How To Save Mental Energy

President Obama has a habit you may want to adopt. Or at least adapt.

As he explained to Michael Lewis in this Vanity Fair profile, Obama wears only gray or blue suits. "I'm trying to pair down decisions," he says. "I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make."

The President described himself as "routinized" and referenced research finding that the act of making decisions impacts our ability to make further decisions. This explains why shopping can be so exhausting.

This prompted my own reflection on how much time & energy I spend deciding which tasks to complete and when, or (one that really drains me), deciding what's for dinner. For the dreaded dinner question, Christine Carter at Raising Happiness has a great idea: automate meal planning so that it becomes a habit and takes less time & energy. Take a look at Christine's weekly meal plan for her family here.

You can also enter meals into a Google calendar and have items repeat every so often (so you can have Aunt Betty's famous meatloaf every 3 weeks!).

My free Blueprint for 2013 planner includes the question, "What routines or systems will support my goal achievement?"

I see this idea of systems & routines working in at least two ways. Automating tasks can save mental energy you need for creative, cognitively demanding activities. Establishing routines or rituals for important tasks (writing in a gratitude journal, exercising, reading to your kids) can also make it more likely that you will make room in your schedule for what matters.

Free Blueprint for 2013 Planner

Happy New Year!

Now that the holiday dust has settled, are you ready to think about what's important in the months ahead?

My Blueprint for 2013 workbook is here! It's full of questions and lists to inspire and guide your design of 2013.  The book is free to newsletter subscribers and was blasted last week.  If you did not receive it, that means you are not subscribed to my newsletter (the blog and newsletter are two different subscriptions). You can sign up HERE  and your Blueprint for 2013 will be e-mailed to you. Free!

You can download, print, and staple the book together and get on with your planning. Or, if you want something fancier to write on...

Blueprint for 2013 is also available for purchase as a printed book through Amazon. It's printed in color, bound, and includes bonus questions and pages beyond those in the digital version. The beautiful graphics are thanks to my husband, Geoff.  My first copy arrived yesterday (We have Amazon Prime, so it was here in 2 days). I ordered a bunch to give as gifts and others have let me know that  they have done the same.

I have been using the book to create meaningful goals for my business and family life and to keep track of my ideas for the year.  I hope you find it useful too!

Thank you for the space in your inbox!

With gratitude,

Maura

The Non-Negotiables

In this interview on balancing parenthood and work (something we struggle with in our house), Brene Brown said something simple yet powerful. When asked about how she structures her day, she identified her non-negotiables:

I don’t negotiate sleep, exercise, or healthy food. I can’t show up for my life when I’m tired, eating crappy, or not exercising.

Isn't that the truth?  A couple of months ago, during a period of time when the baby thought it would be nice to get up and eat three times a night, my husband and I were non-functional.  Our thinking was fuzzy. I lost  patience & presence with my older kids. I  found myself reaching for energy in the form of Coke Zeros and anything  I could eat from a bag while standing up.

Since then, we have turned things around in the sleep and eating departments and we are working on the exercise. This means that sometimes, for the sake of sleep, a pile of dishes is left in the sink overnight or work is left undone.  It means more frequent trips to the grocery store to buy fresh food.  My next step is opening the calendar and scheduling walks.

My husband and I  also recognize that if our current way of living does not support what's most important (time with family, our health), it's time to make bigger decisions about how we live and work.

What makes your life work? A morning run? A walk during lunch? Reading the paper? A daily green smoothie? Time to pray, write, or paint?  Family dinners? Date night?

What supports your values? What sets you up to do what matters? What will you not negotiate?

when your life doesn't look like an ad

I had what I call an"ugly phase" this past February. I was due to give birth to my daughter. You're probably thinking it was pregnancy that caused this ugly period, but actually, that wasn't it. Other than a ginormous (my husband's word) belly (which is one of those things you sort of expect when you're expecting), my body seemed relatively intact. Here is what happened.

I was home all day, working very little, alternating between resting and slowly checking nesting items off of my to-do list. I would literally complete one simple task (start a load of laundry) and have to sit down for a few minutes to recover (see belly description above). And (here's the key), I had the TV on for hours a day. The line up started with the Today Show and ended with Dr. Oz in the afternoon. So as I walked around the house and sat for short spells, I caught snippets of segments and...plenty of ads.

Unaware of what provoked my thinking at the time, I noticed myself going to my shopping lists and adding beauty and health care items like eye cream (I wasn't sure what to use but felt certain I needed something) and supplements.

I felt uglier after watching all of this TV. And don't get me started on the makeover my house needed.

Society via the media has expectations not only about how we look, but everything about us: how much money we need, how to spend it, how to decorate our houses, what activities to choose for our kids, what food to eat, how to spend our time...

According to research by James R. Mahalik, Ph.D. at Boston College, society’s top expectations for women are to be: nice, thin, modest, and use all available resources on appearance. To conform to norms, men need to: be in emotional control, put work first, pursue status, and be violent.

These expectations wear us down and set us up for believing we are not enough as we are, that we are the only ones who don't have it all together. They get in the way of our self-confidence. When we believe these expectations are the "norm," they trigger shame.

According to Brene Brown, Ph.D., shame is "the intensely painful feeling or experience that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging." It drives us to work hard to keep everything just right on the outside so we will fit in and people will like us. And we all experience it.

Dr. Brown offers an antidote to shame: critical awareness. Think of it as a coaching tool to apply to all of those "have to" and  "should" thoughts. Here's how you do it.

Notice what triggers shame for you. Including "appearance and body image" (an "almost universal" shame trigger), Dr. Brown has identified 12 categories in which women, in particular, struggle with feelings about themselves:  motherhood, family, parenting, money & work, mental & physical health, sex, aging, religion, being stereotyped & labeled, speaking out & surviving trauma.

Reality-check your expectations (those "should" thoughts) in your trigger categories by questioning them.  Dr. Brown lists different sets of questions in her two books, I Thought It Was Just Me and The Gifts of Imperfection. I combined and adapted her questions:

  • How realistic are my expectations, especially considering my life circumstances? Is what I am seeing in the media (magazines, TV, movies, Facebook, photos, music) showing real life or fantasy?
  • Can I be all of these things all of the time?
  • Do the expectations conflict or compete with each other? Can they really exist together?
  • Do these expectations reflect who I want to be (what matters to me) or what others want me to be?
  • How do I try to manage other people's perceptions of me?
How realistic is it for you to lose 60 pounds as quickly as Beyonce did (unless you have nannies, personal trainers, chefs...)?  Can you really simultaneously have small children and pets running around a house that looks like a Pottery Barn catalog? Or work full time and care for your teenagers & aging parents? For a man who has been laid off, how is he supposed to look invulnerable, put  his non-existent job first, and climb the ranks?
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We think we should look confident, but how can we feel confident when we internalize expectations that are unrealistic, competing, and of little or no value to us?
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And don't forget that it's all supposed to look easy, even if it wears you out on the inside.
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I remember Oprah stating at one point, that she decided not to have children because she couldn't be the parent she wanted to be and career woman she was .  She must have realized that she couldn't be both at the same time.
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I know critical awareness has helped me feel more compassion toward myself when I am caught up the unrealistic, competing expectations - when I think I should have been able to cook a healthy, homemade dinner, sweep the dog hair from the floor, and paint my toenails (Who am I kidding? That doesn't even make the list these days!) after addressing the higher priorities. I hope you see right through your "shoulds" too.

For more about what gets in the way of confidence and how to let it go, join The Confidence Course. Starts June 12!

How To Live the Perfectly Unbalanced Life

A balanced life sounds like the right life, right? There are magazine articles, experts, and ads showing us how to balance all of the parts of our lives, giving enough attention to each so that one does not tip the scales and throw our lives completely out of whack. But I am starting to think that this is goal of balance is not helpful. It may lend itself to living someone else's life and not your right life.

Being well-rounded is highly overrated. - Danielle La Porte

So I propose the perfectly unbalanced life - A timespan that reflects who you are and what is most important to you. In the perfectly unbalanced life, you schedule your time based on your values. You consider your natural preferences, strengths and realities of your life when choosing what to do. You cut or limit tasks that are not important to you.

What does this look like? A perfectly unbalanced life may mean that you never watch the news or American Idol because you spend your nights starting a business, writing, rocking a baby, or teaching a class. You may may leave work to care for an ill parent or work two jobs to pay off debt.  Imbalance may mean that your kids don't play sports or that you spend most evenings on a field because that matters. You may have volunteered in the last election or not voted at all.

This weekend, maybe you went for a hike instead of  returning all of those e-mails. You forgo carpooling and cooking dinner for a while to train for the half marathon. You may have tended to your garden for hours today or paid someone to mow your lawn. Perhaps your budget reflects your value of education, travel, or therapy.  You never get to deeply cleaning your house because you are deeply engaged with your family or friends.

You may never do things you think most people do. You may spend an inordinate amount of time doing what most people don't. It's up to you to determine what is most important to you.

Follow your own path, and let people talk. -Dante

This life  involves saying "no" and  feeling  uncomfortable at times. It may mean struggling with others' opinions about what you should be doing (especially at your age or this day in age), but ultimately recognizing that the "shoulds" and "have tos" are not helpful. A perfectly unbalanced life evolves as your priorities and life circumstances change.

Here is the real beauty of the perfectly unbalanced life: By addressing what is most important, you make your life fulfilling and meaningful. Right. Now.

Unbalancing your life starts by getting to know yourself better. Here is a way to get clear on your values for direction on how to spend your time:

  • On  a piece of paper,  list the different domains of life - Health, Work, Marriage/Relationship, Parenting, Personal Growth, Spirituality, Leisure, Community, Family Relationships, Social Relationships.
  • Under each domain, write down the sort of person you want to be in this area. What do you want to do? What do you want to stand for? I find it most helpful to word this in terms of ongoing action. For example, under Parenting, I wrote down, "being present & engaged with my kids." Under Social Relationships, you may write, "being a supportive friend." If a domain is not important to you, leave it blank. It's good to know.
  • Now, look at each domain and mark on a scale of 0-10 how important this value is to you right now, 0 indicating no importance and 10 indicating very important (It's ok if some areas have the same rank).
  • Then, go through each domain again and mark on the 0-10 scale how effectively you are living this value right now and subtract from rank of importance.

The larger the difference for the domain, the more important it is for you to address it, to tip the scales in its favor. Throw yourself into this value. The difference between how much we value something and how we act on it is a source of suffering. This exercise shines the light on where to direct your time & attention to achieve that perfect imbalance.

Don't worry about what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and do that. Because what the world needs are more people who have come alive. -Howard Thurman

Wondering what Confidence Coaching is? It's a game changer.

The Year of Doing Less & Living More

It's that time of the year when we reflect on the closing year and look ahead to the new year - what goals we want to reach, what changes we want to make, where we want to be a year from now. I love this stuff - new beginnings and change - but I feel like there's this pressure to decide right now, quick, before the clock strikes midnight, what we will work on, where our focus will be, as if it will be too late to become the people we want to be if we wait to start until, say, February 6th.

I have been putting this pressure on myself, wondering where in my schedule I will fit the yoga I want to do twice a week, thinking about where I want to go with my business, how I can be useful to all of you, what to focus on in my newsletters.

Then it hit me that I want to focus on doing less and living more. Living more...fully, completely, authentically, fearlessly, clearly...in a way that's engaged with life, even a messy, imperfect, uncertain life (as all lives are, right?).

How to live more and do less? I am glad you asked because I have been thinking about this.

One of the keys is to do less of the things that get in the way of living this way, thereby freeing up time and energy to do what is most important to you. The things that get in the way may not be so obvious because they have become so ingrained in our ways of thinking & living. They include habits of mind, like believing  we can control what other people think about us, comparing ourselves to real and photoshopped others, mentally streaming the "shoulds,"  "shouldn'ts" and "supposed to"s, repeating that pesky word,  "enough" (According to our minds, we are never doing enough, being enough, exercising enough, eating enough green leafies,  sleeping enough, having enough time, making enough money...). They are the thoughts that we need certainty and control for everything to work out, and that we need everything to work out to prove we are worthy of love and acceptance. They are the thoughts and habits that feed perfectionism that overlap with the actions we take to avoid feeling our uncomfortable feelings - staying busy, eating, seeking approval, cleaning, shopping, checking e-mail, lingering online - that end up numbing us to the comfy feelings, too.

All of this judgment, resistance, subtle irritation and mental tug of war saps our energy and gets in the way of living and engaging authentically.

Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are. - Marianne Williamson

So this year, I'd like to help you re-organize your patterns of thought & action to reflect your true self and what is most important to you to fuel your joy, energy, meaning and success. And I will be experimenting & practicing right along with you.

Cheers to removing the blocks to full out living and uncovering the beauty & riches already there!

Happy New Year!

Love,

Maura

Ready to become the Best Version of You?

Photos from the Captain Family 2010 iphoto book

Tips for a Clean Sweep

In Putting Up the Red Velvet Rope on Your Space, I proposed some questions to ask yourself when deciding what objects stay in your space and which go. Here are some tips on approaching the process of de-cluttering.  The questions are part of the process. Use questions that are most helpful to you. Incidentally, according to Martha Beck, there are four reasons for clutter in our lives: having too much stuff, having the wrong stuff, having the right stuff but no place for it, and having the right stuff but not having it in its place.

  • Start at the place of least satisfaction. In my coach training, we learned to start sessions with clients by asking them to talk about the area of least satisfaction in their lives (another way to ask the same thing is, "What's crappy?"). So what is the area of least satisfaction in your home? What's crappiest about your living space?
  • Instead of taking objects one by one (think of taking books one by one off of a shelf or articles of clothing from a closet or loose items from the floor) and deciding whether or not to keep each one, take everything from your target area (shelf, a closet, drawer, etc.) or loose items from around the house and put it all in one place. Then put up your mental red velvet rope and pull out of the pile only what crosses it. By handpicking items that cross your red velvet rope instead of pulling items that don't, you're less likely to hang on to clutter. Touch what you love. Donate, recycle, sell, release anything that you do not.
  • Divide the keepers into categories and put away one category at a time ("shirts," "everything that goes in the kitchen," "art supplies,” “things from the 1980’s”).
  • Another idea is to pull items from your pile only as you need them. So perhaps you throw everything from a hall closet into a box. Put that box back in the closet or in your garage and pull items as needed. Designate a time limit (one month, six months). After that time, everything left in the box goes.

This process applies to your schedule as well. Put all of your activities or to-do items on a list. Which ones cross your red velvet rope? Which ones are part of your best life? For the items you keep in your schedule, how can you "batch" them by doing similar items in the same chunk of time?

Uncomfortable feelings may come up when you're deciding what and what not to keep. In the next newsletter, I'll help you make sense of those feelings and examine reasons for keeping clutter in your life.

Putting Up the Red Velvet Rope on Your Space

In last month's newsletter, I suggested using the image of a "red velvet rope" (a popular metaphor in the coaching world) to keep everything but your very important tasks from creeping into your schedule.The same concept applies to your space: Only those most important items make it across your red velvet rope (or front door). Otherwise, your stuff ends up controlling you. How to decide which items stay and which ones go? What is your red velvet rope criteria?

You can use the question I suggested last month:

Does this help me create the life I want?

Expanding on this question, you can ask yourself: Does this object align with my values, with what is most important to me right now? Does this object reflect who I am? Does it support the actions I want to take?

Is my stuff supporting my valued action or does much of my action go to supporting the storage and maintenance of my stuff?

As I write this, my living room is not a living room. It has become a photography studio for a few days. There is a huge white backdrop covering a wall and the floor. There is a large octabox (a source of soft light) and various flashes and other technical gadgetry I could name if I was less distracted when my husband explained it. Although I value simplicity and prefer a clean, clear room, I accept this  because it supports something very important to my husband right now - building a photography business. If you have kids, there was probably a time when you had a baby swing, bouncer, and toys in your living & dining spaces (or perhaps you have that now) because those items supported your parenting. When you look at your home right now, what does it tell you about what is important to you?

When setting criteria for what gets past my red velvet rope, I like to ask these simple questions from 1880's designer William Morris:

Is it useful? Is it beautiful?

Here, Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, offers nine tips to help you decide what to keep and what to let go.

Have nothing in your homes that you do not know to be useful and believe to be beautiful. -Williams Morris

Tips to "Better" Tasks You Don't Want to Do

There are some activities in our lives that are important, but not necessarily enjoyable. In order to support your value of health, you may need to visit the dentist and eat kale (just kidding about the kale- but I am actually drinking kale in a green smoothie right now and enjoying it!).  If having a clean house is important to you, there are chores involved. For tasks you cannot bag or barter, here are some tips to "better" them instead of avoiding them:

  • Connect with a task: This is actually something to do with tasks you love and those you don't (viewing a Hawaiian sunset or washing the dishes). It helps you to be present and get the most out of life. Try this: As you do an activity, pretend it's the first time you've ever done it. Engage all of your senses, paying attention to what you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. If thoughts come up about everything else you have to do or how stressed or frustrated you are (or in the case of the sunset, thoughts about how you need to enjoy this and how you don't want it to end), let them be, and bring your attention back to what you are doing. Not only does this practice encourage presence, but we often realize that the tasks we've been avoiding aren't that bad. Then such tasks are no longer obstacles to making important changes in your life.
  • Shrink the change: Having difficulty even getting started cleaning your house, exercising, or writing your book? Try the "5-Minute Room Rescue" by Marla Cilley: Set a timer for 5 minutes and go to the worst room in your house and start cleaning (or exercising or writing). Stop when the timer buzzes. Chances are, you will want to keep going but you do not have to.
  • Add value: Bring a value to a task or situation. A value of mine is learning and I try to bring it to many situations - I listen to audio books on long car drives and read on my iPhone as I stand in the Costco line. Next time you attend a PTA meeting or family reunion, or go to work or even a dental cleaning, how you can you be guided by your values (like contribution, self improvement, connecting with others, beauty, lifting people up)? The same old activity can take on a new meaning, purpose & feeling when we approach it in a different way.

Have you signed up for the Blueprint Life Design Newsletter?

Photo of Maui sunset by Geoff Captain.

Put Up Your Red Velvet Rope

In my August newsletter, I introduced the idea of  de-cluttering your time - your schedule, your to-do list, your tasks. Incidentally, there are two dimensions to your life: time and space. They are so connected, that you can't change one without changing the other. In other words, as you clean out your house, you clean out your schedule, and visa versa (that's why upcoming newsletters address de-cluttering your space). An essential part of designing and building a rich, full, meaningful life is keeping out everything that is not part of your best life. You must put up the "Red Velvet Rope" on your time and allow only the very important activities into your schedule (It's your own "VIP" line). Your very important activities are the ones you love because they support your values and/or they make you come alive. In "Be the Best Version of You in 2010," I listed some questions to ask yourself to clarify your values.

When deciding what activities to allow past your red velvet rope, the bottom line is this:

Does this help me create my ideal life?

And if it doesn't, consider letting go of it, even if it's scary. If you are feeling too busy in your life, the most important thing you can do is  subtract what you do not love from your schedule. You need to clear the clutter from your schedule to allow the good stuff to come in.

If an activity is an attempt to avoid crappy feelings (addictions to gambling, drugs, alcohol, food, shopping... start this way), don't let it past your red velvet rope, no matter how much fun or comfort it promises.

Here is something that I have found helpful to keep in mind: There are value-driven activities that may be stressful (job interview) or uncomfortable (child birth anyone?) or scary (dating). But that is o.k. There are many tools (I use in coaching) that can help you  handle the thoughts & feelings that come along with doing things that enhance your life in the long run. There are also potentially boring, unpleasant tasks that support your values (Did you know that there is a book called After the Ecstasy, the Laundry)? Just make sure that your mouse activities are lining up with your eagle vision (Your Real Career and The Game of Life). Up next: tips on how to approach the tasks that are important, but don't exactly light you up.

Do you want your kids to become multi-tasking, stressed-out, achievement driven adults? If not, Ann Lamott asks why we are living in this manic way. This one is worth reading: Time Lost and Found.

Does This To-do List Make my Butt Look Fat?

Note: This post is included in my upcoming newsletter about de-cluttering your schedule. If you'd like to receive my free newsletters, sign up on any page of my website.

This is the first in a series of newsletters that tackles the idea of de-cluttering your life– your time, your space, your mind. Let’s start with your time – your schedule, your activities, how you choose to spend your life here on earth. In the interest of saving you and me time, I have spread this juicy information over two newsletters/two months.

I think it’s safe to say that if you’re reading this, you have an endless to-do list. There’s work, laundry, soccer practice, swimming lessons, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, taking care of little ones, taking care of parents, working out, appointments, maintaining virtual connections, flossing, e-mail…and this is only the beginning, right? And we do these things over and over, day after day, so in a sense, they are never really “done.” I don’t know about you, but I make myself feel overwhelmed & exhausted with just the thought of it all.

Then why do we try to do so much?

I suspect one reason is FEAR.

Fear that we’ll miss out, that we won’t be keeping up, that we’ll fall behind or won’t get ahead fast enough, that we’re not giving our kids the right opportunities, that we’ll be lazy or uninteresting, that we won’t be at a certain place where we can finally enjoy ourselves and relax (in our dream home, in the corner office, in the driver’s seat of the Porsche) by a certain time (by the age of 30,40, 50, the year 2020…), that we’ll miss something important, that it’s all so important and urgent, that something terrible will happen if we don’t do it, or that, God forbid, someone will think something (about us) that we don’t want them to think.

How are those thoughts working for you? Notice if any are based on control, comparing yourself to others or boosting your ego.

Here’s the thing: You cannot do everything right now and it cannot all be most important. If it’s all so important, then you are unclear on what you value. If the Pareto Principle (80-20 Rule) applies, only 20 percent of the things you do leads to 80% of your results (80% of your business comes from 20% of your clients; You wear 20% of your wardrobe 80% of the time…) anyway.

So where’s the needed change in all this? Creating your to-do list and your life may have less to do with avoiding fear and managing your time and everything to do with moving toward love and managing your energy. That’s what these newsletters are about. They're about editing your life by trimming the fat from your schedule. And, of course, making your butt look so much better.

Be the Best Version of You in 2010

What if you didn’t need anymore time this year? What if balancing family, work, and yourself was less a matter of finding the time or scheduling and more a matter of figuring out what you value most?

Let’s play with this idea.

Are you bummed that you aren’t participating in a cheese-rolling competition in the UK this year? Probably not. Why? It’s not important to you. On top of that, it’s probably not important to your friends either, so you don’t feel like you “should” be doing it.

In a different scenario, imagine that you have a child or close family member who is seriously ill and hospitalized for an extended period of time. Might it be very clear to you what is most important in your life? You probably wouldn’t feel guilty for neglecting the soap scum in you showers, pausing your search for a new work project, or putting homemade meals on the backburner (so to speak). Why not? Because your priorities are crystal clear, there is no self doubt, no apologies, and no guilt. Your actions are aligned with your values.

When our values are not so clear, however, the waters are muddy. When there is no crisis (job loss, illness, injury) or big event (wedding, childbirth, move) dramatically structuring our priorities, all of the pieces of our lives swirl around in our heads. We question how we manage our time and energy (which drains time & energy) and feel like we never have enough of either.

For now (of course, I’ll have more on this later), I propose two pieces, or action steps, to address this problem.

The first: Identify your values. Here are a few ways to ask the same question:

  • What do you value?
  • What gives you meaning?
  • What matters most to you in your life right now?
  • What do you want your life to be about?

Need help figuring this out?

I heard this helpful suggestion from Coach Jeannette Maw:

Get someone to listen to you or record yourself telling two stories. One story is about something that happened recently that was wonderful. Pick out what (hint: what you value) made it so great. Then tell an opposite story and figure out what was missing (hint: values).

Also, check out my blog posts on Your Real Career and The Game of Life. I describe Martha Beck’s tools to identify your values and align your action with your values.

The second: Be aware of the thoughts about what you “should” and “shouldn’t” be doing. You may tell yourself you “should” be exercising more. But if exercising is say, fourth on you list of priorities, then it needs to be addressed accordingly.

Your values and ways of aligning with them are uniquely your own and not necessarily the same as your mother or neighbor. You get to the best version of YOU. Just because your mother makes homemade spaghetti sauce doesn’t mean it “should” be important to you. You and your friends may all value family. Perhaps one of you serves this value by helping with homework, another by providing income, and another by coaching soccer. It doesn’t mean that all of you “should” be doing what everyone else is doing.

I have a feeling that a secret to happiness is using your strengths to put your values in action. More on this in this New Year.

What’s Coming in 2010

Look for these topics to be covered in this year’s newsletters, blogs, and classes:

  • Getting clear on your priorities and what you want your life to look like
  • Cleaning up time, space, & thoughts to make room for what’s important
  • Plans for life balance
  • Improving your relationships
  • Energy (deciding how to use it, sustaining it)
  • Identifying & using your strengths
  • Designing living spaces

What’s Your Story?

“I don’t have enough time.” This is the story of my life. It’s one I have been telling since, oh, I don’t know, 1995. I’ll share it with anyone who asks me how I am doing. The thing is, all these years, my story has been the ABSOLUTE TRUTH in my head. It has been fact. Until now…

I now realize that “I don’t have enough time” is just a thought. Not fact. Not even a circumstance. Here are some of the facts: I have about 16 waking hours each day; I have two young children, run a coaching business and teach a college course. My thoughts around these facts create my story. My story can be a fairy tale or tragedy just depending on how my mind spins the facts.

Here’s the important part: My thought that I don’t have enough time is not helping me create more time or get more done. In fact, just thinking that thought makes me feel rushed and anxious which is not a good place from which to think clearly or creatively. The thought leads to time wasted. I prove myself right (don't have enough time) but don't get what I want (more time or more done). Such is the nature of much of our thinking.

So how do I write a new story?I take that thought and replace it with one that is true and feels better. The opposite may be “I have all the time in the world,” but that just doesn’t feel true. So I go with, “I have time for what is most important.” I also like this one, “If I stop stressing and start relaxing and being kind to myself, I will live longer and better so I’ll have more time and energy to do more.”

So what’s your story? “I’ll never meet the right person or find the perfect job?” “I’ll never lose the weight?” “The economy sucks?” “I’m fat?” “I don’t make enough money?” "I have to make everyone else happy?" State the facts and re-write your story to create a happier ending.

Would you rather be right or free? ~Byron Katie

The world is nothing but my perception of it. I see only through myself. I hear only through the filter of my story. ~Byron Katie

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{The above photo has nothing to do with the content of this post, but I couldn't resist sharing it.}

The Secret to Happiness

Fellow life coach Michele Woodward recently spoke at a corporate luncheon. When asked (on Facebook) to summarize her speech in three sentences, the following is what she wrote. I found her words so helpful, I wanted to pass them along. As you make decisions about your life, this is great advice. As you consider your next tattoo, these are the perfect words to emblazon across your chest:

1. The secret to happiness is to do more of what you like and are good at and less of what you don't like, even if you are good at it.

2. You are the best expert on your own life so listen to your inner voice.

3. Always act in alignment with your strengths and values -- ain't no stopping you when you do.

Photo by Geoff Captain

Just Breathe

Smile, breathe and go slowly. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

I had a particularly difficult year at work, which I described as the year I went to work and forgot to breathe. It was the only way I could communicate how busy I was - I didn’t remember even breathing. Of course I was breathing, but I guarantee that I was breathing in a way that only added to my stress. I have heard that we are a nation of "shallow breathers." I would venture to say that "anxious" is the new "normal." The two are essentially the same.

If you have been reading my blog (thank you!), you may notice that so far, I have talked about bagging things from your to do list, letting go of control and doing nothing. Now I am asking you breathe (As your life coach, I am so demanding! Next thing you know, I'll be asking you to sleep...You think I'm kidding)! You may be thinking that life is much more complicated than this. Is it? If you think everything around you is falling apart, come back to your breath. Good things come into your life when you just breathe (but more about that in my next post)…For now, here’s how to do it:

  • Breathe through your nose. Our nostrils are lined with hair that filters out dust and dirt and other particles (like tiny insects!) that can hurt our lungs. This is only the first of about four lines of defense in the nasal passages. Conversely, mouth breathing does not involve the same set of filters. Nose breathing also maintains the correct balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. When we breathe through our mouths, we tend to inhale and exhale large volumes of air quickly (as in hyperventilation). This leads to reduced levels of oxygen being carried by our blood to our cells, including brain cells. This lack of oxygen triggers our sympathetic nervous system (remember from biology?), our “flight or fight” responses of tension, anxiety, irritability, and depression. This makes it difficult to think clearly and detach from obsessive thoughts. Nose breathing invites participation of the parasympathetic nervous system which slows heart rate and calms, relaxes, and soothes us.
  • Breathe deeply. Not only does breathing supply our bodies with vital oxygen, it also eliminates toxins and waste from the body. In the March 2009 issue of Body + Soul magazine, Dr. Andrew Weil recommends that we start deep breathing by focusing on breathing out: Practice “squeezing’ at the end of every exhale. This will automatically increase our inhalation. I also like Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 breath. In her book, Happy For No Reason, Marci Shimoff suggests putting our hands on our stomachs as we breathe. If we’re breathing deeply from our stomachs, our hands will go out on the inhale and back on the exhale.
  • Sit up, relax facial muscles and move eyes, and laugh. A hunched, tense posture results in reduced lung capacity and restricted breathing muscles. Tense facial muscles and locked eyes (on a computer screen) lead to shallow breathing (and make us look older). Laughing encourages healthy breathing and clears old air out of the lungs.

Shallow breathing has been linked to fatigue, sleep disorders, anxiety, and hypertension, among other problems. Deep breathing is said to enhance digestion, reduce the work load of the heart, help with weight management and hot flashes, and of course, relax the body and mind. Need any more reason to just breathe?

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Something's Missing

A common reason that people seek coaching is that they sense that something is missing from their lives, but they are not sure what it is. That something is often nothing. That's right. Nothing is missing. I have a feeling that nothing is missing from your life. I know it was missing from mine. And the more we try to cram into our caffeinated schedules, the more we need nothing.

What I mean here is that we need to spend time everyday doing nothing. If there is a secret to life or one most important habit to develop, this may very well be it. If you're like me, this sounds difficult, maybe even torturous and logistically impossible. We are a culture obsessed with being busy and "getting things done" (Right now, a book by that title is sitting on my husband's night stand). We feel good about ourselves when we are doing things, and if we are moving at a frantic pace, we must be getting even more done. Well, as it turns out, that is not the case.

Believe me, I tried to get out of doing nothing for a long time. But it kept coming back to haunt me. I just looked at my bookshelf and counted about 20 self-improvement/psychology/spiritual/coaching books I have read in the last six months. Virtually every one of them recommends taking time for stillness or doing nothing for 15 minutes every day. One of those books is written by an architect. I thought for sure that she would let me off the hook. But no, there is a whole chapter devoted to doing nothing. And we all know what Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) did in India. Apparently, doing nothing is non-negotiable.

After building up much evidence for doing nothing, I am now convinced that it is one of the most important things I can do to be present in my life. I now want to convince you. Here's my case:

Doing nothing gives us access to our deep, true, essential selves. Eckhart Tolle claims that "You are never more essentially, more deeply, yourself than when you are still." In case you wonder what is so great about being yourself, you should know that who you really are is filled with peace, truth, consciousness, acceptance, and connection. By tapping into who you are, you will know how to live. As Martha Beck writes in The Joy Diet, "from this still core of self...springs...the real operating instructions for your life." The value in doing nothing lies in its effect on the rest of our lives.  If we take action from a place of peace, clarity, consciousness, acceptance, and connection to life, imagine how calm and efficient we are when we approach situations. We can handle anything.  We don't waste time working toward the wrong goals. Creative solutions come of out nowhere (or nothing). To paraphrase Einstein, we don't try to solve problems with the same thinking that created them. Taking time to do nothing actually ends up saving us time.  It improves the quality of our lives and I suspect it may even increase the quantity of our years (more time to get things done!). As Martha Beck sums it up, "doing nothing is the most productive activity you will ever undertake."

If you want to do nothing but think you have no time, think again. Actually, think differently. As is the case with everything in life, the only thing stopping you is your thoughts. Think about the evidence above. If 15 minutes sounds daunting, start with 5 minutes. Wake up earlier, sit in your car at lunch, lock yourself in the bathroom and pop in those headphones. If the whole thing sounds unappealing right now, don't worry about it and come back to it when you need it.

So, how to do nothing? As I did research for this post, I admit that I became overwhelmed with the amount and variety of information out there on "doing nothing" (There is something ironic about being stressed about figuring out how to do nothing). There are different methods for doing nothing/being still/meditating (don't let that word scare you) and endless resources out there. I have included recommendations on my website's Inspiration page and I will continue to add to the list as I test drive other options.

Traditional meditation asks that we sit with a straight spine and bring attention to our breathing. Now here's the thing: Sitting still can be very difficult for some people, so uncomfortable that they never even try it or try it and give up. I believe that traditional meditation practices are the most powerful, but if following such instructions is not fitting with your life right now, try "doing nothing" while taking a quiet walk, soaking in the tub, or lying in bed. Expect thoughts & feelings, including those of grief, anger & fear, to come up. The key is to do this:

Let your thoughts arise without judging them (We judge ourselves enough the remaining 23.75 hours of the day); just watch them. Don't try to control the process. Then let go of your thoughts. You don't have to stop thinking; just stop attaching to the thoughts.

You can try letting go of your thoughts as if they are bubbles floating away. The Joy Diet suggests watching your thoughts pass by as written words on a ticker tape, a waterfall, or a parade.

There are many audio recordings that teach you to meditate. There are also many that guide you through processes of relaxation, releasing thoughts, etc. While the latter would not be considered traditional meditation, I believe they can help us feel more calm and peaceful. They are also easier to do, providing a great introduction to doing nothing.

So give nothing a try. Just stop doing and start BEING and see what happens.

Ok, I must now stop writing and get back to doing nothing.

I am so busy doing nothing... that the idea of doing anything - which as you know, always leads to something - cuts into the nothing and then forces me to have to drop everything. -Jerry Seinfeld

Don't underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering. -Winnie the Pooh

Your treasure-your perfection-is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the busy commotion of your mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter the silence of the heart. -Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love

You HAVE TO Read This!

Listen to the MUSTN'TS, child, listen to the DON'TS- listen to the SHOULDN'TS, the IMPOSSIBLES, the WON'TS - listen to the NEVER HAVES. Then listen close to me - anything can happen, child. ANYTHING can be.  -Shel Silverstein

Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.      -Lin Yutang

In my last post, I asked you to rate the items on your to-do list according to physical reactions in your body.  Your negative items probably triggered feelings of tightness, heaviness, constriction, or "shackles on." Your positive items likely fell along the lines of freedom, expansion, and "shackles off." This does not mean that the path to your best destiny will always feel easy, comfortable, or safe. But the steps will always taste of delicious freedom and liberation.  An obvious recommendation is to add more positive items to your life (Wow, brilliant coaching!). I have a feeling that if all of your items fell between +5 and +10, you would get everything done. And imagine how you would feel! But you never feel like you get enough done, right? So what to do about the items falling into the negative zone? How do you make room for what you love? I have 3 suggestions, starting with my favorite:

  1. Bag it! This is the simplest solution: Don't do it! I know you're cringing. You're saying, "But I HAVE TO!" According to Martha Beck, the biggest cause of depression (other than chemical) is the inner repetition of the story that we "have to" do certain things, that we have no choice. By repeating this story, we lock ourselves into mental prisons that keep us from living our best lives. The fact is, we lie to ourselves about what we really, truly, physically, HAVE to do. Last July, I read a blog post that still has me thinking (In the interest of time, I suggest reading items 7 and 8 in the article). In this Zen Habits post, Clay Collins urges readers to "aggressively remove everything from your life that you don't want to do." In case this unclear, he states that if you really want to live passionately, you need to aggressively eliminate everything that doesn't make you come alive! The thing is, we are terrible at telling the difference between "very real non-negotiables and fictional non-negotiables." Have you ever been sick for a day, unable to do anything but lie in bed, only to wake up and discover that the world did not stop? Let's learn from this: Do you really have to read every magazine/e-mail/memo/blog post (only this one, right?)/newspaper/piece of information that comes your way? Clean, cook, do laundry or grocery shop as often as you do? Accept every invitation? Keep your job instead of trying another? Did you send holiday cards because you wanted to or because you thought you had to? Do you have to finish something just because you start it? Do those photos really have to go into albums? What are you afraid will happen if you don't do it?
  2. Barter It! Ok, I'll give you this: There are some things that we don't enjoy that need to be done. But that does not mean that YOU have to do them. Some people feel funny about admitting that they pay people to clean their house or to mow their lawn. What a great way to free up time for what you love (unless you love cleaning or gardening). If these don't fit into the budget, what chores can your loved ones take on? If your job gives you a negative feeling, what components or tasks are most "shackles on?" Can you trade tasks with a co-worker? My neighbor and I take turns having each other's kids over to play so that we can do work or chores that are more easily done without kids (and our kids love it).
  3. Better It! So after you've eliminated or handed over everything possible, perhaps there are a few things left. What elements can you add to these tasks to make them more enjoyable? For me, almost anything is better when accompanied by a cup of coffee. Can you listen to great music or books while you drive, workout, clean? Are bills fun to pay when your nails are painted or your pen is gel? How can you use candles, fun paper products, friends, flowers, your favorite clothes, good smells? How can you alter your living and work spaces to add life to your activities? Do you really have to do a task the "right" way or only at a certain time of the day? Try changing the language of your thinking to give you a better feeling. You'll be amazed by the freedom in saying "I choose to..." or "I choose not to..." instead of "I have to..." or "I can't..." My high school Calculus teacher had us write "I LOVE CALCULUS" at the top of every paper. She assured us that our brains could not detect the sarcasm in the written words. Well, guess what: I wasn't great at Calculus, but I loved her class.

So my challenge to myself and you is this: List negative items (These could be tasks, activities, interactions with people, habits...) that you will bag (at least as an experiment), barter, or better. Please share in the Comment section below (only if you want to). I will do the same. Let's pull the shackles off!

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    Is it Delicious?

    Don’t worry about what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.  -Howard Thurman I know you’ve spoken the word delicious many times, but have you ever used it to describe your life? Wouldn’t you like to? In Steering By Starlight, Martha Beck encourages readers to take steps toward what is “most delicious.”

    Are you so busy that you’ve forgotten what’s delicious, what makes you come alive? Well, here’s a way to figure it out: Get in touch with your body. You can use your body as a compass to direct you toward your best destiny. According to Martha Beck, your body knows better than your brain what is right for you. If you do nothing else to determine the best course for your life (and I am talking career, relationships, goals, activities…), using your body as a compass will steer you in the right direction. In fact, when you don’t know what to do or even how you feel, go back to your body. Eckhart Tolle reminds us that awareness of our inner bodies not only brings us into the present moment, but into “Being,” out of the prison of recurring thoughts.

    If you’re feeling “stuck,” you’re running your life with your mind and not following your body. Each experience gives you clues to your right life. No move is ever wasted. The only way to stay stuck is to stop moving. Think of the game “Hot and Cold” you played as a kid. The only way to stop receiving clues, the only way to lose, was to stand still.

    Click here to learn the tool of the Body Compass.

    As you’re rating your activities, there may be thoughts about what you “should” enjoy and what you don’t enjoy but “have to” do. Don’t judge your ratings. Just notice how you feel. You don’t have to do anything about this right now (We'll get to that). If going to work or playing with your kids falls into the negative range, don’t freak out; it may be only one component of an activity that leads to a negative reading. If you got a negative reading on taking a big step, such as scheduling an interview, taking a class, or speaking your mind, don’t trash it yet. A certain amount of nervousness and anxiety is expected if you’re doing something that matters, if it pulls you toward your destiny. Life is experienced most deliciously when we take steps that, according to Martha Beck, are "almost too difficult, almost too fast, almost too complicated. Almost."

    In my next post, I am going to talk about what to do with these ratings so that you can fill your life with delicious possibilities. Thank you for taking the step to read this. By the way, you’re getting warmer.

    If you have questions or comments on using The Body Compass, please e-mail me or post a comment below. If you would like to receive these blog posts in your e-mail inbox, click the “Subscribe” button.

    Photo of Stumptown latte by Geoff Captain