Saturday, April 14, 2018

4 Things I Want to Accomplish Before I Die

I have been struggling to land on some meaningful goals for this year.  Not typically a problem for me as I usually have a whole list if you recall.  I have some things that I have been toying with, but nothing has felt right to me this year.  Nevertheless, I have plowed on with what I landed on - the vague search for the real meaning of happiness

That search led me to this book called "Cultivate" by Laura Casey.  In the book she compares gardening to life, and more specifically to how God works in her life.  It has some thought provoking questions in it.  This isn't one of them, but for whatever reason this is the question that kept distracting me as I read this book.

What did I want to do before I die?  I have this vague sense of things and events that I think will happen or hope will happen, but is there anything that I work toward making sure will happen?  I've been thinking a lot about priorities lately.  How do I want to spend my time?  How do I need to spend my time to get the most out of this one life  that I have been gifted (that statistically is half over)?

How do you set priorities though if you can't decide what you want? So, maybe I should start with the end in mind. What do I want to do before I die? I stared at a blank sheet of paper for a long time before anything came to mind.

Not because I couldn't think of anything, rather it was because a whole tidal wave of things came forward, enough to drown in.  I wanted to hold grandchildren, and see my children happy, travel to hundreds of places, read more, make a difference in this world on a huge scale by ending world hunger, illiteracy, saving all the children and all the homeless pets - oh, and the polar bears, too. I also wanted to change someone's life with a random act of kindness or with the right words at the right time. I want to spend as much time as possible with loved ones while they are here.  In short, I want to die with no regrets.

That's a lot of pressure, to live a life of no regrets.  How will you really know what you will regret when your time comes? In my 20's I would have regretted not moving up in my career, so I worked and moved a lot. I didn't think about travel and lasting relationships because friends are easy to make in your 20's, and you have all the time in the world and little responsibility.

My 30's were a blur because I had two very small children just shy of 2 years apart.  I didn't have the time or the mental capacity to think about what I wanted out of life other than keep these two tiny humans alive while continuing to move ahead in my career all while keeping my sanity on very little sleep.

Now in my 40's I realize I don't have the time to not think about it anymore.  I am also not the same person that I was in my 20's and 30's. This old lady wants different things because she realizes that time is not unlimited, and I don't have all the time in the world to accomplish all the things that I once naively thought I could. So what is it that I do want to accomplish?

I once thought I would go back to work and continue to move up the corporate ladder once my kids were "old enough".  This is not something that is in the least bit appealing to me now. What I do miss is helping people achieve their goals. Helping them go from feeling helpless to learning how they can help themselves. Showing someone that they are not a victim of circumstance, and that they have far more control of their life than they may now believe if they only have the courage to grab that control. I want to help them find that courage.  I do not need to go back to a corporate office to do this.  I do not need to wait until my kids are "old enough".  I can look for opportunities right now to do this.  So before I die, I want to know that I continued to encourage, support, and help others achieve their goals. 

Before I die, I want to see my children happy and with families of their own.  I can't make my children happy, and I cannot live their lives for them.  In fact, making them happy today will stunt the necessary development of the tools they need to find their own happiness throughout their lifetime.  I have to prepare them for the road of life, not try to take out all the bumps, potholes, and roadblocks.  This would be a great disservice to them.  So before I die, I want to know that I have given my children the gift of resilience by letting them discover that they can and will fall down and most importantly, they have the strength to get back up.  They can go through hard times and do hard things, and they have all the tools they need to make the best out of whatever life throws at them. So before I die, I will take every opportunity given to me to let my children flounder and find their way, so that they build their confidence in the knowledge that they can flourish no matter what this life throws at them.  I know that this is how I can best ensure that they are happy whether they pursue families of their own or not. (For more on how to build resilience in children click here.)

I want to see some places in this world that I haven't been to yet.  I really want to see African animals in the wild.  When I was around 11 years old, I read this book called "Cry of the Kalahari" written by this couple that lived in the savanna's of Africa practically in the middle of a lion herd. I've been enthralled ever since with the beauty of African wildlife.  While I don't want to live in a tent struggling for water and such, I do want to go on a safari to see these animals in their natural habitat. Yet, I've done nothing to research how to make this happen.  So before I die, I want to go on a safari.  I can start this year by doing a little research in what types of safaris there are.  How much do I need to save. How long do I go for? When and where is the best place to go. The perfect time is unlikely to present itself, so I need to start planning, so I can make this happen.

There are a few other places I would like to go with my children.  Places that are more within my reach than the safari, yet I have just kept pushing those ideas aside and saying "maybe later, now isn't a good time". It's never a good time until you realize that you are running out of time. Which leads me to the biggest item on my list.  I want to do all those things I said I really wanted to do and I will get started on making those dreams a reality in the next decade or so.  However, just in case I am not guaranteed those 20 to 30 + years, When I die, I want to know that I recognized and appreciated and savored the little moments with the people that I loved.  I didn't waste time with my mind on something else (urgent, but not important) when what was most important was right in front of me.  Not making time to keep in touch with friends is one of the biggest regrets of the dying (at any age), so guard against being "too busy" for to appreciate the memories you make with loved ones that make time stand still and live forever.

Thinking in terms of "before I die I want to... " really gets to the heart of what is most important to you.  If you are still having trouble deciding how to spend your energy, ask yourself, "Will this matter in a year? 5 years?" Most stuff probably won't stand up to that test.

Don't be afraid to change either. What is most important can and will change from one year (or decade) to the next.  That is how it should be because you are changing and adapting from one year to the next. Working on what you want to achieve before you die in the current stage of your life is your best bet in achieving a life with as few regrets as possible. Wasting your time on things that don't really matter is the surest way to die with a whole host of regrets in any stage of life.

So ask yourself right now, what do you want to achieve before you die, and what baby step will you take this week to get you closer to making the dream a reality?  Better yet, share it with someone or find a buddy to be a goal getter with to make yourself more accountable to your goal, and more likely to achieve it.

Friday, April 6, 2018

How to Go From "Busy" to "Meaningful"

Lately, I've been feeling like I never have time. It's true. I don't. I'm always busy. Busy with work, busy with maintaining a clean, organized, Pinterest worthy home. Deciding what healthy, wonderful meal I am going to whip up while my cookies are baking in the oven.  Keeping up with current events, posting my wonderful life on FB and liking all my 500+ friend's post so no one feels slighted (kidding, I don't have 500+ friends. No one really has 500 friends.)

Then, there is the volunteering at school, so my children know I love them. (But, let's be honest, a large part of why I do it is so other people see that this SAHM has her it together because since I don't work a 9-5 I have to prove I am busy.)

Somewhere I need to make time to go for a jog (which I hate) and/or to the gym, then grab my kale smoothie (Gag) because busy people still find time to exercise and eat their vegetables. However,  since I don't actually have time to cook anything during the day, I grind them to a pulp and drink them with some almond milk in my car on the way to my next errand (I actually grab a cookie.)

I wasn't always so busy.  When I first left work to stay home with the kids, I had more time, and I felt like I got more done.  I had time to ask people to coffee and to lunch, but they were always too busy.  It made me feel like I wasn't busy enough.  Like I wasn't busy doing the "right" things.  That was when I first became infected. I fell victim to the busy disease.

It started with adding things to my day that I felt like I "should" do. Other Moms have super clean homes that look like a photo shoot.  Other Moms are volunteering. Other Moms are dragging their kids to a million after school activities. Other Moms are, well, busy.

This pressure is self-inflicted for sure, but it is reinforced and encouraged by our culture. Listen to our typical conversations.

A Mom: "What did you do this weekend?"

Me: "Not much.  Just hung out and relaxed.  The kids and I read a little and went to the park."

Mom: "Oh, I wish I had time to do that.  We had a swim meet for Sue, then went to a soccer tournament 2 hours away for Jonny, then there was there Kumon and violin lessons, but we still found time to bake cookies for a bake sale, make slime together, and plant a garden. It was just go, go, go."

It's that phrase "I wish I had time to do that" that makes me feel like not being crazy busy all. the. time. makes me feel like my priorities are not in their proper order.  Like "just" reading and "just hanging out" isn't important. That if I am not busy and stressed with all I have to do, then I am not doing enough of the "right" things.

Imagine if someone asked you to help with a project at school, and you want to say no. You can't just say "No" and leave it at that. If you add, "I wish I could, but I'm too busy right now." The asker's face will soften in understanding, and they will say, "I totally understand. I am so busy too!" (Like it's a competition.)

What do you think their face would look like if you said, "I can't.  I'm making time to read more, or draw more, or paint, or just making more time to do nothing." Their face wouldn't soften in understanding.  Their face would more likely look like you just told them a space ship landed in your backyard last night and Sigourney Weaver walked out and you had tea together before helping her deliver her alien baby.

Then I stumbled upon this article, "Busy, Busy, Bullshit" . Great read.  The author contends that busy is something we do to ourselves.

At first I was a little offended.  How dare she insinuate that I really don't have to do all this stuff??

But, do I really? Here is the truth. When I worked full time with an hour and 10 minute commute both ways, I felt like I was less busy, and I had more time.  Don't get me wrong, I was exhausted a lot of the time. I did often feel guilty about my kids being in daycare. Was I being a great Mom, etc., and I felt guilty about work too, but I still felt like I had more time than I do today.

Part of it was because when I worked, people assumed I was busy all the time because I worked. I didn't have to explain what I did during the day anymore than that.  When I worked, I was better at setting my priorities.  I made the time to have lunch with my co-workers at least a couple of times a week or more.  My house was clean, but it definitely looked "lived-in" you know, by a real family with a busy Mom. When I was with my children, I was with my children because our time together was limited. I wasn't scrolling through my phone or multitasking three (or more) different things. I made time to read each night or do something for me because it was so important to maintain that work life balance, you know.  When I made time for me, I didn't feel judged by making that choice. I didn't judge myself for making that choice.

The other reason we stay busy is because it is easier than admitting that sometimes we are bored or unfulfilled or sometimes just plain old unhappy. When I worked, my purpose was figured out for me more or less.  Now, I have to figure it out on my own. Staying busy keeps us from thinking and feeling.  It is like a drug that allows us to avoid acknowledging the fact that we do feel empty sometimes, and it dulls the feelings of guilt that come up when that thought crosses our mind, and it allows us to feel important.

Don't misunderstand, I love being a mom, and I am blessed to be able to stay home.  I don't want to go back to work full time. However, there is a lot of my day that I don't love. Sometimes when I am standing there folding up a never ending pile of laundry, I can't help but think, "I went to grad school to do this?" "Does it really matter if I don't find the perfect Spring wreath for the front door?" Again, something that I never would have bothered with when I had a full time job. Then I feel ungrateful, and rush off to find something to keep me busy, and maybe post about it on FB as if someone might have read my mind, and know I had these forbidden thoughts.

So What's the Cure? 

1) Stop being busy all the time, so you can figure out what really is meaningful to you.  

Quiet your mind for a nanosecond, and think about what is really important to you or what you need to feel like a whole human being.

If shopping for the perfect Spring Wreath makes you happy - go for it. If cleaning your house gives you a sense of satisfaction, then grab that cleaning caddy and go to town. If sitting in a coffee shop reading brings you peace, do it.  Still lacking fulfillment? How about making time to find and volunteer for a cause near and dear to your heart.

In order to make this kind of space in your life, you will have to add a new word to your vocabulary.  That word is "No".  You can pretty it up and take the edge off it if necessary.  Find your own style of "no", that feels good to you. However, keep in mind, you are a grown up. You don't need to account for your time or explain to any other grown up. "No" is a complete sentence.

You need to use "No" in order to make room for "Yes".  Yes to the things that really matter.  For example, "No, I am not going to (vacuum, run errands, work through lunch, etc...) because I am saying yes to going to lunch with a friend, or read, or paint, or pet cats at the local shelter. Relationships matter (real ones, not FB ones).  The other stuff will eventually get done. (How to Live a Life with No Regrets)

CAUTION: The exercise above may bring up intense feelings of guilt. Persist. It will be okay, but it won't be easy.

2) Sources of Possible Guilt, and How to Deal with Them

Setting new priorities is tough. It is a huge change and change is never easy. Being busy, and it's sister "yes" is a habit, and habit breaking requires awareness and making new choices.

Handling Other People's disappointment.

There may be people who are disappointed with your new decisions, and that may make you feel guilty.  Acknowledge these feelings of guilt, but don't give in to them (and don't run back to busyness to dull them). Other people's disappointment or unhappiness is their problem not yours, and I promise you they will figure it out without you. So, be courageous. Be strong. Remember, no one is responsible for your happiness, but you and you are not responsible for anyone else's happiness.

It isn't "Important" Enough 

We tend to measure importance by a paycheck or the impact it has in the world.  I could make the time to pursue some things, but I don't because I don't think it is "important" enough because it is only important to me, not my family or the world, just to me.  Also, I struggle justifying taking the time from something else "important", and spending it doing something for me that can't be measured with a paycheck.  Maybe if I get started, then one day it will turn into a paid gig, who knows?  But, it might not, and that should be okay too.

Let me give you another way to look at this conundrum. My son works on movies every moment he has. He writes scenes. He designs sets. He takes loads of pictures and video. No one, but his parents, his sister, and maybe a friend or two looks at his movies. He doesn't get paid to do them nor do I think at this stage anyone will offer to buy the rights to his movies. If he said, "I'm not working on this anymore because no one but me will watch it," it would break my heart because he really, really loves doing it. It gives him such a sense of pride and accomplishment.

I would never say, "That's a wise choice because there are far more important things you could be doing." Hell no, I would say, "Go make those movies! Live your dreams!" I have even let him put off his homework or the occasional chore, so he can go catch the right light for a scene. Yet, here I am modeling behavior I would never want to see him display.  Me feeling like a whole person is a good enough reason to make time, but I am also setting a great example for my own kids.

3) Spend 15 minutes a day pursuing that thing that gets you excited or relaxes you.

Look, I'm not saying you can just drop everything and pursue you secret dream of becoming the next Monet, but can you spare 15 minutes a day to take a baby step toward something that makes your heart happy? Truth be told, I think this is important enough for you to take waaaay more than 15 minutes, but this is a new habit so baby step it.

I bet you spend way more time taking care of others than you give yourself credit for. Try this exercise. For a day track what you do, and the time you spend doing it. For me, I start at 6:30 getting stuff ready for the kids for school, and I am still doing family household stuff long after they have gone to bed.  I had a pretty demanding job, but I didn't regularly work 14 or more hour days, and I liked my job a lot, so stop being so hard on yourself now.

Another exercise is to look at what you do and decide what is truly important to you that you do it well.  Do I have to make an awesome dinner every night? No, a cereal night dinner every once in a while will not leave my children malnourished.  Truth be told, they would love it. (See How to Get Shit Done)

Does my house have to be vacuumed and picked up everyday? No, I don't have people dropping in unexpectedly ever, so why do I need to do this? And, on the rare chance that might happen, and they see dog hair floating across the floor, what is the worst that would come of it? Would they go and talk about how horrible of a mother I am in the car pool line? Not likely, and if so, do I really care? Will it really effect me? Will I stop being invited to or included in things? If so, good more free time, and who needs "friends" like that anyway. Truthfully, you may just be giving them the courage they need to lower their own impossible standards and be less busy.

Another time eater for me was all the activities I enrolled my kids in. One child wants to be involved in every opportunity that comes her way, and I said, you can pick two. That's it.  I purposely keep two school days a week free for two reasons.  One, for me.  I just don't want to be go, go, go all the time racing here and there, then stressing about diner on top of it. Two, I do it for them.  They need to be bored. The first couple of weeks was whine filled (we have a no screen rule for this time.) "What do I do?" they whine. "Play outside," I say.

After a couple weeks of this I found a box full of handmade brooms made with tape (a lot of tape), sticks and monkey grass (for Harry Potter scenes). I found notebooks full of songs and stories they have written, costumes for movie scenes, pages of rules and currency (rocks) for this pretend society they have invented.

Being this creative takes time. Time they never had when they were too busy with all the other stuff.  I think there is definitely a lesson in there for me, and I can definitely find at least 15 minutes of unapologetic time to do something for me.

I don't know what I want to do or what my "thing" is.

Don't despair if you don't have "Your thing" yet. Spend your 15 minutes doing nothing.  Just sit for 15 glorious minutes doing nothing.  You will probably be bored for the first couple of tries, but eventually you will come to treasure this time of being unbusy, and maybe in the silence your thing will speak to you.   When something pops into your head, make plans to go try it out.  Experiment. Do new things with new people.  It might turn out to not be your thing, but then again it might be life changing.  It doesn't have to be a big thing (although it certainly could).  It could just be something you have always wanted to try or that you loved doing as a child.  Go for it because life is way to short to be busy doing nothing. So right now, write down one thing to take off your "TO DO" list, and write down one thing you will make time to do for you.  Write this on your calendar and treat it like an appointment with someone important (because you are important.)

Three Types of Happiness

Friday, March 9, 2018

How to Get Shit Done

Nagging Tasks.  They are tasks that you "should" do, but aren't urgent so you keep putting them off because it just seems like soooo much effort to just do it.  I would wager that most of the things on our long "To Do" list are nagging tasks.

Things like fixing the caulk around your sink, changing that burnt out light bulb (or light bulbs) or the air filter, finally putting your kids' school pictures in the frame, and dare I say actually hang them on the wall?  It's things like sewing that button back on your favorite shirt (oh, heck with it, it's been five years), cleaning up the pictures on your phone and creating a nice family photo album, or making those recipes you've been saving on Pinterest.  Nagging tasks also could be all those projects that you started and have yet to actually finish.

I have a whole lot of these nagging tasks.  That is the short list I just named, and I can add about 20-100 more things to it.  Nagging tasks are like these annoying gnats swirling around my brain.  I walk by the burnt out light bulb.  The gnat buzzes to the front, and I swat it back as I continue to walk past.  More and more pile up, multiplying.  I swat them away barely acknowledging them because they are small things, and I have more pressing tasks, yet they continuously annoy me on this low grade frequency.  Not like a screaming baby that needs attention now, but rather this constant background noise that builds and builds.

It might seem like theses nagging tasks don't drain you of energy, but every time I walk by that unchanged lightbulb, sigh and think, "I really ought to change that", I am convinced it sucks a little of my life away. Not to mention the guilt that often accompanies all those things I am not doing, but "should" be doing.

Recently, a friend of mine mentioned that she had a frustrating day, so she was taking her frustrations out by cleaning the leaves out of her pool (qualifies as a nagging task in my book).  I thought, "Wow, what an idea? I take my frustrations out on a Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Ghirardelli Square (or two or three or more - don't judge me!) or some Thin Mints, or even by snapping at a loved one, but not on a nagging task.

Yet, I have to say on those rare occasions when I actually push procrastination aside and "just do it", I get a boost of energy from the accomplishment that usually outweighs the effort it took to get off my butt and do it.  And, it usually doesn't take as much time as I made it out to be in my head.

So, I got a little brave today, and did a brain dump of all the nagging tasks that I have swirling around in the back of my mind, and I wrote them all down (Step 1). 

I walked from room to room taking note of all the little things that needed to be done.  The loose screws in the door knobs that needed to be tightened.  The kids craft shelves that needed to be sorted.  The pictures that we bought on our honeymoon that we still haven't framed. Let's just say, it's a lot of that kind of stuff.  I also captured all the commitments or social things I felt I needed to do, learn, be.  Anything sort of hanging over my head, was written down on the list.

I thought I would be overwhelmed when I wrote it all down, like I can't believe there is so much stuff! Where are those Ghirardelli Chocolates? However, what came with it was more peace of mind.  Like there it really was, in all of it's three page glory.  Know where it wasn't anymore? Swirling around in my mind, taking up valuable real estate and energy.

Next, I divided my list into "Bucket" or "F*ck it" (Step 2)

The "F*ck It" list.   It is a little scary, but it is the most crucial step of all. It's the stuff that I am finally ready to admit that I'm just not going to do.

Here's the hard, cold truth.  You can't do it all.  You might be able to fake it for a while, but it will be at the expense of your sanity, and it's not worth it people.  So, you have to choose what's most important to you, a life or perfection. 

Look, I wish I was the Mom who made homemade, nut-less, dairy free granola bars for my child's soccer team, while looking fabulously pulled together with my perfect hair, right before I rush off to drive little Johnny to his piano lessons in between volunteering to knit socks for the homeless,  make 800 die cuts for my daughter's 3rd grade class, take my soufflĂ© out of the oven and have a martini waiting for my man when he walks through the door, but it ain't going to happen.  I'll settle for washing my hair this week, driving my kids to the one after school activity they really want to do, and pouring myself a glass of wine when I get home while I throw together a salad from a bag and throw some chicken nuggets on top.  Some days that's a win. Not stressing yourself is a win for everyone.

Bucket list items are the those things you actually want or need to get done.  Take a look at these tasks and decide which of these things you would be better served delegating.  For example, cleaning carpets - outsource/delegate.  Cleaning out the garbage can - delegate to my kids.  Hey, I know that's a gross job, but so is washing their underwear, and I still do it!

I encourage you to revisit your list often and ask yourself, "Is this really the best use of my limited time and energy?" Does it get me closer to my goals? If the answer is "no", add it to the F*ck It list, and as you cross it off, say OUTLOUD, "F*CK It".  You will feel like a badass.

Now I'm left with the stuff I am actually going to do.  I make a quick little time estimate of the things on my list.  I also do a quick gut check and ask myself why am I not doing some of these things already (in other words, why am I procrastinating?).  

Is it that I think it will take too much time, like in the case of the family photo album? Can I dedicate 15 minutes a day a couple of days of week to it? Yes, I can manage to do that.

Some of my other reasons for procrastination are just silly.  Like in the case of the light bulb.  I don't mind getting the ladder out and changing the light bulb, but I HATE putting the ladder back.  Does this make logical sense? No, but it is what it is, so I put the ladder against the wall, and kindly ask my husband to put it away while I get dinner ready. I notice that if I say I have something else to do instead, he is much more likely to help.  Actual science backs this up.  Try it yourself, and you will see.  Like, I'm folding laundry, can you give the dogs their medicine? See, some tasks you can do portion of and delegate share the rest with a loved one.

Another strategy to stop procrastinating is to find someone you can be accountable to by enlisting the help of a friend. 

For example, I am going to have to finally paint our hallway.  It is the only wall not painted since we re-painted everything else.  I call it the hallway of shame.  We did a major remodel last year, and you can plainly see where we ran out of energy.  Since it is an upstairs hallway that only we see, I keep putting it off.  It would probably only take me a weekend to do it.  So, one nagging task is to get the paint one week, and then block off some time to paint it.  I will plan to actually do it when my Mom comes to visit.  One, because she will help me.  Two, she doesn't really let me procrastinate. So, once I pull the trigger and mention that I want to do this, she will be all "Let's do it" and it'll get done.

So, if you have an errand to run, make a date with a friend to hit the stores together, or, grab your computer and spend the afternoon together putting those photos into an online scrapbook or go old school and actually scrapbook.  Whatever works for you.  Plus as a bonus, social contact raises your level of happiness so you will feel good on two levels.

After I cross off, delegate, and get a handle on the things standing in my way, I am ready to take that list of remaining tasks and commit to knocking one out a week (or a month or whatever works for you).

If there is a busy week or you just don't feel like doing something big, knock out a 5 minute one, like tightening the screws on the doorknob, (but leave the screwdriver for someone else to put away.)  If you don't have a 5 to 10 minute task, then do your 15 minutes toward the bigger picture. Some of the other tasks might call for more time and planning, maybe a trip to the store or something.  So, maybe I spend 5 minutes deciding how I can break this bigger tasks up into 15 minutes parts.

Even if you do nothing else but write all your nagging tasks down, I promise you, you will feel at least 5 pounds lighter (and who doesn't want that?) At the very least, you will be too busy writing to stuff another caramel square or Thin Mint into your face.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

3 Types of Happiness

Happiness ......we spend so much time pursuing it, talking about it, asking "Am I happy?", justifying our decisions under the "I just want to be happy" banner, but how many of us actually can define it?  It is usually not given a lot of thought beyond, "I'll just know it when I see it."

Well, this lack of defining leads to a lack of planning, which leads to wasting a lot of time spinning your wheels, not getting any happier, or bemoaning your circumstances.  Last week we went over why your circumstances aren't likely the source of your unhappiness (How Your Circumstances Influence Your Happiness. )

It's really hard to find something if you don't know what it looks like.  Once you know what it looks like, then you really do know it when you see it, and you have a better shot at finding it.

So what is happiness?

Of course for each person, the stuff that makes up happiness, the ingredients if you will, will look different.  "Experts" (people who study happiness for a living) general agree that there are three levels of happiness.

Level one, simple pleasures or gratification.  

This is the weekly massage, indulging in a Netflix binge, eating the warm gooey chocolate chip cookie straight from the oven, the awesome spa vacation, falling in love, or whatever else brings you pleasure.  Anything that makes life pleasurable, enjoyable, worth living.

The problems is, as humans we are very adaptable.  Obviously this is a good thing as it helps ensure survival of the human race, but it also means that we get used to the things that give us pleasure relatively quickly, so we are constantly in search of that next high, and this can lead to addictive type behavior if we are not careful.  That one cookie turns into 24.  That glass of wine turns into the bottle every night.  We fall in love with falling in love and that maybe leads us to some not so healthy relationships.  Or sometimes we go the other way, and get so busy and so into our routines that we no longer notice the beauty and wonder that surrounds us and could bring us pleasure.

Ways to combat this habituation is to practice mindfulness, really savoring the moment, and practicing gratitude.  So, when you are at your child's school event, put down the phone every once in a while and really notice the details, and savor this fleeting moment.  What are they wearing? Notice the range of emotions that flicker across their face.  How do they interact with their peers? What is their favorite part of the moment? Take it ALL in, not just what fits on your iphone screen. Likewise, if you are going to have the chocolate, relish slowly peeling the foil back.  Smell it.  Let it slowly dissolve on your tongue and enjoy every. single. second. of that delicious experience.

So - level one definitely has it's place.  It is part of what makes life enjoyable.  Find ways to include more pleasures into your life, drink your coffee out of your special cup, take a different route to work, read the trashy novel or the literary masterpiece if that's what makes you happy.  Also, shake things up so you don't fall into a rut even if it is a simple as taking a different route to work or going to a new Starbucks instead of your usual.  Make time to really enjoy a moment and practice turning ordinary moments into extraordinary moments (this also exercises your creativity which will also boost your happiness.) . Notice I said "practice".  You will need to practice to get good at this.

Level Two, the Good Life.  

This is where you are using your strengths and virtues as often as possible.  This could be in your job or it could be a hobby that challenges you, but ideally it is both.  You won't necessarily feel a surge of happiness while you are engaging in the activity.  In fact, you aren't likely to be thinking about anything because you are so engaged and lost in the moment that you are not thinking at all.  This is called a state of flow.  It is when you become so absorbed in a project or activity that you forget yourself.  You have just solved a thorny issue or negotiated a critical deal. Maybe it is a hobby that really calls for your whole concentration like song writing or composing, playing a chess with a worthy opponent, or running. Maybe it is using your excellent organization skills to bring working order to a bookshelf or closet. It is you doing your thing to the best of your ability.  It is whatever calls for complete concentration, but not so hard it is frustrating (because that would be distracting).

That's the good life and it helps protect you from "bad" moments, builds your confidence in yourself and helps you express your uniqueness.

If you are curious to know what your top 5 strengths are, visit this website: (Under "Questionnaires", choose "VIA Survey of Character Strengths"). You can take a quiz that will tell you out of 24 defined virtues or strengths, what your top 5 are.  Then you find thing that allow you to use your top 5 as much as possible.  There is also one for kids, but I recommend that your child be at least 8 before taking it.

Level Three, the Meaningful Life.  

Using your signature strengths in the service of something greater than yourself is the meaningful life.  Some people find this outside of their normal work through volunteer organizations, furthering a cause you are passionate about, or mission work through church, but it is also possible to find this at work, if you can connect using our skillset to something much bigger than yourself.

And with a little creative thinking, you can tell a meaningful story about what you do.  For example, I had a client who was the manager a large non-profit.  He told every person who worked for him that their job, their mission was the fulfillment of the nonprofits's mission which is feeding hungry people.  You aren't "just" the web designer for the volunteer staff web page.  You help make sure that $70,0000 meals make it to hungry kids this week because your web page works, and is easy to use helping ensure that you get enough volunteers to make those meals for those kids.  Your "job" isn't to keep a web page up and running.  Your job is to make sure kids don't go hungry.

Likewise, you aren't "just" a mom.  You are raising the next generation of good citizens with the skills needed to continue changing the world, and you are doing it by using your strengths.

You aren't "just" a hairdresser, you have the ability to listen to a client and bring out the best in them.  Really, when you have a great haircut, don't you feel like you can change the world?  It is connecting what you are good at and using it to contribute to something bigger than you.

The Pleasant life + the Good Life + the Meaningful Life = a Full life

A life of only pleasure seeking usually leads to an empty life.  A life solely lived working for the greater good typically leads to burnout and missing out on other important things and relationships as well.

Keep in mind not everything that makes you happy in the long run is easy or pleasant or makes you feel happy in that moment.  Sharing the last donut this weekend with my kids knowing I could have hidden in the pantry and eaten it alone (savoring it of course), didn't make me feel happy in that moment.  But the look on their face when they discovered that there was in fact one donut left, and watching them split it without bickering made me happier in the long run than eating that donut alone would have. 

All three levels matter, and all three are choices.  Choices about how you spend your time, how you view what you do, the story you tell yourself.

So what will choose to savor and what story will you choose to tell yourself today?

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How Setting Specific Measurable Goals Could Be Holding You Back and What to Do Instead

As an HR professional and performance coach, a large part of my career centers around helping people, teams and companies improve their performance and achieve success, and a crucial component of success is setting good goals. 

So how do we typically set goals?  We start with a statement that usually starts with "I want to....." (lose weight, quit smoking, simplify my life, grow my business, etc."

Then if we are really on our game we set SMART goals.  Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time oriented (They have a due date.) This is not revolutionary.

To take it up another notch, an even more powerful way to state goals is to speak about your goals as if you have already achieved them. "I eat right, exercise 5 times a week and turn heads wearing this killer dress." "I am a non-smoker." "I am the top seller in my firm with 25 customers and a portfolio value of 2 million."

Once we set those goals, we damn sure want to achieve them, especially when we make them "SMART", so we go a little conservative in our goal setting.  We cut ourselves some slack for things like cheat days, and just in case we really can't figure out how to increase our customer base, or in case another project coms up that takes up some of our time and attention.  It makes sense.  After all, at work during your year end review no one wants to sit down with the boss and go through each goal saying, "No, I didn't achieve that, but almost."  It doesn't tend to fly or at least it didn't' where I worked.  You set the goal and you are held accountable to it.  To not achieve it means you are a failure, and no one likes to fail. 

It works, this methodical way of making incremental change.   I am a huge proponent for baby steps to change.  When you keep plugging away, making constant tiny changes, you will eventually get to where you are going. 

Then I stumbled across this one simple question that really got me thinking that maybe there was a flaw in this whole theory.  The question was, "What did you do this year and fail at?"  

I couldn't think of an answer.  Not because this year was full of success after success and all my dreams were realized.  I had a good year.  But.....I also didn't have anything I felt worthy enough to brag about.  I didn't launch a car into space or anything. Nothing that I put a full press heart and soul effort into.  That sort of left me a little deflated. 

I think the flaw in this SMART goal theory centers around the fear of failure.  The "A" for "Achievable" part of the SMART goal.  If you really are craving a change, if you really have this secret dream goal you want to meet, then you don't make that goal achievable, you make it audacious, so audacious that there is a 90% chance you are not going to make it.  

That's right.  Strive to fail.  Counterintuitive, right?  Bear with me....

Great, transformative changes do not happen without failure.  Without failure, there is no real growth. if you design your life where you don't fail, where you don't stumble, then you aren't improving at the rate you could. 

When you go to the gym, you exercise to failure, right?  If you don't push the muscle to it's limit, then rest, your muscle slacks off, and you stay the same.  Growth happens when you push until you fail.  Failing is the goal, then you rest, regroup and then repeat.

The Wright brothers had this idea that was so preposterous at the time that no one for one second believed they would be successful.  There was no SMART goal tied to their dream of flying.  They weren't going for "Well, it would be nice to fly a little, by Christmas, so we could say we did it.  On second thought, maybe we should just go for gliding, so we don't fail to meet our stated goal".  They failed over and over again trying to achieve this crazy dream of flying. 

Martin Luther King, Jr didn't start with a SMART goal, he started with a dream. 

Don't get me wrong, SMART goals have a place.  You have to set measurable milestones.  However, we often confuse the SMART Goal with the purpose, the dream, then end result, and as a result, we sell ourselves short at the expense of real change.  It is when you push and miss your goal, rest/regroup, and think about why you missed that you learn and adjust and make real change happen.  If you succeed fast and often, you lull yourself into a sense of complacency and you don't become as good as you could be.  You become "good enough".  Imagine if Oprah achieved moderate success as a news anchor and didn't get fired?

I am a huge proponent of "Good enough" for 80% of what you do on a daily basis.  Laundry, dusting, dinner, paperwork, emails.......good enough.  Good enough exists for you to spend time not being "Good enough" on the one or two things that matter the most to you.  That's where the achievable comes in.  You pick one or two things, not everything, and you make that one thing so big and so bold and so audacious that you will fail.... in the short term. 

You will fail in the short term.  Maybe that's today, maybe this year, maybe 5 years, but eventually you will fly.  But, no matter where you land in the short term while you figure out how to fly, you will have traveled farther than you ever believed you could. 

So next year when you ask yourself the question, "What did you do this year and fail at?" have an awesome story to tell and tell it proudly.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

How to Know When It's Time to Let Go of a Relationship

Someone years ago shared this poem with me, and it has really stuck with me through the years.  The author is unknown.  I have heard that it has been attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, but who knows?

The poem says that there are people that come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.  

A reason relationship is when you need something at that moment in your life and in walks this person.  Then for what ever reason they don't hang around long, just long enough to teach you or give you what you need in that moment.  Sometimes these relationships come into your life in a positive way, and sometimes the lesson sucks, but it's something you need to learn.  The free-spirit party girl I hung out with one summer who got me out of my shell after a rough breakup.  The childhood friend I met at church who gave me the courage to finally conquer my fear of diving.  The mean nun I had for a year in middle school who made me mad enough that I finally found the courage to speak up for myself (at times admittedly taking that lesson a little too far.)

The season relationship.  Wow, these are the toughest, I think.  Sometimes you confuse the season with the lifetime.  The season relationship may be one of the happiest of your life, yet it has a shelf life.  Maybe it's your college roommate who you went through thick and thin with, but slowly grew apart over the years as your lives took different paths.  Maybe it's your first "real" boyfriend who taught you what you did (or didn't want) in a relationship.  Maybe it's a mentor like my college professor who introduced me to my grad program, which introduced me to a wonderful career that I didn't even know existed, which led me to meeting my husband.  Sometime it is a job or career that you have outgrown or a group that you belong to that you have outgrown or no longer identify with.

Don't resist, fight, or deny the lesson the season relationship is trying to teach you, otherwise the season lasts too long if you catch my drift.  Don't waste your time being bitter or hanging in there.  Acknowledge the lesson, learn from it, adapt and move on.

Then there are lifetime relationships.  They are rare, they are beautiful, and they grow with you.  My lifetime friends have kids, and don't have kids, are married and not married.  We are totally different, yet weirdly the same.  Those friendships sometimes defy explanation, yet that doesn't matter because they don't need explaining. Those relationships teach you lessons that help you navigate all the other relationships.   They come with unconditional acceptance of who you are as a person.  Not a mother, not wife, not your common career, or what walk of life you are in, but you.    No matter how much time passes, when you speak again, time just falls away.

It is my lifetime friends who helped me through the break-up with the crazy, free-spirited reason friend when she started turning a little Single white female, psycho.  It is the lifetime friends you lean on when the season relationships come to an end and help you process those lessons, and  remind you of those lessons the next time around should you forget for a moment (remember the last bad by you dated that you were going to reform....)

Sometimes lifetime relationships are not easy, welcome, nor do they bring you joy.  Sometimes they are necessary for the greater good, like a relationship you maintain with an ex or your mother-in-law for the sake of the kids.  There is a lesson there as well to learn (and keep learning), be it patience, empathy, setting boundaries, swallowing your pride or standing up for yourself yet maintaining the relationship.  Those are lessons that serve you well in all your other relationships.

Here's the thing to remember.... You need them all.  They all serve a purpose.  The key is figuring out which one it is, learning all you can from it (whether you are the teacher or the student), AND knowing when you have outgrown the relationship.

It's great to hang in there and try to make things work, but it is equally important if not more important to know when to walk away from something that is no longer serving you or helping you grow.

No doubt about it, sometimes growing hurts. Hey, it's not called growing pains for nothing.  Have you ever seen a butterfly emerge from it's cocoon?  That doesn't look too comfortable.  It looks hard and painful, and it takes FOREVER, but looks what comes out.  Do you know if you help the butterfly speed up the process, you actually make it weaker?  It's that struggle that gives it the strength to survive what's ahead. 

Live the lesson, extract what you need, adapt, and move on when necessary.  That's not simply growing, that's transforming, and true transformation can't be undone.

So no matter what you are going through right now, know that you are growing your beautiful wings, and real soon you are going to unfurl them and fly.

Monday, February 12, 2018

How Your Circumstances Influence Your Happiness

Often when people are unhappy, they start trying to change their circumstances, or they lament how they can't change their circumstances so they are destined to stay unhappy.  The truth is, there are some things that we can't change or can't change easily.  We can't easily change our annual income, where we live, our health circumstances, or our upbringing. We can't change our age, race, or gender.  So how do these factors really influence our happiness? What can we change to increase our happiness? Read on for more information about what you can control, what you can't control and what doesn't really matter.

Money: How many times have you thought, if I only had more money, then I would be happier?  Research shows that money doesn't really contribute to your happiness unless you are really, really poor.  As long as you earn enough to feel secure, your level of happiness is not tied to your money. Now, when you look at what your neighbors have or your Facebook friends, then you may feel like more money will mean more fun things, but this isn't about money, it's about your perception of what you feel you are missing out on.

Consider this, in the US, France and Japan, purchasing power is higher than it has ever been, but life satisfaction is the same or lower and suicide is on the rise.  Powerball winners report levels of happiness skyrocketing at the time of the win, but return to previous levels of happiness within a few months.

If you value money over the achievement of other goals, then you tend to be less satisfied with your life as a whole.  Think about being trapped in a job you hate, but the money is good.  Those people are usually pretty miserable.  It's not called the golden handcuffs for nothing. Warren Buffet, Oprah, Richard Branson, they do what they love to do.  I am sure they love the money too, but it's the thrill of accomplishment, or having a purpose or passion, that really drives them.  So live to work, and if that doesn't work for you, work to live - meaning your job needs to allow you the time to do the things that do bring you enjoyment. Take a trip the park with a loved one. Free. Enjoyable.

Age:  If you are worried about your age, here is something to look forward to, life satisfaction tends to increase with age and emotional roller coasters tend to even out.

Health: Your perception of how healthy you are has more of an effect than your actual illness, unless your illness is severe and long lasting, then it can certainly bring you down.  Most people will adjust to their new "normal" and likewise will return to pre-happiness levels.  This has occurred even in those who have lost limbs or have become paralyzed.

Age, Climate, Race and Gender: very slight effect for age, none for climate, none for race (although rates of depression tend to be greater in caucasians).  For gender, women tend to have higher highs and lower lows, but it averages out to about the same.

Negative Events:  Happy people have as many bad times as unhappy people.

Circumstances that do make a difference: 

Religion: People with strong religious beliefs tend to be happier and weather down times better.  Researchers think it is because religion instills in one a hope for the future, and creates meaning in life.

Social Life: Very happy people tend to have a rich social life for some that is quality and for some quantity.  The bottom line is those that feel alone are unhappier than those that feel connected to a few close friends or a group of friends.  Now, the question is do happier people tend to attract more friends or are they happier because of their social life?  No one can say for sure yet, so to be on the safe side, schedule a coffee or lunch date with a friend today whether you feel happy or not.

Marriage:  Marriage is robustly related to happiness.  Married people report being happier, unless you are in a bad relationship, then this tanks your happiness probably more than any other factor mentioned.  If you are in a toxic relationship, it is killing your happiness and that probably goes for friendships as well as romantic relationships.  And if you are the toxic friend or partner, maybe make a plan to be less so.( Are You the Toxic Friend? Five Ways to Change It.).  It will increase your happiness.

Internal Factors:

Internal factors are how you think of your past, present and future and they all influence your happiness.  In other words, you have the most impact on your own happiness.

I have some articles planned for increasing happiness in the present and future coming up, but I want to talk about the past a little bit.

Past: How your think and interpret your past influences the emotion that follows in the future.  So if you didn't have the greatest childhood, how you interpret those events affects you today because you have an emotional reaction to it now.  If you dwell, rant and rave, and wishing that things were different, then that actually leads to more "bad" feelings (and literally heart disease, btw).

In fact childhood events (barring anything super traumatic, or long lasting) actually have little affect on your adult personality.  Your past does not determine your future.  

I have to say, as a parent, this is a huge relief.  Missing their dance recital occasionally, getting a divorce, these things will not screw up your kids, unless they are ruminators, then still it's their ruminating, not event itself that causes the unhappiness. If this is your kid, check out this article with tips on how you can change this. (It's probably good for your too.) WHAT IF YOU COULD ENSURE YOUR CHILD'S SUCCESS IN LIFE?

Two ways to deal with the past is to appreciate what went right, savoring and appreciating the good events more, instead of lamenting over the things that weren't good.  Secondly, practice forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a hard thing, and a post of its own, which I definitely will write soon.  Often, we don't want to forgive because we still feel that what the person did was unforgivable and forgiving them is letting them off the hook and saying it's okay.  Not true.  What they did may never be okay.  You don't forgive for them.  You forgive for you.  Love yourself enough to allow yourself to move on.  You can't live in the present, let alone move into the future while you are holding of to a grudge in the past.  How are you really hurting the person you are choosing not to forgive? Chances are, you aren't.  They may wish things were different, they may not even know you hate them, but I'll bet they are moving on with their life while you are stuck in the past in yours.  I'll research some of the paths to forgiveness and write about it soon, in the meantime, start getting mentally warmed up to the idea.

So in the meantime:  

  1. Quite blaming outside factors for your current mental state. Stop worrying about what you can't control and start thinking about what you can control.
  2. Indulge in a daydream in which in the distant future you are happy.  What is making you happy? 
  3. Make a date with a friend for coffee, lunch, or a cocktail this week (my calendar is currently wide open).
  4. Spend less time with toxic friends and/or work on being less toxic. Consider what a current bad relationship is costing you.
  5. Start thinking about what holding onto a grudge is costing you.