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The Surprising Ingredient To Doing What you Want (Instead of What you Don’t)

What would it take for you to have the exact life you want where you get to do exactly what you want, when you want? It doesn’t take a miracle, but it does take specific ingredients. Winning the lottery is NOT one of the ingredients (sorry if that is disappointing!)

It takes imagination because you need that in order to figure out what you want in the first place. It takes courage to go for it once you have dreamed up the ideal lifestyle. But it takes something more… this is the part that may surprise you…discipline. Imagination, courage and discipline are the ingredients. How you put those things together into a successful process requires help (a fourth ingredient).

Just like making scrambled eggs, you need all the ingredients, and, you also need to know what to do with them! And everyone needs these things, except maybe Richard Branson…well even he has all the ingredients and he seems to enjoy life. If you want proof, he owns an island…hello!

I for one I am not immune. Some years ago, (that’s as specific as I’m going to be!) I was the manager of the Floral Dept. in a happening gourmet grocery store near the convention center in downtown San Diego. Even though it was a piece of cake…40 set hours per week, full benefits, I got to play with flowers and meet interesting people all day…It was getting more and more clear that this job was not ‘it’ for me. Was I bored? Did I want to do something else instead? I HAD NO IDEA!

But I did know I had to try some different things, and that would take time. I also knew I did not want to lose my income while I experimented and fumbled around. I hatched a plan to ask my boss to let me work only part-time.

It would mean saying good-bye to benefits, to job security, to a set schedule and to my seniority (a job in the floral department was highly coveted by my grocery store co-workers!), but I had to do it! I needed at least a baseline income, and I needed a flexible schedule so I could take classes, and do projects until I found what I might like to do as a profession.

I hesitated for some days, building up courage (or that’s what I told myself). One day, sitting and stewing in my floral department a co-worker came by whom I had confided in about my plan.

“Have you talked to Mr. ‘C’ yet?” he asked.

“No…not yet.”

“Go now!” he said. “I just came from his office, it’s really slow, now’s the perfect time!”

I still hesitated.

“Don’t worry, I’ll watch the flowers!” and he literally pushed me toward the stairs leading to the administrators offices.

When I walked into my boss’s office and told him I wanted to give up my management position and be a part time floral floater, he said, “You want to give up your benefits? Your Monday-Friday-8-5-piece-of-cake schedule? Your seniority?”

“Yes” I said.

He looked at me in total shock. By his standards, I was living the grocery store employee dream. Why on earth would I give that up, he seemed to be wondering.

Because it wasn’t my dream.

I wound up working part time in floral for about nine months while I took broadcast journalism classes, got an internship at a news station, developed freelance writing clients and learned video editing. It was not long before I was hired full-time to write broadcast news at KUSI.

From there, I moved to New York City to study coaching and entrepreneurship with Sage University, then became a co-preneur with my partner training companies and individuals, speaking at women’s business conferences in the U.S. and in other countries, writing a book, raising a family and now that I’ve settled in the Texas Hill Country I am halfway to a graduate degree in Program Evaluation for Human Development.

None of this would have happened if I hadn’t learned to use discipline to clear a path for myself. Since that first time when I was pushed into making a leap of ‘faith’, I have learned that I need this discipline to push through the riffraff (or else allow myself to be pushed) in the direction I want to go! A life of adventure and challenge and fulfillment would not be mine if I wasn’t able to habitually sort out and dismiss irrelevant data, and focus on what is relevant to forward motion and an enjoyable life.

Now I am so grateful for that one colleague who shoved me up the stairs toward the boss’s office that day. Without him, who knows, maybe I would still be making floral bouquets; bitter with resentment about the life I never lived. I owe a lot to him for showing me how nice it can be to get pushed!

A few years ago I went back to visit him and to say thank you. He was still working at the same store. He’s a manager now. He was happy to hear how much of a difference he had made in my life. If he only knew…how much of a difference it made!

PS if you ever need someone to push you in the direction you want to go, I think you know how to find me! Dana@DanasMyCoach.com

Forget Resolutions, Asking Better Questions Can Lead to Inventing Your Way to a Better Life

Instead of resolutions for the New Year, how about committing to inventions? For example, I want to invent better questions. In school we heard teachers say that there are no stupid questions, as a way to encourage shy students to speak out. While this may be true, certainly there are questions and then there are better questions. Better questions are generous in that they elicit curiosity, rather than demand answers. Better questions have no expectation, and contain no veiled assumption.

Why inventions are more interesting than resolutions is that good inventions make life better, save time, save lives or allow us to do amazing things. Airplanes, vaccines, sewing machines, paper, the printing press, refrigeration…all these inventions make modern life better. If I want my life to be better, (and this is what resolutions are supposed to do, right?) then why wouldn’t I think of it like an inventor rather than a manager? Managers resolve. Inventors invent. A manager asks “How can I make you do this thing you don’t want to do?”, while the inventor asks, “What wants to exist that doesn’t already exist?” Inventions change how we do things, how we think about what we do, and how we make connections between the two.

On that topic, how about inventing a new way for humans to make unlikely connections with each other.

Elizabeth Lesser started a movement called ‘Take the Other to Lunch’. She put forth guidelines for two people to talk over lunch who fundamentally disagree with each other on some issue. Her guidelines helped thousands of people to form connections with someone they would have otherwise villainized.

And, after reading the biography of Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, I learned that the idea behind his invention was to create a platform for people to experience ‘emergence’. Emergence is something that happens in nature when a whole flock will seem to communicate wordlessly and move together, and with greater intelligence than any one animal.

These two inventions are very different, but both have to do with connecting people in surprising ways, and both have the potential to bring out our humanity. Could our inventive minds reveal a new way to look at resolutions? If I resolve to connect with more people or be more empathetic with people, what invention would help me? L.L Zamenhoff went to the trouble of inventing a new language, in order to help people connect by speaking the same universal language, Esperanto.

If I were to make a resolution about connecting with more folks, I might force myself to change my behavior, based on known variables. For example, to connect with more people and have more empathy, I could force myself to approach one stranger a week and get to know them. Even though I love people I’m somehow not inspired by this, are you?

A better question would be how to create a controlled accident where other curious and empathetic people would suddenly find themselves riding together in a hot air balloon? The difference to me is one approach shuts down my curiousity, my passion, and the other awakens it.

Another example, take the topic of weight. If I want to lose weight (I don’t, but bear with me!), the common approach would be to limit caloric intake and make myself do workouts that I may or may not enjoy. This is a tried and true method and it does work. However, for me, limiting calories and doing something in my leisure time that is not based on enjoyment is just not a fun game. I used to be able to do that though. I could lose weight, then gain weight, then lose it again. I did both very effectively!

After I grew tired of the ups and downs of weight loss and gain, my goal eventually became having a sane eating and exercise plan that I would stick to for life, and to base this plan on enjoyment and nourishment. I found a food plan with healthy portions, a variety from each food group and no sugar, flour or wheat. Since then, and for a very long time, my goal has been to keep a sane food plan, invent new ways to enjoy the clean foods I can eat, and invent new ways to work out my body that feel good. All these commitments involve enjoyment, creativity and limitless possibility. All these things are fun. Guess what? I’ve been able to stick with it for 15 years, so, it must work! I know it works because I’m doing it, I like doing it and I don’t get bored with it. That’s not a resolution, that’s an invention!

My challenge to you is, what do you want to invent for yourself? What change or innovation do you desire either internally, or in your lifestyle, career, health or relationship? If you’re not sure of the answer, maybe you just need a better way to ask the question.

Keep asking until you can, as poet Rainer Maria Rilke says, “Love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way in to the answer.”

When to Take a Brain Check…and When to Take a Rain Check!

You don’t have to be a genius to be a genius. In fact, some of the smartest people I know are not necessarily geniuses at getting the best out of their brains. But they don’t have to, ‘cuz they’re already geniuses! Now I don’t have the IQ of a genius, but I can be a genius at getting my brain to do amazing things for me. By attending to a handful of details in life, you, or anyone can get your brain to work at a high level of health, power and awareness.

I know the arguments against changing how you do things, here it comes…”it will take too much time,” or, “it’s too much of a risk, what if it doesn’t work?” To that I say if you knew how much your brain is involved in every aspect of your life, it would shock you! Your beauty, your thoughts, your weight, your children’s performance in school, your partner’s health, your future, your memory, sleep patterns…and this is just a partial list!…are all directly and indirectly affected by how you treat your brain. In fact, I challenge you to come up with one thing that troubles you in your life right now that is not related to your brain’s health!

If you make a commitment to check in and attend to your brain, you will change your life. So states Dr. Daniel Amen in “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life” and “Unleash the Power of the Female Brain”. I wholeheartedly believe him! I have lived these results and can guarantee that if you commit to making your brain healthier your quality of living improves in unimaginable ways.

15 years ago, when I discovered my sensitivity to sugar, flour and wheat I made a decision that has changed my life. At the time, I didn’t know how much this decision would positively impact everything about my future, or, how much I would learn because of it. All I knew was that when I ate any food with a high glycemic index, or with sugar flour or wheat, my stomach caused me pain and worse, my thoughts caused me pain. I suffered.

Suffering is what made the decision to stop consuming those foods and to stop consuming alcohol, easy. Ever since then, for the most part, my thoughts and consciousness is a friendly place for me. My reasoning and decision-making functions much better than it ever did before, and feeling good is a strong motivator to keep feeling good! My brain is on my team and it works for me!

After reading Daniel Amen’s work, I realize why. Those substances were unhealthy for my brain. When my brain wasn’t functioning well, my thoughts and cognitions were not accurate, kind or gentle. In essence my thoughts were not useful or helpful to me. One of the most important recommendations made by Dr. Amen for giving yourself a brain check is to look at what you are feeding it.

After over 80,000 brain scans assessing the qualities of highly functioning and healthy brains, he says, data overwhelmingly shows that our thoughts, perceptions and cognitions are effected by what we put in our body. Smoking, drinking alcohol, eating high fat or high sugar foods, severely diminish our ability to make good decisions, control our thoughts and conduct ourselves in relationships and work. Now I don’t mean to be a big party pooper and it probably sounds boring to give up all that fun stuff, but wouldn’t it be more fun to feel good? Can you imagine how it would feel to rely on your perceptions and executive function 100%? You can when you give your brain the chance to really do it’s job.

Here is a short ‘Brain Check List’ for you to get started. It’s not a complete list so let this just be a beginning step toward befriending your brain and taking care of it, so it can take care of you.

1-Lifestyle: Find ways to feed your brain. Learn new things in a social environment with other people. Exercise or get out in nature every day, preferably with other people. This also feeds your brain, pumping good, oxygenated blood into it. Try this every day and watch how your thoughts start changing. Do brain puzzles. Start a project based on your curiosity. One of my clients recently did a project by accident. He followed his curiosity about the game Dungeons and Dragons and while he was at the bookstore looking at books about it he got into a conversation with the sales clerk. Next thing he knew, he was hosting a game at his house with a bunch of new friends and he and his girlfriend were having a fantastic time!

2-Biological: Get a brain scan or have your hormone levels checked. Having your hormones out of balance or trying to function when your body is low on certain nutrients heavily affects your brain’s ability to do good work. Learn what areas of your brain need attending to and strive for balance.

3-Cognitive: Question some of the thoughts that are causing you to suffer. It may seem simplistic to say that all you have to do is think different thoughts to feel better and if it were that easy, wouldn’t everyone just do that? You don’t have to change your thoughts to feel better, but sometimes you do have to question your thoughts. If you have a thought that causes you to suffer, for example, “My world is unsafe.” Then you can inquire about that. Check it out! It may be an old thought or belief leftover from past experiences. It may be a thought you can do something about. According to Dr. Amen, “Harmful habits and wrong ideas were ingrained into you since you were a child.” One of these may be stuck on a replay loop in your consciousness. Byron Katie has a wonderful worksheet to help you inquire about thoughts that cause you to suffer, and then dissolve them. If your thoughts seem to uncontrollably gravitate in a negative or disturbing direction, challenge them! Use other resources to help you!

4-Environment: Even though our brains are separated from the outside world by bone and skin, our brains are very fragile and susceptible to outside influences. Toxins or poisons in the air, even other people’s emotions and eating habits can directly impact us! Be where you are happy being. I recommend playing the ‘Brain Game’ with yourself and with loved ones. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing or planning to do, check in and see if it is healthy for your brain. Do a brain check and if it’s not a healthy option for your brain, take a rain check!

Note: for some healthy and delicious recipes go to HealthyCookingWithLove.

How to Not be Bored…or Scared…

Halloween is a day when you get scared on purpose. But most people don’t need a special holiday to get scared. We can scare ourselves plenty good just from thinking about committing to something we don’t know the outcome of, or, by doing something we may fail at. Apparently, fear of failure and fear of the unknown are two things many people greatly fear.

 

Eleaonor Roosevelt said to do something everyday that scares you. Why? Because then you can keep doing what scares you. If you practice trying something you may fail at, or, start something when you are not sure where it will lead, pretty soon, it becomes easier and easier and it’s less and less scary! When you choose to succumb to fear and limitations, however, your lifestyle and experiences become smaller and narrower. You may have an illusion that a life with limited choices and the same experiences would eliminate stress, but instead, it can create more stress. It simply is bad for your health to be too bored!

 

In fact, I have seen people spontaneously combust from being too bored for too long (I was almost one of them!). They weren’t bored because they didn’t have anything to do, they were bored because they had too much of the same kinds of things to do, day in and day out, with no hope of ever having more exciting problems. Instead, it’s the same problem, same worries, same protagonists. Boring is bad for your health because by nature, humans grow, as does everything in nature. We must take new form and seek nurturing in our environment, like a plant stretching toward the light. If we resist that growth pattern, what can our bodies and minds do but turn inward. Deterioration starts. Do you know how many people start having their health fail as soon as they retire? A lot! If you can, postpone your retirement and instead try to play at work. Work is not the opposite of play, boredom is. Live like you are as curious as a four-year-old. Four-year-olds know something most grownups don’t, how to play!

 

If you’re still not sure how to change your state of boredom, just look at the characteristics of play. Leading child development and play expert, Marjorie Kostelnik says “play is…sensory, imaginative, cooperative and/or competitive (in other words done with other people for the fun of it), voluntary, and non-literal.” Are you getting the picture?

 

Goethe said, “we are shaped and fashioned by what we love”. Maybe what he meant was to let yourself be shaped by what you play.

 

Are You Ready to Meet Someone Interesting..Would You Believe it’s You!?

Have you met yourself lately? If not, let me introduce you to…YOU! If you haven’t encountered a surprising aspect of yourself lately, maybe you needed that re-introduction.

Do you remember the famous song from the band The Who. (an oldie but a goodie!)

“Whoooo are you? Who-Who…Who..Who??” Research on human developmen indicates you could ask yourself that every day and still never get a complete answer! Why? Because we grow. Our brain parts that determine personality and behavior grow (ergo change).

Today I realize I am meeting myself …again…for the first time! Has this ever happened to you?

Just when I thought I knew my likes and strengths and pitfalls and methods and quirks…all by heart…I realize I’ve done it again.

I’ve gone and….ADAPTED! Human theorists like Erik Erikson and Jean Piaget say when we are born (humans, I mean) we begin to go through different phases of development. And, this continues FOR THE REST OF OUR LIFE!

Of all the ways to explain how we progress through various phases, one constant is that to successfully pass through a phase of development, one has to feel challenged, and then find a way to balance the tension between social demands and our own desires, and go on.

When you do that, voilà! (imagine a dramatic flip of the magician’s cape here) you have grown stronger, smarter and probably better-looking. (just kidding about the last part, but maybe it’s true!)

Whether you agree with evolution or not, there is pretty solid evidence that all species (no matter how we came into being) continue to adapt to their environment, based on what keeps them alive. I was surprised to find that this includes humans!

Returning to school to get my Master’s after a long avoidance …er I mean absence from University campuses, allows me to compare who I was back when I received my Undergraduate degrees and who I am now.  What a difference!

I see my brain has adapted to life and environment…dropping unnecessary or nonfunctioning parts…the natural selection process at work! In my classes they call the process ‘synaptic pruning’, or the brain’s way of getting rid of pathways that don’t serve the body or mind as an organism anymore, and instead focusing energy on growth of the more important synapses…or brain pathways.

Now, I think of my professors as peers, rather than towering giants of intellectual superiority. In fact, I am older than some of my professors! Also, I get excited to participate in class discussions instead of embarrassed (or even catatonic). Lastly, one of the biggest differences is that back then I was a kid. Now I’m raising kids, and helping others raise kids too. Again, what a difference!

In truth, I am not special. Everyone is constantly changing and evolving. Even a person who looks to be completely stagnant, or ‘stuck’ as you may call them, they are changing! How could they not, we are with every breath, closer to death or closer to aliveness. The key is to be able to meet yourself wherever you are. Meet yourself and be present with what you encounter. You may not look perfect, but presence may be a more important goal than perfect.

Can you do that? Can you love whoever you turn out to be? Yes. You must!

My Name is Not ‘No’, it’s ‘Yes’, or at Least ‘Maybe’

Have you heard that new pop song by Megan Trainor called ‘My Name is ‘No’?  In the song, you hear the refrain, “My name is ‘No’, my number is ‘No’, you need to let it go.’

It’s a lot of ‘No’s’ in one song. I’m not sure, but if my subliminal messaging were programmed with this song, I think it would lead to a lot of nothing.

Why?

You hear what you expect to hear and see what you expect to see. It’s a natural cognitive process called ‘selective perception’. It means, in short, we get what we think we’ll get and we see what we expect to see. Many of our thoughts and perceptions, unfortunately, are occurring without us even being aware of it!

If your subconscious mind is conditioned to expect to get ‘No’ then most likely you will get ‘No’s’ when you ask or seek out something. Unless, of course, your subconscious actually thinks you’ll get ‘Yes’. In which case, you will get ‘I don’t know!’

If you are not sure what all this means, ask yourself how many times you have had an idea to do something fun or different lately. Now, look back and count the number of times you have actually moved on any of those ideas. Compare the numbers.

If you’re like most people, the number of ideas you have had by far outweighs the number of action steps you have taken. But before you start chastising yourself for your inactivity, you need to realize how it happens. Besides, no one likes to be scolded!

Often, when you don’t take action steps to change your daily routine, it’s because the subliminal message you are giving yourself is ‘No’. This puts you in a resistance position. If this happens, you have essentially programmed yourself to lose your motivation before you take any action.

The Dalai Lama said, “…the easiest path to happiness is to do something.” If you want to change something in your life, you need to do something. If you don’t know what to do, then think about what you want and then make a move in that direction. Even the simplest move can generate a result, or a reaction.

Say you want a new living environment. A first step could be to drive around neighborhoods looking for one that inspires you. You’re taking a step in a direction!

What I know about steps is that one begets (fancy word for ‘leads to’) another. But most importantly, and here is THE KEY, when you take that step, you must have NO ATTACHMENT to how it turns out. Just take the step. Once you take it, you will intuitively know the next step. Pretty soon you are covering lots of ground! It’s called momentum. You’re getting somewhere.

In my life there have been periods of time when many things happened, and periods of time where not much happened. When I was bored, nothing happened and I ended up more bored. In the times where a lot happened it was because I told myself ‘yes’ and made myself do what I wanted to do.

For example, in the year I graduated from college, I went from working at a school library to being a bartender at a steakhouse in Koln, Germany. Also, in the timespan of one year (a different year!) I got married, appeared in a show on a stage in New York City, delivered twins and moved across country to Austin, Texas.

Also, the last few years have been full of activity…and especially these past few months. Since April I have taken the GRE, been accepted to a graduate program that will expand my business and skillset, sold my house and moved my family into a new home (my dream house!) produced the 35th episode of the One Minute Parent Video Segments, grew my practice, and will soon send my sons off to Middle School! Clearly I have been saying ‘yes’ to myself, and in turn, people have been saying ‘yes’ to me!

In between here and there were stretches of boredom where seemingly nothing new happened. These clearly were the times when my subconscious was tuned into channel ‘No’ and I was set on the setting of resistance.

Much of the fun and exciting changes I’ve experienced were not what I thought was possible. So how did any of these things start?

None of it happened overnight, but after a series of many steps. With getting accepted to school, it started with a trip to Half Price Books to pick up a copy of the GRE study workbook. Then, some research on the internet. Then a conversation with my realtor and dear friend Emily Apollo (while we were perusing neighborhoods where my dream house might be) told me about where she went to graduate school. I looked into it and found the ideal program for me.

I took little steps, one after the other, without knowing how or if they’ll lead anywhere. It makes sense to me because I already have a bias toward action. I like to check things out. Encounter. I’m not afraid to be surprised, to be embarrassed, disappointed…and follow my gut.

Over years (yes I am getting older!) I have found not everyone is like this. Many people are afraid to hear the word ‘No’. Imagine if I had gone to Half Price Books and asked for the GRE book and they said ‘No’. Would that mean academic career, graduate program over? Of course not! That’s so silly! I would simply ask them to find me the book! And if they said ‘No’ to that, well, guess what, I would go to another bookstore, or Amazon, or the library or ask a friend. The point is, the point doesn’t matter! What matters is the process. Stay on progress with the process.

If you want new things to happen…it doesn’t matter what things…maybe things you haven’t even thought of yet, or things that your cognitive mind cannot even understand, then you need to change the background music playing in your head. Change it from ‘No’ to ‘Yes’ or even ‘Oh yeah baby!’

Here are some musical programming suggestions:

“I Came to Win” by Nicki Minaj

“Life is a Highway” (and I’m gonna ride it all night loooong!)

“Let’s Get it ON”!

But, if for some reason you just can’t get out of that “NO” groove, just call me, cuz’ you know what I’ll be singing!

What are your songs for inspiration?

Got Thoughts…or Your Thoughts Got You?

or ‘How to Know if You are Thinking Your Own Thoughts or Someone Else’s and What to do About it!’

Fireworks, beer and barbecue were on the agenda for most Americans last week when we celebrated Independence Day. When the U.S. defeated Great Britain over 200 years ago, we won the right to govern ourselves…a great source of pride and celebration. And with good reason! Living in a Democracy means we have more freedom and more rights than many other nations on earth. It means, in short, we Americans have the right to think for ourselves, to express our thoughts, and even vote in accordance with our thoughts.

But are we really exercising our hard-won right to think for ourselves? Hmmm…

Maybe, maybe not.

From the time we are born, ideas, behaviors and values are downloaded into our brains and incorporated into our being, similar to how apps are installed into computers. Scientists who’ve argued for decades whether we are influenced by our genetics or by our experiences and surroundings in the age-old debate of nature vs. nurture…now agree the answer is…. ‘Both!’.

You and I were raised by humans so therefore we suffer (and also benefit) from the ideas, opinions and experiences embedded by our social environment. When socialization (the technical term for learning social norms and mores) is beneficial is to learn things like when to shake hands, when to say, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. But when it starts to go awry is when we learn what to be afraid of (ie. Stranger Danger!). Much of the info being downloaded into our brains as we are growing is useless, damaging or both. For example, are all strangers dangerous? Of course not! All of our friends were strangers at one time. Dr. Gwen Dewar says, “I am struck by how many people seem content to impose unreflective, conformist thinking on children.”

Even more important than teaching children to follow society’s conventions is to raise humans who can think and identify real events, make decisions, and recognize their own power in doing so. Actually, it serves them better to operate this way, rather than to adopt our distilled and sometimes-delusional world views and methods of interacting.

How do we teach this important skill to kiddos even while protecting them from danger? First, we can improve our own ability to think and make decisions, then share a little at a time what we are learning…like osmosis.

For example, I recognize that I am sometimes lazy in my thoughts and let others’ opinions creep into my consciousness. Also I have a bad habit of letting other people make assumptions about me without correcting them. In other words, sometimes I’m guilty of operating on autopilot. Does this sound familiar? I believe I am not alone. Usually we are not aware of when we do this though, so becoming aware is a big step forward.

For decades, social psychologists have known about a phenomenon called ‘groupthink’. It occurs when a group of people values harmony and coherence over accurate analysis and critical evaluation. It can be any group (a family, company culture, team…), we are all susceptible, and it’s happening all the time. Groupthink has lead to some of the worst decisions, the most famous being the epic failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion. It occurs when every individual in a group makes an assumption that other people are exercising critical thinking so they don’t have to question or engage in any decision-making.

Why ?

Maybe it’s because of a fear of what people will think of us if we don’t agree, or maybe it’s because we don’t want to take responsibility for the outcome, and would rather hide behind a collective decision, rather than make a stand. Neither scenario puts human tendencies in a very good light, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel!

Last night some friends and I were at a restaurant listening while a waiter was going over the specials…speaking very rapidly. My friend stopped him and said “I don’t know what you’re saying.” In that moment I felt how trustworthy my friend is. To you, this may seem like a small detail, but it takes courage to break another person’s reality and state clearly how yours is different. In fact, self-actualization is defined by ‘reaching one’s potential through …a thorough grasp of the real world.’ Small steps like my friend letting the waiter know he was not reaching his goal of communicating bring us all closer to self-actualization. She pointed out her reality, knowing it was different than his assumption of it.

Young’uns who are not encouraged or allowed to experience the results of their choices…and in this way connect with reality.…cannot hope to ever reach self-actualization. Many parents are so frightened for their children, they constantly step in to manipulate the consequences of their children’s decisions. Such a child will surely struggle later in life (and perhaps struggle even now!) to distinguish why the world does not respond to his or her ministrations like mommy and daddy do.

If upgrading your thinking processes sounds to you like not the funnest project, just imagine the benefits. If you train yourself to make true and accurate observations, to allow yourself and your children to enjoy the results of your choices, and recognize you are in control of every aspect of your life, then you will really be a great model to your friends and children!

Also, you may be the next Thomas Edison or Madame Curie. In fact, right now I bet you can point to at least 10 things you enjoy in your world that are the result of someone thinking ‘out of the box’, or ‘against the grain’. If everyone subscribed to their culture’s homogenous thinking, no innovations would be possible.

Recently, I went with a group to the Museum of Science and Technology. Science has come a long way! And progress always happened when someone had the courage to dissent from mainstream thinking. People used to think the world is flat. Then, when they learned the world is round, they still believed the sky was flat, like a vast disc.

Thanks to Copernicus who, through tinkering, created the first crude telescope, came a more accurate grasp of the sky. Then, Galileo took the concept and created a more sophisticated version of the telescope so that he could study the stars. He reported his findings that the sky is a vast multi-dimensional network. Not a flat disc at all.

If we try to change from following mindlessly preprogrammed thoughts, let’s think about the opposite, mindFULness. Experience as many moments as consciously as possible. In a coaching relationship a coach can help discern whether your thoughts are yours or someone else’s squatting in your brain?

Through inquiry, you can discover the origins by yourself too. When you can feel a thought or idea lodged somewhere in your physical body, that is a most sure sign that the thought was installed in you. If it it’s organic, you can know it by how it feels. It is part of you.

One idea I grew up with …as a little girl growing up while the feminist movement gained momentum… is women should be independent. I internalized that so well that I became truly independent as a young woman, and truly alone! It made me sad.

Luckily, I met an incredible coach who helped me distinguish that belief was not mine. Even though I love empowerment and respectful treatment of women, at the same time, one of my biggest strengths is receptivity, so complete independence is not true to my nature. Making that distinction helped me learn to accept and receive help, input, friendship and love from others. At first, it did not feel natural (and still doesn’t sometimes). Prior to questioning my beliefs I could never imagine being as intimate with people as I am now. The gift of intimacy comes from a give and receive exchange. It makes me happy to feel interdependent, rather than independent.

Happiness is a true test of whether you have your own thoughts. When an idea comes through my consciousness that makes me feel excited and alive, that idea comes from my own heart and essence. Maybe someone made a suggestion or planted a seed that caused a connection, but if it feels good it is more likely to be congruent with me…my values.

If you’re still not sure, what you can do is to act and observe. When you take action on a belief how does it feel? How does it work for you in your life? Recently, a client was suffering from the thought that she needed to get a job. I suggested she apply at the TexMex Cantina across the street from where we were meeting which had a ‘help wanted’ sign. She did not light up at the suggestion and her face darkened. The suggestion of course was only a test. Her response told us both clearly that her idea of getting a job was not organic, and not what she needed to focus on in that moment.

Through inquiry we discovered the origin of the belief, released it and then formed a new plan based on her pleasure and coming straight from her heart. You know what? The plan coming from her heart and her essence, the one that makes her feel alive and aglow…that’s the plan that’ll work!

If you want your plans to work, get your thinking to work! Work for you, instead of against you, that is. You can stop being a victim of your own thoughts. But getting your thoughts to work for you does not mean getting smarter. Actually, since the discovery of groupthink and the damage it can do, a new school of thought studying how to raise intelligence in teams, rather than the opposite has emerged.

Studies overwhelmingly show that groups who get the best results and make the most effective decisions are never the groups with the smartest people, but they are the groups with people who listen to each other and give honest and accurate input to each other.

If you don’t believe me, go ahead, test out your thoughts and take action on them…only a small step is necessary to make a test. Our greatest thinkers agree action is key to thinking better. “Happiness consists of activity,” says John Mason Good.

“Activities that give us durable happiness are the ones we have a hand in creating. We don’t just sit back and receive pleasure. We actually generate the pleasure ourselves….that makes happiness ‘renewable.” says Sonja Lyubormirsky

If that doesn’t convince you, Dalai Lama said, “The easiest route to unhappiness is to do nothing…the easiest path to happiness is to do something.”

What beliefs are you questioning? I’d love to hear! Also, what are the 5 best innovations that came about during your lifetime, and what innovations do you want to see happen? I’d love to know!

 

Do You Know What Makes You Special?

Do you know what makes you so special?

Chances are, you don’t. In fact, what makes most of us special is also what we most fear revealing or even realizing about ourselves. We spend much of our formative years trying to learn to fit in and not be noticed. Being noticed in school or at home often meant being punished.

Avoiding punishment is not a recipe for success…unless you are living in a fascist regime, which in America or Western Europe we are not.

Looking at what makes us unique may even make us feel a little bit embarrassed about ourselves. But it is actually valuable to look. Differentiating ourselves in the market, or ‘branding’, depends on combining our uniqueness with our skills in a way that stands out.

But standing out, as stated earlier, can be problematic! We’re not supposed to do that, your ego might scream out to “STOP”! However, noticing, distinguishing and allowing yourself to play out your most unique qualities is the best predictor of whether or not you will reach your professional and personal goals.

Whatever is your greatest fear is exactly what will cause you to fail. If you don’t have the will to drive past your fear, your business…your dream cannot survive,” says U.S. Navy Seal and Training Consultant, Clark Stuart.

It is also said ‘Behind your greatest fear is your greatest gift’. For example, someone may say, “Oh I would never be a singer, I have a terrible voice.” In fact, this would tell me that their voice is their greatest talent. But after exploring maybe we would find they are not a singer, but a storyteller or jam poet or even a professional sound maker like Bobby McFerrin.

If in business, you are afraid of making a fool of yourself by selling badly, being too pushy, or indeed, selling at all, you will not likely ever earn the money you need and desire. Unless at some point you are willing to go ballistic and look foolish, or in other words, ‘put yourself out there’ with your product or service, you cannot surpass your income limits.

What makes you stand out is also your innovation. Muhammad Ali was special and innovative in that he combined boxing with God. Before he came along, we had not seen that particular innovation before. In a rare interview in England, Muhammad Ali shares his spiritual beliefs with the audience. He has total conviction about God. He also has total conviction about winning and being the best. This conviction and willingness to speak out loud about it was his specialty.

New business models like Upwork and Fiverr are channeling the art of matchmaking into business by connecting people with highly specialized skills and the people who need these skills, a.k.a. clients.

For example, I have a former client who loves dragons, cats and puppets. Her linear business is graphic design. On websites and through word of mouth, she has been able to get hired for jobs involving these things. Why was she hired for these jobs? She made it clear she has these ‘quirks’ or things she is passionate about. She also wrote a book about cats, called ‘Chicken Kitten‘, which she illustrated, of course!

Now, she has a brilliant calling card to show what she is capable of and also show her specialty. By the way, are you noticing that ‘specialty’ and specialist’ both have the root word of ‘special’? Yes, you’re welcome for pointing out the obvious! (one of my not-so-unique talents ;-).

What I’m saying here is to remind you, but also to remind me. What I used to fear most as a self-conscious and shy child is my own sound. When I was around people I tried not to make a sound, not even with my breathing. Well you can probably guess that behind the fear of being heard was also a great desire and perhaps a gift for expression.

After years of committed effort and energy toward reaching the goal of being self-expressed my life pretty much evolves around expression now. It is one value that is evident in how I raise my kids as well. My sons and I are confident in expressing ourselves, whether it’s onstage at the school talent show, or in front of an audience of professionals at a conference, or in the privacy of our home working out an issue with each other or doing a filming project or a collage. Last December, we even appeared in a play together!

I have seen many parents who are afraid to be honest with their kids, so the kids don’t necessarily learn how to express honestly or be with others who are expressive. But, how else will kids learn emotional durability and strength, if they don’t experience it in their childhood? In this way, parents can pass on their fears to their children and continue the cycle of suppressing one’s specialness.

Emory University School of Medicine published findings from a study showing that kids inherit their parent’s fears. Experiments showed that a traumatic event could affect the DNA in sperm and alter the brains and behavior of subsequent generations.   Changes in brain structure were also found.

“The experiences of a parent, even before conceiving, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations,” the report concluded.

Another reason it is worth it to invest time, energy and intention to drive through my fears is so that I don’t infect other people with them…namely my kids! Me writing this blog is one way I keep myself accountable to driving through my fears of expressing. See the tendency to keep playing small and staying in hiding with your specialness doesn’t go away!….at least not that I know of.

Even people like Seth Godin and Gary Vaynerchuk who blog several times per day and seem so bold, still probably deal with resistance and fear. If you also need to push yourself to drive through your fears, just remember, fear is not permanent or terminal, and you can get to the other side of it! So whatever you hesitate at, whether it’s pressing the ‘publish’ link on your blog post, picking up the phone and dialing, or raising your hand with a question next time you are in a presentation, try this next time, “Go for it!!”

For me, I will keep writing, videoing and calling…as long as you keep reading, watching and picking up the phone! Thank you for helping me drive through my fear!

 

Here are ten questions for self-exploration…to lead you on a path of uncovering your hidden specialties!

1-What am I grateful for?

2-What do I love?

3-Why am I happy?

4-Who am I mad at?

5-What am I most committed to?

6-How committed am I?

7-What is my intention?

8-What is my wish?

9-Why am I here?

10-What am I afraid I am?

 

Happiness is NOT a Given!…Unless You’re a Givin’ it to Yourself!

Flowers, chirping birds and blue skies…these are things that make us happy, right? Now spring has arrived we have all this in abundance, but is everyone happy?

 

While flowers may cause you great happiness when you look at them, flowers do not care about giving you happiness. In fact, nothing in nature cares about your happiness. It’s not supposed to. It just goes on being itself whether we like it or not. Some may say that is very selfish of a flower to not care about your happiness. In reality, nature doesn’t need to care in order for you to be happy, and nature doesn’t need you to be happy either. If nature needs anything it needs you to stay out of its way.

 

Yesterday in my yard I discovered a bird’s nest with an egg in it. When I looked around I noticed two birds perched on the fence across the street. Watching me VERY closely. I stepped forward to get a better look at the nest and it only took two seconds for me to feel flapping wings around my head. Those birds did NOT want me to get any closer to their egg! Yet, it still made me so happy to see that perfect egg, a sign of new life in my tree in the front yard. When my sons saw it, they thought the Easter bunny had come late. We all laughed and had joy. But the egg didn’t care. It just sat there being perfect.20160407_195446

 

Only one thing can make you happy, you. If you don’t believe me, just think about the best thing and the worst thing that happened today. Now ask why was the worst thing the worst and why was the best thing the best? It’s because you decided it was so. If someone presents you with flowers, you make a decision to enjoy them and allow yourself pleasure. You may also decide NOT to enjoy the flowers and NOT allow yourself pleasure. It seems like an easy decision to make to be pleased by flowers, but you may have a very good reason for choosing NOT to do it.

 

If it’s up to you to choose, you can be happy about anything. Take for example a dead lizard or a handful of dirt. Yesterday my gardener presented me with both these things and it made me very happy. I was ready for it…my happiness spigot was in the ‘on’ position. There have been days when the happiness spigot was in ‘off’. But yesterday, I chose ‘on’. I prefer this way of being, even though the full spectrum of feelings is just fine. I want to learn all I can about turning my happiness spigot ‘on’ independent of what the birds, sky, flowers or anyone else does.

 

“Flip the switch!” my mentor in business and coaching used to say if someone had a bad mood or drama. With his prompt I usually was able to flip it. But when he isn’t around I have to flip my own switch. I am just learning, but if you’re curious how to do this, I can break down into three steps what I have learned.

 

If you are like me and love games you should already be starting to feel a little bit happy. One, two, three steps and then bingo! …A result! That is a game. I enjoy small games, but bigger ones make me even happier. In the absence of a game, sometimes my spigot gets stuck in the ‘off’ position.

 

So here are the steps to get to ‘on’.

 

1.) Attend to your immediate environment. Get in a place that is more pleasurable. For example, go outside in nature, look at something beautiful, or get in the water. All three of these things have the power to set off pleasure receptors in the brain by attuning the brain to the present moment. In ‘Go Wild’,
Dr. John Ratey espouses the value of replicating life as a hunter/gatherer. Having a heightened awareness about the present moment releases dopamine in the brain and results in pleasure.

 

“Our pleasure circuits are attuned to awareness and the unexpected. A state of peace is not the absence of challenge…if anything it is the focusing of alertness in preparation…an exacting state of mind.”

 

2.) Set down heavy baggage. If there is a thought floating in my head that has to do with the past or the future and it makes my heart sag with grief or constrict with fear, that is a thought that is heavy. In order for the thought to take up less cargo space, it must be set down! If visualization helps you, then you can imagine a big bulky suitcase sliding down the chute (like in the airport) in your mind and watch it getting a nice kick from an airport attendant that sends it flying right out the doorway of your ear! It lands in the back of a garbage truck that happens to be driving by.

 

3.) Make a heart connection. Certain people in my life have the ability to help me get in touch with my heart no matter what the circumstances. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “’understanding’ is love’s other name.”

 

You surely have people like that in your life. These are people who positively impact conditions for you to be happy. They don’t make you happy or even give you happiness, but they have the ability to make it easy for you to choose happiness. When you find these people stay in touch with them! Ask to do projects with them, move in with them, or marry them (or all of the above!)

 

Just don’t expect them to make you happy, because they won’t. Only you can. They will just go on being themselves, like a perfect egg, sitting in a nest.

 

“When we feed and support our own happiness, we are nourishing our ability to love. That’s why to love means to learn the art of nourishing our happiness.” Thich Nhat Hanh 

Give Yourself the Gift of Admiration for Valentine’s Day!

For Valentine’s Day I Want You to Take a Good Look…and admire your creation! You have worked on this masterpiece forever! Perfecting, polishing, tuning, and repairing! You deserve to be acknowledged for what you have done. Make peace with actions you took and decisions you made. All of it lead to who you are and the life you are living today. Give yourself the gift of admiration. In fact, give yourself a hand and show you some love!

One of my sons is a master at loving and accepting himself no matter what. I wish I had his talent. I spent much of my young life in self-criticism. It felt bad to even look inside my own heart because I was afraid I would find more pain and judgment there. But then, something changed when I learned how to look at myself with appreciation and wonder, instead of criticism. It was a blessing! I still have to re-learn it again and again. It takes time, believe me! I give thanks to my son for the reminder.

In “The One Minute Parent” book I outline how my kids have a daily game to earn points with tasks, decisions and attitudes. Last Saturday, I noticed my son had not been doing his kitchen job (clearing the table) for several days in a row. He receives a natural consequence (loss of points) so I knew there was no need to scold or punish. But I was just curious so I asked him, “I noticed you haven’t been clearing the table this week, why?”

He looked at me for a long time and said completely without guile, remorse or shame, “I think I’m just lazy ‘cuz it seems like a lot of stuff to put away.”

I was so proud! Here is a boy who was able to do what I spent many years trying, learning and struggling to do…accept a weakness, be totally honest about it, and still feel ok with himself!

My heart swelled and I looked at him with admiration. “Thank you for being honest.” He nodded and went back to drawing.

Now, this may seem unlikely but actually he has been more willing since that conversation to help out in the kitchen. He even helped me bake cinnamon rolls yesterday! What I learned is he thrives when he feels accepted and acknowledged. Instead, of criticizing or trying to change him, I accepted his weakness (doesn’t like to do chores) and acknowledged him for his strength (honesty). As long as I do this, he is willing to play a game with me.

Seeing how this works with my son, I am using on myself, too. What if more and more I accept my weaknesses, and acknowledge myself for strengths, and for all the things I do that work throughout the day?

If I accept myself, it doesn’t have to mean I give up on changing. In fact, change is more likely to happen if I start from a place of self-acceptance and love. Feeling good makes me feel like playing. Playing is what matters.

In fact, ‘Game Theory’ is defined as the ‘study of how people behave in a strategic environment.’ Simply said, ‘people change their behavior when they are in a game.’ The secret to change yourself and others, seems to me to be to make it fun to play with you! Are you having fun with you?

If not, it could be that you want to learn how to play and be playful…or, maybe you’re playing the wrong game. Or, like many people you suffer from criticism or a negative mindset…focusing on what’s wrong rather than enjoying yourself…like most of us did when were children.

But growing up means you have to learn how to be accountable and act like a grownup. Here’s the rub…if we grow up by forcing ourselves to be serious and suppress joy, that way of being becomes a mindset, and a deeply entrenched habit. Eventually, will power gives out.

What if you can change your autopilot mode and reinvigorate yourself to be accountable, but not by force or fear, rather through play and playfulness. It can be done!

Arianna Huffington says, “Reprogramming the autopilot takes different amounts of time for each of us…Willpower alone is not enough. As a number of psychological studies have shown, willpower is a resource that gets depleted the more it’s used.”

More important than willpower, is willingness. Willingness to keep playing a game. Willingness to love and accept yourself. Willingness to get up and try again.

My son is willing to keep playing the game with me. And more important, I am still willing to play the game with me. I am because I have made readiness a practice. Now, I take a little time every day to explore my wishes, desires and actions. I do this through the lens of appreciation and acceptance.

An old friend used to joke whenever asked if he was ready, “I was born ready!”

Well, we were all born ready, and then some of us lost the readiness, but then some of us got it back, and then lost it again, and then got it back…

Do you want your readiness back? Start with appreciating yourself. You’ll be surprised what you find out you are ready for…once you feel good.

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