Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained

“Confidence is the feeling you sometimes have before
you fully understand the situation.”

It seems that this is a time for new ventures. A lot of people that I know are starting big projects, some inspired by the arrival of spring such as extensive landscape and gardening redoes. Some are those things that might have been “thought about” for months but not accomplished. And then some are addressing bad habits or behavioral patterns that have been tripping them up for years.

Recently I took the plunge with a big commitment of my own, by signing up for a coaching certification course.  It’s a year-long course of study that involves a big chunk of time in my schedule, money from my budget and a lot of work learning and practicing new skills. Personal development or life coaching is a service that I already offer on a limited basis. Since I enjoy it, I would really like to expand that part of my practice. While being certified is not required, taking this course will help me accomplish my goals.

Like many people, I have been “thinking” and doing a little exploring of this on and off for years, but haven’t taken action. When the opportunity presented itself, I felt some curiosity and excitement as I read about it. Could I manage the time? Was I up to the challenge? It has been a long time since I was in school and training and having my skills evaluated. Some fear came up with that thought.

Then questions came up about the budget and whether I could find the time. What would I have to give up? Certainly something would have to give!  And a year seems like a long time to commit to anything!

After giving myself time to do some writing about the pros and cons, and tapping (EFT) about my fears, and a good night’s sleep, I got up the next morning and decided to sign up.  I still felt some “heebie jeebies” but I had increased clarity about needing structure, help and some accountability. Besides, what kind of coach would I be if I didn’t seek out coaching and teaching myself?!  And so I signed all the application and agreement forms and sent them in.

Since I was still feeling apprehensive and unsettled, I decided that I was in need of support. I also needed to make it known to my friends and family and colleagues that I had made this commitment.  And telling them would build in some accountability. I know that some will be checking in periodically to find out how my new venture is going.

So I composed a message that I sent out by email. And what came back to me has been way past my expectations!  The first reply came from a friend who is an executive coach, working with leadership training for businesses. He has offered to introduce me to coaches that he knows and to be of help in any way he can. Then came a flood of responses that were supportive, loving and truly warmed my heart. I have also received stories about their experiences in “taking a leap” into new ventures, and what that felt like. I feel encouraged by their messages.

Big undertakings always involve baby steps which also bring up fears that we either have to face or walk away from. Confidence only comes about by “talking back” to our fear by moving forward; by feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

Writing this blog post is another way of making my decision “real,” and to hold myself accountable for completing the course. I will keep you posted periodically about my progress. And I would love to hear about your challenges and how you have committed to facing them and moving forward!


Stop Complaining!

To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.” 
~Stephen Covey~

With the beginning of the New Year, many of us have some new resolutions in mind.  Or maybe as I indicated in my last post, some recycled resolutions from the previous years.

While it is important to have the Big Picture in mind, it is only in taking small, consistent steps that we move along on our journey.  So yes, by all means you need to develop your map to your desired destination to better relationships, better health, a different career, financial freedom, or whatever it is.

But don’t get bogged down by overwhelming yourself with a huge task.  Remember that all we have in terms of making life change is this immediate moment:  Right Now.

The first one is to quit complaining.  This one is simple, but not easy.  Chronic complaining is more of an epidemic than Swine Flu, and more toxic in its effects.  Today observe the conversations around you.  Notice how much of the talk in the office or the lunch room, or the television commentary consists of complaining.

Employees complain about the boss.  The wife complains about her husband.  The father complains about his kids.  Everyone complains about the weather.  Both political parties complain about each other.  Citizens complain about congress.

This is a habit of thought.  A bad habit that gets so ingrained that we aren’t even aware that complaining is going on in our own thoughts pretty much all day. Complaining keeps you constantly focused on what is missing in your life. A certain prescription for unhappiness. You do have the ability to observe yourself with curiosity and compassion and notice that you are complaining.

So what’s so bad about this, you may be asking.  Here are some of the negative effects of this mental habit:

  •  Thoughts create emotions.  We create our emotional states by patterns of thinking, in large part.  Complaining thoughts create irritation, annoyance and anger.  Not a great way to go through the day.
  •  Complaining keeps our attention focused on what’s wrong.  When we complain about our family members, we stay focused on what’s wrong with them, not their positive qualities.  What we pay attention to gets bigger.  After awhile all we can see and acknowledge is what irritates us.  And we get more and more of it!
  •  Complaining creates helplessness and hopelessness, the hallmarks of depression.  We become victims and present ourselves as victims to others.  We give up our power to the persons or situations that we complain about.
  •  Complaining lays the groundwork for our excuses.  If my boss is an unreasonable ogre or the bureaucracy that I work in is “run by a bunch of idiots,” then nothing that happens is my responsibility.  What’s the point of asserting myself?  Why take action to change anything?  I can just stay there and complain.  And believe me, I will find a lot of company in a lunch room full of complainers.
  •  By complaining, we create a state of stress within ourselves.  The effects of stress on our health are well documented as one of the biggest underlying threats to body/mind and relationships.  We get depressed, anxious; develop inflammation in joints, blood vessels and organs, which is the pathway to disease.
  •  Complaining blocks our way to creative solutions.  When you check out your thinking in the midst of a complaint, notice how you are making the other guy wrong and yourself right.  You are immediately polarized into fixed positions and therefore unable to be flexible and to perceive the situation in a new light.

When you quit complaining, you will empower yourself to make real change in your life.  You will notice that the quality of your relationships will improve.  You will be less stressed and generally happier because your focus will change to what is possible, not what is impossible and has you trapped.  And most importantly, you will see that the trap that you were in was of your own making, and that escaping it and building the life of your dreams really is possible.

You may be asking, “So how do I change this bad habit?” By doing two things instead of complaining:  interrupt yourself when you notice that you are playing “Ain’t it Awful?” with another person. You know the game…Ain’t it awful that the weather is so cold, or hot, or wet or dry? Ain’t it awful that we aren’t going to get the raise we hoped for? Ain’t it awful that young people today are so disrespectful? Ain’t it awful that my wife nags me about helping out?  When you hear yourself playing this very popular game JUST STOP IT!

The second thing you can do to end this harmful habit is by writing a gratitude list every day. It is impossible to be focused on what you are lacking and complaining about it and also feeling positive and grateful for what is present in your life!  Begin or end every day by writing down the things that you see are going right with your life and the person you are arguing with.

As you make your list, take time to allow yourself to breathe deeply and to really feel grateful! It’s okay if you repeat items the next day. JUST DO IT!


Creating: Seeing what Already Exists

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” 
~Philip K. Dick~

At the beginning of every new year I hear a running argument about whether making resolutions for change is a waste of time or not. Cynics will maintain that their “good intentions” to lose weight, stick to a budget, etc. is useless because they usually last less than a week.  The more optimistic types will at least plod along, sticking to the practice of resolving or intending to make changes in what is important to them.

Research has found that there is power in clarifying intentions and resolving to make change, regardless of the time of year. In other words, if you intend to make a change in your life and are clear about what that will be like, you are much more likely to succeed at it than if you don’t.

Let’s consider this is a broader way.  As I have pointed out in previous posts, you are creating the life you have whether you are intentional about it, or not. This thought can be a little disturbing if you are unhappy about how things are. It is far easier to point the finger of blame at someone or something else. No need to run through the usual list of excuses; I’m certain that you have heard them all and likely at some point have used them yourself.

Instead I’d like to learn to be a more effective creator, and hopefully you do too.

An essential skill to learn and master in creating the life you desire, is to assess reality, or to see clearly what already exists. This sounds deceptively simple. Just open your eyes and look!

Several years ago I took a course in the fundamentals of drawing at the local art association. Having a life-long interest in art, I have always admired artists and had a hankering to create art myself. And so I arrived at the first class with sketchbook and tools in hand, eager to learn. What I soon discovered was that it is difficult to draw with my hand what my eyes are seeing!

Just as musicians are trained to hear music accurately and to identify it, artists are taught to draw what they see and to do it clearly. In a similar way, we need to develop the skill of viewing reality objectively. You may find this surprisingly tough to do and it may make you squirm. For many, seeing reality is uncomfortable.

We often are taught to view reality in certain ways that our parents, religious and ethnic groups and society in general, prefer. We get messages such as, “Our family always….,” or “Americans are….,” or “Methodists are…” You can insert whatever group name applies. As individuals, we may have gotten messages that we are the smart one, or the pretty one, or the athletic one, or the one who is difficult to get along with. Until we become conscious of it, these hidden beliefs form a kind of lens through which we see reality. Facing this bias and seeing through it can be uncomfortable at first.

If you are in a problem solving mode you may lie to yourself or rationalize the situation in order to feel better. Well meaning friends and family may help you with this, supplying justification or excuses for why things are the way they are. Of course this is not helpful.

What really does help is to ask for some expert assistance in objectively measuring the present situation. If you want to feel more energetic and healthy, then make an appointment with your doctor for a check-up. You may justify your level of blood sugar by saying that you celebrated too much, and that it isn’t that bad. But the numbers from a blood sample will give you a realistic picture. Or rationalizing about your bank account numbers will give way to a realistic picture if you work with a CPA or planner.

Yes, you will have to endure some discomfort.  Deal with those emotions of fear, anger or sadness by writing about them, talking to someone you trust or using EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique). Then take the realistic information you have gathered, touch base with the end goal that you established, and get ready to take action!

You must see clearly what your present situation is and then compare it to where you desire and intend to be. Doing so will be a big boon to energetically moving forward with effective action!  This will move you toward your goals in creating the life you desire. Don’t waste more time. Do it now!


Creating: Begin with the End in Mind

“Live out of your imagination, not your history.”
~Stephen Covey~


You may not consider yourself to be a creative person, but I assure you that you are.  The act of creating is something that we all do in living life.  Of course we may develop skills to a high level as inventors and entrepreneurs do.  And we may be in the tribe of writers, artists and interior decorators where creativity is very much on the front burner of awareness.

Many more of us live according to habits and beliefs that we have learned early on, and are unaware of how we are creating our lives. In other words, we may be unconscious of the creative process.  Too bad, because this leads to unnecessarily lost opportunities and dissatisfaction.

You may find that while you have fantasies or wishes for how you life could be, that for the most part you live your life looking in the rearview mirror.  We need to learn the lessons that our history presents, but history does not determine your future life.  Not if you wake up and pay attention.  And not if you are willing to learn something about creativity.

The first step to creating anything is to clearly envision the end result.  You have to know what you intend to have at the end of the process in order to get there.  I heard a writer interviewed the other day who said that she always begins her books by writing the end of the story. John Assaraf tells of his experience of cutting out a picture of a house with great architectural details that he admired and pasting it on a white poster board.  Years later he discovered the forgotten picture when he was packing to move his family into a new house.  Amazingly, the picture on the poster board was of the exact house he had bought and was moving into!

You do not have to have every detail in mind, or know how on earth you will get there.  But do take some time to tune into your imagination and create a mental picture of what you want. Use every sense that you can to make the impression as vivid as possible.  And most importantly, tune into the emotions that you will feel as you arrive at that destination that you created. For instance:

The taxi seemed to be taking forever to get from the airport to the book store where my first book signing was scheduled to take place. I didn’t have time to stop at the hotel as I had planned, so the store manager put my luggage in a locked store room until we were finished. I was nervous at first, but then amazed and excited to see the line of people holding copies of my new book and waiting to have them signed! I felt really proud of the bound book and beautiful book jacket. The line went clear out the door!  As I began I was overwhelmed with the enthusiastic comments and compliments of people who said they loved the book and hoped that I would write a sequel. Someone said that she thought it would make a great movie plot. After awhile the manager said that the local TV station had called to see if I would be willing to do an interview. Of course I said yes!  At the end of the day I was tired, but thrilled and excited to tell Jamie all about it when he and the kids called to see how my first book signing had gone. They sent a bouquet of roses to my room to help me celebrate.

The end result that you are picturing may be detailed and exact or general.  Either one will work in providing a jumping-off point. Some creators, such as Georgia O’Keeffe, are very clear about the details of the finished project (she considered it a waste of paint and canvas if she didn’t), and others have a more general outline in mind. Some just begin at a point and keep modifying the work as they go. As I said, either approach will work if you work it.

You may find it a challenge to discover and refine what exactly it is that you want.  If you have been a people pleaser, then you will need to learn to tune into your own inner voice rather than thinking about what others who are important to you might think or expect. Some public school graduates are well conditioned to think in terms of “right answers” or outcomes.  Not what will please us or meet our own unique preferences and needs.

Another technique for discovering your heart’s desires is to take a visual approach.  Go through a variety of magazines and clip out pictures that appeal to you.  Don’t sit and think about this and then look for pictures of a particular type or subject.  Just look and clip. Then get a piece of poster board and sort through them and see if they are related to any particular themes or to aspects of your life. Do they tell a story? Could you make up a story from them? Put a picture of yourself into the mix and see what happens. Give yourself time to revisit them the next day and the next. Then paste them onto the board and keep it in sight for several days.

See if you can make a list of desires or intentions from the board.  Ask yourself this question, “If I could have it right now, would I take it?” Pay attention to emotions that come up. Another question to answer would be, “Would I tell anyone that I want this? What would I expect if I did?”

Be brave; say what you are longing for. Can you admit this to yourself? You may feel vulnerable in discovering your longings, even to yourself.  But I can tell you; this is powerful stuff for creating your life.

Seeking Help

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment
that something is more important than fear.”
~Ambrose Redmoon, writer~

This morning I arranged for a computer technician to come to my home office to resolve some problems that I was having with my elderly desktop and my laptop which for some unknown reason, was not communicating with my wireless printer.  The usually reliable desktop had taken a sudden notion to freeze up and turn off without warning.  Not at all like itself.

I hoped that it was happening because of a program that I installed and then uninstalled and would be readily fixed.  But my fear was that it had something more dire wrong and was going to have to be replaced.  Never a convenient thing.

The young man, who arrived toting an impressively heavy looking briefcase/toolkit, set quietly to work.  By the time I had filled my coffee cup and returned to the office, he already had the laptop on speaking terms with the printer.  Something about an ISP address?  He showed me where to find the place and how to input the information in case I get a new printer some day.

It was kind of him, but trust me, when that day comes, I’ll be calling him to come back and fix it again.  Despite being a computer user for over 10 years, I am still largely lost and bewildered in Techno Land.  I’ll bet he wasn’t an English major.

The desktop presented more of a challenge and for awhile it looked as if the mother board was shot and I would have to buy a new computer.  (I love that they named that part the “mother board” because it is so essential to the life of the computer.  Uncharacteristically poetic, don’t you think?  Yes, I was an English major!).  But after 45 minutes of doing one mysterious thing after the other, he brought it back from the brink and after several reboots; it seemed to be running well.

He couldn’t really say why.  He did say, “Well that’s interesting, isn’t it?”  He was looking entirely too cheerful to have meant that in terms of the curse, “May you live in interesting times!”  He did tell me about the 30 day guarantee on labor, and said that I should call them back if the computer returned to its evil ways.  So I thanked and paid him and he was on his way.

I got to thinking about how cheerful I was to have paid the $67 for his work.  My problems were easily and quickly resolved without any undue time and frustration spent on my part.  This represents a change over the years.  Having been reared in a family that was big on self reliance and had more ingenuity than money, the message that I internalized was “Do it yourself!”  Sometimes this approach may be beneficial, and sometimes leads to stress and strain.

When making a suggestion to clients about getting help with a problem, I often encounter their resistance.  Seems that a lot of people believe that they should be able to do it all alone.  Whether it’s hiring someone to help them de-clutter and organize living space that is driving them crazy, or getting help with an alcohol abuse problem, often the answer is “no,” or “not yet.”  They wouldn’t think less of anyone else seeking help, but it’s not for them.

It makes sense to me.  When we offer help to someone else, or solve our own problems, we feel powerful or at least competent.  But when we admit that we need help and that we can’t do it alone, we are immediately in touch with our all-too-human vulnerability.

Living with vulnerability is a tall order.  I call it the “raw egg feeling.”  Being aware of our frailty and the ambiguity that comes with it presents a big temptation to run to whatever distraction we can find.  We don’t know for certain what will happen.  Just admitting that we are out of control of some aspect of life is tough to do.

And yet, we must pass through this threshold if we are to recover from what is plaguing us.  We must be willing to stay in “Not Knowing” until we can see the light.  And more frequently than not, it is someone else who turns the light on for us.  Despite our doubts most people are willing and in fact happy to help us.  Whether they are paid professionals or a friend or neighbor or acquaintance, when we are willing to receive their help or wisdom, we usually discover that they are fellow travelers who have faced their own vulnerabilities in order to learn something that we need to know.

After investing in your own growth or change with time, effort or money, you will once again find yourself on firmer ground.  Living creatively or building your health is an ongoing process that seems to take us from times of strength and confidence and then onto a new phase requiring us to face vulnerability again.  The gains that you make along the way equip you to pass on your wisdom and help to those who come across your path and need you.

It is no doubt true that it is more blessed to give than to receive, but I would add that being willing to receive is also essential to the process of living.


What is Greater than Genius?

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed
in overalls and looks like work.”
~Thomas Edison~

This week the scientific world is celebrating the discovery of a sub-atomic particle that may be the key to the formation of stars, planets and eventually life after the Big Bang. Called the Higgs Boson, or god particle, many questions remain about the exact nature of this particle. When the news was announced in Switzerland, the audience of scientists applauded wildly.

Their excitement may be explained in part by the fact that it has taken the cooperation of thousands of scientists working over four decades to find the particle that is essential to seeing that there’s an invisible field that permeates the universe and gives mass to everything in it including stars and of course the atoms inside our bodies. This is a very big deal.

Now what I know about quantum physics you could put inside the eye and a gnat and it could still see.  But the thing that snagged my attention was the obvious joy and excitement expressed by what is usually a pretty staid and stoic group of human beings.  Scientists are cautious in their pronouncements about important discoveries.  Generally not prone to drama.

The other thing that struck me is that they have been looking for this sub-atomic particle for so long and that it has taken a huge army of people working steadily on the problems involved in finding it.  40 years!

It reminded me of Thomas Edison who worked doggedly on his invention of the electric light bulb. He and his associates worked on at least three thousand different theories to develop an efficient incandescent lamp. We admire his genius, but often overlook the years of work, trial and error that he required to finally succeed.  Most of his contemporaries had long since given up by that time.  He was quoted as saying, “”Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

Does it sometimes seem to you that what you need to succeed is a unique and amazing idea?  Surely that would be the key to success, whether you want to invent something, meet a challenging goal, make a career change or start a new business.  It really is amazing when that figurative light bulb goes off in your mind.  But I think Edison and the quantum physicists would tell us that that is just a nanosecond of the story.

After the great idea, then it’s time to put on your overalls and get to work. And to expect to persevere in that work for a long time, if need be. Keeping focused on the target and then persevering despite setbacks and errors will get you to your goal eventually.  Those mistakes are essential to the process and must not deter you.

Can you imagine how many trials and errors Edison and the quantum physicists must have encountered?  And all of it provided feedback that enabled them to make the eventual changes that led to success possible.  Whatever achievement you are working on, find the support and inspiration you need to keep on your path. You can persevere and succeed. 


Birds of a Feather

Recently I attended a conference about how the brain forms new habits.  A fascinating topic that seems to be right on time for those of us who need to make some lifestyle changes but may have trouble staying on track and motivated.

The psychologist who was presenting new information about brain plasticity (meaning that the central nervous system is capable of changing in response to internal and external environmental messages), included some takeaway tips at the end,

One of them was a suggestion that when working on making a lifestyle change, it is important to surround yourself with people who are living in a similar way, or have achieved the goal to which you are aspiring.

A proverb dating back to the mid-sixteenth century said, “Birds of a feather flock together.”  It’s an adage that holds true today, and while they didn’t know the scientific reasons for it, it was a keen observation of human behavior.  Our brains are equipped with mirror cells, which act as an instantaneous aid in helping us mimic behavior. Like most things, this can be used for good or ill.

My three year old grand-daughter was demonstrating to me how she could run fast.  She made a point to hold her hands in a certain way, elbows bent, fingers all aligned.  I asked her mother where she had seen that, and was told that she had observed it on a work-out program that her mother uses.  Anna Grace is highly interested in running very fast, and she instantaneously mirrored the behavior of some athletes who were running fast.

We can apply these mirror cells in ways that are helpful to us.  And we can be aware of how we are also being influenced, probably unconsciously, by negative behaviors that we want to leave behind.

Did you know that your relationships are affecting the level of success that you are experiencing?  Do you know that the people whom you hang out with are greatly determining how you achieve in your given field and how much money you make?

It’s true.  Studies show that we tend to earn about the same amount of money that our friends and family members do. We also tend to have similar expectations regarding lifestyle and achievement.

There are certainly exceptions to this, and perhaps you know someone in a family that has been the family hero in exceeding everyone’s expectations.  However I’ll bet that the hero found someone or a group who modeled successful behaviors and helped make the necessary connections which enabled her/his success.

Are you also aware that your companions are influencing the way you think and therefore your mood?  Yesterday I was working with two different women who are dealing with this issue.  And they are in completely different ages and stages of life.  Lillian is a recently retired woman in her early 60′s who came to see me because she was depressed and dissatisfied with her life.  Terri is in her 20′s, working in her first “real” job.

Lillian recognized that someone who has been a long time friend is both demanding and draining of her time and energy.  In fact, lots of people in her life depend on Lillian for help and advice.  In making some decisions about what she intends for her new phase of life, she said that she needs some new friends who are positive and involved in activities that she would enjoy.

Terri, as a young adult, is grappling with a similar situation.  Most of her friends work 9-5, and their time off is spent partying and shopping.  Terri has some goals for buying her own house and someday going into business as a caterer.  She is recovering from a stint of careless shopping and credit card abuse and is working hard to pay off her debt.

So what might the company she keeps be influencing each of them?  Thinking, behavior and moods are contagious.  As humans we rather quickly adjust to what is going on around us and even behavior that would have been abhorrent to us becomes “normalized.”  I believe this occurs on an energetic level as well as a physical one.

That expression about someone “giving off a vibe” is more than new age or hippie speak.  The vibrational level that we experience as a living being, is transmitted and received by those around us.  Some people are more sensitive to this than others, but we are all affected whether we are aware of it or not.

I’m suggesting that you DO become aware of it and make conscious and intentional choices about who you hang out with.  If you have goals that you are seriously intending to meet, or a lifestyle change that you are intending to incorporate, then you must have some like-minded folks at your side.  We never make this journey alone.