Sunday, December 19, 2010

book review: The Five Love Languages

I can't believe I haven't written about this yet.

Seriously. How could I have gotten this far without it?

There's an amazing book that will change your life forever if you go out and read it. How do I know? As the saying goes, I'm not just the president, I'm also a member.

Gary Chapman has written an incredible book about the ways in which people express and feel love called The Five Love Languages. At a certain point, the book gets a little more God-and-Jesusy than I like, but before it gets there, he shares with us some observations about the way people love that have changed the way I both interpret people's behavior and express my own feelings.

Chapman's argument is that there are five major styles -- languages, if you will -- that people use to express their love. And those, in turn, influence the way people feel loved by other people.

Those five languages are these:

1. Acts of Service
Some people will DO THINGS for those they love. They will take on the chores they know disgust you, or go out of their way to perform a task for you, whether you've asked them to do it or not.

My father is a perfect example of this. Once, when I was incredibly sick (and a mere two blocks from the doctor's office), I called him hoping for some sympathy. My father, instead of telling me how much he loved me and letting me know I would be ok, immediately offered to get into the car, drive to where I was, and take me to the doctor. He was more than willing to take 3 hours out of his day to find me, chauffeur me to wherever I needed to go, and then go home. Because he understands love to be about DOING.

2. Words of Praise
Some people are moved to show their feelings by saying nice things. It could be as simple as "you look pretty" or as complex as a sonnet on the shine of your hair, it doesn't matter. Words of praise people will TELL you how much they love you.

I had a boyfriend once who fell into this category. He sent me the most romantic letters, poems, and emails. He spared no opportunity to speak to me with words that made me smile.

3. Quality Time
Still, others prefer stopping their world and making spending time with you the most valuable thing they could be doing at the moment. To these people, it doesn't necessarily matter what you do, just as long as you are BEING together.

I once had a boyfriend who found that time on the phone to his family was also quality time. What mattered to him wasn't the amount of time, but rather the intention behind the time -- making space to really connect with another person -- that mattered.

(This was a good thing, as he happened to live across the country from me, too.)

4. Physical Touch
These people are the huggers. They're the hand-holders, neck-nuzzlers, and back touchers. They're the ones who seek reassurance and connection through physicality. And it's not just about Naked Time. It could be sitting on the couch with his feet in your lap, or patting him on the head as you walk out the door. These people FEEL love physically.

5. Gifts
Gift people like to give things -- expensive or free -- to those they love. They collect and hand over presents that the object of their affection has either requested or not.

My mother is a perfect example of this. She always plies us with food or "something I saw at the store that made me think of you." I remember growing up and taking long car trips -- my mother would GIVE us a little something to unwrap every hour.

Odds are that you fall most strongly into one category or another. That doesn't mean you have to speak only one language, but that your main mode is likely to be only one of the above.

Me? I'm all about gifts. I love to give people presents, and I've been known to squeal with glee when someone gives me something that made them think about me while they were out and about. But I'm also into words of praise. After that, I'm probably acts of service, and then physical touch. Quality time is very difficult for me to understand -- why wouldn't you want to be with me all the time?? So it's best for me to go out with men who are either gifters or who understand the value of gifts to me.

And this is where it gets cool. When you know the five languages, you can choose to express yourself in any language, not just the one that makes the most sense to you. If you know your partner feels love through quality time, you can make an appointment with him or her. Conversely, you can interpret your partner's behavior -- wanting to spend a night with you -- as his or her way of expressing love.

Let's go back to my father for a minute. When I called him, I was looking for words of praise -- "You'll be ok," "I love you," that kind of thing. But my father hasn't read this book and doesn't know that his way of expressing and my way of feeling loved aren't the same. So it was up to me to interpret his act of service as love. Once I realized that he was sharing his love in the only language he spoke, I was able to hear how much he cared.

Similarly, with my Quality Time boyfriend. When I realized that his language was one I couldn't comprehend, I told him about the five styles. I told him I was more a gifts/words of praise kind of girl, and he tried to modulate his behavior to meet me there. And I tried to see his desire to spend time together as his way of saying he loved me.

This has been an incredible tool for me in understanding why people behave the way they do. Why, when all that matters to me is that you tell me I'm beautiful, are you always taking out the trash? Who cares about watching TV on Friday nights -- can't you just bring me home a tootsie roll?

And one of the really neat things to look at is whether or not you use your own love language on yourself. If you're a gifter, do you allow yourself to buy that sweater you can't stop thinking about? If you like words of praise, what kind of things do you say to the mirror? When do you schedule the quality time with yourself?

Forgive my oversight in not having posted this sooner. There's still time -- go out and buy this book! (See? I'm trying to gift it to you right now!)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

the most perfect baby in the world

Watch out, because I'm about to brag.

I have the most perfect nephew in the entire universe. He's cute, hilarious, warm, sleepy, adorable, and the softest, sweetest lump ever created. And he's mine!

Over Thanksgiving, I was rocking him to sleep on my shoulder and his tiny little butt was tucked into my elbow, his sweet little breaths coming quickly and shallowly near my ear, and my heart just melted.

Tears welled up in my eyes, and I looked at my sister.

"Do you ever just love him so much that it hurts?"

She looked at me with a smile and four months of Mommy Wisdom, and then I loved her so much that it hurt.

So, Kate, aside from the fact that he's perfect and you're lucky, who cares? Finding and connecting to that kind of pure love was so powerful, so clean and raw, I feel like it's something everyone should experience. It felt like a light shining from the depths of my heart onto the baby, and my sister, and my family, and me.

Maybe you're not into babies. That's fine. They're noisy and they poop a lot. I get it. What I'm saying is how important it is to really connect with something pure and something 100% love. If that's theatre, then see a show. If it's music, start playing. If it's writing, grab your pencil. And you don't have to marry it, or move in with it, or make it your life. (Lord knows I've turned down a free apartment in Boston more times than my sister has offered.) Just connect with it. Feel it. Let it shred you a little. The stitching back together feels incredible.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Emotional Coat

A few weeks ago I returned to Yale for a reunion of my comedy group. I knew that going back to campus would be hard -- being in New Haven has always stressed me out, but when I got there, I met up with my best friend from the group (and one of my favorite people of all time) and we caught up.

"I'm just not where I thought I would be," he said, after outlining what's going on in his life. And I knew the feeling. When I graduated, I thought that by 33 I'd be running the world. I'd be some famous Broadway actor at night and running meetings in powersuits during the day. I'd have an apartment uptown and -- get this -- a car! As time has passed, though, I've gotten used to the simpler pleasures in life, and no longer seek stardom or parking. In truth, my friend is exactly where I'd like to be. He has a stable, challenging, great-paying job, a husband, a house, and two new cats. You know... everything!

"I'm not where I thought I'd be, either," I said, and all my doubts came flooding back in. Was I ever going to meet someone? Was I ever going to make enough money to afford a house or a baby? Was I ever going to amount to anything?!

At some point over the weekend, I realized that I was in the passing lane on the expressway to the land of self-doubt that I inhabited as a late teenager. And what better place to reinforce the message of "what have you done with your life?" than one of the most prestigious (and expensive) universities in the country? I felt tense, sick to my stomach, and unable to sleep.

I met a woman who made me feel really safe, and in talking with her I realized that I didn't have to feel so gross. I've accomplished a lot since college, not the least of which was growing into a sense of self that isn't defined by the need to amount to something. The difference between me now and me in college is that now I wear that self-doubt like a big, ugly coat. It gets hot, so I take it off any chance I get. Sometimes I even check it at the door! In college, though, I wore it like a skin, not even aware that it was something to be shed.

I bring this up now because soon, many of us will be headed home for the holidays. And what better place to revert to old habits and old messages of worthlessness than our childhood homes? (I know, sad, right?) I'm blessed. My family is so open that we've talked about these things, and about how much better it feels if we behave like children on purpose instead of by default. We ask for the attention we seek, and I find that I don't need to ask for nearly as much as I used to subliminally (and ineffectually) demand.

It's unpleasant, but I encourage you to put on your coat. Maybe it doesn't look like mine, laden with doubts about how good you are, (though if I had to guess, I'd say it probably does). Whatever material is used to construct it, pick that up. And then, before you go home, practice putting it down again. Hell, put down the coat you're wearing today. See that you have a choice about the thoughts that run through your head, and, in the spirit of the holidays, choose nicer thoughts.

Santa would want you to.

Monday, November 8, 2010

carrots and sticks and bears, oh my!

I've been reading an interesting book about motivation and sticking to your commitments called Carrots and Sticks, written by a Yale professor of economics. The book proposes two different approaches to goal-reaching; being rewarded for reaching milestones along your journey, and being punished for not doing so.

(Hence, carrots and sticks.)

The interesting thing, though, is that Ian Ayres (the author) has built a website,, that allows people to put up a certain amount of their own money as a bet against their failure. For example, Ayers himself has been striving to keep his weight under 180 pounds. To aid in this, he has agreed that can take the $500 he has put at risk every week if he goes over 180. Even more compellingly, he has agreed that can send that money to a cause he does not support.

How does the website know that he's gone over 180 pounds? Well, he tells them. Part of Ayres' commitment is his willingness to participate in the contract (and report honestly) in the first place. Because are you really going to bet $500 that you'll stop a behavior you kindasortakinda want to stop? I doubt it. encourages users to identify an external arbiter to oversee these contracts -- someone like a coach, for example -- to make sure the person is reporting honestly, and really making use of the system.

Because once someone lies about one commitment, the whole thing is shot.

I find this particular type of motivation both exciting and terrifying. Putting $500 of my own money at risk would ensure that any undesired behavior would cease to happen -- especially if that money was going to, say, the NRA, the Tea Party, or Sarah Palin's campaign fund -- and yet, I don't know if I could forgive myself if an emergency happened and I couldn't stick to my commitment. Not only would I be letting myself down, I'd be out $500, and would probably have to drum up another $500 to donate to positive causes to balance out the harm I've done.

And that's what I like about using money as a motivator; it brings the issue into the front of my consciousness. There are a number of things I want to do -- like blogging regularly -- that, if I lost $500 every time I didn't do them would happen more often. At the same time, I'm not sure I'd want to live with the stress of that kind of money hanging over me.

A client of mine is using this approach -- not through the website, but through a verbal agreement with me -- and I'm amazed to see the amount of work he's doing. Will this last longer than one week? I'm not sure. But it definitely is motivating him to make absolutely sure the desired behavior happens seven days in a row.

Who knew Sarah Palin could be so useful?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

book review: What Happy People Know by Dan Baker (part 2)

In my previous post, I started raving about a great book I've read recently called What Happy People Know, by Dan Baker. In it, the author outlines six tools for happiness that you can employ to make your regular life happier, or to use in times of trouble and misery, just to get through the day. (I like doing both, thankyouverymuch.)

The six happiness tools are:
1. Appreciation
2. Choice
3. Personal Power
4. Leading with Your Strengths
5. the Power of Language and Stories
6. Multidimensional Living

I covered Appreciation, Choice, and Personal Power in the last post, so today I'll give you a run down of the last three, starting with...

Leading with Your Strengths
It feels good to do what you're good at. That's no great secret. And there have been two camps in the Self-Mastery world for years -- those who say to play to your strengths, and those who say to develop your weaknesses. But if you think about it, only the first camp really makes sense. Why burden yourself with improving your calculus skills if doing calculus doesn't make you happy?

Baker says that in working with severely troubled people, his first efforts are to connect them to their strengths. Everyone is good at something, even if that something isn't something you value. Baker's work starts with finding his clients' strengths and then transferring those skills into other areas of his clients' lives.

For example, he worked with an anorexic patient and never once asked her about food. Instead, they spent the first few sessions talking about what she loved -- her dog -- and then finding ways to expand that circle of love onto herself. When we surround ourselves with what we're good at, we feel powerful and joyful, and those lead us to greater and greater adventures.

The Power of Language and Stories
Several years ago, if you asked me if it was important whether someone said "I can't" or "It's hard," I would have said no. I would have told you that there are things I can't do, and things that are hard for me to do, and I would have done my best to convince you that that was "the truth."

Now, however, after a few years of playing with language and its effect on me, I have a completely different opinion. I have first hand experience of the power of words on the stories I tell myself. So I was pleased to see this show up in Baker's book.

He talks about how engaging in self-talk is how people begin to make sense of the world around them. (Incidentally, there's a Radiolab episode that talks about the same thing, and I was just listening to it before I sat down to write. Thanks, Universe!) And that, if we talk to ourselves the way we want others to talk to us, we're already on a better foot, saying "we do not describe the world we see, we see the world we describe."

He, too, cautions against using "can't," "don't," "shouldn't," and "won't," and goes on to warn against using the passive voice instead of the active one. But the key point I took away from the whole section on language is his idea of telling healthy stories vs. horror stories.

"When you meet someone new and tell him the quick version of the story of your life, do you usually tell him a healthy story or a horror story? Most people want to tell a healthy story, because nobody wants to look bad. But many people just don't know how. They're so accustomed to telling themselves horror stories in their self-talk that they just start blurting out all their fears and feelings of helplessness, although they often cloak them in terms of humor or heroics. They like their job -- but it was a real struggle to get it, and it still feels precarious. Their children are doing well -- but they're teenagers, and you know how that is..."

He goes on to say that it's "smart to tell yourself and others healthy stories about all the little incidents of your daily life. If you're late for work, don't tell yourself that your boss is going to kill you and that you're a loser for sleeping late. Tell yourself you're lucky to have a job where you can be late once in a while, and that you're going to use this experience to be more punctual in the future. The horrific version will just make you more defensive, while the healthy one will make you appreciative. People will notice the difference."

Multidimensional Living
When I read this book, I was dating a wonderful guy who seemed to have it all -- genius smart, off-the-wall funny, good-looking, and a great communicator. And the reason our relationship fell apart was because he was allowing himself to be ruled by his job. He had no time for a relationship -- or anything else, for that matter. And he wasn't happy. So this section really resonated with me.

A question that Baker asks his clients (to gauge where they are in their heads) is "are you winning at life?" The responses he gets vary, but if a person has no idea how to even approach the question, he gets a sense immediately that they are out of balance. ("Happy people," he says, "almost always think they're winning, even when they don't know what they're winning.")

Most people suffer from a lack of clear, values-based priorities, and so end up floating through life, buffeted by whatever comes their way. Baker argues that if you want happiness, you need to decide what you really want and then put your energy where it will do the most good.

There are three arenas in life, he argues; 1) purpose (often, work), 2) health, and 3) relationships. If you integrate all three arenas into your every day life, you can let your passions take you where they will -- because you have the grounding in the other areas to pull you back to center. It's when one of the arenas has more sway and importance than the others that people can get out of whack.

And that's the extremely nutshelled version of the book. There is so much more to it, so much that I want to xerox and hand out to people on the subway like those crazy stores that want to buy your gold.

The New York Public Library has five copies of this book, and at the time of this writing, four of them were available. If you're interested in finding balance, connecting with your heart, and having a handful of tools in your toolbox of self-improvement, this is a great book for you. (It certainly was for me.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

book review: What Happy People Know by Dan Baker

I read a lot of self-help books, but rarely do they offer me so much new information that I feel compelled to share them with you. (The last book I recommended was The Magic LAMP, which I read in February!) I recently came across a book, though, that I want you all to go out and buy/rent/borrow/steal. (Ok, maybe not with the stealing.) Today! Now! Go!

Oh wait. You need to know what book first.

In this book, What Happy People Know, Dan Baker, the head of the Life Enhancement Program at Canyon Ranch (a spa/resort/retreat I may never make enough money to visit) offers up useful information in an approachable and easily digestible fashion.

According to Baker, there are six major happiness tools people can use:
1. Appreciation
2. Choice
3. Personal Power
4. Leading with your strengths
5. Language and stories
6. Multidimensional living

Because it's had such an impact on me, I thought I'd take you through some of the highlights of the tools.

1. Appreciation
I've talked about appreciation and gratitude before, but Baker takes these concepts much deeper, offering three or four practicable tools to make appreciation not just part of your regular routine, but also part of your disaster recovery mode.

For example, he shares one exercise called "Freeze Frame." When things are going All Kinds of Wrong, instead of thinking about how things are getting out of control, you think of something you appreciate. A loved one, a natural phenomenon, your dog, whatever. Doing this will calm your heart rate and give you space in which to see things differently. I've used it, and found it incredibly helpful.

He also talks about optimism, and how being an optimist is not simply walking around with a dopey smile on your face and approaching life with a glass-half-full attitude, but rather, it's an understanding that the more difficult or painful a situation is, the more profound the learning will be. This has helped me a lot recently while going through an incredibly emotionally break up -- I knew that when I came out the other side of the break up I would know more about myself and how I operate, which felt like a gift compared to the kick in the pants the break up was giving me. Does it make me want to run right out and break up again? No, absolutely not. But it does give me some silver lining and light at the end of an otherwise unpleasant-smelling tunnel.

(His mother also chimed in with the soothing idea that "no two people ever love each other the same -- and that whoever loves the most is the lucky one.")

2. Choice
Baker calls choice "the voice of the heart" and "honesty in action." I like that.

He talks about failure, helplessness, and powerlessness (and a bunch of shocked dogs... which made me sad) and offers some thoughts that can serve to remind us to stay strong:

1. Failure only occurs when you quit -- he talks about how Thomas Edison "failed" to design a lightbulb until his 2000th try

2. Be brave enough to resist when someone offers you the tempting scenario in which they strip from you the right to make your own decisions. While it is occasionally unpleasant to make (and live with) our own choices, imagine the other alternatives...

Finally in this section, he discusses the "Life Changing Quarter Second" in which we have a brief moment of control over our emotional reactions. There is a quarter second in which we can wrest our thinking away from a fear reaction and into a considered response, but we have to see and seize that moment regularly to stay in a place of choice.

3. Personal Power
This is that indefinable something that enables happy people to be happy, even when things are difficult. (In my leadership class, we call it the "Internal Locus of Control," meaning essentially the feeling that, no matter what comes your way, you can do something about it.)

Baker encourages his readers to watch out for VERBs -- Victimization, Entitlement, Rescue, and Blame. Highlights include:

V: He says that other people can hurt you, but only you can victimize yourself.

E: The mind and body thrive on struggle. Satisfaction without effort doesn't create happiness, it makes for boredom, alienation, weakness and feelings of worthlessness. And I can tell you that, after looking for a new job for six months, I was so elated to finally get one because I had struggled and put my time in.

R: There's a difference between assistance and rescue. There is nothing wrong with asking for help as long as you're willing to do your share of the work.

B: Blame solves nothing. If you were in a car driven by a friend that was going over a cliff, would blaming that friend keep you from crashing into the ravine below? Instead, what can you do to improve the situation for yourself (and/or your friend)?

We'll take a look at the other three tools in my next post.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

what are you chasing?

I live in New York, where it seems like everybody is chasing something. And I worry that people don't really know what they're chasing, and how their thoughts and behavior are impacting their journey.

Take me, for example, back when I was acting. I was chasing The Big Dream -- except I wasn't specific about what that meant to me. I just wanted to "be an actor in New York." Well, that's actually absurdly easy. Get a headshot, go on an audition, and voila! You're an actor in New York.

So I sat down to get more specific, and I realized that my goal was "to make a living acting in New York." Then I was getting somewhere. I had a clearer destination, and could focus my energy more tightly. Except that I was missing a piece -- how I wanted to be or feel while I was pursuing that goal. Because, as it played out, while I was chasing Making a Living as an Actor in New York, I was unhappy. I was working a job that made me want to stab people in the face, I felt like I had no time for anything that wasn't theatre, I was comparing myself to other actors (and coming up short) and, in general, I just didn't like the way I felt about myself.

I was, as it turned out, chasing the wrong thing, like the dog chasing the mailman. (Unless, of course, the mailman is delivering Omaha Steaks, but in my case he wasn't.)

It wasn't until I got specific about what I saw as success that I realized I was on the wrong path.

The same thing has happened with dating. I have defined and redefined (and redefined) (oh, and redefined) what I consider desirable characteristics in a guy. The three core qualities -- funny, smart, and self-aware -- stay the same, but the fourth quality always changes. Sometimes it's kind or thoughtful, sometimes it's simply ready, but as I have more experience, I can get more specific about what I want, and again, how I want to feel while pursuing it.

This last piece is often overlooked because we're not taught about feelings. But I think it's of the utmost importance. If you're ok with, say, pursuing a career in acting to the exclusion of everything else, that's great -- but be clear with yourself how long you're willing to do that. A month? A year? Your whole life? There are trade offs to everything, and making sure that what you're giving up is worth what you're getting is incredibly important.

The final thing I encourage people to look at surrounding success is how you will know you've made it. Often times, people get so wrapped up in the struggle of "making it" that the small successes they've had along the way no longer matter -- that big achievement is just around the corner waiting to be reached. And that's when success becomes a trap. Because as I know from first hand experience, it's easy to be more attracted to the pursuit of it than the enjoyment of it.

So to avoid the perpetual pursuit, define what it will look like when you've reached your goal. When will you finally consider yourself successful? And does that necessarily mean there is nothing left to achieve? I find that goal-setting is super-useful in this kind of work because it gives you a number of small victories to celebrate as you reach out for things that satisfy and fulfill you.

And really, is using the word "success" even useful? For so many of us (myself included) there is a sticky quality to it, one that implies comparison, scarcity, lack, and an overall "not good enough to be successful" quality. If you fall into that category (welcome!), then perhaps simply "happiness" is a better choice of words for you than "success."

To wrap up, if you haven't thought about it yet, I urge you (whether you live in New York or not) to take a minute (or hell, a year) and get really clear not just about what you want, but how you'll know when you're there.

In a nutshell:
1. Define success
2. Be willing to be flexible about that definition and change it as your circumstances change
3. Be clear about who/how you want to be as your pursue success
4. Know how it will feel when you're successful, and be open to that feeling
5. Use a different word if "success" or "successful" brings up negative feelings for you.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I want this guy's job...

Thanks to my friend Kelly for posting this on Facebook:

"Now then everybody, please settle down, this is serious. Fun time is over, we have rats to tickle.

"Laughter, it seems, is a topic of scientific inquiry that is ripe to be taken very seriously. As explained in an article at PhysOrg, the act of laughter is universal and sounds pretty much the same across all of humanity, with no discernible difference in how it sounds to the ear as a result of differences in language or culture. And not only is laughter among the very first forms of communication that every single human being learns, laughter is not limited to people. Other primates are known to laugh. Additionally, and perhaps surprisingly, laughter is also demonstrated in dogs and rats.

"The common denominator in situations that cause someone to have a ha-ha moment seems to be interaction with others. According to scientists who investigate the causes and the effects of laughing, the primary basis for these strange, involuntary respiratory convulsions that we all do is a reaction to an event that we perceive and respond to as an experience shared with others.

"Laughing is not dependent on any one specific sense (as PhysOrg points out, “deaf people laugh without hearing, and people on cell phones laugh without seeing”), but arises from our interactions.

"“It’s joy, it’s positive engagement with life. It’s deeply social,” according to Bowling Green University psychologist Jaak Panksepp. Among Panksepp’s research activities is tickling his lab rats. It turns out that rats laugh in response to being tickled, and they just can’t seem to get enough of it. What we’re able to learn from what happens in the brains of rats during and after a good laugh provides insights into the results and benefits that we derive from laughter. These include biochemical responses that appear to serve as natural anti-depressants and anxiety reducers.

"However, when it comes time to apply for a grant to support laughter research, scientists are extra careful to make sure that they keep the “fun” out of funding. Northwestern University’s Jeffrey Burgdorf uses the term ‘positive emotional response’ in place of the word laughter in research study proposals to help ensure that he and his work are taken seriously."

by David Bois at Tonic

(Tonic is a digital media company dedicated to promoting the good that happens around the world each day. We share the stories of people and organizations that are making a difference by inspiring good in themselves and others.)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hep Gleck!

(that title makes me feel like I'm blogging in Ikea. But don't worry, Hep Gleck can be assembled without pictures.)

I have a daily ritual that I perform on the subway -- I open up my journal, give myself an affirmation (for the last several months it's been "I have everything I need") and then set an intention for myself. Usually the intention is in alignment with something I'm working on -- patience, breathing, being present, not comparing myself to others, etc. -- and then I sit down and list five things I give myself credit for. After that, it's a list of things I'm grateful for, and a Daily To Do list. I've discussed all this before (see here) and bring it up again because my friend Jon recently introduced me to an even deeper practice that expands on this base.

It's called Hep Gleck.

Ok, no, it really isn't, but I like calling it that, so that's what I'm calling it.

Learned from a Tony Robbins book (but slightly unclear as to which one -- though I'm guessing now it's "Personal Power" as I got some help from this website in writing this post), Hep Gleck is actually an acronym that expands on the idea of listing things for which I am grateful and for which I am giving myself credit. Each letter stands for another feeling, and carries with it three questions. The feelings are:


Committed to
Kate is Awesome

(Ok, there's no K in the acronym, but "Glec" doesn't look like a strong word, whereas "Gleck" does, so I added the K for phonetic reasons. Sue me.)

And the questions are:
1. What am I happy/excited/proud/grateful/loving/enjoying/committed to in my life?
2. What about that makes me happy/excited/proud/grateful/loving/joyful/feel committed?
3. How does that make me feel?

The key to this exercise, though, is to NOT JUDGE, and that's a caution I extend with big, red, wavy flags.

For example, this morning I wrote that I was grateful for sunsets.* So to deepen the experience using Hep Gleck, I would then ask what about sunsets makes me feel grateful? I could respond with "their beauty," or "the sense that the world is bigger than I am," or "just 'cause." And then I have to report with honesty and curiosity about how that makes me feel.

A trap I could easily see us all falling into** is being happy about something that truly makes us happy -- the way the driver of that car honked and waved at us on the way to the subway, finding the $20 bill on the street, having an awesome smoothie for breakfast -- and then judging the experience. What about that makes me feel happy? Well, he thought I was hot stuff, so I felt like hot stuff and that made me happy. It's a free $20, what's not to be happy about! The way the tastes blended together was so amazing. Watch out for then falling into despair with the "How does that make me feel" angle. I might be very tempted to go down the I-suck-because-I-need-some-guy-in-traffic-to-validate-my-feelings-of-hot-stuffedness road.

I'm going to try Hep Gleck. And Jon is, too. (Or at least I think he is.) Are you?

*Secretly, I wanted to write sunrises, but it's been EONS since I last saw a sunrise so that felt like stretching the truth.

** And by "us all," of course, I really mean "me," but I wanted to take you with me so I wouldn't be lonely.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

intimacy, and how to get more of it

Many moons ago I went to a talk at the 92nd Street Y Tribeca on what science can teach you about falling in love. And the presenter, Robert Epstein, brought audience members on stage (myself and my friend included), asked them a bunch of benchmarking questions about the stranger they were with ("How close do you feel to this person? How much in love with this person are you? How attracted are you to this person?") and then put them/us through a series of exercises that they had shown drew people together.

And while it was hard to honestly answer questions about a total stranger in front of a room full of total strangers, I have to say that the exercises (if not the mortification of going through them together publicly) did draw me closer to the random stranger on stage with me.

As part of the takeaway from the event, they gave us a copy of the magazine in which the presenter's article appeared, and I recently unearthed it from my kitchen table. You can get a snapshot of the article here, on Scientific American's website, or you can google Robert Epstein and see what you get.

Here, however, are some highlights that I think are interesting, useful, and totally applicable right now -- not just with a romantic partner, but with anyone with whom you want to feel more intimate.

Ten things that make us feel more intimate:

1. Arousal -- not just sex, you dirty birds. Any kind of physical exertion or exposure to dangerous situations increases intimacy, say researchers. So if you want to get close, take your date on the Cyclone at Coney Island. He'll either love you on the spot or never want to see you again.

2. Proximity and Familiarity. When you let someone repeatedly invade your personal space, that increases feelings of closeness. Because, well, you're close.

3. Similarity. Sure, opposites attract, but likes ignite! (I made that up.) Personally, I'm discovering that going out with guys whose parents are still together (as mine are) is making a difference in our relationships. And shared values, senses of humor, and attractiveness keep the playing fields even.

4. Humor. This one's obvious, I think.

5. Novelty. Doing something new makes us more vulnerable, and vulnerability leads more quickly to intimacy. One of the things I do when planning a date is trying to go somewhere I've never been before. (Which, even in a city of six gajillion restaurants, can be surprisingly difficult!)

6. Removing Inhibitions. Yeah, ok, a glass of wine helps, but a bottle of wine doesn't. People who have difficulty being vulnerable and opening up often misuse alcohol in pursuit of that feeling of intimacy. So watch out!

7. Kindness, Accommodation, and Forgiveness. "Feelings of love can emerge quickly when someone deliberately changes his or her behavior -- say, by giving up smoking or drinking -- to accommodate our needs." I find it adorable when I tell guys I don't eat meat and they then order something vegetarian when we have dinner together -- even though I make it clear that they're free to eat whatever they want!

8. Touch and Sexuality. The obvious caveat applies here -- while touch and sensuality bring people closer together, people (mostly women, unfortunately) have a tendency to confuse sex with love. The author recommends even just getting very near to someone without actually connecting -- kind of a romantic I'm Not Touching You.

9. Self-Disclosure. People tend to bond when they share secrets. I love asking guys I go out with to tell me a secret. The only trick is coming up with one I'm willing to share. A recent date of mine once said, when I asked him if I could ask him a question, "You can ask me anything you want; you just have to be willing to answer it yourself."

10. Commitment. "People whose commitments are shaky interpret their partners' behavior more negatively, for one thing, and that can be deadly over time." I totally get this. When a guy makes it clear to me that he likes me, it's easier for me to forgive his not calling when he says he will. (See #7)

So go ahead, try these out and see how they play out. Grab your man/woman/dog/postal worker/neighbor's cousin's milkman/random stranger on the street and try these with him or her.*

*just kidding! try them with someone you know and actually want to have more intimacy with. duh.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

just what I needed to see

This was shared with me at just the moment I needed it most. So in that spirit, I'm sharing it with you.

Monday, August 23, 2010

rising to the challenge

(This is a copy of an article that a friend requested for the secretarial newsletter at her firm. If it sounds kinda formal and talks about work a lot, that's why.)

There is a huge opportunity to grow through a challenge – just ask first-year marathon runners. People who never thought they could run 0.2 miles (let alone 26.2) will tell you that by overcoming the challenge they set for themselves to simply finish the race, they feel more confident in their abilities to do a wide variety of other things. The same is true for athletes, artist, businesspeople, and anyone who puts him- or herself up to a challenge.

Facing a challenge will stretch you and help you find reserves inside of you that you didn’t know you had. And the challenge doesn’t have to be as epic as a marathon; it can simply be pushing yourself to stop eating candy in the late afternoon or to strike up a conversation with that good looking guy in your conversational French class.

Sometimes challenges come at us when we least expect them, and we can’t even see that they’re happening. We overlook opportunities to grow because we see them as “not my job” or “never going to happen.” Missing them is easy – but so is grabbing them before they pass. Catch yourself saying these three things, “I can’t,” “I should,” or “it’s hard,” and there’s a good chance you’re facing a challenge.

I can’t
There is very little in this world that can’t be done given infinite resources, so there isn’t anything, in fact, that you can’t do. I can’t climb Mt. Everest, you say. Well, that’s not actually true. If you gave up your normal life, moved to Tibet, paid a boatload of money, and trained for the next several years, you could climb Mt. Everest. So it’s not the case that you can’t climb Mt. Everest, it’s that you are choosing not to give up your normal life, move to Tibet, pay a boatload of money and train for the next several years. (And I can’t say I blame you for that decision.)

Or rather, let’s say an attorney gives you a document as you’re walking out the door to lunch with an old friend. “I need a million copies of this document before you go,” she says, looking panicked and frazzled. You call your friend. “I can’t go to lunch today, I have to make a million copies.” Now, is it actually true that you can’t go to lunch? Are you physically incapable of leaving? No, of course not. You are simply choosing to stay to make the million copies – maybe because this attorney brought you breakfast this morning, or because she’s new here and has been under a lot of pressure, too, or simply because it’s your job. Whatever the reason, the truth is that you are choosing to skip lunch, so why not explain your behavior in terms of what you’re choosing instead of what you’re giving up? Using “I can’t” in your vocabulary turns you into a victim. Try replacing it with “I choose not to” and see what changes.

(Already, saying “I choose not to climb Mt. Everest” sounds pretty good.)

I should
Just thinking about the things one should do is exhausting. There’s a dragging sense of obligation, leaving no room for fun around eating more vegetables, going to the gym, or cleaning your bathtub. But when you think of the things you want to do, the excitement comes back – feeling more fit and not being grossed out when you shower are more worth the effort it will take to make them happen.

When you’re being challenged, it’s easy to fall back into the habit of “shoulding.” This means thinking in terms of obligations and expectations, and not in terms of opportunities and fun. Let’s say your current challenge is getting to work on time. “I really should get up earlier,” you say to a supervisor. However, if that supervisor’s smart, he won’t expect to see you follow through with that until you start talking about what you want to do. “I want to get up earlier so I can read the paper and still get to work on time” is much more likely to yield results.

It’s hard
This is the biggest and easiest trap to fall into when you’re facing a challenge. Whatever it is – running a marathon or eating less candy – of course it’s hard! If it were easy, it wouldn’t be a challenge. However, using that particular phrase, “it’s hard,” drains the situation of any motivation. It’s the king of cop outs.

What if, instead, you faced a difficult situation by saying “it’s a challenge”? The change in wording instantly makes the situation seem more doable – all kinds of people rise to challenges every day. Facing a challenge with the intention of growing increases your motivation to actually accomplish the task.

Let’s look again at the million copies scenario. Sure, it would be hard to make a million copies before lunch, but if you see it as a challenge, you cast it in a different light. There are more options, more choices, and you’ll see more results.

Winston Churchill, the master at facing enormous challenges, once said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Since you get to choose how you see a situation, would you rather be a pessimist or an optimist?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

what's your positivity ratio?

Yesterday I was on a webinar called "Boost Your Happiness Through Evidence-Based Activities," and, while it was kind of a cheesetastic hour, there was one exercise I came out of it with that I found interesting and worth sharing.

It's about your positivity ratio.

Think about the last 24 hours. And in the last 24 hours, have you felt any of the following:

You can have felt them a little, moderately, or a lot. (If you only felt them a little, don't count them in this round.)

Total up the number you've felt and put that number aside.

Now think about the last 24 hours again. Have you felt any of these?

Again, you can have felt these a little, moderately, or a lot. (With these, if you felt them a little, they count.)

Take your positive total, and divide it by your negative total. That's your positivity ratio.

The inventor of this test, Dr. Barabara Fredrickson, has research indicating that "a positivity ratio of 3 to 1 is a tipping point. This ratio divides those who merely get by in life from those who truly flourish."

But if you scored below 3-to-1, don't be surprised. More than 80% of U.S. adults fall short of the ideal 3-to-1 ratio. (I did, too, and I consider myself a highly positive person.) Instead of feeling guilt, shame, or stress over these results (because, watch out, you'll have to account for those tomorrow!) why not take interest in what you can do to up your ratio? Why not seek out a poem, a song, or a friend who inspires or amazes you?

You are in charge of where you put your attention. So when you catch yourself in a feeling of anger, frustration, or guilt, take some time to balance that out with some love, amusement, or gratitude. A simple way to approach this is through an exercise where you list five things you're grateful for -- like the comfort of your fluffiest pillow, the crispy, minty taste of your toothpaste, or the support of the people who love you -- and really sit in that gratitude as you move through your day. Similarly, sit down and list things that crack you up -- like the way your sister snorts when she laughs really hard, the way a muppet ends a joke by settling down into its neck, or that cute guy who is ninja funny -- and just sit with the enjoyment of that for a while.

Negative stuff will come and go, and I personally have a harder time keeping the negative feelings at bay than I do redirecting my attention onto the stuff that makes me happy. So this is a good exercise for me, too.

(And in just writing this post I've upped my hope, amusement, inspiration and gratitude quotients for today, so maybe tomorrow I'll have a 3-to-1!)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

cultivate the good

The other day I was in a session with a client who has a very strong habit of focusing on the negative and totally disregarding the positive. It's a familiar habit, one that I have definitely engaged in myself, and one that leads to nothing but bleakness, sadness, and truly bad train karma.*

I did what I could to help my client to see that focusing on the negative is only going to bring more negative (boooooooo!), and that focusing on the good is only going to bring more good (hooray!). One of the tactics we tried was imagining that she was living in a sci-fi world where goodness was dying out. And that she was one of the few people left who could cultivate and protect goodness. So any time she saw something with even the faintest tinge of good to it, it was her responsibility to take that goodness, plant it in a garden, and tend to it.

She lit up with this idea, recognizing that "goodness" was not a judgment about whether or not an achievement was reached or someone was "worthy" of being deemed good, but rather a quality that could inherently exist inside something -- a situation, a person, herself...

So I closed the session feeling like I had cultivated some good, once again proving to myself that I do an excellent job of living what I teach.

And then the next day came.

I found myself getting twitchy about not having heard back from a guy I am dating. And when I catch myself doing that, I immediately call my sister (my cucumber cheerleader) because I know she's good at easing my twitch.

And, without going into too much detail, do you know what I was doing? Focusing on all the negative, and completely disregarding the positive! With blinders on, I was zeroing in on all the things that seemed "wrong" to me, and paying absolutely no attention to the things that were there to inspire me or give me hope that he was, in fact, interested!

Boy did I feel like a dummy.

But instead of focusing on how stupid I felt about not catching myself doing something it was so easy for me to see my client doing, I looked at how awesome it was that a) I did catch myself doing it, and b) I called someone who could help me get back on my path.

Sure, I could use this experience to prove to myself that I'm a horrible coach and can't possibly offer anything of value since I can't live it myself, or I can recognize (and celebrate!) the fact that I'm human, that I'm living it, too, and that life happens moment to moment.

And every triumph is worth a celebration.


*the best way to cultivate good train karma? Focus on the times the train comes into the station right when you get there, and ignore the times you spend hours and hours waiting in the sauna for the train to finally come and then not be going to your borough. **

** I haven't gotten really good at this yet, obviously.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

playing the end of the game before it's over

Watch out! I'm about to use a sports analogy. (Yes, you are at the right blog.)

I've been enjoying some World Cup games recently, and last week there was a match that reminded me of, well, life.

In final moments of the Ghana vs. Uruguay game (before penalty kicks) there was a melee in the Uruguayan goal -- a shot on goal, blocked by the goalie, then a rebound shot, blocked by a defender, and then a third rebound, blocked by a Uruguayan handball, which, for those of you as unsportsly as I am, is totally illegal -- I mean, so illegal that the guy who had the handball got kicked out of the game and would not be allowed to play again in the tournament.

So, while he blocked a goal, he was mortified because he earned Ghana a free penalty kick, AND he lost his right to keep playing.

As he walked off the field, you could see how sick he felt, knowing he had just handed the game over to Ghana.

However, things didn't go so well for Ghana on that kick. The ball hit the crossbar at the top of the goal and flew out of bounds, leading the game into a shoot out, which, in the end was won by Uruguay.

The best moment captured on video, in my opinion, is of the player who was kicked out of the game (and it almost looks like he's been kicked out of the stadium) for a move that in his mind lost them the game, when, in fact, it didn't.

The plain truth is, whether in soccer or relationships or job interviews or auditions or family gatherings or asking for a raise or taking a risk, whatever the situation, you never know how it's going to end until it ends. And there's absolutely no value to beating yourself up for something you've done "wrong" because the game you're playing may be much bigger than the one you seem to be playing.

For example, this is only one game in that Uruguayan player's career. Maybe it sends him to the bottom of the soccer heap, and maybe it starts him on a road to stardom. Who knows? What we do know is that the game did not end the way he thought it would.

And the chances are good that yours won't either.

Monday, June 28, 2010

challenge your assumptions

I'm just not someone who likes the beach. You get all sandy and hot and sticky and sunburnt and you look and feel fat in a bathing suit and it's just such a schlep to get there it's never worth it.

This is something I've told myself time and time again for 20 someodd years (as for those first few years, I probably actually enjoyed being hot and sticky and finding pouches of sand in the crotch of my swimsuit; hooray! Pouch of sandy treasure!) I believed for years that I'm just not a beach person, and that kept me from pursuing shoreline vacations and hours of reclined relaxation.

And, truth be told, when I was eight-ish, I hated the beach so much that I ran away from home* because my family insisted on going to the dirty, dirty beach instead of going to the swimming pool, which I liked much better.

So recently, when my friends invited me for a day at the beach, I hesitated. I don't like the beach, I heard myself say. It'll be too hot, too much of a hassle, too uncomfortable. And yet, somehow, I decided the getaway was too necessary and the friends too much fun to pass up. And also, I thought the old beach story might just be that: a story.

Very intentionally, I challenged the assumption I had about myself that I'm just not a beach person. I put myself in a position to find out if that was true, or if it really was just another story I was telling myself. My hint that it was a story was that not liking the beach, being pale, and having spent previous beach days in a t-shirt under the umbrella the whole time set me apart from other people in my mind, and made me feel "unique." I got something from holding onto that old story. I was protected form possible discomfort by just not going to the beach in the first place.

So what did I discover that day on Long Island?

1. If I wear enough sunscreen, I don't actually burn. (Except around my butt, and I think that one was my fault.)

2. If I swim, walk, talk, eat, and do crossword puzzles, there's no time to get bored or overthink how much more comfortable I might be in a t-shirt under that umbrella over there.

3. The beach really isn't that dirty.

4. The trip really isn't that long.

5. And if I choose safe people, am clear with myself about the risks I'm willing to take and those I'm not willing to take (e.g. taking a possibly long train trip vs. agreeing to stay until nightfall), have an exit strategy (if necessary), and just DIVE IN, I might actually enjoy something I haven't enjoyed in years.

Which is to say, I went back to the beach this past weekend, too. And this time I didn't even burn my butt!

If you want to try this, too, here's a To Do List to get back on your pony and ride:

1. Identify something that you think you can't do, or that you used to do but no longer do. Something you think might give you pleasure if you just let it.

2. Find a couple of safe people who are willing to experiment with you (and who will surrender the original plans if you become overwhelmed, or discover that the story isn't a story after all).

3. Get clear about what you're willing to do and what you're not willing to do. Make it cut and dry, and share it with your safe people. For example, "I'm willing to go to Times Square for New Year's Eve if it costs less than $50 and we're not standing next to anybody drunk. Otherwise, I have the right to leave if I want to."

4. Put on your attitude of curiosity, and jump in!

If nothing else, you'll know more about your limits (or your perceived limits) than you did before. And who knows? You may just inspire your safe people to take some risks of their own...

*I made it to the driveway, where I was lured back into the fold by my mother, equipped with nothing more than two rapidly melting popsicles.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

what motivates YOU?

Below is a really fascinating video on what motivates people inside an organization to perform better. It talks about how money alone is not enough, and points to the ideas of autonomy and purpose as driving factors behind organizational behavior.

So how does this apply to you?

Friday, June 4, 2010

ooooh, what a little persistence will doooooo....

So here's a little story about Sticking With It (Even Though You Think It's Going To Fail).

I was recently doing some research into graduate psychology programs and discovered that most of them require some form of undergraduate statistics. Now, I haven't studied stats since high school, so if I were interested in pursuing a masters in psychology (which I'm not sure I am, but stick with me on this) I'd have to go back to college and take undergrad statistics.

Ok, fine. Then I got to thinking about application deadlines and stuff. If, I told myself, I want to be able to consider grad school in the winter of 2011, I'd have to take stats... this summer! Otherwise, I'll have to take stats in the fall and apply in the spring for a fall of 2011 admission.

So I dragged my heels a bit, thinking:
  • commencement just happened
  • the summer session can't be starting just yet
  • I probably have a week or two to get it together
  • I'm not really sure I want to go to grad school anyway
  • I'll look into it later
  • etc.
After inspirational conversations with my coach and my mother, however, I decided I would just start investigating it now, just in case.

And when I called the registrar's office at Hunter, I discovered that the application deadline was... TOMORROW.

(This is where the persistence part kicks in.)

The registrar needs a copy of my transcript. (I haven't seen my transcript for 12 years.) I know there's a copy of it in my files at my parents' house so I call home to see if Dad can locate it in the attic. Twenty minutes of looking later, he can't, and I'm ready to give up.

"Kate, I'll go to New Haven to pick up a new copy for you, if you need me to."

Hope comes back. I call Yale for a transcript and they say that I should place the order, but they can't guarantee that it'll be ready by tomorrow. Hope fades again.

"Kate, you're willing to pay Hunter money, they'll probably find a way to accept it."

Hope comes back. I call them and find out the procedure -- they need a filled-out application, registration fee, and transcript before 3pm the next day. Hope fades. Until... I discover on their website that they'll accept a copy of my diploma. Which I know my mother can locate for me!

Hope returns, and I try to register for class and can't. Hope departs.

"Try going to the Registrar's office."

Hope returns, and I can register, but only with permission of the math department, who wants proof that I've taken math before -- and might require me to take a placement test. Hope skedaddles faster than a bug on fire.

But I persist, hope clinging to the edge of me like I'm a canyon. The math department? All they want is for me to tell them my AB Calc grade from nineteen mumbledy mumble.

This back and forth goes on and on, with hurdles and hoops and obstacles at every step of the way, and hope coming and going like junkies on a seesaw. Truth is, if it weren't for the moral support of my parents and my coach, I'd have quit before I even started.

My point in all of this is that it worked out in the end. The obstacles that seemed so looming and permanent were actually made of sawdust -- but I didn't know that until I blew on them. It took grit, a couple of lunch hours, asking for help from people I knew I could count on, and the willingness to persist in the face of adversity.

Needless to say, I'm 1/6 of the way through the course already. What are the odds of that?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

our lovely, imperfect selves

I was recently reading a post on the Sunday at Noon blog, in which matchmaker Marni Galison talks about how easy it is to fall into the trap of cutting off potential dates because they're not perfect. She says:

In most aspects of our lives, we can accept that the people we love are
flawed human beings but naturally we still love them anyway. Despite those
flaws, we recognize the qualities that make them the unique, wonderful people
they are and we cherish having them in our lives.

But for some reason, when it comes to dating, the minute we see that a new
love interest is less than perfect we rush to judgment. And often that judgment
is equivalent to the Spanish Inquisition – no one stands a chance from thereon

She goes on to encourage us to forgive each other for not being perfect, which might make dating a little bit easier. (See the whole article here.)

I'd like to take that action even one step further -- I'd like to encourage us to forgive ourselves for not being perfect. When we accept, embrace, and even revel in our own imperfections ("that's right, I can be needy sometimes!") we are likely to be more forgiving of perceived shortcomings in others.

One of the things I try to do to give myself perspective on perfection and the challenges that other people face is simple: I put myself in their shoes. Given their situations, backgrounds, friends, fears, needs, etc., how would I act? Would I be different? And if so, can I at least understand better why they are they way they are?

It's a carry-over from my acting days when I used to put on all those things on behalf of a character, and I find it expands my generosity and patience with others immensely. (Which can come in handy when one is dating...)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

identifying and changing habits

A recent article published in the Wall Street Journal talks about a study done to see what effect having "social support" has on peoples' willingness to get exercise.

"The study, conducted by Stanford University, belongs to a growing body of research showing that small amounts of social support, ranging from friends who encourage each other by email to occasional meetings with a fitness counselor, can produce large and lasting gains against one of America's biggest health problems—physical inactivity. Only 48% of Americans say they meet the federal recommendation for exercising half an hour most days of the week, and the actual percentage is believed to be much lower. Exercise researchers estimate that nearly all sedentary people at one time or another have resolved and failed to maintain exercise programs."

The story goes on to talk about how having accountability for her behavior led one woman to start an exercise program that, over time, just became a habit. And the results of the study showed that everyone who participated -- whether they had regular reminders or not -- was working out more often. However, those who were receiving calls from a live person had the longest-term success, almost doubling the time they spent exercising. "When you knew you were going to have to report back on what you had done, it motivated you," said one participant.

And this motivation is part of what coaching is all about. Creating a relationship that deepens accountability and responsibility. Working together to support you in your desire to change a habit -- something that you may not even be able to identify as a "habit" at the moment, especially if it just feels like "just the way things are" (or, more trickily, "just the way I am").

So, short of dropping me an email and signing up for a free sample session, what can you do? Well, there's a website called Habit Forge that will let you sign up for daily accountability emails. You simply tell the site what you want to achieve, check your email every day, answer the question "were you successful at achieving your goal?" and, if you answer YES for 21 days in a row, you go into "Monitoring Mode." A pretty painless way to give it a shot, no?

And it's free, so why not check it out? (And hey! A sample session is also free...)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

a handful of inspirational quotes

"I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do." -- Helen Keller

"Be yourself. Everyone else is taken." -- Oscar Wilde

"Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough." -- Josh Billings

"The thing always happens that you really believe in; and the belief in a thing makes it happen." -- Frank Loyd Wright

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there" -- Will Rogers

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness, concerning all acts of initiative (and creation). There is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way..." – Goethe

"It is not in doing what you like, but in liking what you do that is the secret of happiness." -- J.M. Barrie

"So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable." -- Christopher Reeve

And my favorites:
"The future has several names. For the weak, it is the impossible. For the fainthearted, it is the unknown. For the thoughtful and valiant, it is the ideal." -- Victor Hugo

("And for Michael J. Fox," said my office mate Fernando, "it's the thing you have to go back to.")

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

on broken hearts

My friend John is a fabulous writer, and he recently wrote a piece about how to get over a broken heart. (The crux of his argument? Pina Coladas.) And, while his suggestion of bellying up to the bar isn't necessarily something I'd recommend to my readers (no offense, John) the way he describes the strength of the human heart really spoke to me, so I thought I'd share it with you:

"It helps to think of your heart as a piece of steel. Not chocolate or flesh or crepe paper. A shiny ball of steel. Which has a breaking point. But have you ever seen steel forged? It's heated in a volcano hot furnace until it glows white. It's so hot, the hard steel is malleable. Then it's hammered and hammered and hammered. Smashed into shape. Two pieces are clobbered to form one whole piece and then the steel is dumped into water. Once it's cooled, it's as hard as... well, you know. I've had my heart broken many, many times. And each time, I ended up stronger. My furnace? A Pina Colada. Maybe some Patsy Cline. A new friend, if just for that moment."

(You can read the rest of the article here.)

It's easy to think that you're not up to a challenge, or that you've been hurt so badly that you'll never recover. But keeping this image of an invulnerable heart in your mind, remembering that no matter what you throw at it, it will only get stronger... well, it works for me.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Failure Is NOT An Option? (Well, Maybe It SHOULD Be!) by Rebecca Soulette

I'm sure you've heard the (supposedly) motivational words, Failure Is Not An Option , as a way to inspire people to do great things. It makes great ad copy when selling sneakers or gatorade, and it ALWAYS makes for stirring interviews when people like Donald Trump, Olympic gold medalists, and award winners from every walk of life say it.

The Failure Is Not An Option perspective is a state of mind that can be extremely useful in helping us to keep moving forward no matter what setbacks come our way. But it can also do the EXACT OPPOSITE.

For those of us who were born (or raised) as perfectionists, or for those of us who overwhelm easily, the Failure Is Not An Option mentality can actually paralyze us before we even begin.


Because if we're trying something new, by definition, we're ATTEMPTING something we've never done before. And if we've never done it before (or if we currently suck at something that we're trying to improve at it) we don't know how to do it well yet. And expecting ourselves to be perfect at something we don't actually know how to do well yet can be A LOT of pressure.

Just imagine if you're teaching a baby to walk. Little Junior has started hoisting himself up to a standing position on the coffee table and looks JUST ABOUT ready to let go and take a step or two toward you. Now, imagine if your words to him were, "Okay, Kiddo, Failure Is NOT An Option --let go of the table and walk over to me. Don't screw up! And, whatever you do, you CAN'T fall down!"

Luckily, most children who are about to take their first steps are too young to even understand what you'd be talking about if you were to say that to them, yet, isn't that what we're saying to ourselves when we imagine that Failure Is Not An Option; that we have to perform perfectly?

Everyone knows that MOST children, on letting go of the table and lunging forward, trying to take a step will end up falling on their butt on the floor--if not during the first step, then during the second or the third--and even if they successfully walk, they are bound to fall again the minute they start adding speed, turns, or enthusiasm to the mix. Not to mention that most babies don't even know what they did to make themselves walk the first time they do it, since they're so surprised it worked, they don't always know how to repeat what they just did.

The step that the idea Failure Is Not An Option MISSES is that there IS no success or improvement without failure. Yes, occasionally, we may be lucky and the first time out trying something new. We do well (and label it "beginner's luck" not "beginner's solid and completely dependable talent"), but MOST of the time we WILL screw up, fail, fall, or, at the very least, have a type-o. And what's GOOD about that (Yes, it's good! I swear!!!!) is that THAT is how we learn to do better. We can't course-correct if we don't go OFF course first. We can't refine anything until we do it just a little bit wrong. And we can't learn what to do unless we become absolutely sure about what we DON'T want to do. It's all part of the same process that leads us to success. And to put the kind of pressure on ourselves that we're NOT ALLOWED to screw up is counter productive. How can we learn if we can't screw up?

If I had fallen as a baby learning to walk (which, believe me, I did!) does that mean I should have quit and never tried doing it again because I didn't do it perfectly the first time? Absolutely not. With that logic, I'd still be crying, flat on my diapered butt by the coffee table in our old apartment, never having learned to walk.

So maybe it's time I (and all of us) try on the idea that not only IS failure an option, it may even be a REQUIREMENT on the road to progress and success.

This week, if you're like me and get paralyzed by the idea thatFailure Is Not An Option I invite you to turn that idea on it's ear and see how much easier it may be for you to take strides forward if you let yourself see failure for the learning and improvement tool that it actually is!

About Rebecca Soulette, CFLC III ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 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 celebrites and non-celebrities alike live the lives the were born to live. Learn more now at .

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

what do you tell yourself?

Have you ever heard Radiolab before? If not, you must! These guys are smart, funny, and, if I do say so myself, just my type.

In the episode below, they discuss the effect of external stimuli on the performance of people on tests -- blacks and whites, males and females -- in an effort to figure out what it is exactly that triggers two students of equal skills and abilities to score so differently on a standardized test.

It turns out that it's internal negative chatter (surprise, surprise) that, even if they don't believe it, distracts them long enough to stress them out.

Have a listen:

View Full Audio on WNYC

Sunday, April 25, 2010

there is no such thing as delay

I went to hear Michael Beckwith speak recently, and if you're not familiar with who he is, he's a non-denominational reverend who is more into god than any particular manifestation of him.

(He's also a better looking version of Milli or Vanilli, take your pick.)

His topic was something like "Finding Your Soul's Purpose," and I went to listen because I'm feeling a little stuck these days. I was excited to hear what someone with a different (and famously motivating) perspective would have to say on the topic, except... well, he never really got around to talking about the topic.

Instead we were greeted with a number of things I didn't particularly care for in his presentation, including a ten minute segment from his "dance minister" who wore a gauzy dress and flailed herself around in front of a room of paying customers, and a twenty minute version of a song whose title I can only assume was "I'm So Grateful that I Just Can't Stop Singing -- in English or in Spanish -- I'll just Keep on Going Forever," but that's neither here nor there.

Despite my mounting frustration, I stayed and listened for whatever nugget I could take away, and what I got was this:

There is No Delay in the Universe.

Beckwith's argument was that the Universe is perfect. It's perfectly balanced energy, and we (each of us) occupy a perfectly balanced place in it. I am a Kate-shaped energy inside of a Kate-shaped hole in the universal energy. (Or something like that.) So if something in your life feels stalled or delayed, that's only your perspective on it. The Universe (he argued) knows nothing about delay. All it knows is that you don't yet have the skills or tools or support or energy or whatever you need to move on to the next level.

Now, while this is a little bit of a Super Mario Brothers interpretation of the Universe, I like it. I like the idea that the reason I feel stuck is that there's something I haven't learned or gotten or processed yet, and this lull, this slow-down, is an opportunity for me to catch up on whatever that is.

So if you're in a place where you feel stalled, trapped, stuck, or otherwise Not Moving, ask around and see if there's something you don't have or know yet that would help you move into your next chapter. You might just be surprised.

(Although if the Universe tells you to become a dance minister, I might not listen...)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

a poem

Autobiography in 5 Short Chapters
by Portia Nelson, from the book
There's a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery

Chapter I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost ... I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
see it is there.
I still fall in ... it's a habit ... but,
my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is
my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter V

I walk down another street.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tricks for how to catch yourself in negative self-chatter mode

One of the important ideas to consider when working with the inner voice that’s judgmental of you is that your words can, in fact, create your future. So the more you say unpleasant things to yourself in your head (or even out loud) the more you’re narrowing your future and bringing about the behavior or “fact” that your saboteur is feeding you.

I'm not a huge fan of Henry Ford, but I agree with something he once said -- "Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right."

Our actions are created by our thought, and our thoughts are made up of words. So if you’re not really into the power of words, this article may not be for you – and I understand where you are. Before I tried changing the way I said things, I felt the way you do. "It's just WORDS, it's not like it makes a difference." All I can say now is try listening to yourself saying some of the following words and seeing how they impact you. I’m not you and can’t speak for you. But I do know that all of these things have helped me and my clients.

It can be so easy to ignore a negative thought or not even recognize it as negative. Part of the process of catching yourself saying something negative is to know what to listen for. That’s why I’ve come up with a list of words to help trigger your Observer Brain to let it know you’ve just had a negative thought. When you say the following words, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve said something mean, but there’s a pretty good chance that it’s not nice…

“Should”, “ought”, “must”, “have to,”

There are lots of words that assume rules and standards for behavior that do not exist in reality. They also imply a consequence for noncompliance, and often evoke guilt. For example, we may tell ourselves: “I should have lost five pounds by now.” or “I shouldn't eat cake and ice-cream”.

Who says? Challenge the rules and regulations you've enforced on yourself. Replace the words should, ought, or must with the words “could”, “will,” “may” and realize the gift of choices. Cake and ice-cream becomes much less powerful if we know we could, can, and will eat it if we want to.


There is very little in this world that you can’t do if you really put your mind to it. Thing of something you can’t do. And then I’ll tell you there’s a way you could do it, if you really wanted to. So telling yourself that you can’t do something is just an excuse. It’s also a gateway to a judgment. “I can’t do that, so that means I am _________”

Choose not to. Since you are all-capable, and there’s nothing you can’t do, there are certainly a large number of things on which you choose not to focus your energy. And that’s the difference – ‘can’t” becomes “I choose not to.”


Have you ever been to a hospital and noticed how the nurses talk about ‘discomfort’ instead of ‘pain’? This is generally done because ‘pain’ is a much more powerful word, and discussing your ‘pain’ level can actually make your experience of it more intense than if you’re discussing your ‘discomfort’ level.

Tone it down. In talking (to yourself and others) turning powerful negative words to more neutral ones can actually help turn down the emotionality your experience. Instead of using words like “hate” and “angry” (as in, “I hate traffic! It makes me so angry!”), you can use words like “don’t like” and “annoyed” (“I don’t like traffic; it makes me annoyed,” sounds much milder, doesn’t it?)


When you say something is hard, how does it feel inside your body? Try it. “My job is so hard.” “Losing weight is so hard.” “Finding an affordable apartment in new York is so HARD.” Does it feel like something you can actually do?

Some people are enlivened by this kind of obstacle to overcome. However, others (ahem, most of us) feel defeated by it. So watch out for anything that’s “hard.”

Challenge yourself. Instead, if something is difficult, consider it a challenge. Challenges are not only overcomable, but they can also be fun! Other words you can use to replace “hard” are “difficult,” “tricky,” or another adjective all together that better suits the situation.


If you find yourself talking in absolutes like always and never (or everybody and nobody), there’s a good chance you’re falling into a trap of your own making. “I always eat late at night” is more damning and permanent than “I seem to be eating at night a lot recently.”

Speak to the immediate truth. Are you in a place where you’re engaging in a behavior that makes you unhappy? Maybe you’re ignoring your dishes, being late to work, snapping at your roommate/partner – that doesn’t mean you always do it or never do the opposite. If you speak in terms of the immediate time frame, you give yourself more options for the future, and you’re not pinning your identity to a series of behaviors you happen to be engaging in right now, that may not, in fact, be what you always do.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Feeling the impact of negative self-chatter

So how do you know when you’re talking negatively to yourself? One way is to feel it. Everyone is different and is going to feel his or her negative self-chatter in different ways, but for me, I get a tightening in my chest, and my shoulders start to slump. My throat tightens up, and my jaw gets tight. In general, my body feels like it’s stuck in paste or glue.

And I get super-frowny. Inside and out.

Take a minute to explore the physical sensations that accompany your version of self-chatter. If you can, find a partner (could be your roommate, spouse, mother, friend, trusted coworker), and share with him or her one of the good old standby negative thoughts you have. It doesn't matter how boring or regular the thought is (that you’re even worried that the thought is boring or normal is self-chatter!), just share it with that partner. As you say it, notice how you feel. If you don’t feel anything particular, say it again. Repeat it once and take a deep breath. Scan your body with your mind’s eye. Where is the tension? How is your breathing? What could be relaxed? If you’re still stuck, ask your partner what he or she sees happening in your body.

If you can't find a partner, try this exercise in the mirror. Watch your body as you say the nasty thought over and over again. If you don't see a difference in your body, try thinking about a positive thought (like that perfect sunset, or when you walked across a big stage to receive a diploma), and see how that impacts your body. Alternate between thoughts until you can feel or see a difference in your body.

Once you’ve got the feeling, jot down particulars about it so you know what to be on the lookout for later. The feelings may not always be this strong or the same combination of factors that you experiencing with your partner, but this is a good place to start in your noticing.

As you progress with this work and pay attention to yourself hearing your negative self-chatter, double check your body -- does the posture you assume when you hear yourself beating yourself up empower you? Or does it make you feel like you're stuck in paste, frowning on the inside as well as the outside?