Thursday, July 31, 2014

Let's hear it for positive news

I just read online that an 8-year-old boy in Minneapolis, Dylan Spoering, wanted to play a free concert for people. He put a sign on his parents' front lawn advertising his concert. He just expected a few neighbors and friends. But fellow musician and neighbor Thomas Rehbein saw the sign as he biked home, took a photo of it and posted it on Facebook.

What happened is so heartwarming and just shows the goodness of people, something about which we hear little in news broadcasts, it seems. Hundreds of people showed up in the rain to hear his 10-minute concert as Dylan played from his elementary school music book. The crowd cheered him and gave him a standing ovation. Now the young musician has plans for another concert on August 2.

Don't you love to hear stories like that? So much news is negative—murder and mayhem, political fights and name-calling. So it's just a delight to hear a story like this. Positive news deserves to be shared, and this little story went viral.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What do you need to stay grounded?

My to-do list is quite long these days. I've been away on vacation a good portion of this month and have lots of catch-up to do. But for some reason, I've been procrastinating on writing this week's blogs. That's not typical for me since I'm an over-achiever. I like to say I'm a recovering over-achiever; but my fiance will remind me that I still push myself pretty hard.

Anyway, after spending much of my morning doing other little odd jobs around the house—anything but my blogs—I stopped to reflect on what was going on with the procrastination. I realized that, as wonderful and fun as my vacation times have been, I'm really craving time to "just be" here in my own space. I need some solitude and some time to putter, time to sip coffee and read a chapter or two in one of my favorite inspirational books. I wasn't quite ready to dive right back into a busy work schedule again.

It's a good reminder to me of my own unique type of balance. To stay grounded, I need more quiet time and solitude than I used to when I was far younger. I am a relational person and absolutely love my time with others. But I also need time to think, dream and just be.

What do you need? Are you getting what you need—and in the balance that feels best for you? I encourage you to do everything you can to find your own sweet spot and then make it happen.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Listen for connections

Writer C.S. Lewis said, "Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You, too? I thought I was the only one."

Yes! I just love those times of discovery when we find commonalities, don't you? It's such a sweet moment.

Although each one of us is unique, and there's no one exactly like us on the entire planet, we share many traits, experiences, thoughts and feelings with others. And it's always exciting to see what connects us. Goodness knows, we all too easily can find those things that separate and divide us. And is it my imagination, or does there seem to be more of that going around these days than ever before? Too many people are shouting at each other across what seems to be a huge chasm. When we stop to really listen to one another, we often find more that connects us than that which divides us.

Particularly when we've had a tough experience, it's so heartening to find someone else who's also going through the same thing or something similar. We think we're the only one—only to discover support and wisdom through a connection with another. How sweet that is. And, yes, friendship is born at that moment.

Listen for those moments. And treasure them.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Live—and learn

I don't know about you, but I love inspirational quotes. I have a desk calendar with a new one each day. It's a great start to my day. I really like a quote that appeared earlier this month, and it's from Mahatma Gandhi: "Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever."

As a lifelong learner myself, of course, that really spoke to me. There's so much out there to learn—things about the universe and the world around you, things about others who inspire you, things about topics near and dear to your heart, and coming even closer to home, things about yourself and how you operate. Until we take our final breath, we won't run out of opportunities for learning.

Then there's that first sentence of Gandhi's quote. What if you knew you only had days or months to live? What would you do differently? Why not do that anyway? The truth is, we really don't know how many more days we have left on this earth. So let's fill them up with the things that are truly important to us. Follow your dreams. Live your passions. Express your joy. Live your values.

I think Gandhi had it right. What do you think?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Forgive. Let go.

I see forgiving and letting go as two of the essential and ongoing tasks of life. So when I recently read an interview with Barbara Walters and one of her topics was letting go, I took notice.

Walters said, "Kitty Carlisle Hart once said to me that she looked in the mirror before going to bed and said, 'Kitty, I forgive you.' I've never forgotten. If there's something that's been troubling me that I can't do anything about, in my own mind, I close the door."

First of all, how wise of Kitty Carlisle Hart to forgive herself each night. It's not easy to forgive others. Forgiving ourselves is often even more difficult. We do well to follow Hart's practice.

And then simply letting go of things about which we can do nothing just makes sense, doesn't it? I sometimes catch myself worrying a problem to death even though I'm helpless to really change or solve it. More often now, I do try to let it go. Let go, let go, let go, Sonia, I tell myself.

How are you on that score? It's good to ask yourself that from time to time. Our lives are much happier and freer when we can stay clear by forgiving and letting go.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The need for change

Although I've heard he was a difficult taskmaster, Steve Jobs was an innovative, creative and inspiring individual. This quote is attributed to him, and it is such good advice:

"I have looked into the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."

Studies have shown that a large number of people hate their jobs and are incredibly miserable every day because of that. Sometimes it simply is not possible for a person to leave a job and make a change. And perhaps it isn't even the job that's making you miserable—perhaps it's a relationship or your lifestyle in general. Maybe it's even where you live.

What can you change in your life if your answer is "No" for too many days in a row? Can you at least change the way you respond to something? Or the way you view it? Or change your location?

Decide to make whatever changes are necessary and possible—and make a choice to be as happy as you possibly can. Your family and friends will thank you, too!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Possibilities—you're filled with them

I saw a sign yesterday that said, "How beautiful that possibility lives within each and every one of us."

Indeed, it does. And yet how often we simply sleepwalk through our days without thinking about the myriad possibilities that live inside us just waiting to be explored. Possibilities waiting to unfold. Just like the cocoon loaded with possibility—waiting for the beautiful butterfly to emerge and soar—you're filled with roads not yet taken.

What's inside you waiting to emerge? Even if you think you're on the downhill slope of life, with more years behind you than ahead of you, there are still many things yet unseen and undone. Do you have passions or hobbies you still want to try? A bucket or thimble list (thimble lists are the smaller items in life, perhaps not the round-the-world trip you'd love to take, but maybe the museum you've long wanted to visit) with several items left on it? Perhaps another career you'd love to try—even if it's one you start in retirement?

What are you waiting for?  There's no time like the present to see what joy you can bring into the world and what fulfillment you yet might experience. Go for it!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Change: It's up to you

Some time ago I had a client whose issue was her husband's behavior and its effect on her. At least that's what she thought.

Once we began working together and laying out the problems and the change she wanted to see, I asked what would happen if she began instead to focus on herself. What do you really want, I asked? What's keeping you from that? How can you get there?

Once she followed that track and began to work on changing herself, she was so energized. She journaled. She read books. She found her voice. She stopped saying "Yes" so easily (and then ending up feeling resentful). Her goals focused on her own behavior. She found an authenticity she hadn't known before. The transformation was just amazing. And she's not done yet!

I, too, have been there and done that. I completely understand what it's like to think someone else is the problem. And, in fact, there are things others do that do have a profound impact on our lives. But we can never change others. The only one we can ever hope to change is our self.

If there is something in your life that isn't just right and you would like to discuss it, I invite you to contact me. We can do a complimentary, no-obligation strategy session to see where you are now and where you'd like to be. And then you'll be able to create steps to get you from one place to the other. It's all up to you.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Possibilities & choices

Do you ever think about all the possibilities you contain? All the possibilities life lays out in front of you? It's quite amazing when you really stop to reflect on the idea.

You are totally amazing. Because of the array of gifts you've been given, you have any number of choices for careers, hobbies, activities, ways to spend your time and life choices. Because of your life experiences and the events from which you've learned, you have an expanded number of choices and possibilities.

It's too easy to simply put one foot in front of the other, doing whatever seems necessary or what seems to be the path of least resistance. But when we do that, we can miss out on so many possibilities that might have led to joy, growth, transformation or the fulfillment of dreams.

Stop. Take a moment to think about desires, dreams and passions you have. Then think about your gifts and possibilities. If you want to change up something in your life, there's no time like the present. It doesn't have to be moving across the country or even to another country. It doesn't even necessarily mean changing jobs or careers. It can mean any of those things. But it can be as simple as deciding to begin and/or end your day thinking of five things for which you're grateful. It can be tweaking your daily routine to add time for yoga or deep breathing so you can experience more serenity. It might even be initiating a date night with your spouse or partner once a week.

Choices. Possibilities. You have lots of them. Explore options—see what joy that can bring.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Children teach us

I've just spent nearly two weeks visiting my youngest son and his family. He and my daughter-in-law are the parents of my two youngest grandchildren, ages 7 and 2. I'm home again, exhausted but filled up. Filled up with hugs and laughter, filled up with stories and songs, filled up with snuggles and fun and so many good things.

Whenever I'm with my grandchildren, particularly the youngest ones, I'm reminded again of the importance of things such as wonder, spontaneity, living in the moment, openness, creativity and sharing feelings. Children are so open and, unless they've been taught otherwise at an early age, so free to express their love and their joy.

Sadly, many of those things get lost along the way as we age, don't they? We forget to stop and watch bugs or pick flowers just for the simple joy of it. We are far too busy to watch cloud formations in the sky and imagine dragons and elephants. We become more cautious about saying how much we really love someone (what if they don't reciprocate, after all?!). We spend more time regretting yesterday or fearing the future than enjoying today.

I think it's worth trying to recapture some of those elements of our youth. I enjoy the age I am now and wouldn't go back in time for anything. But I want to learn from my grandchildren how better to savor the moment and experience real joy! What about you? Ready for some fun and giggles?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Try a happiness boost

Some days you just need a shot of optimism—or a happiness boost. Ever feel that way? You may be sunny and cheerful most of the time, but still there are those days when it's difficult to crank it up.

What's a person to do? Actually, studies show that one of the best ways to give ourselves a boost is to reach out and help someone else. Visit a housebound friend. Take dinner to your sick aunt. Call the friend whose dog just died. Pay for someone else's coffee or toll. Invite to dinner that neighbor who just lost a spouse. We all know lots of people who could use a random act of kindness. You give yourself a happiness jolt when you reach out—and you give others one, too.

You also get a lovely booster shot of happiness when you learn how to express your emotions. If you like someone, tell them that. If you love someone, express that. Actually say it. And show it!  There's something quite wonderful about hearing those words from someone, and the same is true when you speak them. It's so much more freeing when your heart is open and you can actually say what you're feeling.

And if someone around you—family member, friend, coworker—seems sad, frustrated or extra happy, it can lead to some good conversation (and again, a boost of happiness) to comment on it. Ask about it. "You seem sad today. What's happening?" Or "You look especially happy. What put a smile on your face today?"

When you just aren't feeling it yourself, that's the time to think about opening up. Open up to others and reach out to serve them. Open up to others about how you think they're feeling—and say how you feel about others, too. Open or closed? I think open wins every time!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pay attention to beauty

Have you ever thought about the beauty all around you? Just how do you define beauty? Is beauty only what's visible to the eye? Or might it also be what you hear and sense all around you? Or even within you?

I sometimes wonder whether our definition of beauty isn't quite limited. We speak of a beautiful sunset, a beautiful nature setting, a beautiful person, a beautiful home, beautiful clothing or jewelry, etc. And all those things and more can be beautiful.

What about the laughter of a child? The singing of the birds early in the morning (even if it does awaken you too soon!)? The feeling of serenity that comes over you when you're surrounded by those who really care about you? The joy when you're sharing a friend's success? The aroma of freshly baked bread? The taste of that first cup of coffee in the morning? The strong desire you have to help someone?

Pay attention. Try to not sleepwalk through your days. Beauty surrounds us. Beauty also lies within us. It can be captured by any one or all of our senses. Wake up and notice with a fresh awareness. Be grateful for it all.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Miracles all around

Recently the website featured a quote from Albert Einstein: "There are two ways to live: You can live as if nothing is a miracle, or you can live as if everything is a miracle." The website post then asked which was more fun—"observing everything from the eyes of someone who's 'seen it all' before, or savoring the specialness to our everyday experiences."

Of course, you say, savoring makes us happier. Yes, it does. That does seem like a no-brainer.

However, I would ask you what your default mode is. Is it easier to see the cup half empty? Is it more tempting to let the naysayers around you carry the day? Or are you determined to stay as positive as possible no matter what comes your way? Are you the person who will try change the conversation to something more positive when people complain about everything from the weather to their neighbor's latest behavior? Do you try to find the silver lining?

It can take more intention and a bit more effort to savor "the specialness to our everyday experiences." Sometimes we simply take for granted day-to-day events and happenings. They don't seem special anymore. That's why it's helpful to live with an attitude of gratitude. Try to find at least a handful of things each day for which you're grateful. When you do that, you really do more savoring—you actually notice even more things for which to be grateful. What seemed ordinary before may well seem like a miracle to you.

I'm going with Einstein. How about you?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Purpose & passion

Mark Twain said, "The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why."

I don't necessarily hold with the theory that each of us came here for one solitary purpose, and it's up to us to unlock the mystery of what that single purpose is. I do believe, however, that each one of us has a wide variety of gifts and a completely unique perspective and set of circumstances that can lead us to a particular path. I also think that we can change direction several times in our life and still stay true to ourselves and our passions.

It's important to be authentic—to be who you really are, not who someone else thinks you should be. And it's important to follow your passion, for when you combine your passion with the gifts you were given, you have an unbeatable combination!

Why are you here? What gifts are you in a unique position to offer the world? To offer those who love you and live with or near you? Those with whom you share a workplace? You are the only one on the entire planet with your personality, your particular experiences and your specific views on life. You are unique, truly a one-of-a-kind. So how you choose to spend your days and live your life can be unique to you, too. Just be sure it fits for you!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Resources to face life

Do you have a lot of resources to handle all that comes your way in life? Resources can include family and friends, behaviors you have learned that get you through, de-stressing techniques such as yoga and deep breathing, groups to which you belong for support, your faith and your religious community, books and other materials that give you tips to deal with life issues—and much more.

The more resources you have, the stronger you will feel. The stronger you feel, the more confident you will be that you can indeed face whatever life brings your way.

"A woman is like a tea bag," Eleanor Roosevelt once famously said, "for you never know how strong it is until it's in hot water." True enough. Sometimes we have no idea how really strong and resourceful we are until something traumatic happens in our life. Suddenly we are thrown into the deep end of the pool, and we have to sink or swim. That's when it's great to have a good supply of resources—a good tool kit, as it were. Best not to wait until you face a difficult situation.

Why not think today about what's in your Facing Life Toolkit? What are your resources? If you need to develop some more, now's a good time to do so.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Let go—and learn

You and I spend a lot of our life learning. When we were very young, we learned things at an amazingly rapid rate. How to walk, talk, run, read, do arithmetic—and then math. How to tie our shoes, brush our teeth and eventually, how to take care of ourselves. Once we finished school, no matter what level we attained, we weren't done learning either.

We always have so much more to learn, don't we? New skills. New attitudes. New technology. As times change, so we need to change to keep up and to continue navigating this planet.

What I've discovered, however, is that it's just as important to unlearn things as to learn. I know I talk a lot about the need to let go: let go of ideas and beliefs that don't fit anymore, let go of anger and resentments, let go of old ways of doing things that either we can no longer do at all or that we have discovered better ways of doing, let go of perceptions that we've discovered are wrong, let go of bigotry and unhealthy attitudes—and so much more.

Unlearning can be as challenging as learning. But it is so important if we really want to be healthy and happy. What do you need to unlearn these days?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Mistakes: Chances to learn

Do you get hung up or stuck when you think you've made a mistake? Is it difficult for you to move on? To forgive yourself—or others—for mistakes made? Here are a couple tips to help you move on:

First, how you view your mistakes makes a difference. If you see them as signs of failure on your part (or on the part of someone else), you quite likely will miss the opportunity to learn something from those experiences. If you can see mistakes as chances to learn, you'll be amazed at how much growth and transformation is possible. It seems to be true that we learn more from our mistakes than we'll ever learn from our successes.

Eleanor Roosevelt even said we can learn from the mistakes of others, for, as she put it, "You can't live long enough to make them all yourself." And that points to another key to moving on after mistakes: Keep a sense of humor about it. That's the second thing to remember.

Third, forgive yourself—and others—when you or they goof up. That, too, will help you avoid entering a stuck place in your life.

Some mistakes truly do lead to serious and tragic consequences. Most don't, however. So keep an open mind, a sense of humor and an attitude of forgiveness. You'll be amazed at how much you learn and how much better you feel.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

What and who are you, really?

One of my favorite writers, Mark Nepo, in his The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have got my attention recently when I read his comments on what we are and are not.

He said, "No matter how we feel in any one moment, we are not just our feelings, our roles, our traumas, our prescription of values, or our obligations or ambitions. It is so easy to define ourselves by the moment of struggle we are wrestling with."

He went on to describe how Michelangelo sculpted: "He would often say that his job was to carve away the excess, freeing the thing of beauty just waiting to be released."

Perhaps that's how we can view ourselves. We definitely are not defined by our roles, our pain, our experiences. And our task may be "freeing the thing of beauty just waiting to be released." Life requires of us to let go of what needs releasing. Let go of old ideas that no longer serve. Let go of resentments and anger. Let go of unforgiven experiences—whether that means forgiving someone else or forgiving yourself. Let go of any excess that hides or detracts from the beauty.

Focus on "the thing of beauty" inside you. Build on that. Let go of all the rest. And get to the heart of who and what you really are!

Monday, July 7, 2014

What might have been

Do you live with regret? Does it drag you down and rob you of happiness and joy?

Studies show that 90 percent of people say they have a major regret about one thing or another in their lives. Researchers from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management learned that the biggest sources of regret are romance, family, education, career and finance. They say our social regrets "loom largest because of our inherent need to belong."

And if you have dreams that you haven't yet pursued, perhaps it's time to take another look at that. This research shows that people feel lots of regret about missed chances—not about things tried and perhaps even failed. Researchers say that's because our psychological immune system helps us recover from bad experiences because we rationalize and reframe how we view things. But it's more difficult to use those same tricks to move past something we never tried in the first place. So go ahead: Follow your dreams and your passions.

The same is true of pleasures and indulgences. Guilt over indulgences is short-lived. But the disappointment over fun we passed up leads to longer-lasting regrets. I can relate to that. I did a lot of global travel in a former job. In the course of those travels, I had the opportunity to buy many wonderful artifacts that could serve as memories of places I'd been. What I discovered was that I never regretted having spent money on those things I did purchase, but I did regret not having bought particular items (often because I thought I couldn't afford it). Later I realized I'd never return to many of those places again, so there wouldn't be another chance to buy this artwork, that jewelry or some other artifact.

If you have regrets, see what you can learn from them. Reframe them. Take an action step either to let go of them or move on to do what's on your heart to pursue.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence: Finding the balance

Today is Independence Day here in the United States. It's a great time to think about what that means to you—and what it cost to enjoy the freedoms we have.

It's also an interesting time to think about your own independence and that of those you love. Merriam-Webster online gives this definition for independence: "freedom from outside control or support: the state of being independent." And says this: "freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others."

The latter definition raises many questions for me, some of which have to do with the aging process. I remember when my mother, who died at the age of 96, fell several times in her home over a period of several months. My siblings and I decided that the local care center was the best option. Mom was not happy at all about leaving her home. It wasn't safe for her to remain there, however. At the same time, we all knew how difficult it was for her to lose her independence. She was no longer free from the control, support and aid of others. She was quite dependent, in fact, on the care—and the time frames—of others.

Today many young adults return home because of the difficulty of finding, and keeping, jobs in this tough economy. They aren't young children anymore. Yet they live under a roof provided by parents again. This brings with it a good deal of stress. How much independence can be allowed? Where's the balance—both for the young adult and for the parents?

Then there's our need for approval or "the like of others." To one degree or another, each of us has some need for that—so we're really not independent of others.

As with everything, finding a balance that works for you and those you love is important. Independence: It's really a gift, isn't it?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

See a pattern?

When you face various issues or problems in your life, are you able to see patterns in how you deal with them? Are there some that recur and that you'd like to change because they're getting in the way?

In my life, for example, I noticed that I was experiencing resentment in my workplace and in some of my relationships. I had headaches frequently. I was tired (or perhaps sick and tired!) a lot. I had many of the signs that I now recognize as burnout in some of my clients. When I began to look at the various parts of my life where the resentments were cropping up, I saw that I did a great deal of over-functioning where others were under-functioning. I began to look at how that pattern had woven a trail through my life. And I looked at ways to change that. Step by small step, I've been making changes in my life so that I can let go of this high-achiever, strong-woman-who-leaps-buildings-in-single-bound syndrome.

If you notice something in your life that's causing you unhappiness—and often causing stress for those around you as well—perhaps it's time to make a few changes. When I hear clients repeatedly offer what seems to be a small throw-away comment such as, "Well, I've always done that," I wonder if it might be the gorilla in the room. Often it is. Once it's noticed—and addressed—it shrinks down to size and becomes manageable.

Any gorillas—or other over-sized animals—hiding in your rooms these days? I invite you to contact me if you wish to deal with them.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Touch reduces stress, increases joy

Yesterday we talked about relationships and the happiness they add to our lives. Today I want to focus in on the power of touch. Hugs, pats on the back, a hand on your arm during conversation—these things are powerful parts of relationships.

Studies show that it's not just a psychological reaction but that the power of touch also is physiological. Our brains react when people touch us. A powerful brain chemical called oxytocin is released, and that sets off an entire chain reaction. Interestingly, not only does that send our happiness levels skyward but it lowers production of the stress hormone cortisol, according to Tiffany Field, Ph.D., founder of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

It isn't only the touch of a loved one, special though that is. We know our happiness is heightened and our stress levels lowered when we receive a massage, have a pedicure or manicure, get high-fived by someone or even receive a warm handshake from a stranger. I have a friend who, when she and her husband joined a new church, decided to take on the roll of hugger. At first she noticed several people were fairly stiff when she hugged them. It didn't take long, however, before people began hugging back. And soon they were asking for a hug if she was too slow to give one! The power of touch.

It doesn't take much, does it? Knowing that, can you "reach out and touch someone" today? Reducing stress, increasing joy—what's not to love about that?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The joy of relationships

You are 12 times more likely to feel happy, rather than stressed, on days when you spend six to seven hours a day with family and friends. That's according to a Gallup poll, which also learned that you're happier on weekends. That one is no surprise—and no doubt, there's a connection since it's on weekends that you likely spend more time with family and friends.

So, how are your relationships faring? Are they what you want them to be? If not, do you want to do something to change that?

It can be helpful to reflect on your part of the relationship "dance." Relationships really are a sort of dance. Over time, each partner (whether it's a marriage, a friendship or a coworker relationship) knows her own part in the dance—and can likely predict with pretty good accuracy how the other person will respond. In a marriage, for example, one may be the pursuer—the one who always tries to solve problems and deal with the conflict, the one who tends the fires of the relationship. When pursued, the other then runs away, either physically or emotionally. That, of course, makes the pursuer do his thing even more frantically. There are other dances, of course. But it might be helpful to examine what yours are in the various relationships of your life—at least, if you want something to change.

In all cases, when you want a relationship to be better, ask whether there's something you can do to change it to something more life-giving and nurturing. Take action—and add more happiness and joy to your life and the lives of others.