7 Reasons to Journal

writing-828911_1280Journaling is one of the best tools to make meaning out of the chaos of life and if you aren’t already doing so, I highly recommend you keep a journal.

While a computer journal will work, hand writing has several added benefits. It helps us learn and retain information, engages motor skills and memory and is a good cognitive exercise if you want to keep your brain sharp.

Here are seven reasons to journal:

Vent

We’ve all had a day like this. You forgot to set your alarm so you’re running late. In your haste you end up spilling coffee all over yourself so you have to go and change. To top it all off, there is an accident on the freeway and traffic is at a standstill. By the time you get to work you’re wound up like a rubber band, ready to snap.

Or you’re replaying past events or conversations in your mind that left you stewing, feeling disrespected or unappreciated. Lay it all out in your journal. Labeling and acknowledging your feelings lessens their impact. A good venting will help clear space in your head for what you do want to focus on. Writing it out will help you let it go.

Problem solving

Why is it that you are so tired during the day but the minute you crawl into bed you have that one thought – “How am I going to…?” “What am I going to do about…?”  – that derails any chances of sleep? Our brains like to feel like we are in control and writing it down can help us gain it back. Journaling helps you think through a problem, weigh pros and cons, and come up with solutions.

First, define exactly what the problem is. Let’s say you’ve been hit with some unexpected expenses and you’re worried about money. Put it on paper. Make a budget, brainstorm some options and come up with a plan. Maybe think about preventative measures for the futures, such as setting up an emergency fund.

Find patterns of thought or behavior

Take a look at where you tend to get stuck. Does your interest start waning on a project when things get tough?  Do you start getting careless when you are on the brink of a promotion and end up sabotaging yourself? Notice what patterns come up. Awareness is the first step to change.

You should also be aware of the words you use. Words let you know what your mindset is. For instance, when something goes wrong (it happens, that’s part of life) do you use words like “always” (I always screw up) and “never” (Good things never happen to me)? Do you “should” on yourself? Observe the language you use to describe your world. Is there a better way you can phrase something?

Acknowledge Successes

Humans are a negative bunch. We tend to focus on what’s wrong, exaggerate our weaknesses and downplay our strengths. We all have things we do well but often take them for granted because if we can do them easily, surely everyone else can too, right?

Wrong! Just as it is important to learn from the things that don’t go as planned, it’s vital to celebrate and acknowledge when things do go right, when you’ve mastered a new skill, achieved a milestone in your career or managed to fix that leaky faucet all by yourself.

The satisfaction of accomplishing something, breaking out of our comfort zone, seeing the results of our hard work are part of our growth process and should be celebrated. Remind yourself of all the things that you have achieved to counter balance your not-so-successful attempts.

Sort out your feelings

Have you ever had one of those days where you just felt…off? You’re snappy with your family, feel restless or anxious. Or there’s a big lump sitting in the pit of your stomach, slowly rising up to your throat. Your body is sending you a message and writing can help you decipher it. Go for stream-of-consciousness writing, just let whatever comes to you spill out onto the page. Maybe something will show up and you can deal with, maybe not but the act of exploring it will help calm your limbic system, that part of the brain that deals with emotions.

Creative expression

You can do whatever you want in your journal. Write out your hopes and dreams, bucket list, make plans for your ideal home, business ideas, doodle, collage, tell stories, keep track of quotes or sayings that inspire you and anything else that you can think of or don’t want to forget. It’s yours to do as you please.

Say it with confidence

If there is a conversation that you want to have but are having a difficult time starting it, rehearse it in your journal. Your emotions are likely to get in the way of any logical thought unless you can clarify what you want to say and rehearse it.

Here are a couple of don’ts when journaling

  • Don’t make your journal precious, in the sense that it has to be “perfect”.
  • Don’t worry about scratching stuff out or making it look “pretty”.
  • Don’t worry about spelling. Use shorthand or come up with your own abbreviations.
  • Don’t share it with anyone (unless you feel comfortable doing so). Let it be your safe haven, where you can let everything hang out.

5 tips to stay motivated

motivational-1177435_1280It happens to all of us when we are pursuing our dreams, trying to be engaged in and passionate about our lives. The excitement and novelty wears off, you hit a roadblock, you’re tired. You start questioning if this is the right path. Doubts creep in. You procrastinate and start using avoidance tactics (this is when cleaning out the fridge seems appealing…) It can show up in a million different ways.

I know because it happened to me recently. It isn’t always obvious either, sometimes it just sneaks up on us.

This is normal. It’s all part of the journey and how you handle it can make or break you (or slow you down). Here are some guidelines for this tricky period.

1. Keep your vision in sight.

It is inevitable that we will hit a road block on the path to our dreams. This is when we need to remember why we’re doing this in the first place. Make a vision board, write down in detail what your end result will look like, feel like, smell like, taste like…whatever. Who will you become at the end of this process? Remember the compelling reasons why you started the journey.

2. Seek balance.

If you’re anything like me, when you are pursuing a goal, you tend to focus on it to the extent of ignoring other aspects of your life. All work and no play makes us…cranky. Not good.

We need balance in our lives. Like a car, if we are constantly driving, we will eventually run out of gas. We need to stop and refuel, get our oil changed and batteries charged. Rest, spending time with friends and family, blowing off steam, pursuing a hobby or just getting goofy will fill our tanks. Anything but doing our “work” seems frivolous but it’s not. Perseverance and discipline are good but they can lead to a rut or burn out if we’re not careful.

This is a particularly hard concept for women. We are socialized to put others ahead of us. We nurture everyone but ourselves. Figure out what works for you. It may be something as simple as a good book and hot cup of tea. Or a pedicure. Or a walk. I had to think long and hard about what I needed and a class popped into my head. I love taking classes so I started looking for something creative and fun to do.

3.Try something different.

You’re working hard. You’re hustling. You’re giving it all you got. You’re doing everything by the book but you don’t seem to be getting anywhere…

Maybe it’s time to throw out the book.

Mix it up, switch gears, try something different. If nothing else, just to make things interesting. You never know what will produce results so keep trying.

4.Throw yourself a pity party.

Who says we have to be “up” all the time? Working on our dreams is hard! There are going to be times when you are in the flow and other times you feel like the universe has made you its punching bag. You’re frustrated, disappointed, scared and tired. The last thing you want to hear is another “Be positive, this too shall pass” platitude. Give in to those emotions (I prefer to do this in the privacy of my own room…). Let loose, throw a good old fashioned tantrum, have a hissy fit, shake your fists at the sky at the unfairness of it all, scream into your pillow, or stomp and pout around like a bratty five year old. Really exaggerate it and blow off some steam. Get it out of your system and let it go. You’ll find yourself refreshed and ready to go.

5. Make it fun.

We are pursuing our dreams because we want to come alive, feel energized, engaged and excited about out life. It is serious business but who said you can’t have any fun?

I had a seasonal position in a tax office. I don’t know about you, but ‘filing tax returns” and “fun” aren’t two things I’d associate with each other. However, that was one of the funnest jobs I ever had. It wasn’t the job so much as it was the people I worked with and the atmosphere in the office.

There are always way that you can inject some humor into your day, even if it’s during a break. Can you make a friendly competition? Crank up some music? Turn parts of it into a game? Don’t turn your passion into something that you dread. Make it fun.

What ways do you stay motivated?

Formula for Success

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I’ve always wanted to be my own boss, to create my own business that had flexible hours, aligned with my talents, strengths, values and passion and let me choose which projects I wanted to work on and who I wanted to work with. I’ve explored many ideas and much to my frustration and disappointment, none of them really worked out.

My biggest obstacle? Me.

One of the problems was I made these ridiculous plans that not only ignored my own natural tendencies but overwhelmed me before I even got started. I had schedules where I literally thought after a full day of work, I would come home and devote a full 3 hours to my venture-du-jour – everyday! And I expected to spend all of my weekends on it also. Not sure when I was planning on eating, sleeping, spending quality time with my family and friends, showering or dealing with all the other stuff life threw at me.

Finally I took stock of the things that were going right in my life. I’ve been a runner for nine years, practicing yoga for about 3 – consistently. Exercise has become a daily habit. So why have I been successful there and not other areas of my life?

Find your compelling reason for committing.

Motivation is the key to success. If we decide to do something because we were told to (by our doctor, spouse, boss, etc) or because we “should” (all good leaders should have an MBA) then we’re starting out handicapped. To increase our chances of achieving our goals, it should be our choice.

I started paying attention to my diet and exercise when a friend was diagnosed with cancer. She is the type to research everything and found that her daily soda habit was probably not helping. Even though I’ve always been a healthy eater (I was the kid that actually liked snacking on celery and carrots…) I had a 2-liter soda as well as some other unhealthy habits. Being over 40, I wanted quality in my years, not just quantity.

I have a strong commitment to a healthier lifestyle because there is so much more I want to do with my life and I want to be in good health to do it…hopefully for decades to come.

Start Small

Once I made the commitment, I decided to start exercising again. I eased into it with small steps. After I walked my son to school, I took a 2 mile brisk walk around the neighborhood. Nothing drastic. Then I started adding ankle weights. Walking became a habit.

Small steps are a great way to start anything. It helps us to overcome inertia and start, which is often the hardest part. It’s easy to commit to something small and easy – say five minutes. Five minutes can easily turn into 15, 30 or 60 if we get engrossed in a project. Five minutes doesn’t raise any alarms or bells in our brains (if it so much as gets a whiff of something stressful, it will go into survival mode and do everything it can to eliminate that stress and shut down our efforts to change) so it slips quietly under the radar . For me, walking was my “five minutes” because it’s something I know how to do and it fit easily in my schedule. It was non-threatening. I wasn’t demanding that I put my body, which was more used to being a couch potato than a track star, through some torturous “Biggest Loser” exercise-till-you-barf routine. I just opened my front door and walked out.

Another thing about small steps is that it allows us to grow into our goals. I often made schedules without taking into consideration that I was a beginner. We don’t expect a baby to come running out of the womb. That’s a good 1-2 years down the road. There are a lot of other little milestones that need to take place first. She needs to build muscle strength so she can hold her head up, sit up, roll over, crawl, walk and eventually run. I needed to take a step back and start at the beginning instead of trying to jump in at a higher level. Small steps help advance us through various skills and learning so we are mentally and physically prepared for the next challenge.

Find a buddy who will help you with your goals

Next, I was “dared” to do a six week boot camp with my co-workers. Five of us signed up for the 5:30 am class and I never missed one. At the end I was the strongest and healthiest that I’ve ever been. I didn’t want to lose all my hard work so when one of my co-workers suggested I run with her, I accepted.

I suffered those first couple of months. Fifteen minutes into the run and I’d be gasping for air and waved her on as I stopped to walk. But in a short time, I was able to keep up with, if not surpass her. The thing that kept me going was being accountable to someone. I didn’t like getting up at 5 am but I knew she’d be there waiting for me and I didn’t want to disappoint her. I know she’s part of the reason I developed the habit.

Having a buddy who is trying to reach a goal too and being accountable to each other can make things a lot easier. You have someone who can give you another perspective, you have someone you can commiserate with (it was either too hot or too cold – we complained about it but we still ran), you have someone cheering you on, you have someone who keeps it real. My running partner did so much more for me that just help me run, our running connected us on so many other levels and made the experience richer.

Find the formula and repeat it.

Once I saw the formula for achieving my exercise goals, I realized I could apply it to anything I did with the same success. I expanded my workout routine to include yoga. I may have been a yoga beginner but my running habit easily transferred into a yoga habit with little effort because I had already developed the “exercise” muscle.

When I applied this formula to other areas of my life, I found I had less stress, enjoyed the process more, moved forward quicker and saved myself a ton of time and aggravation.

I spent way too much time listening to the “experts” instead of looking at what actually worked for me. Take stock of your own success, those times you achieved your goal, and find the pattern. Test it out on your next goal. I’d love to hear your success formula.

 

Celebrating Failure

flagon-1331087_1280Failure has gotten a bad rap. It’s one of those charged words and often a fear of failure is cited as a reason why some people can’t move forward. And that’s a HUGE problem, especially if you want to pursue a fulfilling, meaningful life.

Failure is defined as the lack of success. It’s nothing more than a way to evaluate our progress. Without failure, we can’t grow. Success teaches us nothing. Failure always teaches us something.

The problem is that at some point we started making a judgement about failure, attaching a negative connotation to it when, in actuality, it’s a neutral event. All failure means is you didn’t achieve the outcome you wanted.  This is how children (and everyone else…) learn and grow. The square block didn’t fit into the round hole. So we tried a different hole.

Somewhere along the way we started getting a different message. That success was right and failure was wrong. And we lost the distinction between an event/outcome and our very identity. Instead of thinking “that try was a failure”, we tend to think “I’m a failure”.

I like how Joseph O’Connor & John Seymour reframed failure in their book Introducing NLP: Neuro-Linguistic Programming:

“There is no such thing as failure, only results. These can be used as feedback, helpful corrections, a splendid opportunity to learn something you had not noticed. Failure is just a way of describing a result you did not want. You can use the results to redirect your efforts. Feedback keeps the goal in view. Failure is a dead end. Two very similar words, yet they represent two totally different ways of thinking.”

Failure is our teacher. Maybe you didn’t achieve what you had hoped but find the lesson and try something else. Eventually you will find something that does work. And as a result you will have grown and learned and changed in ways that you never could have imagined.

So from now on, celebrate failure!

 

 

What makes you come alive?

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I think it’s only fitting that if I devote a post to energy drainers that I do one on energy gainers.

Balance is important for living a fulfilling life but often, when we are chasing a dream (i.e like starting our own business), we become so focused on it to the detriment of other areas of our life. Maybe it has something to do with our puritan work ethic, that we should be putting in 60-70 hours a week but the truth is working longer hours doesn’t mean you’re being more productive. And it’s a recipe for burnout as we all need to recharge our batteries. As I said before, change requires energy so swap those annoying activities you’ve been tolerating for ones that energize you.

It’s time to make a list. What do you want more of in your life? What do you like to do? How do you like to be pampered? Put everything down that you can think of – small pleasures like a good cup of coffee to big indulgences like a spa vacation.

Now look at your list – what are some of the things that you can start doing right away? One of my favorite things to do is to sit in the sun and just soak up the warmth. It costs nothing but just taking five minutes rejuvenates me for the next task at hand.

What about some of those bigger items on your list – the ones you don’t think you have the time or money for? Is there a way to get the essence of what you want on a smaller scale? For instance, if you can’t afford a week at a spa, what about an hour massage, a facial or a pedicure?

Don’t tell me you don’t have the time. If you can find the time to watch TV or surf the internet, you have time to take care of yourself. Our brain can only take about 45 minutes of focused attention before it needs a break. Walking away from our desk for five minutes will enhance our productivity, not hinder it, so start incorporating those energy gainers into your routine and recharge yourself.

 

Energy Vampires – What’s draining you?

face-800192_1280Pursuing our dreams, meeting challenges head on, moving forward…notice that these are action words. They require energy.

Energy is defined as: “the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity.”. Synonyms include: vitality, vigor, spirit, enthusiasm, zest, spark, effervescence and exuberance.

When we decide to pursue our passion and live life on our own terms, it’s important to examine how we are living life now. Change is not easy, we are creatures of habit. We need to look closely at our habits to see if they are energizing us or depleting us. The same goes for people in our life – are we surrounding ourselves with people who lift us up or bring us down?

A good place to start is by taking inventory of the basic areas of your life:

  • Family and friends (your community)
  • Finances/money
  • Recreation
  • Health
  • Home/environment
  • Personal development and growth
  • Spirituality
  • Work/career

Common energy drainers include unfinished projects, lack of boundaries (learn to say “no”) and clutter. For instance, is your work environment conducive to your best thinking and productivity? I might be accused of being a tad OCD…I can’t stand clutter. I was that kid that had a clean room. I want things organized, put away in their place. My work space is tidy. I know where everything is and as a result I can focus on the task at hand. I don’t have any superfluous decorations…just what I need within reach.

Go through each area of your life and identify the little annoyances and your big complaints. Why the little stuff? Because little stuff can quickly snowball out of control. Handling them now could save time and aggravation later down the road.

Once you’ve got your list, what is each of these energy drainers costing you? Time? Money? Emotional well-being? Health?

Finally, how will you resolve them? Can you:

  • Eliminate them?
  • Come to a compromise?
  • Find the learning/growth opportunity? Some things you can’t change but you always have control over how you respond (not react) by taking time to examine your choices.

Creating the life of your dreams means being aligned with your talents, strengths, values, and passion. It means being protective of your time, money and energy. You should only be using it in a manner that benefits or supports your life goals. Taking care of the energy vampires now will free up the space – emotional and physical – in your life so you can devote it to the things that really matter.

 

 

 

 

 

Are reasons just another excuse?

My friend had an interesting conversation. She wasn’t able to attend a class and when a friend texted her with the homework, she replied with the reason she wasn’t able to attend. Her classmate said she didn’t have to give an excuse. In which she replied that it wasn’t an excuse, she was just explaining why she wasn’t there or, then she asked, “Is that the same thing?” To which the classmate replied “Yes”.

(A disclaimer here, when we make a personal choice/decision, we don’t owe anyone an explanation.)

As a coach, I listen for the words that my clients use. Language is powerful and it tells a lot about a person and their mind-set. Changing our language can also help change our mind-set.

So is a “reason” just another “excuse”?

One of the definitions of excuse is: attempt to lessen the blame attaching to (a fault or offense); seek to defend or justify

Reason is defined as: a cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event. Another definition is: the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic. I think this latter definition is integral to the first definition.

Some people might use the two words interchangeably but I think there are several distinctions that should be pointed out:

  • An excuse is used to deflect blame and avoid responsibility for our actions. It is outer-driven, we are victims of unforeseen circumstances. Reasons don’t avoid responsibility. A reason shows, and here’s where the second part of the definition is important, our thought process and how we came to our decision/conclusion.
  • An excuse is not aligned with our integrity. When we give an excuse, we usually know, deep down, that we are at least partially to blame. Reasons are in alignment with our integrity.

A good way to tell if you are giving an excuse or a reason is to notice how your body is reacting. When I give an excuse, I can feel it in the pit of my stomach which travels up through my body, like an electric current, to my ears. I feel a sense of…shame is the word that comes to mind. I am uneasy.

When I am explaining myself, giving a reason, my body is at ease. I feel a sense of lightness. I am speaking from my “truth” (based on my beliefs and values) and it resonates with me.

The bottom line is this – what is your intent behind these words? Is it to deflect blame and responsibility or are you owning up to your choices?