Travel Like a Native: Djibouti

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Travel Like a Native: Djibouti | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education
Travel Like a Native: Djibouti | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education
Travel Like a Native: Djibouti | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education

Welcomed with a Kiss

A bit larger than the US state of New Jersey and with a population just shy of 1 million, Djibouti is nestled on the Horn of Africa between Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia.

But don’t let its diminutive size fool you: Its location on the Red Sea has made it a transnational shipping powerhouse since basically the invention of shipping lanes.

French instructor Ali Houssein hails from this multi-ethnic country, so we asked him to share his insights into Djiboutian culture and communication styles. If traveling to Africa is on your to-do list, make sure you swing through Djibouti, and travel like a native armed with Ali’s tips.

What is the primary language spoken in Djibouti, and how important is it that a traveler be familiar with it before they visit?

French is important because it’s spoken by everyone and all administrative documents are in French.

Arabic can help you with business and Somali with interacting with the natives.

Knowing basic phrases are enough if you are a tourist.

What are some of the differences in communication style between Djibouti and the US?

  1. Handshakes are replaced with a hand kiss
  2. As a sign of respect, you don’t make eye contact when speaking with your elders

What are some similarities between Djiboutian and American cultures?

  1. Family values, particularly the number of children families generally have
  2. Freedom of religion

What should a traveler keep in mind when they're interacting with Djiboutians?

  • Don’t engage in public displays of affection if you’re with your romantic partner; this kind of interaction is limited to private locations, at home, etc.
  • Don’t talk about politics, as Djibouti doesn’t have freedom of speech protections
  • Take off your shoes before entering anyone’s house, as it’s both a show of respect and also considered hygienic
Travel Like a Native: Djibouti | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education

A group of Djiboutian children.

Travel Like a Native: Djibouti | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education

Ali's must-try cuisine recommendation, Lahoh with Muqmad

What are some common practices around eating food or sharing meals?

Djiboutians often eat with their hands directly, so make sure your hands are clean before your meal!

What is one dish in Djiboutian cuisine that everyone must try?

Lahoh, which is a sourdough flatbread, with Muqmad — camel meat marinated in natural spiced butter.

You eat it for breakfast with a cup of sweet tea. It’s tasty, and it’s a signature dish of my native country.

What are some common misconceptions about Djibouti?

Because of their shared histories, many European countries saw Djiboutians as being proud and independent, even aggressive and hostile.

We’re actually quite welcoming!

When you first traveled to America, what surprised you the most about American culture or traditions? Why?

Hollywood is not America!

Movies and shows on TV project a very different image of the real American people: Not all Americans are tall and violent.

Also, I don’t know if it’s only in Seattle, but Americans drive slow — very slow. It can be a good thing, though.

What should no traveler to Djibouti miss?

  • The Red Sea for scuba diving because of the diverse colorful marine animals (for corals to fish)
  • The desert of Grand Barra for land sailing for the adrenaline of speed
Travel Like a Native: Djibouti | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education

When visiting Djibouti, Ali recommends that you make time to dive in the Red Sea

How to Find Your Audience on Social Media

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How to Find Your Audience on Social Media | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education

Let Your Purpose Guide Your Plan

Guest post by instructor Allison Durazzi

Social media is a fast-changing area of our digital lives, both personally and professionally.

Leaping into new channels can be fun and interesting — those Snapchat filters #amirite? But before you jump into a new channel for your company’s online presence, it’s smart to first determine why you want to communicate, and then do a little research on who’s using which apps.

Here’s how to determine which social media channels are the best places for your limited time and resources.

Why Social Media?

Having a Facebook page just to have one is like building a website just because.

“Just because” may work for personal projects with little to no stakes. Your business, however, needs a reason for claiming digital real estate and asking users to participate.

Social media is a marketing tool, like a website or a brochure. There’s an implied agreement that you will interact with people on social media.

Before you get started, ask yourself, “what is the goal of being on social media?” Understanding your goals will help you determine who you want to reach.

For example, are you trying to position your company as a best-place-to-work employer? Or do you want to expand into retail? These are two very different purposes with distinct audiences, so understanding your priorities is a key element in communicating with the right people.

Who Are You Talking With?

Along with why you’re engaging in social media, you need to be clear on who you are talking to. This is your target audience.

Using the example goals above, your potential employees may be 20-something engineers just out of college. They have no kids, are single, and have a high household income. The people who shop for your product at the supermarket, however, may be 35-year old parents who never graduated from college and have a middle-income household.

Research shows that these two groups use social media differently. Your potential employees are more likely to be on Facebook, while your potential customers will be on Instagram. So knowing which group is your target audience will help you determine the right channel for your social media effort.

Developing a profile for your target audience is easy, but it will take some time. Start by listing what you already know about them. Answer as many of the following as possible for your target audience:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Income
  • Education level
  • Are they primarily on mobile devices or desktops?
  • Where do they get their news?
  • What websites do they like to visit?
  • Where do they live (city, suburb, rural)?
  • What do they do for a living?
  • Ethnicity

If you don’t know all the above, that’s okay. You can fill in the blanks with free online surveys using tools like Survey Monkey or Google Forms.

Another technique you can try is to search for people on social media. The success of this technique will vary depending on a person’s privacy settings.

If you know a specific customer, look her up on Facebook. Or, you can find people who are fans of a competitor’s Facebook page. Look for what Facebook pages she likes, her ratings and reviews of restaurants and retail stores, and maybe even other info like her college, employer, and interests, to complete your audience profile.

Next Steps

Once you’ve got a good picture of who your audience is and which channels to focus on, you can start putting together your social media plan.

One of our recent students was looking for help with a personal project about offbeat food and drink places in the Pacific Northwest. Some of her additional considerations were the time she could devote to the project (evenings and weekends) and the content she wanted to share (photos and videos). As she developed her social media plan, she eliminated plans to share on Facebook and Snapchat. Instead, she’s focused her primary efforts on Instagram. Over the last year, engagement on her posts has doubled and she continues to build a community of enthusiasts for offbeat dining in the area.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can use social media to promote your personal or professional goals, please join us for our Introduction to Social Media Marketing class.

Seven Common Business Writing Mistakes

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Seven Common Business Writing Mistakes | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education

. . . And How to Avoid Them

Guest post by instructor Christine Dubois

Do your business letters go straight to your customers’ waste baskets? Are you tearing your hair out composing your latest brochure?

Good writing doesn’t have to be hard. With a little practice, you can learn to write easily and effectively.

Start by avoiding these common mistakes:

1. Writing to Impress

There was a time when complex words, formal phrases, and vague, convoluted sentences were considered professional. Not anymore.

Nowadays, people want writing that’s clear, informal, and personal. Your customers won’t take the time to wade through businessese, bureaucratese, or any other writing disease.

If you really want to sound professional, try this: Use plain English. You’ve been speaking it successfully for years. Write like you talk: Simply, directly, conversationally. Use familiar words, short sentences. It’s easier for your readers — and for you.

2. Believing Everything Your 7th Grade English Teacher Taught You

Many people are still carrying in their heads the dire predictions of long-dead English teachers. But contrary to what Mrs. Johnson may have told you, the world will not end if you split an infinitive.

Lots of things you learned never to do are OK now. Like using sentence fragments. And starting sentences with “and” or “but.”

You can even use personal pronouns.

Just let your ear be your guide.

3. Forgetting Your Audience

We all know people who get so wrapped up in telling their story they ignore the people they’re talking to. It can happen on paper, too.

Picture your audience when you write, including:

  • What are their interests, skills, and passions?
  • What is their socio-economic or educational level?
  • What do they need to know?

Keeping your audience in mind will help make your writing more personal and to the point.

4. Fuzzy Thinking

Can you summarize your message in one sentence? No? Then stop writing and start thinking.

Clear writing begins with clear thinking. If you don’t know what you’re trying to say, your readers won’t either.

Before you write, state your main point in one sentence. Hang it where you can see it. It will help keep your writing on track.

5. Saving Your Main Point Until the End

A popular method of organization is to introduce the topic, present facts and arguments, and end with your recommendation.

There’s one problem: Most readers don’t ever get to your recommendation.

Instead, begin with your main point, conclusion, or recommendation.

For example, “Because orders have increased by 50 percent in the past six months, I recommend we hire two additional staff people.” Then give the supporting data.

Remember the summary sentence in #4? It’s a great way to begin your business letter or report.

6. Too Much Passive Voice

In passive voice, things happen without any direct human involvement. For example:

  • “It has been determined that . . . “
  • “There has been an overpayment in your account.”

If the person doing the action isn’t in the sentence (or is hiding behind the preposition “by”), you’re writing in the passive voice.

No one wants to do business with a company run by phantoms. Get real people back in your writing by using active voice, such as:

  • “My partner and I have determined . . . “
  • “You paid more than you owed us.”

7. Using Abstract Language

What’s wrong with these sentences?

  • “Hunger is a major problem in our city.”
  • “The quality of education is declining.”
  • “Good writing is important.”

They’re too general. They won’t stick in anyone’s memory.

To stay with your reader, your writing must present a concrete image. For example:

  • “Five-year-old Becky goes to bed hungry the last week of every month.”
  • “One quarter of the sophomores at Goodtimes High don’t have the math skills to develop a family budget.”
  • “A warm, personal writing style can build rapport with your clients–and improve your bottom line.”

Flesh out vague statements with specific examples.

Avoid these common writing mistakes, and your message will reach your customers’ hearts and minds — instead of their recycling bins.

Writing Resources

About Christine Dubois

Christine is an award-winning writer and editor who handles articles, newsletters, brochures, press releases, websites, resumes, and other writing projects for a variety of grateful clients.

She teaches writing classes at North Seattle and Seattle Central colleges, as well as for local businesses. Her warmth, knowledge, and enthusiasm make her a popular instructor.

Learn more at:

Develop a Wellness Plan That’s Right for You

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Fitness Classes in Seattle WA
Nutritional Therapy Practitioner | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education
Fitness Classes in Seattle WA

Over 40% of People Make New Year's Resolutions, but Only 9% of Them Feel They Achieve Them

Many resolutions are health-related, with things such as losing weight, eating healthier, quitting smoking, and working out more often ranking highly on people’s New Year to-do lists. But with such a small portion of folks actually feeling successful in achieving their new goals, is there a better way to approach them?

When it comes to health, personal trainer EP Massey has been working with clients for over 30 years to help them set realistic goals, and then achieve them. He brings his extensive experience to our Six Steps to a Healthier You class, which provides customized tips and guidance on designing a wellness plan that works for your specific needs.

He’s seen a lot of success, and he’s seen failures, but what they both have in common is a commitment to making small changes over time, and then sticking with them. Here are a few of his suggestions.

Eat Your Weight Off

We’re often confused about how to lose weight because of so many competing short-term diet fads and promises of fast results. If it’s a fast and easy-to-do diet, it probably won’t help you maintain your weight loss over time.

Instead, think about developing an efficient eating plan, which provides you with a strategic program that incorporates all the important aspects of proper nutrition.

This means consuming the necessary calories your body needs to function while also ensuring that you are eating the right mix of complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, healthy fats, and water.

No More 3 Meals a Day

EP’s first recommendation is to give up the idea of eating only 3 meals a day. “I think it’s old-fashioned and outdated,” he notes. “It’s very difficult to consume the calories and nutrients needed for successful weight control by eating only three meals a day. You’re often eating too many calories at once, which makes you a fat-storing machine, instead of a fat-burning machine.”

Instead, develop a plan where you eat four to six smaller meals each day. Here’s the strategy that EP uses for his clients:

  • Within 2 hours of waking up: Eat breakfast; this jump starts your metabolism.
  • Every 2 – 3 hours: Eat something small such as carrot sticks, string cheese, crackers; this keeps your metabolism running high all day
  • Within 5 hours of waking up / before 1:00 PM each day: Eat three small meals; this gives your body the energy it needs to operate, and ensures you’re not loading up on calories later in the day when your body is starting to slow down
  • At least 2 hours before bedtime: Eat dinner, and try to minimize or eliminate starches such as bread, rice, pasta, or potatoes; include plenty of green leafy vegetables combined with a lean protein

Make Weekends Work for You

EP also suggests taking a break on from your structured eating plan on the weekend; this will give you the room to enjoy some of the higher calorie, low in nutrients foods you might love (did someone say ice cream?!), and will help you maintain your structured diet plan for a longer period of time. This is also a great time to plan out your meals for the week ahead to make sure you stay on track.

Remember: It’s all about balance!

Prioritize Your Fitness

For most of us, working out isn’t a lot of fun, so coming up with a plan we can stick with is important. Here are a few tips on how to do that:

Set Annual Goals

Instead of saying “I’m going to the gym every day!” and then giving up on your goal when you can’t make it a few times in a row, think of how many times you want to go to the gym per year, and then break that down into monthly and weekly goals.

If you’re just getting back into the swing of things, try setting a target of 150 for the year, which is about 12 times per month and 3 times per week. If you go more often than that, great! But if you have something come up and you end up skipping a few days in a row, you can always look toward your annual goal and know that you’ll make up for it later.

And when you achieve that 150 this year, increase it to 175 or 200 next year. Ultimately, being active 4 – 7 days a week is ideal, but give yourself some time to establish and maintain your new exercise habit.

Schedule Yourself

Setting time aside to be active each day will ensure that you don’t overlook its importance. This could be going to the gym, taking a dance class, or running around your local park.

Whatever it is, try to do it for 30 – 45 minutes, and try to maintain your target heart rate for most of that time. You can determine your target heart rate by doing the following:

  1. Subtract your age from 220 = This is your maximum heart rate
  2. Multiply that number by 80% = This is your target heart rate

By staying within your target heart rate during your activity, you’ll burn fat, improve your cardiovascular system, and build up endurance.

If you can, get up an hour earlier and get active first thing in the morning. You’ll not only get it out of the way, it’s harder to over-schedule yourself at 5am in the morning!

“Plus, exercise produces endorphins, which will help you be more productive, have more energy, and be in a more positive mood throughout the day,” EP says. “You’ll also fire up your metabolism, so you’ll be a calorie-burning machine all day.”

It's Not All Cardio, All the Time

While cardio is an important part of staying fit, you can mix things up a bit by incorporating resistance training into your workouts. You can do this through traditional weight lifting, choreographed classes that incorporate weights, and even by using your own bodyweight.

Resistance training will not only shape and tone your body, it will aid you in burning up to 30 extra calories per hour while resting!

“You’re only burning calories while you’re actively doing cardio,” EP says. “But after weight training, your metabolism continues to soar, and you’ll continue to burn calories for up to two more hours.”

Just Add Weights

If you’re not ready to start pumping iron, you can get the benefits of resistance training by adding weights to the activities you already do. For example, try carrying three pound weights with you while you’re walking around your park, or increase the resistance on your favorite elliptical or stationary bike. Again, start small and build from there.

If you’re looking for more specific guidance on developing a fitness routine, diet plan, or setting realistic goals, consider joining EP during his next class!

Instructor Spotlight: Annie Dumont

Annie Dumont - DIY Natural Products Instructor | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education
Annie Dumont - DIY Natural Products Instructor | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education
Annie Dumont - DIY Natural Products Instructor | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education

Do it Yourself!

Annie Dumont - DIY Natural Products Instructor | Seattle Central College - Continuing EducationEven all-natural cleaning and personal care products can have extra ingredients to preserve them and ensure they’re shelf-stable.

A great way to ensure that you’re using 100% all-natural products is to make them yourself.

After a personal love affair with creating soaps and other cleaning products for herself and her family, Annie Dumont decided to go into business to share her passion with the world.

She is now offering her DIY Natural Products series of workshops at Seattle Central, which cover the following:

Learn more about Annie’s background and approach, and then download her DIY toothpaste how-to guide below.

What classes do you teach for Seattle Central?

I currently teach Basic Cleaning Products, Medicine Cabinet Products and Personal Care Basics.

I’m hoping to expand my offerings to include some soap classes and classes that families can take together.

How long have you been teaching?

I’ve been teaching professionally for 4 years, but I have been teaching friends and family for more than 10 years.

What's your educational & professional background?

After a long romance with making everything from soap to lip balm to diaper rash cream, I decided to open my doors (or my mind) to teaching others my love and passion for crafting natural personal care and cleaning products.

I opened A Kitchen Story in 2012 to spread the love by way of individual and group classes.

What do you enjoy the most about teaching your classes at Seattle Central?

I love to watch the passion and enthusiasm of my students.

Tell us about an inspirational teaching moment.

During one of my classes, after everyone just finished making a batch of laundry detergent, one student yelled out, “I can’t wait to go home and do laundry!”

Her excitement was inspiring and contagious.

Annie's Favorites

Restaurant in Seattle

  • Lotus Thai Cuisine


  • Making soap, of course!
  • Refinishing old furniture, making something old new again


  • Hawaii was the first vacation my husband and I went on together before we were married. The memories are awesome and plentiful.

Set Things in Motion with a Career Development Plan

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Is Your Career on Track?

Are you doing work that you love? If not, why not?

While it’s true that many of us are doing what we’re doing out of necessity — we gotta pay the bills, right? — creating a meaningful career can often be rooted in actually planning for it.

Where do you want to be in 10 years? And what steps do you need to take to get there — today, tomorrow, next month, next year, and so on?

Even if you’re not doing work that you love right now, charting out your career plan can bring a new dimension and meaning to your present situation. It will not only help you establish the path to your ideal professional reality, it will show you what you can do right now to help you achieve it.

Some of the elements of a career development plan include:

  • Short-term goals
  • Long-term goals
  • Timeline
  • Action steps
  • Opportunities
  • Potential barriers
  • Re-evaluation intervals

Part of instructor Yvonne Freitas McGookin‘s work is to help people define and plan for their professional futures.

“A career development plan is a roadmap that helps you to identify your desired career and directs the steps needed to get there,” she notes. “If you want to be clear about the destination — your desired career — a plan gives you an opportunity to envision how you’ll get there. First off, it will help you feel empowered! If you want to actively participate in your career, instead of being a by-stander waiting for opportunities to show up, a career development plan can help you do that. As a result, you can design and follow a plan that gets you to where you want to go when you want to get there. If you don’t have a plan, you might  end up moving from job to job without any clear path or sense of direction. It can feel like you don’t have much control or choice, which is not very satisfying.”

But how is having a career development plan different than having general professional goals?

“A career development plan helps you to create a clear vision for your career and specific strategies for achieving that vision,” Yvonne explains. “Some of those strategies may be personal as well as professional. For example, if you’re interested in shifting into a different career or industry, you should include any potential financial impacts in your career plan. Will you need to save money to pay for any education or training to support your career change? Will you need to move to a different location where there are more opportunities in this field or industry?”

Yvonne knows how important a plan can be because she didn’t start out with one herself.

“I began thinking about my career when I was a child and, at that time, wanted to become an elementary school teacher,” she remembers. “But, by the time I went to college, my vision for my career had changed and I didn’t have any clarity about my direction.”

So when did she develop her first plan?

“After taking an undergrad course that sparked a clearer vision for my career, I created a career development plan that helped me move into and advance in that career,” Yvonne recalls. “My plan included taking specific courses, volunteer opportunities, and working an extra job to finance my educational goals. I followed that plan for many years until I achieved my vision. Then, several years ago, I re-evaluated my career, decided to make some changes, and created a career development plan to support those changes.”

How often should someone plan to re-evaluate their plan?

According to Yvonne, “You should reassess your plan on a semi-regular basis, whenever you lose momentum, or need to acknowledge some changes (opportunities or barriers) that impact your plan. This re-evaluation will give you the opportunity to make adjustments that help to get you back on track.”

2 Common Mistakes in Creating a Career Development Plan

  1. Being vague about goals, timeline and actions
  2. Not building in and taking time to re-evaluate and adjust their plan

Some people treat a career development plan like a New Year’s resolution: They have an aspiration (summit a mountain,) but don’t set out a timeline with specific actions to prepare and motivate them to reach their target.

When things come up during the year that get in the way, they lose momentum and give up. The same thing happens with career development plans.

Recommended Reading

Here are a few of Yvonne’s favorite books on career development:

Career Development Plan Worksheet

Need some guidance on developing your plan? We’ve created this worksheet that will help you chart the path to your success.

Make Balance Work for You

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Make Balance Work for You | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education
Make Balance Work for You | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education
Make Balance Work for You | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education

Are You in Balance?

Guest Post by Life and Career Coach Julie Morris

Many of us have heard that maintaining a work-life balance is important, but not everyone understands why.

In today’s world, with technological advances happening every day, it is getting easier and easier to stay connected to your job, even when you’re at home or on vacation.

There are often expectations to answer that email within the hour, or do a favor for your boss which extends to weekends or evenings when you’re ‘off the clock.’

The increase in working hours is putting your brain in overdrive, and as a result, your stress levels are skyrocketing with little downtime to recover.

Here’s a little more information on the importance of maintaining a good work-life balance and a few tips on how to achieve it.

Why a Work-Life Balance is Important

A good work-life balance is crucial to your personal health and your relationships, but what you may not know is that it can also improve your work performance.

Working too much can negatively affect:

Stress Levels

The occasional short stint of stress and pressure is good, because it means we are being challenged, have to problem solve, or increase our efficiency. But continuous stress is harmful, and can lead to health problems like ulcers, indigestion, high blood pressure, skin disorders, depression, and more.

Vulnerability to Burnouts

Burnout is when you are so overwhelmed and spent mentally and physically that it affects your work. When stress from work creeps into your home life, you are more susceptible to suffering from a burnout.


When you’re constantly working, you leave little time and energy for cooking healthy meals. You’re constantly going to that quick and often unhealthy option, like fast food or stopping at the vending machine — or even skipping meals altogether.


Staying active is one of your body’s ways to combat stress, and if you’re overworking, then you probably have higher quantities of stress and less time to exercise it out of your system.


If you are still thinking about work while attempting to engage in home activities like playing with your children or spending time with your significant other, you will not remain present in your current task. Same goes with work: When you are in the office and you are completely focused on your duties, then you will be more efficient.

Tips on Being More Balanced

Finding the right balance between work and play is possible, it just may take a few lifestyle adjustments.

Here are a few ways you can be more balanced in your day-to-day life:


Anytime your home life demands your attention, tell your higher ups that you’re dealing with personal issues.

Negotiate Your Workspace

Research your company’s policy about flexible hours for things like doctor appointments, and inquire about working from home. If you could telecommute a few days a week, it would allow you to dedicate a few hours for uninterrupted, hard work. Then you can use the extra time you have for yourself.


Sometimes that device glued to your hand can hurt your quality personal time. It makes life easier, but turn it off when you’re hanging out with the family or enjoying some peace and quiet.

Don’t Be a Yes-Man

Don’t feel guilty when you don’t commit to something. It is impossible to please everyone, so invest your time in activities that interest you and bring you joy.

Get Messy

Don’t worry about keeping everything squeaky clean. That time you’ve dedicated to scrubbing the toilet can go toward work or taking a nature walk. That said, it is helpful to make sure your home is optimized to reduce stress.


One of the best ways to feel more balanced in your life is to be engaged and focused on each task as it comes, whether it be a work activity or if you’re on your own time.


Prioritize what is really important to you.

Recommended Viewing

About Julie

Julie Morris is a life and career coach who thrives on helping others live their best lives.

It’s easy for her to relate to clients who feel run over by life because she’s been there!

After years in a successful (but unfulfilling) career in finance, Julie busted out of the corner office that had become her prison.

Today, she is fulfilled by helping busy professionals like her past self get the clarity they need in order to live inspired lives that fill more than just their bank accounts.

When Julie isn’t working with clients, she enjoys writing and is currently working on her first book.

She also loves spending time outdoors and getting lost in a good book.

To learn more about or contact Julie, check out her website.

Retrain Your Brain with Regular Meditation

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Retrain Your Brain by Meditating for 5 Minutes a Day | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education
Retrain Your Brain by Meditating for 5 Minutes a Day | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education

Free Your Mind, and Your Body Will Follow

There is a great deal of research on the positive impact that meditation can have on your overall wellness. Some of those include:

  • Reduced stress
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Better pain management
  • Improved immune system
  • Higher levels of empathy
  • Better recall and organization of information
  • Prevention of age-related pre-frontal cortex (brain) shrinking
  • Possible help with depression

One of the great things about meditation is that everyone can do it, you only need to find a practice that’s right for you.

Wellness Educator and Seattle Central faculty member Kelli Murphy has been practicing meditation for over 20 years, and offers a free weekly meditation group at the Mitchell Activity Center each Tuesday. “I do not claim to be an expert,” she laughs. “I’m learning every moment, and I collect, study, and apply new information on meditation all the time — I encourage everybody to do the same.

“Everyone can meditate, and you really can’t do it incorrectly,” Kelli says. “I’ve seen lists of over 40 different styles of meditation, with the most often referenced being Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Metta Meditation, or Transcendental Meditation (TM). My very simple definition of meditation is a practice that allows you to be fully present, so simple daily activities can be meditative, too; things like like walking, yoga, qi gong, tai chi, praying, gardening, music, dancing, running, cooking, swimming, singing, or chanting can be effective methods of meditation. The key is to find a practice that resonates with you.”

Even your work can have meditative qualities. “Painting, building, programming, assembly work, accounting, and body work can all be meditative at some point or another,” Kelli notes. “And other life experiences. Sitting for hours at my dying father’s bedside, or rocking my infant daughter to sleep were also highly meditative experiences for me.”

Through her meditative practice over the last 20 years, and facilitating the group at Seattle Central for about 6 years, Kelli has noticed that she has developed more order within her mind. “I haven’t been able to save the world or end hunger; and I seem to have the same issues and problems that most people have,” she says. “I have experienced great losses and wonderful celebrations. I have made decisions that I would change if I had another chance. And like many, I have worried over things that don’t really matter. What has changed for me is I am often able to choose peace over chaos (some of the time) and to use words and actions that help, not hurt (most of the time). Some days I am more successful in these positive choices than others, and that is why I keep ‘practicing’ meditation — over and over and over again.”

In terms of which style of meditation Kelli facilitates, she thinks its closest to Mindfulness Meditation. “We meet for 20 minutes each Tuesday, from 12:10pm – 12:30pm throughout the quarter, and I try to incorporate elements such as intentional meditations, focused meditations, self-compassion, stress reduction, forgiveness, walking meditations, and even some gong and nature sound meditations,” she explains.

Starting Your Meditation Practice

Here are Kelli’s tips on how to establish your own meditation practice.

While it’s a great idea to attend a class or group for meditation, you can definitely start meditation on your own; here’s a simple approach:

  • Start small — begin with 5 minutes and build from there
  • Ideally meditate in the same place, at the same time, every day. This gives your body and brain the signal that it is time to stop and breathe
  • Set a timer so you can relax into the experience
  • Sit in an upright, comfortable position
  • Gently close your eyes
  • Focus on the breath, breathing in and out slowly
  • Do your best to get three breaths together in a row before your mind goes sideways and you have to pull it back to ‘breathing in and breathing out’
  • End with a kind word to yourself or others

As you get more comfortable you can (or not) increase the amount of time you meditate.

Some practices recommend a specific amount of time, although the science is still out on just how long a meditation session should be to reap the most benefit. Find what works best for you.

Meditation is meant to be an enhancement to your life. It is not meant to keep you isolated from the rest of your world, spending the majority of your day alone, and separate. And while some days might be easier than others, most people report feeling better after meditating.

Remember that meditation is a practice: The more you do it, the easier it gets. You are training your brain, so be patient with yourself.

Would you like more information on meditation, or the weekly group that Kelli facilitates? Please feel free to contact her.

Recommended Resources

If you are thinking the same thoughts, they will lead to the same choices, which cause the same behaviors, which create the same experiences, which produce the same emotions, which in turn drive the same thoughts — so that, neurochemically, you stay the same.

In effect, you are reminding yourself of who you think you are — and it is reflected in your very biology.

You are NOT hardwired to be the same way for the rest of your life.

The brain is capable of change throughout our lives, creating new neural connections.

You can use your mind, to change the brain, to change your mind, to make your life better.

— Dr. Joe Dispenza, Neuroscientist

Active Listening Fosters Effective Collaboration

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Challenge Your Biases

The brain processes an enormous amount of information every second of the day, and is very adept in filtering out that which it doesn’t deem ‘important.’ This is an essential function, and it enables us to prioritize information that we believe will have an immediate impact on our lives.

But this same function can, for better or for worse, lead us to filter out and ignore stimuli that is not considered essential to our survival. Quite literally — and often — we can only hear what we want to hear.

One of the results of this process can be cognitive bias, which may in turn form the basis for how we relate to others. Through our own lived experiences, we create a shorthand that we use to interpret what other people say, using a lens that has been developed over time to make sense of the words and actions of others.

Relying solely on this shorthand can introduce conflict between people who are interpreting things from a completely different perspective. It can also inhibit effective collaboration if people aren’t willing to take a step back from their ideas and be open to others.

One way to break through our own perceptions is to engage in Active Listening. Some of the elements of this process include:

  • Try to understand before trying to be understood: In practice, this means that you stay focused on the speaker, truly listening to what they say, instead of half-listening in order to prepare your response. Ask yourself to hear not only what they’re saying, but what it means for them.
  • Be non-judgmental: Before you bring your ideas to the conversation and make a judgment about what the speaker has said, you should hear their own judgment of the topic or idea. This allows for empathetic listening, and gives you an opportunity to further understand their perspective.
  • Stay focused: Give the speaker your full attention so that you’re able to truly hear what they’re saying. Keeping eye contact and exhibiting positive body language shows the speaker that you are engaged and present.
  • Give space: It’s important to know when to speak, and when to allow the speaker the space to reveal what they are really thinking. If at all possible, don’t interrupt the speaker. How they reveal their perspective is just as important as the information they’re sharing.

Now, how can we learn and practice these skills so that we’re able to use them in our personal and professional lives? One method is through the art of improvisation.

Julian Schrenzel of Improv Alive has been helping folks hone their Active Listening skills through his dynamic improvisation workshops, such as our Thinking on Your Feet class.

“In the world of improvisation, there actually is no such thing as NON-active listening,” Julian notes. “If you are not actively listening during a scene or exercise, you are not improvising. Improvisation means that you’re simply responding to what’s happening at this very moment — no agenda, no distractions. In fact, the moment you ‘check out,’ or try to control what’s going on, is the very moment that it stops working. My goal is to nurture a safe but challenging environment where every participant can stretch themselves to listen with their entire body, and engage with every sense they have.”

Improvisation encourages inclusion, positivity, and support, which are key elements of Active Listening. “Have you ever had a conversation with someone, be it a customer service rep or a spouse, where you felt that you were not being listened to?” Julian asks. “It’s frustrating, and angering, and closes you off to a true dialogue. On the contrary, when you are talking with someone who is fully present and fully engaged, it’s energizing. Rather than digging in, it causes an opening of the minds involved. Can you imagine if every meeting you went to at work was attended by open minds and willing ears?”

Once you’ve had the opportunity to explore and practice these techniques, how can you employ them in your professional life? In addition to conflict resolution, collaboration can benefit greatly from Active Listeners.

“Many people think of collaboration and team innovation as something you can actually set out to ‘do’ — they think of it like setting out to climb a mountain or run a marathon,” Julian says. “This is not how it works. Collaboration, Innovation … these are not goals to accomplish. They are actually a RESULT of Active Listening! When each member of the team places more importance on supporting and uplifting their colleagues over achieving their agenda or making themselves look good, then anything a team does will be ‘collaborative.’ When you add to this a common purpose, passion, and skills/talent, the RESULT is innovation. But it all starts with great listening skills.”

In fact, Julian’s personal experiences taught him how effective employing the listening techniques he learned from improvisation can be. “My father and I have a Technical Recruiting practice, and when we began working together, we both would butt heads a lot!” He remembers. “He and I have a different work style, and we would often not see eye to eye. We both are also a bit confrontational (the apple falleth not far from the tree,) and we used to really get into it. It was destructive to the practice, and to our relationship.”

So how did they solve their communication issues? “We both adopted the concept of “Yes and,” which is a very famous improvisation cornerstone that means ‘Accept and Build on,'” He recalls. “In practice, this means that we made it a goal with each other to come into hot-button issues with an internal focus of responding to EVERYTHING with positivity and addition to the idea. While I can’t say we were 100% changed, we did make a fundamental shift from suborn negativity to openness and positivity, that to this day makes working together much more enjoyable!”

Learning how to actively listen will give you the opportunity to know more, to learn more, and to empathize more. It can help you break through your own preconceived notions, and help you create an environment for others to communicate more effectively with you.

If conflict and poor collaboration are something you experience in your personal or professional lives, consider how taking a workshop in improvisation could transform your skills in a fun, non-judgmental, and open way.


Recommended Viewing

Listening is active.

At its most basic level, it’s about focus, paying attention.

— Simon Sinek

The Tools of the Trade: Project Management Tips & Resources

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If You Fail to Plan, You're Planning to Fail

Often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, this adage is at the heart of project management.

Regardless of your industry — or even your specific role — knowing how to effectively plan and execute a project is an important skill.

Other roles that would benefit from formal project management training include:

  • Project sponsors will learn how to initiate a project in a manner which increases the chance of success
  • Project team members will learn how they can contribute to the project to ensure its success
  • Supervisors and Managers will learn how they can influence the project outcome by providing effective leadership and support to project teams
  • Stakeholders will learn about their roles and responsibilities in keeping the project progressing in a timely manner

In fact, project management is a useful skill that can positively impact your personal life, too — it’s a great way to achieve larger personal goals, like getting a college degree or buying a home.

Here are a few insights, tips, tools, and resources that our expert instructor, Zahid Kahn, shared with us.

If you’d like to learn more, please join us for our Fundamentals of Project Management class.

The Top 5 Most Important Aspects of Project Management

  1. Efficiency – Plan, organize and manage your resources to achieve your project objectives and deliver your project on time.
  2. Customer Satisfaction – Ensure that you have a well-planned approach to determining who this project is important to, how you will engage them in planning, and communicate with them.
  3. Risk Management – Identify any potential risks from a strategic perspective, analyze them and then develop a plan to mitigate any adverse impacts on your project’s objectives.
  4. Role Clarity – Clearly define and document the team members’ roles and responsibilities.
  5. Communication – Keep your customers up to date on how the project is progressing, including the scope, schedule, budget, risk, and quality.

Project Management Best Practices

These project management concepts are useful across all industries and organizations:

  • All projects must be initiated with an approved project charter
  • All projects should be managed by applying the requirements of an approved project management plan
  • All changes in project must be reviewed and approved by applying an integrated change control process
  • Risk management must be planned to identify options to mitigate the impacts and the likelihood that they occur
  • A communications management plan should be developed to ensure project stakeholders receive the right information in a timely manner

Common Project Management Mistakes

While there are entire books written on this topic, here are a few of the big ones:

  • Poor Planning – A project has not been properly planned, or not planned at all; an effective project manager must develop a realistic plan
  • Budget Bloat – Every project should have an approved baseline budget, which should be compared regularly with actual expenses to track any deviations
  • Scope Creep – It’s easy to add items to a project as you’re working through it and realize it’s missing things, but you need to start with a realistic timeline for deliverables and try to maintain it in order to deliver the project on time
  • Ineffective Communication – Before beginning a project, identify everyone who has an interest in it, analyze their expectations, influences and requirements throughout the project, and then create a communication plan to meet their needs
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