Dana's My Coach

Find your game… play… repeat.

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.

Are Your Resolutions Relevant? Here’s How You Can Tell…

Since I started my business 15 years ago what saddens me most is when people I’m working with set goals they don’t want to reach.

You may ask why would someone set him or herself up for failure? It’s a good question! Actually, I don’t think anyone does this on purpose. Let’s look at it for a moment.

In a coaching interview with a client what really matters is what truly lights up a person. If someone says their goal is to make more money, sure I can help with that. But If someone says to me they want to make more money, and then quietly lean in and reveal an even deeper desire that totally lights them up, I can DEFINITELY help with that. And, what’s more, THEY can help with that! They can help themselves reach the goal, because they WANT to reach it! I know because when they light up they are inspired.

To win my kids’ cooperation, I literally set the task I want them to do in the path of their desire. For example, “You can play Minecraft now and on your way to pick up your iPad, please pick up the trail of shoes and pencils on the floor.”

Learning to set goals around what is in sync with your true ambitions and desires is tricky. How do you do it? First, be curious about your curiosity! What do you research in your free time? What are you obsessed with? What do you daydream about? Answers to the above questions are clues to your natural reservoir of curiosity, or energy. Create goals that move you in this direction, because this is the direction you want to go.

Are you starting to get the picture? When you set a goal to avoid your pain rather than in pursuit of your pleasure, it just doesn’t stick! If my sons only had the goal to pick up all the shoes and pencils on the floor, they would never do it! Life for them would become meaningless. Without Minecraft in the equation, no goal is worth reaching.

This works with self-talk too. But first you have to recognize when you are not setting inspired goals. For example, if you experience pressure to pay off a particular debt and you set financial goals to pay off the debt. You are very unlikely to be successful. Reaching a goal to avoid pressure (pain) is just not inspiring and diminishes our energy and motivation, rather than the other way around.

Losing weight is similar in that if you hate how you feel and how people look at you, you may force yourself to go on a diet. You are unlikely to reach and maintain that goal as well. You are pressuring yourself to avoid your negative feelings and it is not a fun way to live.

Since the start of a new year is usually time for ambitious people to make a change, it is the most common time for people to push themselves in a direction they don’t really want to go. Statistics show most New Year’s Resolutions fail.

I don’t speak of these follies lightly and in no way intend to discourage you from setting goals. Hopefully, forming a more realistic outlook will help you fine-tune and dig a little deeper when you are searching for a goal that you can actually achieve. You will achieve what you WANT to achieve. So what do you WANT?

If you want to enjoy successful achievement, choose a goal for your own desire, not just in response to what you think others are judging you for. Trust me, most people are more interested in judging themselves than in judging you. So, don’t worry about what people think! And, don’t force yourself to agree with the public opinion. Others have no idea what you want or what you are capable of.

Instead, pay attention to the natural current of your desires. It may take a few moments of quiet before it surfaces. But it is not far below the surface, and it is only for you to know and see, not everyone or anyone else. You may choose to share it, however. That is your prerogative.

Maybe it is money that inspires you at a deep instinctual level. I have found roughly one third of people I interview are intrinsically motivated by money. For them, money goals work great, and they are very likely to be successful and wealthy.

Or, instead maybe for you the juice in life is in connection and appreciation, or winning and conquering a great challenge. Imagine different scenarios involving each of these qualities and see which one excites you the most.

Be honest! If you follow your natural flow of curiosity, you are likely to be successful in all areas of life. You may value power over money, or vice versa. Or you may value peace over either one. Your game will be very different in that case.

Relationship is a hot topic for many people’s New Year’s Resolutions. Someone may want to end a relationship, start one, or improve the one they’ve got. In almost all cases, they are trying to escape pain. If someone is looking to start a relationship, they are trying to solve a loneliness problem. If they are trying to improve the one they’ve got, well, it goes without saying there must be pain, or they wouldn’t feel the need to improve it.

All these are wonderful goals, and having a goal (even an uninspiring one) is better than nothing at all. But you won’t reach a goal if it’s not your top priority. Find a goal that accesses your true desire and you have found a goal you can be successful with.

Here is a personal story that gives an example of a goal you can be successful with. When I decided to take a year off from having relationships, I made the goal to find a community of like-minded people where I could form friendships and be accepted as a mom as well as a businesswoman. Soon, I became so busy, involved in PTA and other non-profits, participating in church and other social events and projects, that I didn’t even miss dating!

When finally I was ready to seek a relationship, I had already a much richer social life, more confidence….and more to bring to the table in my partnership. During previous times in my life that I was searching for a partner simply out of loneliness, those relationships were always doomed…and often painful.

In this most recent case when I was able to identify my true desire (connection and belonging) I could create a goal that was easy to achieve…because I wanted to achieve it! Truly and deeply! Indirectly it helped with loneliness and helped me be ready to find a really great partner when the time was right.

So to help you choose your goals, keep in mind the question ‘what am I measuring?’ Seth Godin mentions several common ways to track if you are reaching your goals. You can measure ‘smiles, comments, traffic, cash, media response, friends, peers, insiders, outsiders…’.

Looking at it this way; what do you consider a win? Being at the top of a money game or a power game? Or, simply being connected with lots of loved ones or fans …these are all different games.

And, if you want to be more successful in your business or career, take heed to Brene Brown’s words that ‘your creativity and art is what is in your soul to share’.

Conversely, I say that whatever your soul wants is what you need to set as a goal.

If you want success in reaching your goals this year and to learn how to choose the right goals for yourself, you can choose one of Dana’s My Coach long-term programs. Click here for a description of the Soul of Entrepreneurship Coaching Program. A step-by-step way for you to be the architect of a great career or business…one that incorporates all your talents, desires and personal mission.

Or, if a more harmonious and cooperative family life is your wish, click her for a description of The One Minute Parent for Life Coaching Program.

If you are like so many who decided to really tackle their health this year, but you also know a diet isn’t going to address your issue, take a look at the Healthy You for Life Coaching Program. It is a year-long exploration, growth and learning in the area of all around wellness, confidence and balanced health.

If you are not sure what you want, or what is right for you, please contact me directly: Dana@DanasMyCoach.com to set up your free mini coaching session. We’ll find out together!

“True happiness and true freedom come from living a life of purpose.” Leah Iny


Thank You For Sharing Your Story-Life!

Do you remember the last time you heard a really good story? I do. It was the last time I talked to you!

Maybe you thought you were rambling or talking too much…but actually you were giving me great pleasure! And I can prove it. Neuroscientists say human beings are wired for stories. Not only that, it makes us high. Literally.

Researcher Paul Zak proves listening to and telling stories causes hormones to release into our bodies such as oxytocin. This is like a feel-good drug that promotes bonding, empathy, meaning and connection.

In addition, people who appreciate the story-like aspect of life are more likely to enjoy themselves and succeed. If you are courageous enough to admit your life has a beginning and end…and in the middle a lot of plot twists, surprising characters, tragedy and humor…then you are embracing the story-like aspect of life. It’s a special way of being and it takes courage. Yay for you!

You are in good company. Tim Urban is a researcher who’s spent years following the decision-making habits of billionaire Elon Musk (founder of Tesla, among other things). Urban’s found a simple way to describe the formula for his success. Believe it or not, Musk’s way of being and doing has to do with viewing his life as a constantly unfolding story, with himself as the central character.

You can read about his recipe for being a successful and impactful operator. Sadly, to use the recipe successfully, you have to have the right ingredients. Knowing his true goals, and having an accurate read on reality are what Musk calls the ‘secret sauce’ in other words quality ingredients. In the overlap of his true goals and his reality is the ‘goal pool’ where his options lay. He creates a strategy from the goal pool and then directs his power toward implementing the strategy.

Sounds easy, right? But that’s not the end. Musk seems to view his goals as constantly evolving, as is his view of his reality. Each step he takes, each thought he has, changes the recipe. Each new feedback or observation must be constantly filtered in and layered over the previous ‘facts’ and rewriting the script accordingly.

What he calls ‘reasoning from first principles’ is the basis of his modified strategy. It’s a science term meaning starting with what evidence shows us to be true. In order to see what is true evidence requires accurately assessing events around him, and his own desires in relation to that world.

No small feat! Many of us are so eager to slap a quick and simple definition on an outcome, we avoid really seeing and feeling the world around us; we fail to derive real meaning, accurate reflections or appropriate responses.

Musk can and does do all the above. He is able to refresh his view independent from his past or his opinions. He adjusts his strategy based on the new (and accurate) data constantly flowing in through his senses. Urban defines Musk’s ‘brain software’ with four major decision-making centers in the list below.

1) Filling in the Want box

2) Filling in the Reality box

3) Goal selection from the Goal Pool

4) Strategy formation

Even more importantly, he can always accurately tune into his own desires. In other words, he always knows what he wants. How many of us can say that? Too often we become tainted by others’ agendas and suppress our own. But if we forget about our desire, we have no motivation to reach a goal. Therefore, how can your power be directed toward a goal if you don’t have any power?

What it seems to boil down to is Musk accepts the story-making aspect of life. He treats himself as the main character who continuously impacts and is impacted by which set he’s in and which characters he’s interacting with. Every story has a main character and the plot consists of the character doing something and things happening. There’s comedy and drama and tragedy and conflict…it’s all part of the plot! New things happen and complexities arise, often very unexpectedly!

If you have kids in your life, you must be aware of the constantly changing nature of life. Kids are always discovering new pieces of their puzzle. One of my main goals as a parent is to let my kids learn how to apply new information about themselves (or in coaching language the ‘pieces of their puzzle’) without interfering. Even though I make a conscious effort, I fail often.

Recently, my sons and I were at an orientation for a middle school that my sons may want to apply to. The presenter said the school specialized in pre-law and some classes could earn high school credits. I thought to myself “Oh, they are not interested in law classes!” But then I questioned the statement and realized, I am the one not interested in law. I have never wanted to study it or be a lawyer. My observation is that I prefer collaboration and lawyers seem to tend towards conflict.Software-Strategy-Loop

I turned to my son and whispered in his ear, “Do you know what a lawyer is?” He turned to me and nodded. I then asked, “Have you thought about doing that as a profession?” He said, “Yes, I think I’d be good at that!” and his face lit up. Later, when I asked him why, he said that he liked the idea of speaking up for people, fighting for justice, and being right. I can vouch that all this is true.

Luckily, I caught myself when I made the assumption he wouldn’t want what I don’t want. I’m getting used to the idea now…. I mean having a son as a lawyer wouldn’t be so bad! Our story-life is in the making and the plot thickens…

Happy Be-Your-Own Boss’s Day…and How to Be a Great Boss to Yourself!!

Friday was ‘Boss’s Day.’ If you are a boss you received flowers, balloons or gifts as an expression of gratitude from your staff. If you have a boss you were the one who did the giving, or at least you had to organize someone else to do the giving.

For those of us who don’t have a boss and aren’t a boss of others…in other words, free agents, we did neither. In fact, I didn’t even realize it was Boss’s Day until I stopped by my son’s school to surprise them with lunch and saw two girls in the office with flower bouquets.

“For me?” I asked innocently. “No! For the principal, it’s Boss’s Day!” they said.

At first I thought, “we don’t have a holiday for free agent entrepreneurs! Where is our holiday?” And then I realized since I make my own hours, I live everyday as a holiday. In fact, not many people with a job have the flexibility or freedom to do what I did last week…stop by my children’s school in the middle of the day and surprise them with hot wings. I am grateful for this freedom. I am also grateful I have become a boss I like.

When I first started my business years ago, I used to work so hard and have very high expectations. I was frequently disappointed and critical of myself. Now, after working with hundreds of other free agents and self-employed business people, I realize I am not the only one who has done this. I was a bad boss, never satisfied.

Then I learned to be a better boss. I began to forgive and accept my results, and acknowledge myself no matter what. Over time, I even learned to focus my core business on the people, environments and activities that I really enjoy. I learned to take my pleasure very seriously! That is when I went from being a good boss to a great boss.

Unfortunately, despite the many boxes of candy, balloon bouquets and flowers that were given out on Friday, there are not very many truly great bosses.

In fact, many people are afraid to give up health insurance because they are afraid of their medical costs. But, when one lives and grows a business or career with an awareness of the activities and people that bring pleasure rather than stress, sickness and injury are much less likely. Therefore, medical insurance is under-utilized rather than the other way round.

“Disease happens when the repair process is not keeping up with the damage process,” says Esther Sternberg. She found in her research this damage/disease cycle is happening “in the majority of companies in the U.S. and the majority of American’s lives.”

How to address this? Well, someone is benefitting from the American tendency to earn income in ways that make us stressed and sick. But not the people getting sick!

A telltale sign your job or work environment is causing irreparable damage is that on your day off, you need a day or two just to detox yourself and get your energy back. If you are frequently sick, that is another sign. If either of these situations describes you, your first question for yourself is what is it you do to restore your energy? (do NOT say ‘watch TV’, TV only increases your numbness and diminishes your awareness of how to restore your vitality.)

Maybe you answered you like to garden or play with your pet, or tinker in your garage…whatever it is you do to restore your spirit, must be integrated into your daily life, preferably as a project or a part of your job. Only then, have you turned around the odds that your job stress is causing more damage than you can ever repair. In this scenario, your healing process is built into your daily routine.

Now, you (hopefully) are wondering, ‘what if what I do to restore my energy has no place in my business or job?’ That’s ok! I have an answer for that too.

Every successful business that lasts grew out of someone’s need to do activities that heal themself. In many cases it came out of a desire to serve others in a way that feels good and moves money. Sometimes money doesn’t even move in the beginning.

When my partner and I first moved our home base and our business from New York to Austin 11 years ago, one of our first projects was to interview successful and innovative business people with a live audience and film it. We edited and sold these both as singles and DVD sets afterward. People often asked what was the business model for that project…not understanding at first that it was a project that fed our business and us in a way other than direct payment.

“Organize your business to earn profits and you will work very hard for dwindling returns. Grow

your business around people, and they will heap benefits on you for years to come,” says Business Coach and Career Architect Martin Sage.

With this line of thinking, we were banking on people rather than profit. We were expanding our business by expanding our connections with people. The connections did lead to profit, in some expected and in many unexpected and delightful ways.

For one thing the project lead to many friendships that I still enjoy today…like Gary Hoover who was one of our interviewees. He was also at one time a customer who bought the set of Austin Stars of Business for $100. It was a great pleasure to make that sale and I felt honored to have him as a friend and customer! And I still do!

That was the beginning, now I find every day meeting with my clients, whether it’s in person, in groups or over Skype with someone far away, it always feels like something heals in me because of the connection. It is truly a pleasure when I can be of service. It feels good. I want to be used because I want to be useful. It just so happens my business has grown out of these pleasurable relationships. Many successful entrepreneurs who value their well-being like me are also creating and growing businesses and business projects out of a desire to serve.

For example, when I interviewed Gary Hoover he talked of starting his first bookstore ‘Bookstop’ around the time his friend John Mackey was expanding his organic grocery business, now known as Whole Foods. “We were talking about the various challenges we faced and I was drinking a soda. John started imploring me to stop drinking soda; he was trying so hard to convince me of the negative effects of the chemicals in my can of soda. That’s real passion for his mission…and his mission is his business.”

His passion may actually come from a desire to reverse the damage process…a desire to heal. His product in itself is healing and repairing our bodies. And his stores provide a healing and healthy environment for both his employees and his customers. I do know several people who work there and they confirm the environment and systems all support healthy organic human connection, as well as physical health. It is, in short, a place to feel good. I think he is a good boss and perhaps even a great boss.

George Bernard Shaw said, “…I’m of the opinion my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.”

If it feels good to you, it can feel good to others, and your service may be to find a way to provide this feeling to others. Over the weekend, my sons when to a party where a nerf gun specialist dropped off bags of ammo, all the guns you can imagine and a whole set up of inflatable barricades all over the yard. Within minutes about 15 boys were in hog heaven shooting and dodging foam bullets. That’s what one man calls fun, and look how he turned his fun into a business!

While guns are not my cup of tea, I have nurtured, honed and fine-tuned my business in a way that only extremely fulfilling relationships and services are necessary for me to engage in. That’s how I have learned to be my own boss.

In fact, to reward myself for completing this blog post, I’ll go have a smoothie at Whole Foods. On second thought, maybe I’ll take a coffee instead. Yes, coffee it is! And that’s the hardest decision I’ve had to make all day!

Tips for being a good boss to yourself:

If you are tired, rest.

Make appointments with yourself for what you want to get done

Integrate time for movement and being outdoors into your day

Acknowledge what you accomplish, even if it seems like nothing.

Reward yourself each time you complete a task.

How I Stopped My Thoughts From Stealing my Time and Basically Ruining Everything

Going on an anxiety detox last spring was one of the best things I have ever done.

Never before had I thought anxiety or stress was a problem for me. But reading Brene’ Brown’s book, “I Thought It Was Just Me, But it Isn’t” revealed that what felt normal to me was actually anxiety. I was even more shocked to realize my anxious thoughts were not going away anytime soon. And actually seemed to be getting worse by the minute!

Well, I had to do something about it but it seemed like very bad timing. I mean, when is a good time to deal with an anxiety issue?? Answer: NEVER! Especially since a side effect of my anxiety was feeling like I didn’t have time for anything. When it was particularly acute, I constantly felt I couldn’t do anything because I wouldn’t have time to finish it so starting it would only make me feel more anxious because I don’t like to leave things incomplete. Whew! Talk about a catch 22!

Luckily, I have low tolerance for feeling bad (especially when ‘bad’ is going to ‘worse’ very quickly!) so I took action. First, I declared myself VERY loudly (in the privacy of my own room) on an ‘ANXIETY DETOX’. I read that term somewhere and it seemed to fit. I was not an expert on the subject. I only knew I needed to increase peaceful, calm feelings and flush out negative or worry-full feelings.

Guess what? After nearly 100 days, it’s totally working! I say it’s ‘working’, rather than it ‘worked’, because I believe that feeling peaceful and calm is a practice rather than a fixed condition. It’s possible I will need to keep my anxiety-detox toolbox close at hand for the rest of my life…and that’s OK! I am just glad I have it! And today, I want to share with you what is in it.

First….get oriented. Through research, I learned that if you do something as a coping mechanism (which for some strange reason, is what anxiety often is) you can’t just get rid of it. You developed the mechanism (probably at some time in the past) for a good reason…and it’s usually linked to something that feels like a matter of life and death.

Imagine if you are floating in the middle of the ocean with no sign of land or rescue for miles around, and you only have one small life preserver to hang onto. You are not going to willingly let go and start swimming away from it unless you have a darn good reason!

Our unconsciousness somehow perceives holding onto our survival mechanisms (things like addictions, phobias, codependent relationships, and, of course, anxiety!) as a matter of life and death. Because of this it may not be possible to ever rid ourselves of these life preservers. However, if we can strengthen new habits and other sources of support (in my case relaxing) we are more likely to diminish the appeal of the behaviors our defense mechanisms drive us to.

Why it’s important to know more about it is because our behaviors are linked to nuanced layers of needs. Sometimes our needs are buried deep within us (possibly even hidden from ourselves) and therefore they are not easy to understand or change. In other words…we’re complicated!

“Ok.” I said to myself, “So it’s going to take effort to change myself. I get it…. but I don’t like it!” Alas! I had taken my first step…accepting the challenge. I accepted it would require patience and attention to reach my goal, and, it was my top priority!

Next steps? Recognize the difference between anxious and relaxed. Take note of what sources of stimuli in my life leads to each condition. Take action.

If a particular project, situation or activity caused me to feel apprehension or dread, it needed to be phased out, cleaned up, postponed, or handed over to someone else. Instead, I needed to spend time doing what I want. Usually, what I want to do is something that feels good and calming. Being honest with myself and others about this distinction was sometimes helpful (and welcome!) as well.

One thing worked really well for me …practicing being restful. I haven’t looked this up in the dictionary but I guess ‘restful’ is the opposite of ‘anxious’. Since ‘restful’ didn’t come easily to me during this time, It took committed effort to get to and maintain a restful state. In other words it took practice.

My practice included swimming or getting in water, putting on music or listening to sources of inspiring and calming information (ie. favorites include Brene Brown, or Byron Katie), being creative (ie. collage or home projects), repeating a mantra, and breathing exercises.

What happened couldn’t have surprised me any more. One of the results was, as I had hoped, feeling more relaxed overall. Feedback came from all around me…friends, colleagues and family members said I seemed, ‘calmer’, ‘happier’, ‘easier to connect with’ and, ‘different.’

Feeling more relaxed and happy is a wonderful result and in fact, what I hoped for. What I didn’t expect were the other results…that I would lose weight, make more money and get more done.

WHAT?! Yeah, that’s why I was surprised!…it sounds impossible. In fact, it sounds like an infomercial for a self-help video or vitamin product.

How did it happen? It didn’t. Not at first, anyway. At first, I lost money and gained weight and got less productive. I decided none of those things were worth worrying about for now. Also, I didn’t let any of these side effects stop me from taking intentional action to continue the detox. I listened and learned. Studied relaxed people and asked them what they did. Friends sent me their practices, their mantras.

I observed people who I’d previously judged as ‘lazy’ and ‘unproductive’ and found that what they were actually doing while I thought they were being lazy and unproductive was something amazing…they were restoring their strength, clearing their perceptions and minimizing stimuli.

Losing weight was a most surprising result and certainly not intentional. I have always eaten pretty clean and exercised daily so I wasn’t doing anything different. Best guess is that it was either a coincidence or it had something to do with getting more sleep, and improving my overall sense of well being. Feeling good leads to consuming less calories.

All these things, it turns out, are important ingredients for taking powerful, effective action. When I slowed down and did less and thought about less, I was able to fully focus on each thing I was doing at the time I did it. Therefore, my movements were more powerful and inspired rather than sloppy and quick and careless. Now, being sloppy and quick is still an option (and sometimes a necessity as a business-owner and single mom to twin boys who never run out of energy!) but it is no longer my norm. Now there are a lot less broken dishes to clean up. And a lot more time.

Below is a short list on how to Stop Your Thoughts from Stealing Your Time and Basically Ruining Everything:

Work to make rest restful:This may not come easy, but tools like guided meditation, audios of nature sounds or worksheets from http://www.byronkatie.com work beautifully to overcome anxious thoughts
Take a long view: Clearing out debris in my thoughts (like worry) takes time and patience. Accept this.
Make myself do what I like…even when crucial tasks await I can always afford to carve out some time to play.
Not doing what I don’t want (ending, postponing or handing off)
Be honest about above and saying it out loud (requires courage)
Set limits on thoughts: Distinguish what I choose/don’t choose to feel upset about

Invest time in gaining specific tools… (ie. meditation, breathing, mantras, etc.)
Invest time in gaining specific tools… (ie. meditation, breathing, mantras, etc.)

Getting What You Want Requires You To Do Nothing…NothingNESS That Is!

kids artGetting what you want requires you to do nothing. Really? To be sure, by ‘nothing’ I actually mean ‘nothingNESS’…which translates to ‘empty space’…which is where discovery and creation happen.

Imagine your favorite painting. Now, imagine the artist sitting down to paint it, on a canvas already covered in paint! Without a clean canvas, it would be difficult for the artist to paint a fresh vision.

Your life, the rest of it anyway, awaits you like that canvas. Only your canvas may be quite cluttered already with paint and debris. Much of it was not even put there by you, but by other people. Anyone who has ever had an agenda for what you should do with your life has taken up space on your canvas.

Sometimes it’s ok when that happens. If you have a particularly gifted family member or mentor who sees beautiful, tangible possibilities in you, and can gently guide your hand along the canvas to create an outline, how lucky you are!

If you are like most people however, the folks splashing paint onto your canvas, or trying to steer your hand while you paint, are at best amateurs, or, at worst, blinded by their own unfulfilled desires.

You may now wonder, “If my canvas is all mucked over with other people’s projections and expectations of me, can I just clear off space and start fresh?” Yes! Dr. Brene Brown describes it like this, “It’s about creating a clearing…opening up an emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question.”

It sounds easy (and it is!) to create empty space to dream and plan a future where you get all you want…but you will face resistance…internally and externally. Since our culture has a bias in favor of certainty and absolutes, you and many others have been influenced to think a certain way.

“The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty,” says Anne Lamott. She describes the process like this, “What silences our intuitive voice is our need for certainty. Most of us are not very good at not knowing.” It is counter-culture to leave openings, unknowns…or ‘hanging chads’ if you will. And you may remember what a ruckus that debacle caused!

I believe every one of us suffers from this cultural tendency, but I guess no one suffers more than our youth. I imagine if I had been comfortable with knowing my dream career and lifestyle was unknown and would require inquiry and experiments, I would have found my calling a lot sooner.

In grade school our class did a career exercise and my profession of choice at the time was to be a roller-skating star. Instead of asking me, “What appeals to you about that profession?” or, “What skills might you need to learn to be that?” or, “Who can you think of that is doing something similar that you could talk to?” I was instead encouraged to choose a ‘real’ profession. How uninspiring! I began to get the notion that growing up was not going to be all that much fun. Pressuring myself to choose a ‘real’ or known path, made me less and less excited about my future, and, therefore less and less connected with my curiosity.

No surprise that after graduating from college I failed miserably at multiple careers. Finally after several years I met a mentor. He was the first grownup to ever say, “You can do anything you want. It’s simple. When you learn what you love to do, you take steps and follow procedures to create a profession or a business out of it.” I didn’t even know there were steps and procedures for creating a lifestyle and career that you want. Apparently it’s a well-kept secret!

Rather than prompting me to choose a ‘real’ profession, my teachers and advisors would have done better to help me stay curious, investigate many options and do small seed projects to test out my ideas and learn business skills before committing to a long-term career course, or worse, becoming resigned about my future altogether.

My mentor was right about the process being simple, but I met with resistance (and still do!). Combining a lifestyle that makes me happy with work that gives my life meaning requires going through a lot of creativity. In other words, it requires faith. I needed to continue to clear away clutter of my own judgments about what I ‘should’ be doing with my life. ‘I should be earning more money.’ ‘I should be spending more time with my kids.’ ‘I should be spending less time with my kids.’ And on and on it went!

What I learned from my father who is an artist is that every painting starts with a vision, then a rough sketch, then paint is applied. Each new color is an experiment. Similarly, every sculpture starts with a vision, then becomes a mockette, or a scaled down version of the finished product, etc. Artists know creating requires suspension of criticism because it prohibits discovery. During the time of greatest creativity and transformation in my life, my thoughts could also turn greatly critical.

Searching for fulfillment and purpose is a meaningful endeavor, but how can we stay awake and connected to the search despite all the forces working to shut down possibilities and faith in our creativity?

In “The Alchemist” the main character Santiago goes to great lengths to fulfill his ‘personal legend’. Again and again he makes great sacrifices and risks great danger and discomfort to stay in search mode. He has to continually clear away distractions and fight the pull to conform and choose a small, predictable life. He does not stop until he is sure he has reached the end of the journey. Paradoxically, the end is not so far from the beginning…but he has seen other worlds in the meantime and so he is changed…back to himself and the life he is meant to lead.

Brown has a more technical definition of Santiago’s journey, “Intuition is not a single way of knowing-it’s our ability to hold space for uncertainty and our willingness to trust the many ways we’ve developed knowledge and insight, including instinct, experience, faith, and reason.”

If you are confused about your life’s meaning or what is your purpose, I commend you! At least that means you are still in the ‘search’ process…and therefore you have possibilities and pivot room for creativity…which equals potential for more and more fulfillment, and more and more of what you want in your life.

For me, I don’t need to be a Roller-skating Star after all…I am lucky have found a great sense of usefulness in my work and personal life, but I do love my weekends rollerblading at the Veloway or along the Mission Bay boardwalk when vacationing in San Diego!

Helpful Definitions:

Nothingness: empty space

Uncertain: not exactly known or decided, not definite or fixed, not sure, having some doubt about something, not definitely known

Click on ‘Seminars’ to find out about Dana’s My Coach’s ‘The Business of PLAY: Lifestyle and Business Coaching Group

To Dream the Do-Able Dream…

Do you remember that old song that goes, “To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe…”

Well I would like you to forget about all that. Instead, dream a do-able dream and fight a winnable fight.

Dreaming of impossible things is easy. It’s dreaming the possible that’s hard. Say for example, I want to change my life. I could fantasize about winning a game show or marrying a movie star. But to think how to really change my life in a possible way, I have to learn how to create possibilities, not impossibilities. It takes a little more time and attention to dream a dream I can actually do something about.

Now you may say it’s not impossible to marry a movie star or win a game show, because someone wins on those shows, and movie stars do get married so someone is marrying them! However, the odds are slim to nil that I’ll do either of those things.

Just for example, say I have loftier dreams…like ending world hunger. It’s a lovely fantasy that I (or anyone for that matter!) have the power to end food shortages. But since it seems impossible, i don’t really have to do anything about it. But I could do as Seth Godin did. He broke down his dream of ending water shortages in third world countries into a do-able dream.

For his birthday 5 years ago, Godin started a social movement to end clean water shortages in small villages (Charity:Water). He asked his fans not to give him a birthday present, but instead to send money to a fund working toward this end. But, he didn’t stop there, he asked other people to give away their birthdays for this cause as well. As of now over $9million has been raised and hundreds of villages have been supplied with clean water since Seth started this movement. He proves that making a huge impact may start with a real conversation with your friends (and a request!) about who and how you want to help.

How do you know if your impossible dream is worth turning into do-able steps? If it scares you, you are on the right track. An impossible dream is not scary because you will never have to do anything about it. A dream that is too easy will not scare you because it is too boring. Think of the thing that scares you, and then a tangible goal that is possible but that pushes you out of your comfort zone. Now that is just right!

One tip on how to dream a dream that will have a high likelihood of coming true is to follow your curiosity! If you are excited about it, you already have motion and momentum on your side. And when you pair this excitement with a do-able action plan…something that can be completed within 90 days…the dream converts into reality. After converting into action plan, your dream can really begin to grow. Until this point, it is impossible for it to grow. A do-able plan creates possibilities.

If I dream of adventure, I can create that likelihood. For me, the most exciting adventure is connecting with people in other parts of the world and helping each other. For years, I wanted to do this with the topic of parenting and coaching kids. It was my dream to create a platform for parents or childcare workers to connect and share and learn…without fear and shame of their mistakes.

Finally, I wrote a book on the subject, sharing my mistakes as a parent, as well as my tools for success…and sharing my client’s mistakes, as well as successes. All with the intention of letting parents relax around the topic and embrace a new perspective. A coaching perspective!

Then, after I wrote the book I had the idea to provide a venue for these dialogues, not just online in webinars, but in living rooms all over the world, between friends and family members.

I sat on this idea for TWO YEARS! Why? I could give you a whole list of reasons…I wanted to focus on my family, I needed to focus on earning money in my business …but the truth is I was scared. I was scared of what people might think of me, I was scared I might fail, and I was scared of things I can’t even name because I don’t know what they are.

Now, I am still scared, but I am also ready to take action. After awhile, when you know what you are supposed to do, you start to self-destruct when you don’t do it. That’s what happened to me. I finally realized I simply had to start! Now my One Minute Parent Parlor Party model has officially been launched. I have reached out to hosts and hostesses all over the world and have the first one booked for later this month.

With these parties I have the potential to change the dialogue around kids, family communication and childcare, while including colleagues and friends as equals, and earning a bit of money (for myself and for the hosts as well!) That is what reading about Seth Godin did for me. I recognized that by encouraging others to give away their birthdays, he took away the risk of failure and rejection, and invited others to join him on the playing field.

Now I don’t want you to get the idea there’s a right way and wrong way to dream. However you begin to dream is perfect! If you have impossible fantasies…simply let them turn into do-able, scaled down steps. Find what is the part of the fantasy that really excites you, and start there.

I am very curious to see what you will dream …and more curious to see what you will do about it!

Do-able Dream Checklist:

1-dream of impossible things, let imagination go wild!

2-identify what is most exciting to you

3-create a small goal towards that end

4-tell people what you want to do

5-take action

How To Do What You Want You To Do…

If you have a habit of not listening when you tell yourself to do something, maybe from now on you want to train yourself instead of tell yourself what you want you to do! Exotic animal trainers like the ones at Sea World have a simple method for training their subjects to do a new behavior. They reward the animal when they do what they want, and ignore what they don’t.

What would happen if we were to adopt a similar training method on ourselves, rather than using punishment and self-criticism to get ourselves to do something? One thing would surely be different; we would hear a lot more positive self-talk!

Imagine if you goofed and did something you were trying to stop doing…like eating fast food. What if instead of telling yourself what a bad choice you made, you simply put your attention on something else? And then, when you did do something you wanted yourself to do, say ate something healthy and fresh, you gave yourself a lot of praise, love and acknowledgement?

I’m guessing you would do a lot more of the latter.

“With positive reinforcement, you teach an animal what you WANT it to do. You encourage rather than discourage. The problem with discouraging is that it only emphasizes a behavior you don’t want. It does not automatically encourage or teach what you DO want,” says Amy Sutherland, author of, ‘What Shamu taught me about Life, Love and Marriage.’

When Sutherland, a NYC journalist, took on an assignment to study exotic animal trainers, she was astonished to learn how much humans are like dolphins and celebrity whales like Shamu, in how they learn new behaviors.

“Progressive trainers think of training as communication. They teach rather than tame. They don’t make animals do anything, but rather entice them. Their goal is to make animals not obedient, but engaged. They want animals to like—no, love—training.” The more training an animal receives, the more easily trainable it is for the next round of behaviors.

Similarly, people who are enticed with positive reinforcement, rather than punished or shamed into compliance, are more likely to keep the desirable behavior and more likely to be flexible enough to learn other new behaviors.

Humans seem to be constantly training each other, and usually without knowing it! If parents consider all interactions with the kiddos as opportunities to train (because they are!), we can create more trainable humans! Rather than using threats and coercion (which I have resorted to just like most everyone else!) But I also try to remember to reinforce and specify behaviors I want to see more of.

For example, if the kids are whining or rude, I may mention that speaking respectfully and clearly saying what you need will get a response, and then simply ignore anything that is not a clear and polite request.

After a statement like this, they begin to realize the way to ‘win’ is to listen to the feedback and adjust their behavior to what works better. Self-awareness and the ability to adjust are very valuable skills and apparently, the mark of a ‘21st Century Learner’.

Training leads to trainability. When animals begin to respond to positive reinforcement, they can learn to do all sorts of things…as long as you leave out the punishment and criticism.

And, you are no different! Even happiness can be trained according to Richard Davidson. He says, “Happiness is not a trait but a skill, like tennis…If you want to be a good tennis player, you can’t just pick up a racket—you have to practice. We can actually practice to enhance our well-being. Every strand of scientific evidence points in that direction. It’s no different than learning to play the violin or play golf. When you practice, you get better at it.”

But what if you are practicing the violin and someone is standing there telling you how rotten you are every time you make a mistake? It doesn’t sound very inspiring! Yet, I am guilty of just such a thing. I told myself I want to be more relaxed and less stressed. After saying that, every time I react out of stress I get mad at myself. Being mad at me is stressful so that’s where my attention goes. Therefore what is growing is the opposite of what I want…stress!

However, when I make myself right…and lovable…even when I react to something out of stress…that breaks the stress-mad-at-self-stressed-about-being-stressed cycle. Because feeling ok with myself and lovable is relaxing, so it accentuates the good feeling I want to reinforce!

You can condition animals, children and even yourself to obey an authority in order to avoid fear or shame…but the effects won’t last, and often leads to an eventual pushback. Besides, do you really want to be a part of a system like that? I would rather elicit cooperation and train myself, kids and animals to be trainable. Blind obedience to an authority just isn’t any fun. Even if that authority is me. I mean, what do I know?

In a nutshell, here are some of Amy’s Rules for Engagement Training AND please check out her book!

“Always be aware that any response, positive or negative, might fuel behavior…any kind of response could fuel a behavior, because you can never predict what will be reinforcing to someone else.”

“A trainer always needs a plan, set a few specific goals, to think of what you want and don’t want, rather than just keep stumbling along not knowing what you are training the animals to do.”

“Trainers [and parents] must also learn to do the opposite of what their instincts tell them to do…The human urge to respond runs deep. Not doing so is counterintuitive.”

“Trainers avoid labeling behaviors ‘bad’ or ‘good’. They know there are good reasons for all behaviors…even for an attack.” Take another perspective and call it ‘what works and what doesn’t work.’

“People, like animals, aren’t wired to learn lessons when they are out of sorts. If an animal is having a bad day, leave him alone. ”

“Better to play to a species strong suit…some behaviors are too entrenched to change.”

“Another rule of thumb for trainers is that you have to give the animal something better than what it already has.”

“It takes more energy to stop a moving object than to change its direction, meanin it may be easier to get someone to do something else than to stop them from doing something.”

You Be More You, and I’ll Be More Me

To learn how to be me I had to first be someone else. Several someone else’s in fact!

Before I became self-employed I worked many different jobs. Too many to count! None of these jobs lasted because of who I had to be while I was working at them. I had to pretend to be someone else. After awhile it was too uncomfortable to keep acting like someone else, so that was when I changed things. Here’s how the change started…

14 years ago, I was a TV News Writer. It was the last job I held. One day when I showed up for work my producer gave me my assigned stories for the newscast as usual. As I sat down to start writing I noticed one of my assigned stories was titled ‘Fatal Pee’. It was in the kicker slot which means a lighthearted, funny story to end the broadcast.

How could a title with the word ‘Fatal’ in it be a kicker?

I read on and realized it was about a woman who had died when she pulled over to relieve herself on a long drive. She squatted a little too close to an embankment and fell over, to her death. I wrote the story with a somber tone and my producer immediately reprimanded me.

“You may not have noticed but this is the kicker.” He said.

“Yes, I realized that.” I said.

“But you wrote it sad. It can’t be sad.”

“I think it is sad. She left behind two children and a husband. Now those children have no mother and that man will never see his wife again.”

“I don’t care. I want you to write it funny. It’s the kicker. That’s your assignment. Do you understand?” He said.

What I understood at that moment was that I was in the wrong job with the wrong people. I wrote the story like my producer wanted, but it was painful. Too painful!

Later that evening, I reflected back on all the times throughout my life when I was also in the wrong place with the wrong people, playing the wrong role. I thought of all the times I pretended to be someone I was not…someone who cared less than I actually did…someone who perceived less or imagined less or needed less than I actually did. Someone who had different values and different interests than I actually did. I asked myself when would I start to be me? And, who is me anyway?

Luckily, that was when I met my first coach Tanya Courtney. She was a great coach because she got me to immediately take action…being me. She talked about finding what I love to spend my day doing, and who I am while I am doing that. She said finding out what I love to do and who I am can only happen by doing that and being me. She said through taking action steps you can begin to craft a career or business out of those puzzle pieces you discover. You create your lifestyle, your role, and let your career or business grow out of that.

At first I was shocked at this method. I always thought you had to have the end figured out before you began anything and you had to know where the path went before you started.

But since I didn’t know the path or what the end would look like I had been hesitant to start something new. I now realize most people are like this. In a business or trade school students are not taught to examine what lifestyle they want or who they want to be while doing their career. This is probably why so many businesses fail and so many are unhappy in their career. If you can’t be you while you do your work, it is simply not sustainable…meaning it won’t last…and it is not likely to make you happy.

Now what I love most about my business is that I get to be me and I get to help you be you. I feel successful because of this, but I had to learn to allow myself to feel this success. When I worked at the news station and prior to that, I had unexamined beliefs that prevented me from finding happiness in a career. It turned out those beliefs were false. When it became too painful to be guided by those beliefs I was willing to examine them and throw them out when they didn’t serve me. But that prompts the question, where do these beliefs come from?

In “Dr. Seuss and Philosophy” the author describes the process of letting false, unexamined beliefs ruin our chance of fulfillment and blames it on the homogenization process in society. If we are taught to think what everyone thinks, we will have the same thoughts of what is successful that we think we are supposed to have. But if we do that, we are probably wrong, and unhappy!

Success means different things for different people. Just like happiness means different things for different people. One mainstream belief about happiness is that it comes from wealth and marriage. But for someone who values service and freedom, that belief (if unexamined) will not lead to happiness.

Take for example a coaching client, Nicole Smith. We met two and a half years ago when I lead a talk on how to pursue what lights you up. At the time we met, she was committed to having a full time job. After undergoing the process of repeated experiments and projects that challenged her beliefs about who she is and how she should live her life, she is now self-employed with a full client load for her web design business.

What is important is to look at her lifestyle now compared to her lifestyle 2 ½ years ago. Now, she sleeps in, spends her days working in coffee shops and taking breaks to walk outdoors and she spends her evenings and weekends with fun activities like hosting house concerts and performing in an improv comedy class. “I used to resist taking action when the outcome was not sure…but once I got into the habit of doing that and letting go of the idea that everything has to be perfect before I can do anything then I started making really incredible changes. I realize now that it’s only in taking action that new things can be created. Now I know I need to stay fluid…stay in action…to be happy and successful!”

Nicole is living her life as her…and as she becomes more confident about her path and the people she attracts by beingherself, the more successful her business becomes.

Don’t you deserve to be more you?

%d bloggers like this: