5 Myths of Motherhood

I always wanted to be a mother.  I’d see Carol Brady on the Brady Bunch or Marion Cunningham on Happy Days and look forward to being the patient, approachable, unflappable mother that had all the wisdom in the world.  They made it look so easy.  I babysat the two kids next door several afternoons a week for 6 years.  I remember watching Sesame Street and making dinner.  I thought (at the wise old age of 14), I can do this.  Motherhood is about sitting on the couch learning to count with the Cookie Monster and popping a frozen dinner in the microwave.  Easy peasy.  Not.myths of motherhood

 

Motherhood is shrouded with all kinds of mythology.  These myths hold us back from letting go of perfection.  They cloud our judgement as we work feverishly to make sure that our children have all the latest toys yet skip reading them a book at night. The myths make us worry more about what the neighbors will think about how we’re raising our children instead of actually raising our children.  Letting go of these myths can help us get present with our children and our relationship with them.

 

So let’s debunk some of the myths we have about motherhood:

 

  1. Children are an extension of you.  This was a big aha with my own mother.  She never seemed happy if I was living my life on a different avenue than she expected.  I was always out of town too much or driving 2 hours for my son’s 6-minute wrestling match.  I wasn’t frugal enough.  Then I turn and look at my own children.  I remember wanting my son to apply early to Cornell (my alma mater).  It would have dramatically boosted his chances of getting in. I realize now I was wrapped up in my own ego.  I want my kid to go to an Ivy League school.  He is himself.  He is not me.  He needs to find his own path.  Thankfully, he did in sunny Miami and not snow ridden Ithaca. Give up the myth that your child is our mini-me and let them be themselves.
  2. The nurturing Madonna.  There is a Madonna statue in every Catholic Church I have been in.  The bucolic baby resting happily on the Madonna’s lap as she smiles at her little cherub.  I never remember feeling like a Madonna once. Ever. I do remember trying to breast feed for 2 plus hours in the middle of the night with no success.  I remember weeping because it wasn’t working and wondering how I was going to last another 18 years with this infant needing sustenance from me.  When I purchased formula I felt guilty for many months.  My sister-in-law had breast fed twins!  Why can’t I do the same?  Because I am not perfect and it’s OK.  I have two of those cherubs who made it past 18.  I wish I had not been so wrapped up in being the nurturing Madonna.
  3. Working full time means abandonment.  When my daughter was born, I owned a restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  My first husband and I rotated managing the restaurant.  I went back to work after two weeks.  Yes.  Two WEEKS!  We traded my daughter off in the middle of the afternoon.  I am not advocating women go back to work after two weeks.  But I have to say that because my husband and I traded her back and forth, I had her undivided attention when I was home.  It was Mommy and Missy Moo time.  I believe I was a better mom because I was satisfied with my career and ambitions and didn’t hold any resentment that being a mother would keep me from a successful career.  I also had a reason to work hard as I wanted the best for my daughter and, later, my son.
  4. Mothers are in control of their children’s views.  This is funny because both of my kids have strong opinions and viewpoints.  I remember mentioning my daughter’s support of a political referendum when she a junior in college.  A peer at work who disagreed with the referendum said, “You can’t let her have that opinion.”  My peer had small children. She had no idea that she would not have control over her kid’s views as they aged.  I’m not saying that as a mother you don’t have an influence but ultimately your children’s viewpoints are their own.  You are not in control.  Influence, yes. But not control.
  5. Mothers are a Jane of all trades.  I did not want to ask for help when I became a mother.  I thought I could handle it all.  Flawlessly.  This is untrue.  I needed someone to clean my house.  I needed a nanny.  I didn’t cook meals from scratch anymore which aggravated my internal Foodie.  My Dad drove my kids to McDonalds (perish the thought) and to local parks.  I had to let go of the idea that I was going to be in every memory my children had.  Just because I didn’t do EVERYTHING didn’t make me less of a mother.  Heck even Carol Brady had Alice.  I see clients who are mothers who suffer under this expectation. Don’t suffer.  Let it go.

 

These myths strangle us.  You are perfect as you are.

6 Ways To Crush The Control Freak Within

You walk into your kid’s bedroom and start straightening the room. Your spouse suggests eating out and you shut it down because you already have something planned. Your assistant thinks we should move the venue for the offsite and you dismiss it as a bad idea. If it’s not your idea, it’s a bad idea. It’s your way or the highway and it’s exhausting.

Control Freak

I’m crushing my control freak and Thanksgiving was a sure test. Instead of being the Director, stage crew and lead actress, I was a bit part in the most intricate meals to put on during the year. So how did I crush my control freak? Here ya go:

1. They are what they are. In don Miguel Ruiz‘ book, The Mastery of Love, he does a magnificent job comparing your relationship to your loved ones to that of loving a dog. If you own a dog, you don’t try and turn it into a cat. So why do you try and change the people you love in your life into something they aren’t. I’ve asked my husband to walk with me in the morning or meditate. He turns it down every time. So guess what? He’s not a meditator or morning walker. I need to let go of the idea that I can change him. Whew. What a relief. They are what they are. Don’t try and change your dog into a cat or your husband into a Zen Master.

2. Get rid of your agenda. Throw it out. This was incredibly difficult on Thanksgiving. My plan was to not have a plan. No time line. So I was going to relax and let the day play out in a natural non controlled way. My daughter and her boyfriend were driving to the house mid morning. And my son was likely to wake up around noon. No sweat. We will make dinner when we make dinner. This took all my faith and patience as I normally would have been up at 6 AM brining a turkey. But I persevered! Dump your agenda.

3. Be open to new possibilities. Both of my kids are great cooks in their own right. My son has been living in Miami and wanted to try two new dishes for Thanksgiving. One was a Colombian dish called Tostones (fried plantains) and the other was Arroz con Coco (coconut rice). This is not typical Graham Family fare for Thanksgiving. But he had already talked to his sister and they were game to give it a try. So I sat on my hands and shut my mouth. So in the middle of my kitchen on Thanksgiving Day were three young adults deep frying plantains, caramelizing coconut milk and cubing up bread for stuffing. Quite the mélange. A delicious mélange.

4. Less is more. If you have ever been to a dinner party at my house you know that I go overboard. I mean 6 different appetizers, 7 sides, two entrees and 4 luscious desserts overboard. Overkill. Overwhelm. And I am exhausted by the end. So this Thanksgiving I embraced less is more. Since my son wanted to make arroz con coco, I didn’t bother bringing up mashed potatoes. “Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes are you kidding me, Cathy?” Yep. No mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving. We roll with arroz con coco.

5. Everyone is wholly perfect. This from Ruiz’s book again. My dog is not half perfect. So why do you think your family is half perfect. I don’t need to change or control anyone. I just need to control my thoughts and let go of my judgments. This is not easy and I know I am a work in progress but just looking to come from a place of acceptance is the secret. Reconfigure your thoughts and begin to believe that everyone is wholly perfect the way they are.

6. Believe in everyone else’s wisdom. When I let go of control on Thanksgiving, everyone else (I mean even the dog) shined. They were all invested. They were all playing their parts and working together like a well oiled machine. This was the first time ever that I gave up the reins of control and everyone rose to the occasion. But you have to believe that they can rise to the occasion. You can’t start thinking about the time your son burnt the pancakes or when your daughter messed up the macaroni and cheese. Have faith and it will find you.

I remember when I initially suggested have the kids make the meal on Thanksgiving, my husband raised one eyebrow and said, “Really?” and I said, “Yeah, don’t you think they can do it?” and he said “I’m not worried about them. Can you let go of control?” So I guess you could say that he threw down the gauntlet. Well I did it. Now so can you.

Originally published on Change Your Thoughts on December 6, 2015

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.

Constantly Overwhelmed? Adrenaline Drag? 6 Steps to Making Easier Choices.

The double edged sword of today’s society is that we have so much to choose from but we have so much to choose from. It can be overwhelming; Even selecting something as “simple” as peanut butter can end up being a 5 minute dilemma in the middle of the grocery isle. Hmmm. Extra chunky, chunky or smooth? Jif, Skippy, Peter Pan or store brand? Natural (are there really fake peanuts out there?), low sugar, low sodium? Extra-large container or individual travel size? And then there is the intended audience;my son likes the smooth stuff, I like the extra chunky and my husband doesn’t care.   And just to really mix it up, what if this is for a Thai recipe that calls for organic peanut butter? Maybe I should just buy one of each and head home before even thinking about jelly. I think we often actually do this, let ourselves feel defeated and default to the simplest solution. Feeling overwhelmed?

This is just one decision in a multitude of thousands that takes place in a grocery story every day. It can create or tap into feeling overwhelmed.

Think of all the marketing and/or product development professionals engage in trying to come up with a new candy bar, car or vacation destination to catch your attention.   It’s almost like they get paid to overwhelm you because, I guess, they do!

It’s their job to somehow convince you to “Try Me! Try Me!” In Barry Schwartz’s book, Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, he breaks folks down into two groups, Maximizers (a perfectionist who wants to look at every available option to make sure they make the absolute best choice) and Satisficers (people who will settle on something that meets a certain threshold). There is a quiz available to decide which way you lean with the following link by Nick Reese. Most of us probably already know which way you lean. But Schwartz claims that the Maximizers have a lot more anxiety and the Satisficers have less anxiety and perhaps are a bit happier and less overwhelmed.

So how do you step back from being overwhelmed and make decisions for quickly and painlessly? Here are some ideas:

1. Limit. Limit the decisions that you have to make. President Obama only has gray and blue suits. He’s not standing (I imagine) staring in his closet trying to figure out what he’s going to wear. I have five pairs of black slacks. I eat the same breakfast every week day. If you can limit the amount of choices, you save some gray matter for the more important decisions. If it’s not critical or life altering, eliminate the decision.

2. Criteria. Understand your criteria before making a decision. I’ve used this when coaching clients. Write down four or five criteria and then across the top of the page put the various options. So let’s take my decision for where to run my first marathon. Look at the criteria and options below with a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) for each criterion:

Richmond Rock’n Roll Raleigh Disney World
Flat                2                    1                10
Fun                8                    7                10
First timer friendly                7                    8                10
Travel                5                    9                  1
Total                22                  25                  31

So based on my criteria, you can see what my decision was. You can do this with anything but because it takes a little bit of time, only use it on more important decisions. Set up your criteria.

4. Restrict Options. Whenever possible restrict the options you have. So if you want to decide which restaurant to go to, limit it by driving distance or type of cuisine or cost. I now realize why I would drive my family nuts by throwing out ten different restaurant option – sushi? pizza? steak? seafood? fast food? BBQ? Chinese? Peruvian? My children would roll their eyes and groan. If I had said, “Sushi or Pizza?”; everyone would have been so much happier. So when you can, restrict the options you are considering to reduce anxiety for everyone involved.

5. Let Go. Let go of perfection. I can assure you that your neighbors will never know that you spent 3 days of intense research to decide on the lawnmower you bought.   Agonizing over big ticket items can eventually cause regret. If perfection is the measuring stick you’re never going to get there, ever, really. The more features you research, the more regret you will have after the fact. If you let go and make a quick decision, the time is not vested, you’re not aware that you could have gotten three bells and whistles that you didn’t consider. Sometimes the less you know; the better. Let go.

6. Hangry. Don’t make decision (if you can help it) when hangry (hungry and angry).   My daughter can read my hangry radar instantly. “Mommy, are you hungry?” Grab a snack. When I am hungry, I am on edge, impulsive and not at my best. If you are a little sleep deprived, hungry, on edge from a meeting that didn’t go so well;wait to make a more weighty decision and never, ever, go to the grocery store hungry. You will buy half the candy and snack aisle – what’s wrong with a 2 pound bag of Peanut M&M’s and Junior Mints?   Your willpower and decision making power is limited so make sure you aren’t hangry.

There are things that need some research. College, careers, cars, health, homes and significant others come to mind. There may be more but some of these steps can work to reduce the options or at least reduce the “Buyer’s Remorse” that Maximizers tend to go through. Relax. Be clear on your criteria and limit the options. Escape the State of being Overwhelmed.

Untether The Balloon. 5 Ways To Detach From The Outcome.

I’ve just spent a few days on the West Coast and met up with a great college friend. We spent a lot of time talking about “Not being attached to the outcome.” She shared an example of a conference she attended where, a group of 30 had to divide into three learning groups. There was no guidance as to how the groups needed to be put together but that everyone in the group had to agree with the makeup of the group. That’s a tall order. She said they spent two days trying to divide up the groups. She was tracking certain folks she wanted to be with, but the turning point for her was letting go and not being attached to the outcome. She ended up in a group sans any of the folks she was tracking but it still proved to be a great group. Letting go of the outcome let her be open to other possibilities.

I was coaching a client this week who wasn’t sure they wanted to do an Ultra Marathon (over 26.2 miles). So I asked what the worst case scenario was and he said a, “To not finish.” I asked, “What is so bad about that?” He said ” Well, I guess I could try again, especially if it’s an injury”. Exactly. We don’t need to be so tied to the outcome….it is…what it is. Let the balloon go and let it float away.  Let. It. Go. red_balloon_by_snnr

So how do we let go, become untethered from the outcome? Here are some steps to try on for size:

1. Meditation. This seems appropriate since non-attachment has its roots in Buddhism. Spending even five or ten minutes on mediation each day helps you to let go of thought. It’s not like you stop thinking, but you learn to let go of thoughts as they come into your mind for ten minutes like little balloons lifting off. It helps you learn to let go of the story. Let the story balloons go as you meditate.

2. Open. Be open to all avenues. I have several ways to get to work. Some are longer, some have more red lights and some are prettier rides. Mess up your ride today. Go a different route. Quit being on auto pilot. I bet you don’t even remember the last drive you took to work. Let go of the assumptions of what is around the next corner, what will happen if your daughter drops out of college, or if you call back that client you aren’t sure about? What if you let go of the fear of quitting your job. Be open to possibilities.

3. Paradigm. Some paradigms are meant to be broken. A paradigm is a set of rules in your head. Many of these paradigms are built on the back of ghosts. If you struggled for money as a child, your paradigm might be about making a million dollars being THE only sign of success. If you only notice that thin people are successful, you might think you can only find success once you are thin. If you had a bad relationship with someone who is Korean, you might think that your child is doomed if they date a Korean. If you don’t want to be attached to the outcome, examine your paradigms…they are likely built on the ghosts of the past.

4. Acceptance. Last week I had the pleasure of hearing Brene Brown speak on her inspiring new book “Daring Greatly”. As Brene pointed out, it’s amazing how we all spend so much time judging each other. I can be devastated by a friend looking me up and down and assume they are judging my clothing selection. I can lose sleep over the fact that my neighbors must be mortified by our uncut lawn. I can make my child change what they are wearing to hope that they are judged by the pink polka dot socks and the purple suspenders. As Brene pointed out, everyone is busy being self-conscious and worried about their own thoughts. So how would you be without that thought? Let it go and accept.

5. Enough. You are enough. Let go of the struggle. You are perfectly you and no one else is exactly as perfectly you. Don’t wait for the next raise, or to hit the lottery, to lose twenty pounds or to marry the guy with the Ferrari. You are enough right now and forever. If you can be enough…right now in this moment…you can be enough even when you fail. Be enough (because you already are).

I have to say that I’ve been working on this for several years. It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you stick with it and reflect on your progress, you will evolve into that floating balloon and let the wind take you where it will…and oh what a ride!

Living (And Cooking) by Feel. 4 Tactics to Learn From Failure.

I’m a cook. I’m a great cook. It’s taken years of practice to be great cook. I began my cooking career by making Hamburger Helper at about the age of 12 or so. My Mother wanted a night off and relinquished her kitchen to my novice hands. I can remember running back and forth into the living room and asking “how do I know when the meat is brown” or “what is sauteing” or “what number do I put the burner on the stove to if it’s medium-high”. My Mother was exasperated. It reached the point of my Mother saying, “I’ll just do it myself” but I prevailed. Who knew that making a meal from Hamburger Helper could be so full of questions? I’m sure my Mother could have made it with her eyes closed but I had to begin the Inquisition to make sure I did it correctly. It’s amazing how when you are new at something, it all seems so unfamiliar and foreign; like rooting around in the dark trying to find the light switch. Logic doesn’t always prevail. 1003p108-cooking-mistakes-intro-l

Flash forward 8 years and now I’m at the Cornell Hotel School and working in an institutional kitchen. I can’t remember the name of the course but we (the students) prepared food for the Rathskeller restaurant located in the hotel school. I was in charge of making a carrot cake. I burned the edges of the cake. I figured it was salvageable and then trimmed about 30% of the cake to get rid of the edges. I then inadvertently spilled some milk on the cake. I shrugged and just continued to trim and covered up all the remaining madness with icing. I took it out to the line to serve only to have the famed Professor Vance Christian take a piece. I cringed, sweated profusely and hid in the back of the kitchen. He hunted me down some 20 minutes later as I cowered in the back to compliment me on the cake. “It was so moist”. Hmmm, my hodgepodge had worked out. This was a long way from Hamburger Helper, I was flying by the seat of my pants and it actually worked out!

Sometimes I think we think that perfection equals mastery. What it really comes down to is having enough experience to be able to let go and riff. And maybe it’s not experience as much as confidence to know you can create something delicious out of failure.

So how to you let go of perfectionism and just go by feel? Here are some ideas:

1. Ask for help. We spend so much time acting like we know everything. It’s OK not to know everything, especially when you are new at something, like Hamburger Helper…or playing the clarinet…or being a boss. Ask your Mom, your best friend or a mentor for help. You can’t let go and go by feel if you haven’t learned the basics first. I didn’t come out of the hotel school knowing how to manage, I had to ask for help from coworkers, other managers, friends and my boss. Ask for help.

2. Read the book (slow down). My favorite chef is Alton Brown. He always says to read the recipe like a good book. I have to admit that most flops in the kitchen have come from not reading the recipe like a good book first. Invariably, there is some step I “skimmed” over and now the meat has to marinate overnight…for the dinner party in two hours. Oops. Read the instructions. This is helpful with anything involving upgrades on your computer to a newer version like say “Java”. I click through and don’t realize I have now committed to a new browser along with the upgrade. Slow down and read the book.

3. Experiment. Once you’ve learned the ropes, experiment. If I’m facilitating a new training, or a new recipe, or trying a new coaching model; I try it the first time by the book. Once I’ve got the hang of it? I experiment. Less stock, more salt, more cooling time, more students in the class, less time on the activity. Try it out by the book the first time, but then tweak it the next, and more after that. Now you are starting to go by feel.

4. Let go. Let go of the perfectionism, the technology, the “way we’ve always done it”. I was coaching a client recently who was able to run a personal record in a half marathon. He knew what his pace had to be to finish faster but he bailed on his running app. He “ran by feel”. He realized that “the numbers rob you of the joy”. When you are focused on what the app says your pace is or making sure you follow the recipe by the letter, you lose a little bit (or a lot) of the joy in the process. Let go.

As I write this, I’m trying to make homemade gnocchi for the first time. I have to say I read many recipes before trying this particular recipe out. I read them like good books. I’m following this to the letter, but if it turns out great, next time there will definitely be some revisions, I’ll let go and cook by feel.

7 Surefire Ways to Decrease Chaos and Focus on What Matters

I had the pleasure of teaching a class on “Focusing on Priorities” at our local Wayne County Chamber of Commerce last week. Lecturing is not my forte but I have taught many corporate and university classes. I always try to make teaching a more collaborative event. The seminar last week was no exception and most of the ideas that came out of the class were terrific. I am constantly amazed how a random group of folks can come up with much better ideas and content as a group than an individual can. Having everyone find their voice and to be heard by everyone else can be so powerful because others can add to the ideas, reinforce them and make an even more powerful framework for action. I love it. It’s always amazing to experience! covey-s-matrix-2

The focus of the class was how to get things done and to diminish the sense of being overwhelmed that comes from the constant barrage of information and requests. We used the Franklin Covey model of the Time Matrix in which you want to spend your time “above the line” or working in areas that are important instead of falling to the areas of what is urgent but not important (i.e. phone calls, email, text and voice mail). It’s also a balance between your own priorities and those of others (i.e. your boss, spouse, parents, clients, etc.).

So for the benefit of all of those who didn’t get to attend, here are some of the ideas that came out of the class:

1. Barricades. There were several thoughts that were related to barricading out interruptions and notification. If you need to work on an important project and want to focus: close the door, turn off the iPhone, turn off all notifications and turn off the internet browser. Proactively barricade the interruptions and attention-grabbers out of your sight.

2. Commit. One of the attendees suggested dedicating a run to someone. So if you plan on running 5 miles on Saturday, dedicate it to your Godmother so that you have a deeper sense of commitment. Or give up something, say Facebook or Twitter for Lent. Commit to something greater than yourself.

3. Chunk. Chuck up the big projects and tasks into smaller parts. This is one of the main reasons folks seek out coaching. They want help chunking and planning out the execution. Setting a time zone and blocking it for writing, exercise, getting one shelf uncluttered or spending 15 minutes on a project. Even creating “e-time” or the time you spend on the internet and answering emails (if your job permits). Plan your chunks, separate them into smaller pieces and then schedule a time to work on them.

4. Calendar. Most of the folks had a calendar for all of their appointments, meetings and important tasks. It doesn’t matter if it’s electronic or paper. Have one location for all of your personal and work related to-dos. If you have two separate locations, you have to be religious in keeping them both up to do date; and quite honestly, with the ability to access and post so easily with electronic media, there’s really no reason to One person highlighted in different colors and her assistant had access to the calendar. My recommendation is whatever you use be consistent. Calendar your important but not urgent items like exercise, project work, reading and writing. They need a time slot in your life along with everything else.

5. Priority. One participant had a business size card that had space to write three goals to focus on in the Personal, Business and Money areas of her life. She kept it in the visor of her car and changed it once a month. Some folks had checklists. There are many apps for that as well: Trello, Wunderlist and Do It (tomorrow) are just a few examples. Keeping goals at the top of one’s mind is critical to keep focus and accomplish what you want to.

6. Communication. This came up repeatedly. We all need to be more proactive about setting expectations when we delegate or are being delegated to. If my project depends on other folks getting information to me…I need to let them know before I get behind the 8 ball and need help digging out. If someone is dependent on me for a critical report so that the presentation goes off as planned, I need to request the deadline up front. Knowing what someone else’s priority and focus are can help you understand your own. Be more proactive in your communication.

7. Good girl. We need to let go of the “good girl” or “wonder woman” syndrome (yes, I know you are surprised but 90% of the class were women). We don’t have to get everything done. We never will get “it all done”. Let go of the guilt, the worry and negative self talk and delegate. It’s only stressing you out. LET.IT.GO.

Sometimes it’s just nice to get into a room with some other overwhelmed folks in order to find out that we are all going through similar experiences and that we can learn from each other’s stumbles and limiting beliefs. It’s invigorating when everyone, including me, takes a piece of new insight and utilizes the new knowledge.

A special thanks to Kate and Lara for putting it all together!

5 Steps to Mindfulness. Boost Your Gray Matter in Just 5 Minutes.

Mindfulness is critical to boost your gray matter and provide clarity of thought.  Dr. Fred Luskin at Stanford University says we have over 60,000 thoughts a day and that a whooping 90% of them are repetitive.  Kind of like an 8 track tape (if you are under 50, go ask your parents) playing over and over and over and over.  You get the picture.  It’s a well worn canyon in our brain of the same old same old.  It’s amazing that any innovation ever happens.  Mindfulness is the key to unlocking those 6,000 thoughts that will bring about clarity and insight. 5 steps to mindfulness

The amazing thing is that in a little as 5 or 10 minutes a day, you can bring about mindfulness; as noted by Lydia Dishman for Fast Company, Ready. Set. Pause.  Unplugging from technology is part of the key.  To sit in a chair in a quiet room and close your eyes for 5 minutes can change your thinking and recharge your prefrontal cortex.  I think that most people associate meditation with sitting uncomfortably cross-legged on the floor with incense burning like Buddha;  or hiking Nepal to some Monastery high in the mist filled mountains.  The journey doesn’t have to be that difficult and it certainly doesn’t require a plane ticket.  You can change your mindset without leaving the ground.

 1.  5 minutes.  All you need to do is find the space and 5 minutes.  As with all things, there is even an app for that.  “Headspace” is free for the first 10 days and has tutorials with excellent visuals to comprehend the actual “space” between thoughts.  There are many others including “Mindfulness“, “Buddify” and “Smiling Mind” just to name a few.  For less than $3 you could be getting some space in your head in just 5 to 10 minutes.

 2. Sitting is Optional.   Some of the apps are even tailored to be used during walks or exercising, so you may not necessarily need to find a quiet space.  I have actually used an app to meditate on an airplane or in the passenger seat of a car.  Maybe you drop your kids at day care and listen on the way to work.  Park your car a half mile from your desk and get your head space on the walk in.  No excuses.

3. Let Go.  You’ll need to let go.  When I’ve suggested to my husband that he meditate, he says that he has “too many thoughts”.  We all do.  And meditating doesn’t necessarily stop them.  It’s giving up control that frees the mind.  I’ve read many analogies like a ticker tape of passing thoughts through your head, or rain drops of thoughts falling down, or thought boats passing down a river.  Let go of control and let the thoughts pass on through.  Let go of the illusion of silence in your head.

 4. Practice.  Practice makes perfect.  Actually, you aren’t looking for perfection.  Schedule your meditation and show up and do it.  The first few times (ok, maybe the first 100 times) I “tried” meditation, I’d end up coming up with “to do” lists or ruminating about the previous day.  It’s OK.  Unplugging for 5 or 10 minutes is helping grow your gray matter.  You will find more head space and your thinking will improve.  Just practice.

 5. Benefits. There are countless benefits of being mindful.  You will be less stressed and your cortisol levels will go down.  You will have improved cognitive function which means you will produce better work.  It will help your brain ward off mental illness.  It helps even when you are not meditating because the effects are long term.  It helps you sleep better and keeps you healthy.  Research at Harvard and Northeastern University find that you will be more compassionate if you regularly meditate.  It’s like taking a daily vitamin, the long term benefits are worth it.

It requires a little faith that taking 5 minutes a day will help your thinking in the long term.  The way I see it, what is the down side?  Can you afford not to?

Help!

This is another key principle from “The Essential’s of Leadership” developed by Development Dimensions International (DDI), ask for help and encourage involvement.  Sounds simple. But is it? For most, it’s difficult to give up the reins.  Most of us are compensated for being an expert, a technician, highly skilled in creating widgets or leading others.  I think we find it difficult to ask for help when we are supposed to be the go to person.  The answer man.  “Go ask Cathy, she’ll know what to do.”

I’m not suggesting that this is asking for help with bringing in grocery bags or changing the water cooler bottle.  This is more about asking for help and getting involvement on a process, procedure or project.  Maybe it’s asking your child to select a recipe and make it for dinner, having your assistant design a page of a website or putting an ad hoc team together to do some process improvement.   This creates buy in and helps advance everyone’s skills.  The helper gets some mastery in a new area and you get better leadership and delegation skills.  It’s a win-win.

In the book, “Multipliers” by Liz Wiseman, one of the five disciplines of a Multiplier is being The Liberator. The leader that liberates is one who “releases others by restraining yourself.” This can be difficult when most people assume that the highest ranking person in the room is going to make the decision.  Time to sit on your hands and let your child, coworker or partner, flourish.

So how do you get on board?  Here are some steps:

1. Let go.  It’s time to let go.  I know it’s easier to do it yourself.  It’s faster.  More efficient.  Saves time, money and (sometimes) aggravation.  In the long run, it will pay dividends.  One of the hardest steps as a parent was to let my child cut an onion.  Handing a child a sharp cutting blade and a round slippery peeled onion sounded like a formula for disaster.  I had to let go.  If they cut off their finger, we’ll go to the emergency room (I’m happy to say it didn’t happen with either child).  How are they ever going to learn?  The bonus is, I’m not the only one who can chop onions.

2. Drop assumptions.  Unless you are clairvoyant, you don’t know what is really going to happen. Your assistant may have totally botched the last spreadsheet you delegated to him but, hey…he probably learned something and will do just great this time.  Quit predicting disaster and let them fly.  If they fall on their face, they will have learned something and so will you.

3. Get clear.  Make sure you and your helper  are clear about project parameters, deadlines and expectations.  If you tell your coworker that we need a budget for the fund raising project, make sure you explain how to develop the budget, when it’s due and any expectations for the format.  It’s not a good idea to send them off in the dark and hope for the best.  Clearly delegate for the best outcome.

4. Be available.  Once you have delegated, be available for course corrections.  I once asked my daughter to make macaroni and cheese while I attended an evening meeting.  The box asked for 1/4 cup of milk.  Somehow my eleven-year-old thought that meant 4 cups of milk.  The end result was a milky cheesy macaroni soup.  I had not been available to answer questions.  If you can’t be available, it may not be the right time to delegate.

5. Accept.  Be prepared to accept any outcome.  The results might be great or they may be a disaster.  Give encouraging feedback about the results regardless of the outcome.  A colleague of mine would say this is “pumping sunshine.” I’d like to think it’s encouraging their mastery.  I’m not suggesting that you gloss over errors that were made.  My daughter now knows the difference between a 1/4 cup and 4 cups (and we didn’t eat the macaroni).  Better luck next time. At least she tried and now, at nineteen, she can cook on her own.  Accept the results and encourage them to continue.

I realize that there may be things that are beyond someone’s abilities.  If it’s too much of a stretch, set realistic expectations.  My daughter won’t be making a turducken anytime soon.  Heck, that’s beyond my skills.  The important thing is to empower those around you and watch them blossom.

How do you encourage involvement?