Making New Habits Stick

kitchenIn our constant quest to a better ourselves, we look to adopt new behaviors and habits. But new habits are hard to adopt especially when those new behaviors don’t feel all that rewarding for the amount of effort we’re putting into it. Take for example my goal to declutter my office by going to a paperless filing system. This was a habit I tried to adopt last year and it involved changing completely how I processed bills and accounts. The new habit involved different steps of scanning, shredding and saving vs. slipping the bill into a folder and filing by year and month – something I had done all my life. So, sticking to this habit was harder because it actually felt less satisfying and the reward for my new behavior was not immediately apparent. I still have folders filled with old files (my purging process is going slowly) so I wasn’t seeing a less cluttered filing cabinet – I just wasn’t adding to it. I am happy that I was able make this habit stick. I attribute my success in adopting this new habit to having created barriers to the old system. Basically, I made it almost impossible for me to revert to old ways by not setting up new folders. The only thing to do when a bill came it was to follow the new paperless procedures. I can see the reward now and it’s great to see that my files are not growing and bulging with paper!

 

Another new habit that was a bit easier to stick to was to have a clear and clean kitchen at all times. This meant that dishes were to be washed, dried, and put away – as soon as they were dirtied. This differed from my current habit of letting things pile up during the day and cleaning up at once, either in the evening or the next morning. This new habit required carving time every morning to clear breakfast dishes before heading off to work, and cleaning up right after dinner instead of watching television. But it wasn’t only dishes that cluttered the kitchen. The island had become the repository of the daily mail. By week’s end, half of the island surface was littered with mail. Sticking to my goal of a clear kitchen became especially challenging on long work days when all I wanted to do was to go to bed early and leave the dishes until morning and deal with the mail on the weekend. But, I would make myself stick to my new habit even when I had no desire to do it. Fortunately, for this new habit, the reward was pretty immediate – a clean uncluttered kitchen – aaah! An unexpected plus was that my husband began adopting the same behavior and is pitching in to keep the kitchen spotless.

 

So I learned that to stick to our new behaviors and create new habits two things will definitely help: 1) eliminate access or create barriers to old behaviors and 2) focus on the rewards of the new behaviors. If the rewards are not immediately apparent, then create rewards! I want to gain muscle tone and maintain my cardiovascular fitness this year. I know it will take several months before I see results so I have created rewards for myself. For example, I listen to my favorite mystery books on my iPod when I go out for a run, and only when I got out for a run. My love for mysteries is a great motivator and reward that will get me closer to the real reward of working out.

 

Adopting a new habit is hard work and it takes time.  If you slipped up, don’t sweat it. Just keep at it and hang in there!

 

Much Love,

 

 

3 Life Lessons From 2013

questioningI know it is well into the new year and many of us are focused on working on our resolutions and looking ahead to lighter, richer, healthier, better version of ourselves. But, I’m not quite ready to close the book on lucky 13. Before I bid adieu to el Año Viejo, I feel it’s important to reflect on what life had to teach me last year. For me it was a great year with challenges, achievements, wins, and losses. Each small experience brought to me life lessons. Below are three of the big takeaways from 2013 that I wish to share with you:

 

Helping people make positive change should feel as good as spreading soft butter on warm toast

I love mentoring and coaching people to help them achieve their dreams. I mentored friends, colleagues, and students throughout my career as a natural byproduct of my work, but this year I was fortunate to have a job as a coach and work with people from all over the country. This summer I had a couple of coaching and mentoring experiences that were very challenging. The goals were not the issue, it was how I felt about the progress they were making. I felt frustrated and anxious at not being able to truly identify the best way to be helpful and have them move things along more quickly. I tried different tactics and continued to feel uneasy with my approach. I sometimes doubted my abilities as a coach and wondered if I was asking the right questions. Yet, other people I was coaching were making great progress and it was thrilling to see how each session was opening up new ways of thinking. In the end I learned this: people can only work on the things that that they are ready to face – and that goes for professional as well as for personal issues. It dawned on me that I have seen this kind of resistance to change in myself. When we are truly ready to deal with the barriers that hold us back then we become more open to help and more pliable to change. Those people who sailed ahead with a little bit of coaching were truly ready for it and helping them felt as good and easy as spreading soft butter on warm toast. For myself I learned that be most helpful to people I have to match their pace. If their pace is at a standstill, that’s as far as it will go and that is okay.

True friends are superheroes that show their superpowers in times of distress.

Some lessons come in the ways of do’s and don’ts. This is the case with this lesson. Throughout my life I have considered myself surrounded by lots of friends. The main reason for this is because I called everyone a friend. If I knew only a little bit about you then bam!, he or she was a friend. If we had done some work together or shared an experience, that meant we were automatically friends. You can see that I had set a pretty low bar to friendship and it came back to bite me. So the lesson for me here was don’t set the bar to friendship so low that I can trip on it and fall on my face 🙂  But, the real takeaway comes from the incredibly beautiful experience of seeing my true friends emerge by my side when I was facing difficult times. My friends (and I use that title very carefully now) have become larger than life superheroes in my life giving me their attention, support, love and constant reassurances. They have deflected negativity with one swoop  WOOSH!, crushed my self-doubt with a single blow CRASH!, and kicked fear right in the gut. POW! Their counsel, advice, and shoulders to lean on have been the most precious gift any one could receive. True friends, like Superheroes, are rare indeed.

Work towards what you want but let go of the outcome

I am a big believer in visioning. If you can envision what you want, I believe that you will get what you want. Where I get discouraged is when the path towards my vision seems to take me off course, or if it does not line up with the steps I thought it would take, or if it’s taking much longer than I thought. The frustration comes in when I feel I cannot control the steps or the speed with which I am making progress towards my vision. From the prior two takeaways I learned this: I cannot control the outcome. How things wrap up or end up are not for me to own because all who are involved share and contribute to that outcome. I can feel elated or disappointed about the result but it is not for me to own as if my actions alone were the catalyst. The best thing I did in 2013 was to surrender. To surrender is hard but also uplifting. To surrender does not mean giving up my power, rather it is a way to release my power from the box I had constructed around it. If you’re looking to feel lighter in 2014, try surrendering. It works!

If you would like to share your big takeaways from 2013, write them in the comments section and I will post them in a special page for all of us to read.

Feliz y Prospero 2014!

Much Love,

May We Never Lose Hope

cloudsHope. What a wonderful human emotion. When life is troubling, when we cannot figure out which end is up or in which direction to go, hope is a beacon that cuts through the fog and gives us a reason not to quit, a reason to not despair, a reason to get up, dust ourselves off and keep going.

Several years ago I met a young lady, Lizette, who asked for guidance to deal with her situation. She was a high school student who had graduated with 3.8 GPA and was seeing her dreams of a Bachelor’s degree disintegrate before her eyes. She was undocumented. She had excelled academically and had a strong record in athletics and dedicated several hours per semester volunteering in the community. Lizette was offered scholarships at a couple of private institutions but even with the scholarships, her family could not afford the remaining cost to attend. After exhausting every possibility to receive additional scholarships, she made the choice to work at a restaurant, save as much as she could, and hope that one day she would have enough to attend college. I worried that she wouldn’t make it.

But, that’s what’s great about hope. I don’t know how many jobs Lizette worked, how many times she got discouraged by the passage of time when she felt she was not any closer to her goal. However many setbacks she faced, however many times she felt like giving up, it was hope that kept her going and striving for her dream. I was thrilled when she wrote me a couple of years later to tell me that she was enrolling in college that fall. Lizette and I kept in touch and as a college student, she faced other challenges, including a serious illness and the death of a parent, that would have discouraged even the strongest among us. Hope kept her going through illness, loss, classes and work. I cannot begin to imagine the enormous feeling of accomplishment and reward she was feeling on the day she graduated with her Bachelor’s degree in May 2013.

When hope pays off, like in the case of Lizette, it feels so good. But, not all of our hopes lead to the ending that we wish for. A year ago I came across a blog about hope. It was written by a woman, I’ll call her Elizabeth, who was battling cancer. Her writing combined humor and hard-core reality to depict her battle with cancer in a blow by blow account, akin to witnessing a boxing match. As Elizabeth’s postings became shorter and farther apart, I hoped that it was a temporary setback. The next and final post was written by her husband. Elizabeth had lost her battle to cancer. He wrote to thank all of her blog followers who had become another source of hope and encouragement for her. He said that she remained positive until the very end.

Some situations don’t end the way we wish. At some point we realize that our hope for a certain outcome needs to redirected. Certain outcomes are outside of our control and in those cases I still think it’s important to hope, to keep a positive outlook, and to be persistent. It’s just as important to know when to accept that some things are or happen for a reason and we must accept a different outcome. Accepting and letting go of the outcome frees us to redirect our hope and spend energy on other people or things in our lives that we may have overlooked.

I think of this beautiful soul who documented her fight with cancer. At some point she must have accepted that she would not live to celebrate her next birthday. As the treatments and disease weakened her body, it is likely that she redirected her hopes from beating cancer to hopes for her family and made the most of her time to tell them what she hoped for them.

May we never lose hope and know when we need to redirect it.

Much Love,

Who is to Blame?

redlightThe flashing blue lights suddenly filled the inside of my car. Surely the police car behind me wasn’t stopping me. I was the only car on the road but still, what just happened? I was pulling out of the metro parking lot at 8:30 pm on a Friday night, a time when people are either relaxing at home or beginning to release the stress of the week at their local restaurant/bar. I was coming home from an all-day staff retreat. All I really remember thinking about at that hour was what was I going to have for dinner. The day’s food choices had been very limited for me given that retreat food is the exact opposite of gluten-free. At 8:30 pm I was going through a mental inventory of my fridge and wondering if Chipotle was open at this hour when the police car snuck up behind me. To eliminate all doubt that the pretty blue lights were just for me, the police siren whooped once.

 

The officer said that I had not come to a full stop. Knowing that there isn’t a stop sign between the corner and where I was, I wondered what he was referring to. Then he said, “You know there is a ‘No Turn on Red’ sign back there.” I agreed. It is there and has been there forever and I know the sign well because the light is almost always red and on occasion I have had someone behind me honking because they have not read the sign or just like the sound of their horn. My work day is framed by these “No Turn on Red” intersections. There is one near my house that I wait for to turn green every morning before I go to work, and this one at the train station, that I also wait for every afternoon when I am coming home. Having agreed with the officer about the sign’s existence, I handed him my license and automatically assumed I was guilty of running the red light.

 

After the officer gave me the ticket, I pulled off to go home. I had lost my appetite, not because this was the first time I had gotten a ticket, but because something felt wrong. I have gotten two speeding tickets in my life. When my parents lived in New Jersey I would drive up to see them for the weekend. When I was given those tickets, I was very clear about what I had done to earn the ticket. But, on this Friday night, I am 95 percent certain that I did not run a red light. My certainty comes from knowing my driving habits. I am the type of driver who slows downs and stops at yellow lights due to my fear of intersections. My 5 percent doubt comes from my childhood belief that if any authority figure says I’ve done something wrong, then I must have done something wrong.

 

I got home and studied the piece of paper the officer had given me. Now I was really baffled. The citation did not say anything about a red light. The officer had written that I had “failed to pay full attention.”  WHAT!! Since when are officers armed with attention radar guns? I could understand receiving this citation if I had caused an accident, hit a pedestrian or failed to yield to crossing geese. But, why should I pay a fine for thinking about dinner? The officer never said that I had run a red light I only assumed I did. Was my failure to protest his implied accusation his proof that I had not been paying full attention?

 

So, for a week I have been trying to will my brain to replay the moment I got to the intersection but I can’t. I clearly remember thinking about Chipotle’s hours and I even remember noticing how full and beautifully bright the moon was when it came into my line of sight.  But, I don’t remember the status of the traffic light when I pulled up to it. If the definition of insanity is doing same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, does that mean that I had a moment of sanity? It doesn’t matter, the real question is, should I contest this ticket?

 

I think that the lesson from all this is that I have to be more aware of my actions. Not only while driving but as I am doing other things that are routine in nature. It’s true that sometimes we go into auto-pilot, and driving the same route every day creates the conditions that cause our brains to tune out. I have not decided if I am going to contest the ticket in court, but for now, the lesson of greater awareness is what I am going to keep and I will (eventually) let go of the blame.

 

Much Love,

 

(Re)Start Journaling in 5 Easy Steps

writing-in-journalI remember writing in my first journal. I started journaling when I went to college which seemed like a big enough life experience to record in a yellow spiral notebook. I dedicated that yellow notebook to house my thoughts and feelings over a period of four years. I wrote pretty regularly for the first two years. Then, the dates of the entries became increasingly far apart, until I stopped.

Years later I returned to my journal. I would pick it up during difficult times, but would drop it when the crisis was over. When I started meditating I was drawn once again to my treasured journal. As I re-read my entries, I found repetitions, connections and a progression in what I read. It really was a treasure! Most importantly, the trend I noticed was that when things seemed dark, uncertain or foreboding –now in the present I could see how everything had turned out just fine. It was reassuring to know that even when things feel big and heavy, my journal will show me that all things, with time, become small and manageable. Gaining that perspective is a great benefit of journaling.  Of course having a receptacle for all those thoughts bouncing around in my head helps too.

There is something else I learned from reading those early entries. When I started journaling I took myself too seriously. I felt guilty if I had not written for a while and as if I had failed journaling 101. Also my writing felt “scripted” as if I expected someone other than me to read and judge my writings. I was missing the point (and the benefits) of journaling because I was treating it like a homework assignment. Today, I love my journal and it has become a no-guilt, no-stress zone for me. I hope that these 5 tips will help you avoid some of these pitfalls and get you to enjoy and learn from journaling.

If you have never journaled before, or are looking for a way to start journaling again, below are five easy steps to help you start.

  1. Choose your weapon. I use a spiral bound journal with pithy writing quotes. You may choose a digital option or the more traditional route. On your first page of your journal, write down your intentions for your writing. Resolve that this journal will be your private space where you will be brutally honest, even if it hurts. Resolve that this journal will be your receptacle for your thoughts and emotions.
  2. Write down the date and one sentence. If that’s all you have, that’s okay. If you want to write more, go ahead! Come back the next day and write another sentence or more. Writing without any particular purpose or milestone could feel a little strange at first because we are accustomed to writing for someone else to read our work. Remember, no one else will read your work. Also, dating your entries is important because it gives you time reference when you go back to reread your journal.
  3. Reread and process what you just wrote. You have been trained to edit and re-edit your work for spelling and grammatical mistakes. This is one of those times where you don’t have to worry about spelling!  Instead, read for content and mentally process what is on the page. As you read, other thoughts may come to mind that build on those thoughts or an AHA moment may just dawn on you. Rereading has helped me relate current situations to experiences from the past, and that has often been eye opening.
  4. Make the time to journal.  As you get comfortable with pouring out your feelings in written form, you will find it becomes easier to let it all out. Ensure that you have set aside time to journal and that you will have the privacy and quiet time you need to truly allow you to connect with your journal. It can be an emotional time, so give yourself the space (and permission) to cry if you have to. Ask your family to honor your time to be behind closed doors and to be by yourself and with your thoughts.
  5. Make it your own. There is no standard to follow here. The more you write and the more consistent you are the more you maintain a flow in your thinking and reap the benefits from being in tune with your thoughts and emotions on a more regular basis. If you write once a day, once a week, once a quarter or once a year, it is yours to determine. You will find what works best for you. And, as you get more comfortable with journaling you will become more creative. Sometimes I write in singular words, or short poems, or I draw a picture because that is the best way to capture what I’m thinking. There is no standard for what you write about either. Sometimes I write down a dream or about a movie I saw. At other times, I write about the things that worry me the most.

I hope this helps you create the space and time for journaling.

Much Love,

Hold on, it’s complicated

emotional_baggage“Hold on, this is getting complicated,” is one of my favorite lines from the new series, Devious Maids which airs on Sunday nights on Lifetime.  I enjoy watching the cast of Latina actors but the show is not what I want to write about. I want to write about being complicated. We are complicated. Our spouses are complicated. Our parents are complicated. Every human being is complicated by the complexity of other people’s complexity. Take a minute to absorb that. It’s mind blowing isn’t it? Another way to view it is that our emotional baggage pushes and gets pushed on by other people’s emotional baggage. Some of us have baggage from childhood that we carry on our backs, not fully realizing it’s there but the baggage influences how we face life and manage relationships.

 

It is complicated. So much so that my brain cannot possibly imagine how much crap is in our baggage that goes back multiple generations. This continuous passing down of emotional pain struck me like a punch to the gut when I joined a remembrance of a friend who recently passed. She was a striking woman, very smart and made of tough fiber that got her through very difficult times in her life. As we gathered to remember and celebrate her life, we also acknowledged that she was difficult and stubborn and tough to love at times. She held tight to her beliefs and opinions some of which hurt some people very deeply. She was complicated and she passed down her pain to those around her.

 

Bearing witness to the pain continuing to have its effect even after the its host had passed on allowed me to revisit the baggage I inherited from my grandmother. My grandmother was really complicated. The wounds she inflicted on me were incredibly painful. Even though I grew up to learn and gain a logical understanding of how broken she was from the wounds she endured, emotionally I still carried the emotional baggage with me into every area of my life.  For over forty years I have tried to repeat, repair and change the dynamics of our relationship with other unsuspecting surrogates.

 

While being in this reflective moment I searched for answers about how to disown the baggage so that I can heal and make different decisions in my life. I found an article by Dr. Bedrick titled, “Restoring Soul: Putting Psyche back in Psychology,” that made me pause. Dr. Bedrick contends that sometimes the things we try to fix in ourselves (depression, sadness, etc.) are the very medicine that we need to heal. If I understood his main point, then I have to go into the nexus of that pain to find healing.

 

Once I heard someone say that all people on the planet – regardless of age, race, ethnicity, education, socio-economic status, gender or sexual orientation want these two things: more love and less pain. So following Dr. Bedrick’s advice to go into the pain feels to me counterintuitive. Yet, I see it as the only way to truly lighten the load of emotional baggage that has been passed down to me.

 

We’re all complicated and I know I will leave this world with unresolved issues, questions unanswered and deep old wounds that didn’t heal.  Knowing that I have caused pain to the people I care about does not feel good either.  But, I can do something to reduce the load of pain that continues to oulive us by facing the darkness so that I can shed old negative patterns and create positive ones.  I hope that by opening my heart and sharing this with you will create the space for you to reflect about the baggage you may be carrying. Thank you for reading and sharing.

 

Much Love,

 

To read Dr. Bedrick’s article click here.

 

 

 

 

Beware The Spin Cycle

Photo from multiplemiss.wordpress.com

Photo from multiplemiss.wordpress.com

I have been blogging for over two years and I am in a rut. I used to be able to sit down and have an idea for the blog right at my fingertips, literally. Lately my screen, like my mind, has been blank.  Could it be that I have exhausted the topics I want to write about? Why can’t I find inspiration in everyday life? What has changed to obscure my ability to see teachings in ordinary events and want to share them with the world?

 

First, indulge me by reading about my process for writing this blog. I sit down and ask myself what happened during the week that was interesting, challenging, emotive,  or thought provoking? For the few weeks the answer has been – nothing. Really?!, I say. Nothing happened? Nothing I reply. Of course stuff happened. Look, this week alone I was in 12 meetings, gave 2 employee reviews,  prepared for 2 board meetings, attended 2 events, conducted 1 coaching call, and responded to a dizzying volume of calls and emails.

 

That’s exactly what is wrong. My weeks have become a constant, dizzying succession of tasks. I am checking things off and mechanically transitioning from one interaction to the next.  You know the spin cycle right? That’s exactly what I’m living in. The speed and volume of the things that demand my attention are sucking every drop of energy from my being. So, it’s no wonder that by the end of the week I feel dry of ideas and creativity. Clearly, I have surrendered all of my time and not left any for me.

 

I know how this happened. As I have taken on more work, I have shifted my focus to the discreet tasks that make up my days. Not wanting to “drop a ball,” I have become the juggler who hones in on the ball in the air only for the seconds that it floats there and then switches to the next ball that comes into view. As one who is preoccupied with one ball at a time, I am missing the entire show. Now that my life is so busy is when I really need to be able to pull up from the spin cycle to reflect on and learn from my current experiences.

 

Finding how to pull up from the spin cycle is a challenge.  Fortunately, now that I’m writing about my rut, an observation has popped into my mind (yea!). During the 35 minutes it takes for the metro to arrive at my stop in downtown Washington, DC , I catch up on emails, look at my calendar to plan my tasks and then populate my to-do list so I don’t forget them. On the ride home, I do the same thing. One day this week I felt so tired that I did not do anything but observe people who, by the way, also use the time to juggle their demands through their phones. It felt weird being so unproductive while everyone else seemed so busy.  I realized that I would get a lot more value from giving myself time to recharge my mind and not think about tasks but connecting to the bigger picture – why what I do gives me a sense of purpose and fulfillment. There is much more I can gleen from my interactions, my intuition and my creativity than from checking off a list of tasks so I have to make the time to pull up.

 

My days and weeks will continue to be busy and full of to-do’s. Allowing myself to be sucked dry in the spin cycle is going to rob me of the wealth of teachings that are occurring every day. It’s up to me to intentionally make the space in my day to look at the big picture and see the interconnectedness of all things. If this blog resonates with you, I hope that you will join me in finding ways to preserve energy for your own growth and illumination.

 

Much Love,