Try Less Clutter For More Freedom

There is an old saying that has been running through my mind lately.  Clean your closet, Clear your mind.

If you are like most people, you probably have a lot of stuff in your closet that you don’t use.  Things that might not fit, might be out of style, or things you don’t really like any longer but haven’t gotten around to giving away.  The result is a  crowded closet  where finding certain items or just getting dressed can take more energy than it should.  Chances are the closet is not the only part of the house that is full of extra stuff.

Girl by her wardrobeAs a society we are trained to believe that we need stuff.  Stuff will make us feel good.  Stuff will make us successful.  Having a lot of stuff will make our lives easier.  It will show the world how important we are.  When we start on our journey  most of us don’t have much stuff.   Part of the game is to acquire things as we go.  And for a while it is fun.  But as we continue along our path, there comes a point when we realize that we don’t really have stuff.  The stuff has us.  For a lot of us that is not really a good feeling.

The simple truth is that having a lot of stuff requires a lot of energy.  Once we have acquired things we have to take care of them.  It takes time–and money.  As we accumulate more possessions, life seems to get more complicated.   Our homes become cluttered, cupboards full of seldom used items and garages full of things we should throw out but haven’t gotten around to.  Just thinking about trying to clean out a closet or worse, the garage can be overwhelming.   Our lives begin to resemble our homes, cluttered and complicated, leaving little time to enjoy the things we have.

About a year ago I decided to try an experiment.  When I wanted to buy something I had to ask myself if I really needed it or just wanted it.  And if I just wanted it, would I use it once I bought it?   This wasn’t an easy process.  At first I felt like I was going through withdrawal or denying myself. However, after a while it became almost liberating.  I found I didn’t need most of the stuff I thought I did and not having it didn’t bother me at all.

There is a lot to be said for the minimalist movement that seems to be sweeping the country these days.  Basically, if we live simply we have more time to enjoy life.  Less stuff equals more freedom to enjoy what is important to us.   Uncluttered surroundings provide a better environment for an uncluttered mind.  However, getting to that point is no easy feat.

That is why you might try cleaning your closet as a starting point.  Aside from physically having a more organized and useful space, you might gain a new perspective on life as well.  Having more space and easily being able to find what you are looking for is a great feeling. It can  make you appreciate and enjoy what you already have rather than wasting energy striving for things that will not serve you in the long run.  It is also a  great way to start the new year.

What do you do to simplify and de-clutter your life?  Do you find that having less stuff gives you more time to enjoy life?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

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The Dangers of the To-Do List

If you are like me, and a lot of other people as well, you probably rely on your to-do list to keep your life sane and orderly.   Using the list to keep track of projects and daily issues is a way to stay in control of everything on your plate.  And it feels great to cross an item off the list after it has been accomplished.

That is the up-side of a to-do list.  The downside of maintaining that list is that it can begin to look eerily similar day after day, and week after week.  The same items go on the list, the same items get crossed off, some of them never seem to get touched.  Suddenly a month goes by, and then a year.  At some point that to-do list changes from a tool for measuring progress and becomes a roadmap of routine.

Routine is not altogether a bad thing.  Certain repetitive routines help us get through mundane tasks with minimal mental energy. Brushing your teeth, for example, takes no thought on your part, and is a necessary part of the day.  It is a routine, and because it takes very little thought, it doesn’t tax your mental energy.  Daily exercise habits and healthy eating patterns are other examples of good routines.

The danger of routine occurs when we no longer  think about what we are doing throughout the day.  Most of us have certain actions that expected of us on a daily basis.  We perform the same functions at work, pick up the kids after school,  get dinner on the table,  find some way to relax for a while (hopefully) in the evening, then get ready to do it all again tomorrow.  Whatever fills our days, chances are there is a lot of repetition required just to keep all the wheels turning.   It’s not surprising that one day starts to look like the next, and slowly we lose energy and creativity.  It is as if checking off the same items week after week is enough to give us a sense of satisfaction.  After all, we are accomplishing something, right?

The other problem with to-do lists is that most are focused on short-term goals.  Nothing wrong with that, of course.  But when we fill our days with easily attainable goals, or items that seem important but in the long run are actually trivial, we crowd out any time for focusing on long-term goals and dreams.  In a perverse sort of way, we can feel more satisfaction in cleaning up after dinner than spending an hour brainstorming ways to start a new project.  It is more immediate and tangible, something to crossed off the list, at least for the night.   It is almost impossible to successfully bring about long-term change or growth when we condition ourselves to only accept the satisfaction of short-term goals.

One way to break out the daily grind is to become aware  of it.   Try to recognize when you are running on autopilot.  Routines are not always a bad thing, but they always become a better thing when they are done mindfully.  Is there a different way to do something?  Can it be done better or more efficiently?  Does it have to be done at all?  Sometimes we continue to do things because we are comfortable with them, but they no longer serve us and we just don’t notice it.  If you awaken your mind to your actions, chances are  that you will become more conscious of aspects in your life you tend to overlook or no longer need to hang onto.

Another way to overcome mind numbing effects of to-lists and routines is to carve out some time each week to focus on a long-term goal.  Maybe it is a half an hour a day, or possibly just an hour a week.  But if you live by a list, make sure that block of time is on the list.  Design a plan to accomplish the goal, and determine what steps need are needed to get you there.   Establish interim benchmarks to mark your progress so you can celebrate along the way.  Also be ready to make alterations to the plan as you go along.   After all, very few things in life happen exactly as we expect them to.

By making a conscious effort to find time to focus on a long-term goal rather than simply filling the days checking off short-term goals, you may find something interesting happens.  So many people are frustrated at the end of the day because they aren’t sure where all the time went.  Suddenly the day is over and they don’t feel as if they accomplished much, even though they did hit all the required routines.   If you allow yourself to consciously address a dream or a goal that is going to take much longer than just an afternoon, a week, a month–or maybe even a year–to become a reality, you will give yourself the gift of long-term satisfaction.  And that satisfaction is much deeper and richer than the type that comes from crossing the same item off the to-do list time and time again.  It is the type of satisfaction that can give real meaning and joy to your life.

And that, in my opinion, is certainly something worth adding to your to-do list.

 


Recognizing and Reacting to Stress

This may seem like an odd thing for wellness coach to say, but stress is not necessarily a bad thing.   When described  in the very simplest terms, stress is a psychological or physical reaction to pressure applied to a person from external or internal sources.  While pressure is generally characterized as a bad thing, that isn’t quite the truth here.  That pressure is a good thing, because it shows that you are actually interacting and involved with your life and the world around you.  It is similar to the old saying we hear about having a birthday (usually starting somewhere after 40) that it is better than the alternative.   The best part of experiencing stress comes when you realize that how you react to it is up to you.  It is your responsibility to determine the role stress will play in your life and whether it is to be a positive or a negative partner.

One of the first steps of stress management is to explore the types of stress that we normally experience.  Generally,  stress comes at us from two directions.  It is either internal or external.  External is pretty simple.  Job pressure,  family, friends, pets, finances, aging parents–these are all examples of external stressors.   When you are concerned about the world around you and how it affects you and the people you care about, you will experience some level of stress.  Again, it is not necessarily a bad thing.  This shows that you are alive and connected with a community.

Internal stress can seem a little less clear.  After all, why would we intentionally stress ourselves out?  This is a question of reality matching ideals.  We all have a vision of how we would like our lives to be.  A certain level of comfort, perhaps, or financial security.  A  deep, loving relationship with the perfect soulmate.  A home that is the ideal nest for a new family.  All of these are examples of ideas of how we might want our lives to look.  They are things we strive for, consciously or unconsciously.  When the reality of what we experience on a daily basis doesn’t match up to what we would like to have or be, stress enters the picture.

The next piece of the puzzle is to figure out how often and for how long something stresses you out.

Acute stress is triggered by a major life change.  Job loss, divorce, death of a loved one will knock the wind out of us.  Even something like an argument with a spouse or a fender bender can play havoc with our equilibrium.  Obviously, these are examples across a broad spectrum, but how we deal with them will affect us until we can accept, understand, and integrate them into our lives.

Sometimes it isn’t just one thing that sets our world on edge.  Sometimes it is a cascade of small events, each one in itself not seeming like that big a deal.  It isn’t until they keep coming at you, and at you, that you feel you can’t catch a break.  This is known as episodic stress, and is generally seen as a series of events that weaken your ability to cope successfully and live an optimal life.  One of the worst things about this type of stress is that it usually starts small, sometimes before we even notice.  While we can’t miss being laid off as a stressor,  not making it home for dinner with your partner might not rank on the same scale.  But when you miss the bus the next day, or it rains when you weren’t expecting it, or you somehow get overage charges on your unlimited minute plan, you might be starting down a road that becomes harder and harder to navigate.

The third type of stress can be deadly.  Chronic stress is triggered by an event or situation that does not improve for a long period of time.   Having an overwhelming boss, or caring for ill and aging parents are not things that you can easily change.  These are situations where, for the most part, we are in it for the long haul.  It may not be easy to get a new job in this economy.  We certainly wouldn’t turn our parents out into the street simply because it is inconvenient to care for them.

Chronic stress can be the most difficult type to deal with,  and is often the type that requires a village.    I know many people who are care-givers to parents or spouses who feel they can deal with the situation on their own and get through it.  Yet they don’t see the awful changes taking place in their own health as they attempt to cope with the daily demands of care-giving.  The truth is, once you realize you don’t have to face an overwhelming situation alone, that it doesn’t make you less capable, then you are one step closer to managing a stressful condition successfully.

Finally, there is actually a good type of stress.  Eustress is a term for stress that motivates people to strive for their potential.  Eustress causes people to create art or inventions, to improve  and enhance the world around them.  Learning how to channel this type of stress can help someone create a life of fulfillment by  turning this pressure into a creative tool.

So with all the different kinds of stress bombarding us on a daily basis, how can we possibly begin to even think about managing it?  Awareness is the key.  Stop to think what is stressing you out.  How is affecting you?  How long has it been lasting?  Is there something you can change about the situation?  Or possibly with the way you react to the situation if the situation itself is out of your control?

Believing we can eliminate stress is naive and actually harmful in the long run.  But when you become aware of what is stressing you and how you are reacting to it, you can begin to mitigate the effects it can have on your physical, mental, and spiritual well being.  You have the ability to create the personal environment you need to thrive.  Some people actually love the pressure of packed schedule, others not so much.

At its core stress management is a personal choice.  But in order for that choice to work in your life, it has to be a thoughtful and informed one.   Once you have that awareness,  you have the first tool necessary to manage stress and create the energized and satisfying life that you deserve.

Are you ready to discover how the power of one-on-one coaching can help you focus on your health and reduce your own stress levels?  Click  here to schedule a complimentary strategic coaching session and see if wellness coaching is right for you.

Know someone who could use this information?  Feel free to pass it on. 


Positive Attitude as a Choice

I had lunch last week with a friend from what I affectionately refer to as my old life, more commonly known as the corporate world.   Not only is she a friend, but she consistently reads my blog.  At one point she mentioned that my posts were full of positive energy and that it must be so nice to have such a positive lifestyle.   While I was flattered by her comments, I was also amused that she thought I had found the secret to banishing all things negative from my life.   It’s a great idea, and if anyone knows how to do that, I would love to hear it.

The truth is, being positive does not eliminate bad things from happening in life.   Bad things happen, and bad situations exist in everyone’s life at one time or another.   The good news is that these things don’t have to make you negative or unhappy.   The fact is, sometimes life just sucks, but how you decide to react to that is your responsibility.   And once you make the connection, an amazing thing can happen.   Being responsible for your actions and your reactions creates a real sense of empowerment.   And empowerment leads to choice.  Choice leads to growth. Growth leads to positivity.

For example, consider being “stuck” in a job you hate.  Everyday it takes all your energy just to get up and get to work.  That is a very debilitating  environment, and it would be very easy to begin to see yourself as a victim of a bad situation.  However, once you accept that you chose the job, and more importantly that you choose to continue in the job, you become responsible for the situation.  That gives you control of the situation, and suddenly the power to make a change does not seem that far out of reach.  It is a generally accepted fact that people who feel in control or empowered tend to be more positive, and that those who are more positive are more likely to focus on personal development and growth.

In addition to accepting responsibility, there is another sure-fire way achieve a positive outlook when faced with life’s challenges.  So often we find ourselves reacting to emotional triggers in difficult situations.   That is  more or less a natural reaction–a knee jerk response caused by a previous scenario or imagined danger.   Immediate reaction tends to cloud judgement.  It is so easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment,  but in doing so we lose perspective and our choices may not have the most benefit for all involved.

Acting mindfully is one way to choose a more positive reaction to a situation.  Instead of reacting immediately to a situation, take a breath and simply observe what is going on without engaging in it.  This isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do, but often it will slow us down enough so that we can choose a reaction that is more compassionate and in keeping with our core values.  When our choices coincide with the values  we hold as important, it is much easier to remain positive.  And sometimes, when the actions themselves we choose are difficult, knowing that we are not acting against our own beliefs makes those choices a little easier.

Finally, one other way to maintain a positive outlook is to look for lessons.  When you stop to observe a situation, also think about what you can learn from it.  We can learn something from all events–good or bad.  Whether we choose to take advantage of that is up to us.  But if  we do open ourselves to the concept that we can learn from all events, we are bound to enrich ourselves.  And that enrichment leads to change, which leads to growth.  And growth can’t help but foster a positive outlook.

So if you think that you must have an easy life to have a positive attitude, think again.  Having a strife-free life does not guarantee happiness, even if such a thing were possible.  Rather,  how we deal with adversity and setbacks plays a major role in determining our level of positivity.   Taking responsibility , observing before engaging, and learning from every opportunity are all ways to build on a positive attitude.  And that is something we can happily share with the world.

Are you ready to discover how the power of one-on-one coaching can help you break down self-imposed barriers and reach your Personal Best?  Click  here to schedule a complimentary strategic coaching session and see if wellness coaching is right for you.


Assessing Happiness

Fall is my favorite season of the year.   It is a time of preparation and change.  You can even feel it in the weather–hot and dry one day, damp and fogged in the next.   It’s as though Nature is preparing for the changes that lie ahead.  I know spring is considered the time of birth and growth, but I always give that award to fall.  Maybe it is because we all started school in the fall, so as children we associate new beginnings with September.   Whatever the reason may be , I have always looked at this season as a time to reflect on where the year has taken me until now, what I still want to accomplish before the new year is upon us, and what new changes I may want to explore in the current year.

The great thing about taking time for self-reflection is that it allows us to really think about what we are doing and how we really feel about what is going on in our lives.  Lets face it,  most of us move too quickly everyday to stop and think about how daily events affect us rather than simply react to them.  I think it is fair to say that most people want to be happy in life.  I also believe it is fair to say that most people lose sight of that goal, or don’t even think of it as a goal, when it takes most of their energy just to get through the day.

That is why setting some time aside for a self-assessment can be so beneficial.  Assessments are especially helpful if you have a feeling that something is not quite right with your life, but you can’t quite pinpoint the problem.   So many times I hear clients say “something has to give, but I’m not sure what.”   There is a feeling that things are off-balance, but finding the root of the problem can be difficult.  Sometimes people are afraid to take action because they are not sure if they are treating the cause or the symptom.

Using assessments to determine your own level of wellness is a proactive form of healthcare.   In High Level Wellness, An Alternative to Doctors, Drugs, and Disease, Don Ardell states that “…the preventative posture is defensive and largely reactive.  That is, it is designed to protect you against illness or disease; wellness, on the other hand, achieves the same end by advocating health enrichment, or health promotion, and life enhancements.”   Here is one way to determine your overall level of wellness, and look at areas which may be ready for some attention. 

The major life elements can be broken down into nine sections.   They are:

  1. Health and well being
  2. Family
  3. Friends
  4. Personal Growth and development
  5. Significant Other/romance
  6. Fun and recreation
  7. Physical Environment
  8. Career
  9. Money

To assess your overall well being, rank  your level of satisfaction in each category, with one as the least feeling of fulfillment and ten being the most fulfilling.  If you answer honestly, you will most likely see that there are areas where you feel the most fulfilled, and some areas that are lacking.  In a perfect world, we would be fulfilled in all areas, but the reality is that is not very likely.  There are probably areas that need work, but some may not be so important at this time.   You may realize that you want to focus on certain areas now or soon, and others perhaps at another time.

Now, scoring is always a very personal thing.  The goal here is to reach the optimum level of wellness for each person in each area.  That does not mean that everyone should strive for a ten all around, but neither should they be satisfied with accepting a five.  The higher your score, the higher your level of fulfillment in that area.  The higher level of fulfillment in each category leads to a greater sense of overall happiness when the results are viewed as a whole.

Breaking down aspects of wellness into categories can help to determine why life feels out of balance and where you might like to make a change.  For instance, you may be have a middle score in career, but a low score in fun and recreation.  After deciding to focus on ways to ways to increase fun and recreation, you may find that you find more satisfaction with your career as well.  Although each area can be treated individually, they are still parts of a whole, and changes in one area can have an effect other areas as well.

This assessment is a great tool to take stock of where we are on the path to overall happiness and well being.  The answers from each area can act as road signs, pointing us in the direction of greater health and fulfillment.   Using it as a self-reflective tool can help to clarify where we would like to make changes in our lives and gives us a head start as we begin planning all the positive activity we envision for 2013.

Ref: Wellness Coaching for Lasting Lifestyle Change, Michael Arloski, PhD, PCC

Are you ready to discover how the power of one-on-one coaching can help you break down self-imposed barriers and reach your Personal Best?  Click  here to schedule a complimentary strategic coaching session and see if wellness coaching is right for you.


The Power (and danger) of Should

I believe  the word should is one of the most deceptive words in the English language.  Not by definition,  but because so many of us live our lives by what we feel we should do.  I’m not saying that there is never a reason to feel like you should do a particular thing.  For example, you should say thank you when someone does something nice for you.  That is part of social code that is in place to make life easier among us humans.  There are things we should do to keep us safe and healthy.  That is another part of the good side of should.

Should becomes a problem when we begin to act in ways that are contrary to our core values or beliefs simply because we feel we should.  Because it follows the norm, or what we feel is expected of us.  There are so many people today in jobs that they don’t enjoy simply because they feel that the position fit what they felt they should be doing.  A friend recently told me she took her first job because she felt she should–she didn’t like the company but that wasn’t really important at the time.  It was one of the first jobs offered to her, and she had always been told she should accept a job offer since they were few and far between.   The result?  Years spent in a job that left her unfulfilled and uninspired.

One of the reasons so many of us feel that there is something missing in our lives is that we have crafted lives that reflect what others feel we should be rather than what we believe is important.  We may choose a career path that fits what we feel we should do, even if it has nothing to do with what we want to do.  Climbing the ladder may be fine for a while, but eventually there comes a point when we realize that the Senior Vice President title isn’t as satisfying as it was supposed to be.  If the title and position that seemed so important doesn’t capitalize on our own strengths and beliefs, it will ultimately be very difficult to be truly happy.

Sometimes we do what we think we should because it is actually the easier path.  For example,  I know a man who had started his own business  doing work he found meaningful but was offered a new job in the corporate world.  The problem is  while he loves what he does, it doesn’t have the same prestige, perks, or security of his previous position.  So which is more important–the sense of satisfaction from doing something meaningful or the benefits that come with a more traditional position?  It would be easier to accept the corporate position because it fits with the general idea of what he should do, and the type of job that he should be pursuing.  The fact that it has nothing to do with what he finds important is almost secondary.  It is a question of following the should rather than the want.  A question of a life created from passion or one created by expectation.

That is why should is a very powerful–and dangerous–word.  We can easily end up doing things that we don’t believe in or necessarily agree with because we feel we should.  A life filled with proper rather than passionate actions will most likely end in a rather empty existence.   The challenge is more to blend want we need to do with what we want to do.  By eliminating the idea of should , or acting solely out of expectation when making decisions, we are more likely to live a life in balance with what we find significant and important.

And  that would definitely knock the danger out of should.

 

 

 


Ready, Set, Stop

It has always been said that nothing good comes easy.  Especially in today’s turbo-charged world, that old maxim seems to resonate more than ever.  We are all moving at the speed of light, trying to balance work and home, personal and professional demands.  It can be overwhelming at the best of times.   There really isn’t a need to describe what the worst of times can feel like.

There is a way to combat this hectic pace we subject ourselves to, along with all the crazy demands we face at every turn.

Stop.

It sounds like the easiest answer  but I’m not suggesting that you just throw in the towel.  Rather, I suggest that you consciously take some time and be with yourself. Just sit quietly and breathe.  It doesn’t have to be a long time, maybe just five or ten minutes.  If you want to reduce stress and increase your overall well-being, it is one of the most important, and hardest, things you can do.

Mindfulness has been practiced for centuries.  It is nothing new.  But our culture has always been one of action.  We justify ourselves by what we accomplish, by what we can show to others.  There is no outward visible reward for being mindful.   It is only recently that the practice of mindfulness has been recognized as a valid way of expanding not only our self-awareness, but our awareness of the external world.

At its core, mindfulness is simply the practice of observation without judgement.   That is one of the reasons it is so difficult.  We are very good at judging things, especially ourselves.   Almost every action or emotion comes with a corresponding reaction.   When you stop and observe, rather than react, you give yourself the choice of how to act.  We all want our actions to reflect our core values, but when we react to an emotion, such as anger or fear, our actions do not always mirror our beliefs.   It seems like such a simple concept, yet it is one of the most difficult to master.

Some people equate mindfulness with meditation.  In meditation, we try to quiet the mind, and reduce or remove extraneous thoughts.  More to the point, we can recognize a thought as just that–a thought. There is no need to analyze it, react to it, or hold on to it.  Acknowledge it and let it go.  The ability to do this holds a tremendous amount of power.  Imagine being able to focus on a complex task during the day, and remain focused when distractions arise.  It is almost impossible not to feel a sense of inner calm when you aren’t pulled in a thousand directions at once.

There are some amazing benefits from taking the time to observe what is going on around and inside of you.  Stress levels drop, and perspective increases.   We can take the time to decide what the best of course of action would be, not just what our immediate reaction is.   This leads to more self-respect and self-confidence.  With confidence comes a sense of calm.  And one of the most important traits that follows mindfulness is compassion.   When we act mindfully, we have the time to see the consequences of our actions on others.  It allows us to treat others as we would like to be treated.

This is why it is crucial to take the time to stop and reflect on our actions rather than simply rushing on through our days.  Rushing may actually be the easier way to get through a day–little to no thought involved.  But if we stop long enough to act mindfully,  those overwhelming issues can feel more manageable.  Knowing that  you acted in a way that reflects who you are and what defines you makes your life much more fulfilling.

After all, success isn’t always about crossing a finish line first, with no thought of the consequences.  Sometimes success is knowing that you acted mindfully, in the best way possible, regardless of win, place, or show.

Are you ready to discover how the power of one-on-one coaching can help you break down self-imposed barriers and reach your Personal Best?  Click  here to schedule a complimentary strategic coaching session and see if wellness coaching is right for you.