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

Want to Lose Weight? Eat From a Blue Plate.

Would you like to know more about how your living space affects how you feel and what design features are suited to your personality? Here are some tidbits from Place Advantage: Applied Psychology for Interior Architecture by Sally Augustin, PhD:

  • When people around the world are asked to name their favorite color, blue wins. Yellow comes in last, right after orange.
  • Studies have found blue plates and lights to decrease people's appetites.
  • A straight horizontal line (think: top edge of a table) tends to be calming. However, multiple horizontal lines in a room make us tense.
  • Extroverts tend to use more couches in their living rooms while introverts may favor movable seats.
  • Extroverts prefer open floor plans with fewer walls while introverts may prefer living spaces that are more divided.
  • If you've taken the Myers-Briggs personality test, you are either a "judger" (a planner, concerned about living an organized life) or a "perceiver" (an improviser, prefering to live more spontaneously). In general, planners like spaces that assist with organization & efficiency. Improvisers generally have more casual, original, lighthearted spaces. Since improvisers may not be naturally organized, they keep physical reminders. So in their spaces, they may need white boards, magnet boards, counter space for piles and space for the stuff they keep.
  • A classic study found that people who feel in control of their destiny prefer straight lines in their space while people who feel they are controlled by fate prefer more curved lines (We have nothing but straight lines in our house. Can you say control freaks?).
  • Your floors should be a darker color than your walls, which should be darker than your ceiling. This reflects the order of nature - darker soil and lighter sky.
  • Of all types of light, we like dappled light (like sunlight shining through a tree) the best and find it soothing (This light looks great in photographs).
  • Light comes in warm and cool colors. You can look at the Kelvin units on your light bulbs.  5000K (sunlight at noon) tends to be neutral. Lower K is warmer, higher K is cooler. Candlelight (1000-2000K) is warm. Shade or very overcast sky (9000-10,000K) is cool. We tend to be more relaxed in warm light and more alert in cool light. In cool artificial light, we tend to experience more stress than in warm artificial light.

The recipe for this super easy, spiced chicken is in my December newsletter. You can serve it on a blue plate. :)

Photos by Geoff Captain

You Can't Change Your Life Without Changing Your House

And you can't change your house without changing your life. I've heard Martha Beck speak these words on multiple occasions and you can read her words in print in Steering By Starlight. I've always found this concept interesting because I love both life design and home design. I am fascinated by where the two intersect. Martha also says that the way we do one thing is the way we do everything. So who would have guessed that your career or life's purpose had anything to do with what bathroom soap you choose or where you hang that velvet painting of Elvis.

In my home office, I happen to have lots of paper, which can represent thoughts. The paper and the thoughts can, at times, create physical & mental clutter (I have more books & paper than I have storage space and I have more ideas than time to execute them). If you have too much stuff in your space, you may be too busy in your schedule. Perhaps the kids' toys in your bedroom means that it's time to set some boundaries. If you're hoarding objects, you may be clinging to excess weight on your body.

Here is an exercise that asks you to make a tiny change in your living space that may result in a big change in your life. Think about it: A tiny step in a different direction on the path called life could completely change where you end up years from now. Back in 1999, I purchased a book called Expecting Adam by Martha Beck. The book had nothing to do with life coaching (Martha was not a coach at the time, nor did the term exist) and I admit that I bought the book because I liked the cover. Little did I know that the purchase would lead me to a completely unexpected place in my career nine years later.

These steps are adapted from exercises in Steering by Starlight and information from classes I have taken with Martha.

  • Walk through your home and notice your body's reaction to different rooms, objects, shelves, corners, spaces. Notice what part of your home gets the most negative reaction from your body.
  • Write down three adjectives to describe that part of your home you like the least. Ask yourself, "What else in my life can be described by those three adjectives?" You can address this later.
  • Now, go into your memory or imagination and think of a space that you love. It could be a place you have been or seen in a movie (Diane Keaton's home in Something's Gotta Give), catalog, or magazine...You can even cut out pictures and make a collage or vision board of your ideal space. Lately, I've been perusing Dwell Magazine and the SimpleLovely blog. I also love the  Manhattan Beach, CA home shown above & below (photos by my husband). Write down three adjectives to describe that ideal space. Notice the difference between your current space (three negative adjectives) and your ideal space (three positive adjectives). Knowing what you like and don't like helps you create your ideal life.
  • Go acquire an object that is described by at least one of your positive adjectives and bring it into that least favorite part of your home. It could be small or big - bedsheets, a plant, a piece of fabric, a tech gadget, a paint chip, a mug, a laborador retriever...Make sure it helps you create the life you want. This weekend, I am switching out photos on my desk.
  • For each object you bring in, remove one thing from that space.
  • Rinse and repeat until you love that space.

You can follow the same steps above with other areas of low satisfaction in your life, like your career or relationships. Instead of bringing in beautiful objects, think of helpful communication skills or patterns of action or thought you can use to replace unhelpful ways of doing things.

All photos by Geoff Captain of geoffcaptainstudios. Would you like to see more photos of this particular house? They are right here.

Now available for instant download: The Best Version of You

New tele-class coming in early 2011: Extreme Career Makeover. Details announced in my newsletter.

The Best Version of You

Each week during the past month, I met with an amazing group of people over the phone for a telecourse I called "Get To Know You." I designed the class to help people get clear on their "essential selves," their values, and their strengths in order to find direction, make life decisions and add meaning to their lives. A nice side effect of getting to know yourself is self love and acceptance. Most of the participants came to the class for clarity on career decisions, so questions and examples were geared toward work. The tools and exercises in the 17-page workbook I put together can help you figure out next steps to take in your career, relationships, parenting, or personal growth, whether you want to make a change or enrich your current life with more happiness & meaning. The material will help you align your actions with what you're naturally drawn to, where you're strongest and what matters most to you. When you do that, you get to be the best version of you, and you no longer need to be a version of anyone else.

So that more people can access this information, I've packaged the mp3s recordings of the classes (5+ hours), a long list of resources, and a 17-page workbook. You can purchase now: Add to Cart

Don't miss this invitation to become you.

How Your Imperfection Makes You Beautiful

I have written before about the belief  "I'm not good enough." I have been fascinated by the fact that this thought seems to be in all of our heads. And, as a mother, I have also been wanting to figure out how to keep this limiting belief from forming in the minds of my beautiful little girls. Then last night I watched a Ted Talk by Dr. Brene Brown (A few of my wonderful coaching friends posted this video on Facebook) that spoke to my fascination (and desire to fix this). It's 20 minutes and well worth the time. I watched it twice to get a full understanding. Whether or not you watch it, I'll attempt to summarize Dr. Brown findings and mix it with my coaching perspective:

Dr. Brown believes that connection is what it's all about; it's why we are all here. Connection refers to meaningful, authentic relationships.

What unravels connection is shame. With shame, we believe we can't let others see pieces of ourselves, because if they do, it will cause disconnection. We keep others from seeing us because we believe we're not enough (not good enough, not thin enough, rich enough...). There's some irony here: Not opening ourselves to others (because we fear rejection and disconnection) keeps us from connecting.

On the opposite end of shame is empathy. What allows us to empathize with others is opening up and making ourselves vulnerable. We have to be vulnerable to experience connection.

Dr. Brown found that the difference between people who have a sense of worthiness, love, and belonging (people who connect) and those who don't is a belief: that they are worthy of love and belonging. Believing they are not worthy keeps people out of connection.

From the belief that they are worthy, these "wholehearted" people live like this: They have courage to be imperfect, compassion to be kind to themselves first,  and connection as a result of having authenticity to let go of who they "should" be in order to be who they are. They embrace vulnerability - putting themselves out there and taking risks in relationships, asking for help, losing a job.

The thing is that we don't like to be vulnerable. It makes us uncomfortable. So what do we do? Dr. Brown uses the word "numb" - we spend, eat, consume. I often use the word "resistance." We fight, ignore, distract ourselves from uncomfortable feelings. I have been talking a lot about resistance with my coaching clients, as it seems to the root of so much psychological struggle, not to mention the toll it takes on our bodies.

But as Dr. Brown points out, when we numb ourselves to the difficult emotions, we numb ourselves to the others - joy, gratitude, happiness...Then we miss out on feeling alive. This sends us into the search for purpose and meaning, but that makes us scared and vulnerable, so then we go back to numbing.  You can see the downward spiral.

This leads me to a place I didn't necessarily expect when I started this post. What I do in many coaching sessions is help clients work on those beliefs (I'm not____enough) and process/make room  for those uncomfortable feelings. When we do these things, our unhelpful thoughts & feelings have less impact on us. Then we can connect and do what's important to us. I plan to teach some classes on this in the new year, but if you'd like an excellent book for getting started on coaching yourself, I recommend The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris, MD.

Photo by Geoff Captain. Words written by me (I will not tell you how many times I erased and re-wrote "perfection" in order to make it perfect).

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.

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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.

What You Can Do When Everything Falls Apart

So I've been feeling particularly "heavy" this weekend - not in terms of body weight, but mental weight. On Friday, our neighbor died in a car crash. Yesterday, my husband read more in the news about how uncertain his job is (architects are an endangered species in this economy). And last night, we watched "The Hurt Locker." Like I said, heavy.

So if the stresses of the world are getting to you as well, I thought I'd share something we can all do even in the midst of death, job loss, divorce, illness, war, chaos, and uncertainty.

We can keep moving in the direction of our values.

Our values are always available to us. It takes time to achieve a goal, but we can live our values moment to moment.

To clarify your values, ask yourself what is most important? Who is the person you want to be? What do you want to stand for? What do you want your life to be about?

Then ask yourself how you can honor your values in the small actions you take everyday. This morning, I actually wrote a list of the ways I can align with what's most important: be present with my husband & kids, nurture my relationships, eat well & exercise, and help people live their best lives. The amazing thing is that we are not dependent on circumstances to address what's most important to us.

Starting October 19th, I am teaching a class to help clarify and apply your values, and in the process, create a blueprint for a meaningful life. Taking valued action may mean feeling scared and uncomfortable at times, but it always means that you're living a rich, full, meaningful life. What about the fear and discomfort that come along with that? I can teach you tools to handle it.

Photo by Geoff Captain.

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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For Everyone on Mother's Day

The most important work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes.             -Harold B. Lee

This - my favorite essay on motherhood by Anna Quindlen - has a message for everyone. If you don't have kids (and even if you do), pass this along to your mom friends & your mom...just be sure to keep the Kleenex handy...

"All my babies are gone now. I say this not in sorrow but in disbelief. I take great satisfaction in what I have today: three almost adults, two taller than I am, one closing in fast. Three people who read the same books I do and have learned not to be afraid of disagreeing with me in their opinion of them, who sometimes tell vulgar jokes that make me laugh until I choke and cry, who need razor blades and shower gel and privacy, who want to keep their doors closed more than I like. Who, miraculously, go to the bathroom, zip up their jackets and move food from plate to mouth all by themselves.

Like the trick soap I bought for the bathroom with a rubber ducky at its center, the baby is buried deep within each, barely discernible except through the unreliable haze of the past.

Everything in all the books I once pored over is finished for me now. Penelope Leach., T. Berry Brazelton., Dr. Spock. The ones on sibling rivalry and sleeping through the night and early-childhood education, all grown obsolete. Along with “Goodnight Moon” and “Where the Wild Things Are,” they are battered, spotted, well used. But I suspect that if you flipped the pages dust would rise like memories. What those books taught me, finally, and what the women on the playground taught me, and the well-meaning relations –what they taught me was that they couldn’t really teach me very much at all.

Raising children is presented at first as a true-false test, then becomes multiple choice, until finally, far along, you realize that it is an endless essay. No one knows anything. One child responds well to positive reinforcement, another can be managed only with a stern voice and a timeout. One boy is toilet trained at 3, his brother at 2. When my first child was born, parents were told to put baby to bed on his belly so that he would not choke on his own spit-up. By the time my last arrived, babies were put down on their backs because of research on sudden infant death syndrome. To a new parent this ever-shifting certainty is terrifying, and then soothing. Eventually you must learn to trust yourself. Eventually the research will follow.

I remember 15 years ago poring over one of Dr. Brazelton’s wonderful books on child development, in which he describes three different sorts of infants: average, quiet, and active. I was looking for a sub-quiet codicil for an 18-month-old who did not walk. Was there something wrong with his fat little legs? Was there something wrong with his tiny little mind? Was he developmentally delayed, physically challenged? Was I insane? Last year he went to China. Next year he goes to college. He can talk just fine. He can walk, too.

Every part of raising children is humbling, too. Believe me, mistakes were made. They have all been enshrined in the Remember-When-Mom-Did Hall of Fame. The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the bad language – mine, not theirs. The times the baby fell off the bed. The times I arrived late for preschool pickup. The nightmare sleepover. The horrible summer camp. The day when the youngest came barreling out of the classroom with a 98 on her geography test, and I responded, What did you get wrong? (She insisted I include that.) The time I ordered food at the McDonald’s drive-through speaker and then drove away without picking it up from the window. (They all insisted I include that.) I did not allow them to watch the Simpsons for the first two seasons. What was I thinking?

But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4 and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.

Even today I’m not sure what worked and what didn’t, what was me and what was simply life. When they were very small, I suppose I thought someday they would become who they were because of what I’d done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be. The books said to be relaxed and I was often tense, matter-of-fact and I was sometimes over the top. And look how it all turned out. I wound up with the three people I like best in the world, who have done more than anyone to excavate my essential humanity.

That’s what the books never told me. I was bound and determined to learn from the experts. It just took me a while to figure out who the experts were."

The most important thing she’d learned over the years was that there was no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one. –Jill Churchill, Crime and Punishment

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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.

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.