How To Solve Your Problem

Think of a problem you have. O.k, now imagine that you go to bed tonight, and while you are sleeping soundly, a miracle happens (this is called the "Miracle Question" in solutions-focused therapy) that resolves your problem. When you wake up in the morning, what is the first small sign you'd see that would make you think the problem was gone?

Be specific. What are the tangible signs that this miracle took place? How do you feel? What will you do instead of what you usually do? How would your day be different? How do you interact differently? Where do you go? These are signs of progress toward solving your problem.

Say you're having problems in your marriage. If the problem was solved, would you wake up and kiss your husband? Smile?

Say you don't like your job. If a miracle happened, would you feel excited to get dressed? Would you greet everyone as you walked through the door?

Now, ask yourself the Exception Question: When was the last time you saw a piece of the miracle, even for just a few minutes or an hour? What's fascinating is that you prove that, not only are you capable of solving your problem, but  you've actually already solved it, at least for a short time or in some circumstances. Analyze the heck out of these these bright spots. What was working? What did you do? Where were you?  What were you thinking? What were you wearing (you never know)?

Were you looking at photos of your kids? Did you tell a joke? Were you on vacation? Were you feeling relaxed? Were you sitting next to each other instead of standing across?

Were you using your strengths at work? Were you outside? Did you get to be an expert?

What worked and how can you copy it?

What, exactly, do you need to do differently?

Now you have a workable solution.

More in Switch by Chip & Dan Heath

This Changes Everything

What if the following thoughts or beliefs are not always true?

I have to work hard to succeed. I should be getting more done. There’s a right way to do this. I need people to like me. When other people like me, it means I am smart, talented, funny, worthy, attractive. My kid is failing; I must have gone wrong somewhere. I need to keep my kids happy & safe. I don’t measure up. I can’t ask for help. Making money and looking good is more important than feeling good. This will never end. I will waste my time & education if I…quit this job that sucks the life out of me…stay home with my kids…switch careers. When I…lose weight…get married…have money…have kids…leave spouse…get rid of kids…life will be good. I can’t…I have to...I should...I shouldn't...

How would you feel if it was impossible to even think those thoughts?

And what if the following are true?

There is no test to pass, no race to win. The problems that have stumped me will one day bring joy. I am exactly where I am supposed to be, doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. My kid will learn when he learns. My kid needs this experience. There is more than enough to go around. I am guided; I cannot fail, and the best is yet to come. I need me to like me. It’s temporary. There is something perfect about this. Even the hard truth is something I can handle. Accepting the present moment is where my power and peace are.

How would you feel?

Yeah, me too.

“It is the truth that offers us this freedom…At that point, we will have dismantled the biggest lie, the most profound denial of all: the denial of our own inestimable power and value.” –Martha Beck in The Joy Diet

Photo by Geoff Captain

The Numbers That Will Change Your Life

The Numbers That Will Change Your LifeIf you are like most people, you experience about 2 positive emotions to every 1 negative emotion. Not so bad, right? Right. But not so great either. This ratio makes for a life that may be described as, well...

ORDINARY.

Positive psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson has discovered a "tipping point" in human emotions - the point at which we go from ordinary to extraordinary, from languishing to...

FLOURISHING.

This tipping point is 3:1. People who feel at least 3 heartfelt positive emotions to every one negative emotion experience a cascade of positive effects. It seems to be the frequency, not the intensity of the emotions, that matter. According to Dr. Fredrickson in her book, Positivity, flourishing goes beyond feeling good and being happy (although it includes those). People who flourish are extraordinarily effective. They are highly engaged with their families, their work and people around them. They are creative, have a sense of purpose and are full of possibility. They are healthier, resilient in hard times, and may even live longer.

The 3:1 ratio predicts this "upward spiral" of flourishing. The thing this, if you are not flourishing, you are languishing, or spiraling downward. As Jonathan Fields puts it, There Is No Sideways in Life.

So how to tip the scale to add more positive emotions like joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, inspiration, amusement, awe and love into your life?

Two things that have made tremendous differences for my clients and me are: working on thoughts and keeping a gratitude journal. I talked about thought work in Clean Thinking and "To Get Something You Never Had..." and included resources like Byron Katie's The Work. Because I believe thought work is so valuable, yet potentially overwhelming and confusing, I am working on an e-book called Clean, Clear Thinking to unpack it for you. The process of questioning your thoughts is not about "positive thinking;" it's about altering your entrenched habits of thought.

At the end of Positivity, Dr. Fredrickson offers A New Toolkit (backed by research) to raise your ratio by decreasing negativity and increasing positivity. Tools include creating high quality social connections, practicing kindness, enjoying nature, and applying your strengths (this last one I have found to be particularly powerful in crafting careers). One suggestion, practicing loving-kindness meditation, has been a subject of much research. I am going to incorporate this into my routine and I'll report back to you.

(Incidentally, the ratio found to predict flourishing, lasting marriages is 5:1. As humans, we need more positive to make up for negative because negative interactions and emotions tend to carry more weight or "sting" than positives.)

I am reminded of a time when I would meet with my stressed, hard-working co-workers and the question that we asked each other was, "Are you surviving?" There seemed to be no chance of thriving or flourishing, only hope that we survive and get through our days.

I invite you to do more than merely just survive, but to become fully alive in your life.

I find that we often look too far ahead to find our happiness. We try to be wealthy or famous instead of trying to be loving or fascinated. By making more moments glisten with positivity, you make the choice of a lifetime: you choose the upward spiral that leads to your best future - and to our best world. -Barbara Fredrickson in Positivity

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Happiness Is…

"...a view of the world. It comes when you align your life to your values, learn to love and forgive yourself and others, and find true joy in the small details of everyday life."

-Cathy L. Greenberg, Ph.D and Barrett S. Avigdor, J.D. in What Happy Working Mothers Know

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Thoughts Are Optional

The more I coach and the more clients I coach, the more I realize that we all have the same thoughts. My clients think they are the only ones who have such thoughts. And sometimes they make this mean that they are hopeless or that something is wrong with them. Which is not true.

And I'm not talking about clients who are holed up in their homes eating Bon Bons all day.  I don't have those clients. My clients are regular, busy, generally happy people who have thoughts that keep them from seeing and living their potential. They know life can be even better than it is and they want to figure out how. They are the "worried well." Aren't we all?

The thoughts that keep coming up are versions of these:

  • I'm not good enough.
  • I'm a failure or I've failed (in my parenting, my relationships, my career, my finances...you name it)
  • I'm overwhelmed and can't handle everything.

Because these thoughts seem so universal, I am working on a program to address them. And the way out of this thinking may not be what you expect. I'll keep you posted on this through my newsletter.

Meanwhile, try this: Become the scientist of your life. Observe your thoughts. Detach from them. Find them fascinating and interesting. See them as separate from who you are. And...see them as optional. That's right: You don't have to think them. If they make you feel crappy, they are not useful to the situation that worries you. Feed the thoughts you want to grow by giving them your attention and looking for evidence to support them.

Let me know what you think and need by sending me an e-mail or commenting below. As always, thank you for reading.

Photo of my family members at Trump National Golf Course December 2009.

Happiness & Money

Haven't we all wondered whether or not money buys happiness? In other words, if you have more money, will you be happier? If only it were as easy to answer that question as it is to ask it. Much research has been done on the subject and the answer seems to be that, yes, money is important to well being, but it depends.

What the Experts Tells Us

It is clear that wealthy nations have higher average levels of happiness than poorer nations (If you're reading this, you've got this one covered). Within countries, wealthier people tend to be happier than poorer people. There are interesting details and exceptions, however. In a famous measure of life satisfaction of people all over the world, not surprisingly, homeless people (in Fresno, CA and Calcutta) were the least happy. However, people on Forbes Magazine's "richest Americans" list reported the same level of happiness as did the Pennsylvania Amish, the Inuit people in Greenland and the African Maasai tribe who have no electricity or running water.

Although income levels in the United States have increased dramatically since World War II, happiness levels have not.

It has been found that beyond a relatively low level of income (in 2002, that level was estimated to be about $10,000 a year), happiness does not increase significantly with increase in income.

So while there is a link between money and happiness, money's effect on happiness in not as big as we may think. Beyond a certain point, lots more money may mean little or no more happiness.

Money Mindsets

A more powerful influence on your happiness seems to be how you think about money. More important than the actual figures on your paycheck or in your bank account are your thoughts about what that means.

There are some habits of thought that can cancel money's positive effect on happiness.

Say you make $50,000 and year and your neighbor makes $100,000 a year. Those figures do not predict happiness. If your desires fit within your income you will be happier than your neighbor if he wants more than he can afford. Your neighbor may feel poorer if he wants and needs so much beyond his means. But say,however, you compare your income or material goods with that of your neighbor. You may be the one feeling unhappy (such is the danger of comparing). What's interesting is that this "social comparison" may explain why, within countries, richer people are happier than poorer people. It's not the actual money that makes them happier; it's the feeling that comes with having more money than the reference group (This happens when we compare ourselves to the "norm" in other areas such as intelligence and beauty). As long as we see ourselves as "worse off" than whoever we compare ourselves to, we will feel worse.

And then there is materialism: thinking money is the most important thing and wanting money more than you want relationships and experiences. Materialistic people tend to be less happy than others. They also tend to earn more money than others, but their mindset cancels out some of the benefits of having more money. They may replace one materialistic goal with another and never feel successful. They may always want more money than they have and take time away from family, friends, and hobbies in order to earn more.

Researchers took some college graduates and asked about their life goals. Some students had "purpose goals" - aspirations to help others, to learn, to grow. Others had "profit goals" - to achieve wealth or fame. The graduates were tracked down a couple years later and asked how they were doing. Those with the "purpose goals" who felt they were attaining their goals reported higher levels of well being than when they were in college. Those with "profit goals" who were also achieving their goals were no happier than when they were students and they actually reported increases in anxiety and depression.

So if mindsets like some above don't work for us, how is it helpful to think about money (so that we have more and feel happy about what we have)? I am cooking up some practical suggestions for improving your relationship with money and how to spend it more happily too. All of this in the March Newsletter: Simple Green Edition. It goes out this week! If you've been missing it, sign up on my website.

“To Get Something You Never Had…”

Circumstance: Our family business of losing money.

Thought: I will run out of money.

Feeling: Panic, anxiety, doubt, fear

Action: Question my decisions, lash out at family, cry, do nothing

Result: Family members who don't talk to each other, time & energy wasted

Read More

Can You Please Change So That I Can Feel Better?

Consider the title of this post.

Do you ever have that thought?

Yeah, my clients and I do too.

Jen thinks her husband should clean up after himself because he knows a clean house is important to her. Erin needs her kids to stop fighting so she can feel calm. Kate thinks that if her boss would just give her meaningful feedback and more autonomy, Kate can feel appreciated, purposeful, and productive.

There's nothing wrong with asking significant others, family members, and bosses to do things, but they don't always comply. Then what do we do?

We get to take responsibility for our own happiness. If I need my kids to keep quiet so that I can be calm, I am making them responsible for my emotional state. It's now their responsibility to keep me calm. I have handed over the management of my own emotions. It's not their job and if I leave it up to them, I will be riding an emotional roller coaster.

Not to mention that it is exhausting making sure everyone behaves so that I can feel good.

What really needs to change? Our thinking. I know, it may not sound fair. Maybe it isn't. Perhaps everyone really should follow the rules in our mental manuals. But they don't.

Changing our thinking is the way to feel better. It's also empowering. Instead of thinking, "You need to change so I can feel better," try "I need to change so I can feel better."

What do you need to think to feel the way you want?

Jen may consider that her husband's lack of cleanliness has nothing to do with how much he loves her. She might think "I choose to clean because it's important to me" (Or she can hire a cleaning lady). Erin reminds herself that her kids are being kids perfectly. She is going to try this thought: "I can be calm so my kids can stop fighting." Kate may not be able to choose her projects, but she can choose her thoughts. Her boss's thoughts are his business, but Kate can be kind to herself by thinking, "I am capable, valuable, and meeting my own goals."

When we take over as CEO of our own thinking, a funny little thing happens.  The people around us start behaving so much better...even though we don't need them to.

"When you think that someone or something other than yourself needs to change, you're mentally out of your business." -Byron Katie

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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

Do You Believe in Magic?

I know some of you, like me, are fielding the difficult questions that come around this time of the year:

Is Santa Claus real?

How can he fit all of those toys into that sleigh?

Can you e-mail him my list?

And the latest:

Santa has been old for so long, when is he going to die?

My usual response (I'm not saying it's the right one) to the first question is: He is real as long as you believe he is.

Which reminds me of something I have told clients.

Clients have asked me how we know a thought is true. Well, a thought is true because you believe it (Hmm...I know you have to pause and think about that for a second). Now I am not talking about circumstances, which are observable facts. I am talking about thoughts in your head about those circumstances.

But, my clients, will explain, all of my friends think this or that. Yep, I say, you could line up all of your friends and strangers on the street and they may all think the same thing. But that does not mean that a thought is true for you or even useful. We all remember what happened at the tooth filing ceremony in Bali.

The truth doesn't stop being the truth just because we're not looking at it. -Marianne Williamson

So then we go to, "How does the thought make you feel?" If it feels yucky, then it's probably not true. So what does than mean? Well, you can believe what your friends believe (because we all know misery loves company) and create evidence to prove yourself right, or...you can be happy and get what you want.

Speaking of Santa, happiness, and getting what you want...Think about something you really want this year. Go to a place of stillness and become like a child, ignoring any thoughts of what you "should" or "shouldn't" want, any messages of selfishness or impossibility. What would really make you come alive?

Perhaps what comes to mind is a bigger house, a change of scenery, time to yourself, thin thighs, an award, a promotion, a close relationship. Maybe you want to quit your job, train for a race, express your creativity, have less responsibility or even get clarity on what you really want. What speaks to your true self? What keeps popping into your mind? What dream will not be forgotten?

As you ponder this, do not think about HOW you are going to get what you want. The solution, person, or opportunity to facilitate your dream may be unknown to you right now. The familiar or well beaten path may not lead to this destination.

Not to burst your bubble, but what you came up with isn't what you really want. What you really want is the feeling you think that thing, person, or event will bring you. So think about it. If you had it, what would you feel? Just guessing, but might you feel peace? Security? Love? Joy? Comfort? Connection? Those are the usual suspects when it comes to the desires of our authentic selves.

Now, let the thought of what you want fill your mind. Sit with it, smell it, taste it, journal about it as if it's a done deal. How does it feel? Marinate in that feeling. Go there and stay there as often and for as long as you can.

What does that feeling inspire you to do? That is HOW the magic happens (as long as you believe).

External circumstances do not create feeling states. Feeling states create external circumstances. -Martha Beck

I will see it when I believe it. -Wayne Dyer

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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.}

Clean Thinking

My husband teases me about how excited I get by shopping at The Container Store or de-cluttering our house (especially when the de-cluttering is done by him). I also get excited by cleaning up mental spaces. The thing is, cleaning up your home and cleaning up your mind are so intertwined, you can't de-clutter one without creating some space in the other (more about that in a class or another post). Is anyone else getting excited? So, how to create a clean, clear space in your head so you feel peace and joy and can better use your mind to get you where you want to go?

As discussed in my last post, trying to control, resist, eliminate or avoid unwanted thoughts just makes things worse. If I asked you not to think about purple people-eaters right now, you probably wouldn't be able to stop thinking about them.

So here is a list of tips I have found helpful in clearing my own mind. As with everything you read on this site, try what appeals to you and feel no pressure to do anything (That would just create more clutter). This list will always be here when you need it.

These practices are helpful because they take you out of your "story" so that you become a present, nonjudgmental observer of your thoughts. It's not that happy people don't have negative, useless thoughts; they just don't believe all of their thoughts.

  • Label your thoughts & feelings: Instead of saying to yourself, "I'll never finish this," say, "I am having the thought that I will never finish this." Instead of "I am afraid," try, " I am having the feeling of fear." Acceptance and Commitment Therapists call this "defusion" and it removes you from the content of your thinking, creating space between you and your thoughts.
  • Do nothing/meditate, pray, do yoga. According to Robert Holden, Ph.D., in Be Happy, daily practices help you focus, wake up in your life, be here, connect to your joy, and feel grounded, centered, and strong.
  • Do The Work on your thoughts. This is Byron Katie's method of inquiry, or "thought work." Famous in the coaching world, it is a way to detach from a thought, examine it, then move away from it. According to Katie, all of our suffering comes from believing our thoughts. Questioning our thoughts leads to deeper awareness, acceptance of reality, and peace. The Work applies four questions to a stressful thought and then turns the thought around. This a powerful, elegant way to clean up your thinking. To try to summarize The Work here would not do it justice. Check out Katie's website or books and stay tuned to this blog.
  • Feel your feelings completely. Crappy feelings will pass more quickly when you surrender to them and feel them all the way through. Feeling your feelings will also help you identify the thoughts causing them. Then you can question the thoughts. Another thing to do when you identify a painful thought about a situation is to find another equally true, but better-feeling thought about the situation. Sit with the new thought, roll around in it, find evidence to support it.
  • Check out Oprah's interview with Jon Kabat Zinn, founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic.  You can watch the two 20-minute interviews on your computer or download to your iPod. Dr. Kabat-Zinn discusses mindfulness. To read his poem, "A Taste of Mindfulness," click here.
  • Be in your body and engage your senses. This anchors you to the present, and if you are in the moment, it is impossible to get caught up in the clutter of thoughts. Smell the coffee, feel the smoothness of the magazine pages, look outside when the sun is setting, notice the freckles appearing on your child's face. Ellen Langer, Ph.D., recommends "actively noticing new things." By doing this, we snap out of our unconscious routine and realize that people and things constantly change...and then our thoughts change.
  • Along the same lines of being present, Eckhart Tolle recommends that we see the means and end as one. The most important thing, or your purpose, is whatever you are doing in this moment. Your goal may be grocery shopping, but your primary purpose in this moment is lifting your child into the car seat. You may be an account manager, but your primary job right now is typing an e-mail. You are cooking a meal, but right now you are opening the refrigerator door. You would like to be more alive in your life, so your purpose right now is reading these words (had to throw that in). When you are completely in this moment, there is a quality to everything you do. Each moment adds up to create your whole life. "And if the means did not contribute to human happiness, neither will the end." And all you ever need to handle is this moment, and you can always do that.
  • Breathe (You can't go wrong with this one)!

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There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them.                                                                 -Anthony de Mello, Jesuit priest and psychotherapist

Where Are You Headed?

As a continuation of the last post (The Clutter in Your Head), I sat down to write a list of tips to clear your mind. For simplicity, I place these tips in the category of mindfulness/acceptance/presence. But then I got to thinking that it may be more helpful to first explore what happens when we do the opposite: when we avoid, resist, or become entangled with our thoughts. If, like most people, the problems in your life don't seem to go away or the same problems keep coming up, you may be approaching the problems in the same unhelpful way over and over.

To illustrate this pattern, I am adapting a metaphor found in the book, Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life by Steven Hayes. I am switching metaphors on you (clutter to passengers on a bus), but hang in there with me.

Here it is:

Imagine that your life is a bus and you are the driver.  You travel through your life picking up passengers along the way.

Some of these passengers you like: They are beautiful, smiling, cheerful, well dressed. Some passengers you don't like: They slink on, wearing threatening looks on their faces, flashing gangs signals.

You probably judge the quality of your bus by the passengers on it. You've probably spent a good deal of time trying to get the undesirable passengers to change. You may have argued with them, flipped them off, adjusted the rear view mirror so at least you could not see them. Perhaps you even tried to get them off the bus.

But do you know what happened? You gave all of your attention and energy to the unwanted passengers. They became central to your life. Those passengers brought on some back-up and added to themselves.  You may have even stopped the bus (put your life on hold) to deal with them.

As a last resort, you sipped from your flask or reached into the Doritos bag (perhaps adding more problems to your bus) to avoid noticing what was going on. Then you asked your yucky thoughts & feelings ("I am not good enough," fear, sadness, loss, anger...) to please go to the back, change their clothes, or, for crying out loud, just duck down so you could pretend they were not there.

And guess what? The thoughts & feelings agree to hide, but only if you do one thing: drive where they want to go.

The "I am not good enough" thought agreed to keep quiet only if you promised never to take a risk. Sadness & loss won't rear their ugly heads as long as you avoid close relationships. If anger is more acceptable to you than guilt, then you agreed to let anger sit in front as long as it hid guilt from view.

Now you are no longer driving the bus and you are no longer headed toward what matters most to you.

The biggest problem is not that you have these thoughts and feelings. The real problem is that you are no longer going in the direction of what makes your life meaningful.

In the next post, I'll get back to tips on clearing your mind. These tips will help you meet your passengers with acceptance and non-judgmental presence. You can say to them, "Ok, I know you're there. If going where I choose means taking you with me, then I accept that.  But I am going to keep driving in the direction of my dreams." Then you can give more attention to those beautiful, helpful passengers. Perhaps they will invite their friends on the bus. And who knows, maybe those really dirty passengers who tell lies will fall asleep or even fall off the bus.

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The Clutter in Your Head

I know you think about the clutter in your house, but do you ever consider the clutter created by the thoughts in your head? The first step in clearing your mind is understanding the nature of your thinking. So let's take a peek inside your head.

The human brain has the incredible skill to relate essentially anything (objects, thoughts, feelings, actions) to anything else (objects, thoughts, feelings, actions, consequences...). We relate them with words (same as, similar to, because of, near, opposite of, better than...). This allows us to learn, be creative, have memories, build computers, drive our cars, and basically take over the planet. Language is our key to success but also a reason for our suffering.

The thing is, these relationships we create in our heads are arbitrary.  Have you ever heard a child or teen complain, "He looked at me!" What does that mean? He loves you? He hates you? Do you see how we can attach arbitrary meaning to anything? Think of an object. Now think of another object. How is the first object like the second one? How is the first object better than the second one? You've created a relation in your mind.

Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so. -William Shakespeare

Thanks to this process, we take things personally that aren't personal. We label things as "good" or "bad." With an "if...then" relationship, we predict events that may not happen. We create judgments and evaluations. Pick any object in the room right now and find things wrong with it. Criticize it. Your mind can justify anything. People have confessed to murders they did not commit because they doubted their own experience and believed, without question, the words in their heads saying "cops never lie."

I will see it when I believe it. -Wayne Dyer

Are we feeling crazy yet?

Once we have created these mental connections, we then live our lives collecting evidence to secure the relationships in our minds. We repeat these thoughts over and over, wearing deep ruts into our psyches. Thoughts lead to more thoughts. The mind can be viewed as a word machine that produces this constant chatter. This chatter is not a problem until we take our thoughts literally and automatically buy into the stories that our minds produce. Then we cause ourselves suffering. In a sense, we become entangled in the thoughts and we feel trapped. But we are trapped only by words.

My point is not to create an image of your thoughts as the enemy (See how easy it is to relate two things?). The goal is to see your thoughts for what they are - just words that often have no meaning. With an understanding that human minds are busy storytellers, perhaps you can feel more compassion for yourself and everyone else. That's a step toward cleaning up your head. Contrary to popular practice, the next steps are not sweeping your unhelpful thoughts under the rug or dropping them off at Goodwill. It's simple, but not quite that easy.

Next time we'll talk about how to clean up your thinking.

You've got a lot of crap in your head and most if it isn't true. -Martha Beck

Reference: Hayes, S. C. and Smith, S. 2005. Get out of Your Mind & Into Your Life. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Life Simplified

Back in college (ok, waaay back), I worked in an autism research lab. Traditionally, children with autism had been taught behaviors (like making eye contact, saying "hello") one behavior at a time with lots of repetition and reinforcement. The researchers with whom I was working were testing a new intervention that involved teaching two "pivotal" behaviors that were thought to affect a wide range of behaviors. So instead of painstakingly addressing many behaviors discretely, we were focusing on two behaviors and expecting them to create positive change in many other behaviors. I bore you with these details because this principle can make your life much simpler and much better.

What if, instead of trying to remember a bunch of guidelines for your life (like how to best think creatively, approach a new task, train your dog, raise your children, motivate yourself, make money, lose weight, manage difficult co-workers, be a great friend, take care of yourself...), you could remember a couple of things that would positively affect all areas of your life?

What if there were one or two goals that would help you reach all of your other life goals? What if you could remember one thing and the rest would take care of itself?

My friend, I think it's possible.

Here it is: If we make our goal to feel good and stay in the present moment (two phenomena which overlap so much they may actually be the same thing), we will be our best selves.

I know, feeling good doesn't sound productive. It sounds more like a luxury, especially in this economy. But my new belief is that feeling good is a necessity, and the only way to not only survive, but thrive. When you feel good, you do good.

Let me explain.

By feeling good, I am referring to the experience of positive emotions like peace, serenity, love and joy. (Incidentally, the feeling of excitement, while positive, hasn't proven to be as useful).

Let's start by thinking about what you do when you feel the opposite of good - so you're feeling anxious, worried, stressed- what do you do? Avoid people or situations? Yell at innocent bystanders? Accidentally injure yourself? Try to control everything and everybody? Drive dangerously? Make quick decisions? See few options (Researchers agree that people narrow their choices of action when feeling negative emotions, so we see limited possibilities of what to do. This makes me think of kids who can find nothing to do when they're feeling "bored")? As a result of these actions, we may drive friends away, become sick, miss opportunities, and regret decisions. And the dominoes keep falling: With less friends, we feel lonely and angry which leads to further isolation and bad decisions which leads to... I want to point out that negative emotions do have their purpose. Feelings of sadness prompt us to rest and conserve our energy. Fear stimulates adrenaline and helps us run or fight (Although I don't know about you, but it's been a while since I've been chased through the African wilderness by a rhinoceros).

Now consider what you do when you feel good - full of deep peace, hope, love, joy. Do you really listen to yourself and others? Take small steps toward your goals? Garner confidence? Think of creative ideas? Set a good example? Make sound, healthy decisions (Have you ever made a bad decision when feeling calm and peaceful)? Approach people and new situations? The opposite of negative emotions, positive emotions actually expand the scope of our attention (which comes in handy while driving, playing games, life guarding...) and increase the number of thoughts and actions that come to mind. This means more possibilities. This "broaden-and-build" theory by researcher Barbara Fredrickson posits that positive emotions' short term effects (increases in problem-solving ability, awareness and openness to experience) build long term social, psychological and intellectual resources. These resources help us better cope with difficulties, develop closer relationships and even increase the functioning of our heart and immune system. Building resources leads to increases in positive emotions, which build more resources and on goes the "upward spiral." Several studies have even found a correlation between feeling good and living longer.

Sounds good to me.

So how do we increase our experience of positive emotions? Ah, that's many more blog posts (some already written). But I can't resist mentioning a few ways. Eckhart Tolle would say that the key is to align yourself with the present moment. Conscious breathing helps us do this. Life coaches would tell us to do more of what we love and think thoughts that are useful, truthful and create good feelings. Positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky lists twelve "happiness activities," all supported by science, to increase happiness. One of my favorites is practicing gratitude by keeping a gratitude journal.

This blog/website is all about feeling good. As it turns out, it's also about productivity and reaching your goals. So take a look around and stay tuned.

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Thanks to Geoff Captain for the photo.

Thanks to you for reading.

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

Good Enough

This post is longer than usual. So sit back and relax or read a little at a time or print this out and take it to bed. I am going to get a little "coachy" and inspirational on you, but there is good, practical reason for it. Here it goes: My 2-year-old thinks she can do anything. When I asked her what she wanted to do this summer, she replied that she would like to go "paragliding" (We had seen paragliders the previous weekend). When I tell her that she is a big girl, she says, "No I'm not, I'm HUGE!" I know she would attempt to drive my car if I let her.

So when did we go from believing that we were huge with the power do anything to playing small in our lives? When did we forget who we are?

It may have happened sometime around second grade. In a story re-told by Daniel Pink in A Whole New Mind (an excellent book, by the way), Gordon MacKenzie of Hallmark Cards used to visit classrooms and ask, "How many artists are there in the room?" In kindergarten and first grade classrooms, every hand enthusiastically raised. In second grade classrooms, about three-fourths of students raised their hands and in third grade, only a few. By sixth grade, no hands.

What happened? I am wondering if these kids developed the belief that they were no longer good enough to call themselves artists. Or perhaps they weren't good enough to raise their hands even if no one else did.

I see this belief come up in every client: I am not good enough.

Now, you may not think you have this belief. You may not walk around articulating to yourself, "I am not a good enough this" or "I am not good enough to do that." This belief tends to lurk beneath the surface of other thoughts and comes in different forms. Anytime you think you're not worthy, that other people will think less of you, or you compare yourself to others, you are expressing the belief that you are not good enough.

This belief is often tied to issues with money, careers, relationships, and weight. In other words, if you believed that you were good enough, you may not have these issues. One of my clients desired to find the love of his life and to eventually get married. This was a source of pain for him because he had the belief that, because of his past, he was not worthy of a quality woman (By the way, he met a great woman last month and I haven't heard from him since). For fifteen years, Bob Greene told Oprah, "Your weight is ultimately tied to your feelings of unworthiness." In a similar example, Oprah asked Marianne Williamson why she thought Oprah struggled with her weight. Marianne wrote this:

Until you accept the magnitude of your function, your unconscious mind will sabotage any attempt to show your full magnificence. In fact, if you diet and lose weight, your mind will either put the weight back on or trip up in some other area. In order to lose weight on a permanent basis, you want a shift in your belief about who and what you are. This is the miracle you seek.

Somewhere deep down, even Oprah doubted herself. She admits to overachieving in an attempt to prove her worthiness.

You may wonder why I am uncovering this ugly thought, especially if you are unaware of it. Why can't I just let you go on your merry, ignorance-is-bliss, way? So that you can let it go. Unless you're aware of this belief in yourself, you won't be able to get rid of it and you will keep unconsciously sabotaging progress toward your own goals (because you'll keep seeking evidence for the belief that you are not good enough). If you're already enjoying the most fabulous health, wealth, and relationships of your life, you can stop reading. Otherwise, stick with me.

Now the question becomes, "How do we change this belief?" With all of my clients, we start by taking this belief (and actually writing it down) and thinking of reasons it may not be true. With my early clients, I helped brainstorm reasons like, "You just earned your Master's degree," or "You are a loving uncle to your nieces & nephews." Then with a current client, I wondered if this may not be the most helpful type of evidence. If we think of things we have done as evidence that we are "good enough," are we further perpetuating the belief that who we are is what we do? As Marianne Williamson says, "What you do or don't do is not what determines your essential value - your growth perhaps, but not your value."

In order to dis-believe that you are not good enough, it may be helpful to identify your gifts and strengths and how you use them, but it also helps to be reminded of this:

You were born perfect and lovable and anything that suggests a change from this is just a belief you have placed upon yourself. You have not changed. You have just forgotten. In fact, who you really are is more amazing than can be described here.

Now the practical argument: When you believe that you are essentially good enough, you take action that supports this belief. What would you do if you really believed you were good enough? My clients have come up with amazing ways they would feel and act. I'll tell you what you would do:

All day long, you would do things differently. You would walk differently, use different words in different ways. You would take risks. You would choose differently. You may dress differently. You would question yourself less. You would view the world in a different way. You would take care of yourself. And let's not even talk about how you would feel. Then, people start acting differently toward you. And pretty soon, all of those tiny little actions have added up to create desired results in your life.

Here are different words for the same phenomenon: If you are essentially goodness and love, and you believe this, and you express who you are through what you do (whether it's taking care of children or yourself, taking photos, playing music, designing, displaying, singing, dancing, teaching, managing, writing, speaking, relating...), then the action taken from such a belief ultimately creates more beauty and happiness in yourself and the world.

How can that not be good enough?

Constantly comparing ourselves to others sours and shortens our lives, robbing us of the very things we think it will bring: prosperity, love, inner peace, the knowledge that we're good enough.—Martha Beck

Marianne Williamson has a quote that sums up this whole post. Click here to read it.

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Big Ideas I Part Two

In Steering By Starlight, Martha Beck describes the problem of a man she met in Bali. Apparently, this man had sneaked into the tooth-filing ceremony of a woman he loved. This man felt terrible guilt because a man of his caste was forbidden to attend such an event. So, of course he needed coaching around this guilt. I am guessing that this man felt such tremendous guilt because he believed that he did something terribly wrong, and perhaps that meant he was a bad person. Now, I bet your thinking what I'm thinking: That's not true. He doesn't need coaching. He just needs to stop believing something so ridiculous!

Which brings me to the second Big Idea:

Most thoughts that cause you pain and stress are not true.

Now it's easy to apply this to the Balinese man's thought. It's not as easy to see the cracks in our own thinking because, of course, our beliefs are solid and true (Is my sarcasm detectible?). What's interesting is that the stressful thoughts we tell ourselves may be just as ridiculous to this Balinese man as his belief was to us. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • I'll let everybody down if I do what I really want to do.
  • I can't quit my job because I have to support my family (which hinges on the belief that there is only one way for you to make money).
  • Good people...(insert list)
  • Good moms...(insert endless list)
  • I've put so much time/effort/money into this project; I can't quit now.
  • I have to make them happy.
  • No one would love me if they really knew me.
  • I should spend more time...
  • I have to fight my body to lose this weight.

If any of these thoughts cause you pain in a given situation, they are not true.

We acquire the thoughts/beliefs/stories of the people around us. Then we live our lives looking for evidence to prove those beliefs (even those that cause us pain) true. It's like we'd rather prove our minds right than be happy.  At the same time, we overlook any evidence that may disprove our beliefs. We go on believing our stories and ignoring much of our experience that may tell a different story.

The way to get out of this and feel better is to start thinking of ways that these painful beliefs may be false. In my experience, there is just as much, if not more evidence to disprove our negative beliefs as there is to support them. It just depends on what we are looking at. While we ultimately decide what to perceive, the point is not to make up positive thoughts or lie to ourselves. The point is to uncover the truth. As Marianne Williamson says, "The truth doesn't stop being the truth just because we're not looking at it." The truth always feels better than a lie, so you know you've hit on the truth when you feel better. Your body is a great detector of the truth.

If this Big Idea doesn't make much sense right now, don't worry about it.  I look forward to explaining how to find the thought that is causing stress (sometimes it takes a little digging around) and how to question and dissolve it. But for now, just sit with the possibility that the thoughts that are causing you to feel crappy (that's the technical coaching term) may not be true. And if they are not true and they do not feel good, then they are not going to help you reach (or even figure out) your goals. And if they do not feel good and do not help you reach your goals, why would you want to keep them? And if there are other ways to think, then there are amazing ways to feel. And when we feel this good, we do amazing work in our lives.

I couldn't decide on just one of these quotes, because they are all perfect:

There is no such thing as a true story that keeps you from your best destiny. All thoughts that separate you from genuine happiness are lies. - Martha Beck

I will see it when I believe it. - Wayne Dyer

There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them. -Anthony de Mello, Jesuit priest and psychotherapist

I am excited about my next blog post. There is a limiting belief that keeps coming up in my clients. This belief keeps them from living their best lives. I bet you have this belief and you don't even know it. I am going to talk about it so that we can all let it go. At the same time, I am re-designing the look of my website, so check back in a couple of weeks!

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Big Ideas | Part One

I have learned so many life changing concepts and tools from training as a life coach, coaching clients, and being coached myself, that I have pages and pages of blog post ideas that I look forward to sharing with you. But if I had to pick of couple of BIG IDEAS out of all that I have learned... The first will likely make sense to you. The second (which I will share in my next post) may surprise you. If you're a client, you've already heard both.

Here is the first: Your thoughts, not your circumstances, create your feelings. Tell me where I am wrong, but don't we all walk around blaming our stress and anxiety on to-do lists, children, the economy, traffic, jobs, significant others, and ill-fitting jeans? We think we would feel happy and relaxed if only we had a bigger house, more money, a different job, friends and family members who followed our rules, and a new BMW (oh sorry, that's my own thought).

The real source of our problems is not in the outside world; it's in our minds. It's not our circumstances that drive us crazy; it's our thoughts about those circumstances that cause pain.

This is actually exciting news. Circumstances, many over which we have little control, are always changing. The constant is that we can control our thinking. We have the power to change our thinking and therefore, change our experience of life. We are not limited by our situations. We are trapped by the stories we tell ourselves.

There is nothing wrong with making changes in the material world. But if you change your circumstances without changing your thinking, you are treating the symptom and not the cause of the problem. You can put yourself in a new house, a new car, a new job, a new relationship, even a new body. But if you take the same old thoughts with you, you're going to feel the same old way. There are plenty of rich people who stress about money and plenty of thin people who don't feel good about themselves.

So say the circumstance is: You lose your job. You can think, for example: I will never find another job in this economy. Or, you can think: This is an opportunity for me to discover work I really love. Which thought feels better?

When we choose thoughts based on love and truth and let go of thoughts based on fear and falsehood, we feel calm, relaxed, relieved, and peaceful.

Great, you're thinking. I'd like to feel better, but I also need to pay the bills. Well, when we feel good, we take action to create the results (circumstances) we want (our perceptions actually alter our physical reality, but that gets into quantum physics and I won't be going there, at least not right now). Looking at the above example, which thought is more likely to lead to fulfilling work and wealth? Yep, that's what I thought.

If you have the same damn thoughts, you're gonna have the same damn day. -Meadow DeVor

Letting Go

The other day, I was talking to my coach (yes, life coaches have coaches because we practice what we preach) about feeling overwhelmed with all I want to do in order to make the most of my life. As coaches, we surround ourselves with books, articles, websites and audio downloads on how to think peacefully, find our authentic selves, unleash our creativity, handle fear, make decisions, set goals...It's an occupational hazard. The to-do list goes like this: Wake up early to write in journal, do yoga, make a gratitude list, listen to a class, work on a negative thought, read in my latest book. And squeeze in 15 minutes of meditation so I can feel relaxed, damn it. Oh, and don't forget to breathe deeply throughout it all.

The thought goes like this: I have to DO all of the above in order to BE myself and BE happy.

Well, that thought doesn't make me happy. Because it's a lie.

Here's the truth: Any practice that improves your life does so by uncovering the beauty and perfection that is already within you. It's not about layering habits and thoughts upon yourself; it's about letting go of anything that covers you up and weighs you down.

On January 7, 2009, Michael Beckwith summed this up on Oprah (This is a rough quote and I thank my DVR):

All spiritual growth is really about letting go of something. It's not about gaining anything...We can't add anything to us. Spirituality is about letting go of the false concepts, the false ways we've identified ourselves, false identities, false habits, misconstrued ideas, so when we're in the midst of a crisis, we're being asked to let go of something...so that something new can be born.

As a coach, I believe the most powerful things to let go are negative, useless thoughts (Letting go of a dated haircut and tight shoes can also be helpful, but our thoughts change before our actions change).

What sort of thoughts can you release today? What beliefs are not serving you? Judgments ("should")? Rules ("have to")? Attachment to a particular outcome? Your mother's beliefs? False assumptions? Regret? Expectation of perfection? Let go and allow the delicious truth to bubble up. More later.