Thursday, December 31, 2009

as the year wraps up (or as the new one begins)

I have a daily practice of writing a list of things for which I'm grateful. This list routinely includes family and friends, my job, my home, and other things I consider essentials, and occasionally includes luxuries like NPR, compelling fiction, Christmas carols, and my mother's codcakes.

I also have a daily practice of listing the reasons why I should be given credit. And by "credit," I really mean little nods to myself. There's no actual credit (no gold stars, no pennies in the jar, no messages sent to Santa on my behalf), and normally, nobody sees it but me, so the reasons aren't generally colossal. They're usually things like completing a task I set myself to do, facing a challenge (like the pile of godforsaken Christmas cookies I walked away from yesterday), or taking a baby step forward in my thinking. Sometimes, however, I get credit just for getting out of bed! (This morning "being me" made the list.)

When I looked over my lists for the year, one of the things I'm continually grateful for is my job, and the money it brings me. And I looked at a number of the other things for which I'm grateful, and many of them could really use some of that money. So this morning, I sat down and gave money to my local NPR station (for Wait Wait Don't Tell Me), Chicago Public Radio (for This American Life) and the New York Public Library (for books).

I'll let you guess what will show up on my list of kudos tomorrow.

One of the things I intend to do today, on the last day of the year, is to create a list of 50 things for which I am grateful. They may be events from the past year (like meeting one of my new best friends), opportunities for next year (like meeting Mr. Right), and constants throughout my life (like my family). I encourage you to take a moment and do the same. And then, if there are things on your list that could use your support, give it! Volunteer at a shelter. Give your old clothes to Dress for Success. Or give money. Ira Glass said that if each podcast listener of This American Life gave only $5, we could cover the cost of the show. Five dollars!

(Since I'm truly grateful for what the show brings to my life, I gave $15.)

And at the very, very least, tell two people on your list that you're grateful they're in your life. It makes a difference.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Expectations

When I think back to Christmases of my childhood, I have a strong recollection of feeling let down. Either people didn't like the presents I got them as much as I had hoped they would, or I didn't get the Snoopy Sno-Cone Maker (for the third time in a row... Santa!), or Christmas just didn't live up to what I had hoped it would be.

I tried, for many years after childhood, to make Christmas live up to itself. To invest more time and energy into picking out presents for people, or trying to force my family to behave in a certain way that made Christmas feel more Christmassy... but it never worked.

This year, I tried something new. I released all my expectations about Christmas. It would be what it would be, and I would enjoy it for what it was.

Easier said than done, of course.

I had some help with this effort, however. My family is fantastic, and we've gotten to a place in our gift giving where we are very clear when we receive something that we don't want. We simply say, "Oh, I have one just like this at home..." and the other person knows that the gift didn't quite land the way it was intended. Nobody says "Yuck! I hate this!" or throws it on the floor in a fit of pique. Nobody pretends to want something they don't want.

And knowing this about my family -- that they might have one just like it at home -- makes me less connected to the idea of giving them the "perfect" gift. And the reality is that you never know if someone is going to have one just like it at home or not. So why get attached to the idea that you are a perfect gift giver? It's just likely to lead to let down.

Similarly, we used to have a tradition of eating Christmas Eve dinner every year with family friends. They have since moved to Florida and Europe, so that regular tradition has disappeared. And that fluidity of what we're doing on Christmas Eve has freed up some expectations, too. I don't know what's going to happen when I get there. I don't know what it's supposed to feel like. So I can't try to force it into a shape that feels familiar. And again, the reality is that you never know what's going to happen. You can have ideas, agendas, hopes, and plans, but they all amount to a big hill of beans when faced with other people.

It sounds easy to release your expectations, and in fact, it's not as hard as it sounds. It takes attention and energy. But the benefits of not feeling let down so far outstrip the amount of focus required to be laid back that I definitely recommend giving it a try.

Do it one day at work. Just release your expectation that things are going to go the way you think they will. Maybe the train will come, maybe it won't. Maybe your boss will praise you, and maybe she'll scold you. When you're not counting on anything, it makes each thing that happens an adventure!

A perfect time to try it would be New Year's Eve. Because if that holiday isn't laden with expectations, I don't know what is!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Vienna Plan

A couple of years ago, my family vacationed together in Vienna. Originally, I wasn't inclined to go, as I didn't really enjoy the way my family traveled together. (My mom jokingly broke down the various roles each family member played on vacation -- it was Mom's job to plan everything, Dad's job to pay for everything, my sister Polly's job to boss everyone into doing everything, and my job to "step in in case of an emergency.")

While we still laugh at our roles, at the time it was pretty true. Mom did plan everything, and Polly definitely bossed everyone into doing everything, even if she wasn't 100% sold on doing it herself. Grousing and bickering (or seething and simmering) often ensued. Awesome.

So when I was offered the opportunity to pay lots of money to do it again in Vienna, I politely declined.

My sister and brother in law offered to pay for my trip. I still wasn't interested. It wasn't about the money, it was about the angst and frustration of feeling obligated to do stuff that I didn't really want to do.

Luckily, after a lengthy conversation with my mother, she agreed to help me try to change our family pattern.* The new model had mom and me planning things together, and Polly wouldn't have to boss anyone because they'd either be doing something they wanted to do, or they could go home and take a nap. This freed Polly from the role of Bad Cop, and, since it was never really true in the first place, Dad didn't have to pay for everything.

With this understanding in place, I doing my own research. Picking out the things I wanted to see, and making it known that that's what I wanted to do. Getting excited about all the cool stuff there was to see and do in Vienna. Inviting others to come along, but being willing to go and do things on my own if nobody else was interested.

And this is what I call the Vienna Plan. Filling up your life (or your vacation) with things that you want to do, see, hear, eat, touch, and play with. Letting others know they're more than welcome to come along, but knowing that your happiness doesn't depend on their attendance. Delighting yourself at every opportunity, whether other delight with you or not.

I've brought this home to my real life recently, riding horses, going to the circus, and making plans to see the shows I want to see or eat the food I want to eat. And it's rocking my world! I use the Vienna Plan on dates, too -- if the guy turns out to be a dud, oh well! I'm doing something I've been meaning to do!

The key to the Vienna Plan is really letting go of your expectations of others. If you're not willing to go to that party alone, then the Vienna Plan isn't going to fix that. If you're lonely, the Vienna Plan may not fix that, either, but it will give you something to distract you -- and it'll give you something else to talk about when you do meet up with people later.

I can't recommend the Vienna Plan enough. Because if I want to go home and take a nap, that's what I end up doing. (Although I'm finding that the more I stick to the plan, the more cool stuff there is to see and do!)

*I am blessed with a really communicative and functional family. Go ahead, envy me.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

a month of Doing Things Differently

On October 15th, I was feeling stuck. Not just stuck, but stymied. I mean , parked like a lemon on cinderblocks in the front yard. Like life was a swamp of molasses and I was waist deep in it. I was depressed, angry, frustrated, and basically just wanted to stay in bed all day. Every day. For the rest of my life.

You know, things were normal.

I wanted so many things so badly, and I was trying so hard to do everything right... and was doing absolutely everything wrong.

Then one morning the fairy of enlightenment bopped me on the head and asked, what if there is no right way? What if there are just a variety of ways in which things an be done, and here I am, bending over backwards trying to do the ones I think are "right"?

So I challenged myself to a month of doing things differently. Not right-ly, or wrong-ly, just differently. And this meant anything -- from something as simple as walking down the other side of the street on my way to work, or wearing my hair in pigtails, to something as complex as choosing to hear my self-criticism with compassion and detachment, instead of using it to beat myself up.

And now that it's almost over, I'm happy to report that it's been an amazing month. Some "differents" were enormous successes, some were floppy failures, and others were just kind of meh. But without giving myself permission to have the big floppy failures, I probably wouldn't have had the enormous successes.

Or the pigtails.

So I want to challenge you all -- if you are feeling stuck, just try something different. Identify what you want to do differently, then deliberately make the change. Eat a funny food. Do your regular walking loop in the opposite direction. Shake up your tree, and you might just be pleasantly surprised by the fruit that falls on your head.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

training vs. learning

I read an interesting idea the other day that got me thinking: training is something that’s pushed on you; learning is something you choose.

Now, being a computer trainer, I hate to think that I'm pushing anything on anyone, but I have to agree. I can't teach you anything you don't want to learn. (And that's a truth that gets played out on a day-by-day basis in my experience.)

Think about the things you know how to do really well. Singing, gardening, writing code, selling widgets, brewing beer... these are all things you have, at some level, chosen to learn how to do; otherwise you wouldn't be good at them.

So what about the things you don't know how to do really well? Things like, say, being gentle with yourself, or stopping obsessive thinking. Things like having healthy relationships or overcoming writers' block. How do you learn how to do them?

The first step is CHOOSING to learn them. Letting go of your victim mentality and all your excuses and turning your heart's pursuit into learning this new thing. By hook or by crook. (And yes, you may fall flat on your face, but it's your face, and you're in charge of it.)

If you look outside yourself for someone to teach you how to make it happen, you may learn the dance steps, the chemical formula, or the philosophical approach, but until you try it out and really live in a place of learning, you'll be forcing it on yourself, and letting it go just as quickly.

So here's an exercise to try:

Commit in your heart to learning your new thing. (I'll use Putting Down Food as the new thing in this example.) Sit quietly for a few minutes and breathe in and out, agreeing with yourself that from now on, you're going to learn all about your relationship to Putting Down Food. You may fail or you may succeed, but this time, that's not the most important part. The most important part is that you learn something.

When you feel ready on the inside, stand up, and find a line on the floor. Could be a crack in the sidewalk, or the doorway to the kitchen. Doesn't matter. Line your toes up on one side of that line, and remember what it's like to be where you are right now. Status quo. Stuck feeling like you can't learn anything new. Filled with thoughts of "I can't Put Down Food."

Then, when you're ready, step over the line into a place of opportunity. On the other side of the line is where new learning will happen. Maybe you'll Put Down Food and maybe you won't. It doesn't matter, because this time you're committing to learning about it.

By focusing on the learning, you may just free up the energy that's been stuck focusing on results. And who knows? They may just tag along for the ride!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An interesting test for finding your strengths

I was part of a roundtable today that focused on exploring the value of the strengths you bring to the table in your own, individual way. The test below is another way to identify your own strengths, and once you're more aware of them, you can play to your them more fully, and derive more joy from the use of them.

Turns out that I'm a weaver, with a secondary level of teacher. This makes good sense to me, as I'm constantly trying to connect people, and sure, I have a lot of fun when I can solve a problem, but even when I can't solve it, if I can point out someone else who can, I'm still happy.

It's free, so why not take the test?

Monday, September 21, 2009

life is not a dress rehearsal -- or is it?

I love actors. (I used to be one, so it's fair to say I'm biased.)

The dedication actors put towards mounting a show is amazing -- like marathoners training for a race, or chefs preparing for a banquet. They put so much energy into learning lines, understanding their characters, trying on costumes, mapping out blocking... it's all part of the work. Everything an actor does to prepare his or her role makes for a more fulfilling and galvanizing performance. And good actors take time every day to make sure that they're adequately prepared for opening night.

Another reason I love actors is that they're the perfect metaphor for personal growth.

Personal growth also takes time and energy. While there are no lines to learn, there are lines to unlearn (like the stories we tell ourselves inside our heads, or the beliefs we have about who we have to be) and that process takes quiet time spent with pencil and paper, or in discussion with others. Actors try on the lives of others, but you (assuming you're not an actor) can spend time trying on your OWN life. Studying your own character.

Here are some tips for exploring your own character, taken from my time as an actor:

1. What's my motivation?

When a character walks onstage, generally it's because he/she wants something. The playwright has chosen to show us this moment in time because it matters. In your life, every minute is also valuable, and you, too, are walking around with an agenda. From moment to moment, your motivation can range from "sixteen Oreos sounds like a good idea" to "I want to create world peace," but add up all those moments and there is an overarching agenda that helps define you as a character. Or, you know, a person.

When an actor learns and studies a character, she looks for that big arc (the one that carries the character from the beginning to the end of the play) and then looks at all the moments in between to see whether they are heading the character towards or away from the big picture. You, too, can do this. What is it that you want to do with your life? Who do you want to be? What are you passionate about? If your life were a play, what would you want your character's motivation to be?

Once you discover that, align your moment to moment motivation with that goal.

For example, if your overarching agenda is "to connect with people authentically," then moment to moment actions like writing letters, making phone calls, and having dinner with friends is in better alignment than eating alone, reading books, and playing video games. (Not that the latter are negative things -- they're great -- but they don't serve your character.)

Find more and more ways to connect your character to his/her agenda, and your "performance" will be deeper, richer, and more fulfilling.

2. Be accepting

It is impossible for an actor to fully embody a character on whom he or she is sitting in judgment. I once played the role of a psychic hooker, and there were many times when it would have been easy to say that she was stupid, easy, or a victim (because, hell, she got beaten up even though she was psychic!). But to do that would not have been in service of her, and I would have been warping the playwright's intention.

It's the same with you. You may have days when you FEEL stupid, easy, or like a victim, but if you judge yourself and label yourself that way, you'll never get to what's great about your character. The playing out of your life will ring hollow and false.

Sure, every character has a flaw (or twelve). But that's part of what makes drama so delicious. Think about the people close to you -- they all have flaws, don't they? And you still love them anyway, don't you? Allow your own character to have problems that don't define him or her and see what magic The Great Playwright in the Sky* brings to you.

3. Commit commit commit!

To my mind, there is nothing worse than a flaky or uncommitted actor. It is a profession wrought with challenges and to pursue it half-heartedly doesn't seem worth the (pathetic) effort. So many actors are out there following their heart's desire, and are hellbent on making art and connecting with people in a deep and meaningful way, and we can learn a lot from them.

Those dedicated actors are never late to rehearsal. They are off book when they say they will be. They have done the research on the time period. They're already wearing the character's shoes. They've read other plays by the playwright. They know the character inside and out -- because all of this matters to them.

You can do the same thing in your own life. Show your life some integrity. Be honest, live up to your potential, and commit to being the kind of person you want to be.

The one thing my high school drama teacher, Mr. Luongo, told us over and over and over again was "Be on time. Know your lines." And that means being responsible, reliable, and present.

*I'm painfully aware of the high cheese-factor of this statement.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

frighteningly good words to live by

Dear Valerie Bertinelli and Mackenzie Phillips,

Did you ever listen to the lyrics of your show's theme song? I didn't, not really. I mean, I heard them, I could hum along, and I knew there was stuff about One Day at a Time in there, but it wasn't until recently that I actually sat down and paid attention. (Please don't ask me why.)

"This is it; this is it.
This is life, the one you get,
so go and have a ball!
This is it; this is it,
straight ahead, and rest assured,
you can't be sure at all.
So, while you're here, enjoy the view;
keep on doing what you do.
Hold on tight; we'll muddle through,
one day at a time, one day at a time!
So, up on your feet; up on your feet;
somewhere there's music playing.
Don't you worry none,
just take it like it comes,
one day at a time, one day at a time!"

The show had bad hair, bad clothes, bad comedy, and bad repercussions for the stars afterwards, but I've got to say, all in all? Not bad lyrics.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

getting rid of old (icky) beliefs in three easy steps!

Step 1: Identify the old (icky) belief
Step 2: Pick a new (non-icky) one to take its place
Step 3: Give it a whirl

The end.

Ok, ok, I'm oversimplifying, but only sort of.

Step 1: Identifying the old (icky) belief

How do you know when something you believe isn't serving you anymore? Here are a couple of ideas:

-- Listen to what your body has to say about it. Do you get a sinking feeling when you think that thought? Do your shoulders climb up to your ears? Would you rather just crawl back into bed forever? Or maybe you want to punch someone? All of these are good indicators that a belief isn't serving you. Even just a deadness or a flatness in response to a belief or thought can highlight an outdated (e.g. icky) belief.

-- Ask trusted friends or family members. (But only the ones you're ok with being right.)

-- Explore and define your belief. If you're thinking "I'm not meeting men because I have high standards," define each word carefully. What do you mean by "meeting" and "men" and "high standards"? Write out full definitions of what these words mean to you -- without consulting the dictionary. (Unless you wrote it.)

-- Gather evidence about your belief and its opposite. If your belief is "Taking time for myself is bad," look in your life and see where that is true and where that is false. (Again, be sure to explore and define your belief first.)

Step 2: Picking a new (non-icky) belief to take its place

This one seems harder than it is. Since beliefs are about how you interpret a situation, you're in charge of them. Yes, of course, you learned something was "true" when you were a kid -- and it may, in fact, have been true -- and you think it's still true now, but the odds are that if you learned ick as a kid, you don't need ick as an adult.

Think of beliefs as sweaters. Would you wear the sweater you wore to kindergarten on a date today? It just wouldn't fit. (And, man, would it hurt the eyes.)

Ways to generate non-icky ideas:

-- The easiest way is to flip around the old (icky) one you've been schlepping around your whole life. If you're "no good," pick "I'm good!" If you're "lazy" pick "I'm active." (Note, however, while this may be the easiest one to generate, it may be the hardest one to try on.)

-- Ask yourself what other ways you could see this belief? What other words could you use, or other ways you could define those words?

-- What belief might your best friend/mentor/parent/lover encourage you to have?

-- What belief have you always wanted to have?

-- What do your role models believe? (Or, what do you think your role models believe?)

Step 3: Give it a whirl

What's beautiful about this step is that no matter what new (non-icky) belief you pick, it stands a really good chance of being better than the old (icky) one you've been using all along, so you CAN'T GO WRONG!

Just sayin'.

Try on your new belief (like a sweater). See how it feels in your body. When you feel the old belief creeping back in, take a deep breath, and switch your mind back over to the new one.

A good way to really give this a whirl is to assign yourself a task that brings up the old belief. For example, if your old belief is "no woman would want to date me" then sign up for an online dating service. Every time you look at that site, you have an opportunity to try on the new belief. And when the new belief falters, look to see if there are additional old (icky) beliefs underneath that one.

And then repeat the process.

I promise you, you're worth it!

Monday, August 24, 2009

tiny beans

I got this string of text messages from an amazing man* the other day:

"You know, it's only 18 miles from O'Hare to Union Station... and I have my running gear... for a fraction of a second it passed my mind..."

"additional sidenote, I know 18 miles seems huge to regular folk which is why it's so cool and heartwarming to know it really IS small beans for me."

and then

"I hope you can recognize those parts of your life where you can have pride in your own tiny beans."

And (after recovering from my swoon, because, seriously, how cute is this guy?**) I actually thought about it for a while. What spectacular things do I do that I take for granted as just "something I do"? What skills/hobbies/habits/knowledge do I possess that make me better for just being me?

And, more importantly, when do I take the time to celebrate them?

Celebrating ourselves is something very few of us are taught to do. Rather, we are taught that it's "bragging," it's "a sin," it's "rude," it's "unprofessional," etc., etc., etc. In my book, however, celebrating your own successes can be very motivating and inspirational for the people around you. When you take pride in yourself, you light up a room. When you accept the compliment someone takes the time to give you, you're acknowledging that person's effort at connecting with you.

So the next time you do that special thing you do, take a moment to really celebrate yourself. You never know... someone else may also like your tiny beans!

*ok, ok, I'm biased. This "amazing man" happens to be my boyfriend.

** see above

Thursday, August 20, 2009

cheese alert!

I try as hard as a human being can to stay away from things that are sappy, schmaltzy, gooey, corny, saccharine, or otherwise cloying.

And yet...

I also periodically need the pick-me-up,-dust-me-off,-and-try-it-all-again perspective (smothered in a barely tolerable layer of gouda) provided here.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Feeling Lost?

My friend Avery sent me a link to an article, and I think that the author, Brad Bollenbach, is really onto something. He talks about personal growth never being as linear a road as we might hope. "It’s full of potholes and ditches, the occasional tree planted right in the middle, and some stretches where there is no road at all, and there’s no map telling you where to turn." (Not to mention the times it's filled with traffic, shut down for a parade, or just randomly has Mick Jagger dancing in it.)

The major point of his article is about taking a Bottom-up approach (rather than a Top-down one). He says, "Bottom-up development focusses on building the framework you need for living a life of purpose. It’s all about installing good habits that are independent of any specific goal. It’s an action plan you can start on this afternoon or this evening, that allows you to do incredibly productive and useful things, even if you’re still unsure about the big picture."

I really like his style and ideas.

Check out the rest of his article here: Feeling Lost?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

words of wisdom

I love Anne Lamott, and in her book, Bird by Bird, she dispenses a great deal of wisdom about writing... that happens to correspond directly with life. I find the following quote extremely useful on those days when I'm mad at myself for not doing/being/thinking what I want:

"I am learning slowly to bring my crazy pinball-machine mind back to this place of friendly detachment towards myself, so I can look out at the world and see all those other things with respect. Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don’t drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor’s yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper. So I keep trying gently to bring my mind back to what is really there to be seen, maybe to be seen and noted with a kind of reverence. Because if I don’t learn to do this, I think I’ll keep getting things wrong."

-- Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

take a deep breath...

I'm not very good at being quiet or sitting still. I like to move, to talk, to fidget, to twitch, and to generally think myself into all sorts of things. But I'm finding that just plopping down, breathing deeply, and taking some time Not Thinking is doing me a world a good.

It was hard to start at first, just sitting there quietly, so I downloaded a series of guided meditations from meditation oasis. What's great about them is that they're short (between 8 and 20 minutes) and easy to listen to. Not too cheesy, not too demanding, just lots of space To Be.

Which, if I'm honest, I really need.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Don't try to fix it!

I'm a chatterbox, always have been.

So when I started coaching, one of the hardest things for me to learn was how to be silent. To say nothing, and wait for my clients to come to their own revelations. (I say this like I've actually managed to do it.) But in both working with my own coach and coaching some fairly reticent clients, I've learned that it can be in the quiet moments when the wheels are really turning. It can also be when the inner saboteur is working overtime. Either way, there's movement, and I just itch to be a part of it.

What I have to learn is patience, and to not try to be a part of every experience my clients are having.

I read an article recently, written by a pastor at a church in Boston. And I'm not much of a churchy gal, but what Reverend Kim K. Crawford Harvie says really struck me:

Silence is so powerful! One of the hardest lessons for me in pastoral care training was not to try to make people feel better – at least not too quickly! – and to understand silence as a work of love. I was being “demoed” one day – my divinity school class was observing me conduct a mock counseling session – and I reached for a tissue to hand to my classmate, whose eyes had filled with tears as she spoke to me about a recent death. I reached for a tissue, and the professor cried, “Stop!”

“When you hand someone a tissue,” she said, “no matter how good your intentions, you are telling them not to cry. They can decide when to get their own tissue; leave the box in full view. Just sit there!”

I put my hands between my knees and just sat there. My classmate recovered from the interruption and, after a few more minutes, began to cry. Soon, she was really sobbing. I moved to get up to go sit beside her, to put my arm around her.

“Stop!” cried the professor. My classmate looked up. “Your job is not to make it better. You can’t make it better! All you can do is bear witness, and make room for the holy spirit. Just sit there!”

When my coach holds the space for my emotions (without chiming in, questioning me, or otherwise "meddling"), I feel supported, comforted, and most of all seen. (Which is odd, mostly, because I coach with him over the phone.) And by his not saying anything, but simply being with me, I find my own way out of the tunnel.

I had lunch the other day with a man who was having a very frustrating day. He told me when he showed up that he would "need a minute" to really arrive at our lunch. In my head, I reminded myself to give him all the room he needed -- that it was not my job to fix his frustration. And shortly after we exchanged pleasantries, sat down, and started to eat, he took a deep breath, leaned back in his chair, and told me he was "here."

I couldn't have done it any better myself.

Monday, June 29, 2009

learning as the antidote to fear

My friend sent me an article recently called "What You Can Learn When You Stop Fearing Change" and I found it really insightful. The author, Kristyn Kusek Lewis, spoke with life coach Gail Blanke, author of Throw Out Fifty Things (which I haven't read yet), who believes it's not when we are being high achievers that we learn about ourselves, but rather that "it's the in-between, uncertain times, the moments when you're tempted to just pull the covers over your head, that can teach you the most about yourself and help you grow — if you let them."

She then goes on to outline scenarios in which fear could cripple you, or, conversely, stretch and grow you to new and greater places. From those, I'll share two. (For the rest, follow the link and read the whole article.)

When you hit a new milestone or undergo an identity change, Lewis (with Blanke) argues that "[o]ne way to turn an identity crisis into an exciting metamorphosis is to develop a student mentality — meaning, take time to notice what you're learning about yourself in your new life. Ask, What am I discovering about myself now that I never would have otherwise?"

Similarly, if you are affected by all the negative media available to us these days, Lewis encourages you to filter what comes into your life. "[That] doesn't mean that you stick your head in the sand — obviously, it's important to stay informed — but that you keep a watchful eye on the kind of information you feed your mind. Do you fixate on negative stories? Do your conversations run pessimistic? If you tend to concentrate on the negative, see if you can pare down your daily doom-and-gloom intake... so that you can open yourself up to more hope and optimism."

It boils down to taking care of yourself and not dwelling on the negative.

And I'm all for it!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

book review: Taming Your Gremlin

"You're too fat."
"You're stupid."
"You're a failure."
"You'll never get a job."
"You'll always be single."
"You're such a waste."

Any of that sound familiar? If so, you're human. (If not, congratulations!!)

I don't know about you, but the little voice inside my head can be so cruel sometimes that it's a miracle I can drag my ass out of bed in the morning and make it through a day. It judges me at every turn, telling me what "everybody" knows (that clearly, I don't) and gives me "helpful" pointers about how I should live my life.

Rick Carson, in his wonderful book, Taming Your Gremlin, calls this little voice the gremlin, and he offers useful tips for how to turn down its volume, and keep your head cleaner, clearer and more focused on who you really are.

The major tools he offers are these: Simply Noticing, Choosing and Playing with Options, and Being in Process.

Simply Noticing
It's as simple as it sounds. "Simply Noticing... is what happens when you experience the natural you and your surroundings without input from your gremlin." You can notice your body, the physical world, or the fact that you're paying attention to neither and are lost in the world inside your mind. This tool will help alert you to the presence (and "contributions") of your gremlin and can help you identify the voice that isn't yours. It also grounds you in the present, and reminds you that unless it's real (e.g. noticeable), it's probably fantasy.

Choosing and Playing with Options
Once you've simply noticed how irritating your gremlin can be, Carson offers five different options to play with to turn down the gremlin's volume. Since one of thes has been particularly useful to me in the last couple of weeks, I'll share more about it.

Breathe and Fully Experience. "If, instead of listening to your gremlin, you will simply breathe, feel your emotions, and give them lots of space in your body, you will notice that these emotions are no more than simple energy, and to experience energy is to feel vibrant and alive. ... The only time that emotions become dangerous is when we habitually bottle them up or discharge them impulsively without respect for other living things."

I met someone recently, (yes, a guy) and let me tell you, my life has been full of supercharged emotions and overwhelming gremlin chatter. (Let's just say that if my gremlin were communicating via cellphone, my bill would be in the thousands-of-dollars range.) Instead of freaking out, though, and taking foolish action to make my crazy feelings go away, I've been working to give them lots of space in my body and my life. More breathing, less doing/talking/thinking/judging/etc. It's been a major change, and one I can't recommend enough.

Carson shares additional tools, too, including changing just to show yourself and the world that you can do it, or speaking the words of your gremlin outloud, just to hear how absurd (or evil, or whatever) they are. All are useful (if you ask me).

Being in Process
"Being in process," says Carson, "is an attitude -- an appreciation of this simple truth and of the reality that your life will be forever unfolding and your future always unknown. ... Seeing yourself as in process will help you increase your level of simple moment-to-moment contentment and your appreciation of your very own gift of life."

This section of the book reminded me that there is no endgame, no finish line, no "being done" with change. That my gremlin will never fully disappear (even if I do manage to turn down the volume on him every now and then), but using the tools I have, I can create more happiness and peace for myself at every step along the way.

This book has been so helpful to me, I'm offering a two-night book group/workshop on it! July 7th and July 21st, I'll be gathering people in my office for a couple of hours to talk about what we learned, what we practiced, what resonated most with us, and how we can continue to use these tools to enrich our lives even more. If you're interested in joining, pick up a copy of the book, and drop me an email so I can share all the details!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

good thing? bad thing? who knows?

I recently ran into something in my life that seemed an awful lot like a setback. The Universe didn't give me a flat-out "No" (it was more of a "Not Yet") and yet it still knocked the wind out of me and, for about an hour, I was pretty despondent.

But then I thought of a story I had read in Are You Ready to Succeed? by Srikumar Rao:

An old man lived in a valley with his son, a handsome and dutiful youth. They lived a peaceful life despite a lack of material possessions. They were very happy. So much so, that neighbors began to get envious.

One day, the old man used all his savings to buy a young wild stallion. It was a beautiful horse that he planned to use for breeding. The very same day he bought it, the horse jumped the fence and ran off. The neighbors came over to sympathize. “How terrible!” they said.

“Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?” said the old man.

Ten days later the stallion returned. It came with a whole herd of wild horses, and the old man was able to lure them into the corral and fixed it so escape was no longer possible. The neighbors again gathered around “What good fortune!” they said.

“Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?” said the old man.

His son started to train the horse. One of them threw him to the ground and stomped on his leg. It healed crookedly and left the son with a permanent limp and endless pain. “Such misfortune, “said the neighbors.

“Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?” said the old man.

The next summer, the King declared war and all the young men from the village were forced into the army. Except the old man’s son was spared because of his injured leg. “Truly, you are a lucky man,” exclaimed the neighbors who cried over the loss of their own Sons.

“Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?” said the old man.

And the reality is that when something, on the surface, seems like a bad thing, it could actually be a good thing. I started thinking about all the times in my life when something "bad" turned into something really "good" (or at least something fairly neutral). That time missing my regularly scheduled train meant I managed to snag a seat on the later express train. Or the time I didn't get a window seat on the plane and ended up on the aisle next to a good looking guy I dated for the next six months.

And vice versa: how many times have I rushed into a subway station late at night to jump onto a train car (when they only come once every twenty minutes), only to find someone really drunk (and potentially barfable) in the car with me?

So I'm suggesting that for the next few days, when you jump to a conclusion that something is bad, instead you say "good thing? bad thing? who knows?" and try to see the doors that opportunity is opening up for you, rather than the ones you see circumstance closing. (And, as a note, the MTA is a really good place to start!)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

what to do when you really want it

I was at a show this weekend hosted by my dear friend John, and he was telling a story about his first few weeks in New York City. While living in a room at the YMCA as a fresh, young twenty-something, he encountered things I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. But he wanted to live in New York so badly, he had to find a way around it.

"Sometimes," he said, "you have to take your fear and put it on your head like a sherpa, and just keep slogging up the mountain towards your desire."

Since there's no way I could improve on that, I figured I'd share with you three things you can do to help you put your fear on your head:

1. Define what you really want.
It's one thing to say, "I want to be happy." It's another to say, "I want to earn enough money this year so that I can afford a bigger apartment, which will help make me happy." Similarly, "I want a boyfriend" becomes "I want to meet a man who is smart, self-aware, and funny, and who loves me in equal measure."

"I want to feel the strength that comes with being more artistic."
"I want to love my body and feel good about the way I look."
"I want to believe that I'm good enough, and feel solid in my faith in myself."

If the picture of your desire is clear and specific, it will be easier to make the changes, compromises, and sacrifices it will take to slog up the mountain.

So ask yourself: what do you really, really want?

2. Imagine yourself having it already.
What will it look like and feel like to have that bigger apartment or that boyfriend? How will you be different in that situation than you are now? What does that Future You have that Current You is missing? When you can see where you want to go, and believe that you really will get there, your actions are no longer shots in the dark, they're steps towards Future You. The effort you make goes towards a realizable goal; it's not just a series of random things you're doing in hopes that they'll pan out in some-way-someday.

When you allow yourself to believe that you CAN make the changes you want to make, then starting to make them becomes that much easier.

3. Take a small step every single day.
Decide that what you want is really important to you, and commit to making an effort towards reaching it every single day. There's no time like the present! Take up journaling, and write out your thoughts about the important issues you raise in making change. Be prepared to be uncomfortable and to rock the boat. (Change is not for the faint of heart.)

You've already decided that what you want is worth it, so when you're tempted to sink into the couch and watch another TV show, or when you're headed to the kitchen to mindlessly shovel food into your mouth, or when your credit card is whipped out and ready to make another numbing purchase, decide that right now is the moment you're going to change. Why spend another day waiting when Future You is out there beckoning you to live the life you really, really want?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Being fully present by Elaine Williams

In this day and age (May 17, 2009) my life seems to be spinning faster and faster with each passing month and year. It seems like I blink and suddenly half of the year has gone by, suddenly my niece and nephew have gotten a foot taller!

Where does the time go?

My days feel like they are one long endless to do list. (I must confess that I love making my list and then getting to cross off the completed items.)

Like many motivated entrepreneurs, I feel like I will never be done, that there will always be a million other things that need to be done if I am going to take my business to the next level.

I find myself in a state of constant multi tasking: texting at red lights, listening to voice mail while on the toilet while also opening mail; returning phone calls while running to appointment in NYC with sirens haunting me on the streets; eating lunch, breakfast, or snacking while checking emails, blogs, and facebook.

And then I wonder why I feel scattered, sensory overload and harried…

More and more I have been gently reminded by the universe about the fabulous gift of being fully present and mindful, moment by moment, in life.

I was sort of suffering a month ago in my life. I have been getting what I WANT for a change: more and more comedy gigs in the tri state area, PAID speaking gigs on topics I am truly passionate about, and finally finishing a rehab project to make my basement into a cool home office... and yet, I was not enjoying much of it. I felt tired, harried, totally not present to what many years of hard work had created.

And thankfully, I had been moved to check out Eckhart Tolle’s book, The New Earth, and to listen to it on the way to some gigs. (He also wrote about The Power of Now, so it was wonderful to listen to him talk about being fully present in the moment, and to look at my ego.) I also started to read another recommended book, the Presence Process, which after only a few pages gave me a new sense of freedom, peace, and stillness.

I think the lesson I am getting is that no matter how fast paced this world seems to get; and I have a feeling that with aging and all the technological progress it will continue to be fast, the secret is to be able to come from a moment to moment “center” in my daily life. And I must admit that after listening and just starting to read the previously mentioned books, I felt released from my suffering.

I started to enjoy my life again. I got present to my accomplishments and what I HAVE created as opposed to what was left to do.

I am intending to be more mindful in my life. I am continually challenging myself to be fully present to what I am doing, and to attempt to do just one thing, really well, at a time…something that my multi tasking body has been trained NOT to do for years!

I am heading back to the NYC area after performing at two comedy clubs in WA state. While working at the second club, I met a waitress with beautiful tattoos. Now I must say that ALL of the waitresses at this particular club had tattoos, but I was especially drawn to the purple flowers with green vines on one of her arms because the viney flowers framed a gorgeous, simple, splendid word that we all could use as a reminder.

The word was: breathe.

When I first saw it, I thought, well I should tattoo that one to my forehead!

And so, my dear reader, I will pass it on: just a gentle reminder to breathe.

I challenge you this week to stop and take deep breaths several times throughout your day.

Put post it notes around your home, office, and car.

Ask yourself, are you fully present with whatever you are doing, no matter how mundane?

Perhaps even the most trivial of tasks can take on a profound feeling if there is total and complete attention and intention put towards them.

Who knows, maybe taking out the trash and folding laundry could have a whole new element of surprise and sexiness?

Whatever your week holds for you, I implore you, I challenge you to breathe and to practice being fully present!

Elaine Williams is a certified life coach, comedian, and speaker. She loves to make people laugh and help inspire others to live their dream lives! You can learn more about her comedy at and life coaching at
If you want to be a part of her documentary: The Power of Healing Through Laughter, feel free to contact her at

Friday, May 8, 2009

How well do you manage change in your life? by Robin Jones

It's an important question, as practically every philosopher in history has pointed out, because change is the only constant in life; it's the one thing we can really count on.

And as there are so many circumstances out there in the world we can't control, it's worth taking a good hard look at how you manage the one common denominator in the midst of your perpetually variable life: you.

In this post I'll outline some things you can do to face change head on and meet it with strength, courage, and grace.

For our purposes, let's put the wide variety of changes you experience in your life into two categories: those you choose to make, such as moving across the country, starting a new career, ending/beginning a relationship, and those you don't choose, such as illness in yourself or a loved one, getting laid off or fired, ending/beginning a relationship.

What's true in both types, is that to achieve the outcome you want, you must meet both with full awareness, courage, and faith that it will turn out for the best. In other words, you have to show up. To do that most effectively, consider the following:

1. Clarify your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors related to the change

I lead a workshop I designed in corporations called Managing Change. Instead of presenting the participants with a prepackaged diagram describing the cycle of change, we create one together, based on their actual life experiences in dealing with changes.

The first thing I have them do is look at some of the changes they are currently moving through, and together we make lists of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. This allows them to get in touch with the nature of how they're taking charge of the situation, how they're reacting, and to notice themselves objectively, without judgment.

If you find yourself lost in the storm of the events (and sometimes chaos) around you, take some time for self reflection to understand what you think and feel and to take stock of your actions.

2. Understand the natural cycle of change

In the workshop, participants create a sequence of five or six phases of change. What's interesting is that every time I've worked through this with groups, there are subtle differences, but essentially, they all come up with the same things. Here's what the cycle looks like: 1. Realization/the Unknown: whether this is a change you've chosen or not, there's almost always a degree of fear or discomfort when beginning the process of moving into the unknown.

2. Contemplation: during this phase, much of your time and energy is spent focused on how you got here, why this change is occurring, and what your options are. The more you can let go of fear or confusion, the better prepared you'll be to handle the change.

3. Planning: this is where you weigh your options, start to make decisions about what actions to take, and what you want the outcome to be.

4. Implementation: this is putting the plan into action. If you've given careful consideration to all your options and you're clear on what you want, you should feel a great deal of strength and conviction here. Inaction because of second-guessing can be detrimental.

5. Outcomes: now you start seeing the results of your actions and stay aware of yourself and situation at all times. It's critical that you keep evaluating and adjusting in order to stay on track.
6. Integration: the final phase of the change cycle is the easiest and most organic. Like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, you see your learning and growth most powerfully. You're not the same person that began the process and you live in a larger world for having gone through it.What's important to note about this cycle is that it's happening whether you know it or not. By becoming aware of the cycle and what phase you're in at any given time, you allow yourself to make your choices based on the best possible outcome. Where we get into trouble in life is when we make choices by default, or worse, simply allow them to be made for us.

3. Let the universe polish you into a jewel

Thomas Carlyle said, "Adversity is the diamond dust Heaven polishes its jewels with."

There's a simple question to ask yourself during the process of change to keep you on track. "When I look back on this, who do I want to have been and how do I want to have acted?"

Write your answer in the form of a mission statement for moving through the change: two or three concise sentences that clarify the question. Make it a reflection of the person you strive to be, of the jewel you're becoming as you're being polished.

4. Learn to love the process of change

Some changes you'll never love. The man who becomes the caregiver for his mother as she enters Alzheimer's disease is obviously a different story than the woman who wins the lottery.

But you can learn to love the process of change if not the change itself. This is a topic for an entire book, but the nutshell version is getting to a deeper, perhaps spiritual understanding that the world is what it is, beyond the insignificance of our thoughts and emotions. It's a matter of adopting the serenity prayer: "(God), grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Whether you believe in a higher power or not, learning to love the process of change is about giving up control and allowing what will be to be.

The fact is, you're moving through change every moment of your existence: some of it minor, some massive. The degree to which you can stay focused on your sense of strength and grace throughout will determine your level of peace and satisfaction as you integrate it into your life.

Wishing you much success,

Robin Jones works with coaches, consultants, and other independent service professionals who are struggling to attract enough business, showing them how to get new clients easily and consistently for the lifetime of their business. Interested? Check him out at [Blogger's note: he's also my coach, and he's AMAZING!]

Thursday, May 7, 2009

what are you carrying?

There’s a Zen story about two monks, who are walking by a river. They come across a woman dressed in fine clothing. One monk offers to pick her up and carry her over the river, which she accepts. Once across the river, he puts her down, she thanks him and goes on her way.

Several hours later, the second monk just can’t stand it anymore — “Brother, our teaching tells us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked her up and carried her across the river!”

The other replies, “I put her down when we crossed the river. Why are you still carrying her?”

What haven’t you put down yet? Maybe it’s that dumb thing you said last week while talking to the cute girl in the bar who took your number but never called. ("I shouldn't have said that. I'm so stupid.") Maybe it’s what your mother told you when you were younger – that you were pretty but plain. ("I'm ugly.") Maybe it’s the fear of failure that you carry around after a risk you took tanked. ("I never should have done that. I'm such a loser.")

It doesn’t matter what it is, what matters is that you see your judgments, and you make an effort to put them down. (You're not stupid, you're not ugly, and you're not a loser!) Beliefs you have about how you should be or have to be… well, they’re just beliefs.

I'm not saying that makes them easy to put down. (Let’s not kid ourselves here.) But observing the nasty beliefs that you’re lugging around with you may keep you from picking up more like them, and you might be surprised to find that, once you identify a garbagey belief, it slips away all by itself.

The world gives you evidence of your goodness and worthiness. Collect that evidence, and put the other stuff down. Try this: keep a list of compliments people pay you. Doesn't matter if they're big or small, just collect them. The guy who catcalled while you were on your way to work? He totally counts! When your dad says he loves you, hear the truth of his love and accept it. Your boss just said you did a great job -- did you even hear that? People go out of their way to pay compliments, and accepting them is not only polite, it's the best way to collect your evidence.

So the next time someone offers you a compliment, put down the ugly judgments you're carrying, don't offer any mitigating circumstances (like how cheap your new dress was at TJ Maxx) and simply say "Thank you."

(Then run to your list and write it down!)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

how can I help you?

Has this ever happened to you: the phone rings and it's your friend, crying her eyes out over a guy. And you want to help, but you don't know what to say. Or maybe it's your boyfriend and his boss is doing that thing again that he just hates. Is it better to listen? Or should you chime in?

Lately, one of my best friends has been very depressed. And I don't mean just bummed out or "down," I mean depressed. Lots of crying, lots of tough issues causing her unbearable amounts of pain. And when she calls, I don't even worry about what to say. I'm not stressed out. Eight years ago, though, she was in a similar depression (albeit one less severe and with fewer mitigating circumstances), and at the time, it completely overwhelmed me. She would call, upset, and I wouldn't know what to say or do, and it would make me feel guilty, angry, frustrated, and, really, like a bad friend.

Since then, I've learned five very important words that have saved my sanity (and, arguably, my friendship): how can I help you? Because I want to help, she wants me to help, and yet, trying to read her mind to figure out how to help, and then come up with exactly the right thing to do is exhausting. (I imagine it's like teaching a pig to sing.)

By asking her how I can help, it not only takes the pressure off of me to make things better (or rather, takes the imaginary pressure off of me, since she's not actually doing anything but calling me) but, more importantly, it puts the responsibility for feeling better squarely on her. She has to identify what it is that would make her feel better and then accept it from me when I offer it.

This has worked enormously well for us. And I find I can carry it over into business, too. When my boss comes in with a complaint about so-and-so or a co-worker just can't stand her neighbor, I ask, "how can I help?" (or alternately, "what are you going to do about it?") Because complaining and whining, while it sometime feels good, doesn't solve anything.

"How can I help" shows others that you care about them without bulldozing them with advice they didn't ask for. It keeps you from having to guess what's broken and how best to fix it. And it cuts to the heart of the issue -- getting someone the support he or she needs, without any of our extra crap that they don't need.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

faith, fate, and effort

Why do things happen the way they do?

I have no idea. Not surprisingly, though, I have some thoughts. (Three, specifically.)

1. Faith
I was in a conversation this weekend with two friends about faith. One is very devout (to the extent of saving her virginity for her husband) and the other was asking her about how her faith shows up in her every day life; how she translates stories from the Bible that are centuries old to have meaning in our very modern world. And my devout friend said that, while she has had an upbringing full of sermons that do a lot of that translation for her, she just has faith. She believes in something for which there is no proof.

Because I've read it somewhere (and now can't remember where) I offered the idea that we all have faith, we just sometimes have faith in the wrong things. Like if you believe you're going to fail, you have faith, it's just not in your own success. And one of the benefits of believing in a mythology (which can be anything -- organized religion, psychology, self-help books, your own personal faith, etc.) is that you are provided with a positive shape for things to take. And this model, this shape to aim for, is one part of what makes things happen.

It puts you in a mindset that opens doors, breaks down barriers, and allows the things that are meant for you to enter into your life. (That's not to say that things that aren't meant for you don't enter as well, but I'm not interested in exploring that road right now.) For me, faith in a benevolent universe, in my own strength and power, and faith that the Great Narrator is enriching my character... these all help me keep moving.

2. Fate
I watched the second to last disc of Felicity (a J.J. Abrams series that I love like too much chocolate) and, oddly enough, the episodes were all about fate. Three times in two episodes, someone said to Felicity, "if it was meant to be, it'll happen." And while it's a very passive approach to the future and the way things happen, I believe there is some validity to having a fate-filled mindset.

This approach I apply mainly to the things in my life I can't control. Like boys. I strongly believe that there is someone out there for me, and I make effort (see below) to discover him, but it will happen only when it's supposed to happen. I can't force it. I can only be responsible and ready for whenever that time comes.

I'm not 100% clear on the idea of fate. It's tied up in both faith and effort, but also very clearly aligned with the wherever-you-go-there-you-are idea. That your fate is what plays itself out in the end -- that you can't know it in advance. I like the idea that my story is being written as I live it, and if there is an author, then he/she knows where my character's arc is supposed to go, and I just face the complexities that are going to shape me into that character. My fate, my destiny, is to be Me. Whoever that is.

3. Effort
For me, this is the easiest of the many ways to make things happen. What I am in charge of in my life, I make every effort to be completely responsible for.

I wanted very much to be an actor, for example, and I made the effort to lay all the groundwork and be responsible for my own career. Then I had faith that I would be a success (although, in hindsight, I'm not sure I thoroughly developed that faith), and if it's what I was fated for, it would have happened.

It didn't. Now, I'm not blaming Big Bad Fate for my not having had the acting career I wanted. I could certainly go back and try again, this time with a little more faith or a little more effort, or I can look at what I learned by giving it up and start all over by making more effort in another direction.

Wherever I go, there I am. And I'm always me. And I make the effort to have the faith that my fate is aligned with my desires.

Or at least I'm trying.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Is this the Kate I want to be?

My clients are extremely wise.

One of them said the other day that if a doctor prescribed her medication to make her life better, she would take it on a regular schedule and be very diligent about it. "I'm good about that kind of stuff," she said, and showed me her stash of new vitamins. But making the small changes in behavior that she believes (and I would argue, knows) will make her life better? Well, that's a whole lot harder.

Because that means making change. Turning your life upside down and getting into some unfamiliar -- and uncomfortable situations, all because you have the faith that making these changes is worth it.

So how do you motivate someone -- yourself -- to make those little changes? Where's the Magic Door to Faith? Yeah... I don't know.

What I do know, though, is that when I ask myself, at every opportunity, "Is this the Kate I want to be?" I make choices that serve me better.

Tonight, for example, I had a sink full of dishes, a half-exploded suitcase leaking clean clothes, and a National Disaster Area in my office. And, not so surprisingly, I found myself lying on the couch. With the remote in my hand, index finger poised over the play button on the DVR, I asked myself, "is this the Kate I want to be? Do I want to be the Kate who puts things off, plans to do them later, and then never really gets to them? The Kate who regrets not cleaning up after herself when she has the time -- but has seen every episode of Without A Trace even though she doesn't even really like that series? Or do I want to be a different Kate?"

Needless to say, the dishes are done, the clothes are folded and put away, and my office is, well, FEMA-approved. I even managed to find time to write a post.

Because this is the Kate I want to be. And there's not a pill in the world that can help me be her. I just have to be responsible, see my opportunities to make change, and choose behaviors that help me become the Kate I want to be.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Feel good!

I find the tone of Time Out New York tends to be fairly juvenile and petty (which, of course, doesn't mean I don't read it), but last week they ran an article about "easy things you can do to improve your mood now," and I thought the idea was worth sharing.

They list different places to breathe, connect, refuel, "remind yourself there's beauty within darkness" (i.e., cemeteries), reach out to a higher power (churches) and sweat out the stress.

You can read their article here. I'd love to know where you go, though.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Leave It! (Or The Benefits Of Puppy Training) by Rebecca Soulette

[This is my first guest writer post, written by my dear friend Rebecca Soulette, Life Coach Extraordinaire!]

I don't know about you, but I like to think of myself as advanced, intelligent, complicated. I like to think that all my years on this planet have made me into a sophisticated, intricate, fascinating machine that has the capability of using fancy systems and techniques to better my life.

But recently, my ego bubble was popped when it became abundantly clear that what I REALLY needed to fix a challenge I was having was straight-ahead, no-holes-barred PUPPY TRAINING. I needed to learn to simply obey a command. Period.

What was that command?

"Leave it!"

The same thing one of my best friends says to her puppy when the dog picks up something nasty and she wants her to spit it out.

A little over a week ago, I found myself in a pickle: I was in a semi-obsessive, mean to myself, depressed place over a guy who, for whatever reason, just isn't that into me. So I called my friend for help.

We strategized ways I could keep this guy in my life (as we're currently working together on some projects) while simultaneously getting him and any reminders of him out of my sight so that I'd have little temptation to obsess about the fact that he's not into me.

Through our conversation, I deleted all of this guy's emails & texts and removed his phone number from my caller ID & cell phone. Then, we came to the stickiest challenge: Facebook, the obsessive girl's road to hell.

For those of you unfamiliar with facebook, suffice it to say, signing on to my account provides ample opportunities to see snippets of this guy's life when I LEAST EXPECT IT and could easily get sidetracked paying attention to it. I didn't want to delete him as one of my facebook "friends," yet, I didn't want to be sideswiped by random posts about him.

My friend had the PERFECT strategy. While I was coming up with complicated ways of trying to avoid noticing this guy online, my friend said, simply, "You know what? I think you're going to have to do what I've been training my puppy to do when she picks up something icky in her mouth: 'Leave it!' You know, 'Spit it out!' 'Drop it!' Because he's poison to you right now, Rebecca. You've got to just, 'Leave it!' "

Know what? She was RIGHT!

There are times in our lives when a specific system or strategy may help us unlearn a habit, but, at the end of the day, sometimes we DO have to treat ourselves the way we would treat a brand new puppy who needs to be trained. Simply COMMAND ourselves to "Leave it!" and then OBEY. And that's what I've been doing, successfully, ever since she suggested it.

Each time I see his updates online, I hear my friend's Alpha Dog Voice in my head barking, "Leave it!" and I spit it out (or scroll away from it). Understanding that the "Leave It!" command is all about my safety, my comfort, and my happiness, and that little bits of information about this guy are like a slimy, ratty stick that I shouldn't chew on or bring into the house.

Instead of trying to THINK my way out of letting this guy go, my job is simply to OBEY THE COMMAND, just like her puppy does when she picks up something bad for her.

Are there places in your life where you're stuck trying to let something go where it would really help to just have someone follow you around and shout, "Hey, Leave it!" If so, I invite you to try it: be your own dog trainer and simply OBEY and see if it helps you make progress.

It's now clear to me (as I'm becoming less and less attached to this guy) that there are quite a few places in my life where puppy training would help me more than anything.

This week, whatever it is you need to let go of, "Leave it!" and see what happens.

Let me know if it works for you!

Life Coach, Rebecca Soulette, CFLC III, is a senior level coach certified through the Fearless Living Institute. She is an expert in helping her clients to live the lives they were born to live. She is also the creator of, where she helps celebrities and others in the public eye create balanced and fulfilling lives beyond their fame. Rebecca Soulette, CFLC III, also offers teleclasses, private 1:1 and group coaching. To help both celebrities and non-celebrities alike live the lives the were born to live. Learn more now at

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Stuck in the Yuck™

I have a friend who is looking for a new job. She’s very frustrated by her current job, and wants something new, but feels stuck and trapped and in a rut. “I just can’t see myself getting a new job in this economy,” she said.

“So, can we look at what you are getting by having that belief?” I asked.

(crickets chirping)

“What I mean is,” I continued, “what does believing you won’t get a new job allow you to do? What does it get you off the hook from having to do? Is it keeping you feeling safe? I mean, sure, misery’s misery, but is comfortable misery better than uncomfortable uncertainty?”

(I can be kind of a pain sometimes.)

Another friend told me she was furious at a co-worker. I asked, "what does being mad at this woman give you? A feeling of righteous indignation? Power? Superiority?"

(Sometimes I'm lucky to have friends.)

Here's why I do this: whenever I’m in a place with a Severe Yuck Factor™, I try to find out what good is coming from that situation – or, really, what benefit I’m getting that is strong enough to explain why I’m letting myself sit in the Yuck™.

(And when I say "benefit," I don't necessarily mean something actually good or helpful in my life. I really mean something more like an Avoidance Enabler or a Safety-Seemer or a Stuck Maker.)

For example: I’ve been eating a lot late at night. It’s a habit I wish I didn’t have, that I know how not to have, that I have control over having, and yet I’m feeling powerless to it and allowing myself to eat late at night. So what does my purported powerlessness mean to me? Well, it means I can eat instead of feeling lonely. It gets me off the hook from having to explore feelings of Cosmic Pointlessness that make me unhappy. Basically, my wafers are keeping me safer and the box of raisins gives me a raison d'etre. (ha!)

When things are miserable (or even just Yucky™) it can be really valuable to explore what good you’re getting from the yuck. Be honest. Go deep. Cry if you have to. Because knowing what your protective self is getting from the situation might just be the difference between getting out, or staying Stuck in the Yuck™.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

motivating change

In Kaye Thorne's book Coaching for Change, she has a section on how a coach (or you, yourself, acting as a coach), can help clients to motivate themselves. One of the major obstacles to achieving change is often the lack of focus on the issue and the initial hurdle of getting going. Sort of the "I want to change, but not if it's going to hurt" mentality. (Because even though a rut is miserable, it's terribly comfy, isn't it?)

Thorne recommends looking at the following ten questions:

1. What is stopping me?
2. What could I do differently?
3. What could I do today to help me take the first step towards achieving my vision?
4. What help will I need?
5. Who do I know that I trust to talk to about what I want to achieve?
6. What will happen to me if I don't get started?
7. If I decide to wait what are my reasons?
8. If I am going to wait when will it be the right time?
9. What have been the best successes in my life?
10. What can I learn from these successes to help me achieve my current vision and goals?

Additionally, she recommends using the following checklist to assess whether or not you (or the client) are motivated enough to actually make change:

Can they describe their goals in one or two sentences?
Have they really researched the idea?
When thy have spare time does it readily come to the forefront of their mind?
Have they refined their goals over a period of time?
Are they happy to talk about it?
Could they share the achievement of this goal with someone else?
Have they got all the information they need about this goal?
Have they got a network of support?
Could they overcome challenges in the achievement of their goals?
Do they really want to do it?

I know that, for me, identifying what's in my way and relying on a support network can be enormously helpful when I'm facing a change. Are there questions you ask yourself when you're trying to change?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

book review: Mindset

Rewriting this post (which, alas, blogspot has forced me to do, grumble grumble grumble) has given me an extra opportunity to practice something I learned from Carol Dweck, Ph.D., in her book, Mindset.

The premise of the book is simple but extraordinarily valuable. Dweck argues that there are two ways to approach the world -- two mindsets, if you will -- that people fall into. One is a fixed mindset, where traits and skills are permanently frozen and any value an individual has in life comes from the application of those traits and skills. It is easy for a person with a fixed mindset to define herself -- "I am smart," "I am funny," "I am valuable because I succeed at ____________." (And I certainly don't know anyone like that...) (ahem) The danger of the fixed mindset is that anything that causes friction between your beliefs about who you are and the reality of a situation (e.g., a bad grade on a test, a lack of laughter at a comedy show) becomes a defining moment. "I am no longer smart or funny. I am a failure."

The second approach is a growth mindset, where identity is more fluid and learning takes on a more important role. In the growth mindset, failure is just an opportunity to re-evaluate the situation. Bad grade on a test? Just means you have to go back to the book to try to comprehend what you missed on the test. No laughter? Hmmm, maybe the show needs to be reworked a little bit. Failure in the growth mindset is "a problem to be faced, dealt with, and learned from." (p.33)

Which brings me back to the beginning of this post. I wrote it beautifully (if I do say so myself) and posted it, only to encounter a major error and the eating (by blogspot) of my post. Now, from a fixed mindset, I could have said to myself that I was a loser, a failure, what, you can't even post a blog the right way? In the growth mindset, though, I can focus on saving the drafts and making sure that what appears to be saving is actually saving.

There are arenas in my life where I definitely live in a fixed mindset -- acting, "smarts," my body, money -- and arenas in which I live in a growth mindset -- coaching, fiction, working out. And I want to transition more of the fixed areas (which are comfortable simply because when I am not taking risks, I get to feel superior) into growth areas (where superiority and inferiority aren't even issues).

Where are you in a fixed mindset? Where are you in a growth one?

Monday, March 2, 2009

consider a cucumber cheerleader

It seems I've been dating for a hundred years now. And I had dinner with a friend last night who made the point that when one bad date follows another (or a good date never follows up), it's hard to stay positive about being single and continuing to meet people.

I took this to heart, and I offer all my single readers this advice:

Consider a Cucumber Cheerleader.

One of the opportunities dating affords us is the chance to change. To look at our behavior, identify habits and trends that aren't working for us -- in an arena where the stakes can be considerably high (depending on how much you want a partner) -- and make active choices to change those habits and trends. (Sounds simple, at least.)

For example, I tend to rush things. (Just ask the last six guys I was serious with.) (Well, no ask the last three. The previous three liked to rush things, too.) I have a good date and want to hear from the guy the next day. If I don't hear from him in two days, I start to panic. Three days and it's a coronary. Four days and I've burnt the coaster he gave me that ended up in my bag as a memento from a good date. Five days and I've voted him off the island of my love, never to return. So when he calls me six days later, it's too late. He's already ruined everything.

This seriously doesn't work for me. It bends me out of shape and makes me angry. It makes me feel desperate and unlovable. And while I believe that after a good date, follow up will happen within one to four days, just because I haven't heard from a guy in six days doesn't mean he won't call, or that if he does call, I can't enjoy his company again. All it means is that he hasn't called. I don't know why, I don't know if he will, I don't know anything.

Prior to working with my Cucumber Cheerleader (which I'll get to in a second), at this point, I used to call him. Feeling antsy, feeling like I wanted Mr. Gooddate to be my boyfriend, I'd call him and follow up myself. Sometimes he'd respond, and sometimes I wouldn't hear from him. And while equality between the sexes in terms of phone contact is fine, I (personally) was ignoring the fact that he hadn't demonstrated behavior that I had clearly identified as desirable in my next boyfriend.

I was sabotaging myself by being willing to ignore behavior I found uncomfortable, just because one date felt good.

During all this time, I was always calling my sister. "Just stay calm," she'd say. "Be a cucumber. Cool. Totally cool." I didn't listen to her at first, thinking that her way was "following the rules" and "game playing" but what I learned over time was that she was totally right. That if I could turn down my anxiety and desperation and become more like a chilly little cuke, I could see behavior more clearly. Both good and bad behavior.

After working with my Cucumber Cheerleader (who would call me on the weekends after dates and say "were you cool? were you a good cucumber?") I started to be more patient. I remember I was dating a guy for a few months who never told me that he cared about me. And I started to get sick of it, but because of all my Produce Practice, I waited before I said anything. And the day I wanted to bring it up but didn't, he called me to tell me how much he cared about me and how happy he was that he'd met me -- things he wouldn't have said if I had confronted him about it.

Another time, I met a guy and had what I thought was a great evening together, and he completely disappeared, never to be heard from again. I knew I had finally achieved Real Live Cucumber status when I never called him or contacted him at all. I wanted to, don't get me wrong, but because of my Cheerleader, I was now trained to focus on my worth, and not to waste my energy on people who didn't share the same opinion of it.

I'm truly blessed to share so many genes with my Cheerleader. My sister has helped me to practice being patient and staying calm. She's encouraged me to focus on things outside of dating to make me naturally more cucumberish. She's given me support when I've needed it the most. And without her, I'd still be behaving desperately. And not getting what I want.

I still believe that the right man for me will find me, have a great date with me, and follow up in four days. But until he does (or if he doesn't), I'm working to improve myself so that I bring the best package to the table.

It's not easy, but it's worth it. And luckily, I'm not doing it alone.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

book review: What Got You Here Won't Get You There

What Got You Here Won't Get You There, by Malcolm Gladwell

This is a useful book when, as a coach (or a person) you approach people who have already had a great deal of success in their lives, but need to make some changes to make them even more successful.

As Gladwell points out, there are several reasons successful people are reluctant to change:
  • their past behavior worked
  • arrogance
  • success serves them as a protective shell
  • they are working towards an endgame that doesn't matter to them (they don't care what other people think or about promotions or money)
And, there are a few reasons that often work as motivators to change (especially in business):
  • money
  • power
  • status
  • popularity

Goldsmith then goes on to list twenty habits that hold people back from becoming more successful. I won't list them all here (or why would you read the book?) but most of them can be derived from the first one, which is Winning Too Much (or Needing to Win Too Much). This need takes many unflattering shapes -- arguing, putting down, ignoring, withholding, blaming, etc. The more you can suppress the need to win, the more you let others be right, and the more they will respect and enjoy working with you.

After sharing the 20 Habits that Hold You Back, Goldsmith offers Seven Steps to Improvement, all of which seem fairly commonsensical:

  • Accepting Feeback
  • Apologizing
  • Advertising the change you're trying to make
  • Listening
  • Thanking people
  • Following up
  • Practicing Feedforward

Feedforward is an ingenious way to get other people involved in your success. The concept is simple -- pick something to change, describe your project to everyone you know, ask them for two suggestions on how to improve in that area, listen carefully and thank them.

That's it. Don't comment on the ideas, complain about them or agree to do them. Simply listen and say "Thank you." Then compile a list of suggestions and begin to act.

While this is a particularly business-based book, there are a number of suggestions (especially listening, thanking and apologizing) that work really well in personal relationships, too. And, although I haven't tested it yet myself, feedforward seems like a really good way to get those around you to buy into the changes that you're trying to make -- especially if your changing threatens those people.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

whispering sweet nothings to myself

There're a number of theories out there dealing with how people talk to themselves. One of them says that if you say something outloud, it means you've thought it to yourself something like 20,000 times (or some other outrageous number. I'm kind of making that one up). So if you're saying things like "god, I suck" or "I'm so stupid" or "I hate everything" it means you're spending a LOT of your time thinking negatively.

Not sure you're doing this? Simply monitor what you say outloud and you can get a barometer of what's going on inside your head.

I've been working on this for a long time, and have really cut back on the number of horrible, judgemental things I say to myself. (It used to be mostly "Ugh! You're so stupid!" or "Too fat!") Now, for the most part, me, myself and I are just chat buddies, striking up conversations whenever we feel like it. (Generally, not on a crowded subway car or in the supermarket or anything -- we're discreet.)

For the sake of entertainment, I spent a day making mental notes about the outstanding things I say outloud to myself. Here are but a few. (Mind you, these are all things I said outloud, to nobody.):

"Ooh, that does NOT taste right." (and then I drank again.)
"Let's go then, shall we?" (apparently I am the queen)
"She's so awesome!" (as I hung up the phone with a friend)
"Toilet, please flush. I'm getting sick of this." (arguably, I said this to the toilet.)
"Couldn't you just do yourselves?" (again, I was talking to the dishes.)
"It helps to take your keys, Kate, if you want them." (I do use my own name.)
"Ok, we're done here." (I said this as I walked away from a cake.)
"Phew! You are stinky!" (I can't help it. I just went running!)

I'm sure there are more, but these are the ones I remember -- or at least the ones I caught myself saying and then actually remembered when I sat down to write.

My challenge for you, though, is to keep stock of what you say. Are you friendly? Are you harsh? What comes out of your mouth, and what swirls around in your head?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

focus on the happy

At times, it's really important to remember the things in the world (and my life) that delight me. Especially when winter seems to be taking forever and the city is gray and dreary. And life seems less pleasant than I want it to. This helps.

Here are just a few:

1. accidentally writing "pimportant" instead of "important"
2. brioche
3. hipbones
4. raisins
5. hem
6. just making a train
7. plaid (the word, not the design)
8. story people
9. President Obama
10. the feeling of sudafed kicking in
11. the heffalumpish sound I made when I fell down on the escalator*
12. the dog this morning with legs barely longer than the two inches of accumulated snow that was bounding through the drift like he was a husky in the tundra
13. whatever they're cooking downstairs
14. dogs that walk themselves
15. clean sheets
16. moments of improvisational genius when the world just feels right

*I didn't enjoy falling down the escalator; that hurt. But the "oomphf" that escaped me (quite loudly, in fact) was entertaining. And not sexy.