Decide on Happiness

I have struggled over the last two years with finding happiness. I have strained, pushed, and worked on finally arriving at the railroad station, boarding the rail car called Happiness. Having taken this very circuitous route, I’ve come to realize: it’s not a destination; it’s not arriving or departing. It’s not being on standby. The thing is that it’s always been in me. It can be in me right now. It’s funny because as I write this, my dog Baci just relaxed into my lap as I wrote that sentence. She isn’t struggling any more; she is just deciding that laying next to me is perfect. And that is just perfect with me.

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I recently read Michael Neill’s The Space Within. It’s a thought-provoking book about just letting things be. About giving up control and focusing on what is. To letting go of your thinking and worrying and just letting things be. I think this is about just deciding to be happy right now. Just let life work itself out and yet embrace happiness now. It doesn’t take a milestone like buying a house or the divorce to be final or for you to complete the marathon; be happy right now. The key is to decide. So go ahead and decide on happiness right now.

Here is how to decide on happiness:

Happiness is not the goal

This seems counterintuitive. If you view happiness as the goal, you never find it.  There is always one more hurdle to jump over. One more thing to check off the list.  You never seem to arrive. I have the new car but I won’t be happy until it’s paid off.  Once the car is paid off, then I’ll need to get new tires. Once I get new tires, then the brakes will need replacing. There is always one more thing before happiness is ours, right? The finish line keeps getting extended. We never achieve satisfaction. We never ever arrive. Quit focusing on happiness being the goal.

Happiness is not dependent on others

I can remember thinking as a kid that I would be happy when I found the love of my life or when I had children. Basing your happiness on someone outside of yourself will lead to disappointment. It all starts with you. When it’s dependent upon others, others disappoint. They let you down and then your happiness evaporates. When you can find it in yourself, there is no disappointment. There is only your mindset. If my dog wants to snuggle next to me or not. If my lover tells me they love me or not. If my child gets the job, or graduates from college or not. Happiness is within me and is self-created.

Happiness is not about getting what you want

As Neill writes, “The secret to happiness is simply this…your happiness does NOT depend on getting what you want.” This means that similar to The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy always had home in her heart. She just needed to tap into it. Happiness is within you right now. You don’t need to get the next thing: The new car, house, jacket or coffee maker. Happiness does not exist in the striving for what you want but rather in you right now. Let go of the wishlist and be happy right now.

Happiness is not in the doing

Neill writes, “If you are doing things in order to be happy…you’re doing them in the wrong order.” For me this means to be happy while doing. It starts with the mindset of being happy right now. Start with being happy. Start between the ears. Doing will follow. Just start with a smile on your face and bliss between the ears. Neill suggests looking for the space between words. It’s difficult to look for the space between words when you start looking for it. It’s in the space. That pause. That moment where the infinite is. For me that is being present. Not multitasking. Not looking at your phone. Just be.

Happiness is not a short cut

Neill espouses, “By taking the time to live life in the slow lane, we quickly experience a deeper, more profound experience of contentment.” I opted for a walking meeting with a coworker of mine. The meeting took at least 30 minutes longer than I had expected. The thing is, I connected with the coworker and found out about some recent health issues she was having. I only had thirty minutes on my schedule but the walk and the conversation led to places I didn’t expect or anticipate. It’s letting go of control and letting the path unfold as it needs to. No need to rush, take short cuts or push through. Take the long way, the slow lane and don’t miss a thing.

I wrote myself a note in the Silence Course I took over a year ago. The first item on the note was to smile more. Several people at the course had told me what a beautiful smile I had and how it lit up my face. We all have beautiful smiles. We all need to smile more often. Don’t wait to smile or be happy. Be happy right now. Smile right now. It’s infectious. Are you happy right now?

Being Mindful at Work

You have been scattered all day.  You haven’t finished a thing.  Your to-do list keeps growing and you are starting to forget even the most minor of things, like feeding your dog. You are caught in the surge of overwhelm.  This is especially true during the holidays.  All the annual items start popping up at the most inappropriate times at like say…2 AM and then again at say…3 AM.  Holiday cards for your co-workers.  Poinsettias for the company party.  That conference in San Antonio that you don’t want to forget to budget in for 2017.  Welcome to year-end overwhelm.

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There are ways to mitigate the annual barrage of holiday, year-end, one off to-do’s without succumbing to it.  Restful nights without waking up to, “Did you remember to budget for the company picnic?”  The secret to getting your head back from the overwhelm is mindfulness.  You probably are skeptical.  You might be thinking, “But Cath, I haven’t got time to be mindful.”  How can 10 minutes of peace actually help me, when all I want to do is dive in and start checking things off my list?  I can’t shut off my head.  There is science behind this.

 

Here are small steps to bring mindfulness to work:

 

  • Take a breath. In Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Peace in Every Step, he recommends taking a mindful breath every time you sit down.  So while at your desk as you sit in your chair, take a breath.  As you sit in your car, driving to work, take a breath.  As you sit at the table to eat, take a breath.  You need to take a breath anyway, right?  So why not pay attention when you take a breath.  Give it a try today.  It’s amazing how one breath can change the trajectory of your day.  Try it now.  Breath in.  Breath out.

 

  • Greet the day with a smile. Nhat Hanh says, “Waking up this morning, I smile.  Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.  I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”  I have tried to do this for the last week.  The very first thought when I wake in the morning is to smile.  Smiling relaxes the muscles in your face.  It brightens the day.  How can anything go wrong when you start it off with a smile?  Try it.  Feel your face relax.  The day just got better, didn’t it?

 

  • The promise of hope. Instead of getting caught up in what will go wrong today, get caught up in what will go right.  Nhat Hanh writes, “Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear.  If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”  Optimism is contagious.  So is negativity.  Be the one that spreads optimism.  So when you are in the meeting, ask what is going right or what does success look like.  It brings it back to hope instead of languishing in negativity.

 

  • Tie it to your roles. I have been teaching the 5 Choices of Extraordinary Productivity for the last 18 months.  I think one of the greatest values of the training is identifying your role and making that extraordinary.  So instead of being a “Coach”, I have recreated that role to be “Inspiration Engineer”.  Instead of being a “Wife”, I have recreated that role to be “Kevin’s Best Friend”.  Recreate your roles to be extraordinary.  It makes everything you do at home and at work into something inspirational.  For me, personally, it makes everything I do have value, whether it’s washing the dishes so my husband and I can get out of the house faster, or taking an extra ten minutes with a client to help them work through an insight.  Create your extraordinary roles.

 

  • Be happy now. I’ve spent a good deal of my career waiting to be happy.  I’ll be happy when I get that promotion.  I’ll be happy when I pay off the car.  I’ll be happy when I have the corner office.  This is futile.  I was putting my life on hold until the next hurdle.  As Naht Hahn says, “The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy.” It’s the small things that I need to take stock in.  My dog curled up asleep on the coach.  The sunshine outside.  The smell of fresh brewed coffee.  Don’t put off happiness until – Be happy now.

 

By being more mindful throughout the day, the little distractions seem to fall away.  I’m able to buoy against the struggles and float over the disagreeable nuisances.  The sea may be roiling but I am floating on top.

Laughing at Failure. Lessons from My Son.

You trip on the pavement and mutter under your breath “Klutz.” You don’t pass the certification exam the first time and suddenly you are in a tailspin of self-loathing. You’re driving down the freeway on auto pilot and suddenly there are flashing blue lights behind you. Ugh. 15 over the limit. “Stupid. Stupid. Stupid”.
You know you do it. Everyone does it. It’s what Shirzad Chamine refers to as the Saboteurs in our head. The biggest and baddest of them all is the Judge. According to the Judge in your head you are never good enough, smart enough or thin enough. Hmmm. So what’s this got to do with my son? And how can this help me? Here ya go.

Laughing at failure

I spent most of my Saturday watching kids participate in a state championship weight lifting competition. As I sat there for several hours watching kids 8 to 20 years old step up to a bar and lift, I realized a few things about failure. The ones who prevailed, including my 20 year old son Benson, had some key attributes.

Here they are:

1. Laugh at failure. Each participant gets three tries (attempts) at snatching a weight and three tries at clean and jerking a weight. So in all, there are 6 tries and that’s it. If you don’t do it correctly, you are out of the running. My son’s third attempt at the Snatch, the bar fell back over his head. He laughed. No sulking. No beating himself up. Oh well. I noticed that when the kids that failed went sulking off two things would happen. One – the audience didn’t clap. Two- they failed the next time up. It’s hard to get your concentration back. You’ve let the Judge in your head take over and hijack your performance. I noticed that kids who laughed off the failure came back with a vengeance in the next attempt, almost always prevailing. The lesson? Laugh and laugh often.

2. Have your posse with you. My son participated in the event in Greenville, NC instead of an earlier event in Miami (where he lives) so that he could be surrounded by his family and friends. He knew that when he walked out on that platform that there were 7 folks in that audience to cheer him on. The younger kids that were with a lifting club had a ton of support in the audience as well. Again, the kids that were there by themselves or just a parent did not prevail as often as the other kids who had support. The lesson? Surround yourself with support. Make sure you have folks that are there to cheer you on. Success or failure. Have a posse that has your back.

3. Discipline is what underlies all rituals. Even the eight year-olds had rituals as they approached the bar. Some stomped their left foot on the ground as they grabbed the bar. Some took enormous breaths as they began to lift. They all had rituals. Focus straight ahead. I was talking to Benson’s high school football coach at the end of the meet. He said he convinced Benson to give up track and take on lifting. He said that Benson has the discipline to lift even while going to college full time. It’s the same with your life. You’ve got to have the discipline to show up and accept failure as well as success. Even if you drop the bar, you’ve got to show up the next day and keep on keeping on.

4. Relax and have fun. It was so gratifying to watch these kids have fun. They would be serious and focused as they approached the bar and then, once they were successful, an enormous smile would appear when they finally held the bar above their head. It was such a beautiful sight. Watching these girls and boys radiate as they succeeded in lifting the impossible was gratifying for me. My son was the last of the men to participate because he was lifting the heaviest weight. He failed on his first attempt on the Clean and Jerk. Smile. Got up. Prevailed on the second lift. By this time the entire audience of some 50 spectators were with him and cheering him on as he attempted a personal record and heaviest lift of the competition of 140 kilos (309 pounds). He was whistling. Relaxed. Comfortable. He failed. Oh well. He went to watch the video with his coach. Hmmm. Feet were too narrow apart. He was fine. Resilient. There will be another competition down the road. It’s so similar to Scott Adams book, How to Fail at Almost Everything, as long as you are learning from your failure, that’s the most important thing. So when you fail? And you will. Make sure you are taking the lessons with it.

I think back on some of the big failures in my life. A divorce. A failed restaurant. A lost job. Keeping my sense of humor, learning from my mistakes, having my posse close and trying to stay relaxed was critical. Caving into fear is not an option. Lift that weight, Smile and Move on.

Originally published on Change Your Thoughts on October 27, 2015.

Being in the Moment. What my Dog Taught me About Presence.

If you listen to the book, The Obstacle Is the Way, on Audible there is an interview between the author, Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferriss, author of 4-hour Workweek at the end of the recording. It is a fascinating interview and at one point Tim asks Ryan what he is grateful for. Ryan responds, his dog because he helps keep him present. I immediately connected. My dog, Baci, is the most joyful, present being I know and I absolutely learn from her every day. What My Dog Taught Me About Presence.

Baci is a 6 year old Brittany who we have owned since she was 2 months old. Outside of being a pain to get house broken (I think it took almost 2 years), she is the best dog I have ever owned. I think she’s had an influence on our entire family, as she shares her joy and love unabashedly. So if one dog can change the culture of a house, imagine what you could do if you could adopt some her greatest attributes.

Here is what she has taught me:

1. Smile. Many dogs like Spaniels and Retrievers have a smiling face. The smile is infectious. You cannot look at a smiling dog and not smile back. So do you want to be infectious? Do you want your coworkers or your friends to be drawn to you? Think about smiling more often. Show up to the meeting with a smile. To the party. To the conference call. People will “hear” the smile. Curl up the ends of your mouth and let those pearly whites shine. Smile.

2. Eye contact. When Baci wants something (usually the door being opened so she can go run after a squirrel), she walks right over and makes eye contact. She gets my attention by staring deeply into my eyes. Imagine going into a meeting and the only way you could communicate is through your eyes. They cannot be ignored. I can see how this might be taken too far as staring down your boss in a meeting might be counterproductive but making eye contact is so important in getting someone to take notice. Be sure to make eye contact.

3. Touch. Reach out and touch. This may seem too familiar in the business setting and I grant you that women have more latitude than men when it comes to touching. There are many women that I hug when they come for an annual strategy meeting but not the men. It’s tricky and for all I know, it’s a Southern thing. But when Baci wants to be scratched, she reaches out and taps my hand or nuzzles me on my arm. Connecting with someone by just tapping them on the shoulder or the back of their elbow or shaking their hand can greatly enhance the outcome. You are more connected to someone when you touch them.

4. Roll. Baci rolls with the punches. She’s not pouting in the corner because I forgot to feed her yesterday or stomping off in a huff because she failed to nab that pesky squirrel before it reached the maple tree. There.are.no.regrets. There is another squirrel where that one came from. Dogs don’t end up with ulcers or depression or stress related illnesses. She isn’t ruminating about all the missed opportunities from yesterday or worried about whether or not it will rain this Saturday. She takes it all as it comes. Let it roll.

5. Chill out. Baci can chill out and take a nap ANYWHERE. When we get back from our morning walk, she takes a few sips of water and then heads to her favorite chair to chill out. She takes care of herself. She’s just exerted a lot of energy dragging me around the neighborhood and she sits back and relaxes. Don’t we all need to do that? Instead of focusing on the next task or project. Take 15 minutes and recoup. It helps your demeanor. Take a minute or five to chill out.

6. Love. I don’t know about your dog but my dog loves everyone. I’ll lick your face if you like, let me cuddle with you, I’m your BFF unconditional kind of love. She doesn’t care how old you are, what language you speak or what gender you are. If you are in front of her, she loves you. No questions asked. Imagine having that kind of love for everyone when you head to your next board meeting or widget manufacturing conference or high school reunion. Unconditional love is really freeing. It leaves you open with no attachments. Embody the Baci love (except maybe not licking anyone’s face).

7. Live. Baci inhales life. If it’s running through a pile of leaves, chasing the elusive squirrel, keeping the geese at bay or fetching a tennis ball, she is all in. She doesn’t hold back. If this is the task at hand, she will bring her whole self. I’ve never thrown a tennis ball and have her meander over halfheartedly to pick up the ball. So bring it. To your next project, washing the dishes or writing a blog post. Be all in.

As I write this, my dog is sprawled on the floor next to me. Never self-conscious. Never worried about the judgments of others. It’s so inspiring. Just be.

6 Ways to Make the Best Impression. It Might Even Keep You From Being Sued.

We make snap decisions based on a single interaction. A smile, a glint in the eye can be infectious. Someone holding the door open or handing you the quarter you inadvertently dropped. The small moment of generosity is a gift that keeps giving. On the flip side, something as insignificant as a doctor spending three less minutes with a patient and not asking any questions…or listening to the response, can increase the chances of that doctor being sued for malpractice. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, he says, “What comes up again and again in malpractice cases is that patients say they were rushed or ignored or treated poorly.” Think of that! There was no appreciable difference in the quality of the care, just a difference in the behavior of the doctor.Making the Best Impression

Nowhere do these snap decisions have a bigger impact than a job interview. In my years of recruiting as a restaurant owner and as a Human Resource professional, I have seen the entire gambit. I’ve had candidates come in to the interview with a toddler and infant in tow. Applicants who fill out the application with just their name and the box that asks what position they are applying for is filled in with “Any”. Then there are waiters who look terrified and never crack a smile. Or recent college grads with their collar and necktie so tight, I thought their head might pop. Special moments like an interviewee who hugged the hiring manager. All these things matter when the decision to have a candidate continue on in the process comes down to the first few seconds of the interview. Most screening interviews (which is what a Human Resource professional is usually doing) can last less than 15 minutes. If you want to move on in the process, you better shine. You can think you will overcome the tight collar, the lack of a smile. But you can’t. I’ve already made a decision, consciously or not, to move on.

So how do we connect with folks and make the best impression? Here are some ideas:

1. Smile. Perception is reality and if you smile, you will be more approachable. This was a painful revelation last year when I took a presenting skills class through Dale Carnegie and my insightful instructor, Jackie Kellso, went over the video tape of my first presentation. I never smiled. I looked angry. I didn’t want to listen to the woman in the video tape (and it was me). By the last video, I was smiling and what a difference it made. It is so much more engaging. Approachable. I want to be around people who smile. You want to be around people who smile. Let’s all smile. And often.

2. Contact. Make eye contact. When I interviewed for a spot at the Cornell Hotel School, I made eye contact with the recruiter and never broke it until he did. Eye contact means you are engaged. It means you are paying attention. This also means you can’t look at your phone or your watch or out the window. Keeping eye contact keeps the other person engaged as well. You can bet that the doctors who were sued for malpractice didn’t make eye contact. They were probably staring at the medical chart. Stay connected by making eye contact. People find it flattering as well.

3. Laugh. Laughter equals joy. I’m not talking about self-deprecating laughter or sarcasm; I’m talking pure laughter without rolling the bus over someone at their expense. I try to find the joy in others: My son doing a Nathan Lane impression, the crazy faces/noises my daughter makes and my dog chasing a squirrel she has no intention of actually catching. Find the joy. The laughter. Who would you rather be around, someone with no sense of humor or someone who can find the joy, even over spilled milk. Laugh.

4. Ratio. Have a five-to-one positive-to-negative ratio in your interactions. John Gottman, the marriage guru, studied over 700 couples. Those couples who dropped below the five-to-one ratio in a 15 minute conversation, predicted a subsequent divorce with a high level of accuracy (81% to 94%). So it’s not just about being positive, it’s about how often you are positive versus negative. So if you tell your spouse, thanks for doing the dishes and then go on a diatribe about all the unfinished chores…no dice. Maintain the ratio with those around you.

5. Body. Look at your body language. Shoulders back. Head erect. Along with feeling more confident, you will sending out a positive impression. I can remember in a class I took that the instructor told us to slump our shoulders, look at the floor and say “I feel great today”. I didn’t feel great when my body language was speaking volumes of the opposite. When asked to do the flip and sit erect and shoulders back and say “I feel lousy today”. My words didn’t not resonate because my body was speaking confidence. What is your body saying in that project proposal, the job interview or on that first date? Pay attention to your body.

6. Connect. If possible, physically connect. A good friend of mine, Susan Passino, was a server with me when I worked at the San Francisco Airport (MANY years ago). She always told me to touch customers on the back of the shoulder if possible. Connecting with someone physically, whether a handshake or a light tap on their shoulder or arm is powerful. Suddenly you are not anonymous. You are connecting on a different level. If you are shaking someone’s hand, be sure to make sure you have been holding a warm beverage in it before. Studies have shown that cold beverages lead to cold hands and a “cold” impression. If it’s possible, try and physically connect.

It’s easy to look around an pick out those folks you don’t think give off a positive impression but everything really does start with you. Work on giving off that positive vibe yourself. Be the light that shines out on everyone else.

Attitude and the Flawless Croissant. Never Lost in Translation

I recently traveled to the province of Quebec with my daughter. French is the official language in Quebec and neither my daughter, who is fluent in Spanish, nor I speak French. I have to admit that I took three years of French in high school but outside of a few cooking terms like mise en place and sauté…I don’t remember a lick of it. This was quite intimidating as we crossed the border in our car on Interstate 89 just north of Burlington, Vermont needing to find a bathroom desperately.

Quebec is largely rural with a ton of farms, and, to our dismay, did not have any gas stations or fast food locations within the first 40 or so miles inside the border. And EVERY sign was in French. In addition, my cell coverage was not working. This might have been a bad idea. We are reading signs as we pass through the little villages near the border. “Bar Laiter” appeared on several signs. “Wow, they sure have a lot of bars here in Canada”. Finally, one of the signs that said “Bar Laiter” also had a picture of an ice cream cone. “Ohhhh. That’s a dairy bar. Let’s see if they have a bathroom”. We walked into the shop and there in the back was a sign saying “Toilettes”. Whew. When in doubt, always look for the food sign, a food sign, any food sign!

As we traveled through Montreal and Quebec City for the next few days, we learned that food would be our common denominator. Here are some key learning’s:

1. Greetings. Wherever you go, be sure to know the local greetings. Whether “bon jour” or “howdy” or “hola”…know how to greet folks in their own language. Making the effort to meet them in their own language shows respect and effort on your part. It’s ok if your “bon jour” lacks any Parisian flair and nuance (heck you don’t want them to think you really speak French anyway). It’s fine if if you sound like a New Yorker speaking Midwestern; people will make allowances if you try. There is nothing so sweet as the waiter or valet responding with a sweet , melodic “bon jour” in return. Study up on your greetings.

2. Smile. A smile forgives a thousand sins. It’s easy to get so nervous about a lack of fluency that we put our stone face of fear on. The best response is smiling. It is the international language. A smile is disarming. It’s very difficult to get upset if someone is smiling at you. Even if you don’t know how the credit card machine works or need directions to the ladies room ~ Smile.

3. Patience. Turn up your patience dial. Just 48 hours before arriving in Montreal, we had been in the center of stress inducing, manic, adrenaline provoking Manhattan. The pace in Manhattan is in stark contrast to laid back Montreal. When you eat in a restaurant, it’s expected as we later learned from our tour guide, that a meal will take hours and no one is ever going to ask you to leave or even present a check until you ask. We were on vacation for god’s sakes. Relax. Linger. Take your time. Embrace patience.

4. Local. Eat local. We found out on a food tour we took in Old Montreal, that Canada produces excellent duck and maple products. In the next three days, we had every manner of duck (canard in French) from confit, to pate, to a’la Orange. Delightful. In fact, every menu contained duck and every preparation was wonderful. Quebec is the center of the world on maple syrup and sugar production. Whether maple pie, maple crème brulee or maple ice cream…we had it all and it was perfection. The Flawless Croissant.

We stumbled upon a Patisserie that had a French trained chef who made the most perfect croissant my daughter and I have ever eaten. We didn’t need to know the language to understand great food. We may have killed our ability to have a Pillsbury Crescent Roll going forward but the experience of tasting that flaky perfection was worth it. Always try to eat local products.

5. Open. If you travel to places with different cultures and languages, you’re going to need to be open. If you want scrambled eggs and Maxwell house coffee for breakfast, stay home. If you are uncomfortable saying “merci” instead of “thank you”, stay on your couch. If you are afraid of being embarrassed by your pronunciation of “bonsoir”, don’t bother with a passport. My daughter and I had a blast practicing the common phrases we heard and tentatively tried them out on unsuspecting front desk and busboys. At one restaurant we were given a gigantic jar of cornichons with our pate, OK, so this is how they do this here, let’s give it a try. Service folks are there to shape your experience, be open to letting them do their job.

6. Permission. It was terrifying at first, but we got used to asking for permission to speak English. Like I said, we really didn’t know any French. So invariably, someone would bring our meals and rattle off what they were serving and we didn’t have a clue what they were saying. It took a few bungled requests but eventually, I would say “Do you speak English?” Of course they did. They ALL did. We watched one Maiter D’ go from one table and speak Spanish, another and speak French and then, ask us if we enjoyed our meal. Flawless. I am humbled by their outstanding service and their ability to effortlessly switch from one language to another (and they didn’t even need an app…which by the way we did to help translate). Ask for permission.

In every trip I have ever taken, it’s always been about the food. My memories are wrapped up in the flawless croissant and succulent Canard A ‘la Orange prepared table side. I’ll always remember it. Let the food be the mile posts in your memory and help you embrace a different language and culture.