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.
As 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.
How many times have you been in a meeting at work and suddenly realized you have no idea what has just been said? Or you have a deadline looming but every time you sit down to finish up the project something else suddenly seems more important? It happens time and time again. As soon as we try to concentrate on one particular issue, our mind is flooded with a thousand other things we could or should be doing. It’s as if our mind is purposely trying to sabotage us and distract us from what we need to do.
The bad news is that it’s true–our minds continually try to distract us. The good news is that we can control that. To some degree we learn to control our thought processes as we age. It is a natural progression. But like any skill set, concentration can be improved and strengthened with use and training. After all, an olympic runner may naturally be pretty fast and beat the other local runners, but she isn’t going to make it to the top of podium without major practice and training.
What are some of the benefits of enhanced concentration? One of the most popular benefits is improved work performance. When you can focus on one topic and give it your full and undivided attention, the resulting product will undoubtedly be of a higher quality, completed in less time.
Another benefit of concentration is peace of mind. If we can train our minds to remain on the situation in the present moment, there is less chance to let our minds wander to the future and the “what if” possible scenarios. These scenarios are the basis for a lot manufactured stress in today’s world. We spend too much time thinking about what may happen, or what could happen. These thoughts tend to generate anxiety about situations that may not even occur.
Improving concentration and focus in the present moment is a great way reduce stress, but many people are at a loss when asked just how to do that. Some feel they have no problem concentrating. Here is an exercise to see just how distracted your mind may be. Set a timer for three or five minutes. Without a given subject in mind, begin to write down whatever comes into your head. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, or grammar. Don’t even think about what you are writing, just let it flow as a stream of consciousness. When the timer goes off, take a look at what you’ve written. Chances are that you will see a variety of subjects, and many thoughts or ideas which are only half-finished before switching to another topic. It is a fascinating exercise to see how quickly the mind can jump from subject to subject.
In mindfulness circles, this behavior is often referred to as monkey-mind. Swinging from one idea to another, the mind is like a monkey in the trees swinging from vine to vine. This is the monkey that worries about the future and keeps us up at night. Even when we are enjoying ourselves, that monkey is swinging around and trying to distract us. I also like to think of it as the squirrel syndrome. Picture a cartoon dog who stops mid-sentence because he is more interested in the squirrel or shiny object that just saw rushed by. Not only is it hard to concentrate or enjoy any activities at hand, quite frankly chasing those squirrels can be downright exhausting.
So when the mind is misbehaving and running amuck, treat it like the preschooler that it is and give it a time out. For just a few minutes, stop what you are doing and concentrate on nothing. Now, most people will find when they try to clear their minds, it only allows space for more thoughts to rush in, so finding a starting point is good. Instead of nothing, concentrate on your breath. Breathe in, count for three counts and out for five counts. Think about how it feels as you breath in and out through your nose. Here’s a tip–you will probably think about other things as you do this. That’s perfectly normal. Just acknowledge the thought and move on. Let it go out as easily as it came in. Like the writing exercise, try this for three to five minutes.
The good thing is that you can do this anywhere (except possibly behind the wheel). Steal a few minutes at work and give yourself a mini-vacation. Try it while taking a bath and create a spa-like experience. Like any exercise, the more you do it, the better you will become at it. You will be able to focus for longer periods of time. You may start to see improved concentration in areas you didn’t expect. Anxiety levels may decrease. Enjoyment of the present moment may increase.
Just like a monkey or a toddler, training the mind to behave is never easy. However, you can train your mind to focus on one item at a time (or nothing at all). When you do that, you eliminate trips into the past or the future and thus reduce feelings of regret or anxiety. Aside from boosting self-confidence from mastering a new skill, you can’t help but improve your quality of life. And that, I think, is definitely worth the effort.
So when the monkey is swinging in the trees, give your mind a time out. Put it in a corner and let it rest. You’ll be glad you did.
I was lucky enough to spend some of the holidays this year in sunny Palm Springs. We welcomed in the New Year in the desert with visits from both family and friends. It was a great way to set the tone and intention for 2013.
While in the desert we snagged some tickets to the Palm Springs Follies. If you have ever been to Palm Springs you have probably seen this show. It has been running for twenty-two seasons and is a revue-type show featuring beautiful women and handsome men, all singing and dancing in the Ziegfeld style. There is only one little difference–no one in the show is under fifty years of age.
Now, having been an actor, I love the theatre and watching any live performance is always a treat for me. But there was something very special about watching these performers singing, tapping, and generally strutting their stuff that was truly inspiring. Several of the women are in their fifties and sixties, while one of them is seventy-seven. The oldest cast member is a song and dance man who recently celebrated his eightieth birthday. The show runs for about three hours with one production number after another. I can tell you from experience that keeping the energy filling a stage for that length of time is no easy feat. And no, there is not a single walker on the stage.
Aside from providing a great evening of unique entertainment, the show got me thinking about self-imposed limitations. I have heard so many people say they would love to do something, but well, they are over fifty (or sixty, or…), and it isn’t likely to happen. It’s as if hitting a certain age precludes anyone from following a dream. I know people who would love to start a new career, but they feel that at their age they should just hang in until retirement. My answer to that is usually–Really? Why should a number stop you from doing something you want to do? In today’s world where the average life span continues to increase it seems almost self-destructive to allow something as benign as a number to limit your possibilities.
Age is not the only limitation we place on ourselves, but it is one of the most convenient. If we say we are too old to do something, then we can excuse ourselves from even trying, thus saving us from the possibility of failure. I know people who would love to take ballroom dance lessons after years of watching Dancing With the Stars but well, they are too old. Again I say–Really? No one said you had to enter a competition, but if you want to learn to dance, age shouldn’t keep you from your first Foxtrot.
My partner was a professional dancer in his twenties. A couple of decades (more or less) later, he knows that a grand jete may not be in his wheelhouse anymore, but it doesn’t stop him from taking a class when he feels the need. He may not do it all the time, but I am always glad when he decides to hit the floor because it is something he loves and he doesn’t let a number keep him from one of his passions.
We all put up our own limitations in one way or another. Many times we do it because it maintains the status quo. A friend of mine would love to change jobs, but she has only known one industry in her life and doesn’t feel her experience would outweigh any learning curve if she changed fields. So she stays where she is. Not particularly happy, but she knows what to expect. Self-imposed limitations keep her in an unpleasant situation and prevent her from seeking out new and challenging experiences. It’s sad, but not that unusual.
A second thought came to mind during the show. Why are these performers still working at their ages? The answer is pretty simple–they love what they do. They have spent a lifetime pursuing their dreams and it shows. At an age where many people are considering which assisted living facility to move to, these people are thinking about kick-lines and time-steps. When you love what you do, it is easy to keep doing it. In fact, it is usually easier to keep doing it than to stop doing it. And they don’t let something as trivial as age keep them from doing what they love.
The Palm Springs Follies was an inspiring show and a great choice for starting out the New Year. Coming out of the theatre I decided that one of my intentions for 2013 would be to challenge my own self-imposed limitations when I see them. I won’t let the fact that my fiftieth birthday has already passed keep me from new adventures. I will demand an explanation from myself when I hear the words “can’t” or “won’t work” in my own inner dialogues. Is the limitation valid or am I simply making it up? I’m pretty sure I know what the answer will usually be.
How about you? What limitations keep you from pursuing your dreams? Have you ever questioned those ideas and beliefs? If you do, you may find that many of those limitation are self-imposed roadblocks that keep us from moving forward toward fulfillment and happiness. Next time you hear yourself say you can’t do something–ask yourself why. Then ask yourself what would happen if you didn’t accept that limitation.
You may be surprised at the possibilities that present themselves when you remove your own roadblocks.
There are a few spots left for my new boot camp beginning January 15, 2013. Transform your life From Surviving to Thriving in Six Weeks or Less! Participation is limited so don’t be disappointed. Reserve your space today and make this your best year ever.
Welcome to 2013 and the first full work week of the new year! I have to admit that I love the holidays, but I am always glad when they are over. It seems that I am not alone in that thought. Whenever I talk to someone around this time of year they seem to feel the same way. It is great to have the downtime and the time with family or friends, but it is also nice to get back into the normal routines of daily life. After all, that is where we are the most comfortable and feel the most secure. And depending on what you consider a routine or what you chose to focus on, it can also be the most exciting and challenging place to be.
Now that most of us are back at work, I’m going to guess that the buzz of the new year has pretty much faded into memory. When I worked on the corporate playground, it only took about two hours for the relaxation and glow of vacation time to wear off, leaving me wondering if I had really had any downtime. It seems to be true for many people. And as the next deadline looms, the joy of the holiday fades, as do the resolutions we promised ourselves were going to make stick this year.
It’s not really an unusual scenario. We get caught up in the moment and make resolutions to change things we don’t particularly like about ourselves. We share them at the holiday parties to show we are in the spirit of the occasion. The problem is that most of us don’t really prepare for making those changes. They may be important–and we may make progress for a week or so–but then real life comes back into the picture and those changes that were so important seem to lose priority little by little. Pretty soon it is February and we decide to try again next year with the same set of resolutions. It may not be true for everyone, but I know I spent many years vowing to lose the same twenty pounds every December 31st.
Instead of resolutions, why not try a theme for 2013? Resolutions focus on things we want to change. Losing weight, getting out of debt, getting in shape–whatever the change may be it usually has a negative bias. These are things we don’t like about ourselves and our situation, and we criticize ourselves for them. By focusing on the negative we unintentionally reinforce it. And it takes a lot more energy to change a negative situation than to create a positive situation.
Choosing a theme for 2013 allows you to focus on positive changes you would like to make in the coming year. Instead of losing weight, chose a theme of health. Instead of getting out of debt, chose a theme of abundance. Yes, weight loss plays a part in the theme, but it is not the focus. Instead, decide what a healthy life means to you and what you can do to create that lifestyle. Picture yourself throughout the year making what you feel to be healthy choices for meals, exercise, and overall wellbeing. When you approach changes from a positive bias, it is much easier to make those decisions to move forward and create your vision. Focusing only on losing weight forces you to think about what you have to give up. When you focus on a theme of healthy living for 2013, you can focus on all the positive things you will gain, such as increased energy and better mobility.
I think we can all agree that positive reinforcement is a better option than negative reinforcement, so why not give it a shot when planning 2013. Don’t focus on what you need to change–instead, laser in on what you would like to create. Take some time a paint a picture of what your life will look like when you integrate your new theme. What are the major shifts in focus, and where might you feel changes that you didn’t expect? Because you are creating it, how your theme affects your life is up to you. It can be as wide-reaching or as specific as you choose. But it will always involve changes invoked from a positive bias, and that is a very good thing.
So why not choose a personal theme this year and see what happens. It may be just what you need to create your best year ever.
There are a few spots left for my new bootcamp beginning January 15, 2013. Transform your life From Surviving to Thriving in Six Weeks or Less! Participation is limited so don’t be disappointed. Reserve your space today and make this your best year ever.
Here is a stress-test scenario for you. Are you doing what you love to do? Whether at work or at home, are you engaged in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment? Simple questions, really. Unfortunately, when I ask these questions many people respond with a negative answer. Most people say they are doing what they have to do to make a living, pay the mortgage and the bills, and work toward retirement. Or they have to make dinner because the kids have to eat and if they don’t do it everyone starves. Very few people say they are following their dream and that they find satisfaction and happiness in their daily activities.
Doing something that you do not want to do is one of the major ways to increase stress in your daily life. It can lead to feelings of frustration and helplessness, especially if the act is continually repeated. A good example is going to a job you hate everyday because you need to pay the bills. If you do it long enough, you may not even notice that your stress symptoms are off the charts. After a while, we just accept it as a part of life.
So here is one way to fix that and lower the stress levels. If you are doing something you do not want to do–don’t do it. Seriously, it is that simple. Think of the old joke about the man who goes to the doctor because it hurts when he raises his arm. The doctor’s answer is also simple–if it hurts, don’t do it.
Of course, there is a catch. It may be a simple fix, but no one said that simple was easy. I am not advocating that you walk away from your job and responsibilities because you don’t like going to office. What I am suggesting is that you have a choice. You may choose to do something or not, but you need to be clear on why you are doing it if you want to lower stress and increase happiness. In most cases, we do things we don’t like to do because we are not clear on what is motivating our actions.
Very often we do things because we think we should. We chase the high paying job because we should–it proves we are successful. We marry and have children because it is what we are supposed to do–everyone else does it. We need to go to work everyday to pay for the car, the house, and all the stuff we have acquired. We use that stuff to define ourselves and we need to maintain the definition.
Ultimately, motivation for our actions falls into three categories: want to, have to, or should. Not surprisingly, stress levels increase across each category. Doing something because we love it involves almost no stress at all. We do it because it is in alignment with our core values, it feels right, and it is inspiring and fulfilling. At the opposite end of the spectrum is doing something because we feel we should. It usually has something to do with self-image, but is not in alignment with values, and doesn’t sit right with us when we do it. Acting out of “should” can only increase stress levels correspondingly. In the middle is doing things because we have to. This is a means to an end or necessary to achieve something. Feeling that we have to do something increases pressure and stress. The good news is that we have the choice to find other means to that end we are looking for. We can always do something else to get where we want to go.
Once we define motivation and realize that we have a choice in all our actions, it becomes easier to change those actions–if we want to.
Another option is changing perspective. Perhaps the job isn’t perfect but we go because we love our family and want to provide for them. Working then becomes a positive action with a positive outcome. Some of the stress is automatically lessened when we view the situation in that light. The job may not be perfect, but it is better. Again, the viewpoint is our choice.
One final thought on this simple fix: not doing what you don’t want to do is not easy. Especially if society and your inner critic is telling you that you should be doing exactly that. However, it is worth the effort. Remember, choices have consequences. If you can align your actions with your core values and draw motivation from there, it doesn’t matter what others say. Doing what you love can only increase your happiness and reduce stress.
And that is a pretty delicious way to live.
Check out my new group coaching program beginning January 15, 2013. Transform your life From Surviving to Thriving in Six Weeks or Less! Participation is limited so don’t be disappointed. Reserve your space today.
Around this time of year, many people begin to think about starting some sort of wellness program as part of their New Year’s resolutions. Find a way to get healthy, lose weight, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being. Seems like a pretty simple laundry list, really. It’s also true that this is the same list that gets repeated every New Year’s Eve. Why? Because multi-tasking is a way of life and we are used to focusing on a million things at once. We live in a society of instant gratification. We want immediate results. Many of us are Type-A personalities and we expect to check off everything our list as soon as it goes on. Unfortunately, that type of mindset often turns that exciting new list of resolutions into a recipe for failure.
As a wellness coach, I have a question about planning New Year’s resolutions. What would happen if you focused on only one resolution at a time? Would you be able to give that goal your complete attention and thereby increase the possibility of success? And if you are successful in one area, might there be a ripple effect in other areas of your life you would like to change? After that one change becomes a habit, would your self-efficacy improve so other changes don’t seem quite as improbable?
If you truly want to keep your resolutions this year, try tackling one item at a time. Instead of declaring you will become an icon of healthy living in January, break the project down into pieces, and decide which piece seems to be the most important to you. For example, we know that wellness is defined as the integration of mind, body, and spirit. Which piece of that equation seems to be the most out-of-balance when you look at your life?
List the areas where you would like to see change, then prioritize which of those changes is most important to you. If you want to have a healthier body, is changing your diet the most important, or do you feel there would be more benefit to starting an exercise program? You can tackle both, but if you focus on one item at a time so that each change becomes a habit, your odds of accomplishing both items increases. Both are important to reach the overall goal of a healthier body, but let’s be real–we are busy. There are only so many hours in a day and only so much energy we can dedicate to making changes. If you get a regular, moderate exercise program in your wheelhouse, you can use that as a base and turn your attention to making healthier eating choices. Put the two together and you get a healthier body.
The truth is if we focus on making too many changes at once, we can easily become overwhelmed. Trying to accomplish too much at one time only leads to frustration. Remember, you can do it all–you just can’t do it all at one time.
The other half of this formula is to allow enough time for the change to become a habit. As a rule, changes take about twelve weeks to become solidified in our minds. Once that happens, they become fixed in our psyches and are no longer considered changes, simply new habits. Since habits take less mental energy to maintain, at this point you can turn your focus to the next priority on your list. Lather, rinse, repeat, all the while building on the success of your first accomplishment. Before you know it, you will have managed a series of changes that not only support your resolutions, but create a new lifestyle as well.
This method can help you conquer any change, whether it be physical health, financial health, career issues, or relationship goals. So why not give it a try for 2013?
Just be careful. You may find that you have to find new resolutions for 2014 instead of recycling the familiar ones. But is that really such a bad problem to have? I’m guessing not.
Check out my new group coaching program beginning January 15, 2013. Transform your life From Surviving to Thriving in Six Weeks or Less! Participation is limited so don’t be disappointed. Reserve your space today.
Let’s face it–change is hard. It doesn’t matter if it is a change for the better, such as committing to a healthier eating plan, or coping with change caused by external sources, such as a layoff. Adjusting to change is just not something we humans tend to do well. And initiating or maintaining change, especially self-change, can be even more difficult. It doesn’t matter if we understand the changes could be beneficial. Creating new habits and patterns is just not something that comes easily to most of us.
So what can we do if we are considering a positive change? The first way to attempt a change is to make an external change. A great example is deciding to go on a diet. We alter our eating habits, thinking that this will help us lose weight and feel healthier. And it works–for a while. But the change doesn’t last. We slowly revert to our old habits, and the weight returns. Why is it so hard to maintain healthy changes? Because so often we change the behavior, but do not make a corresponding change in how we view our world. We just don’t change our perspective.
One of the best ways to create lasting change in our lives is to change our perspective. When we can change the way we see ourselves and the world around us, changing behavior becomes much less difficult. Changing eating habits is a great strategy for weight loss, but deciding that a healthy lifestyle is more reflective of who you really are gives you a much greater chance of lasting success at achieving your goal. If you believe that you are a healthy person, it will be easier to make healthy changes that complement that perception.
One of the best ways to change our perspective is to realize that we are responsible for our own reality. Of course there are external factors that shape our world, but we are responsible for how we react to those factors. When we make that connection, a very subtle but important shift happens within. We are no longer victims of circumstance. We become the creators of the type of life we want to live. Our perception of our own worth and power changes in a very positive way. And that is a very powerful tool.
Have you ever noticed that things you worry about tend to happen? When we worry we fixate on the negative, and expending all that energy on negative thoughts tends to create a negative environment. It is true that we see what we want to see. If we shift our perception to focus on more positive aspects of our realities, we can create a more positive environment for growth and change. Glass half full or glass half empty–you decide.
Here’s a little coaching exercise to help change your perspective and make your world a more positive place. Complaining is a very negative habit, and it takes a lot of energy away from creating a positive lifestyle. So here’s the deal. Try not to complain about anything for one week. This doesn’t mean that if you receive the wrong order from Amazon you shouldn’t send it back, but don’t rant on about how awful and ineffectual the company is. Just return it and move on. Most importantly, don’t complain about the traffic, or the weather, or anything. Don’t expend that energy. It’s not easy, but you can really change your perception of yourself and your world when you become mindful of how much energy is focused on negative issues.
When you stop complaining, you can’t help but begin to see the world in a more positive light. And that more positive light is a great tool to help change your overall perspective as well.
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