6 Steps to Creating Space

“When you let go, you create space for something better.” – Unknown

You’re angry because the meeting isn’t going your way. You’re frustrated because your partner never makes the bed. You smolder as the traffic piles up and makes you late to work this morning. What’s next? The self-critic pops in for a drive-by of self-berating. “My ideas stink.” “He doesn’t appreciate me making this bed. I’m a doormat.” “I’m an idiot. Why did I go this way?” Does any of this sound familiar?

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It’s amazing how often my clients don’t realize the language they use when they refer to themselves. Client: “I’m the only one my mother has.” Coach: “So you are responsible for your mother’s addiction?” Client: (smile) “Well, when you say it like that…probably not.” Coach: “Probably?” Client: (bigger smile) “Why does it sound different when you say it. Definitely not.” We all have a ticker tape of the little self-critic rambling that goes on and on and on in our heads. That little self-critic is taking up precious space from valuable real estate for much better things. It’s time to let go.

Here are some things that you will create space for:

  • Random acts of self-care.  I gave up on the news about a year ago. I let go of the need to be constantly informed. I am calmer. I am no longer hyper vigilant, waiting for the next shoe to drop. With the thirty minutes I saved (actually it’s probably more like 2 hours, if you count all the news links I would take randomly throughout the day to get the latest on the stock market or the president), I’ve added 20 minutes of meditation and self-reflection. If I’m home early enough, I read or meditate. Create the space for self-care.
  • Loving kindness for others.  I have given up the resentment I feel when I do things for others. I used to get angry when I did the dishes or made the bed for someone else. I had to let go of my story that I was being a doormat. I had to quit keeping score. I changed the story to be one of loving kindness for my family, instead of constantly searching for the balance of power of “I did this” now “You owe me that.” It was exhausting to constantly keep score. Now I am in the space of having loving kindness for everyone. A sort of pay-it-forward love and kindness. There is no scoreboard necessary.
  • Liberation for myself and others.  It’s so easy to get wrapped up in your children’s success or failure. To see it as a reflection of you; as an extension of you. If your son doesn’t go to an Ivy League school, what will the neighbors think? I let go of the attachment to their outcomes. It’s the same when you want to implement a new procedure at work and it gets shelved. Oh well, move on. A year ago, I would have lost sleep over the shelving of the procedure and had mock arguments in my head with the nay-sayers for hours ad nauseam. I am set free. Embrace liberty.
  • Embracing uncertainty.  As I say to my clients, we all want control. We all want to be the Wizard of Oz with our hands on the joy stick of life. Fact is, there is no control. This can be uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. When I let go of control, I started to be more adaptable. I was driving home from Virginia last week. The tire pressure indicator on the car came on. I initially felt a jolt of anxiety. I took a deep breath and realized that I could control my reaction. I called my friend for a second opinion on a 29 psi and he told me it would be fine for the time being. I did stop at a gas station and filled up the tire (I have not filled a tire with air in about 30 years). No sweat. I didn’t panic. Let go the illusion of control and embrace uncertainty.
  • Space for openness.  When you let go of judgment, you make space for openness.  Self-judgment is debilitating. Constantly judging others is also debilitating. “I’m fat.” “She’s fat.” “What an atrocious dress.” “He’s late again.” Judge. Judge. Judge. Judge. I am not completely free of doing this, but I am at least calling it out in my head. “This is judgment.” The first step is to label it. Acknowledge that you are doing it. Calling my judge out lets me embrace acceptance. I imagine writing on my forehead with a sharpie and masking tape: Judge. Label it. Then let it go. The universe is open to me (and you).
  • Detach from emotions.  I have been a stuffer of emotions. I would numb them or stuff them deep inside. I am learning to lean into the emotion and observe it. Oh, so this is anger. My throat is constricted and my head is hot. Oh, so this is sadness. My stomach is clenched and tears are streaming down my face. I love the analogy that I am just the movie screen and that the movie actually being projected is my thoughts. I am able to just be the movie screen and not the movie. Let go of the thoughts that create the emotion and observe.

This has been a deep and deliberate practice for several months, but I am reaping the rewards. Create space for what you really want and let go. It is better.

Letting Go and Moving On

You are still mad that you didn’t get that plum promotion. You are still ruminating on the time you totally blew Thanksgiving dinner some 15…er 20 years ago. You still can’t believe that that guy from Sophomore year never called you back. You’ll never forgive your parents for not being perfect. Turns out that all this ruminating and dredging up all the past sins of you and others is a recipe for long term unhappiness. It’s time to let go and move on.

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It’s crazy how much time that most of us spend on rehashing the sins and failures of the past again and again and again. Or “should-ing” all over ourselves. The “what ifs” take over and suddenly we are on a new trajectory that is completely false and, in fact, painful. There are some steps you can take to get past the past. The rehash. The regurgitation. Want some freedom? Here are a few ideas:

 

  • Reframe.  As Mark Chernoff writes, “Oftentimes letting go is simply changing the labels you place on a situation – it’s looking at the same situation with fresh eyes and an open mind.”  So, change the frame around the situation.  Didn’t get the promotion? This is a great opportunity to learn something new and completely different.  You could be kicking butt as a yoga instructor. What an opportunity.  That dry turkey from so many years ago?  It’s a success because absolutely no one remembers it but you.  They all remember what a great time they had and how you produced the WHOLE dinner on your own.  You are the Thanksgiving Hero!  Your imperfect parents?  Yeah but didn’t they get you safely to adulthood.  Are you a bit thicker skinned because of the bumps along the way?  Thanks Mom and Dad for giving me resilience.  Reframe your trials and tribulations.

 

  • Effort.   This was my insight from this past week’s mediation. Did you give “it” your best effort? Especially at the end of what you thought was a lifetime relationship.  Did you give it your best? Were you your best self? If so, let it go. If you didn’t give your best effort then maybe you should revisit and show up with your best. When you have given it your very best, then it’s time to let go. Giving only a little effort and letting go just means it was never that important to you. If you are constantly doing this, you may just be skimming through life. Give your best effort and then, walk away with your head held high. You gave it your best. Move on.

 

  • Emotions.  You cannot go around, you must go through. I believed that I could cry a few times and then tip toe around the grief. Nope. You need to feel it. Accept it. Live it.  Fully sense the constraint in the pit of your stomach, the heat on your forehead and the tightening of your throat. Then label it. “Oh…so this is grief.” Definitely find a time and private place to do this (so staff meeting isn’t a good time for this). Skipping this step only ensures that it will come back again and again. Experiencing it eventually makes it clear enough so that you can move on.  For me the barometer was when I told the story of loss to someone new, I didn’t get choked up anymore.  Be sure to live through the emotions.

 

  • Care.  Take care of yourself. What does self-care look like for you? Is it a new dress? A facial? Going for a ten-mile hike? Fishing along a stream? Making a seven-course meal for yourself? Seeing the latest feature film? Karaoke? Roller skating? Sky diving? Scuba diving? Sitting on the beach with a great book? Taking that new yoga class? One of the main things about letting go and moving on is making yourself a priority. Since suffering my loss, I’ve been driving once a week for 70 miles for a group meditation practice. It recharges me and resets my brain. Take care of yourself.

 

  • Gratitude.  My home was flooded during Hurricane Matthew some nine plus months ago. I had a list of over ten thousand things that needed to get done to finish the house. I don’t focus on that list. It’s debilitating to focus on all that is wrong. Instead I write in my gratitude journal every day about what is going right! It’s much more uplifting. This past weekend, my attic was finally empty of all its contents. E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. What a weight was lifted. I am so grateful. Being grateful rewires your brain to the positive. Show your gratitude.

 

  • Truth.   In one of my recent readings I read the Total Truth Process by Jack Canfield. The premise is to write a letter to someone who has hurt or injured you at any point in your life. It could be anything from your parents to middle school to the nun who smacked your hand in catechism class. I have a list of folks and I am working my way through the list (don’t worry, I’m sure you aren’t on my list).  Anyway, write a letter answering Canfield’s questions:
  1. Anger and resentment. I’m angry that … I hate that … I’m fed up with … I resent …
  2. Hurt. It hurt me when … I felt sad when … I feel hurt that … I feel disappointed…
  3. Fear. I was afraid that … I feel scared when … I get afraid that I…
  4. Remorse, regret, and accountability. I’m sorry that … Please forgive me for …
  5. Wants. All I ever want(ed) … I want you to … I want(ed) … I deserve …
  6. Love, compassion, forgiveness, and appreciation. I understand that … I appreciate … I  love you for … I forgive you for … Thank you for …

I haven’t given the letters or talked about them with the person I have addressed         them to but it is quite cathartic to get it on paper and out of my head.  Sometimes bullet #3 showed up.  Sometimes not.  But I highly recommend writing the truth down.

This is all a process and cannot be sped up (although I wish it could be).  Having a coach can be helpful as well.  My coach pointed out some great resources on transitions.  Having a third unrelated party to provide insight and thoughtful questions can be invaluable. What do you need to let go of?

Going Solo

Have you ever been to a movie by yourself? Have you ever eaten in a high-end restaurant on your own? Have you ever planned a week-long vacation all by yourself? Turns out these are a great fear for most folks. The fear of everyone staring and thinking they are a loser because they couldn’t “find” anyone to tag along. The supposition is the appearance of abject loneliness in front of strangers, where we will then be “found out” and embarrassed.

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I travel frequently on my own, mostly due to business. I attend conferences in various cities and typically end up being by myself a fair amount of the time. I have to tell you, it actually can be quite liberating and exciting to be on your own. There are many advantages to being on your own as you travel, eat and engage in all kinds of activities that we typically think of doing with others.

Here are the advantages of going solo:

  • Itinerary.  Guess what? You get to decide where you want to go. Chinatown? Little Italy? Koreatown? Germantown? It’s all up to you. No need to take a poll of what your family, friends or co-workers want to do. It’s all up to you. I went to Scottsdale earlier this year and took a hike in the botanical gardens. It was all on my own itinerary. I felt like I was able to connect to an area of Scottsdale I had never been to before and engage my inner adventurer, all by using an Uber driver or two, and venturing into uncharted territory. Set your own itinerary.

 

  • Food.  We all have people in our lives who can’t have lentils, milk or super spicy food. So what happens? We end up eating what everyone else will eat and never go to that great Lebanese place or order that burrata appetizer. I remember the first time I traveled on business some 25 years ago to Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was scared to eat out all by myself. I brought a book and a magazine, just so I could look occupied. Turned out it was no big deal. I had a wonderful meal and no one “stared”. We mostly get caught up in our own head that everyone is looking. Turns out, everyone else is in their own head. Relax. No one is staring. Eat alone and eat the food you want.

 

  • Pace.  Have you ever been to a museum with someone who had to read EVERY description on every piece of art? You end up retracing your steps to make sure you don’t lose your companion. Or you want to see and feed every animal at the zoo, while your companion is anxious to get to the next destination. When you are on your own, you set your own pace. At the botanical gardens in Scottsdale, I was most interested in the large Saguaro cactus (think Roadrunner cartoons). I found some other lovely cactus and flora, but I made a beeline for the Saguaros. No one complained or held me back because I was able to set my own pace.

 

  • Perspective.  You end up seeing things in a new way. When you are traveling with a companion, you may end up focusing on pleasing the other person and making sure they are entertained. When you are alone, you are present. You aren’t distracted by someone else’s attention, or their needs and wants. You are free to smell the roses or not. Grab something to eat or not. Sit and stare at a portrait by Van Gogh for an hour or not. On my recent trip to Provincetown, I felt like the supreme observer. The colors, the pace of the town, the various groups of tourists and locals. I was able to drink it all in from my perspective.

 

  • Envelope.  Bend and break out of the envelope. According to the Whil blog, “The LA Times interviewed almost 100 people and found that only 30% would be willing to go to the movies alone.” I remember going to movies by myself back in my twenties. It was uncomfortable the very first time. I felt like the vanguard. But be realistic. You are alone in the dark in a venue that does not invite interaction. Isn’t this the perfect venue to go to alone? I saw Wonder Woman last week and the only issue I had was that I jumped at a scarier part of the film. No big deal. No one is taking notes. Actually there’s no one there was to make fun of me. Press the envelope.

 

  • Spotlight.  Turns out, there isn’t a spotlight on you. As Justin Keller wrote for Whil, “The reason no one will notice you is ‘the spotlight effect’, which is the natural tendency to think that others notice us much more than they actually do– and it’s been tested and proven through the cunning use of bright yellow Barry Manilow t-shirts. Students were forced to wear these bright shirts to class and were asked how many students they thought would notice. The subjects thought, on average, about 50% of the class would notice them. In reality, fewer than 20% of the students noticed the shirts. People are usually so lost in their own thoughts that they don’t pay attention to what’s happening around them.” There is no spotlight.

 

I have to admit, I haven’t taken a week-long vacation on my own, but I really admire those who do. I also would like to attempt a longer hike on my own (say more than 3 miles). For now, they are on my bucket list. Enjoying your own company is so important. Let’s face it, if you don’t enjoy your own company, why would anyone else? What are you afraid to do on your own?

Quit Keeping Score

It’s Christmas morning and you realize that you spent $100 more on one child than the other. Ugh. Will your daughter think you love her less? You have definitely done the dishes AND laundry every day this week and your spouse took the garbage out once. Hmmm. Seems a bit unfair. You never seem to get invited to that charity golf outing where all the deals are done. But Bob? Yeah, he gets invited every time. What you are doing is keeping score. The problem is if you are ahead or behind, it’s just not helping you.

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There is a cost to all this score keeping. And you are the one who pays the cost. First of all, you damage your self-worth. In keeping score, you are feeling less than by comparison. Second, the information you are scoring against is always flawed. It’s just your perception. Maybe Bob is a horrible golfer so he’s getting invited to make everyone else look good. Maybe your spouse spent three hours in the rain at a baseball game for your kid. Your kids never saw the price tags of their presents and don’t equate money with being loved. Lastly, it doesn’t move you forward. In fact, it puts you in a negative spiral, where you are constantly comparing yourself to confirm that you are overworked and underappreciated. Not a good space to be in.

So here is the antidote to keeping score:

  • It’s an inside job.  Who is exactly keeping score? You are. It’s starts with you acknowledging that you are doing it. I used to resent doing the dishes. I grew up in a family where Mom cooked and Dad washed the dishes (pretty remarkable since my dad was born in 1925). I have expected in my married life that my spouse would do the dishes. And if he didn’t? I resented it. That resentment was not hurting anyone but myself, and it would snowball into who bought groceries, vacuumed and took the kids to doctor visits. As Byron Katie, author of Love What Is, wrote, “What I call ‘doing the dishes’ is the practice of loving the task in front of you.” Resenting it or loving it is an inside job. Choose love.

 

  • Catch yourself doing something right.  It’s easy to get caught up in the negative. You can’t seem to get the DVD player to work or you still haven’t figured out pivot tables in Excel. Think about what you have been successful at. It’s funny. I’ve been writing this blog weekly for over 5 years and have been read in over 100 countries. That’s pretty cool. In fact, it’s awesome. But I completely forget about how amazing that is in my day-to-day life until someone makes a comment. It takes a moment. Like when I ran into someone who had been a reader of mine for years in Chicago (yes, you Chris) and he told me how much he loves my blog. And for a brief moment, I felt like a Rock Star! Tally up what you’ve accomplished. Maybe you tried a new recipe or made someone’s day by calling them out of the blue. Take stock and tally up what you are doing right.

 

  • Be present.  Truth be told, I now enjoy washing dishes. It’s a moment to be present, and mixing warm water with soap is a lovely experience. It’s a moment for me to get out of my head and back into my body. Listen to the water, feel the suds on your hands and the ceramic of the plate. As Byron Katie posits, “We are really alive when we live as simply as that — open, waiting, trusting, and loving to do what appears in front of us now.” Washing the dishes is about living and loving what is present now.

 

  • Break it into pieces. I travel fairly frequently and I used to hate returning home to a mountain of unsorted mail, a full suitcase of dirty clothes and a dishwasher full of unclean dishes. It can be overwhelming. The secret is to piece it out. One task. Run the dishwasher. Sort the mail. One piece of mail here, one over there. Sort the laundry. One load of laundry at a time. In the age of rapid technology and moving at breakneck speeds, it’s all about breaking things down into doable chunks. Even better if you can have a smile on your face and take pleasure in the task and your accomplishments. Escape the overwhelm by doing one piece at a time.

 

  • Be grateful.  When you notice that your spouse mowed the lawn, thank them. When someone compliments you on your facilitation, thank them. Gratitude really takes you out of score-keeping so long as you don’t add anything on like “Thanks for doing the dishes. Will you go clean the garage now?” Nope, that is not straight-up gratitude. Don’t qualify it. Just say thank you, be genuine and be done. And put a period at the end of the sentence. Express gratitude without trying to score a point.

 

As I ask my coaching clients frequently, “Who are you in control of?” The only one you can control is yourself. Keeping score suggests that you can have an impact on the final score. The only score you are in control of is your own self and how you respond. What do you keep score on?

7 Tenets of The Happiness Program

Your coworker hasn’t responded to your proposal email in the last five minutes, so you assume they don’t like the idea. Your son doesn’t answer his phone, so you assume he’s in the hospital. You don’t hear back from the doctor, so you’ve decided it must be catastrophic. This is the negative bent of your brain looking for the worst-case scenario.

I have recently found the antidote for what people refer to as your “lizard” or “monkey” brain. With all of the recent turmoil in my life, I decided to attend The Happiness Program. It has changed my outlook on life in many ways. Even though there are still a thousand loose ends and unanswered emails on moving back into my house post-hurricane, I am in a state of equilibrium and peace.

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The heart of the program is learning a meditation with very prescribed breathing techniques and timing. I can’t describe it here, and I’m not qualified to teach it, but I can give you the remaining tenets of the program, which are based on the teachings of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, taught worldwide at The Art of Living.  I wrote about 5 of the tenets in my previous post, which you can read here.

Sri Sri’s important things to always remember:

  • Accept people and situations as they are.  I truly believe that everyone is a closeted control freak. The constant strive for control is exhausting. In an age of constant uncertainty, you can’t control anything but your response. Gary Coxe’s book title is apt as well: Don’t Let Others Rent Space in Your Head. How much space are you renting out to others? Don’t give up the valuable real estate of your beautiful brain to anyone else. Acceptance will set you free from the struggle.

 

  • Don’t be a football of other’s opinions.  I wrote an entire piece on what I think is a similar quote from Wayne Dyer: “What other people think of me is none of my business.” Gulp. How much of your time do you go around worrying about what other people think of you? Do you really have any control over it? Nope. Didn’t think so. Focus on your opinion of yourself. Do you like that dress on you? Then wear it. I coach so many women who are focused on other’s opinions. They are stuck until they figure out that their own self-worth is what’s important.

 

  • Stretch out your hands first.  Be the first to say hello or smile. My class had about 12 folks and most of them were immigrants from India. I could not pronounce most of their names. On the first day, we all introduced ourselves by shaking hands and having to say, “I am Cathy and I belong to you.” It was incredibly powerful to say that to a complete stranger, twelve times. Don’t we all really belong to each other? Wouldn’t that approach solve some world problems? Be the first to reach out.

 

  • Take responsibility.  Own what you do. Don’t point fingers. Blaming others or not owning up for your own life makes you untrustworthy. Someone did this to me recently. A relationship had not panned out and she blamed me for the fallout. I was not in the relationship nor did I have anything to do with it falling apart, since I did not know the other party. In the past, I would have felt guilty or argued back. But now I realize I can only take responsibility for myself and no one else. That is their path. Stay off their path and take responsibility for yours.

 

  • Complain = irresponsibility.  I have been suffering from this for months. I have complained about contractors, insurance companies, FEMA and my mortgage company. It’s debilitating. Take it from me and get your head back by not complaining. It takes you into a negative spiral, where all you look for is confirming information that everything is falling apart. Stay away from other’s who complain, if possible, as it is infectious. It’s hurting your ability to be happy.

 

  • Don’t try; just do it.  As Yoda famously said, “Do. Or do not do. There is no try.” I’ve been doing and doing and doing. The secret for me is to tackle only a few things at a time. It’s overwhelming to deal with everything at once. When I coach others, this is probably one of the biggest pieces of advice my clients take away from the process. Dice it up into doable pieces. Accomplish a little piece and the moment starts. Just do it.

 

  • Whatever you resist – persists. Psychologist Carl Jung contended that “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.” This is especially true with feelings. Most of us try to stuff our feelings by medicating, eating or ignoring them. It’s so important to feel the feelings of betrayal, or anger, or abandonment. You can’t go around it; you have to go through it to move on. Label the feeling as it comes up. So this is what betrayal feels like – burning in my stomach and tension in my shoulders. So this is what abandonment feels like – tears streaming down my face and wailing from my gut. You have to feel it to get past it.

I highly recommend the course. I am now into my 21st day of using the meditation and I am feeling more optimistic, more equilibrium and, slowly but surely, letting go of my resentment and anger towards others. What tenet resonates for you?

5 Tenets of the Happiness Program

It’s been a really rough 9 months. Suffice it to say, I am in the dead center of incredible uncertainty and change. Maybe you are coping with something similar and it’s difficult not to just get stuck and wallow in the misery. Like being sucked in by quicksand. Pick your poison: joblessness, addiction, abandonment, illness, loss. It.Can.Seem.Insurmountable. As I vacillated between vindictiveness, paranoia and helplessness, I decided to look for something to center me. I found a meet up group called “Secrets of the Breath and Happiness.” It was a 75-minute drive, but it was free and on a Sunday.

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I signed up and now it has opened a door of enlightenment and profoundly changed my state of mind.

It wasn’t just the one class. The one-hour class taught me how to clear my head. A head that has been a twirling mess of rehearsing vitriolic arguments and should-ing myself into helplessness. I finally had a mind that was at rest, even if it was for just 5 minutes. I was hooked. At the end of class, they mentioned The Happiness Program, which was going to start in about a week and a half. I noodled it over and decided that, for my own sanity, I needed to sign up. Thank goodness I did.

The heart of the program is learning a meditation with very prescribed breathing techniques and timing. I can’t describe it here and I’m not qualified to teach it but I can give you five of the tenets from the program, which are based on the teachings of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and are taught worldwide at The Art of Living

Five of Sri Sri’s important things to always remember:

  • Present moment is inevitable.  Seems obvious but how much of your time do you spend anticipating or dreading the future? Or rehashing and reliving the past? It’s like you are carrying along a huge burden and blocking your ability to be present in this moment right now. Instead of listening to the birds chirping or tasting your chicken salad, you start planning your next vacation or your grocery list. Appreciate the moment. Be in the moment. It is inevitable.

 

  • Live in the present. How much of your time do you spend staring at a screen or device to escape the present moment or (God forbid) be bored? Be here right now. Screen time has become, in my opinion, the new smoking. I can remember going to the movies when I lived in New York City and standing in line. At the time, I was a smoker, so my first instinct when I was bored was to light up a cigarette (back when you could smoke anywhere and be able to afford a pack of cigarettes). Walk into any restaurant or bar and everyone is engaged with their device, instead of the people that surround them. Live now.

 

  • Do your 100%.  I think about this a lot when I do my daily meditation that I learned in The Happiness Program. I remember our teacher Ravi saying, “Are you giving 100%?” I think about that when I start to get sloppy with the practice. I think about the Gallup statistics that only about 35% of employees are actively engaged at work. So they are giving 100% when they show up for work. But what about the others? Think about how much better everything would be if we all gave 100%. Do your 100%.

 

  • Don’t see intentions in other people’s mistakes.  Boy did this hit home. This was the basis of all my paranoia. I also think about Brene Browns assertion: “What if they are just doing their best?” It helps me keep a compassionate space for those who have injured me or not. I can remember trying to hit a baseball as a kid. I swung and swung and swung. I never hit a ball. Ever. I was not trying to miss the ball. I had every intention of hitting it. I was trying my best. So is everyone else.

 

  • Opposite values are complimentary – every hardship makes you a better and stronger person.  This seems counter-intuitive. If you think about it, every struggle has a gift. It’s teaching you something. In my case, I know a lot more about electrical, plumbing and flooring than I ever did before my home was flooded. Heck, I know a lot about FEMA, SBA, insurance and mortgages. I also know that I am so much more resilient and wiser than I had been giving myself credit for. I also have a lot more support than I ever realized and it’s OK to ask for help. It’s a four letter word but there are so many generous people out there. It’s all here to teach us something.

 

I highly recommend the course. I am now into my 14th day of using the meditation and I am feeling more optimistic, more equilibrium and, slowly but surely, letting go of my resentment and anger towards others. Which of these resonates for you?

Stick to Your Path

You’re jealous because your coworker just got a new red sports car and your car is a beat up 90’s Honda. You’re upset because you weren’t selected for the super duper high profile project but your arch nemesis from work did. Your ex is posting cozy pictures of her new boyfriend all over social media and you’re home alone on a House of Cards binge. You feel inadequate. You feel sorry for yourself. You are on the comparison Highway to Inadequacy. You need to get off that highway and focus on your own path.

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I’m a speaker. An executive coach. A mother. A dog owner. An author. I don’t get paid what Tony Robbins gets paid to speak. I don’t have the same client list as Marshall Goldsmith. My kids (are awesome) but they aren’t on the cover of Time magazine or on a Wheaties box (yet). My dog hasn’t won any Westminster Dog Shows. I haven’t written a single book and, therefore, never sold one (although there is a free copy here). The point is, how high is that bar for you? If I compared myself to everyone around me on all aspects of my life, I would be sorely disappointed. Stick to your path and quit looking at everyone else’s.

Here are some ways to do that:

  • Acceptance.  Be Ok with the path that is in front of you. I was stuck in a should cycle for the last nine months on decisions regarding the rebuilding of my house post-Hurricane Matthew. I should have purchased all new cabinets. I should have bought new kitchen furniture. I should have gone with a different electrician. This is wearing you down. All that “should-ing“. Accept what decisions you have made and move forward. All that should-ing is making you dwell on the past and draining you.

 

  • Different.  I love this quote from Internal Acceptance Movement: “Everyone has their own unique journey. A path that’s right for someone else won’t necessarily be a path that’s right for you. Your path isn’t right or wrong, or good or bad. It’s just different.” What I try to do, say when I see that new red sports car in the company parking lot, is tell myself: “Wow. Suzy really likes cars. Good for her.” Everyone values different things, be it material possessions or experiences. I love to travel and maybe my son doesn’t. We are on different paths and that’s OK.

 

  • Pace.  This is my biggest problem. I am always in forward motion. I want to accomplish the next thing. I want it done yesterday. This makes me incredibly impatient with other folks who operate on a different pace (i.e.: slower). It doesn’t bring out my best side. As I tap my fingers, waiting for a response to ten rapid fire texts to my assistant. Take a breath and connect with your inner Buddha. Acknowledge your pace and quit trying to have people get on board with your pace. That’s how people start to stumble. Stay in lane and keep your own pace and don’t worry about anyone else’s.

 

  • Suspend.  I know you’ve done this. You see that your coworker has put on weight or is wearing something that, from your vantage point, is unattractive. You pass judgment in your head. “Wow. Janet needs to drop a few pounds” or “What made her think that looked good on her?” It’s difficult to suspend judgment but you can label it. Say instead, “So Cathy, this is what judgment looks like.” Step away from the comparing paths and label it.

 

  • Present.  Be in this moment right now. And now. And now. Don’t try and recreate history. No, your ex is not coming back and that’s OK right now. Trust that the path you are on is just fine and it’s taking you in the right direction. Don’t “catastrophicize” the future. Sometimes paths cross and it’s lovely, and there are wonderful memories made, and then they uncross. There will be new paths to cross in the future. As you walk your path, be present.

 

You may not end up where you intended to go but you will be off of the Highway of Inadequacy. Trust you are exactly where you need to be. Trust that you are enough. You are enough.

Cape Cod 50 years later

I am fortunate that I get to travel for business to lots of great locations like San Antonio, New Orleans and San Diego. When I initially found out I was going to Boston for a conference, I wasn’t that excited. Boston is a difficult town to navigate by car and the location of the conference meant that I would need to rent a car instead of rely on Uber or Lyft to get around. I also set the intention to try and take a vacation day while there in order to take in the sites. So the question was what sites to take in.

I called my trusty traveling companion: my daughter Natalie. We have been to many places together and I knew she would be a good person to bounce ideas off of. My first inclination was to go north to Wolfeboro, New Hampshire and return to beautiful Lake Winnipesauke, where I spent my summers as a child. My dad worked every summer at a boy’s camp near Alton Bay, New Hampshire. In the last five years, I have stopped by several times to visit. A trip down memory lane. Another option was Cape Cod. As a small kid, we would make a side trip to Cape Cod on our annual pilgrimage to New Hampshire from Wilmington, Delaware, usually because a relative was vacationing there. Natalie suggested, “So one trip is lake water and the other is ocean water. One is down memory lane and the other is an adventure.” I realized I hadn’t been to a beach in several years (even though I live 80 minutes from the North Carolina coast). I also hadn’t been on a solo adventure lately. So ocean it was.

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My memory of Cape Cod is really fuzzy and based on photos of the trips we took there, I have to believe I was about 9 years old. I recall that my Uncle Jim and Aunt Naomi would rent a home somewhere on the Cape and we would stop by in our old blue Ford Country Squire Station Wagon. By we, I mean my parents and my two older brothers, Dave and Rick. I remember always claiming “the way back” in that station wagon, so I could sleep in a makeshift camp amongst the luggage and decks of cards. I remember thinking that renting a house for a week seemed crazy. Why not just stay there forever? I remember taking a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. I remember grabbing clams along the beach. I remember my two cousins Randy and Gordon. I also recall that everything seemed quite desolate.

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Flash forward to 2017. Traveling solo to the tip of Cape Cod in a day. Starting from Hyannis, I headed up Route 6. Here are the stops that I made:

Salt Pond Visitor Center:  I saw the sign for the Visitor Center at the Cape Cod National Seashore. I made a beeline to one of the rangers and asked for a map. I then asked the ranger if he could recommend a few hikes as I headed out to Provincetown. He was very helpful, highlighting the map and the exits off of Route 6. What’s a map, Cathy? Don’t you have your phone for that? Sure. Maps are old school but I have learned that when out in the hinterland along the coast, one of two things can happen. Your cell dies from taking too many photos and keeps trying to connect via roaming, or it can’t find a signal and you are left randomly roaming without a map and no chance of returning to home base.

Marconi Station Site:  I think I would recommend this site the most. I took the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail, which was nice but the coolest spot along the Atlantic Ocean is the Marconi Station Site itself. It has a nice overlook about halfway up the cape, where you can see the waves crashing. It’s a nice vantage point. But the amazing thing is that Marconi Station was the site of the first Transatlantic wireless telegram address to Edward VII King of England by Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States. The station was built in 1901 and Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company was the predecessor to RCA. How cool is that? A little piece of history halfway up the arm of Cape Cod.

Race Point Beach: So here is where I finally stood on an Atlantic Ocean beach. The classic dunes and grass that lead to a bare strip of gravelly sand. This is the Cape Cod of my childhood. No boardwalk. No snow cones. No hot dog stands. Just perfection. The ocean waves crashing and no one in the water (bit chilly). There were some folks braving the wind and playing in the sand. There is the simplicity of the Cape Cod beach experience. Sweet peace as the boats roll by and the seagulls dive up and down. I highly recommend the drive to Race Point.

Provincetown:  So by now I don’t have a cell signal (see, I told you), so I followed the map and drove until I saw some cute shops and restaurants. I parked on a pier jutting out into Provincetown Harbor. I asked the parking guy for a food recommendation. He asked what I wanted and I said “seafood.” He sent me on my way to the Lobster Pot. Little did I know that it is apparently a Provincetown institution. I had the best lobster roll I have ever had in my life. A table with a view of the harbor. Wonderful. With a full belly, I shopped a bit and took in the quaint, quirky village. Did I mention that after three solid days of cold rain, there were blue skies and temps in the upper 60’s? Simply marvelous.

Highland Light:  This has a lovely view of marshlands and the Atlantic coast. The lighthouse was moved back in the 90’s as the coast line has eroded. Lovely Cape Cod buildings with the grasses swaying in the breeze and the Lupine in bloom.

Red Maple Swamp Trail:  I have never associated Cape Code with marshes, but this recently finished trail takes you down into a Red Maple swamp along a boardwalk hovering over the marsh water. There was a cedar tree with branches so large you had to crawl under them to stay on the trail. I highly recommend the trail if just for the birds’ calling alone. I heard sounds I had never heard before.

Hyannis Port:  I had dinner in Hyannis Port and realize now that this is the spot all the ferries leave for Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. So I must have been here at some other point in my life. I had a bucket of steamers which are so much more authentic that the ones I used to get on the west coast. Unique little town with a ton of boats and a small army of people orchestrating cars, people and ferries. Quite the bustling village.

Overall, it was a wonderful day of hiking, shopping, eating and adventure. Cape Cod on a weekday before the summer heat is a wonderful treat.

Per aspera ad astra (Through hardships to the stars)

You can’t believe you got a flat tire on the way to your final interview for that killer job you are dying for. You can’t believe your ex just charged something on your joint account without telling you. You can’t believe the contractor just delayed the repairs on your house one more week. Hardships are going to come day in and day out, some worse than others. How you face them is critical to your well-being.

I remember the worst year of my life. I’ve been reflecting on it a lot since my dog and I were displaced by Hurricane Matthew seven months ago. The year was 1997 and I lived in Windsor, California. My son was 18 months old and my daughter was 4. I owned a restaurant that I was changing from a Sizzler franchise to a stand-alone restaurant called Coyote’s. I was attending the University of San Francisco (USF) at night for my Master’s in Human Resource and Organization Development. I owned a 3000-square foot house with an enormous mortgage. I asked my then-husband of thirteen years to help me carry the groceries from the car. He said, “No,” as he lay on the couch. It was there and then I decided I was leaving him. Needless to say, it was a tumultuous year. But I made it through.

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So why reflect on that you ask? Because I was so much better after surviving that year. I found out how strong I was and that I can survive anything. Here are my reflections on how to survive hardships and arrive safely in the stars:

 

  • Support.  Luckily, my parents lived a half block down the street so I had built-in childcare and a lot of financial support as I navigated the divorce. I also had a cohort of students at USF. A cohort is a group of people around the same age with similar interests. Our cohort was comprised of students in the same class for the entire coursework for our Master’s degrees. I can guarantee you, I would have dropped out of school if it wasn’t for that cohort and their support as I separated from my husband. My team at the restaurant were completely supportive as well. When you hit rough patches in your life, find some solid support.

 

  • Exercise.  I belonged to a gym at the time. I didn’t drop my membership, even though it was a financial hardship. I still needed to show up for class and exercise. It cleared my head. It helped me focus on something else besides the overwhelming situation that was my life at the time. Getting back into your body and out of your head is so important. I did not meditate back in 1997, but I do now and anything that gets me into my body and out of my head is so important. Be sure and exercise.

 

  • Faith. Practically everyone around me told me to sell my house. I mean everyone. But deep down inside I knew I could figure out how to hold onto it. I had faith in myself. I knew I was a strong, smart, hardworking woman and I could somehow swing that mortgage and make it through. I ended up renting out rooms in the house to some really great roommates whose rent helped me afford the house. I didn’t end up selling that house for another five years as it remained a constant home for my young children. I even sold it for a profit. Keep the faith. Believe in yourself.

 

  • Feel.  It’s so easy during difficult times to stuff your feelings. It’s easy to drink or medicate to dull the sensations. It’s so important to feel the sensations and feel your feelings. I know I grieved and cried a lot during the separation but I didn’t know to label the feelings. Now I do. So this is what “betrayal” feels like (pain in my stomach and heat on my neck). So this is what “abandonment” feels like (tears streaming down my face and a knot in my shoulders). As the famous unattributed quote says, “Sometimes you have to go through things and not around them.” Feel your way through.

 

  • Forgive.  It turned out that there were many sins my ex had committed that I was not aware of during our marriage. Initially, I was angry and hurt and most of all – resentful. It took me many years to forgive him. It wasn’t easy. But holding onto that resentment was causing me more harm than good. Searching for more ways of how he hurt me was only reopening the wounds and scarring them all over again. Finally forgiving him set me free. We are all trying to do the best we can. So was he. So was I. This is the most difficult part of getting past hardship. Remember to forgive.

 

  • Stand up.  I had many blows during that awful year including back taxes and other financial setbacks. Every time I had a blow, I got back up. I didn’t crawl into bed (or a bottle). I got back up to face the next day. My tenacity for getting back up helped me survive. Knowing that I had two small kids depending on me was a huge motivation as well. They are still my motivation to this day. Stand back up because there is someone out there who needs you.

 

In retrospect, that year taught me a lot about my own resilience and how much I adored and still adore my children. The resultant stars from that hardship are my own self-reliance and two beautiful, hardworking children who love and count on me. It doesn’t get much better than that. What are your stars?

Transforming the Negativity Bias

This starts in grade school. Two kids are whispering and you assume it’s about you. Your boss hasn’t responded to your email in a week and you think she’s getting ready to demote you. Your child is late getting home and you assume they have been in a car accident. It’s all hardwired into your brain. Your ancestors didn’t wait around to find out if the rustle in the bushes was a saber tooth tiger. They ran. If they didn’t run, you wouldn’t be here.

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The problem is that this constant focus on the negative in today’s day and age, is bad for your body and brain. If something good and something bad happen in the same day, you end up focusing on the bad. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt says, “Over and over, the mind reacts to bad things more quickly, strongly and persistently than to equivalent good things.” As Tony Robbins wrote for the New York Times, “It turns out that cultivating positive emotions such as joy, contentment, interest, pride and love pays huge dividends.” The good news is that you can rewire your brain towards the positive.

Here is how to transform your negativity bias:

  • Gratitude.  Taking stock of what is going right. It could be as simple as a roof over your head, being grateful for your child graduating college, or having your boss actively listen to you. I personally have been writing in a gratitude journal for over five years. I used to do it in the evening and then switched to the morning. I used to write five individual things like “Daddy”, “Baci”, “Dinner”, “Natalie” and “Ben”. Now I write three things and say, “I am grateful for Janine’s support. I am grateful for Joe’s attentive listening. I am grateful for a great dinner at SoCo.” It’s more specific and writing the word “grateful” has a bigger impact. Be grateful.

 

  • Store.  Look back right now at something that has happened positive today. I just had delicious bacon and eggs with my daughter. She really enjoyed the bacon. Now I need to stop, dwell and think about that positive experience, while I take a few breaths in order to store the positive experience in my head. This is an idea posited by Rick Hanson in a TedTalk. When you relive a positive experience in your mind for even a few seconds, it rewires your brain towards the positive. Be sure to be storing the positive experiences.

 

  • Score.  I struggle with this one. I even have Positivity as one of my top 5 from StrengthsFinders. According to John Gottman, there needs to be at least a 3 to 1 ratio and, ideally, a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative feedback you give the people in your life. So try and keep score. Are you telling your kids everything they did wrong and how bad their grades are or looking at what went right? Like, “Hey, thanks for getting up on time” or “Thanks for putting your books away.” We all want praise. It makes us feel better and with us all being hardwired for negativity, remembering that the one criticism you give will likely live on and all the positivity will float away. Keep score of your sincere positive feedback.

 

  • Visualize.  As Marelisa Fabrega wrote for Daring to Live Fully, “Whenever something negative happens to you—for example, someone says something mean to you—visualize a drop of black ink falling into a large container of clear water. Although at first the ink is very black, it quickly mixes with the rest of the water until it’s gone, and all you can see is the clear water again.” I really like the image of the negativity diluting into clear sparkling water.

 

  • Reframe.  Coaching is all about reframing. Coaching is so beneficial because the coach isn’t connected to the outcome. They bring a different perspective and put a different frame around it. My daughter and I just attended a lovely 6-course dinner. One of the courses was not very good. All of the rest were stunning. I started getting wrapped up in the one bad course and started to regret the entire evening. Luckily, my daughter was able to reframe it for me. “Hey, so one course wasn’t so great, but the rest was terrific and it was a magical evening.” It was. A perfect sunset. Lovely wine. Delicious food. Great conversation. Reframe towards the positive.

 

  • Realistic optimism. As Tony Schwarz wrote for the New York Times, “The notion is not to become an uncritical Pollyanna – but instead to practice “realistic optimism.” That means telling yourself the most hopeful and empowering story possible about any given situation without denying or minimizing the facts.” Thus, you aren’t in denial but you can create a story that has a more positive outcome.

 

Either way you flow through your day, your positivity or negativity are contagious. Try and spread the positive stuff and ignite others.