Putting Gratitude into Practice

Most people have some point of feeling grateful; like when the rain finally stops; when they get the overdue raise; when the dog is finally house broken. Sometimes it’s like pounding our head into the wall and when it finally stops, we feel grateful. We can wait for the pain to stop to finally reap our reward. Finally, the house is done; the project went live; the promotion is announced. These can be once-in-a-lifetime, periodic, or once-a-year events. Being grateful for these events is important but it’s not a practice of gratitude.

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A practice of gratitude is finding the joys of life; the little things along with the big things. My dog lying on her back on the couch without a care in the world as Hurricane Florence rages outside. The first sip of coffee at 5:10 AM. The warm embrace. The smile. The knowing glance. The warm melody of the cello playing Bach. There are thousands of things each day that pass by either noticed or not. Gratitude is the butterfly net to catch them.

Here is how to put gratitude into practice:

Reframe the event or issue

I first learned this during my Results Based Coaching with the Neuroleadership Group some seven years ago. Reframing is changing the context in which you view something. Typically, it’s turning something less desirable into something desirable. Changing the glass from being half empty into half full or half empty to thank goodness we have water. Having survived Hurricane Florence this past month has really done a reframe around power, water, air conditioning and abundant grocery stores. It goes from: “I can’t believe Walmart is closed!” to “Thank goodness Food Lion is open and they have fresh produce.” “The bridge is impassable,” to “At least I have power and can work from home.” So, when you run out of gas and have to walk to the gas station, view it as at least I got some exercise today. Reframe the negative into a positive.

Find the opportunity

Figure out what is available. When Hurricane Florence was bearing down on Wilmington, NC, I was home taking advantage of power and hot water. I think I took at least two showers a day and  kept starting up the dishwasher and washing machine. I was thinking, “Well, who knows how long we will have power. Let me do another load.” My boyfriend Roy has never seen a multi-story building he didn’t like. We checked into a hotel that had nine floors. Roy immediately decided that we were going take those stairs twice. “Here is a great opportunity!” So there I was, hiking up and down nine flights of stairs. Why waste a good opportunity for exercise? Park in the farthest spot, walk in the rain, put on a loaded backpack while you mow the lawn. Find the opportunity.

Just two beats longer

I found this in Brendon Burchard’s book, The Motivational Manifesto. As Burchard writes: Let us forget for now where we are supposed to be and what we should be doing. Instead, let us hold this moment for just two beats longer.

Do not breathe so quickly. Take in air for two beats longer.

Do not scan the room. Sense the room by gazing into each shadow and corner for two beats longer.

Do not merely glance at her. Look into her eyes and hold them for two beats longer.

Do not gulp down the next meal but savor each bite for two beats longer, let the tastes melt and linger.

Do not send the heartless note. Read it once more and spend two beats longer sensing the pain it may cause another.

Do not give a perfunctory kiss good-bye while juggling everything on the way out the door. Make the kiss count, make it firm and solid and true, holding the moment passionately for two beats longer.

Life is lived in the extra beats we hold as time unfolds.

In my opinion, those two beats hold gratitude. Savor the moment.

Journaling or whatever

Figure out a way to catalogue your gratitude. I personally have been keeping a gratitude journal for over five years. People approach this task differently – you can figure out what works for you. I kept a gratitude jar on my desk three years ago and wrote each moment of gratitude on a slip of paper, stored it in a jar until year end, and read each one on New Year’s Day. There is the practice of carrying a gratitude rock in your pocket and then touching it whenever you are grateful. You can create a gratitude tree and hang a “leaf” with each thing you are grateful for. You can write a gratitude letter once a day or week or month to thank someone you are grateful for. What’s important is that you pick something you can practice on a regular basis. I currently write five things I am grateful for in the morning and one item I am grateful for in myself (like being able to climb those 9 flights of stairs – TWICE!).

Compliment others

Nothing feels better than paying a sincere compliment. It’s completely free and feels absolutely fantastic. So, whether it’s your co-worker showing up with a new hairstyle or your assistant having completed the report in a timely manner, find something to compliment. People love to be noticed. This can be with someone you know or not. If you like the earrings of the cashier at Whole Foods, tell them you like them. It’s an easy way to pay gratitude forward. If someone pays you a compliment, be sure to say “thank you.” No qualifiers to discount the compliment like: “This old thing? I have had it for years.” Or “I really don’t like the color.” Give and accept compliments gracefully.

The underlying theme of all of this is being present and paying attention. Once it is part of you, it becomes easier and things to be grateful for multiply. Try it yourself.  What are you grateful for?

Dodging a Bullet: Hurricane Florence

If you have been reading my posts, you know that my home was flooded in Hurricane Matthew on October 8th of 2016. It was an incredible lesson, a challenge and, ultimately, contributed to the demise of my marriage. So you can imagine my anxiety as I saw the path of Florence some 5 days before it made landfall and its potential path over my home in Goldsboro, North Carolina. I was scared. I wasn’t sure what to do and if I even had the fortitude to survive another storm. I did. Currently, my dog Baci, my boyfriend Roy and I are just fine, but I’d like to share my experience dodging the bullet.

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Here is what I learned this time around:

Prepare

Five days before the storm made landfall, every store I went to was out of bottled water. There were random posts on Facebook that the Dollar General had water or bread. I started to fill containers and empty soda bottles with water. I filled every one of my dog’s water bowls to the brim. I filled the bathtub. After Matthew, we had to boil water for about a week. I wanted to make sure there was plenty of water for toilets, dishwashing, etc. I had three (yes, three) exterior battery packs and every electronic device completely charged by Thursday morning. Being able to charge your phone is critical after the storm has passed. In addition, I had everything in my garage stored at waist height or above or in my house. The garage received the brunt of the damage from Matthew and I didn’t want my front yard being full of debris after the storm.

Vigilant

I’m pretty sure I logged about thirty plus hours of Weather Channel before, during and after the storm. I watched as it dropped from a Category 4 to a Category 3 to a Category 2 at landfall. I had two separate weather apps that notified me of flood, hurricane, and tornado warnings and watches. Forewarned is forearmed. It started to rain on Thursday afternoon so I took the opportunity to run the dishwasher and wash a load of clothes. Knowing we could easily be without power for a week, we were vigilant to use it before it was gone. I cooked things that needed my electric oven and held off on the things we could heat up on a camp stove. When I woke up in the morning of Friday and still had power, I made two cups of coffee before 6 AM. We lowered the thermostat about 5 degrees lower than normal in anticipation of losing power. Use what you have before it’s gone.

Break

We never lost power. Thank goodness. The downside of not losing power is that we were sucked into the anxiety of Jim Cantore (infamous storm-chasing Weather Channel correspondent) knee high in water right outside the hotel I had stayed at just 5 days earlier and constant weather alerts on my iWatch and phone. The apex of which was early Saturday morning when I woke up at 4:30 AM to see the glimmer of water up to the first step of my deck. Gulp. This is it. Matthew all over again. I was devastated. I wept. I remember Roy telling me to take a deep breath. We weren’t being flooded at that moment. This could be the worst of it. We marked the bottom step as our high-water mark. By 11 AM, it was down about an inch. It turned out to be the high-water mark of the storm. We stopped watching the news on a continuous basis. It’s not like we never turned it on but taking a break and, more importantly, taking a breath was really important.

Explore

When the water started to recede, Roy suggested that we walk in the rain down to the dam. The dam on my lake had been reconfigured to spill at a lower lake level, so it made sense to check it out. So there we were, walking in the rain about a mile and a half down to the dam. We saw many snapped pine trees and debris but as with any exercise, it was a relief to get out of the house and to see that actual dam. It had been the cause of the damage from Hurricane Matthew as the lake hadn’t been lowered and the dam wasn’t functioning properly. It was reassuring to see the deluge going over the dam and that nothing seemed amiss. We were not the only ones suffering from cabin fever as we saw many out on the road driving to see how the neighborhood had fared through the storm.

Aftermath 

Keep in mind that if you weather the storm, things will not be back to normal for a while after the storm. It took at least a week for there to be gas and stocked store shelves. Interstate 95 and 40 are still partially closed and countless other roads are closed. Roy headed to his home in Morehead City (near the coast) and it took over 6 hours to get there. Demands on local services were sketchy especially at the coast. Mail service was delayed, businesses closed, ponding on roadways and rivers was still cresting. It will be months, if not years, for many areas to get back to normal. Or at least a new normal. The aftermath goes on and on.

Gratitude

I’m so grateful we didn’t suffer any damage from the storm. There were tree limbs down, ponding, and debris, but it was small and insignificant compared to those along the coast. When co-workers, friends and acquittances now see or talk to me, their first question is “Are you OK?” They were aware of what I went through in Hurricane Matthew and were concerned that I would have a repeat. Heck, I was scared I was going to have a repeat. I feel guilty that we never lost power, cable, Wi-Fi, cellular or running water. I dodged a bullet but I am so grateful that I won’t be dealing with insurance adjusters, contractors and, most importantly, staying put in my lovely home without incident. I am most grateful for those who love and support me, no matter if I am in a beautiful lakeside home or living out of a suitcase.

We prepared for the worst and hoped for the best, and that is exactly what happened. There are thousands who aren’t as fortunate as I. If you would like to help those affected by Hurricane Florence, please contact the American Red Cross.

Run Your Race

I recently finished reading Chrystal Evans Hurst’s book, She’s Still There. She writes about drifting off your path and your life not turning out as planned. I can identify with this, as I am sure you can as well. I don’t know anyone who is living the life they were expecting back in the 1st grade, a time when one decided to be an astronaut, physicist, or doctor. There are lots of unexpected obstacles in our paths and we wake up and wonder how we got here from there.

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What I love about this concept of run your race is that it’s so easy to get caught up in comparisons to the races that others are running. The friend with the ski chalet and new Cadillac, or the sister with no student loans. I’ve run many races in my life, both literally and figuratively. The 5ks where I was the very last to cross the line, and the master’s degree while mid-divorce with two toddlers. They were my races that I survived, thank you very much, and I have the scars to prove it. I have owned a sports car convertible and two failed restaurants, even with a degree in Hospitality. There were highs and lows, but it’s my race and I own it.

Here are some ways to run your race:

Don’t Compare. Being jealous of someone else’s life is soul crushing. As Hurst writes, “We look at the lives of other people and construct opinions of them – and ourselves – based on what we see. The problem is we’re never operating with full intel.” That friend with the ski chalet and caddie? They may be mortgaged up to their eyeballs. They may have a substance abuse problem they can’t shake. It might take all the effort they can muster to get out of bed in the morning. Don’t skim social media and assume that you are less than just because you didn’t go to Iceland this year. As Hurst espoused, “Comparison can kill.”

Know your values. I have always had wanderlust. My parents instilled in me the value of adventure and travel with several trailer trips when I was kid. I have brought this wanderlust to my children. I value adventure over material objects. It’s not that there isn’t anything under the tree at Christmas; it’s just I would rather experience something than to have one more thing to store. My son competes at the national level in weightlifting. I want to be there when he competes. My daughter loves to hike. I value my time in being there for my son in competition and for my daughter experiencing the great outdoors. Make sure the race you are running aligns with your values.

Practice gratitude. As Hurst writes, “Gratitude is the practice of being thankful and showing appreciation. When you focus on what’s right in your world, you limit the power of what’s wrong to steal your joy.” I write in a gratitude journal every morning. I take stock in what went right the day before. It might just be a text from my son or a coworker’s compliment on my blouse. It starts my day off right and keeps me on the path of what’s right in the world instead of what’s wrong. I always find gratitude in something that I did for myself like my strength workout, sobriety or staying positive with a coworker. Self-gratitude is important to stay the course of the race.

Encourage others. My boyfriend Roy recently ran his third triathlon. It took a lot of training and practice. I was his support team. I was his timer when he practiced his transitions from swim to bike and bike to run (yes, a ten-second saving matters). In the weeks leading up to the race we focused on his sleep, his training, his race. Having run a marathon about five years ago, I could identify with the amount of focus and anxiety that can come with a big race. As Hurst writes, “A compliment paid to someone else can have the effect of freeing you.” Try to focus on what is going right for others as they run their race.

Pay attention. As Hurst writes, “Comparison is a habit. That means you can choose not to practice it. There is nothing good about practicing an activity that only results in a feeling of competition, envy, or strife.” When you start envying someone’s new dress or vacation or new iPhone, notice it and redirect it. This won’t happen overnight. Sometimes awareness alone can help you break the habit.  Remember what you value, what you are grateful for and lift other’s up. It’s the antidote to comparison. That’s their path; their race. What’s your race looking like?

Live intentionally. Hurst posits, “Stop letting where other people are in their run determine how you feel about your own. “This shows up for me as I see retirement some decade or more off. I can be jealous as I see other’s around my same age either retiring or eyeing it some three years from now. I start comparing and beating myself up for not deferring more into my 401k in my 40s. It’s OK. It’s my race. So, I get to enjoy the camaraderie of going to work each day and continue to further my career. It’s a waste to sulk about what could have been. Be here now and enjoy the experience.

I identified with this concept because Hurst wrote about how speed walkers would pass her as she ran in a marathon. I have experienced that several times. How come my run is slower than their walk? We are all different, we are all talented and unique to ourselves. Don’t let comparison kill your race. How is your race going?

Letting Go and Moving On

You are still mad that you didn’t get that plum promotion. You are still ruminating on the time you totally blew Thanksgiving dinner some 15…er 20 years ago. You still can’t believe that that guy from Sophomore year never called you back. You’ll never forgive your parents for not being perfect. Turns out that all this ruminating and dredging up all the past sins of you and others is a recipe for long term unhappiness. It’s time to let go and move on.

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It’s crazy how much time that most of us spend on rehashing the sins and failures of the past again and again and again. Or “should-ing” all over ourselves. The “what ifs” take over and suddenly we are on a new trajectory that is completely false and, in fact, painful. There are some steps you can take to get past the past. The rehash. The regurgitation. Want some freedom? Here are a few ideas:

 

  • Reframe.  As Mark Chernoff writes, “Oftentimes letting go is simply changing the labels you place on a situation – it’s looking at the same situation with fresh eyes and an open mind.”  So, change the frame around the situation.  Didn’t get the promotion? This is a great opportunity to learn something new and completely different.  You could be kicking butt as a yoga instructor. What an opportunity.  That dry turkey from so many years ago?  It’s a success because absolutely no one remembers it but you.  They all remember what a great time they had and how you produced the WHOLE dinner on your own.  You are the Thanksgiving Hero!  Your imperfect parents?  Yeah but didn’t they get you safely to adulthood.  Are you a bit thicker skinned because of the bumps along the way?  Thanks Mom and Dad for giving me resilience.  Reframe your trials and tribulations.

 

  • Effort.   This was my insight from this past week’s mediation. Did you give “it” your best effort? Especially at the end of what you thought was a lifetime relationship.  Did you give it your best? Were you your best self? If so, let it go. If you didn’t give your best effort then maybe you should revisit and show up with your best. When you have given it your very best, then it’s time to let go. Giving only a little effort and letting go just means it was never that important to you. If you are constantly doing this, you may just be skimming through life. Give your best effort and then, walk away with your head held high. You gave it your best. Move on.

 

  • Emotions.  You cannot go around, you must go through. I believed that I could cry a few times and then tip toe around the grief. Nope. You need to feel it. Accept it. Live it.  Fully sense the constraint in the pit of your stomach, the heat on your forehead and the tightening of your throat. Then label it. “Oh…so this is grief.” Definitely find a time and private place to do this (so staff meeting isn’t a good time for this). Skipping this step only ensures that it will come back again and again. Experiencing it eventually makes it clear enough so that you can move on.  For me the barometer was when I told the story of loss to someone new, I didn’t get choked up anymore.  Be sure to live through the emotions.

 

  • Care.  Take care of yourself. What does self-care look like for you? Is it a new dress? A facial? Going for a ten-mile hike? Fishing along a stream? Making a seven-course meal for yourself? Seeing the latest feature film? Karaoke? Roller skating? Sky diving? Scuba diving? Sitting on the beach with a great book? Taking that new yoga class? One of the main things about letting go and moving on is making yourself a priority. Since suffering my loss, I’ve been driving once a week for 70 miles for a group meditation practice. It recharges me and resets my brain. Take care of yourself.

 

  • Gratitude.  My home was flooded during Hurricane Matthew some nine plus months ago. I had a list of over ten thousand things that needed to get done to finish the house. I don’t focus on that list. It’s debilitating to focus on all that is wrong. Instead I write in my gratitude journal every day about what is going right! It’s much more uplifting. This past weekend, my attic was finally empty of all its contents. E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. What a weight was lifted. I am so grateful. Being grateful rewires your brain to the positive. Show your gratitude.

 

  • Truth.   In one of my recent readings I read the Total Truth Process by Jack Canfield. The premise is to write a letter to someone who has hurt or injured you at any point in your life. It could be anything from your parents to middle school to the nun who smacked your hand in catechism class. I have a list of folks and I am working my way through the list (don’t worry, I’m sure you aren’t on my list).  Anyway, write a letter answering Canfield’s questions:
  1. Anger and resentment. I’m angry that … I hate that … I’m fed up with … I resent …
  2. Hurt. It hurt me when … I felt sad when … I feel hurt that … I feel disappointed…
  3. Fear. I was afraid that … I feel scared when … I get afraid that I…
  4. Remorse, regret, and accountability. I’m sorry that … Please forgive me for …
  5. Wants. All I ever want(ed) … I want you to … I want(ed) … I deserve …
  6. Love, compassion, forgiveness, and appreciation. I understand that … I appreciate … I  love you for … I forgive you for … Thank you for …

I haven’t given the letters or talked about them with the person I have addressed         them to but it is quite cathartic to get it on paper and out of my head.  Sometimes bullet #3 showed up.  Sometimes not.  But I highly recommend writing the truth down.

This is all a process and cannot be sped up (although I wish it could be).  Having a coach can be helpful as well.  My coach pointed out some great resources on transitions.  Having a third unrelated party to provide insight and thoughtful questions can be invaluable. What do you need to let go of?

Transforming the Negativity Bias

This starts in grade school. Two kids are whispering and you assume it’s about you. Your boss hasn’t responded to your email in a week and you think she’s getting ready to demote you. Your child is late getting home and you assume they have been in a car accident. It’s all hardwired into your brain. Your ancestors didn’t wait around to find out if the rustle in the bushes was a saber tooth tiger. They ran. If they didn’t run, you wouldn’t be here.

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The problem is that this constant focus on the negative in today’s day and age, is bad for your body and brain. If something good and something bad happen in the same day, you end up focusing on the bad. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt says, “Over and over, the mind reacts to bad things more quickly, strongly and persistently than to equivalent good things.” As Tony Robbins wrote for the New York Times, “It turns out that cultivating positive emotions such as joy, contentment, interest, pride and love pays huge dividends.” The good news is that you can rewire your brain towards the positive.

Here is how to transform your negativity bias:

  • Gratitude.  Taking stock of what is going right. It could be as simple as a roof over your head, being grateful for your child graduating college, or having your boss actively listen to you. I personally have been writing in a gratitude journal for over five years. I used to do it in the evening and then switched to the morning. I used to write five individual things like “Daddy”, “Baci”, “Dinner”, “Natalie” and “Ben”. Now I write three things and say, “I am grateful for Janine’s support. I am grateful for Joe’s attentive listening. I am grateful for a great dinner at SoCo.” It’s more specific and writing the word “grateful” has a bigger impact. Be grateful.

 

  • Store.  Look back right now at something that has happened positive today. I just had delicious bacon and eggs with my daughter. She really enjoyed the bacon. Now I need to stop, dwell and think about that positive experience, while I take a few breaths in order to store the positive experience in my head. This is an idea posited by Rick Hanson in a TedTalk. When you relive a positive experience in your mind for even a few seconds, it rewires your brain towards the positive. Be sure to be storing the positive experiences.

 

  • Score.  I struggle with this one. I even have Positivity as one of my top 5 from StrengthsFinders. According to John Gottman, there needs to be at least a 3 to 1 ratio and, ideally, a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative feedback you give the people in your life. So try and keep score. Are you telling your kids everything they did wrong and how bad their grades are or looking at what went right? Like, “Hey, thanks for getting up on time” or “Thanks for putting your books away.” We all want praise. It makes us feel better and with us all being hardwired for negativity, remembering that the one criticism you give will likely live on and all the positivity will float away. Keep score of your sincere positive feedback.

 

  • Visualize.  As Marelisa Fabrega wrote for Daring to Live Fully, “Whenever something negative happens to you—for example, someone says something mean to you—visualize a drop of black ink falling into a large container of clear water. Although at first the ink is very black, it quickly mixes with the rest of the water until it’s gone, and all you can see is the clear water again.” I really like the image of the negativity diluting into clear sparkling water.

 

  • Reframe.  Coaching is all about reframing. Coaching is so beneficial because the coach isn’t connected to the outcome. They bring a different perspective and put a different frame around it. My daughter and I just attended a lovely 6-course dinner. One of the courses was not very good. All of the rest were stunning. I started getting wrapped up in the one bad course and started to regret the entire evening. Luckily, my daughter was able to reframe it for me. “Hey, so one course wasn’t so great, but the rest was terrific and it was a magical evening.” It was. A perfect sunset. Lovely wine. Delicious food. Great conversation. Reframe towards the positive.

 

  • Realistic optimism. As Tony Schwarz wrote for the New York Times, “The notion is not to become an uncritical Pollyanna – but instead to practice “realistic optimism.” That means telling yourself the most hopeful and empowering story possible about any given situation without denying or minimizing the facts.” Thus, you aren’t in denial but you can create a story that has a more positive outcome.

 

Either way you flow through your day, your positivity or negativity are contagious. Try and spread the positive stuff and ignite others.

How to Reset Your Happiness Set Point.

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about perfectionism. In the post, I brought up Hedonic Adaptation which involves a happiness “set point”, whereby humans generally maintain a constant level of happiness throughout their lives, despite events that occur in their environment. So whether it’s buying a new Mercedes or crashing your new Mercedes, your level of happiness resets to the same pre-event level. A reader asked that I expound on how I have tried to reset my happiness set point. Reset Your Happiness Set Point

So I’ve tried to reset my “set point” and it turns out there is some science behind it. I think I first became aware of this by reading “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin. In the book, she chronicles twelve months of changing her approach and raising her happiness set point. By the end of the year she felt like she had a sustained increase in her happiness. In another article called “Making Happiness Last” by Katherine Jacobs Bao and Sonja Lyubomirsky, they posit it is possible to reverse the effects of the hedonic adaptation. So here is some advice:

  •      Gratitude. Start a gratitude journal. All the authors recommended this and studies have shown that this has a positive effect. I have had a gratitude journal for over 5 years. I have varied it from writing actual paragraphs, to four bullets to my current style which is just to list events and names that had a positive impact on me or I had a positive impact on them. I don’t have a limited number but generally it’s somewhere between 4 and 12. I’m not a big fan of rules, so I just go with what works for me. Count your blessings.
  •      Kindness. Perform random acts of kindness. Apparently it matters if the acts of kindness are varied. It makes sense. If I always buy my team a dozen donuts every Friday, after a while, it has diminishing returns. So you need to shake it up. Buy a stranger a cup of coffee, offer to help the mother with the toddler and infant at the airport, compliment the cashier on her earrings, volunteer at the local triathlon, or bring the mail to your elderly neighbor. I have done all of these. If it becomes rote, it’s not the same impact. Spread kindness.
  •      Intrinsic. The things you do for intrinsic reasons have a much greater impact than those for extrinsic reasons. So I write this blog to inspire others. It brings me joy. If I was writing this blog just to make money, it would not bring me joy. It would be drudgery. Find things that line up with your soul. Paint, sing, play the banjo, run a half marathon, write, cook, bake, raise chickens. Find something that feeds your soul and do it.
  •      Friend. If you can find some way to make your activities social, it will add to your happiness. I have to say that when I walk my dog instead of walking alone, I feel much better. Cooking with my son is more fun than cooking solo. Finding or making a friend while volunteering at a triathlon will multiply the results and the impact is tremendous. All these measures stave off the hedonic adaptation and keep your set point higher.
  •      Perspective. It’s important to remember where you started. Gretchen Rubin had a checklist where she kept track of what she did and didn’t do every day. I tried this but I just couldn’t work it into my routine. But I do remember where I started. Three years ago when I started this blog, I felt self-conscious, overwhelmed and resentful. Working on resetting my set point has made me happier and, I think, helped me live in the present. If you just look back a week, there may not be a big difference but when you look back to where you started, you will be able to see that your set point has changed and is much higher. So start now. Record or journal where you are today. A year from now, look back and see how far you have come.
  •      Self. It’s important that you are doing this for yourself. So don’t go pick up some paint and an easel because I or anyone else told you to. It won’t have the same effect. What is missing in your life? What’s not there right now that you want to have there? Only you can answer that. Maybe you want to raise goldfish or have always wanted to make homemade gnocchi or want to write a book or play the oboe. Whatever it is. Go do it. For you and you alone.
  •     Aware. You need to be aware of the strides you have made. I have the evidence of 154 blog posts (wow that’s a lot!). Studies have shown that if you can appreciate the changes you’ve made, you are keeping Hedonic adaptation at bay or keeping your set point higher. I know that in general, I have a more optimistic view of life. I know that stress and conflict roll off me more easily. I appreciate that my happiness set point is higher. Acknowledge the changes you have made.
  •     Help. Sometimes this is a great opportunity to get help. I think the biggest advantage a coach or therapist brings is the space to reflect and create insight. To see where you have come from and all that is possible. We get so caught up in striving that having someone give you the space to just stop and think is such a relief. You may be able to find this in a friend or partner but having an outside, unattached, viewpoint can be life changing.

Happiness can seem elusive if you have had a recent catastrophic event. But even these downward resets in happiness can be overcome with time. Hedonic adaptation eventually will buoy you up. The secret is to keep moving it up or at least maintaining at a new set point

Every perfectionist should focus on these 7 things.

I see so many of my clients get wrapped up with perfection. I have been guilty of constantly striving for perfection myself. I have measured my ability to be happy based on whether or not: I’m the perfect weight, I have the perfect job or I own the perfect house. I’ll warn you right now, you will never, ever, get to THERE. You never arrive at perfection so quit putting off your happiness until you get THERE. THERE is mythical. No one ever gets THERE.

I won’t deny that there are peaks along the way; those moments we refer to as the milestones of life – falling in love, getting married, job promotions, graduations and births. But invariably we slide right back to our happiness set point within 6 months. Generally, hedonic adaptation involves a happiness “set point”, whereby humans generally maintain a constant level of happiness throughout their lives, despite events that occur in their environment. So whether it’s hitting the lottery or having a spinal cord injury, your level of happiness resets to the same pre-event level.

The key is to change your set point, boost it; change the landscape. I’ve been working on this for the last year or so. It’s like setting your thermostat up one degree at a time. It’s a slow process but I think it is actually working.imperfect

Seeing this photo of the Leaning Tower of Pisa prompted this post. It took over 344 years to build the tower and it was already leaning when they put on the second story. So, even though it was less than perfect, they kept at it. It is a nice metaphor. Embrace the lean and keep going. Keep building; one stone at a time.

So if you are a perfectionist (and most of us are) here are the 7 things to embrace the lean:

1. Accept. Obviously, the town and builders of Pisa accepted the lean. In fact, they have said they would rather see the tower topple than fix the lean. There is peace in acceptance. Where are you leaning right now? I’m not at my ideal weight. I’m still paying for student loans from my Master’s degree and, apparently, I’m not getting any younger. This is all true but getting on the scale in the morning cannot be the barometer of how I will feel all day. A pound up or a pound down. Hmmm. Interesting. One more data point. It’s still going to be a great day. Accept what is.

2. Gratitude. I’ve been writing a gratitude journal for over three years. Every evening I write in it before I go to sleep. Usually it’s anywhere from four to ten names of people (or my dog) that I am grateful for. I’m not sure why I focus on people who had an impact on me during the day, it may have to do with how involved I have been with people in my career. You can write anything you want whether it’s the blue sky, the much needed rain or the roof over your head. Counting your blessings helps you focus on what is right with your world. This has had a huge impact on me. It keeps my glass half full. Focus on what you are grateful for.

3. Beauty. Beauty is everywhere. In the middle of winter it’s easy to see the outside world as cold and barren; leafless trees and arctic winds can seem ugly. But it’s all in how you look at it. A bracing wind makes me feel every part of my body. Barren trees make the squirrels, deer and birds much more apparent and reliant on us. There is the beauty of being snuggled up in bed when the wind is howling outside whether it’s with a good book, on the phone with a good friend or sleep. There is a beauty of slowing down to some degree with the seasons. And there is the truth that the beauty of the tower is the lean. Seek out the lean and the hidden beauty.

4. Reflection. Reflect on what you have accomplished. Most of the reason that coaching is so effective is that you have an outside person ask you to take stock in what you have done. We spend so much of our time thinking about what we haven’t done. Instead we need to think about all that we have done. I walked today, I made dinner, I worked, I wrote, I spent time with my dog, I finally sent that overdue email, I did laundry and so on. I have clients who put off our appointment because they feel like they didn’t get any action items done. When we end up meeting, even if they are resistant, they find out that they’ve done more than half their action items. They were just focusing on what they hadn’t done. Take time to reflect on what you have done and give yourself credit.

5. Reframe. Context is everything. Our perception of what we are achieving is completely in our own heads. We are the bellwether, not anyone else. Or we can be at the hands of “What will the public think or judge?” So, if you live in an expensive neighborhood, your Hyundai will never be good enough yet if you drive through a less expensive neighborhood, it might be the most coveted car on the block. I love a cartoon that was going around on Facebook that said “I wish I was as fat as when I thought I was fat”. Reframe and be OK with right now.

6. Optimalist. As written in an article by James Woodworth, ” Optimalists accept that life can be tough and painful at times. Their realism enables them to build resilience and the ability to cope with the difficulties life presents them.” This is the opposite of a perfectionist. Perfectionists are constantly disappointed by falling short as well as by every failure. They dwell on every shortcoming and they never push the envelope. Optimalists don’t fear what they might lose. They believe in the gain. The folks in Pisa didn’t worry about the tower tumbling down. Push the envelope and be an Optimalist.

7. Moment. Be in the moment. Be present. Perfectionists are constantly thinking about “what if” and are overly busy protecting their image and the “what ifs”. When you are doing this, you are missing what is in front of you. Enjoy what you’re looking at – how the sun hit that tree at just the right angle, or the taste of the coffee or the feel of the sheets. It’s your life; be there for it. Be here. Right now. Feel the chair. Feel your breath. Listen to the buzz of the room. This moment; right now.

Much like the folks of Pisa, this all takes patience. Nothing is accomplished overnight. Congratulate yourself with each small step. If you take a step back, so what, brush it off and know that you are on the right path. An imperfect path.

6 Ways to Deal With the Gifts We Don’t Want

We all get gifts we don’t want from time to time. Unless you have a gift registry or Wish List for every birthday, Mother’s Day, Christmas and dinner party; you will end up with that clunker gift. The one you have no idea what to do with or why the gifter gave it to you. I just spent my entire Sunday, helping my daughter sift through the treasures and trash of her life, as she moves into her first “real” apartment in her “real” adult life. We had some 15 boxes and bags that contained the contents of her childhood, adolescence and college life. There were figurines her grandmother gave her, several stuffed owls with caps from her graduation, the portrait an old friend painted of her and earrings that she was sure she would never wear. Many gifts. Many laden thick with dust. She diligently sorted through everything and made the tough decisions.6a00d8341c565553ef017ee717d079970d

The unwanted, indiscriminate, poorly chosen gifts were a subject of an email conversation with my “Brain Trust” (my trusted friends who edit and tinker with the blog). What do you do when someone gives you a White Zinfandel, when you are clearly a red wine lover? Isn’t it obvious? Or the house guest brings a fake wooden bowl to a farm to table type foodie. It’s kind of like bringing a Rap CD to a Buddhist monk. What were they thinking? It’s easy to get caught up with the indignant judgment of “Is this what they think of me?” Getting WAY too wrapped up into what the gift givers intent was. It’s all a part of acceptance. Taking the good with the bad. The poorly chosen with the “spot on – this makes me so happy – you really, really know me” gift.

So what do you do when you receive the battery operated singing fish, the Chia pet or the cuckoo clock that chimes every 15 minutes? Here are some ideas.

1. “Your gift is your presence.” This was on a recent invitation to a 50th wedding anniversary I attended. When I saw that on the invite, it was SUCH a relief. What do you buy a couple who have been together for 50 years? A punch bowl? A vase? Nope. A card. That’s what. So, if you really don’t want a gift, say it. Or ask for a donation to your favorite charity. Obviously, this is easier when the occasion dictates a formal invitation but if you really don’t want anything, say it. Let their presence be their gift.

2. Register. If you are having a baby or getting married, please set up a gift registry. This is so much easier for the rest of us who have never been to your home and have no idea if you have a sister who just had a little boy and will have tons of hand me downs. And if you register, please make sure there are gifts at lower price points so that going to your baby shower or wedding doesn’t cause us to take out a second mortgage.

3. Ask. If you are the guest-to-be at the house warming party, ask the hostess if you can bring anything. I’m lucky. My husband is a home brewer, so most folks I visit end up with some homemade brew (if they enjoy beer, which I ask in advance). You never know what they might say if you ask. Folding chairs. Munchies. Extension cord. Imagine the host’s relief when you lend him the 8 foot ladder he needs to hang the party lights instead of yet another “chip and dip” bowl. Ask.

4. Gratitude. Whatever someone brings you, be sure to show your gratitude and appreciation. Halloween dish towels. Thank you! Box of Gallo Chablis. Wonderful! 3 pound bag of Skittles. You shouldn’t have! Do not explain that you are a …diabetic, an alcoholic or that you don’t celebrate Halloween. Take the gift with gratitude and acceptance. The gifter is someone who went out of their way to select a gift for you. Accept it with gratitude and move on.

5. Suspend judgment. It’s easy to get indignant and start thinking about why someone would purchase for you a set of Easter mugs or insulated cups with your rival school’s mascot on them. Any gift is more a reflection of the person giving it to you rather than the receiver. After all, unless you registered for it, this is all about the person giving it. Maybe there is a story to tell. Their brother in-law makes handmade Easter mugs. Their daughter just started going to Syracuse. Or not. Worrying about it will only eat you up. It’s really about them and not about you. Suspend judgment.

6. Let go. When we went through my daughter’s life history in 15 boxes and bags on Sunday, it took a lot of letting go. There were pictures that hung in my daughter’s bedroom for some ten years, that she hated (who knew?). There were gifts from South America that she cherished. There were several things that held a little guilt if we took them to Goodwill. What if Aunt so and so or Grandma or my friend Suzy find out that I gave the gift away. They won’t. There is someone who can use that clock radio, or teddy bear, or bracelet. The last thing you want to do is hold on to stuff and start dragging it around the earth. The guilt will drag around with you when you keep the clock radio stuffed in a box in the attic. Just let go.

I’m not suggesting you get rid of everything. If something is cherished or a memento you want to keep, please do. If you are keeping something only out of obligation or guilt; it might be time to let it go. I have to say that having all the “stuff” out of the house has been liberating. Now I’m looking in closets and thinking…hmmm…I wonder what I need to let go out of here?

Is there something you need to let go of? Please leave a comment on the WordPress site.

6 Steps to Realistic Optimism.

I’ve written about optimism before and, recently, have adjusted my viewpoint.  In reading several articles and the book “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working” by Tony Schwartz, I’ve come to realize that optimism is critical but, more importantly, it has to be realistic.  Tony gives the example of a 5’4′ guy who wants to play basketball.  Unrealistic optimism would show up as this guy wants to play in the NBA.  Realistic optimism shows up as this guy wants to be the best basketball player he can be.  It’s an adjustment in perspective or focus, the ability to see that it might be a struggle and it’s going to take hard work but you feel like you can persevere. 6 Steps to Realistic Optimism 2

Basically, it’s turning blind faith or just plain wishing into reality.  I’ve wanted to go to Paris for the last twenty plus years.  I have yet to go.  I know I’m going to go but the reality of two kids in college, a mortgage, my parents now living ten feet away…well, the reality is, that it’s a few years off.  I am confident that I will be standing on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées at some point with a warm baguette in hand, it’s just going to take some planning and patience. 

So how do you go from wishing to reality?  Here are some tips.

1. No Storytelling.  I see this in clients all the time.  They tell themselves that they can’t do something.  I can’t get that promotion.  I can’t get a CPA.  I can’t move to San Francisco.  The old Henry Ford adage is right.  “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” It is not possible to succeed if you think you can’t.  Stop telling yourself stories.

2. Lenient. As Tony Schwartz recommends, you need to be lenient and forgiving in your evaluation of past events.  So if you didn’t pass the exam the first time, meh…you were having a bad day.  Maybe you didn’t get enough sleep.  Cut yourself some slack.  Forgive yourself.  I cook on a regular basis; I can assure you that if all I focused on was my failures, we would be eating out for Thanksgiving.  Be lenient in your view of past events.

3. Gratitude. Frequently show gratitude for your current situation.  Do you have electricity? A roof?  A job?  Dwell on the positive.  In a consumer society, we can constantly focus on what we don’t have.  This will leave you empty.  You will be constantly looking to fill the shelves and your attic with things.  Appreciate the present in all its imperfection.  Got gratitude?

4. Possible. Mission possible.  This is the glass half full mentality.  I can remember telling my doctor that I was planning to run a half marathon.  I was worried that I wouldn’t do it fast enough.  He said, “You can always walk it”.  What a relief! Refocusing on what could be, made it attainable.  Focus on what is possible.

5. Acknowledge. The key to success is acknowledging that it won’t be easy. Psychologist Gabriele Oettingen did a study with obese women.  The women who thought that losing weight would be a walk in the park lost less weight than those who understood that there may be some adversity along the way.  Think through what possible adversity you might encounter along the way.  Krispy Kremes at the breakfast meeting, free toffee samples at the grocery store and sub freezing temperatures for your 6 AM run.  Acknowledge adversity but don’t let it stop you.

6. Honest. Be honest with yourself.  If you are 6’4″, a career as a jockey isn’t likely to be fruitful.  If it’s your passion and you understand that you will never race in the Triple Crown, then go for it.  Make sure you are realistic in your self view.  I remember being on the swim team in high school.  I was the slowest on the team but by year end, I had improved my time the most.  That’s all that matters.  I knew I wasn’t going to win any races but focusing on my own improvement paid dividends.  Be honest.

To move from wishing to success involves optimism with a reality check.

The Eeyore Effect. Don’t Mess with My Chi.

There are those who will wish you good morning. If it is a good morning, which I doubt” -Eeyore.

Sometimes I feel like the world is awash with Eeyores.  You know, the glass half empty people.  The punch list for the year long project has 100 items on it and all but one is checked off. We focus on the one incomplete item and gnash our teeth. Really?  Only one box left to check off and we are failures?  Quit messing with my chi. Eeyores Gloomy Place

What in the world do we do with these folks?  How do we dig out from the negative muck they produce on a daily basis?  Let’s pull up our boot straps or sandal straps (does anyone have boot straps any more?) and figure out how to bring some positivity into the work place and your life. Let’s figure out how to maintain some sunshine for the rest of us.

Here are some tips:

1. Losada Ratio.  Dr. Marcial Losada created and studied this ratio of positive to negative messages within relationships and organizations.  What he found was that organizations that have 2.9 or more positive messages over negative messages thrive.  Those that fall below fail.  In a marriage, it’s got to be 5.0 or better (thanks for emptying the garbage, Honey).  So if you want your business or relationship to thrive, stick a sock in it and start pumping some sunshine.

2. Gratitude.  Many author’s including Martin Seligman in the book “Flourish” recommend a gratitude journal or as he says “What went well”.  I do this.  Everyday before I go to sleep, I write three things that went well.  I have to believe that it improves my dreams because right before I put my head on the pillow, I’m thinking about all that went right.  It’s not like it’s gotta be “I climbed Mt. Everest”.  It could be “I got dressed” or “I made it to work on time”.  Focus on the positive.

3. Scenarios.  Reframe the scenario.  We all tend to focus on the negative.  If we make a change, the project will be delayed.  If it rains, the grass can’t be mowed.  Our limbic system makes us focus on the negative.  In “Flourish”, Martin Seligman suggests looking at the worst case scenario, but then looking at the best case scenario, and then looking at the most likely scenario.  The project might be late but it will serve twice the amount of customers.  The grass will grow… and the flowers as well.  When your coworker starts catastrophizing the outcome, ask about the best and most likely scenario.

4. Outcomes.  Ask your friend about what his best outcome would be.  Focus on The What that he’s interested in.  So Joe, “what would you like to see happen with this project?”  “What can you control in this situation?” “What would make you feel like you accomplished something?”  As David Rock espouses, focus on solutions (and stay clear of the problems). Keep it outcome based.

5. Hood.  If you are living in the 100 Aker Wood, stay clear of Eeyore’s Gloomy Place (rather boggy and sad).  Watch what neighborhood you hang out in.  If it’s obvious that your household or your organization is on the low end of the Losada Ratio, pitch in and turn it around or move on.  In the long run, if you sitting around all the gloom and bogginess, eventually the organization won’t be there or the relationships that brought the house together won’t be either.  And if you seek out a new “hood”, make sure you are taking the temperature (or feeling the vibe) of a potential new “hood”.  If you see any donkeys, move on.

If it turns out the Eeroye is a really important irreplaceable person in your life, say your child or your parent;  it might be time for a frank discussion.  Explain the impact it’s having on your life or your “chi”.  Sometimes they just don’t realize how they are being perceived and their impact on those around them.

How do you deal with the Eeroyes in your life?