that I experienced over the past couple of years and focusing on it during meditation helped me to fully experience the sadness and move past it.  Then one night I realized I was delaying meditating because of unacknowledged fear.   Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  I think it would be more accurate to say, “The only thing we have to fear is the fear of fear.”  It is the fear of fear that causes us to avoid it and try to block it from our minds.  When we face our fear, it becomes more manageable.

Once I acknowledged the fear, I was able to face it. And once I faced it, I was able to overcome it.  During my meditation I went from noticing anxiety, rising doubt, a little fear, some regret and then hopefulness that I could overcome this obstacle.  And once I started feeling hopeful, the fear faded away.  Avoiding the fear made it seem insurmountable.  Facing the fear made it quite tolerable and fostered a sense of hopefulness that helped me to overcome it.

I have been practicing lovingkindness meditation in the morning, focusing on wishes for myself, specific family members, friends and clients, as well as a general wish for all beings everywhere. I have found that this helps me to have a positive attitude, even in challenging circumstances.

May I be safe, May I be healthy, May I be free from suffering, May I be peaceful, May I be balanced, May I be happy.

May you be safe, May you be healthy, May you be free from suffering, May you be peaceful, May you be balanced, May you be happy.

May all beings be safe, May all beings be healthy, May all beings be free from suffering, May all beings be peaceful, May all beings be balanced, May all beings be happy.

I decided it was time to shift the balance even further, by actively fostering positive emotions during my nighttime meditation. I started listening to Sarah McLean’s soul-centered guided meditations and plan to try more of them, as they have already had a powerful impact in a short time.  Ocean Visualization & Self-Love Affirmations; Gratitude Meditation & Appreciating Your Life;  Transcendence & Loving Yourself; I am Aware – The Intention to Awaken…  These and many more of Sarah McLean’s meditations can be found on the Winter Feast for the Soul website:

I intend to continue working on balancing negative and positive emotions in meditation and in life.  How do you work on achieving this balance?

Seeking the Middle Way

It is the ninth day of the Real Happiness 28-Day Meditation Challenge.  I meditated 5-10 minutes every morning and 20 -30 minutes at night on work nights as planned, except for one night when I came home late.  My initial intention was to shut off the TV and computer at 11 PM to meditate and I came close to this goal.  There were a couple of nights that it was more like 11:30 or 12, but overall, I was still winding down and going to sleep earlier than usual.

At night I was doing both the breathing meditation and meditation on emotions from the CD in Sharon Salzberg’s book, Real Happiness.  During the 14 minute breathing meditation, I noticed that I was able to maintain concentration without difficulty.  I encountered problems with two aspects of breathing: the first was that focusing on the breath led to breathing a little heavier than natural, and the second was that I couldn’t just focus on one aspect of the breath, like the air flowing through the nostrils or the rising and falling of the abdomen. My struggle was to decide when to just be mindful of my breathing exactly as it was without trying to change it and when to try to change my breathing to try to make it lighter and to try to improve my single-minded focus.

In reading Real Happiness at Work, I discovered some wisdom to help guide me in this.  In chapter 1, there is a balanced breathing meditation that focuses on cultivating both tranquility and energy by striving for a balanced state of mind that is both calm and alert. Finding this balance involves finding the middle way between being too relaxed and falling asleep and too intensely focused and breathing heavily, as I was doing.  Sharon suggests using the image of holding delicate, fragile glass in our hands; if we hold it too loosely it will fall out of our hands and break and if we hold it too tightly it will shatter in our hands.

I decided that it made sense for me to set my intention before I start the breathing meditation each night to focus either on balanced breathing or mindful acceptance of my breathing as is.  For the next week of the meditation challenge, I am going to focus on balancing my breathing and then decide where to go from there.  Mindfulness will still be an aspect of this practice because I will still need to mindfully accept the quality of each breath once I make my best effort at balance.

The instruction to focus on one aspect of the breath created a different challenge for me.  I thought I was having trouble with it when I not only focused on the air flowing through my nostrils, but also noticed my abdomen rising and falling. Sharon’s analogy of looking for a friend in the crowd was helpful to me in understanding how to approach this.  My new understanding is that I do not have to block out all other aspects of the breath.  It is ok to notice the crowd even though I am looking for my friend. I can still notice other aspects of the breath in the background, even while concentrating on the aspect of the breath that I choose to focus on.

In what ways do you need to work on balance in your meditation practice or your life?  What can the lesson I learned teach you about seeking the middle way?

Honest Reflection and a Meditation Challenge

In reflecting on my first month of daily meditation, I realized that the morning is not an ideal time for me to meditate.   In some ways it fostered procrastination; it became a way to delay starting my work day.  I realized that meditation would serve me much better at night when I need to wind down. So, for the second month,  I am making a commitment to shut off the TV and computer at 11 PM and meditate every night, Sunday thru Thursday.  I plan to continue doing a brief 5-10 minute meditation every morning, but the longer 20-30 minute meditations will be reserved for nighttime.  I have carried out this plan three nights in a row and did not even feel tempted to turn the electronics back on when I finished and also went to sleep earlier than usual, so I think I am on the right track.

In the book Real Happiness at Work, Sharon Salzberg describes procrastination as willingly deferring something even though we expect the delay to make things worse. Avoiding what we don’t want to do in favor of something more pleasurable is a common way of dealing with performance anxiety, perfectionism, fear of failure, and/or a history of  deprivation. It is also common for people who have attention deficit disorder and other problems with executive functioning skills, such as organizing, prioritizing and perceiving how much time it takes to do things.  In Real Happiness, Sharon points out that meditation helps us strengthen and direct our attention through the cultivation of concentration, mindfulness and compassion.  Our capacity for focused, stable attention can then be harnessed, so we can sustain and shift our concentration as needed, without giving in to distraction and procrastination.

During the month of February, Sharon Salzberg is inviting people to participate in a 28-Day Meditation Challenge based on practices found in her books: Real Happiness, and Real Happiness at Work. The meditation challenge begins on Saturday February 1.  I have made a commitment to participate in this 28-day challenge. I hope you will join me by making your own commitment to 28 days of meditation practice.

For further information on the meditation challenge go to: Also, please leave a comment below to let me know if you plan to participate.

What is an Interoceptive Body Scan Meditation?

I have completed my first month of daily meditation and it is going very well.  I have been doing a combination of breath awareness, body awareness and lovingkindness meditation.

The body scan is a form of body awareness meditation that involves shifting attention from one part of the body to another, observing any sensations that you become aware of with an attitude of curiosity about your somatic experience, while systematically covering the entire body.  I have been doing a variation of the body scan taught by Dan Siegel, author of the books Mindsight, The Mindful Brain, and The Mindful Therapist.

Dan Siegel incorporates interoception into his body scan.  Interoception is the skill of sensing our internal bodily states. He refers to it as our sixth sense and a crucial aspect of our self-monitoring function, that also serves as a gateway to our ability to attune to others.  So in addition to focusing on external body parts, his body scan includes tuning into internal organs, etc.  I have created my own version, that also incorporates aspects of HeartMath heart coherence training.

Heart rate variability is believed to be an important indicator of autonomic nervous system (ANS) balance, physiological resiliency and behavioral flexibility, which reflect a person’s capacity to adapt to stressful circumstances.  The two branches of the ANS (the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches) are continually in the process of speeding up and slowing down the heart, like the accelerator and brakes of a car. That is why the interval between two successive heart beats is never identical. This heart rate variability (moment-to-moment and beat-to-beat variations in heart rate) is a sign that the accelerator and brake are working properly.  Too little and too much variability in heart rate are both detrimental.

Heart coherence training is like giving your heart a tune-up.  With practice, you can develop a finely tuned brake that can be counted on, even when circumstances are difficult, because the ANS is more flexible and responsive and easily adjusts to stressors.

The steps of the HeartMath Quick Coherence Technique are as follows:

  1. Heart Focus- Focus your attention on the heart region of your body
  2. Heart Breathing- Imagine breathing through your heart
  3. Heart Feeling- Think of something or someone for which you are grateful

Here is an audio excerpt of my body scan meditation:


I would love your feedback about this post. Anybody who leaves a comment will receive an audio file of the full 10 minute version of my body scan, as a token of my appreciation.

Realistic Optimism is Key to Success

It was more difficult to maintain my meditation practice this week.  I did fine until Thursday when I was running late for work and didn’t get a chance to meditate until the afternoon.  Then Friday I had to leave early for an all day symposium and didn’t get up early enough to meditate before I left. To my credit, I set the intention to meditate that night, but then had company until late and only did a few minutes of meditation before I fell asleep.  The following morning I almost forgot to meditate.  Only two days’ disruption to my meditation schedule and already I was slipping.  How easy it is to lose momentum!

Today, I had an early appointment again.  This time I made a commitment to make sure that I had enough time to meditate before I left. I am happy to report that I succeeded!

So, the good news is that I got right back on track. The glass is more than half full. I meditated 6 out of 7 days this week.

I used to get down on myself when I fell short of a  goal and tended to see the glass as half empty, so I doubted my ability to succeed and it ended up being harder to motivate myself to keep trying. Then I became so accepting of my difficulties that I stopped trying to improve. Even though I saw the glass as half full, it didn’t feel possible to fill the other half, so I accepted the status quo as good enough.  Now, when I fall short of a goal, I try to give myself credit for the steps I have taken towards the goal and recognize where there is room for improvement.  This helps me to be realistic about my accomplishments and obstacles and feel optimistic about my capabilities. Recent research indicates that this type of realistic optimism helps maximize success.

Sophia Chou, an organizational psychology researcher at National Taiwan University, presented her research findings at a meeting of the American Psychological Association in August, 2013. She discovered that realistic optimists have a positive outlook about the future and an accurate perspective about current challenges, They tended to be more successful than idealistic optimists who had positive illusions rather than accurate appraisals of their capabilities or pessimists who were realistic but had negative expectations for the future. Chou found that realistic optimists had more confidence in their self-control and influence over relationships, so they could stay hopeful about the future, even while acknowledging present challenges. For further information on this study:

Are you a realistic optimist, idealistic optimist, or a pessimist?  How do you think your perspective impacts your ability to achieve your goals? Is there anything you now want to change? What first step can you take to help develop a new perspective?

One Good Habit Leads to Another

Last week I wrote about my intention to take my meditation practice to the next level and make it a daily practice.  I have now successfully finished my second week of daily meditation and I’ve noticed something. Even though I planned to wait to work on being more consistent about exercise so I could dedicate myself to developing one habit at a time, I ended up going to the gym twice this week anyway.  I just felt like doing it.

In last week’s post, I mentioned research that showed that self-control was like a muscle that can get tired and needs rest.  However,  according to research by Megan Oaten and Ken Cheng, participants who exercised self-discipline on a regular basis in regards to one habit,  also  showed  improved willpower with other habits.  So self-control also resembles a muscle in that it strengthens with exercise.

There is another way that I had more practice this week.  I was more distractible a few mornings this week, so I had much more practice bringing my attention back to my meditation over and over again, which gave me a lot more practice in self-discipline.

Even though I successfully exercised twice this week, I am still not committing to exercising regularly yet.  I am going to continue my plan to work on one habit at a time to maximize my success. This raises the question, how long do I need to continue my daily meditation practice before it becomes an automatic habit?

According to success coach and best-selling author Jack Canfield, it takes 30 days for a new neural pathway to be established. He recommends 30 day experiments to try out new behaviors, and an additional 2-3 months to reinforce them. According to Loretta Breuning, PhD of, our brains need 45 days of repetition for a new habit to start feeling normal.  And according to a University College London study, it takes an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become an automatic habit, depending on the complexity of the behavior, among other factors.  Given the above, I decided to give myself two months to develop my meditation habit before I move on to focusing on other goals.

Since the literature does not yet have a consensus about how long it takes to establish a new positive habit, I am curious to know what your experience has been. How long has it taken you to develop a new habit? Has it taken different lengths of time for different types of habits?

A New Blog for the New Year

The New Year is a time of reflection and rededication to striving to overcome  bad habits.  In reflecting on my own personal growth journey and the areas that continue to challenge me, I decided it was time to work on it in a more disciplined and structured way.  My old way of approaching things has helped me only so far.  Now I have decided that I need to shift the balance.  Up until now, I emphasized acceptance over change, when it came to personal habits.  I accepted my own difficulty maintaining structure and the need to keep starting over and over again.

This new blog is part of the new plan.

Setting my intentions and committing to them publicly is a way of holding myself accountable and receiving support for my efforts.  I also plan to be more systematic in my approach.  Instead of trying to change several things at once, I am learning from my experience.  What I noticed is that when I focused on being more disciplined about one thing, it became harder to be more disciplined about another thing. Recently, I was going to the gym twice a week and exercising at home other mornings.  When I tried to be more structured in my meditation practice, my exercise routine suffered.  So I intend to focus on one goal at a time and to stick with that goal until it is a more automatic part of my routine before trying to change something else.

There is some research to back up this approach.  In a review by Mark Muraven and Roy Baumeister in the 2000 edition of the Psychological Bulletin (Vol. 126, No. 2) entitled, “Self-Regulation and Depletion of Limited Resources: Does Self-Control Resemble a Muscle?”, the authors concluded that the inhibition component of executive functioning relies on a limited, consumable resource, that needs replenishment.  Resisting temptation to indulge in extra sleep or go on the computer instead of meditating in the morning, for example, would make it harder to exert self-control to follow through on exercising.

So once meditating is more of an automatic habit, then it won’t be using up my self-control reserve and I can apply it to become more consistent about exercise.  So far, I have meditated every morning for the past week.  I am off to a good start!

Now the question remains, how long do I need to work on meditation before I can move on to focus on exercise? More on that in next week’s post.

What intentions are you setting for the new year?  What strategies are you using to try to achieve your goals?