Friday, May 30, 2014

Snapshot of your life

In recent blogs when I referenced a book I've had for years by William Bridges, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, I discovered another book by him about which I'd not yet heard. I liked the sample pages I read so much that I've now ordered that book, too.

In The Way of Transition: Embracing Life's Most Difficult Moments, Bridges writes about life after his wife of 35 years died from cancer. Talk about transition, right? In one of the sample pages, he suggests writing the story of your life. But for now, he says, try creating the Table of Contents for your autobiography. Come up with chapter headings that are catchy, such as "Gasping for Air" or "On Top of the World," he advises (in other words, make the headings say something).

What an interesting exercise that would be. I'm tempted to try it. I wonder if I wouldn't discover a new perspective on some of my life events if I tried to organize my life into chapter headings. I wonder whether I would change anything I'm now doing if I tried organizing my past life into chapters.

I believe in moving forward and not living in the past. That said, however, great benefits can be had by looking at your life to see what it might suggest about the present and the future. Perhaps you will discover better ways to face change and move through transitions. Who knows? Perhaps you, too, will be able to "embrace life's most difficult moments." Surely that's worth trying, isn't it?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Work with change, not against it

Yesterday we talked about change and transition. Because many (most?) of us fight change, we actually make it more difficult for ourselves. That makes the transition even more rocky and prolonged. It's not unlike childbirth, really.

Before my first son was born, I took a natural childbirth class. I recall the trainer telling us that if we worked with the contractions rather than fighting them, they would be so much less painful. Our labor would proceed more quickly and smoothly, and we'd experience less pain and trauma.

So it is with change and transition. If you and I can make peace with change—and accept that it's the norm rather than the exception—and if we can work with the transition (the internal piece of change), life will be more joyful. Change and transition will proceed more quickly and smoothly. 

Change really is so much a part of life. Why do we think it's the exception? We need to change our mindset and see it as normal. That would be a good starting point. Then we need to develop good tools for letting go because that, too, is an essential part of healthy life and well-being.

If you have thoughts or experiences to share on this topic, I'd love to hear them in the Comments box below.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Change & transition

Are you in transition these days? Between jobs? Thinking about leaving your job or career for something new? Planning retirement? In retirement but wondering how you want to spend your days? Facing a transition because of health issues? Or experiencing transition because of aging parents or empty nest?

Life is filled with change. And that means transition. It's the transitions that do us in, says William Bridges in Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change.

"Change is situational: the new site, the new boss, the new team roles, the new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external, transition is internal."

And, as Bridges explains, transition begins with an ending and it means letting go of something. There we are with letting go again. It seems that so much of life involves letting go. Letting go of expectations, old messages that hold us back, old stories that keep us stuck, old resentments, etc. So it is with our transitions—even the good changes in our lives. Change and transition mean the loss of one or more things as we move on to the new. It means letting go.

As Bridges says, it's that internal process that's most difficult for us. Are you stuck somewhere in transition today? Would you like a complimentary strategy session to discuss this? If so, please contact me. I'm happy to help you explore a transition in your life. Let's see how you can make a good transition, whether you perceive the change as negative or positive.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Savor what's around you

Sunday was a stunningly beautiful day. We decided to use part of it for a walk in the forest preserve near my house. I was quite focused on the beautiful day—and on the fact that we were walking and getting exercise. Then I remembered! What is it I tell you in my blogs so often? Stay awake and aware. Notice what's around you, Sonia. And feel the joy that arises from that awareness.

So as we walked along the path through the woods, I looked around me, up into the trees for birds and through the trees. And what a reward. Even though it was early afternoon and we usually don't see the deer out until later, I caught sight of one doe. And then I saw two more ears sticking up between two tree limbs. Then a third doe showed up. We stopped to observe them (as they watched us!)—just savoring the moment. Such lovely creatures. We saw many familiar birds and also a couple we didn't recognize. One gave us quite a show with a lovely red head and neck as it puttered around in the flowers covering the forest floor.

Ah, our walk turned out to be about more than exercise. That was a good reminder to me. When I'm so focused on tasks, I can easily forget to look around me and savor the beauty. I like the way the sun shines through the stained glass dragonfly on my office window. I want to pay more attention to that—not just to my computer screen. I enjoy seeing the cardinals sitting on the evergreens and also the flowering trees in my back yard. Perhaps I'll make a covenant with myself to stop every 30 minutes and look out my window just to savor the beauty that's out there.

What's around you today that calls for your attention?

Monday, May 26, 2014

'Keep in the sunlight'

I like a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin: "Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight."

I like it. I try to follow it. But I don't always succeed. If I had all the hours I'd wasted in worry about things that never happened, I would have lots of time for more good things in my life today. I know that. So I'm a work in progress.

How about you? Can you "stay in the sunlight"? Are you good at staying in the flow of life? Do you remind yourself, "It is what it is" and not get all twisted up about the way things are going or about how you think they might go?

When you and I stay in the flow, we are so much more aware of all the beauty around. We can see the positives of life. That doesn't mean ignoring those things in our lives that truly do need our attention. It simply means keeping a perspective about life.

How about just taking it one day at a time? Focus on beauty and blessings for today. I plan to do that. I'm not going to worry about "getting it right" for the rest of my life. I won't commit to never worrying again. I will try today to let go of worry and not anticipate trouble. What about you? Are you ready to try it?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Awareness is key

At my book club meeting the other night, the facilitator for this month's book asked us whether we'd ever had a tragedy or painful event in our life turn into a blessing.

Several of us recounted experiences that had been devastating and painful but that eventually yielded blessings and positives we'd never expected. A job loss and closed door eventually yielded an open window and led to a far better career. A divorce led to discoveries and a new life never imagined. Multiple job losses led to personal growth and discoveries that were life-giving.

We all agreed, however, that the important thing is to develop an awareness for such blessings. Stay awake and aware. Sometimes we sleepwalk through life and miss opportunities that quietly enter our lives and then slip away because we weren't paying attention. Sometimes we're so mired in our hurt and pain that we get stuck there. We don't even allow for the possibility of good things happening again.

How can you nurture awareness? It helps if you keep yourself cleared out. Be sure to tend to your losses. Do the grief work necessary so you really can move on. You aren't ready for new dreams until you've grieved the old one. And I don't just mean the big losses such as death, divorce or job loss. I mean grieve anything that you feel as a loss—friends moving away, job changes (even when they're good, they contain change and loss), decline in abilities as you age, vacation plans gone awry or anything else about which you are sad. Feel the sadness. Cry. Talk about it. Do whatever you need to do to move on. Stay clean and clear inside. Be ready for life's blessings!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Changes & control

Have you ever been so busy looking at how others around you affect your life that you forget to look inside and see what part you play in how your life is going? Yup, me, too.

It's so much easier to see how the actions of others affects our happiness or unhappiness. It is often more clear to us what impact friends and loved ones have on how we feel about ourselves and our lives. It isn't as helpful, though.

It's good to do an honest check-in to see what's going on inside us. Are you carrying around old ideas about yourself? Old baggage? Old tapes? Resentments? Is it time to do some more letting go? Do you want to reframe some of your life events to see what blessings might have been contained inside even hurtful and painful experiences? Mind you, this is hard work. It's not easy being honest. What we see isn't always so pretty!

Recently I heard a wonderful phrase that reminds me to check out my own "stuff" rather than focusing on that of others. Here's the phrase: "Keep your dipper out of my bucket." When my dipper is in your bucket, I'm not paying attention to my own issues. And when it comes right down to it, I am the only person whose life I can change. I have no control over anyone else. Influence perhaps. But no control. And the truth is, even making changes in my own life is difficult. But I surely cannot make changes for others.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Beauty colors your life

Beauty. It's all around us. Sometimes we notice it. Sometimes we don't. If our lives were completely stripped of it, however, we would really miss it.

Someone sent me this link to a video of flowers opening up. The flowers are filmed over time and then shown as though they open up instantly. It's a beautiful video—and worth watching. Stunning color photography!

When I watched it, I remembered something I learned several years ago when I visited in the former East Germany. I asked a local resident why so many of the buildings in a particular town there were gray. I was told it was because as much color as possible had been removed from the lives of people in the days of a split Germany to keep the East Germans numb and depressed. Such people aren't likely to create an uprising and foment for change.

That experience really made me think about the importance of color in my life. I reflected on the important role of beauty. Beauty inspires. It energizes. It fills our lives with happiness and joy.

Imagine a world without color. It's difficult, isn't it, because we're so surrounded by color and by beauty—especially now in spring when flowers are erupting in color all around us. Commit to paying attention to the color and beauty all around. Awareness is a beautiful thing!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sharing stories and ideas

Do you like to read as much as I do? I absolutely devour books. Although I enjoy autobiographies, I tend more toward fiction.  I also read lots of inspirational books to keep me feeling positive.

My book club met last night—our final meeting before we take a summer break. I'm always amazed at all the different meanings and levels of meaning found in the books we read. That's what I like so much about being part of a book club. Someone else may have gotten something very different out of a story. I always learn so much. Because we bring our own life stories into the discussion at times, I also learn something about my sister club members. Their journeys teach me something, too.

Another thing I like is that because we all contribute ideas about which books we should read for the year, I end up reading books I otherwise might not read. And other women have said the same about books I've suggested; they might never have read those either.

It's so fun to share. Sharing books. Stories. Ideas. Learnings. Resources. Journeys.

If you have any book that rises to the top of your list right now, I'd love to hear about it in the Comments box below. Please share your favorite(s).

Monday, May 19, 2014

Celebrate accomplishments

My desk-top calendar has a page for each day, which can be torn off to reveal the next day with its inspirational message. One day last week this message appeared: "Fly high. Be brilliant. Celebrate all your accomplishments."

I always encourage clients to both celebrate successes and grieve losses. But sometimes I forget to celebrate my own accomplishments. Last week I looked through old issues of the magazine for which I served as managing editor for years; I wanted to find an article someone else had written. In the process, I came across several of my own articles—some of which were quite personal to me. As I read a couple of them, I thought of how much I love writing. And I realized that I really do have a gift for it, an awareness that got somewhat clouded over after I was Reduced In Force from that job.

This was a good reminder to me: Celebrate your accomplishments, Sonia. Nothing can take away from what I did in those 22 years at that magazine, and I should not have let that happen. 

Perhaps you grew up with societal messages that I did: "Pride goes before a fall" and other similar admonishments. But celebrating our achievements and successes isn't about pride. It's about being grateful for gifts we've been given—and using them fully. It's OK to say that we like what we've done! It's really good self-care and self-love. And when we tend to that, we have so much more love for everyone else in our lives, too.

What can you celebrate today?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Just be there for others

More from Anne Lamott and her Stitches book: "The world is always going to be dangerous, and people get badly banged up, but how can there be more meaning than helping one another stand up in a wind and stay warm?"

Isn't that so right on? At one time or another, we all get "badly banged up." Life happens. Death. Divorce. Illness. Job loss. Losses of all kinds. Failures and disappointments. All manner of heartbreaks. And where would we be without our relationships? Without our friends and loved ones? Without the love and care of God or whatever you name your Mystery or Higher Power?

Life is about being there for one another—whatever that means at the time. Bearing witness to what has happened. Bringing casseroles. Sending cards. Making phone calls to say you care. Hugs. Sending flowers. Helping someone else cry. Simply showing up.

Tend those relationships. No matter that your to-do list is long, long, long. At the end of the day, is there anything more important than the people in your life? Traversing this planet can sometimes be extremely difficult and dangerous. And we do need each other to get by.

Who might need your attention today?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

No answers needed

When a friend tells you about a hurt or deep pain, are you tempted to soothe her and gloss it over so she'll feel better?


We best honor the stories of others, their pain and sadness, when we simply listen. It's not helpful to hand out cliches, easy answers or comments about how this will make that person stronger. It really isn't helpful to say her hurt was "meant to be" or "all part of a plan." Let her feel the hurt. Let her grieve. Cry. Whatever she needs. And also let her know you care. You love her. You're there in whatever ways she needs.

As Anne Lamott says in her book Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair: "We help some time pass for those suffering. We sit with them in their hopeless pain and feel terrible with them, without trying to fix them with platitudes; doing this with them is just about the most gracious gift we have to offer."

It's the power of presence. Just be with your friend or loved one. No answers or solutions needed.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Balance positive and negative

I've been torn about this for a few weeks. A financial adviser I really trusted messed me up with taxes this year. Big time! He completely neglected to tell me about the impact that would result from a change in my finances he recommended and orchestrated. And to make matters worse, he refused to take responsibility—or to even talk with me, letting his assistants field my calls.

My intention for a few weeks has been to write him a letter about all this—and also to post some warnings about his behavior on social media sites.

I had mixed feelings about this, not wanting to dwell on negative issues and yet wanting to warn others either to avoid his services or to question him on everything he says and does. I still plan to handle this and complete my intention. But it's also interesting to me that I've put it off this past month. I am trying to live in gratitude and focus on positive things in my life. And when I think about writing this (former) adviser, my anger level rises all over again. I want to put it all behind me.

Yet, I know full well there's a balance in there somewhere. Even if I want to focus on positive things in my life, I sometimes need to respond to neglect, injustice and extremely poor service. And I can't fully put it behind me until I confront it.

So I'm committing to write the letter and deal with social media this week. Time to move on.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Let your light shine

Last week my fiance and I vacationed in Door County, Wisconsin—a place we both really enjoy. One of the trip's highlights was a lighthouse tour. Lighthouses are special to me because my paternal grandfather was born in one off the coast of Norway before his parents came to America. This tour was fascinating to John as well. We both learned so much.

We opted to climb the 97 steep and narrow circular steps inside the lighthouse tower so we could see the light itself. To our surprise, the light that guides sailors in Lake Michigan is a tiny one, not much different in size than a nightlight! However, the system off of which that tiny light reflects is amazing. A huge bee-hive style set of prisms surrounds that tiny light and reflects it out 18 miles into the water. That circular group of prisms is extremely heavy and huge. But how well it has protected ships and their crews for the 146 years it's been in operation!

The whole setup made me think of our lights and how we let them shine. Our inner light can sometimes seem pretty tiny, can't it? But still, it reflects off those whose lives we touch and who touch our lives—and then think of the reach it has. Our job is simply to let that light shine, whether it seems full-strength or puny on any given day, knowing that the love and positive energy we put out will be reflected by those around us and radiate out much further than we can imagine.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Pump up that humor muscle

Did you know that humor facilitates creativity and problem-solving? It also pumps up your ability to stay alert. It's good for your heart and blood pressure, increasing the oxygen supply to your body. Humor also improves digestion.

That being the case, why not add more laughter and humor into your life? If you don't have a great sense of humor, you may want to think about developing one today. You will definitely experience more happiness and joy. And you'll be healthier.

Here are some interesting factoids: The average 6-year-old laughs 300 times a day. The average adult laughs only 17 times a day. How do we lose that along the way? Let's recover the ability, shall we? And here's another fact: 100 good solid laughs equates to 10 minutes of exercise on a rowing machine. Who knew it was a good form of exercise?

Most likely, you already know that a good sense of humor allows you to see adversity as a challenge rather than a threat—and it greatly enhances your ability to cope with stress.

Aren't all of these good reasons to work that humor muscle? Buy a joke book; read in it daily. Go to a card store and read a handful of the hilarious cards that are always part of any card shelf mix. I love doing that. Check out some of the funny YouTube videos that are available. And choose friends who know how to laugh. Try to avoid hanging out with sourpusses too much!

What are your favorite ways to bring laughter into your life?

Friday, May 9, 2014

You have a right

Last week I discovered a personal bill of rights on a website, and I want to share some of the items with you because I think they're worth noting and thinking about.

Here are some of the things to which you have a right, according to this website:

• To ask for what you want.
• To refuse requests or demands you can't meet.
• To express all your feelings, positive or negative.
• To change your mind.
• To make mistakes and not have to be perfect.
• To follow your own values and standards.
• To say no to anything when you feel you're not ready, it's unsafe or it violates your values.
• To be uniquely yourself.
• To say you don't know.
• To feel scared and say you're afraid.

Many more rights were listed. The advice given was to post the list in a conspicuous place and carefully read it every day. Over time, the site said, you'll believe it.

Here's an idea: Write your own personal bill of rights. What would you add to such a list? This might be a good exercise for any of us. It can be especially helpful if you struggle with boundary issues and feel that people take advantage of your good nature.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Feelings are strange critters

We all know a lot about feelings. Most of us can identify what our feelings are. We can distinguish them from our thoughts. Most of us know that feelings are neutral and need not be justified. They simply are. It's what we do with them that can be negative or positive.

Here's an interesting little fact, however: Positive feelings increase in intensity when you talk them over with others. Negative feelings decrease in intensity when you talk about them with others. Isn't that curious?

Think about it, though. When you can actually name your fear, anxiety, anger or other negative emotion, you bring it down to size. It's as though the gorilla in the room becomes a tiny and harmless monkey!

However, when you share your joy, delight, happiness or other positive emotion, you light up even more. It doubles in size when it's shared, doesn't it? Sometimes it more than doubles! Plus those with whom you've shared it also light up in joy.

Think about that the next time you feel either a positive or a negative emotion. Talk about it. Share it. Double your joy and bring your anxiety down to size!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Learn to say 'No'

Setting boundaries and saying "No" aren't always easy. This is particularly true for women, who seem to be the caregivers and caretakers of the world.

It's good to ask ourselves what price we pay when we say "Yes" too much. Exhaustion and high stress can be part of the cost. Resentment surely enters the picture. We may feel anger at ourselves because we're doing things we don't want to do. We may even feel dishonest because we're not telling the truth when we say "Yes, I'd love to help out."

There's a cost to saying "No" but it's one we can move beyond. When we say "No," we may feel guilt afterward. But in time, we can let go of that as a consequence. Remember that "No" really is a complete sentence, too. You do not have to offer an explanation of why you can't fulfill the other person's request. And definitely don't apologize. It simply isn't necessary. You do have a right to refuse a request, after all.

Rather than just saying "No," a friend of mine says, "That isn't my cup of tea." She offers no other explanation, and she says that's generally accepted without any questions asked. That's another option.

Practice this behavior until it becomes easier for you to "just say 'no'." Boundaries are really important to our health and well-being. It's a matter of self-care.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

New beginnings

Each day now I notice something new coming to life. The grass is greener by the day. Grape hyacinths greet me as I leave my house. Daffodils add stunning splashes of yellow to the landscape all around. Trees are budding, a little more each day. The birds seem to outdo one another with their songs. I love spring!

It doesn't matter how many springs I have lived to see. It's new each year. The pleasure is just as fresh to me this year as it was when I was 5 years old.

New beginnings always are thrilling, aren't they? What about those in your life? Has some change in your life lately offered you a new chance? A new lease on life? A new career? Relationship? Even just a change in attitude?

Look for new beginnings. Endings always have the seeds of new beginnings in them. Sometimes we focus so much on the ending that we fail to see what the "new normal" may offer. Reflect on your life today and see whether there's some new life you overlooked. Savor it.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Living in the 'now'

Do you have trouble staying in the moment? Not living either in the past or in the future? Me, too. I'm trying to be more awake and aware—to pay attention to what's around me right now. However, it's easy to get caught up in our old stories (our past) or to be ensnared by plans (the future). Mind you, we have to do a bit of each of those.

The past is instructive for our present and our future. No doubt about that. So we do well to at least reflect on what happened and learn the lessons from that. And we certainly need to at least make some plans for the future. It's when either of those becomes more of a dwelling place that problems can set in.

I like what author Jan Phillips says about awareness and staying in the present: "If I drift into the past, my regrets surge up, my memories of failing and forsaking. If I shift into the future, I meet with doubt and discouragement, anxiety about what's to come, what I'm not capable of controlling. It's in the present moment that I belong. Only there do I feel my balance."

We don't need to live with regrets and failures. We don't need to get caught up in anxiety and doubt about the future either. Let's try to stay grounded right where we are—in the present. You can do that by paying attention to your feet on the ground or your bottom on the chair. You can do that by paying attention to your breath going in and going out. You can do it by letting yourself get below your neck: Don't just think. Feel. Get down into your body and feel what's happening in and around you. Notice sounds. Sights. Smells. Sensations. Try doing that for even five minutes of the day. Then 10. More. And see whether you can develop the habit of living in the present.

Friday, May 2, 2014

'Happiness goes viral'

"Happiness goes viral," I heard someone say a couple days ago. It really can ... and does. How many times have you been sent a link to a YouTube video of a small child or an animal doing something funny and cute? You laugh. You feel good. You send it on to others. It goes viral. People respond to the positive energy.

Have you entered a room and just felt the happy, positive energy in it? It's very possible that it was started by one person who said "Hi," smiled at someone else or told a funny story that spread around the room. Conversely, I've entered rooms where the anger and negative emotions are palpable. Something was said or done that infected everyone in the room.

I recall sometimes walking into the office in a former workplace, feeling happy and in good spirits. But when I smiled and said, "Good morning," all I got in response were either blank stares or my colleagues concentrating on their computer keyboards and screens. No smiles. No greetings. A chill would go through me, and I could feel myself losing my happy feeling. Once I became aware of what was happening, of course, I could make a choice to not let the behavior of others change what I felt.

So, yes, happiness can go viral. So can anger or crabbiness. Which are you passing on today? And what can you do to hang on to your positive feelings when those around you are stuck under black clouds?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Check your attitudes

A few days ago actor George Clooney's engagement to London lawyer Amal Alamuddin was announced. I don't generally pay attention to such entertainment news. But I did hear some TV anchors comment on the engagement, saying things such as, "I wonder how she caught him" and "I heard she played hard-to-get so that must have been her secret." What?! I admit that really caught my attention.

Alamuddin is a stunningly brilliant and beautiful Oxford-educated woman. I seriously doubt she needed to strategize to "catch him," bright and erudite though he also is.

The whole lesson in this for me is to pay attention to what old ideas and attitudes still remain in my thinking and vocabulary. Do I still have some attitudes that are as silly as those exhibited by the TV anchors I heard? If so, it's time to weed them out and let them go. Do I still have some core beliefs and behaviors that are really outdated and which I also need to let go? It's good from time to time to do a mental review of such things—and see what serves me well and what doesn't.

For my money, the process of letting go is such a fundamental and necessary part of living well and living in a healthy way. Many ideas, attitudes, thought patterns and behaviors need to change as we continue to grow and develop. We need to let go and move on to new, healthier ways of being.