Mar 26, 2018
In this episode, I am excited to have Gina Biegel on to talk about redefining mindfulness in the 21st century and the idea of positive neuroplasticity.
Gina Biegel is a psychotherapist, researcher, speaker, and author in the San Francisco Bay Area who specializes in mindfulness-based work with adolescents. She is the founder of Stressed Teens, which has been offering mindfulness-based stress reduction for teens to adolescents, families, schools, professionals, and the community for over a decade. She created MBSR-T to help teens in a large HMO's outpatient department of child and adolescent psychiatry whose physical and psychological symptoms were not responding satisfactorily to a multitude of other evidence-based practices. An expert and pioneer in bringing mindfulness-based approaches to youth, she is the author of multiple works on the subject, she provides worldwide multi-day training and intensive ten-week online training, and she works with teens and families individually and in groups. Her work has been featured on CNN and Reuters, and in the New York Times.
For more information, visit: jeenacho.com
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MINDFUL PAUSE: Bite-Sized Practices for Cultivating More Joy and Focus
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Gina Biegel: [00:00:06] I think we tend to put ourselves down that totem pole and put everybody else first and doing things for other people. And we all know that you can't take care of others until you take care of yourself.
Intro: [00:00:18] Welcome to The Resilient Lawyer podcast. In this podcast, we have meaningful, in-depth conversations with lawyers, entrepreneurs, and change agents. We offer tools and strategies for creating a more joyful and satisfying life. And now your host, Jeena Cho.
Jeena Cho: [00:00:41] Hello my friends, thanks for being with me for another episode of The Resilient Lawyer podcast. In this episode I have Gina Biegel, who is a psychotherapist. She's a researcher, speaker, and author in the San Francisco Bay area. She specializes in mindfulness-based work with adolescents. Her work has been featured in CNN, Reuters, and in The New York Times. Today we're going to do something slightly different. Gina has written a new book, "Be mindful and Stress Less: 50 Ways to Deal with Your Crazy Life," and she has very generously offered to give away five copies of the book. You can get a free copy of the book shipped directly to you by retweeting this episode and tagging me, so head on over to Twitter and share this post and tag me. It's @Jeena_Cho. So if you would like a free copy of "Be mindful and Stress Less," and who doesn't want to be more mindful and stress less, go ahead and share the episode and tag me on the tweet.
[00:01:49] Before we get into the interview, if you haven't heard the last bonus episode go back and check it out. I shared a 6 minute guided meditation to let go of stress and anxiety. It's a preview for my course Mindful Pause. So often I hear from lawyers that they know they should practice mindfulness, and perhaps Jeena will offer some advice on how to make mindfulness a daily habit. So I wanted to create a course that would make it easy for lawyers to fit in a daily mindfulness and meditation practice. So it's just six minutes a day for 31 days. Head on over to JeenaCho.com to learn more, or check it out in the show notes. And with that, here's Gina. Gina, welcome to The Resilient Lawyer podcast.
Gina Biegel: [00:02:30] Hi Jeena, thanks for having me.
Jeena Cho: [00:02:31] You know I don't think I've ever had another Jeena on the podcast, so this is great.
Gina Biegel: [00:02:35] Yeah, when you just mentioned your name I was confused for a minute. I was like, wait a minute I know your name is Jeena, but hearing it was kind of funny. So we can savor that moment and take it in, Gina power.
Jeena Cho: [00:02:50] So let's get started by having you tell the listeners a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Gina Biegel: [00:02:57] Sure. So I'm a psychotherapist, as you know, a marriage family therapist. I've had about 15 years experience as a psychotherapist with doing a lot of family therapy, and a particular focus with working with teens, teens of all types. So those that "normal" or those that don't actually have a mental health disease or disorder, and then those who are really experiencing a lot of distress and have a lot of mental health difficulties. I've also worked in the inner city, I've worked with young people of privilege, and in both clinical and educational settings. And mostly in the United States, but North America and also elsewhere outside of the country.
[00:03:40] Something that struck me was that you were just saying, you know that lawyers feel the need like they should practice. And I too, you know just because I am a practitioner of mindfulness I am by no means perfect, and I think it's really important to share that. A lot of us have our ebbs and flows and our waxes and wanes with how much we practice, and the thing is noticing when we don't and trying not to judge our judge. Because then we could start judging the fact that we're judging ourselves for not practicing. And although my book is technically for teens and young adults, I think it's completely appropriate for all people; for people who are on the go, people who don't have a lot of time, who want to bring mindfulness into their life and get benefit from it but not spending 45 to 60 minutes a day sitting on a cushion.
Jeena Cho: [00:04:30] Yeah, yeah. How did you become interested in this topic of mindfulness?
Gina Biegel: [00:04:35] Yeah. You know it was not something I was planning on really. I was in grad school at Santa Clara University, and one of my professors Shawna Shapiro is a prolific researcher in the MBSR, mindfulness-based stress reduction for adults. And I started learning about it through her, and then through that was trained by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Saki Santorelli, and then I started getting really immersed in it. And seeing how it was benefiting me personally and really changing my life, and helping me with my own type-A personality really. I always, when I think of what I do now I always think of this old commercial, the Hair Club for Men commercial. And if you don't know this commercial, it's this guy who has this Hair Club for Men business and he says, "I'm not only a member, I'm also the founder," meaning he uses his own products and it's his business. So when I created the mindfulness-based stress reduction for teens program, it's like not only am I the creator of this program but I'm also a member. Meaning I need to practice mindfulness myself, it's helped me and it helps me in my life all the time.
Jeena Cho: [00:05:49] What were some of the personal benefits that you've gained from practicing mindfulness on a regular basis?
Gina Biegel: [00:05:56] Yeah, I think the thing that's helped me the most is quieting the to-do list. I was one of those people that would lay down at night and just kind of go over all the things I had to do, because when you're a professional and you're busy it's hard to turn that off. And so when I brought mindfulness practices into my life, particularly the body scan practice, it really got me out of that to-do list. And then the other practice with that that helped me was just, sometimes a pain just wants to be heard; sometimes your to-do list just wants to be acknowledged. It's like, okay I'm thinking of my to-do list right now. Okay, thank you for sharing, and its here right now. Instead of this aversion to it, or this clinging to it, it's more of this witnessing it; it's here, okay. And by witnessing it kind of takes that power out of it, to make it that attachment to continue thinking about it. So that has helped me a lot. Also, just how do you bring mindfulness into everything you're doing?
[00:07:01] You know, you're awake for let's say 16 hours a day. There are two types of mindfulness practice: formal and informal. Let's say formal practice is setting a specific amount of time aside to practice mindfulness. Well, let's say in 16 hour waking day I spent a half hour on formal practice; there are still 15 and a half hours left in the day for me to be bringing mindfulness to everything I'm doing, which is informal practice. And so for me, its how do I make it accessible and tangible and understandable, so that I can be applying it to everything I'm doing throughout my day?
Jeena Cho: [00:07:39] And how do you remind yourself to bring yourself back into the present moment throughout the day?
Gina Biegel: [00:07:46] Because I've been practicing a long time now, I almost envision this kind of anchor in my body, this anchor in my chest. Or I think of the things that are always constants with us; the grounding focal points, our breath, our heart rate, our heart rate variability. But also things like our fingers have a lot of sensations in them and a lot of nerves in them, so if you just put your hands in the air you can feel something. So it's like, how do you constantly shift out of the thinking and the doing, and then it's the shift back to my body. The shift back to my feet and walking on the ground, or feeling the air around my fingers. And then as my thoughts wander, it's this kind of witnessing, this invitation to return back to this moment. It's like you're in a rowboat and you're kind of going about in the ocean, and you drop your anchor and it holds your boat, hopefully in place. It helps ground you.
[00:08:45] So when you're learning the practices that you teach, when you're learning the practices that you might read in my book, you're going to learn different ways to get back to that anchor using what works for you. And so to me it's about practicing different things, and finding the things that really ground you the most, that center you the most, that are the most tangible for you. I think a lot of times when I was first learning mindfulness, sitting practice was the crown jewel and you needed to sit and you needed to do it for a certain amount of time. And what I've come to learn is that to be honest, sitting practice isn't my thing. Walking practice I really love, focusing on my body and getting out of my head I really love. Spending time in nature or flower arranging or whatever self-care activities fill me up, those are the things that I turn to. Which might not be what some other practitioners might say is the most beneficial, but they are for me. And so it's making a program for yourself that you're going to have the most success at practicing. Because if you're trying to fit a square peg into a round hole it's not going to work.
Jeena Cho: [00:10:05] Yeah. That's why I think there is so much value in just the experimentation process itself, like trying various types of meditation or different practices, and figuring out what works for you. And I know when I work with lawyers, there can be a lot of discouragement or self-criticism that says you know, I shouldn't be focusing on doing meditation or I should be doing that. But if that's just not your thing, but it's also going to take a little bit of practice to know what you like.
Gina Biegel: [00:10:40] And experimentation. It's your willingness to do things more than once. I always ask teens to practice a practice more than once, at least a handful of times. And the same is true for us adults, over time our practice changes and develops as we change and develop. So maybe a practice that wasn't really something you resonated to at the beginning, I encourage you after time, after being practicing mindfulness for longer, to try some of the other practices that might not have fit for you. Because as you grow and change they might very well be a good fit for you.
Jeena Cho: [00:11:18] Yeah, I definitely noticed when I was going through the MBSR class that I hated doing the body scan, because I was so detached from my body. I would listen to a guided meditation and it would be like, okay bring all of your attention to your left foot. And I'm like, what does that even mean? I know I have a left foot, I know I have toes, but feeling your left toe I don't know that I have any sensation there. And I found that really distressing, but after a while I was like oh, I'm really just disconnected from the body. And I think a lot of lawyers are, I think we tend to highly value our intellect and that's the space that we live in. Can you talk about why it is important to actually connect with the body? For the lawyers that are out there that are like, I just use my mind for everything, why should I care about my body, why does it matter?
Gina Biegel: [00:12:14] Our thoughts unfortunately can be like fake news sometimes, they're not always the most accurate and they're not always the most forgiving or nice to us. So for me, it's helping me because (I'm not a lawyer but I'm definitely a thinker as well and I'm up in my head a lot) it helps me to get into my body. Because usually our body gives off a lot of red flags and a lot of information that we might not pay attention to, and it's also information that's usually much more honest.
[00:12:47] Pain, red flags signals our body gives us is actually there for a reason, and sometimes we don't listen to it and we don't tune into it until it's like a pot of boiling water that's overflowing. So if we start checking in with our body and how we feel physically; do we have a headache that we didn't notice we had, do we have a stomachache or are our muscles tense or tight? Are we sitting with our shoulders really high up towards our head, are we holding our jaw tight or teeth clenched? And if we're not really paying attention to those things, we're missing opportunities to engage in well-being for ourselves, and in and being for ourselves.
Jeena Cho: [00:13:27] Yeah, I remember I was working with a somatic therapist of some sort, and the first time I went in to meet her (because I was having really bad anxiety) she goes, "Well where in your body do you feel anxiety?" And I was like, what, what are you talking about where do I feel it?! No, it's totally up in the head. And of course, that's totally not true. There is a set of physiological responses that my brain interprets as being anxiety. And once that clicked for me that was really life-changing, because I realized when my heart is beating faster and my stomach feels like it's getting tied up in knots, and it's just that really uncomfortable feeling, and then my brain goes, oh I'm anxious. Why am I anxious, like what's going on? And then the brain goes out there really happily and gives you all the reasons in which you are anxious. And just by actually paying attention to the physiological response, and noticing my heart's beating faster so let me breathe a little bit slower and let me try to relax my stomach. So that I'm not engaging in that catastrophizing thinking space, where it's like one anxiety-provoking thought leads to like ten more, and before you know it I'm knee-deep in anxiety.
Gina Biegel: [00:14:46] It's also powerful to actually know what's going on in your body; you have an edge, you have a leg up maybe from some of the people in your community when you're tuning into those things, and tuning into them before they become more chronic problems.
Jeena Cho: [00:15:02] Yeah, definitely.
Gina Biegel: [00:15:04] I remember I was teaching a sitting practice and I was checking in with the group after I was done, and this person said, "You caused me to have a headache." And I was like, well I don't think I'm that powerful but I could have. But the odds are you probably had that headache before, but you hadn't tuned into it yet; you hadn't noticed what was already there.
Jeena Cho: [00:15:26] Right, and that happens I think quite frequently. When I work with lawyers, often they'll say, "I really felt a lot of anxiety doing the meditation." So they then associate doing the meditation with having more anxiety or noticing the stress. And it's like no, no, no, the meditation didn't cause anything. All the stress and anxiety you were noticing was there. But in order to actually know what was going on, you actually had to drop into that place of stillness so you can actually pay attention to what's going on in your inner world. And I don't know if you notice this with teens, but certainly with adults or at least lawyers, they kind of fear doing the meditation practice because they're so not used to just being alone with themselves without external distractions or stimulus, that they can sort of resist it.
Gina Biegel: [00:16:18] I couldn't agree with you more. And I say virtually what you just said about teens, and all of us I think our phones have become an appendage to us. We're so used to constant dopamine hits from what we're doing on social media and our texting or posting or e-mails, that we're also very used to having many things going on at the same time. And so it's like this relationship we have with this external world and the stimuli, and not really learning how to be okay alone and in our own skin and in silence, and that nothing's going to happen if you're if you're not doing something; nothing bad's going to happen if you learn how to just be. And it's such a useful thing to start as early as possible, so for all of you, lawyers out there who have young children or teens, helping them to be okay without a constant device going on is so important. And I had this experience with a teen where I taught a practice and she had tears in her eyes after. And I said, what's going on? And she said, I couldn't stand it, it was so silent in here. Mind you, it wasn't ever silent. I was talking, people were wrestling about.. in fact, it was the winter and a heater vent was going on above us. It was literally above the tables we were around.
[00:17:47] What I learned is that because of our electronic devices we don't necessarily pick up the ambient noises anymore, we kind of don't even hear them. And so when people feel uncomfortable with silence and practice, what I ask them to do is to listen to the ambient noises and listen to the space between sounds, so you can track sounds. Like okay, I heard that noise, and now there's a space, and now I hear another noise. So there is something they can be attending to, and they're not just kind of flailing out there without any direction. At least they have something that they can anchor to, which is their sense of sound.
Jeena Cho: [00:18:26] Yeah, I love that. You know, sometimes I get questions from lawyers about, I want to get my kids to meditate. And I don't have kids myself, but often it just seems like a huge challenge to try to get your kids to meditate. And I'll sometimes say, "Well maybe you should just start meditating and your kids will sort of pick it up by osmosis." Because I don't think just telling your kids to meditate is a terribly effective way of doing it. But for the adults out there that want to try to get their kids into this wonderful practice and for their kids, some tips or suggestions?
Gina Biegel: [00:19:04] I agree with you that having a parent practice themselves and having their kids see them practice is a strong, good, positive, suggestion. Kind of forcing it on your kid is a terrible idea. Just think about yourself as a teen and your parent came and suggested something to you, you wanted nothing to do with it. So sometimes I'll say, maybe a family friend or a relative that the kid gets along with, kind of like a big sister or brother that they feel comfortable with, maybe that person could bring it to them. But honestly, I think if you bring mindfulness into your own life as a parent, you're going to be more present to your kids. You're going to be a better parent, and therefore it's going to change the relationship you have with your kids. Obviously, I would say you could buy my deck of cards or you can buy my book and just kind of set it on the kid's nightstand or on their desk. But honestly, it has to become an organic experience. A lot of the mindfulness and education community, some of the leaders in this community started practicing when they were really young and because of their parents being pretty well-known mindfulness leaders in the community. And they said the same thing, "I'd see my parents practice and I'd be curious about it, or I'd be interested in it." And that got them interested in doing it themselves, without being forced to do it.
I would say there's a really cool organization out there called I.B.M.E., which stands for "inward bound mindful education." And they do teen retreats all over the world, mostly in North America. And I had the opportunity to sit as a staff on one of the retreats in Toronto a few years ago, and it's an amazing experience. It's five days where teens are in the wilderness somewhere, forest or somewhere in a pretty setting, and they're with other teens and they get to immerse themselves in learning mindfulness practice. But not so much where it's so overwhelming, but in a very safe and secure environment. And they're also are not with their TV and their phones and computers. So that's a cool thing that you could have teens that you feel would be a good fit for that, meaning that they have some interest; I wouldn't force them to go. But if it seems like they would maybe like to spend a few days with other teens in a retreat setting, that would be a really good way to go.
Jeena Cho: [00:21:46] Yeah I love that, and being on retreat is such an incredible opportunity. Because you're kind of being plucked from your natural environment, and it gives you the space to think about things differently because you're having different experiences. I'm a huge fan of retreats, so I highly, highly agree with you.
Gina Biegel: [00:22:05] Last night I was having a conversation with another person who often sits on retreats themselves. And for all of you who are going on your first retreat, turn off your radio before you leave your car. Because if you go sit on retreat and you go back and you turn your car on and you left your radio on, it's one of the most jarring experiences.
Jeena Cho: [00:22:24] Oh totally, yeah.
Gina Biegel: [00:22:28] So turn your music off, or leave it on and be surprised.
Jeena Cho: [00:22:35] I remember I did a month long about a year ago, and they specifically said if you don't have to drive yourself home, that's what we recommend. And I was like, "What are you talking about? Of course I can drive myself home." But after not driving and just being in this incredible space of stillness and having a very structured day of sitting and walking meditation, when I got in the car and started driving it felt like the world was moving so fast. Because I wasn't driving obviously for the whole month, the fastest I was going somewhere was walking speed.. and not very fast walking speed.
Gina Biegel: [00:23:16] It's like you want to drive home at five miles an hour because you're like wow this is really fast.
Jeena Cho: [00:23:23] Yeah, exactly. It's a funny experience. I'm curious, when parents bring their kids in to see you, what are some of their reasons typically that the kids are sent to go in and meet with you?
Gina Biegel: [00:23:38] Mostly due to anxiety, a lot of worries, a lot of depression. Maybe some sort of addiction towards their phone or not being able to put their social down or their video games down, or a lot of the pressures they're putting on themselves. These days it's not even necessarily the parents are putting pressure on them, that they're putting it on themselves. So a lot of times I get a lot of young people who are just kind of wound very tight. And they don't have the emotional regulation or metacognition skills yet to be able to handle a lot that's coming their way. I mean, if you think about all the things that are available to them on the internet and compare that to when we were younger, those things were not readily available. Whereas today, you're having at your fingertips access to so many topics, so many things. And it's overwhelming, it just is. So how can we expect young people to manage what they're having to deal with if we don't teach them how to do those things? Like if we don't teach young people how to pay attention, how are they going to learn it? If we don't teach them about self-care, how are we going to assume they're going to engage in positive coping skills, for example?
Jeena Cho: [00:25:03] Yeah, it's so true. I always thought that was so interesting, where we tell kids to pay attention all the time but we don't actually teach them how. The same thing as adults, we try to get ourselves to pay attention but we don't really have the management.
Gina Biegel: [00:25:20] We didn't take Attention 101, that class didn't come to me.
Jeena Cho: [00:25:26] Right, yeah. Why do you think mindfulness is so important for kids nowadays? Is it more relevant now than for previous generations? Thoughts on that?
Gina Biegel: [00:25:42] I think it's more important now than ever because of the current climate socially and politically, particularly in the United States. And as you know, yesterday there was a walkout for teens and gun violence. Teens are having to deal with things that are traumatic, and I think mindfulness has many layers to it. Mindfulness is simply put as paying attention. But then, what is a deeper dive beyond just being mindful? Once you're mindful, it's where do you choose to put your attention? Where do you direct that attention? And you can direct it towards things that are helpful and positive, or things that are hurtful and harmful. And so I think there's this other layer to mindfulness, which is being compassionate, being grateful. Learning how to respect yourself and have self-confidence and sense of agency. And to me, those are things that I bring into and under that umbrella of mindfulness. I had a teacher leave me a note, and it said (it was so sweet) "I see you and I hear you," with a big heart in the middle. And it was like, isn't that what we all want; to be seen and heard? Truly seen and truly heard. I mean all of you lawyers out there, your clients all they want is to be seen and heard. And then you think about yourself, all you want is to be seen and heard, by your kids or your significant others. And the love piece of mindfulness, that's the other part. It's that connection, that humanness that we sometimes miss when we're up in our heads.
Jeena Cho: [00:27:36] Yeah, and I think what you're talking about.. and I think sometimes when we talk about mindfulness, like oh you're just paying attention. But it's so much more than that, it's also how we're paying attention. Are we paying attention with this lense of criticism or lense of anger, or are we paying attention with this lense of compassion? And that was very life-changing for me, when I can see different situations and also myself with this lense of kindness and actually giving other people the benefit of the doubt, giving myself some slack. And I would also imagine that that practice of learning to be a good friend to yourself and being kind to yourself is so important, especially as teens.
Gina Biegel: [00:28:26] I have a book chapter in my new book on zooming in and zooming out, and it's helping people see where they put their focus and attention. And what I suggest people do, you know we have these phones and we're going to use them, so bring mindfulness to our phones, to our devices. So what I suggest people do is to do a walking practice, and take pictures of the things that you notice. Things that maybe don't fit or don't belong, or things that grab your attention, that you like or whatever it might be. And then practicing on your phone literally zooming into something and zoom out. And seeing how you can zoom in on that picture or you can zoom out, and then you can translate that into our thoughts. Where do we put our attention, how do we perceive situations? For example, do we only focus on the one bad review we got, or the one bad thing someone said, or can we take a step back and look at all the wonderful plethora and myriad of things that we received. So the zooming in and out, while sounding very simple, is quite deep. And the same can be true of mindfulness, although it sounds simple it's quite complex. And it's something that evolves as you change in the whole lifespan.
Jeena Cho: [00:29:45] Yeah, yeah, definitely. And I love that practice of actually using your phone to actually help you pay closer attention to your life and your experience, it's really great tip.
Gina Biegel: [00:29:58] The other tip I would give for people with their devices is just because you get a text does not mean you have to send one back right away. And I talk about mindful messaging and posting, like consider your intention for sending what you send, whether it's an email or text. Consider how you feel in your body; are you angry, are you sad, are you jealous or resentful? And okay, maybe this isn't the best time to be sending that email. And the good ol' advice of reading it before you send it; I've learned that and it's very much helped me in my own life.
Jeena Cho: [00:30:40] Yeah, totally yeah. And I often say, go ahead and write you're super angry, triggered response. . just don't hit send.
Gina Biegel: [00:30:49] Also, don't address it to anybody.
Jeena Cho: [00:30:53] Right? Start a brand new email with the 'To' field completely blank, and then write whatever it is. And so often if I can just hold off, when I re-read what I wrote a day or two later it's like, oh that is so not the response I want to send; it's not going to get me where I want to go, and this is not..
Gina Biegel: [00:31:14] It might be what you want to send, it just isn't necessarily the smartest idea.
Jeena Cho: [00:31:20] Right, right, yeah. I think there's a lot of value in brain-dumping and getting whatever it is out of your system, but just not sending it. Gina, before we wrap things up tell the listeners about your new book.
Gina Biegel: [00:31:38] Sure. My book is called, "Be mindful, Stress Less: 50 Ways to Deal With Your Crazy Life." And really, it's a book chock-filled with practices that you can be doing any time of the day, in all different aspects of your life. And I weave through that a lot of positive neuroplasticity practices. My opinion is that you can become mindful, become more aware, spaciously indirected in your awareness.. and then what do you do with it? And it's in short practices, you can change your brain that tilts to the negative to start tilting toward the positive, to feeling better. I say, taking the good in, pull weeds and plant seeds. And resource yourself. So the thing I would suggest the most to all of you out there is engage in self-care. In the profession I'm in as well, I think we tend to put ourselves down that totem pole and put everybody else first and doing things for other people. And we all know that you can't take care of others until you take care of yourself. But then that line of actually engaging in it and doing it is a different story because I think that sometimes we think we can take on a little bit more than other people. And I would say be rigorously honest with yourself, and continually bring self-care into your life. Whether it's putting perfume on or shaving or having a nice cup of coffee, even little minute self-care practices can show you that you matter. And also model for your kids if you have kids, that it's important to take care of yourself, even if just for a minute.
Jeena Cho: [00:33:24] Gina, thank you so much for spending a little bit of time with me and for sharing your wisdom today.
Gina Biegel: [00:33:31] Thank you so much for having me, I appreciate it. It was fun.
Closing: [00:33:37] Thanks for joining us on The Resilient Lawyer podcast. If you've enjoyed the show, please tell a friend. It's really the best way to grow the show. To leave us a review on iTunes, search for The Resilient Lawyer and give us your honest feedback. It goes a long way to help with our visibility when you do that, so we really appreciate it. As always, we'd love to hear from you. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks and look forward to seeing you next week.