Getting Past Doubt.

Doubt is paralyzing. It grabs you by the shoulders and says, “There is no way in hell you can keep this house, Cathy.” “There is no way in hell you can ride a bike for ten miles.” “There is no way in hell you can run in a marathon.”  It’s the super glue that suddenly holds your shoes to the ground.  It’s the snooze button on your alarm that keeps you from the training run. It’s the second, third and fourth chocolate chip cookie that keeps you on the couch instead of calling the mortgage company. Doubt is insidious and pervasive. It’s the devil’s advocate running amok in our head. You and I both need to shut it down.

I have struggled with self-doubt my entire life. My bet is, that you have as well. The thought that only the people who were blessed with magical powers, the chosen few who actually achieve their dreams. But as I sit here, almost 57, I have overcome that nasty self-doubt and when I really reflect, I am pretty fortunate and, dare I say, happy.

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Here are the secrets to getting past doubt:

  • The Rule of 10-10-10. I have used this in coaching. Suzy Welch wrote on this in her book of the same title. When you are faced with a decision look at the ramifications for each way in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years. So, in a major decision like holding onto your house or foreclosure, it’s important to follow the process. In 10 minutes, either holding onto the house or letting it go is devastating.  In 10 months, the credit implications of walking away could be catastrophic but the financial burden of staying could be paralyzing. In 10 years, the equity in the house could be a financial boom and the credit fiasco would be a long-ago memory. When faced with doubt in a big decision, be sure to look at the long-term ramifications.

 

  • Notice that you’re alright right now. This is from Rick Hanson.  Our negative biased brain wants to look for negative meaning in everything around us.  So that rustle in the bushes is a venomous snake instead of an innocent bird. Doubt is partially built on this same negative brain bias. Thoughts of – “I am too old. Too fat. Too slow” start to paralyze our forward momentum. In reality.  If you take stock.  You are alright, right now. I say this because if you are reading this post you aren’t on a sinking ship or a burning building. I have shoes on my feet, a roof over my head and, thank goodness, a good Wi-Fi connection.

 

  • Take stock. It is so easy to dwell on what is not going right instead of what is going well. Take stock of your accomplishments.  This does not mean you are a narcissist. It means that you can take ownership of what you have done. I’ve lived on both coasts.  I’ve traveled to South America and Europe.  I can speak Spanish reasonably well and I bake a damn good loaf of bread. I have two fantastic kids who I raised through some pretty rough transitions in my life.  Most importantly, I’ve made a difference in many people’s lives through my coaching and facilitation.  There are several people out there who started running in 5k’s and half marathons because of me. That is incredibly gratifying. Taking stock keeps doubt at bay.

 

  • Be mindful. I’ve written about my daily meditation practice from the Art of Living. It keeps me grounded in my breath. I believe I am more present because of the practice.  It’s not easy but I try to be in the present moment and not anticipating tomorrow or dredging up the past. I have recently started swimming laps. Swimming laps takes away all the distractions.  There is no iPhone, no television, no music, no conversation, or mindless eating. All you have is your body, the water and your breath.  I’m not thinking about my grocery list or if my daughter will call or about last night’s failed meatloaf. I’m not dwelling on doubting my abilities or skills.  I am in the present moment. Whether it’s mediation, swimming, yoga or a walk, find a way to get present.  It keeps the doubts at bay.

 

  • Yes and. This is the rule of thumb for improvisational comedy. It’s also a great way to brainstorm. So instead of saying, “No.” or “Yes but.” You are keeping your options open. So, if I am doubting I can keep my house out of foreclosure, I say, “Yes and I can rent out a few rooms.” Or, “Yes and I can get a second job” or “Yes and I can run a cooking class out of my kitchen.” It makes everything possible instead of impossible. It keeps your doubts under wraps.

I have not perfected this and there are times that when I get a phone message from my attorney or boss that I immediately assume the worst.  But almost immediately, I take a moment to reframe the situation and wait for more data before jumping to catastrophic conclusions. Doubt is nothing but fear rearing its ugly head.  You may have a small lapse but keep moving on.

Sticking 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 was. Your ex is posting cozy pictures of her new boyfriend all over social media and you’re home alone on a Better Call Saul 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 okay 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.

Look and Listen: Lessons from Birds

I had an amazing experience in early June, I went on a birding expedition with the Lower Neuse Bird Club. When my companion Roy suggested I go, I was a bit intimidated since “I know just enough about birds to be dangerous.” That means I know the difference between a cardinal and a blue jay (the former being red and the latter being blue). My knowledge starts and ends about there. Getting up at dark o’clock and heading out to a preserve with a bunch of folks I don’t know, to look for elusive bounty seemed impulsive. I figured I’d be lucky to see one yellow bellied sapsucker or some other assumed mythical creature. I was wrong.

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Lower Neuse Bird Club. Photo by Mike Creedon

This is what I learned from my birding adventure:

  • Expert. This whole adventure would have been foolhardy without a few experts along. We met up with the caravan from New Bern, NC in Otway, NC and then traveled to the North River Preserve in Carteret County, NC. Our expert for this trip was John Fussell. This guy is mighty in his knowledge of all things birding. Our first stop on the preserve had Fussell with iPod in hand shouting out bird names like, who has never seen a Dickcissel or Blue Grosbeak? I meekly put up my hand. I had no idea if that was a bird or a disease. Well, I soon learned that Fussell had already scouted the area that morning and was calling the birds with his mighty iPod. It was fascinating. Calling up bird like ordering up fries at a drive through. Having an expert along when birding is critical.
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Indigo Bunting. Photo by Mike Creedon.
  • Patience. As I have written previously, patience has never been my strong suit. Well, when you go birding, you better be patient. Fussell would be trying to call up a bird and there all fifteen of us stood at the ready with binoculars, high-powered cameras and scopes waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Then suddenly someone would call out the bird and its location. I was skeptical that my patience, albeit finite, would pay off. Sure enough, after struggling to find an elusive Indigo Bunting on the top of the large pine next to the tallest grass on the right of the electrical pole and five feet to the left of the ditch. Magic. There is the bluest bird I have ever seen. Not in captivity but there flitting in the top of the brush singing its song. Patience pays off.

 

  • Observant. Veteran birders are super observant. I figured a newbie like me might be lucky to see much more than one or two birds. I have never been super observant. I will say that when I am in the market for a new car or phone, all I notice is that particular car or phone. The same thing applies to birdwatching. With a few experts along, suddenly all the brush and grass disappeared and there was a Dickcissel perched on a branch. Focusing on movement and the environment around you. It’s funny, all of a sudden, there would be a bird flying overhead and someone would call out “Common Yellow Throat.” Paying attention paid off with all kinds of sightings.

 

  • Notes. It didn’t take long to notice that many of the birders were taking notes. Pretty soon, I had my phone out to take notes myself. I had no idea that I would see so many unusual birds and that I would want to remember the names. It’s like everyone was keeping tabs on the various birds they observed. Initially, I figured, what was the point? But then I realized, I might want to find out more about the birds later. And…I just might want to write a post about this experience. So, I better keep track. There were at least five to six people keeping track. By the end of the trip, I had at least twelve birds I had never seen before. And I can pull up a name like Indigo Bunting without having to use my faulty memory. Keep notes of your observations. It will keep things fresh.

 

  • Listen. I had no idea that most of birding centers around listening. This may be obvious to you. We all have heard birds singing first thing in the morning. I rarely listen to a bird’s song. Well, these birders? They know a bird’s song! They have little things that they believe the bird is singing. It’s similar to a Mourning Dove’s sound, which sounds like weeping. I can’t remember what some of the more experienced birders said, but it was interesting how once they gave an identity to what a bird sounded like — “That’s a dog, that’s a dog, that’s a dog” — that was all I could hear. The real lesson here is to just listen. Now all I hear is bird’s singing and notice how one is different from another. It’s easy to just skim over the sound but if you focus in and listen, they are all unique.

I cannot begin to tell you how helpful everyone on the expedition was. If you asked, “What is that?”, someone would chime in. If someone didn’t know, they would say so. It’s like we were all there just to experience whatever came our way. I have to say, it was a lot of fun and opened my eyes to what is really going on out there. Get outside and start to notice what is around you.

I am Intelligent and Witty. Blind Spots and the Johari Window.

I worked on a coaching certification several years ago and the classwork involved the Johari Window. The Johari Window is an instrument developed by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham and it helps you understand the way you view yourself and how others view you (or don’t). It has 56 adjectives and if you’d like to try, go to this link. So our assignment at the time was to coach a classmate through the Johari Window and my classmate, Stephen Starkey, coached me.

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Blind spots on the Johari Window are those adjectives that others selected to describe you. Of the friends and family that participated, the majority chose intelligent and witty to describe me. I was taken aback by this and my coach Steve helped me uncover why. Although I think I’m smart and that I can be witty, I don’t really own it. It’s OK for me to describe someone else with those adjectives, but it seems egotistical to own them myself. Wow. Was that a breakthrough! I thought it was OK for me to describe others as intelligent but I couldn’t embrace it myself. How is that holding me back?

This brings up a recent book I read by Sheryl Sandberg called Lean In. She describes how women hold themselves back and offers advice on how to “lean in”. I can remember being in the top of my class in elementary school and then, suddenly, flicking the switch. Smart girls (intelligent girls) weren’t valued. At least from my skewed eleven-year-old perspective. Time to lean into and recognize my attributes.

If you think your blind spots are holding you back, let’s look at some ways to embrace them:

  1. Own. The first thing I did was set up an action item to own the words. My action item was to incorporate the words into my daily meditation. You might need to incorporate them into your daily prayers, affirmations or gratitude at the end of the day. You can’t live the words unless you own them. Obviously, others already know you own them so it’s time for you  to pick them up and carry them around.
  2. Utilize. So start using them. If one of your adjectives in your blind spot is “happy”, then go out and “be happy.” Live it so that you feel it. Smile to yourself in the mirror. Don’t forget, it’s you that you need to prove this to. Most others already know that you are “happy.” Utilize the adjective so that it comes alive in you.
  3. Free. Set it free. I have to say I found this to be quite empowering since acknowledging these two blind spots. Suddenly it’s not as hard to write or develop a solution to a problem. I’ve said to myself, “Cathy, you’re intelligent and witty, writing a blog post shouldn’t be that hard…pssssht.” Like I said, it’s like a road block as been removed. Now I am free.
  4. Get over it. I have to say I was terrified to write this post. I initially felt like an egomaniac, actually putting these two words out there. I can’t embrace it unless I “get over it.” Everyone out there has attributes and it’s obvious to everyone else that you are “happy, compassionate and adaptable.” Get over it, they already see it. You’re not an ego maniac (yeah, it’s not one of the adjectives available).
  5. Live. Live your acknowledged adjectives. Keep them alive and depend on them going forward. Don’t forget to make them apart of your everyday life. This is what you “are”, so live it. Quit trying to hide your “happiness” or “silly” sense of humor. There is a reason you were gifted these adjectives, so go live it.

I hope you check out the Johari Window and see what blind spots you might be ignoring or hiding. Can’t wait to see what you find.

Cutting Loose. Lessons From Traveling With My 88-Year-Old Father.

This is a repost from several years back. It’s one of my favorites. My dad turns 93 this June and is still an inspiration.

My dad’s 87-year-old brother passed away suddenly several weeks ago in Florida. My dad wanted to attend the funeral and asked me to assist him. It turned out to be quite the adventure and gave me the opportunity to see my dad in a different light. My parents have traveled the world but in the last 15 years have remained “set” in their day to day routines. In retirement “auto-pilot” of doctor’s appointments, “Civilization” (a computer game), Food Network, checking for the newspaper and mail their rigid schedule is capped with dinner at 4:30…yes, 4:30. In the span of about 24 hours, we had made the arrangements and were prepared to venture beyond the envelope of about a 15 mile radius of our hometown. Ready or not, here we come.

This is my Dad's Thai lunch....ice cream.
This is my Dad’s Thai lunch….ice cream.

The amazing thing is that the trip opened my eyes to my dad’s resilience, adaptability and patience. One would think that one so set in his ways would have a difficult time adapting to modern technology, broken routines and uncertainty. Nope. Not a problem. It made me realized that a guy who traveled to Korea, hitch hiked across the US in his twenties and canoed in the wilderness of Canada…can handle just about anything you throw at him. Just because you usually live in a well-honed routine, doesn’t mean you can’t break loose and venture out.

So this is what I learned:

1. Open. You need to be open; whether it’s Thai food, switching seats on the airplane or waiting to find the bathroom. My dad had no preconceived notions and was open to any change in course. I don’t think my dad ever had Thai food before but when my cousin suggested we eat there as a group, he was all in. Some folks sitting in his row on the airplane asked to switch seats…gladly. If we needed to find the gate at the airport before finding the men’s room; no sweat. Be open.

2. Trust. My dad trusted me completely. This was really gratifying. He had unfaltering faith in all the arrangements. I told him to check his bag (although he asked if it was free) he was willing to follow my direction and understood the rationale when everyone else came on the plane lugging a slew of carry-ons. Hotel, rental car, flights, parking, directions…he never questioned a single decision. If you want to break loose, go with someone you trust implicitly.

3. Patience. Pack some patience. My dad has this in spades. Anyone who taught 8th grade history for 30 years, has to have it in their DNA. We had two delayed flights and weren’t sure we were going to make a connection on the way home. He wasn’t anxious for a second. He would just open up his magazine and keep reading. Did I mention he is 88? If you aren’t blessed with the patience gene, try a little meditation.

4. Flexible. Anytime you want to break out of your routines, you need to be flexible. When we were connecting flights in Atlanta, we needed to find some lunch. “What do you want Dad?” Whichever line is shorter. Pizza it is. At a Thai restaurant for lunch but all you really want is dessert…ice cream it is. Three hours to kill? Head to the hotel for a nap. On the way back to Raleigh, we needed lunch again. Chinese food by gate A1 before getting on the plane. Be flexible.

5. Curiosity. When you venture out, make sure you have some curiosity. My dad can talk to anyone…I mean anyone. I remember when we were kids, if my dad was missing in action, he probably met someone in the check-out line. Upon his return, he would regale us with how interesting so and so was. He knew everyone in his row on the plane by the time we landed. You cannot talk to just anyone unless you have curiosity. Pack some curiosity when you break loose.

6. Habits. No matter where you venture to, you need to maintain some habits. Brushing your teeth, showering, and coffee in the morning. My dad has been telling me for years that he does 30 sit-ups in the morning…every morning. Sure enough, there he was at 7 AM in the bed next to me doing his sit-ups. Even amongst all of the travel and mayhem of unscheduled time, he managed to take his daily medications. Habits keep us on track and give us some normalcy amidst the chaos.

7. Prudence. Anyone from the depression era has a healthy dose of prudence. My dad wanted to know if the coffee on the plane was free…and the cookies as well. Was the coffee in the hotel lobby free? Was the breakfast free? It pays to double check. We didn’t realize some of the roads in the Orlando area were toll roads, but my co-pilot was ready with quarters by the second toll booth. It always pays to have a little prudence.

The experience of traveling with my dad was enlightening. I really admire him for his ability to roll with the punches (or plane delays) and his openness to constant schedule changes. Spending those three days with him was priceless. I’m glad we got to cut loose together.

My daughter. My hero.

My daughter, Natalie, is my stable rock. My ballast. My hero. She has recently turned twenty-five and moved to Seattle about a year ago.  I had the great fortune to spend a recent weekend with her in New Mexico where she was born.  It was great fun to return to a state that has many natural marvels and be able to give context to how her life began.  Some twenty-six years earlier, my first husband and I moved to Albuquerque to run a restaurant and try our luck as entrepreneurs.  The restaurant eventually failed and put immense pressure on our marriage.  The wonderful shining glory that came out of that ill fated move to Albuquerque was a delightful, precious blue-eyed baby girl with an infectious smile and laugh.

Outside of a return trip to New Mexico when Natalie was eight, she has not returned.  She has faint memories of that trip and certainly does not remember her first four months of life in the Land of Enchantment. We had a lot of fun returning to where it all began. It also brought up some of the reasons I have depended on her for so much in her quarter century on the Earth.

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Here are the ways Natalie is my hero:

Open. Natalie is open to any and all adventures. We did not have much of an agenda once we landed at Albuquerque’s Sunport except for a restaurant reservation or two.  Whether it was strolling the plaza in Santa Fe or taking a hike around a reservoir, Natalie was open.  She had no deadlines, no agenda, no must-see spots.  I feel like so many people in life have hidden agendas or hidden intentions.  Not Natalie. Anything goes. Wanna hike?  Sure.  Shop? You bet. Sleep in? OK. It makes me rethink how open I am to what is next. Be open.

Decisive.  Natalie may be open to all the options but once she has made up her mind, or the group has made up their mind, she goes after it. We had decided to hike Tent Rocks located outside of Santa Fe with my brother, Rick.  Once the decision was made, there was no going back.  I’m pretty sure that even if it was raining or 110 degrees, Natalie would have made it to the top of that slot canyon. She was committed. Even a random crossing of a rattlesnake on our path could not deter her from her destiny. Once you have weighed out all your options, be decisive.

Empathy. I have always had an issue with balance. I pause at the top of steps and escalators to get my barring. There were several times along the hike that Natalie grabbed my hand. I didn’t ask. She knew. When navigating very narrow footings, she said, “just one foot in front of the other.” I didn’t ask. She knew. As we hiked she would insist on a water break.  Not for her. For me. She pays attention. She senses the discomfort. She anticipates the need. It’s such a gift that I don’t know she is even aware she has it. Be in tune to those around you.

Navigator. Natalie and I had explored a trail near Santa Fe around a reservoir.  The trail was not well marked.  Towards the end of the hike we lost the trail. Pretty soon we were hiking through low uncharted brush and no fellow hikers were to be seen.  We had no GPS.  No cell coverage. I felt a bit of concern. There was no need. Natalie had a feel for where we were and led us back to the trail head and parking lot. There have been many hiccups and storms in my life over the last year and Natalie has been the calm navigator seeing me through. Make sure you have a sound navigator to help you through the storms.

Ballast. Every boat has a ballast to weight the boat upright. Natalie is my ballast. She is rarely rattled by events and keeps an even demeanor.  I can be easily flustered and fly into worst case scenarios. Natalie keeps me balanced by listening and asking questions to help me understand my own thinking. I may be ready to unload all the cargo on the boat or drop anchor but Natalie is the voice of reason.  Who is your ballast.  Maybe you are a ballast for someone else.  It’s important to have a ballast to even things out.

Joy. Natalie has infectious energy. She also happens to be a great selfie taker.  There she is in the center of the photo flashing her enchanting smile.  I cannot look at a photo of her without smiling. She is joy. She is possibility. She is magic. There are very few people that I know who exude that joyful energy. It sparks action. Everything seems possible when there is joy in the room.  I am so fortunate to have her in my life. Find joy.

I am so proud to be Natalie’s mother and, most importantly, that she is in my life. She makes everything brighter and more amazing. Who is your hero?

3 Misconceptions About Happiness

I have written and read about happiness a lot in the last seven years since I began my blog. My editor and friend sent me this link to an interview of Laurie Santos on the Megyn Kelly show. Dr. Santos teaches the largest class at Yale University and she has some great insights. Happiness seems even more elusive in our technology-fueled life when we have a powerful PC in our hands and are over committed in all aspects of our lives. You can imagine the stress a Yale student must be under. Just getting into an Ivy League university is a major feat of stamina, tenacity and grit.

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As written in the New York Times, Yale had such a demand for this class, with one quarter of the undergraduates enrolled, they had to move the location a few times in order to accommodate all the students. As reported, Dr. Santos speculated that Yale students are interested in the class because, in high school, they had to de-prioritize their happiness to gain admission to the school, adopting harmful life habits that have led to what she called “the mental health crises we’re seeing at places like Yale.” It’s important to understand the misconception around happiness as it can shed light on what to NOT do if happiness is your aim.

Here are the three misconceptions as espoused by Dr. Santos:

You don’t need change to be happy. This is like the carrot in front of the horse spurring forward action. We believe that we will be happy when we lose 10..20..30 pounds. We believe that the next job, promotion or pay increase will suddenly create happiness. We decide that getting engaged, married, buying the house, having a child, or getting that kid out of the house post-graduation, will finally bring happiness. We put off our happiness until we attain this elusive change we imagine will bring that great joy. Weddings and births are landmark moments in your life. They are fleeting. Don’t delay what you have right now. Change will come and it is constant. I believe that being in the moment is where happiness lies. Are you alright, right now? Then feel the warmth in your heart, take a deep breath and be in the moment. Don’t delay happiness for the next hurdle.

Don’t procrastinate and veg out. When we are so over-committed, it’s easy to think…oh wow Tuesday night is free. Let me sit on the couch and veg out. Instead of vegging out, happiness lies in challenging ourselves. Think about using your hands. I am a cook and find satisfaction in trying new recipes and stretching my comfort zone through baking bread and making gnocchi (a two-day process). There is great satisfaction even if the end product is not perfect. As written in Psychology Today by Dr. Carrie Barron, “Research has shown that hand activity from knitting to woodworking to growing vegetables or chopping them are useful for decreasing stress, relieving anxiety, and modifying depression. There is value in the routine action, the mind rest, and the purposeful creative, domestic or practical endeavor. Functioning hands also foster a flow in the mind that leads to spontaneous joyful, creative thought.” So is that guitar gathering dust? When is the last time you picked up those knitting needles? Joy is found in the act of challenging yourself. Don’t get wrapped up in the perfection of it. Just do.

Don’t focus on the hassles. I have worked on this a lot in the last decade. I am impatient by nature so getting in a traffic jam ten years ago would send me in an angry spiral. I re-frame it now. I pray that no one is injured in a car crash and am thankful my car is running. If I am late, I am late. Dr. Santos encourages making a gratitude journal of all the things you are grateful for. I have been writing a gratitude journal for at least a decade and it’s made a tremendous change in my outlook. Dr. Santos recommends something I had never heard of before. She calls it negative visualization. So imagine what it would be like if you didn’t have a roof over your head, or your pet passed away, or you lost a parent. Seems counter intuitive but it makes sense as you now have a new appreciation for what you have in your life. It’s easy to take what is in front of us for granted. You have clean water coming out of your faucet, as well as heat and a device that you are reading this on. Isn’t life just grand?

I work with many clients that have small children, intense travel schedules and financial difficulties. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind. Take stock, challenge yourself, and be grateful. Happiness is here.

Revisiting The Happiness Program

I wrote this piece back in June of 2017 and continue to practice the meditation and tenets of the program below:

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: unemployment, 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 have been using the meditation daily for almost a year and I am feeling more optimistic, more equilibrium and, slowly but surely, letting go of my resentment and anger towards others. I am really happy to announce that the course will be offered locally in Goldsboro, NC from May 17th-19th. If you want to attend just click on the link here.

Tenacity and Grit: Lessons from my Son.

My son Benson has always been a gifted athlete. Although I don’t like that term, because gifted implies that it’s all in his DNA. As if the DNA fairy godmother waved a magic wand and suddenly he was running in the North Carolina State Championship Track Meet with little to no effort. There has been a lot of effort. Hard work. Hours and years of hard work. Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps and Lebron James all have worked hard. Sure, there were Tiger’s hard driving parents and his commitment to golf, Michael Phelps’ abnormally wide wing span (and his mother cheering him on) and Lebron’s height. Those are all part of the package. But at the core of it all is tenacity and grit. It takes tenacity to show up every day, regardless of the circumstances and work; as well as the grit to overcome adversity in order to continue forward. My son has both of these qualities in spades.

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I am writing this after a roller coaster weekend of watching my son compete at the University and U25 National Weightlifting Championships in Ogden, Utah. I am not exactly sure when Benson first started lifting weights. There are plenty of sports that he excelled at, most which had weightlifting as a part of the regime. He was an outstanding football player in high school and an all-state champion in Track and Wrestling. These sports usually have some sort of weightlifting as a part of the preparation. The first time he decided to compete in what is termed Olympic Weightlifting (as opposed to Powerlifting or Body Building), had to be sometime during his freshman year of college at the University of Miami. It requires technical aptitude, strength, grace and resilience.

This is what I have learned from my son:

Show up. Benson always shows up. Two years ago, we were in Northern California for Benson’s twentieth birthday. He is a native Californian and it was his first trip back to the West Coast in over a decade. It did not matter. He was at the gym practically every day. Random gyms. Unknown gyms. He was scouting places to work out and he worked out. There are no excuses for Benson. It’s a rainy day. I was up late last night. I have a ton of work to do. My friends are going to the beach. I’m on vacation. He shows up and does the work. If you want something? Show up.

Support. Regardless of the sport, Benson always has a team supporting him. It might be a coach, team mates, family or friends. As the saying goes, it takes a village. I’m proud to say I am a part of that village. While he does all the work, he has a crowd of folks in his corner cheering him on. It amazes me that I attend at least three competitions a year on the national scale and there are rarely parents in the audience. I’ve seen competitors without even a coach. Support is more that just cheering. It’s knowing that what you do matters to more than just you. Someone is invested in your failure or success. It’s the emotional buoy to get you through. Have support.

Grit. During the U25 National competition, Benson missed all three of his Snatches. I was disheartened. I wanted to go back into the training area and give him a hug. There was no way he could be the overall winner without successfully making at least one Snatch. His forte in competition has been the Snatch and now he only had the Clean and Jerk left. How in the world do you come back from that? I saw several other athletes bomb out on all three attempts. It was a war of attrition. He came back to successfully complete two clean lifts in the Clean and Jerk. That is grit. The ability to rally back. To not slide into the abyss of defeat and wallow there. I’m prouder of the fact that he rallied back than for his eventual Gold Medal. Find your grit.

Focus. Benson is single-minded. When I arrived at the competition, I sat next to him in the audience of the preceding weight class. We did not speak. He with his hood and headphones, me with my smart phone. We went out to dinner the evening before and I asked about his plans. He said, “I don’t know. I’m not looking past tomorrow.” This is a lesson for me. Focus on the immediate goal. The project that is due. The exam. Your workout. Month end. The drive home. Know what you want and focus on it. As for me, for the last ten months, it’s been sobriety. As a friend told me, “Just don’t have a damn drink.” For Benson, it is the competition at hand. Not the one next month. Not reliving the two bronze medals from last year. It’s about this competition right now.

I am amazed that Benson could rally back from the extreme low of failing completely in his first three lifts to come back and get the gold medal. That grit. That tenacity to succeed after failure. That is what I am most proud of. So even if you do fail, dust yourself off and stick with it. Success is around the corner.

Being an Essentialist

I just finished Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. It’s an eye-opening book in times of digital overwhelm and multi-tasking. There is this unrelenting pressure to take on more. One more book placed on top of the tottering stack. One more appointment edged into a jam-packed day. One more load of laundry before going to bed. This is especially difficult for me as my top strength from StrengthsFinder is Maximiser. I am constantly searching for ways to make things even better. Essentialism seems to contradict that.

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Becoming an essentialist is understanding your true north; understanding yourself and what is REALLY important rather than what is important to everyone else. It entails not focusing on other’s expectations but what is truly important to you. From there, you just need to align your actions and thoughts with your passion. Easy? Heck no. Important? Yes.

Thoughts on becoming an essentialist:

Mindset.  “We are facing an unholy alliance between social media, smart phones, and consumerism. It’s not all bad, but certain forces that have come together are producing an unintended result for all of us,” Greg writes. “Our whole society has become consumed by the undisciplined pursuit of more. The only way to overcome this problem is to change the way we think—adopt the mindset of only doing the things that are essential—and do it now.” It’s a mindset of discernment. Selectivity. Culling out the clutter and focusing on engaging what matters most to us. It isn’t flipping a switch. It’s that discernment everyday with everything. It’s a mindset.

Trade-offsFor everything you say “yes” to, you are saying “no” to something else. If you say yes to a business trip during spring break, you are saying no to time off with your kids. If you say yes to finishing that project tonight, it’s a no to dinner with your friend. If you take the job that keeps you home instead of traveling on a monthly basis, it may be a yes to being with family more and a no to making more money or a promotion. It’s time to wake up and realize that you can not have it all. There is always a trade-off. Make sure you trade for what’s truly important to you.

Delay yes.  This hearkens back to the wisdom of my dear friend Janine: “Don’t make a decision until you need to make a decision.” Greg writes, “It’s a good idea to recognize the value of contemplation versus impulse.” This is incredibly hard for someone as impatient as I. I want everything finished…yesterday. All the presents wrapped and under the tree on Thanksgiving. Press pause. Take a breath. Go inside your body and wait. This has paid off immensely for me personally over the last year. I kept trying to push a rope for months. When I leaned back and sat in patience and waited, and waited, and waited. The reward was life changing. Delay yes.

Less. Greg posits, “We’ve been oversold the value of more and undersold the value of less.” The fear of missing out can affect your decisions in your career, entrepreneurial pursuits and your relationships. If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no. If it’s a maybe, it’s a no. I love Alton Brown and his show Good Eats. He would never have a kitchen utensil that was a “uni-tasker”. He figured out ways to use a garbage can lid and aluminum foil to smoke a turkey rather than buying a turkey smoker. Less can be more.

Endowment effect.  As Lawton Ursrey wrote in Forbes, “The Endowment Effect is the idea that we value objects and also opportunities higher if we own them versus if we don’t.” As Greg writes, “This is a classic heuristic trick—it’s a myth. The idea that you must own something to find value is not true. Not having something or letting go of something has real and sometimes the most value.” I faced this head on over the last nine months as I de-cluttered my life. I only retain what I truly love, truly use and what truly fits. There are the sentimental mementos like a Lego airplane my son made some fifteen years ago and a pillow my daughter made in kindergarten. I cherish these. I’ve dropped some four dress sizes in the last few years. The only thing in my closet are items I love and that fit. If you spent $200 on that pair of shoes ten years ago and they don’t feel comfortable on your feet, they are of no value to you.

Moment.  Our time is the most important commodity. Don’t let Facebook, Instagram or your inbox take you away from the current moment. As Greg writes, “Our phones for example have great utility but there is a downside. As a result, we need to put in place seatbelts—ways to limit the downside. One seatbelt is just turning it off.” I have made a more conscious effort to leave my phone charging on the kitchen counter after I am home for the evening. Limiting my check ins to several times a day. This is not easy as it is an addiction. Leave it behind, turn it off and shut down notifications. You are alright, right now. Wouldn’t you rather experience what’s going on? Be here right now.

I am a work in progress. I don’t need to be perfect at this today or tomorrow. I am just working on it. I left a meeting last week because the value had dropped – it had morphed into a gab session. It was uncomfortable, but I had better use for my time. Lean in and get essential.