Growing Gratitude

Fall at Arboretum copy_edited-1Practicing gratitude is like yoga for the heart; it stretches, lengthens, and expands our capacity to be appreciative, thankful, and ultimately happier.   I think of gratitude as a state of being that arises when we find ourselves appreciating more things then not.  What nudges a smile from you?  Brings you joy? Makes your day feel like it was a good one?

There is significant benefit to consciously cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Being grateful builds up a sort of psychological immune system, and helps us mitigate stress and negative emotions.  Living with an awareness of gratitude in our daily lives has also been shown lower blood pressure, improve the quality of sleep and promote an overall sense of well being.  In the midst of our busy, often over scheduled days how can we increase this sense of gratefulness?

Here are some steps you can take to bring a sense of gratitude into your daily experience:

  1. When you first wake up in the morning, list 3 things you are grateful for in your life. (This really sets the stage for a good day!)
  2. Start a gratitude journal and write down things you are grateful for every day. Review this often!  It can help us move out of negative thinking.
  3. Work at really noticing the good stuff in your life. Next time you go to the grocery store for instance, look at the huge variety of fresh produce you can select.
  4. Focus on what you DO have instead of what you don’t have. Remove your conditions under which you will be happy.  For example “I will be happy when X/Y/Z happens”.
  5. Practice living truly in the present moment. We tend to spend untold hours replaying events of our past or imaging our future and often this is negative.  (i.e.” I should have/would have/could have done things differently” or, we dwell on the “What if’s?” of the future.)
  6. Think bigger than yourself! Get involved with a cause or a community and do some good works. It helps us get perspective and appreciate our own life more when you come face to face with others less fortunate.
  7. Express your appreciation for friends and family in your life. Nothing jolts us out of negative thinking faster than love.

“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”  Eckhart Tolle

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.”  John F. Kennedy

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more.  If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”  Oprah Winfrey

The quotes above and 37 more are from “40 Inspiring and Motivational Quotes”  posted on Inc.com.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving and Holiday Season!

 

8 Questions to Ask Yourself in 2015

Winter Trees_edited-1The New Year is brimming with possibilities to explore, good work to be done, and great things to be accomplished!  It is a terrific time to take stock of where you are in your career.  Are you happy with your present situation?  Is your work rewarding, fulfilling, and energizing?  If not, it may be time to consider what you really want to be doing with your precious time and talents and set some goals to make it happen.

Although I’m not a fan of resolution making, I do see the merit in setting goals as a first step to start making changes.

Here are 8 questions I find helpful to get the process going:

 

  1. What am I grateful for?As you review 2014, consider the good things in your life that you are truly thankful for.  What brought you joy or warmed your heart this last year?  What do you most value that you have in your life right now?  Is it your significant other, a loving pet, a fabulous climate, your family, your friends, peace of mind, good health?  When we get in touch with feelings of gratitude, it is easier to determine our priorities and start to create an action plan.
  2. What did I accomplish this last year?Often people make resolutions about what they failed to accomplish without giving themselves credit for their achievements.  Accomplishments don’t have to come in the form of awards or promotions either. Did you learn a new skill? Clean out a closet that had needed it for years? Get better at being on time?
  3. What did I intend to accomplish but didn’t in 2014?Instead of beating yourself up over missed opportunities, failed resolutions or missed goals, consider their relative importance.  So you didn’t lose the weight, get your dream job, visit the Grand Canyon, get a raise, exercise more, etc.  So what?  How important were those goals?  Are they still important to you?
  4. What do I want to accomplish in 2015?Are there unfinished projects or goals from last year that you want to focus on going forward?  (See #3)  Are there new things you want to bring into your life or accomplish this year? If you have a bucket list, it may be time to take action.  What are you waiting for?
  5. What is the benefit if I accomplish these goals?What is the payoff to you personally? How will your achieving these goals change your life/other people/the world?  Consider how achieving your goals will change your life.  Will you be happier?
  6. Am I making my goal or “resolution” for myself or am I trying to please or impress someone else? Answering this question requires us to be brutally honest with ourselves.  Often we make decisions based on how it will impact others in our lives.  It’s good to consider this aspect but at the same time, challenge your perception—is it really your goal or is it someone else’s goal for you?
  7. Am I basing my goals/resolutions on something I really want or something I truly need? What is your primary motivation for seeking change?  Is it long term fulfillment or short term gratification?
  8. What can I let go of that isn’t supporting me?We often put up with people, possessions, problems, and situations that aren’t serving us in a positive way.  What have you been tolerating that you can eliminate from your life?

 

Consider what needs to happen for you to live your life from a place of integrity and in alignment with your core values.  Then set your goals and take action toward achieving them.

May you do great things in this New Year!

 

How to Be Your Best Self

Be Your Best SelfHolidays aren’t always “Jolly” days.  There are more errands to run, tasks to do, lists to make and follow through. We get stressed out trying to “get it all done” so that we can actually enjoy the season. Then there are the social gatherings, some mandatory and not always pleasant.  Sometimes it’s our own family interactions that put a damper on our best intentions to have a “Happy Holiday”.  

How can you shift this scenario and bring the “Happy” back into the holidays?  Try being your “Best Self”.

Carolyn Hax, a columnist for the Washington Post was recently asked how to define “Best Self”.  Here is how she answered that question in her column of Dec. 13th. “It’s when you like yourself. Or, when you’re getting the most out of your strengths and succumbing the least to your weaknesses.  It’s highly personal, but here are some ideas for cultivating strength:

  • Are you doing things that are meaningful to you; well suited to your interests, skills and talents; and challenging enough to keep you humble?”  (This is also the key to joy in your chosen work)
  • “Are you with people to whom you want to be kind; who reinforce your good choices; and who don’t inspire persistent doubts about whether they’re dependable, genuinely fond of you, free of ulterior motives, honest with you?  Are you that person to those you love?
  • When you are impressed by, grateful, or concerned about someone, do you show it?
  • Do you take responsibility for your choices and their consequences?”  (This is hard for many, but if you can consistently operate this way, you will stop blaming others/external circumstances for your life as it is, you stop being or feeling like a victim and instead begin feeling and being empowered)

Don Miguel Ruiz says in his book, The Four Agreements; “Be impeccable with your word” and “Always do your best”.   Similarly, Hax asks the reader; “Do you honor your promises and commitments, to yourself and others?” and “Are you representing yourself honestly, to yourself and others?”

How about dealing with your weaknesses so that you can be “your best self”?  Here are some of the questions Carolyn asks her readers to consider:

  • “Do you resist the impulse to blame others when things go wrong?
  • Do you understand the boundary between you and others’ business, and stay on your side?
  • When you’re unsure, do you admit that and seek help?
  • When you’re about to express negativity or a criticism, do you ask yourself whether it needs expressing?  And imagine how its target will feel?”
I challenge you to consider these questions and be honest with yourself in your answers. This doesn’t mean berating yourself or wallowing in regret.   Forgiveness is a powerful activator for positive change.  Forgive yourself and others for not being their “best selves” and move on.  In every moment we can choose to be our “best self” and by doing so, we become more mindful and sometimes even “JOLLY”.
 
Wishing you and your loved ones a wonderful Holiday Season and a Happy New Year!  — Dee

(To view Carolyn’s full article in the Washington Post on 12.13.2013 click here

How to Have More Mindful Moments

Mindful blogLast week I facilitated two workshops on mindfulness for employees of John Deere Financial.  I was struck by how earnestly engaged the participants were in the process.  It was like they were hungry to explore mindfulness.  What a gift it is to give ourselves “time out”, to allow our busy brains to re-focus on the present moment as we did during those workshops.

For the most part, we move through our days on autopilot.  Scientists tell us that the average human brain thinks 70,000 thoughts a day.  Now if those were all empowering positive thoughts, imagine how different our lives might be.  

Unfortunately, we humans tend to ruminate on the past and imagine and plan for the future. We also tend to get in loops of repeating memories or patterns of thinking. Consider the times you have re-played a situation in your head and thought about what you could have, should have, or would have done differently if given a chance to “do it over.” The nice thing about using mindfulness techniques, is that every time you awake to the present moment, you have the opportunity to consciously choose how to move forward to the next one.

When you consider career paths, choosing wisely can make all the difference in whether you experience a job that is boring or stressful vs having work that is interesting and enjoyable.   The more consciously aware we are, the more control we have over the course of our lives.  Instead of being at the mercy of our mental default programs, we can start to wake-up to each moment, each choice point.  So how do we become more “mindful”? Here are some exercises you might try:

1.  Watch the mind move in time.  Take a piece of paper and draw a horizontal line.  At one end is the future at the other, the past.  In the center of the line make a circle and write in the word NOW.  Start with your finger on the circle and simply observe your thoughts for 5 minutes.  Every time you realize you are thinking about the future, move your finger on the scale.  Do the same thing when you realize you are thinking about the past.  Don’t try to stop the thoughts, just observe how your mind wanders in time.

2.  Focus your senses.  Pick up an object you find interesting and study it for 5 minutes.  Really look at it, touch it, observe every detail of color, weight,  shape, even whether or not it has an odor.  This is one method to bring you into the present moment.  It offers the additional benefit of increasing your power of sensory perception.

3.  Set wake up calls.  When I was in grad school, I was also a student in The Fourth Way work which was based on the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff.  One of the most interesting homework assignments we were given was called the doorway exercise.   Every time you pass through a doorway say to yourself “I am here now”.  When you realize you have sailed through a doorway without remembering your statement (in essence being on autopilot or asleep at the switch), go back through the doorway and say it.  While it may not be practical to actually go back through every doorway, for instance exiting an airplane, it is remarkable to see how often we are unaware.  

All these moments of mindfulness add up.  You start to realize how much of life you’ve missed because you have been riding around on your own thought train.   Increase your mindful moments and your life begins to change in some interesting ways.  Who knows?  That dream career, that ideal life, may be just around the corner…

 

Infinite Possibilities for Creating Change

field of infinite possibilities

field of infinite possibilities…

Are you yearning to make some real changes this year?  I’m not talking about making a list of resolutions, I’m talking about creating realistic action steps.  Does thinking about making changes in your life overwhelm you?  Is it something you tried to do in the past and failed at?  Maybe you are simply tackling too much at once. Try one small step at a time.

Start with an idea or a vision of what you want to bring into your life. What would it look like if you made some changes?  Can you picture your surroundings?  Let’s say for example, you want to experience more peace, feel calm in stressful situations, or just plain be relaxed more of the time.  What kind of environment are you spending time in? Are there changes you can make to promote a sense of calm?  Here’s an example of what I mean: 

I remember answering incoming calls in a tiny office space/storage room with no windows.  One day instead of lunch, I headed to a poster shop to find visions of serenity.  I came back with 3 beautiful photos of ocean scenes. You know, white beaches palm trees, unlimited horizons to gaze at – kind of like the Corona beer commercials. That one small improvement in my work space enabled me to “breathe” easier and put a smile into my voice in responding to callers.  It was a quick and inexpensive action step toward changing my environment for the better and resulted in my feeling more relaxed and optimistic in my job. That one small action step created immediate change for me!

What do you want to change?  Do you want to have more joy, peace, love, achievement, success, health, or wealth? Whatever it is that you want to bring into your life,  I challenge you to take a least one action step in the next 30 days to help it to happen!  (and I’d love to hear about it!)                        –Dee

Manage Holiday Stress, Bring Joy

De-stressing the season

De-stressing the season

I was pleased to be asked to present three workshops on Managing Holiday Stress for a local company recently and thought I’d share some of the tips from that presentation with you.  

Prevent Overwhelm

If you are at all like me, you want to prepare and orchestrate the warmest, nicest holiday experience you can.  This can lead to unrealistic expectations for your own “performance”.  Trying to have the “Hallmark” holiday with all the decorations just so, homemade food, beautifully wrapped gifts, and a perfectly clean house for guests can put tremendous stress on you. Prioritize your tasks and be realistic about your energy levels.  (ha ha, I have company arriving tomorrow and have given up the need to scrub the grout..)

1.  Ask for help, don’t assume others will volunteer.  For instance, with guests, be aware that they likely have different traditions around holidays.  For instance,  their family stays out of the kitchen when mom or the designated chef is at work, so it wouldn’t occur to them to offer to help you cook.  You don’t want to become a martyr (or be perceived as one) by doing it all and then begin to resent having company, or doing the tasks you’ve taken on.  

2.  Be flexible, weather, travel conditions, emergencies etc. may come up and dash your plans.  Instead of getting stressed over it, consider having a backup plan.  No plan?  Then just do your best to go with the flow rather than trying to make things turn out a certain way.  

3.  Hold your boundaries, allow yourself to just say “NO”.  If you are feeling overwhelmed, don’t take on more obligations.   What can you let go of to give yourself more time and energy?  (Note to self: I give myself permission to skip hand writing notes in holiday cards this year.  I am not staying up half the night this year to get cards in the mail in time.)

4.  Let go of outmoded “traditions”.  Does your family have holiday traditions that may no longer be relevant but you continue them anyway? I love the story about the gathered generations of women preparing a holiday ham. One cuts both ends of the ham before placing it in the roasting pan.  The youngest says “Mom, why did you cut off both ends of the ham?”  She answers, “because that is the way your grandmother always prepares it.”  The little girl then went to her grandmother and asked the same question. Her grandmother’s response; “I had to because my pan was too small”.  (In my example, it was a big deal to make loads of holiday treats, participate in cookie exchanges, and engage my kids in the process.  Now, as a gluten free empty-nester,  it doesn’t make sense to do all that baking.)

Create Peace and Joy

1.  Do something for others.  Consider being a bell ringer for a couple of hours or volunteer to distribute food or toys for a non-profit. Put your personal holiday stress in perspective by helping those less fortunate.

2.  Take care of yourself.  If you have an exercise routine, keep it up.  Nothing releases stress in the body better than exercise. Watch what you eat and drink and try not to overindulge.  If you need a break from people, take it.  (One workshop participant who was hosting extended family in her home, said she retreated to her closet  a couple of times a day for a 15 minute meditation break.)

3.  Have fun experiences.  Play board games, go for walks, drive around and see holiday lights, do some interactive activities with others.  If there are children around, engage with them.  Nothing brings joy like a little person’s laughter. 

4.  Don’t take yourself or your opinions too seriously.  Allow other people to “be right”.  Avoid confrontations with others.  The old adage “count to 10 before you respond” is still good advice.  I find it beneficial to take 3 or 4 deep slow breaths when tensions arise.  It relaxes the body, forces more oxygen to your brain, and enables you to make a more conscious choice in responding in challenging conversations or situations.

Wishing you all the peace, love,  joy and wonder of the season    —Dee

Foster an Attitude of Gratitude

The day after Thanksgiving is commonly referred to as “Black Friday”.  I propose we think of it as “Light Friday” instead and bask in the glow of Thanksgiving.  It is a perfect time to reflect on all we are grateful for in our lives.   We have a family tradition of holding hands around the table and going to each person who then shares their appreciations and blessings.  Often this includes sending out loving intention to absent relatives. 

We are fortunate in our family to have two living grandmothers and one of the appreciations shared this year was just that.  Both my mother and mother –in- law are hale and still quite hearty in their mid 80’s.  As they both live in the Carolinas and no longer enjoy flying, we don’t see them often.  My daughter Nicole suggested we organize a “grandmother’s getaway” so that she could spend some time with them.  Last month the four of us had five glorious days together and enjoyed the beauty of Myrtle Beach, SC. 

I took this picture from our hotel balcony on our last morning.  There is something purely magical about witnessing the sun rising seemingly from the ocean.  I love the dawn, the light of a new day.  Each morning is a new start, a fresh slate.  You can set the tone of your day simply by appreciating it.  Every time I see this photo I will remember the great time we four had together.  My daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with the octogenarians, playing bridge and hearing about yesteryear when the world was simpler.  They find smart phones, GPS, and digital cameras to be “mind boggling” (to quote my mother-in-law).

Nicole and I listened to her grandmothers share their stories and their practical wisdom.  She and I both realized how fortunate we were to be there with them, to still have them in our lives.  As we move through this holiday season, I hope we can hold that sense of gratitude not just for our family and friends but for the larger community of mankind. 

I encourage you to foster an attitude of gratitude and spread it around.  Here are some tips to develop it:

Keep a gratitude journal.  Every day or two write down things you appreciate.  As a regular exercise, I ask my coaching clients to list 3 things they are grateful for each week.  It helps to remember that there are good things happening in our lives despite whatever challenges (like job searching), we may be going through.

Take a walk in natural surroundings.  Take time to breathe in the fragrances of flowers, the earthiness of fallen leaves or the tang of winter air.   It is very soul satisfying to just be very present to the magnificence of the natural world around us.

Write a note or letter of appreciation.  Tell people who have helped you or touched your life how much you appreciate them. Give them a recommendation, write a testimonial, or send them a card.  If you receive some of these, save them and review them when you are having a “black” day or an “off” week.  

“Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation”.  -Brian Tracy

Wishing you all a warm and wonderful holiday season!   -Dee 

Making Enlightened Career Choices

Roads in the forest

Are you making enlightened decisions about your career?

Are you doing work that is fulfilling and rewarding? Does your current work give you an outlet to make a difference, to feel alive with purpose? If not, you might want to consider making some changes. You don’t have to do a particular job, work in soul deadening surroundings, or be “chained” to a desk in a cubicle. YOU have CHOICE! If you want to create a different career path you need to make choices that will propel you to new actions.

How do you typically make decisions? Are they based on:
• Shoulds – doing what you believe you should do
• Pleasing others – doing what others want or expect you to do
• Fear – choosing the safe route, or being afraid to make changes
• Habit and reaction – you don’t even think about what you’re doing–you’ve always done it this way

Or, are you consciously considering each decision and maintaining an awareness of these factors:
• Feeling empowered – to choose truly for yourself, not to please others
• Authenticity – you know who you are and choose in alignment with your core values
• Creative expression – you have talents and skills to share, and seek to express these through your work

To make more enlightened, conscious choices:

1. Clearly define your wants and needs. Get in touch with your sense of purpose. Listen to your intuition. Ask yourself; “Does this choice feel empowering or disempowering?” “Is this decision in my highest good?”

2. Consider your current situation and ask yourself; “Why am I doing this? What do I want to achieve?” It may be helpful for you to write down your answers and ponder them. Be more conscious of how you are spending your precious time, because this is your life passing by.

3. Stay out of the victim mindset. You alone are responsible for your life. When you accept this, you will claim your inner power and make better choices. Change often comes from nothing more than a shift in perspective.

4. Be open to new possibilities for yourself. Select one area of your life where you are unsatisfied, and choose something new, something more for yourself.

5. Simply notice opportunities as they show up. We miss so many options because we just don’t see them! Wake up and look around. You have an opportunity right in this moment to choose something new or different.

If you find you spend a lot of time in a job that leaves you tired, frustrated and discouraged at the end of the day, it may be time for “Plan B”. You have gifts, talents, work and life experiences, skills and expertise to create your next career! Identify them and search out how who needs them. Then you can make a plan to move in a new direction.

Finding Peace

Holiday TreeMost of us are familiar with the phrase “Peace on earth, goodwill to men.” How many of us consciously practice it in our everyday lives and what does it mean exactly?  From my perspective, peace and goodwill begin with me.  It is that internal sense of absolute quiet and calm glimpsed in those moments or gaps between the zillions of thoughts that zip through our minds on a daily basis.  Our brains are like huge computers running a multitude of programs simultaneously with frequent pop-up boxes that distract us from clear thinking.  If we can focus on the gaps between the bits of streaming information, we can realize moments of lucidity and calm.  When we are centered and connected to that inner quiet, we exude a sense of peace and, not incidentally, goodwill.

Typically in the U.S. we get wrapped up in a flurry of seasonal preparations and holiday activities; purchasing presents, decorating our homes and workspace, and engaging in social and religious activities. The holidays can be very stressful, particularly if you get caught up in trying to get everything accomplished in time. We put stress on ourselves to get all these holiday tasks and obligations completed and still manage our already busy daily lives.

Here’s a suggestion for alleviating the stress: when you notice yourself getting caught up just take a big breath in, let it out slowly and completely.  Repeat until you’ve restored a little inner quiet.  It is amazing how this simple act performed consciously can be so self-calming.  When you are at peace, it impacts everyone and everything around you.  Perhaps the greatest gift we can give to others is to be at PEACE ourselves.

When you are out and about this holiday season, look at the people around you, share eye contact, smile, acknowledge them, start a conversation.  You have an opportunity to shift the atmosphere around you. We can share an implicit appreciation of one another, or GOODWILL.   In eastern traditions this moment might be described as Namaste, which may be translated as “the goodness in me recognizes the goodness in you.”  See how many of those moments you can experience in the coming days and notice how you will be promoting, “peace on earth and goodwill to men.”

Wishing you the peace and joy of the season!

Dee


How to Have Meaningful Work

Fall Tree

In autumn, the trees are shedding their old leaves and going into the sleepy hibernation of winter, to emerge again in the spring with new growth and renewed life force. As people we need to “shed” old patterns of self-limiting beliefs, habits that have impeded our forward growth, and behaviors that no longer serve us. Unlike the trees who drop their leaves based on a seasonal climate cycle, we can drop our self-defeating beliefs and behaviors at will. We have the power of choice.

Those of us who are dissatisfied with our jobs may discount our work as not having meaning or purpose. We view it as something we have to do to make money, rather than as something that has intrinsic value for our self-development. The number one reason clients come to me for career coaching is for help in finding fulfilling, meaningful work.

How do you define meaningful work? My clients frequently point out examples of people doing humanitarian work, scientists who are researching to find cures for deadly diseases, social works, teachers and others whom, by virtue of their vocations, are visibly being of service. What about the guy who fixes your car so you can safely transport your family? The engineers who ensure that you have electricity? The farmers who grow your food? Their work is meaningful, purposeful and certainly benefits others. Sometimes finding the right livelihood is not about obtaining another job, but rather it is about shifting our perspective about the work we already have.

If you’re feeling that your job is meaningless or purposeless, try to shift your perspective. To get started, ask yourself these questions:

1. What is the end result of the work you do?
2. Who benefits from your efforts?
3. Are you providing service to your community or the world in some way?
4. What values do you express through your work?
5. How do you impact others at work?
6. Is your attitude toward work mostly positive or mostly negative? Can you shed the negative?
7. What is one thing you could do differently to be of better service to your employer, your co-workers, your clients, or your customers?

“It is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life and it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work.” –Jim Collins