Happy…? Holidays

For many the holiday season is a joyful time, for others it can be a time of loneliness or stress. Most of us experience a combination of these feelings depending upon the circumstances. In some years things seem to go very well, some years are just mediocre, and in some years it feels like we will barely survive the madness.

What if we could reclaim the holidays as an occasion for general enjoyment and peace rather than striving for some picture perfect experience? We think it is possible, at least in small moments or doses.

Here are a few ways to make the season a bit brighter:

If you experience the holidays as a lonely time:
Find ways to connect with others. Take a risk and reach out to friends and family; you may be surprised at the invitations you receive. Be bold: offer to host a gathering or take someone out for coffee or dinner. Remember, you are unlikely to be the only one who’s feeling lonely.

Design a new holiday tradition such as volunteering at food bank and/or giving a stressed friend or family member the gift of your time by offering to babysit, run errands or provide help with a task (perhaps even one that’s holiday themed, like preparing a traditional food or decorating). It’s much harder to feel lonely when you are busy helping others.

If you experience holidays as a stressful time:
Don’t put yourself last! Resist the pressure to give to the point of financial, physical or emotional “bankruptcy.” Ensure that you have some time and energy to focus on your own needs and wants. Doing so will be a gift to all, as you will be much happier and relaxed for not having exhausted all of your resources.

It’s OK to decline some invitations or to decide that you won’t do something you would typically do. The world will not come to end if a party goes on without you or you resolve not to take charge of the cooking this year. If you hear grumbles about the changes, try to put them in perspective. Strive to see this new approach as an opportunity for you (and others) to share responsibilities and develop new skills, including the vital skill of saying “no.”

Make moments of tranquility part of your daily routine. Find simple and inventive ways to take a break and de-stress such as:

  • Spend 5 or 10 minutes here and there doing nothing but relaxing.
  • Take short walks.
  • Read a blog or magazine article.
  • Call a friend who makes you laugh.
  • Play some music to soothe you as you are rushing around from place to place or completing necessary tasks.
  • Lock yourself in the bathroom if you have to; people will typically leave you alone in there.

Most importantly, decide for yourself what the holidays are about. Sometimes we mourn what we think we are supposed to be feeling or experiencing when these notions may actually come from family, friends or marketers. Create your own vision of what’s important and what constitutes a good time. Determine what matters to you and then use your time to do that instead of what you think you should be doing.

Self-Discovery Tool Number 71
Make the season bright no matter your circumstances. Take the initiative both to reach out to others and to engage in self-care. Take the opportunity to do and see things in new ways. Doing so the fosters the wellbeing of all – and what could be more holiday-season appropriate than that?! Happy Holidays 2014!

There’s Nothing Garden-Variety About You!

In Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion stories “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average.” However, if there were an “average,” this means that some people must be below it, some in the middle, and finally some lucky people get to be above it. It obscures the fact that all of us stand out in some ways and all of us are just like everybody else, too. Our unique combination of features makes us who we are: individual and exceptional as well as alike.

The key is realizing that one of the most amazing things we all have in common is that we are each special in our own way. And this is a very good thing. It’s not only OK to be ourselves, but it is actually preferable. We know that in nature diversity equals health. The greater the variety of plants in a garden, field, or forest, the healthier that environmental system. The same is true for us human beings (and how often do we overlook that we are part of the natural world too?!).

With this in mind, read on for some tips on how to cultivate and honor your unique place in the human ecosystem:

Be proud to be who you are. In a garden, a tomato seed grows into a tomato plant. It doesn’t spend time yearning to be a zucchini or a pumpkin. Take a look at how you have developed and celebrate the successes you’ve had and the hurdles you’ve overcome thus far. No one has done it just like you!

Let fun, not fear, guide you. Unlike in the forest where plants and trees seek what nourishes them – sunshine, water, etc. – too many of us think that pleasure can wait and we deny ourselves what would feed our souls. Yet if we enjoy what we do, we are likely to deepen our skills and better contribute to the wellbeing of all.

Embrace difference. Peppers and eggplant need full sun, however spinach, chard and arugula can thrive even in shade. Rather than struggling to flourish in a space that doesn’t sustain you, acknowledge your needs and strike out for greener pastures. Think what you could do if your environment were supporting instead of hindering your growth!

Self-Discovery Tool Number 70
Every leaf and every petal is unique and so are you. Build on those things that make you, you. Offer your special gifts to the world and encourage others to do the same – our differences are our strength – our collective health depends on it!

There’s no elevator to the top, you’ll have to take the stairs

Upon hearing this expression the other day, it got us thinking. What does this mean and is taking the stairs a plus or a minus? On first blush it seemed more negative, as in “wow, stair climbing, that’s a lot of work,” but on second thought, it seemed liberating as in “wow, it’s actually achievable, there are steps I can take that will add up to big changes.” When you read this saying, how does it strike you?

We often want things to be easy and quick – like an elevator ride – and our modern lifestyles reflect this. Further, technology, as wonderful as it is, fuels the assumption that it is always possible to get things done quickly and effortlessly. However, there are many examples of where having things come too soon or too easily can be challenging. Think of lottery winners who become wealthy instantly, athletes who win their very first competition, or celebrities who become famous just after being discovered. All too often people in these circumstances “crash and burn” because they are unaware of how to sustain their good fortune. They end up in unpleasant circumstances because their success came too rapidly, with few if any intervening steps.

Stair climbing begins to feel a lot more appealing after taking a closer look at the possible “elevator scenarios”. Taking things slowly has its advantages. With that in mind, how do we help ourselves look at things more positively when we feel we aren’t making progress toward our goals or we face obstacles that seem too big to surmount? Here are a few tips:

Recognize where you are. Expect that your long-term plans will be like running a marathon – when you feel the finish line is a long way off, notice how far you have come from the starting gate. Recognizing this will help you stay motivated to keep going.

Break big goals into much smaller ones. Nothing new here, but how often do we forget to do this? Remember the expression “Rome was not built in a single day” and apply this wisdom when things start to feel overwhelming. Completing small tasks over time yields big results.

Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate! We can become so fixated on our goal that the journey becomes an afterthought at best or drudgery at worst. It doesn’t need to be this way. We can celebrate each small success and enjoy the fact that we are learning and growing as we proceed – indeed this should be our goal no matter what else we are hoping to accomplish!

Self-Discovery Tool Number 69:
Quick results can be seductive, but often they only have temporary staying power. Instead of wishing and waiting for an immediate payoff, take a small step and congratulate yourself on accomplishing it. Make an effort to enjoy the ride in whatever way you can, rather than exclusively focusing on the destination. Love yourself as you keep on learning and you’ll be reaching the top before you know it!

What Are Resolutions Really?

In January it is traditional in many cultures to make resolutions for the year ahead. But what are resolutions and what is resolve? Where do these terms come from and what do they really mean? In honor of the New Year, let’s explore the meaning of the words “resolution” and “resolve” as a deeper knowledge of these terms may help us fulfill the ones that we have made.

In the parlance of modern technology, resolution can refer to the quality of an image, display or printout. With greater resolution, things are sharper and clearer. Applying this to goal setting, if you develop a detailed resolution, you are more likely to choose appropriate, realistic goals – centered on what you can add to your life to improve it, instead of creating punitive goals centered on taking things away or making yourself wrong. In other words, build upon and strengthen what is already present and good in your life. With this clarity, your goals are on target and the way forward is understandable and achievable. You anticipate what’s coming and so are better able to manage roadblocks and seize opportunities as they arise.

A person can also exhibit resolution: determination, steadfastness and tenacity are just a few of its synonyms. You may be familiar with the comment made by Thomas Edison, inventor of the electric light bulb – “Genius: one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” Good things don’t tend to happen without effort. Hard work and doggedness pay off over time. If you go at your resolutions with energy, firmness and a sense of purpose, you are more likely to achieve what you set out to accomplish.

A resolution can also be a decree or pledge. Use this meaning to get support for the lifestyle changes you would like to make – declare your objectives and decisions to all who will listen and ask that they help hold you accountable. Make a promise to yourself and to significant others. Then make a real go of it, including renewing your efforts when you have occasional slip-ups. Commit to your growth and development and let others help you along the way

Self-Discovery Tool Number 68:

Use 2014 as an invitation to start something new and live your dreams. Declare to yourself and supportive loved ones that you are now choosing to develop your potential and work your goals. Connect to the greater meaning of “resolve” and “resolution” and make this year your best yet!

Strike a Pose (Really!): Being a Better You Is Easier Than You Think!

One of our favorite TED talks is by Amy Cuddy because in it she talks about how taking a new posture – what she has called “power posing” – can bring us new energy and confidence. Cuddy and her colleagues’ research had a fascinating outcome. People who strike high-power poses (expansive, big postures) before a stressful experience like a mock job interview are rated as more confident by others than people asked to put themselves into less powerful poses (restrictive, small postures). This result occurred despite the fact that all the people involved were given the same challenging experience to complete after they adopted one of the two kinds of poses.

It seems that there is an internal register of how someone successful carries him or herself. For instance, blind athletes who have never been able to see the “success poses” done by other athletes – arms raised, chest out, head thrust back – have nonetheless been seen to make these same movements themselves. Wow! It seems crazy not to try to use what seems to be a universal built-in mechanism to increase our sense of success or power. This straightforward technique could very well improve our sense of agency, assertiveness, comfort with risks and perhaps even our degree of optimism – and it seems to make others see us in a better light too.

With that in mind how might we follow Cuddy’s advice and “fake it until we make it”? Try these three simple tips to get you started:

First, we can watch Amy Cuddy’s TED talk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks-_Mh1QhMc or others like it to get more specific information on how to adopt these physical poses.

Second, we can stop making ourselves small in order to fit in with the expectations of others, be they loved one’s opinions, cultural mores, or our own fear of standing out by being ourselves and then not being accepted.

Third, we can look to others we see as powerful for ideas and inspiration to guide us toward taking on more powerful stances, roles, and choices in our lives.

Before your important event – a big meeting, a job interview or first date – take a moment to reflect on the above techniques. Make the commitment to put yourself in the best “position” possible!

Self-Discovery Tool Number 67
Is how you are holding yourself enhancing your sense of self-efficacy or making you feel less in charge? Are you putting yourself in a power position or are you restricting yourself to accommodate others? Strike a pose of strength – who knows what gifts this simple technique could yield?!

Take Off The Mask, But Try A Costume

Halloween prompted us to think about the masks we’ve worn in life as well as the idea of “being ourselves.” There are definitely times when it’s appropriate to wear a mask, a face that we present to the world that only partially shows who we are. There are even times when a “suit of armor” is required to protect ourselves from the blows of judgment inflicted upon us by others knowingly and unknowingly. As life unfolds, and as more of these experiences occur, most of us begin to question the price of wearing these protective devices. Are these masks are still serving us or have we become trapped behind them? Do these shields really keep us safe or have they become tools for self-injury – no outside judgment required?

Consider using Halloween as permission to try two things. First, discard any guise that has become limiting or painful. Let yourself transcend the caricatured get-ups that are more about “shoulds” and expectations than truth and self-respect. Conversely, consider trying on some new costumes. Put on and try out ways of being that highlight different, new, exciting, and/or fun aspects of yourself.

Costumes can be liberating and provide us a means to move into and act out new roles, exploring new sides to ourselves. And the “costume” need not be elaborate! Any change, small or large will suffice. The key is to “wear” something to help you feel free to be something that is not typical for you. Here are some methods to assist you in giving costumes a go:

Literally wear a traditional costume to a Halloween event, a party, or even around the house to experience yourself as a different “you.” If wearing the costume while with others, notice how they respond to you, notice how you act – what’s different, what’s surprising, etc.?

“Act as if.” Which means that you act as if a particular thing were true. For example, act as if you are happy with who you are, imperfections and all – what would you do, what would you say, how would you carry yourself if this was true for you?

Put on a hat, stylish or goofy; dress in a color or type of fabric that is unusual for you; accessorize with a scarf, bowtie, jewelry, etc., that someone you imagine to be playful or interesting would wear. Use these items to help you become this other person – how would you feel, what would adventures would you enjoy if you were able to explore reality from this more upbeat perspective?

Self-Discovery Tool Number 65
Remove the masks and armor holding you back. Release the need to style yourself on the outdated expectations of others. Dress up as your best self, choosing guises that reflect the true you. Experiment by trying on new “costumes” – use Halloween as an invitation to play and uncover more about who you are!

Soft Skills: Not So Soft After All

It used to be the case that behaviors that exemplified qualities like “compassion” and “cooperation” were labeled as soft skills.  Although this term isn’t heard as much as it once was, the perception remains that the skills that fall under this heading are less important and easy to perform. In fact, the implication is that only those who aren’t tough enough to make it in the “big leagues” would concern themselves with soft skills. Pause and reflect with us for a moment – is being considerate really that easy or are soft skills actually pretty hard to practice at times?

If you stop to think about it, generally, it is easier to be selfish and self-focused than it is to be self-less.  It’s quicker to do what you want to do than it is to take the time to learn about the needs of others and compromise.  It’s simpler to judge or deny someone else’s experience than it is to keep an open mind and explore multiple interpretations of events.

Think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi.  Who could argue that they chose an easy path?  Their work was some of the most demanding work ever accomplished and this work focused on soft skills.

In honor of the many service-oriented “soft-skills” champions – many of whom will never be famous or recognized for their work – let’s take on the very challenging practice of being “soft” whenever possible.  Here are some simple ways to get started:

  • Hold off on commenting even if you “know” you’re right; listen carefully and let others fully state their point of view before you consider “correcting” them
  • Ask yourself if what you are about to say will make the other person feel criticized or affirmed; if it’s the former, try reframing your comments so that they’re about improving the ideas rather than evaluating the person
  • Examine your motivations – reflect on whether what you are about to do is going to help others as well as help you; challenge yourself to do things that meet more than just your needs
  • Get curious and strive to put yourself in others’ shoes; contemplate people’s environment, background, and unique circumstances to see how these factors might contribute to their beliefs and attitudes

Self-Discovery Tool Number 64

Soft-skills are hard to do.  Looking out for number one is much easier.  Challenge yourself to tackle the truly tough stuff such as kindness, understanding, and patience – we promise we won’t think you’re “soft”– instead you will be following in the footsteps of some of the strongest and bravest people to ever have lived!

Influencing Yourself

Many of you will be familiar with Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” but have you ever thought that the most important person to befriend is yourself? Here we highlight a few of Carnegie’s principles in terms of how they might be applied to the person over whom you have the greatest influence – yourself!

Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain. How often are you your own harshest critic? When something goes wrong, how quick are you to begin to condemn yourself for having screwed up? How effective is this criticism or condemnation in convincing you to change your behavior? See the next point for an antidote to this form of self-sabotage.

Give honest and sincere appreciation. This is the flipside of point one. Take the time to give yourself a pat on the back when your plans succeed, when all that effort pays off and you accomplish more than you might have thought possible. Don’t take the good things for granted, savor and appreciate them as they happen and then reflect on them for inspiration when the going gets tough.

If you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. We all make mistakes, misjudge people or circumstances. When the inevitable happens, explore the messages in the missteps and then remind yourself to let go and move on. Learn from what’s happened and then do your best to let the wrong turn stay exactly where it belongs, in the past, as you’ve absorbed the lessons it had to offer.

Smile. Try it right now even if times are tough. Think of something that brings you joy and makes you laugh. Feels good, doesn’t it? Smiling makes happy times happier and sad times more bearable. A grim face can make for a grim outlook whatever you are facing so the next time you are in the midst of something tough, pause for a moment to smile.

Self-Discovery Tool Number 63

The most important person to influence for the better is you. Build on Carnegie’s ideas and befriend yourself. And although there are many more items on Carnegie’s list worth considering, we will close with a modified version of just one: Become genuinely interested in yourself. You won’t regret deepening this relationship!

Releasing Attachments (but not to what to you might think!)

In life we get very attached to things: our possessions, our routines, our traditions, etc. Yet perhaps our most stubborn attachments are not to what we have or what we do, but to how we see things. Have you ever struggled to change your mind when faced with evidence that contradicts something you believed to be true or that indicates that what you once thought impossible is not only possible, but, is or has occurred? If so, then you understand just how strong mental attachments can be and you are in good company. In the past scientists and scholars believed such notions as “bathing is bad for health” and “the world is flat.” We may laugh at these false beliefs now but at one time they were considered unerringly correct and held sway over much of the world.

Changing our minds means changing our worldview and this can feel uncomfortable, confusing or threatening. These feelings often surface even though adopting a new outlook would enable us to see things more accurately and thereby improve our lives. Recognizing that benefits usually result from increased knowledge can help make revising our thinking a little easier. Here are some simple ideas to help ease the discomfort of these transitions:

  • Seek the comfort of history – across the ages, many cherished beliefs, no matter how illustrious their sources, have had to be abandoned.
  • Remember times you re-considered something and by putting this new learning into action you made a positive impact in a relationship, task, or procedure.
  • Cultivate a sense of play and experimentation when exploring challenging subjects – taking things too seriously or worrying excessively usually makes us less productive.
  • Maintain a sense of humor and humility – if you start with the premise that you don’t know everything, you can be open to new ideas, interesting surprises, unexpected benefits – and you might even be able to laugh at yourself!

Self-Discovery Tool Number 62

What can history show us about the importance of keeping an open mind? How can you find ways to let go of what you think you know in order to see what is actually out there? How can you find ways to challenge your thinking in order to reach a more expanded perspective? Make an effort to loosen your mental attachments – nothing new can enter a closed mind!

Life – The Most Important Educational Tool of All

Whether we call it the University of Life, the School of Hard Knocks, every one of us has experiences that have helped us to learn and grow. As June was the month of graduation ceremonies around the US, we suggest you take a moment to honor of the hard work you have put toward becoming who you are. Imagine you are assembling your “transcript of life” and awarding yourself a self-discovery diploma.

Sample Life Transcript

Core Curriculum
Street Smarts 101
Uncommon Common Sense
Communications: Intra- and Inter-personal
Contemporary Adult Civilization
Applied Mathematics: Making Things Add Up Even When They Don’t

Topics in Engineering: Pulling Yourself Up by Your Bootstraps
Creative Writing: Employment, Educational & Financial Applications
Modern Dance: Achieving Work-Life-Play Balance
Anthropology 101: Early Adulthood through Middle Age, Lessons in Exhaustion
Anthropology 201: Middle Age to the Golden Years, Lessons in Individuation
Advanced Physics: Things Are Not What They Seem

When looking back over all the ups & downs of your course load, can you see that the very act of getting through it all is an achievement worthy of celebration? Can you give yourself credit for the many triumphs in your transcript of life? Recognize the courage and commitment it has taken to persevere through life’s challenges. Feel your metaphorical graduation gown fluttering in the breeze as you take another brave step forward down the road of life. See your mentors smile and nod in congratulations as you cross the threshold to graduate. Watch them as they wave you on to pursue even greater adventures. As you toss your “hat” in the air, hear the cheers of friends and family in acknowledgment of a journey well travelled. Award yourself a self-discovery diploma such as the one below – you’ve earned it!

My ELS Diploma 

In acknowledgement of my voyage of self-discovery, I hereby award myself the degree of Explorer of Life and Self – ELS. With this diploma I decree my Summa cum Laude status at journeying this far as well as recognizing with humility how much more there is to learn.  By the powers vested in me by myself, I go forward into 2013 and beyond focused on becoming even more of who I am while sharing whatever wisdom I have to encourage others to do the same.

Self-Discovery Tool Number 61

How can you see yourself, no matter your age or position, as a “graduate of life”? How can you find ways to celebrate and honor all you have been through, thereby giving yourself the respect you deserve? What would it feel like to see yourself as a success; as having achieved something regardless of whether others would recognize it or not? Grant yourself an ELS degree today. Make an effort to love the unique transcript you’ve assembled – no one else has your experience!


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