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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Secret to Life and Happiness

'Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.' Mark Twain

The Challenge: Discover the Best Way to Get the Most Out of Life

Each of us is challenged to discover the best way to get the most out of life. As Twain says, playing it safe only leads to a disappointing life.

To achieve a satisfying and happy life you must risk being hurt, wrong, scared, disappointed, rejected, ridiculed, and silly. You must throw off the things keeping you tied to your safe harbor and venture into the vast ocean of possibilities.

What Matters to You?

Putting yourself out there and going after what you want is a risk. The courage to risk comes from discovering what matters to you. Start by defining what you want out of life at this juncture so you can better guide your choices and daily actions. What you care about matters--it is the wind in your sails propelling you forward into a satisfying life adventure.

Discover what matters to you so you can:
  • Concentrate your limited time and energy on those things that count.
  • Plan your life so you feel more control over the things that matter to you.
  • Create a sense of urgency for the things that are most important to you.
Explore ~ Dream ~ Discover

 Helen Keller said, "Life is a daring adventure or it is nothing." The secret to a happy life is to have the courage to continuously explore what matters to you and cast off the things keeping you tied to your safe harbor. Stop letting fear keep you tethered.

Navigating a Course of Action
  • What would you do this week if you knew you couldn't fail? Take a step.
  • What do you wish someone would ask you to do? Go do it.
  • If you had all the money in the world, what would you spend your life doing? Start doing it.

Sail Away from the Safe Harbor

 What is one step you can take today to catch the trade winds in your sails?

'A ship is safe in a harbor, but that's not what ships are for.'
William Shedd  1820-1894

My sincere thanks to Antonio Tonelli from Venezuela for sharing William Shedd's 'safe harbor' quote.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Secret to Time Management--Discover Your Word to Refocus Attention

'I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.'
Douglas Adams

A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing

Finish. That's my secret word that's been helping me refocus my attention and have better time management for 15 years.
I knew I had 'arrived' a few years ago as I was helping my daughter figure out her preferences for dealing with life. As I asked her questions about who she was and how she dealt with the world she turned to me and said, "Don't you know?  I'm just like you--except you finish things."

Ha! I felt like a sheep in wolf's clothing. From the outside I had begun to look like someone who naturally finishes things. Only I knew the truth--I love to start things and have only learned to ease into finishing them.

What Are Your Time Management Challenges?

We are all capable of being good at anything we choose to master. But we tend to favor some ways of dealing with life over others. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Depending on your preferences, some aspects of managing your life will excite you and others will stress you.

  • You're sociable and fun once you know a person, but you feel awkward and anxious about starting a relationship.
  • You're a great finisher whose excitement goes up the closer you get to the finish line but your stress goes up before you start a job.
  • You prefer to lay a plan and stick to it and your stress rises when someone asks you to be more flexible about changing those carefully laid plans.
  • You excel at working independently and you get stressed by working with others.
Fifteen years ago I chose to improve my time management skills to get more out of my life.  Since I was a great starter of projects I decided to consciously refocus on the opposite of what I do best--finishing. I discovered by refocusing on the word finish when I started a new endeavor I took things to completion sooner. Today it's almost second nature for me to finish what I start.

 Discover Your Secret Word to Refocus Your Daily Actions

My secret time management word is finish. What's yours?

Whether you want to be more compassionate or less judgmental, loosen up, be timelier, or relate better with others--you can begin to master your less preferred ways to manage life by discovering your secret word to refocus your attention.

If you want to better manage your time and life, choose a starting place to redirect your focus so you attend to what you want to master. That's what choosing a single refocusing word is about. 

 Deep inside, you know what that one word is for you. You know if you were to consciously embrace one less preferred aspect of how you deal with life you would be more balanced and your life less stressful.

So what is it that would make your life more balanced, and what is the secret word that could serve to refocus your attention on what you want to master?

Is Your Critical, Judgmental Nature Getting in the Way?

Perhaps you are too critical and judgmental towards yourself and others. You want to be in a loving relationship, but your critical and judgmental thinking is getting in the way.

A healthy relationship requires an equal amount of courage and compassion. If you are too critical and judgmental you may demonstrate lots of courage to speak your mind and not enough compassion towards others and yourself.. 

Refocus your attention with the word compassion to guide you to soften up and lead with more heart, than head. An added bonus to focusing on the word compassion is you will be kinder to yourself—and have more courage to let go of the fear and be yourself.

Struggling to Learn a New Skill or Job?

When you're struggling to learning a new skill or job you can feel overwhelmed by where to begin. If your reaction to being overwhelmed is to avoid stepping into the learning process, you may want choose the word start or small to cue you to just jump in and take the first small step.

Become the Person You Already Are--Only Better!

Don't worry about picking the perfect word. Pick one word to guide you daily--and start using it.  If you need to change the focus, do it. Just keep it simple.

I was always a person who was flexible and adaptable. By focusing on finishing, today I am a flexible and adaptable person who is easy to work with--and who finishes projects and meets deadlines.

By choosing to focus on one word to help you manage your life better, you'll become the person you already are--only better!

Refocusing Words--Choose One
  • Start
  • Finish
  • Follow-through
  • Tenacious
  • Persistent
  • Patient
  • Adaptable
  • Flexible
  • Compassionate
  • Courageous
  • Flexible
  • Decisive
  • Enjoy
  • Engage
  • Relate
  • (Stay) Open
  • Suspend (Judgment)
  • Choose
  • Happy
  • Active
  • Action
  • Pro-active
  • Describe
  • Trust

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.
Lao Tzu

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Cultivate and Practice Love, Kindness, Compassion and Tolerance

'My message is always the same: to cultivate and practice love, kindness, compassion and tolerance.'   
The Dalai Lama

Cultivate and Practice Concrete Acts of Caring

 The message doesn't get simpler than this--cultivate and practice:
  • Love
  • Kindness
  • Compassion
  • Tolerance
The words--cultivate and practice--connote on-going processes--ones you nurture, foster, and commit to daily.

You cultivate the things you want to grow, and you practice the things you want to master.

When you look within yourself:
  • Do you find your self-talk resulting in concrete acts of caring towards yourself and others?
  • Or do you find yourself nursing past hurts and looking at others with envy, simmering anger, and an intolerance causing you to withdraw from, or lash out at, others?

 While you may claim you want to live your life with love, kindness, compassion and tolerance only you know the truth of how miserably you fail to be led by them on a daily basis. If you truly want love, kindness, compassion and tolerance in your life, commit to consciously cultivate and practice concrete acts of caring. 

Charity Begins at Home

My mother used to say, Charity begins at home. She understood if we are to sustain charitable thoughts and actions towards others we must begin by building a solid foundation at home--or within ourselves.

It is difficult to be kind and compassionate towards others if you're critical, judgmental and un-attentive towards yourself.  When you fail to spend time taking care of yourself or participating in activities that make you feel good about yourself, you grow to resent others as you grow to feel worse about yourself.

Begin to cultivate and practice love, kindness, compassion and tolerance towards others by first cultivating and practicing these things on yourself. Once you've created an emotionally-stable and secure core within you, you will find it natural to reach out to those around you compassionately.

Demonstrate Self-Love Daily: Concrete Acts of Self Care

Daily Self-Assessment-- When you wake up check where your attention goes. Check: Did I begin with kind, compassionate thoughts-- or did I find myself going down the path of envy, anger, fear, and frustration?

Daily Focus--What are the ways in which I can show myself love, kindness, compassion and tolerance today? What do I want to grow and master within myself?

Daily Self Care Activities--What are the things I wish someone else would come in and take care of for me today? I will take care of these things for myself. I will be kind to myself by taking action on the things that make me feel good about myself.

Daily Self-Talk Activities--What are the things I wish someone else would say to me today? I will say these things to myself, and then I will reach out to others with concrete messages of love, kindness, compassion and tolerance.

'I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless-- as it extends into the world around us-- it goes an equal distance into the world within.' 
Lillian Smith

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Managing Stress: If I Have Time to Pee, I Have Time For Me

Harried Workplace Got You Stressed Out?
  • Experiencing another day in paradise at your hurry-up-and-get-it-done workplace?
  • Are things coming at you so fast and furious you fail to take rest and meal breaks?
  • Are the crises and 'I need it NOW' requests piling up and creating a feeling of total overwhelm or panic in you?
Stop! Get Thee to The Rest Room for a Time Out!

Snap out of it! --Stop winding yourself up without giving yourself the space to wind back down.  You are the only one who can balance yourself in the midst of a harried workplace filled with non-stop demands. No one else is going to do it for you.

When you find yourself at the tipping point, get thee to 'The Rest Room' for a time out. Use the little ditty-- 'If I have time to pee, I have time for me'--to cue you to take the break.

If I Have Time to Pee, I Have Time for Me!

The bathroom--or Rest Room-- provides you with one of the best places to release stress and get a moment of peace from the outside world. It is a place you can usually find some privacy and a moment alone. And rarely will anyone question your taking a break to go to The Rest Room.

Two effective carry-with-you-anywhere relaxation techniques can easily be applied in the Rest Room---retreating to a quiet place and practicing minute breathing techniques.

'If I have time to pee, I have time for me' means it only takes a few minutes to give you 'A Breather'. Take yourself into that private, quiet space in the Rest Room to consciously, deliberately and slowly breathe in peaceful, calm, relaxing energy and exhale worry, anxiety and overwhelm.

It is physiologically impossible for you to be stressed and relaxed at the same time. When you take a breather in a quiet, private place, the minute you begin to practice slow, calm inhales and exhales your body switches from the stress response to the relaxation response.

But I Feel Silly Saying 'If I have time to pee, I have time for me'

Good. It helps to put a little levity into a stressful situation--a little silliness helps relax you too. So get over it--'feel the silliness, and do it anyway!'

Instead of feeling self-conscious about thinking 'If I have time to pee, I have time for me', try saying it to a co-worker and watch their response. You can help one another lighten up and find four or five small spaces of time in your day to take that breather, unwind, and re-center to a place of calm, clear and focused energy. Why not do it now?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Trudging the Road of Happy Destiny

Trudging the Road of Happy Destiny

 I laughed today when a friend said, "Here we are trudging the road of happy destiny."

Something about the words trudging and happy destiny didn't fit in the same sentence and yet it was a perfect fit.

When Things Get Tough, the Tough Get Trudging

Trudge isn't a word you hear much today, but you know the feeling of trudging-- walking heavily, and firmly, as when weary, or through mud --just like it sounds--as in trudging through drudgery. 

At first the image of trudging towards your happy destiny seems at odds with itself, but is it? Think about it.

It is work figuring out how to make relationships, careers, and life work. You toil to figure out what you want, what you have to offer, and how to best go after what you want. Then to achieve your heart's dream you must put yourself out there again and again-- despite failure, rejection, hurt feelings, pain and discouragement.

How Are You Trudging on the Road to Your Happy Destiny?

Consider what's happening in your life.


  • You stepped into a relationship with someone, and you'd like to take it further. But the minute you went on a date things got messy and confusing. To get out of the muddy emotions, you need to trudge through your thoughts and feelings to figure out the best next steps on your path to your happy destiny. 
  • You discovered a new perfect-for-you position opened in your organization. While it's great news, suddenly you feel weary from the the fear and uncertainty of publicly applying for the position. To achieve your dream job you must trudge through updating your resume and cover letter-- and figure out how to apply for the position without upsetting your current boss in the event you fail to get the new job.
  • You met someone who really cares about you and thinks you're wonderful. But right now you're in the middle of a messy divorce and you need to plod through the tedious, yucky details of separating from one person to be able to freely move on to your happy destiny.
  • You work in a job you like but the company is in trouble. You love working--and you're very loyal to the company--so you're in a quandary about staying with the sinking ship or starting to look for another job now.
  • You are trying to find your way back to the road to your happy destiny after losing a loved one or dealing with illness.

Don't Be a Stuck-in-the-Mud, Be a Trudge-in-the-Mud

Life isn't always easy. On your way to your happy destiny, you often come face to face with experiences that make you feel like you're slogging through mud. You get stuck. You get weary. You get discouraged.

But don't be a stuck-in-the-mud. If you let your mucky experiences stop you, they easily turn to quicksand and suck you into staying stuck for a lifetime.

These muddied junctures in life are always stressful. But if you make a conscious choice to move in the direction of your happy destiny, you'll effectively use the stressful energy to motivate you to action, and you'll grow stronger, more capable and more self-confident.

Learn to be a trudge-in-the-mud who moves toward freedom and a happy destiny.
  • Accept your path can get muddied and you can get weary along the way.
  • Acknowledge you'll still need to slog your way out of the muck, but you will be moving toward your happy destination.
  • Keep moving toward your dreams and taking steps that open up opportunities, possibilities and engagement in your life.
No one's path to their happy destiny is an easy one. When you set your eyes on what you want you still must overcome the fear of putting yourself out there as well as overcome the obstacles to achieving your dreams.

Keep on Trudging

Your job in life is to take steps toward what you want, without concern for the outcome. As you step into life some doors will open and some doors will close. No matter. Keep taking those steps and walking through the open doors. And don't be afraid of the mud.

Be courageous and diligent in meeting life's challenges. Step into your life with your Muck boots on--and keep on trudging.

"Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die today." James Dean

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Secret to Resilience--Calming Your Cortisol Levels and Stress Response

Sit, Rest, Work Q'Art
Susan J Meyerott with photography by William R Brooksher

Resilience? Who has Time to Bounce Back from Stress?

 Who isn't dealing with some type of stress in their lives right now? On a world level, tempers are flaring and fears rising as jobs, personal income, and retirement monies dwindle. On a personal level, each of us is dealing with our own fear and anxiety of what this all means to us, and it's taking its toll.

Recently, I talked with one person experiencing a relapse of a severe upper respiratory illness, another recovering from pneumonia, and still another whose spouse is recovering from a heart attack. What did each of them have in common?-- High levels of stress leading to high levels of the stress-hormones--adrenaline and cortisol.

We are always training our bodies through the choices we make. To have the health and energy to cope and continue to thrive despite the world-wide and personal crises, we need to make conscious choices to take care of ourselves in ways that bring our stress-hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, back down on a daily basis-- and especially after we deal with particularly stressful experiences.

Stop the World--I want to get off!

"Fisherman have always known that the sea is dangerous and the storm is terrible, but they've never considered those sufficient reasons to remain ashore." Vincent Van Gogh

 No question we are living in troubled times. But that doesn't mean we can't rise to the challenge and find ways to not only weather the stormy days, but learn to sail through to greener shores. After we step into the water at high tide we must consciously and deliberately step back into still waters to rest.

The good news is our bodies have adapted to effectively deal with stress. But its up to us to take action and train our bodies to be resilient so we are strengthened, not weakened by our life experience.

Stress Won't Kill You-- But not taking care of it will!

What is Stress? ~ A perceived sense of:
  • Threat
  • Loss of control
  • Helplessness
  • Hopelessness, and/or
  • Unpredictability

In that instant when something catches you off guard, your brain downshifts into the lower brain, moving you into a fight or flight mode, and sets in motion the release of stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline. This is a good thing.

These stress-hormones help you react quickly by raising your heart rate and blood pressure, and releasing energy sources into the bloodstream, such as sugar, to make fuel available to your muscles. This is how your body helps you get through your daily crises.

But too much of a good thing becomes a problem if you fail to give your body time to recover from being in this high-stress mode.

Maintaining chronically high levels of the stress-hormone cortisol leads to three health damaging effects:
  • High blood sugar, leading to insulin resistance;
  • High blood pressure, and
  • An increase in abdominal fat.
 Fat deposited around your belly is associated with more health problems than fat deposited elsewhere, including lower levels of HDL Cholesterol (good one), higher levels LDL Cholesterol (bad one), insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, and an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.

To calm your cortisol and other stress-hormone levels you must first recognize you are stressed, and then be willing to engage in self-calming activities that produce the relaxation response from your body.

The good news is it is physiologically impossible for you to be stressed and relaxed at the same time. When you make the decision to participate in activities that produce the relaxation response, your body will rebalance.

How Do I Know if I'm Suffering from Chronic Stress?

We're not always conscious we're in a constant state of stress. Sometimes we're working so hard to deal with the issues we ignore the signs and symptoms. Furthermore, when our heart rate goes above 100, our bodies release adrenaline that creates an emotional and mental fog that sends clear thinking out the window. 

We all have a stress signature that we can learn to focus on to cue us to stop, unwind and participate in self-calming activities. You don't need to notice all of your signs and symptoms of chronic stress, you just have to pick out one and let that be your guide to readjusting what you're doing.

Do You Experience Any of these Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Stress?
  • Chronic fatigue
  • TMJ problems--clenching of teeth
  • Moodiness
  • Anxiety and Irritability
  • Anger (fear managed by anger)
  • Depression
  • Hardening of the attitudes
  • Feeling a loss of control
  • Tearfulness
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Digestive difficulties
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Increased deposit of fat in the belly
  • Craving carbohydrates
  • Binge eating
  • Preoccupation with a stressful situation
  • Getting ill after finals or completion of a stressful project
  • Getting sick on vacation
 How to Bounce Back to Your Resilient Self

Start by identifying all signs and symptoms you experience in response to stress, then choose one to look for in your daily life. When you notice your stress signal is present, act, don't react to the information; and describe, don't judge what is going on.

Everyone gets stressed. If you discover you're chronically stressed, it doesn't mean you are weak, incompetent, out of control or a bad person. Leave the judgment out--describe what is going on and chose one immediate step to take a moment to relax.

Cortisol and Stress Calming Suggestions
  • Control what you can control.
  • Take action on the little things. 
  • Exercise for relaxation, not for hard core fitness.
  • Take a 5-15 minute walk break.
  • Have some black or green tea.
  • Find things to laugh about. Experiencing humor and laughter can lower cortisol levels.
  • Enjoy relaxing music.
  • Confide in a trusted friend. 
  • Get a good night's rest. If you're having difficulty sleeping, at least rest and practice focusing on your breathing, consciously slowing down your inhales and exhales.
  • Cry. Crying may be our bodies' way of eliminating stress-hormones from our system.
  • Supplement with magnesium and omega 3 fatty acids (found in fish oil, krill oil and flax seeds)
Don't let your life difficulties beat you down. Choose to take actions that contribute to your self-confidence and well-being.  You're worth it.
Serenity Prayer
  God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
 The courage to change the things I can,
 And the wisdom to know the difference.