Friday, June 28, 2013

Happiness as a pursuit

Yesterday morning I heard a TV discussion on the current issue of TIME magazine, which features the cover story "The Pursuit of Happiness." The article discusses the American focus on pursuing happiness—a focus even built into our constitution!

The article says that since 1972, only a third of Americans describe themselves as "very happy," according to surveys funded by the National Science Foundation.  It also cites a new TIME poll showing that, since 2004, the "share of Americans who identify themselves as optimists has plummeted from 79 percent to 50 percent."

Further, the article cites a 2012 study by psychologist Ryan Howell of San Francisco State University that's now being expanded and that lends support to the idea that "another mistake we make is choosing to buy things rather than experiences." In discussing things vs. experiences, the article continues: "Your vacation to Rome or your family camping trip, however, are much more particularly yours since nobody else in the world did exactly the same things or shared them with exactly the same people you did. And far from wearing out, the memories of the experience grow richer over time."

So what makes you happy? And how do you define happiness? Do you think much about happiness? Do you try to stay positive and happy? Or isn't it even a pursuit for you? It's fascinating to me that there's so much talk about it in the media these days. I'd love to hear what you think about it all.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Learn to love your body

Yesterday I blogged about the necessity of listening to our bodies. Here's another thing we women can learn as we age: We can learn to love our bodies, no matter what shape or condition they're in.

Recently I saw a cartoon showing a slender woman looking in the mirror. The image staring back at her was that of a very large woman with bulges and extra weight. The next frame showed a very large, overweight man looking in the mirror; and what he saw was a well-sculpted, muscular young body. Now this is a bit sexist, perhaps, but there is some truth to it, too. We women never think our bodies are good enough. Men seem to have fewer issues with theirs.

As author Patricia Lynn Reilly says in Imagine a Woman in Love with Herself: Embracing Your Wisdom and Wholeness, "Most women scrutinize every detail of their bodies under an unmerciful magnifying glass. They inspect their bodies, searching for flaws: too big, too small; too much, too little; too round, too flat; too tall, too short. Over time, we develop a chronic resentment toward our bodies because they are always falling short of perfection as defined by the culture, our families, a current lover and ourselves. They are never quite good enough no matter what we do to them."

What if instead we honored our bodies "as the sacred temple of the spirit of life," as Reilly puts it? What if we are grateful for all the things our bodies have done for us through the years? Think of all your hands have done. Your legs and arms. Your neck. Your hips and chest. Every part has performed in amazing ways through the years. Let's be grateful for each part. And let's give some tender care to our bodies and maybe even learn to love them!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

When your body speaks, listen

Have you spent most of your life ignoring the needs of your body, just expecting it to do everything you want to do? Yup, me, too.

As you and I age, our bodies seem to speak up more! There's a little creak here and a groan there. Feet hurt. Knees buckle. Repetitive motion causes pain one place or another.

Maybe it's time to listen! In the midst of your busy life, perhaps it's time to pay attention to what your body needs. Maybe you don't have to push yourself so hard anymore. Isn't it possible that someone else can lift and carry those heavy loads? Or can the load be broken up into several smaller ones? Do you really have to work 10- to 12-hour days?

Perhaps it's time to learn to take breathers. To rest occasionally. To treat yourself to yoga classes, tai chi, occasional massages and other things that open up those tight and tense muscles. Maybe, dare I say it, you could even learn to take an occasional nap? Oh, I know, you and I have so much to do that we just don't have time to stop. But once rested, perhaps we'd even accomplish more. And be even more creative.

One thing I've learned, however: If you don't take care of your body and listen to what it wants and needs, it will find a way to get what it needs. It will get sick or break down in some way that's far less desirable than the self-care methods you can learn now to employ.

What one thing will you do today to engage in better self-care for your body?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Been laid off or fired? Process the grief.

The opportunity is too good to pass up! So, although my plate is full at the moment, I'm going to take advantage of this opportunity to process a bit more about my experience of being Reduced In Force almost four years ago.

A friend just told me about a local actor and director who wants to write an original performance piece based on the experiences of others in being fired, laid off or retiring. This person wants to gather information from people in the community before he writes his performance piece, and he is seeking input from those who have been through this.

His questions are excellent to consider, whether you have yet experienced these things or even if you fear them. Or if you're looking toward retirement soon. Grief accompanies each of those events, and it doesn't matter whether you chose the outcome or whether it was done to you.

The actor/director asks things such as: At what stage of life did this occur? Did that make your adjustment more severe? How? How important to you was your job or career? What did it mean to you and your family? Describe your last days of employment. Describe your emotions. How long did that stage last? What changed from that initial response? Were you offered support? Did you accept it? Has your emotional reaction changed with time? How and when? If you could say anything to your employer, what would you say? Would it make you feel better? Why or why not? If you could say anything to someone about to experience what you did, what would you say?

Aren't those excellent questions? They're just ripe with possibility. I can definitely see a play being built on the responses. But more, I can see real growth coming from answers to them if you are processing your experience of being fired, laid off or retiring. Pay attention to the grief—and it will be easier to move on.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Hard of hearing?

Are you hard of hearing?

I don't mean that you use hearing aids. Maybe you do. Maybe you don't. I mean, do you sometimes hear what you expect to hear? Or what you want to hear? And you don't hear what the person is really saying?

I know I do. Sometimes I'm so certain that I know exactly what a friend or loved one is thinking—and I am sure I know what they're going to say on a given subject. So I may not listen quite so carefully for the nuance because I think I already know. Not a good recipe for communication, is it?

At times, it's less about thinking the comment will be the predictable response and more about being in a hurry. When I am rushed, I don't read the email as carefully or listen as well as I should. That's why, before each coaching session with a client, I take 15 minutes to ground and center myself. I clear out all my own thoughts and cares as best I can—and I focus on the client, her goals, what we discussed last time and anything else I know is going on in her life. I pray to be open to the client and his needs and concerns. I get myself into my best open and listening mode.

So now I wonder: What if I did that all the time? What if I really listened to all the conversations I have daily? Would my communications with others be clearer? I think so. As with everything in our lives, we can't be perfect. But we surely can continue trying to improve. We can do the best we're able to do each day.

Maybe our relationships will improve as we try to be less hard of hearing!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Comparing to someone's 'outsides'

How often do you look around at others in your life to gauge how you are doing? Silly, isn't it? Yet we all do it. And perhaps even more frequently than we care to admit.

I have a dear friend who always says, "Don't compare your insides to someone else's outsides." She means that you know the back story of what you do and how you feel. You know how many times you've fallen down in your attempts to get it right. You might not always be proud of where you are or how you feel about things.  It may not be where you'd like to be. But when you compare to what you see of someone else's life from the outside, you'll always lose out. You don't know their back story. You don't know their struggles. You don't know how they feel about themselves or what they are doing. All you know is what you see on the outside, and that's really not very much.

Compare to yourself. Don't worry about anyone else. Is there something you'd like to learn or to develop further? Then set your own goals and break them down into smaller action steps so they are achievable. Celebrate the progress you are making—and forget about comparing to anyone else. Typically, it only discourages you.

If someone can serve as an inspiration to you, that's quite different. Even so, try to not get caught up in comparing yourself to that person. Simply take what inspiration you can from her and let it spur you on. Savor the journey, learn as you go and don't worry about what others are doing. Again, it's about your own authenticity—about being who you are meant to be.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The fountain of youth—and of age

Psychoanalyst, poet and storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estes says in The Dangerous Old Woman: Myths and Stories of the Wise Woman Archetype, "If you are not free to be who you are, you are not free." Further, she says that we're born with two forces that give us every lens we need to see who we are: the wild and ever-young force of imagination, which contains intuition and instinct, and the wise elder force of knowledge, which holds boundaries and carries the heart of the visionary.

The young force and the elder one. Yes, you and I need both those perspectives (and everything in between), don't we? If we are to be our authentic selves—who we were created to be—we need the imagination, instinct and energy of our young self and the vision and wisdom of the older self.

It's been said that inside, we are every age we've ever been. That being the case, we should be able to access the lessons we have learned at each of our life stages. Perhaps this all suggests that we ought not look upon our aging process as a negative but learn to appreciate how it includes even more stages that help us become who we were meant to be. Perhaps there really is some truth in the saying that we're getting better and older! It's about authenticity. Being all we're able to be.

Let's focus on the richness of whatever stage we're in right now. Let's not only celebrate the fountain of youth—but the rich fountain of age as well. It takes us where we need to be. Isn't that something to celebrate?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tune in for choices

This morning I had a long list of things to do, most of which required clear-headed writing, focus and some creativity. However, it was one of those rare but unfortunate nights when I didn't sleep well. So I awoke without my usual focus and energy.

OK, I told myself, go with where you are. Why not switch out activities, doing the more physical ones now and saving those that require thinking and writing for another time? Outside of writing this blog, that's basically what I'm doing today—more physical, active tasks.

Sometimes you and I don't have that luxury, and we have to push through even when we're not inspired or are half asleep!

When you do have a choice, however, try to listen to your body and spirit. Where is it leading you today? I invite you to make choices that are consistent with what's going on both inside and outside on any given day or at any given moment, at least when you have that option.

How good are you at listening to your body? To your spirit? It does take time and practice to do that; and the more you do it, the better you'll get at knowing what you need and what's possible to do at any given time. If you're not sure, just stop for a moment. Ask yourself how it will feel to be doing the first task on your to-do list. Do you have the energy? The focus? What about the next task? Just check in with yourself. Doing so will doubtless assure better results than pushing through with something you simply aren't in a good place to do. If there's no choice, there's no choice, obviously. But when there is, make one that's good for you and that works.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

From discomfort to transformation

Sometimes our best teachers are people and situations that give us fits and cause us discomfort. I've heard that said so often. And many times I resist the idea.

In fact, I've walked away from some situations and people because of the discomfort. Now I try instead to ask what I can learn from them. Often, there's something I need to learn from that person who at times drives me crazy! Or from that situation I don't always enjoy.

Mind you, I'm not saying you should stay in a relationship that's painful, hurtful or abusive. Absolutely not. There are some relationships from which you simply must walk away. They are harmful, and there will be nothing good to learn from them. Some situations are that way, too, and are better left behind.

Each day I read from a wonderful book just recommended earlier this year by someone I deeply respect. The book is The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have by Mark Nepo, who has survived cancer and other life difficulties and learned important life lessons from the experiences. In one of last week's daily readings, he talked about the gap that we sometimes feel between ourselves and another person and how, once we decide to cross that gap, the separations between us seem much smaller. And he said, "Often the thing feared, once crossed, turns out to be an unexpected bridge from which we can see who we were and who we are becoming."

I like that. And I have so often found it true. So those situations and people that cause us some discomfort just might help us "see who we were and who we are becoming." They may offer the possibility of transformation and turn out to be a source for increased wisdom. 

Is there someone or some thing in your life from which you can learn today?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Embrace your 'flaws' too

 I have several clients who worry that they are too scattered and can't maintain a good focus. In my June 13 blog, I talked about things to help maintain focus. That's fine if you really need to be more focused and it's causing you pain or problems to be less focused.

If you aren't really experiencing difficulties being the way you are, however, I typically tell people to embrace who and what they are. Insofar as it's possible, learn to live with your characteristics and your style—unless it's becoming a problem for you in some way or another.

People who fire off new ideas at a high rate each minute and who feel they're scattered often are very creative types. You may or may not want to mess too much with that if that's how you are. Go with who you are. Tweak your style somewhat if, for example, you aren't finishing work projects on time because you're bouncing from one project to another. But if it generally works for you, embrace your style. Add deep breathing, yoga or some other type of activity that can center you just enough that you can add some focus. But keep who you are at the core.

You might consider your scattered nature to be a flaw. Yet inside what you think is a flaw might just be wrapped some of your real gifts, such as creativity. Perhaps you are an idea person—and not the one who can put legs on the idea. Nothing wrong with that; let others develop your ideas and make them come alive. Very often what you think is a weakness can be flipped over on its other side and show up as a strength. Think about what makes you you and embrace all of it! It's really all part of loving yourself and setting the butterfly free.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Does your self-image need a makeover?

Have you ever been asked to list several things you like about yourself? Or asked to recall something you accomplished about which you feel quite proud?

Most of us are embarrassed when asked such things and have a difficult time answering. If we were asked to list our flaws, we'd no doubt start writing and keep at it for quite a long time!

So why can't we think of our strengths and our accomplishments? Why can't we acknowledge them? Maybe it's time to ratchet up our self-esteem and our self-image a bit. Here are a couple activities to help you:

Make a list on your computer or on paper (think of at least five to 10) of the characteristics you like about yourself. Perhaps it will help if you think of what others typically say about you. What do they tell you they appreciate about you? Do you value that, too? Then add that to the list.

If you'd rather, think of something you did, either recently or long ago, about which you are proud. Perhaps you completed a job you never imagined you could do or finished in a marathon that you never had thought possible. Or did you show strength and resilience when you went through a very difficult and challenging time? Give yourself credit for those things. Write about what you did and how you feel about it.

Contrary to what some of us heard when we grew up, there is nothing wrong with appreciating our own gifts and abilities. And it's more than OK to feel proud of accomplishments. When you feel good about yourself, you'll be so much more generous-spirited and loving toward others. Isn't that worth moving toward?

I'm still working on this myself. How about you?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Focus on your daily goals

How are you at focusing? Do you know what you want to accomplish each day and pretty much stay with it until you reach your goal or at least make good progress toward it? Or are you easily distracted?

Being easily distracted isn't a character flaw. It's just the way some people are. If that describes you, you may want to employ some methods to help you keep better focus (only if that's important to you and what you do, of course, and not because you need fixing).

Start your day by deciding what you really want to get done. Write it down where you can see it. Be as realistic as you can. Don't make an impossible to-do list, or you'll really get distracted—to say nothing about getting discouraged. What's most important to accomplish today? Start with three to six things—or just one if it's a large and complex task. That's plenty. Sometimes your day will be filled with interruptions, and those may even become the necessary and important things.

If others try to add to your day's to-do list and it's within your power to say "No," do so. Stay with your own focus if that's what you've determined is important for that day. If extra commitments can wait until another day or if they're better done by someone else, let them go.

Be sure to give yourself breaks throughout the day. Try to breathe deeply and approach your tasks in as relaxed a manner as possible. It will be easier to focus if you aren't feeling totally rushed and harried.  And it will be easier to focus if you have some space between tasks or even between different parts of a large project.

Be mindful as you carry out each part of your to-do list. If you pay attention, you are less easily distracted. And you might even enjoy what you're doing!

If it will help the entire process, promise yourself a reward when you finish those important things: a walk in the park, a cup of your favorite tea or something you especially enjoy. Be sure to cross things off your list when you finish. Doesn't that feel so good?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Your inner critic as friend

Have you heard from your inner critic lately? Some people call it their inner judge. Whatever name you have for the voice inside that criticizes and judges you, the effect is the same. Just know it's normal for people to have one.

Some will say you want to get rid of that voice. That seems to work for some people. I have another option.

What I have found to be true in my life is that my inner critic really wants to protect me and take care of me. That's why she sometimes appears to be pretty hard on me. When that happens, I try to be gentle with her and with myself, assuring my inner critic that I appreciate her concern but that I really will be OK with whatever situation about which she's worried.

Be relaxed with your inner critic—or even playful. You do not have to get rid of her. You just need to calm her down and assure her you have things as much under control as is possible.

I'm guessing you'll discover, as I did, that when you are patient and loving with this judging voice, she'll relax and give you messages that seem less harsh. You may even detect the fear she's feeling without any judgment toward you at all. You can reassure her and calm her anxiety!

Try making friends with your inner critic today and see whether her voice doesn't change over time.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Say hello to anxiety

Does anxiety sometimes sit on your chest like a small elephant pinning you down? What do you do when that happens? Tighten up even more? Fight it?

Here's a thought: When you feel anxiety or fear creeping up—or more than creeping—stop and say "Hello" to it. Don't ignore it. Don't focus on it with clenched fists. Just acknowledge it. Somehow just doing that will take some of the power from it.

Then once you've acknowledged that you feel anxious, ask yourself questions about the genesis of that feeling. What's it all about? When did it start? Did something happen? Is it just that your to-do list is growing faster than your ability to cross off things? Or is this a long-term issue just reaching an end-point and desperately needing resolution? Did you have a fight with a loved one? Are you facing something you fear? Do you fear a bad outcome for something?

Whatever the cause, when you stop to say "Hello" and name the problem, you can begin to come up with solutions. Anxiety and fear will lessen and recede just by being acknowledged. And you'll be more open in heart and mind to think about your response.

Please contact me if you'd like some coaching on the issue of anxiety. And share with us all in the Comment box below if you have some tried-and-true methods of dealing with it.

Monday, June 10, 2013

What's in your de-stressing tool kit?

For some reason, my life has seemed so busy lately. There have been a lot of additional things happening, and I have added some painting and house touch-ups to my to-do list. But I realize that part of the stress I experience is internal.

It is true that I've had to keep moving with not much down time. But if I could just remain calm and unruffled inside, I'd be much better off.

Do you ever have that happen? You do have lots to do—but it's your feelings about it that exacerbate your stress?

OK, I tell myself: It's time for some deep breathing. Some additional yoga stretches. A nice, long walk in nature (if it would ever stop raining long enough!). Extra meditation time. Journaling. All those things that calm me down and reduce my stress levels.

I hope you have a tool kit of resources that help you reduce stress. What's in your kit? For each of us, the tools and resources will be different. My fiance likes to mow his lawn and work in the garden. Those aren't my favorite stress reducers. In fact, my stress is reduced because my townhome association takes care of such things!

Learn those things that help you relax—and be sure you turn to them when your stress levels are out of control. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to do some more yoga stretches.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Women's gifts

 Before we dig into our reading and discussion time each week, my women's Bible study group goes around the table with each woman sharing joys or sorrows in her life or the lives of those she loves. I'm struck each week by two things.

One is the incredible amount of illness, pain and suffering in the world around us. So much cancer, so many accidents, even one woman awaiting a liver transplant. At the same time, there are engagements and marriages of children, new grandchildren born or graduating, accomplishments and honors to celebrate.

The second thing is the comfort we get from sharing with one another. Perhaps you've also heard the saying, "Friendship doubles our joy and divides our grief." Indeed, it does. It means so much to know others are with us in our joy or in our grief.

We women are so good at that, too—reaching out to share what's on our hearts and also reaching out to help others when they need some comfort, hugs or hot dishes. It's definitely one of the things we do well.

So take a bow for being there for others and sharing of yourself. Celebrate the gifts women bring to the world. And celebrate friendship!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Zero in on happiness

Several days ago I mentioned that I've been asked to be a pioneer for a website called Happify. Those of us who are pioneers are testing out daily activities and exercises designed to focus us on a more positive and happy life—on appreciating and savoring what we have.

One of last week's activities was to select one person in my life and daily for three weeks, think of one thing I appreciate about that person. I chose my beloved sister, Cheryl. Each day I am writing in my gratitude journal one thing I appreciate about her. When the time is up, I will tell her how much I love and appreciate her and give her specifics. (You'll love this, Cheryl!)

I really like the idea of activities that focus me on positive things in life. I love the idea of living in gratitude. There is plenty around us, in us and in the daily news to bring us down. So sometimes we simply need to be more intentional about savoring and enjoying life and its events—and appreciating the people in our lives.

What have you done lately to ratchet up your happiness quotient? And to show your appreciation for those you love? Perhaps you'd like to check out the Happify website. Or perhaps you want to think of your own ways to focus on gratitude and happiness.

Here's to savoring each day!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Practice makes perfect—or brings empowerment anyway

 Once you are aware of your need for better boundaries in relationships and once you begin to value yourself and recognize your right to express your opinion and have your needs met, it's time to practice.

Start with someone in your life whom you consider safe and trustworthy. Practice expressing your wishes. When it's time to decide where to go out to eat or which movie to see, simply say, "I've been wanting to see such and such a movie" or, "I'd love to eat at such and such a restaurant tonight." It's just that simple. State clearly what you would like to do. Start with choices that don't have lots of attachment for you or the other person. You may not want to begin with something like a career or moving decision!

Sometimes you'll get some push-back from the other person, especially if they aren't accustomed to you ever saying what you'd like. Simply repeat what you've said—or even acknowledge that you don't often say what you'd like but that you want to do so more often and this is a movie (or restaurant) you really would like. You don't need to get argumentative or defensive. Simply state what you'd like. Own it as your choice.

Build on each success and try boundary-setting with other people as well. Try more important decisions once you've gotten more comfortable with the process. You will become more comfortable each time you do this. And you definitely will feel empowered and happy. I've had clients with boundary issues say that, on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being in a very good place) they feel about 2 or 3. And after some success with setting boundaries, they are at 7 or 8. It really does get easier the more you do it.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Awareness comes first

Yesterday I talked briefly about setting boundaries in your relationships and interactions with others. The first step in creating such boundaries is the awareness that you need them. If something is "pinching" in your relationships in the same way too-tight shoes cause discomfort, pay attention. If you find yourself saying, "I never get a say in what my friends and I do"—or "I'm always the one who has to (fill in the blank here)....", perhaps it's time to ask why that is and to make some changes.

It's said that we teach others how to treat us by the ways we interact with them. If we accept dismissive treatment and if we go along with everything others decide, we're teaching them that we don't value ourselves and our own opinions. And they won't value us either.

Start by noticing how you are with others. Do you feel that there's a good give-and-take in your relationships? Do you have an equal voice with others in your friendship groups? In your primary relationship or other significant ones? Or are you acting in a passive manner and then finding yourself angry with others later because your needs weren't considered?

Boundary-setting begins with an inside job. You need to first value your self! Once you feel good about yourself and know your value and worth, you will communicate that to others. If you aren't there yet, it might be time to read some books on increasing your self-esteem. You might start each day by listing two things you like about yourself (if that's too difficult for you, and often it can be, ask someone close to you what they see in you and start with that). You may want to post affirmations around your house to remind you of your worth—"I am good, just as I am." "I was created with value, and I am beautiful." "I have everything I need to make my life healthy and good." "I am loved." "I am strong and resilient." Or whatever works for you.

Keep building on that feeling of self-worth. It's impossible to set boundaries until you feel that you have a right to do so.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Set & guard your boundaries

Are you good at knowing when to say "Yes" and when to say "No"? Does it make a difference whether the person you're responding to is a loved one or a stranger? Maintaining personal boundaries can be a challenge. Some of us are more attuned to the wants and feelings of others and make it our goal to serve them and their needs, with little attention to what we might want or feel. Over time, that can create a bucket full of resentment and anger.

Women often are raised to think of the needs of others. In addition, we're often extremely relationship-oriented, so putting others first can come with the territory.

We need to be careful, however, and not over-extend ourselves. We need to not accept behavior that is dismissive or abusive. We need to be sure our own needs get met—at least enough of them that we aren't angry and resentful about the things we do for others.

I remember when my sons got older and after my divorce, I wondered whether I was being selfish for asking the question: What do I want now? I wasn't accustomed to thinking of what I wanted. All these years later, however, I know it isn't selfish. It's healthy to ask such a question. It's important to establish boundaries in our relationships with others. You and I need to let others know what we expect and what we will accept from them in terms of their behavior toward us. It's appropriate to let others know that we wish to be treated with dignity and respect. It's appropriate and healthy to have expectations of them just as we have expectations of how we will treat others.

Please contact me if you would like to do some coaching around the issue of boundaries. It's an extremely important topic and one that snags many of us as women. It doesn't need to remain troublesome, however.