Every month or two, I plan to give you an update on my Word of the Year since my 4th Big A word is Accountability. Also, I'm hoping to inspire some conversation around your words of the year and how they are going (or not).
My word of the year is Declutter. Honestly, it was the least attractive of my front runners because I knew it would be the most challenging. I see this word as focusing on 3 major areas:
The physical space aspect is going well. I've gotten my whole family involved, and we made some improvements. I've taken 3 bags of clothes and 2 boxes of toys and other items to Goodwill, and I've thrown away almost an equal amount. Here are some before and after pictures because who doesn't love those? Cici's closet before and after (hamming it up for effect...):
My desk before and after (yay! I have a lovely workspace now!):
And a couple more after only pics...believe me, the before was impressively bad. The first two are my older (and messier) daughter's closet, and the last picture is of the youngest's book shelf.
Turns out that decluttering the way I use my time is much, much harder. I'll admit it, though it is hard to, but I am addicted to my phone. My pattern is this: grab my phone. Check my personal e-mail. Check my work e-mail. Check facebook. Check headlines (and occasionally follow one to the whole article). Rinse and repeat...an embarrassing amount of times per day.
I know I could be using my time better. I could read books. I could write more blog posts. I could do more marketing. I could create a coaching curriculum for kids. I could get started on writing a book. I have so many ideas, and yet I default to my useless cycle of checking and rechecking my phone. Blah.
I recently gave a workshop on creating (or breaking) habits. Oh the irony! In my research, I learned that your environment and your systems are more important than your "will power." Will power waxes and wanes, but if you have good systems in place, you don't have to fight with yourself so often.
Again, easy to understand in theory...harder to put into practice. Despite all the logical reasons to cut down screen time, I am resistant to the change. However, knowing I was going to be writing this blog post inspired me to implement a new system...this morning. And I think it's going to be a game changer.
I have a morning ritual. I wake up before the kids. I feed the dogs, make the coffee, let the dogs out and sit and drink first cup in solitude. I also complete a round of Duolingo (if you haven't hear of this, it's an awesome language learning app--I'm trying to learn Spanish) and the daily mini crossword from the New York Times app. Then I let the dogs in and complete my first cycle of e-mail, facebook, headlines roulette. After that, it's usually time to wake up the kids. I enjoy this, but does it serve me? I can justify the Spanish lesson and crossword--if you don't use it, ya lose it, right? But this ritual is almost giving me permission to start the vicious cycle that repeats all day long.
I was listening to a podcast about routines and rituals and while it wasn't all applicable, one idea stuck with me. One of the speakers was talking about the book Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss (which I now have on order) and one of the recommendations in the book is a 5-minute journaling exercise. You respond to 3 prompts: 1. 3 things you are grateful for. 2. This day would be great if...(complete sentence with 3 things you'd like to do) 3. I am...(complete with 3 personal affirmations).
This morning, I tried it. I didn't touch my phone. I came down, drank a big glass of lemon water (another added healthy ritual), fed my dogs, made the coffee, and sat down to journal. It literally took 5 minutes...maybe even less. Then, I allowed myself to complete the Spanish lesson and crossword, but I didn't look at my e-mail or social apps until after breakfast...and then, I did it on my laptop, not may phone.
I won't say it changed my behavior for the rest of the day. I still checked my phone several times, but definitely fewer than the day before. And I completed the 3 things that I defined would "make this day great." I made a big pancake breakfast for the first snow day we've had in years, finished clearing my desk, and I wrote this blog post. Writing those intentions helped declutter my mind so that when I had some time, I went to work. I'm going to keep at it and I'll let you know how it goes in my next update. In the meantime, I'd love to know: How are you honoring your word of the year so far?
For the past four weeks, I've been collaborating with my friend, fellow martial artist, and personal trainer extraordinaire, Christine Eldridge, on a program called Whole Life Solution. It's a mix of fitness training and life coaching topics aimed at bringing about sustainable healthy changes. We have 10 enthusiastic participants, and I'm loving every minute of it. What happens in WLS stays in WLS, but let's just say that I'm learning a lot and enjoying the process of creating and delivering this program.
One concept that I'm teaching in both the group and with my individual clients is that of Limiting Beliefs. Here's the gist of it:
Consider this: Your mind is like a web browser. What you put into the search bar is extremely indicative of what you will get out. Think about cats as pets (I'm going for something controversial, but not political...haha). If you put "Cats are the best pets" into your search bar, you will get tons of pictures of cute and cuddly felines. However, if you put "Cats are the worst pets," you will get plenty of images like this:
Our brains are similar. For instance, if you think "I'm not an athlete" and that's how you identify, you will notice every time you stumble, get out of breath, miss a catch or do something clumsy. In fact, you probably won't even attempt physical activities because you have this limiting belief about yourself. All of this equals evidence that you are not an athlete, and the limiting belief becomes more solidified. However, if you start to think, "I can do this" or "I can become more athletic" or "I've got skills," you will flip the search and start to notice when you coordinate all your limbs or when you run up the stairs without feeling light-headed. You will be more likely to try athletic endeavors and you will be more forgiving of yourself when you do make mistakes.
We often tell kids that when they say "I can't," they are probably right. On the other hand, if those same children say "I can," they are also probably right. This is the power of your beliefs--what you believe about yourself, your abilities, and the greater world around you. As adults, we don't always take this to heart. We get jaded by negative feedback. We get set in our ways. We get trapped in a default version of our lives and fear the effort and response should we try to change things up. But the idea that we have to continue to live how we are currently living simply because we are adults is itself a limiting belief. It is NEVER too late to make positive changes. What limiting beliefs are holding you back? Start with your thoughts. Let me know if I can help.
Life coaching has changed my life. Honestly, I stumbled into it because it seemed to fit with my interests, skills, and lifestyle. I liked the idea of helping people live their best lives, being my own boss, and flexing my creative muscles to create workshops and exercises for clients. I know that some people think life coaching is a joke. One stranger on a facebook group we both belong to called life coaches "control freaks who bilk other people for money" or something along those lines. And to be honest, I don't blame him or anyone else for their skepticism. Because I once thought that life coaching seemed frivolous or even silly. Even as I signed up for classes to become one, I still found myself thinking, "Do people really need a coach to figure out their own lives?"
But I'm a believer. I've seen the power of spending time on self improvement. In my own life, I've become more compassionate and patient with myself and others, raised my awareness about my inner voice and the way I process emotions, and gotten better at setting meaningful goals and working diligently toward them. It truly works.
However, I believe another myth exists that life coaches are able to tackle all challenging circumstances full of positivity and self control, somehow immune to negative emotions. Yes, my mindset has gotten better, but I still struggle. Like last night...
My youngest was having a day. As you may know by now, she is the challenging, emotional one. I always joke that we've been dealing with the terrible twos for 5 years now. She's wonderful, but she busts my butt on the daily. Usually, she can have a melt down, stomp and slam and scream her way into her room, pet her cats to calm down, and come back downstairs with an attitude adjustment that lasts a while. Last night, however, she would reset only to come back and get all wound up again, for reasons that remain a mystery to the rest of the family. By the 3rd major fit in less than an hour, my sympathy and patience pots were nearly empty. I raised my voice, I got angry, and I told her that I was tired of her taking what should be a nice, relaxing (and rare) evening at home and creating fight after fight after fight over nothing. Now, I know that for her sensitive 7-year-old mind, it isn't "nothing," but I was done trying to understand.
Now I was stomping and sighing my way around the house. My husband came by and I started to air my grievances and worries about our youngest. She's only 7, after all, in a supportive and well resourced family. Her life isn't going to get any easier, and I want her to learn to cope and process before middle school homework, hormones and heartbreaks kick in. And as a life coach, I feel like I should be able to give her some tools. Goodness knows I'm trying. But on days like yesterday, I question my parenting, my ability to coach my daughter, and my ability to coach myself to handle it all better.
My husband is more stoic, patient and collected than I am, and he basically started coaching me about not engaging with her when she's in these moods and not letting her get to me and ruin my own good mood. Mind you, he's an ER doctor. While he was in no way attacking me and was actually accurately representing the situation, I didn't want to hear it. I was fighting to find ground to stand on that would allow me to default to my annoyance and anger. It didn't feel good, but it felt familiar and justified. And since I couldn't continue to argue with my daughter, I transferred my aggression to my husband. I tried to make my current anger my daughter's fault, and when he logically disputed that, I tried to make it his fault. Being angry was easier than admitting I was wrong.
"You're not helping," I finally said, exasperated.
He laughed it off, didn't engage, and walked away to let me process. That annoyed me too. He was handling me in the way I should've but failed to handle my daughter.
With time comes more rational thinking, and I can identify at least 5 better ways I could've handled the situation last night. My husband is right: it serves no-one when I get drawn into my 7 year old's drama. And when I let her ruin my day, I'm giving her more power than a 7 year old should have. I have coached a couple of clients to use the thought anchor "I've got the power" when they feel like their moods are easily influenced by the behaviors of others...yet there I was, giving all my power to a 2nd grader.
The point is this: Self improvement is damn hard. As I picked a fight with my husband, my rational mind was telling me, "He's right, you know." My emotional mind, however, was goading me: "You are justified. You should be mad. Show everyone how frustrated you are!"
I did reach some clarity through the process. I tend to exaggerate the importance of small moments. In the throes of my frustration and worries about my daughter, I felt like a parenting failure. Forget all the lovely moments we have, all the rave reviews from her teachers, all the growth I have seen in her...at that moment, everything was wrong.
"I hate to see you getting all mad and depressed over this," my husband said.
"I'm not depressed! This is just how I process!" (Loudly and with large gestures and tears in my eyes.)
You see, I'm coming to terms with the fact that emotions are not good or bad. They are simply emotions, and the human condition requires us to feel the full gamut. Fighting, ignoring or shaming the less pleasant ones just compounds the badness. I know myself pretty well by now, and I know that I have to let the emotions happen. My self-coaching work isn't in quashing the emotions. My work is in recognizing, feeling, and channeling the emotions into less destructive behavior. I don't need to scream and slam when I am angry. I can be angry and learn from my anger without throwing a fit. And ultimately, that's what I want to teach my daughter. Anger isn't bad. Anger is trying to tell you something. Allow the anger, but learn how to react in a less explosive way.
Finally, behavioral changes take time and practice. We come out wired a certain way, and our experiences solidify that wiring. Changing our wiring, especially if it's been there for decades, takes a lot of hard, uncomfortable work. Every time I feel angry, I have to practice feeling it without reacting to it. It is not a quick fix, but I know that it is one well worth pursuing. And fortunately, with my emotional child, I will continue to get a lot of practice.
Last week, I led a free workshop at the local library to help participants choose a "Guiding Word of the Year." This is one strategy to begin 2019 with intention. The idea is that you choose a word to focus on for the whole year. As you make big decisions, you think about your word. As you go about your daily business, you think about your word. The word becomes your compass as you decide what direction you will take throughout the year.
To prepare for my workshop, I tried a simplified version of the exercise with my daughters, ages 7 and 9. I asked them what they wanted to work on in 2019. What do you want to be better at? What kind of person do you want to be?
My children, while far from perfect, are somewhat self aware. So it's fitting that my smart and talented, but overly cautious and easily distractible eldest chose: DETERMINATION. My charismatic and social, but over-the-top emotional youngest chose SELF-CONTROL. While this is no magic fix (cue the stomping, screaming fit less than 20 minutes after we completed the activity), it does give us a common focal point and a place to start the discussion on making positive changes in behavior.
My workshop at the library was a fun one. I led seven women (where all the men at?!?) through a series of exercises to bring awareness and encourage brainstorming about areas of their lives that could use more intention. If you want to try it out, here are the steps you can take (adapted from this post):
1. Jot down answers to these questions. Do not edit or censor yourself.
-What could I use more of in my life?
-What could I use less of in my life?
-What characteristics would I like to have?
-How do I want to feel (more often than I do now)?
-What kind of person do I want to be?
*Funny side note: I completed the activities along with the others, and totally stumbled on the first question. I wrote what came to mind, and the first two words on that list were horses and vegetables. Ha! While I always want more horsey time and certainly don't eat enough vegetables (I mean, who does?), I knew that neither of those would be my word of the year. But that's the brainstorming process for you...anything goes. I eventually got to some more useful concepts such as organization, motivation, and planning.*
2. I led the group through a guided meditation and you can do this on your own. Spend some time in silence, thinking about your perfect day. It can be one from memory or a theoretical one that hasn't happened yet. Spend some time here. Where are you? Who are you with? What are you doing? What do you hear and see and smell? Most importantly, how do you feel? Consider what it means to be the best version of yourself in the best version of your life. Finally, take some time to just ponder the question: What word do I want to guide me through 2019?
3. Do a mind dump! Looking at the lists from the questions in #1 and thinking about what came to you in #2, write all the words that come to mind. Don't hesitate. Don't judge or revise. This is the google idea board phase...anything goes! Allow yourself to be surprised by your own ideas. Don't stop when the flow ceases being easy. Wallow in the writer's block for a few moments and see what else surfaces from the depths. If you need inspiration, you can check out this list.
4. From your hopefully long list of ideas, pick 3-5 words that call to you the loudest. Star or highlight them. Then, spend a minute contemplating each word separately. Notice how it makes you feel. Excited? Scared? Peaceful? If you just came out of a stressful time, you might want to go with the more calming word. If you are bored or restless, pick the one that excites you. Don't overthink it. Listen to your inner voice.
5. Make yourself a visual reminder. At the workshop, we made rearview mirror hangers. My oldest daughter is using hers as a bookmark. Make a sign to put up in your bedroom or office. Set a reminder on your phone. Whatever works for you.
My final three words were AMBITION, COMPASSION, and DECLUTTER. I settled on DECLUTTER. It wasn't my favorite word...not by a long shot. I chose it because 1) It's necessary. I need to declutter my physical space and my mental space. I need to declutter the way I spend my time so that I can focus on what's important. I need to declutter my mind chatter and get in better touch with my inner voice. I need to get rid of junk, organize my spaces, and simplify. 2) It's challenging. Of the words I brainstormed, declutter presents the greatest challenge. It will take time and intention. I will need to do a lot of decluttering just to tackle the process of decluttering. 3) It has the potential to bring the most benefit. If I can really focus on this word, I can streamline my life, my thoughts, and my space. I'm nervous, I'm excited, and I'm motivated.
Other great words came out of the workshop. Some participants came in with an idea and stuck with it. Others changed their word, a couple to their own surprise. Everyone had excellent reasons for the words they chose, which include: FEARLESS, AUTHENTICITY, LUMINESCE, WISDOM, PEACE, THRIVE and LOVE.
Choosing a word is a great start, but to keep it from remaining just a vague or abstract idea, here are a few extension activities to help you apply it.
I would love to hear what word you choose and how you implement it in your life. And if you want help setting goals or applying ideas, contact me to schedule a complimentary mini session to explore how a life coach can assist you in making positive changes.
On Tuesday, my husband and I returned from a short but worthwhile trip in the backcountry near Breckenridge, CO. We skied in to a small cabin that is maintained by the 10th Mountain Division Huts here in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. For 24 hours, we were "out of service," only using our phones to take pictures and occasionally listen to music. The place we stayed, Ken's Cabin, was named after a young doctor and avid skier who died in an avalanche. It is a rustic, one-bedroom log cabin with a wood-burning stove and very basic amenities.
Adventures like this always give me time to think and therefore, I learn about myself. I want to share some of those lessons with you.
The Journey as a Metaphor
From the comfort of my home and safely tucked behind my computer screen, 6.2 miles didn't seem so bad. Sure, it's uphill. Sure, there might be some weather. Sure, it's our first all-terrain outing of the season. Sure, we'll be carrying backpacks with sleeping bags, clothes and food. Let's do this!
Fast forward to the actual day, the blowing snow, the cold hands and feet and untrained muscles, the lower oxygen of being at high altitude and the reality of our undertaking soon differentiated itself from the fantasy. The first 3 miles were pleasant enough. We were mostly shielded by trees and the mountain from the wind we could hear howling above. Visibility was limited, so we saw no grand vistas, but it was still beautiful, with the snow-covered rocks, trees and path. We saw a few other skiers, snow-shoers and dogs, but it was mostly just the two of us, alternatively chatting and just being in the zone with the repetitive motion of gliding one ski in front of the other.
At about 3 miles, what we thought was halfway, I started to tire, sore in the shoulders and low back from the weight of the backpack, and running low on energy from the output of the skiing up a long and gradual hill. We stopped at an old and scenic water tank, ate a snack bar, took off our packs for a bit, and braced ourselves for the second half of the journey.
The break reenergized me for a short time, but as we climbed higher, I got more easily winded. The whole trip is done above 10,000 feet, topping out at 11,500 feet. While I know I am in fairly decent shape, I struggled. We hadn't really trained for this, and 6 miles is no short distance, especially considering the conditions (and the fact that it ended up being closer to 7 miles, but that's another story). I wanted to stop many times. I wanted to eat all the snacks. I wanted to take off my pack. At one point, I even imagined laying down and taking a little nap.
I knew I could do the trek, but my mind was trying to convince me that I couldn't, or at the very least, that I deserved to indulge in some rest and snacks. But like any worthy goal in life, stopping only ensures that you will stay in one place. My goal was to reach the cabin, hopefully still in daylight, and to do so, I had to continue forward progress. I knew I had enough fuel. I knew that napping wasn't really an option, but I still had a strong, almost overwhelming urge to give in to those desires, to give myself a break. Instead, I kept moving...sometimes extremely slowly, but always putting one ski in front of the other, push and glide, push and glide, push and glide, to make forward progress. It was a good reminder that action is always better than inaction.
Around mile 5, we left the shelter of the trees to ski across a bare and windswept slope. I don't like wind. In my opinion, it makes any weather condition worse, and this was no exception. As the wind whipped up snow, chilling my nose and obscuring my vision, I started to curse it. What a fun-ruining jerk the wind is. Why couldn't it be calm and clear? Why did the wind have to come in and make the journey that much more difficult? Stupid, useless, annoying wind.
Let me pause here for a moment to point out an important fact. Wind is a circumstance beyond my control. I cannot change the wind. No amount of cursing or whining can force submission. What do I have control over? My thoughts. I only have control over my thoughts about the wind, and those thoughts lead to my feelings, and those feelings lead to my actions.
At one point, the wind died down and it was still for a moment. Then, suddenly, it whipped up again, grabbing the snow and whirling it into what looked like- at least briefly- a herd of galloping white horses. The wind shifted again, and I saw a cresting wave. It whipped again into a snow dragon. I noticed little wind funnels forming around me. It was quite beautiful and mysterious. Mesmerized by this wind art, I suddenly didn't hate it. In fact, I felt it circle back around and give me a little push, something I probably wouldn't have noticed had I been busy cursing it. AND, as an added bonus, it made the trip feel that much more hard core, like something to be overcome. Once we finally made it to the cabin, the howling of the wind added to the ambience and increased our appreciation for the cozy little shelter. And when the next morning dawned sunny and fairly calm, we were more grateful because of the contrast. The moral of the story is this: You cannot change the wind (and you can substitute just about any circumstance here...the behavior of other people, the weather, politicians, etc), but you can change how you think about the wind, and you can always, always learn something from the wind.
The Power of Unplugging
We never get to unplug. Even 6 miles into the backcountry, I had intermittent service. I switched my phone to airplane mode just so that I didn't get text alerts or feel the urge to check my e-mail. During the long trek up to the cabin, I caught myself wishing I'd brought earphones so that I could put on music or a podcast. My mind was resistant to just being alone with itself. However, once I accepted the stillness, I consciously started to track my thoughts. I was able to go deep into some ideas that I'd only shallowly considered. We so rarely do that. We live in a world of distractions, and the constant interruptions hinder our ability to process situations and truly hear what's going on.
This constant distraction and reliance on technology are major reasons why we don't hear our inner voice until our habits are deeply imbedded. We don't even realize we have a pattern of thinking because the external stimulation monopolizes our brain power. Without constant interference, you can really start to listen to yourself and increase the awareness of your thought patterns, and awareness is the first step to making positive change. I encourage you to be deliberate in finding some unplugged time. Take your walks without your phone or music player. Drink your first cup of coffee without the television or radio playing in the background. Start the practice of "Screen-Free Sundays." If possible, spend an afternoon, a day, a week in nature without interruption. Hear your inner voice...really hear it. Get to know yourself...unplugged. Disconnect to reconnect...to your surroundings, to your loved ones, and mostly, to yourself.
Back to Basics
There is power, too, in getting back to basics. Once at the cabin, we had to start a fire for warmth. We had to gather, melt, and boil snow for drinking and cooking. We had to chop wood, sweep the snow out of the doorway, and shovel paths to the wood shed and bathroom. Going to the bathroom entailed putting on a coat, hat and boots, walking a snowy path to the outhouse, and sitting on a cold (very cold) toilet seat.
We are fortunate to live in a time when surviving is fairly easy for most. If you are reading this, you likely have food, shelter, and the basic comforts. Spending time on survival tasks is enlightening when we are used to a world of excess. And again, without technology, my husband and I spent our time reading, writing, talking, and looking at the view. I took a nap in front of the fire. It was glorious (and well-earned, I might add). This return to simplicity fed my soul and really reminded me of what's important.
Don't get me wrong, I was happy to get home to running water, an automatic thermostat, and an indoor bathroom. The added bonus of the trip is a greater appreciation for what I often take for granted. The trip was not easy or comfortable. It was hard on my body, but refreshing for my soul. And when I found myself feeling discouraged, I only had to look at the view, take a few deep breaths, and keep moving forward.
I was having dinner with a long time friend, and we were talking about the idea of setting a "guiding word" at the beginning of the year. He's done it a few years in a row, and I was asking about his experience for my upcoming workshop.
"Well, this year I picked integrity." He rolled his eyes a bit, smiled and laughed. "Wish I would've thought harder about the implications of that." After a thoughtful pause, he continued, "I am really surprised by how much it trickles into all the areas of my life. I mean, it doesn't show a lot of integrity to hit the snooze button five times when your alarm goes off." He paused to take a bite of food and we ate in silence for a few minutes. "It was really challenging. Maybe this year I'll choose a word like 'fun' or 'relaxation'!" And we laughed and toasted a little cheers to that idea.
My friend was poking fun at himself and his word choice, but make no mistake that he takes himself and his commitments seriously. He is a person of integrity, so when he chooses a word, he means to live by it and considers it as he makes decisions both big and small.
I love this idea because my work as a life coach is all about helping people live with intention. So many of us become victims of default. Our decisions (or indecision) of the past created the circumstances we now find ourselves in. While we don't control everything that befalls us, we do control how we think about each circumstance and that, in turn, controls how we react and move on (or fail to).
Only 8% of New Year's Resolutions are successful. Why? Because we can't compartmentalize one aspect of our lives. You want to eat better? Great. You want to get stronger? Wonderful. Better relationships, more success at work, quality time with your kids? All honorable goals. What do all these things have in common that we often fail to recognize?
They ALL require a change in your thinking. Let's say you want to eat better. This takes a major shift in your habits and your thinking. Why do you eat poorly in the first place? If you lack awareness around your own thinking about food, you won't be able to sustainably change your diet. Likewise, if you want to start working out more regularly, but continue to talk yourself out of exercising with the same excuses, you will not be able to create a new fitness habit. Unhappy with your partner? How are you thinking about that person? Are you caught up in a cycle of noticing all his/her failings? Are you letting expectations shut you off from real opportunities to grow and connect in your relationship? Are you even aware of how your pattern of thinking affects your interactions?
I admire any action that encourages positive change. However, I understand how cycles repeat themselves. I understand how our habits become so ingrained that we don't even recognize their power over us. If you truly want to work toward a better version of yourself, don't just make a resolution. You have to live with intention. It is never too late to take control of your mind so that you can design a life worth living. Here are some suggestions:
A few months ago, my sister-in-law sent out a text asking who wanted to go see Michelle Obama. I said I'd be interested, mainly because I like spending time with the women in my family and thought this would be a fun outing. The day came around and I was excited, but only moderately so. We met for dinner, walked in chilly, crisp air to the venue, waiting in a LONG and disorganized line to get in, and took our seats just as the lights dimmed to start the show.
I'm not one to get starstruck. If I saw a celebrity on the street, I would look with interest, but I wouldn't scream and swoon and beg for autographs. However, I will fully admit that I was taken aback by Michelle Obama. I can't even explain the extent of her kindness, passion, humor and authenticity. You cannot fake that. She is a truly lovely person.
Luckily, my mother in law had some notecards so that I could furiously scribble notes to share with you. Michelle's message was simple and to be honest, nothing new. However, her delivery and the parallels to what I'm finding in my coaching practice were powerful. Her book, Becoming, (which I have not yet read in its entirety), is about the continual journey to authentically become your best self. As a coach, I have honed in on the "Big A" words: Awareness, Authenticity, Action, Accountability, and Abundance. I truly believe that many people jump from awareness to action without spending enough time getting in touch with their authentic selves. People take action based on their observations of others and often end up right back where they started because that action is not in line with their true values or core selves. Michelle Obama's message centered around the importance of "reaching continually toward a better self"...in other words, on becoming who you are truly and uniquely capable of being.
Here are some of the biggest take aways from her talk:
I don't want this post to get too long, but she had so many gems, it's hard to pick the best ones. However, one last message resonated with me, and it relates to the first bullet point of hope versus fear. It's important to mention that she did not at any point say one nasty or cruel or insulting comment about anybody (except for teasingly calling Barack a few names when talking about challenging times in their marriage). While she has been dragged through the mud, she never stooped to the level of insults or name calling. In fact, she said, "when they go low, we go high." Furthermore, when talking about her very public time in the White House and all the interactions she had in her role as First Lady, she said the following: "At our core, I saw this country for all its beauty and tolerance and openness. It made me hopeful and it continues to make me hopeful." This speaks to the fact that our brain will find evidence to support our thinking. If she chose, she could easily find evidence of a closed off, hateful world. She's been called an "ape in heels," for goodness sakes. But she chooses to see the good and the hopeful. She also said, "It is our stories and our day to day connectedness that defines us. It's hard to hate up close." Ponder that, my friends.
Don't worry...this is not a political post. It's just that time of year and I've been seeing a lot of memes on this theme. As a life coach, I feel that people create a lot of unnecessary drama around this issue.
From my line of work, I come at this with two different basic principles:
1. Every thought is a choice.
2. Nobody can actually offend you.
(Btw, if you can truly accept and believe these two ideas, your life will change for the better!)
First of all, #1. We all have the power to choose how we think about something. If you need evidence of this, think about a person you don't really like--a person who offends you--who still manages to have friends. You don't like that person because of the way you think about him. His friends like him because they think differently about him.
Let's say you are in the "Merry Christmas" camp. You have an exchange with someone in the grocery line. "Merry Christmas," you say. "And happy holidays to you!" comes the reply. Now, how do you think about this exchange. Do you think, "Well, that was pleasant" or do you think "Happy holidays? It's Merry Christmas. Why are people always trying to take away the meaning of Christmas? Why do people care more about being politically correct than upholding tradition? IT'S MERRY CHRISTMAS, DARNIT!"
Likewise, if you are in the "Happy Holidays" camp and have the same exchange, are you thinking, "Well, that was pleasant" or are you thinking "Merry Christmas? How does she know that I celebrate Christmas? Maybe I'm Jewish. Why do people have to be so exclusive? Why does she have to push her beliefs on everyone else? IT'S HAPPY HOLIDAYS, DARNIT!"
Do you see how different thinking leads to different ways of feeling about the issue? This leads me to #2: Nobody can actually offend you. Say what?!? That's right. Nobody can actually offend you. Go back to the first example of the person you don't like. If he had the power to offend you, then he would have that power over everyone else. You are offended because you CHOOSE to be offended.
Now, I'm not condoning obnoxious or rude behavior. And I'm not saying that you shouldn't take up an issue when you feel a real wrong is being committed. However, little exchanges like this, little annoyances...c'mon...what does somebody else's greeting have to do with what the holidays me to you and your enjoyment of them?
Let's look at this from another angle. If every time somebody says the "wrong" greeting you get a little prickly, you are allowing that negativity in. That person in the check out line may or may not be offended by your choice of greeting, but in the end, it doesn't matter. Your annoyance (in most cases) only affects YOU. You are giving that person power to minimize your values. You can't ever really know another person's motivation, and you definitely can't control another's behavior. When your well-being hinges on the behavior of others, you are setting yourself up for a life of disappointment.
Do you see what I did there? I went from the specific to the general. The way we get worked up about how we express holiday greetings speaks to a universal truth about all kinds of behaviors. In other words, don't give somebody the power to affect how you feel. Live in your own power.
How do we do this? Here are some ideas to ponder:
A few months ago, my family (ahem...it was mostly me) decided to implement "Screen Free Sundays." No iPad, no video games, no shows or movies or youtube for a whole *gasp* day!
I made the decision to push for a screen free day for several reasons. The statistics, after all, are quite gloomy. The average 8-10 year old spends 6 hours a day in front of a screen. Yikes. It's even higher for older kids. My kids spend way less time than the *average* kid in front of a screen...we don't even have cable...but still, the desire for screen time and the fussing when transitioning from the screen back to real life were becoming an issue. And while I'm not a tech teetotaler--it's not going away, people, so we might as well learn how to coexist in a healthy way--I do believe that technology is hurting our personal skills and taking time away from more active and productive pastimes. I wanted a day to prove that not only a) we don't NEED technology, but also b) we can discover more about ourselves and each other without it...and thus, Screen Free Sunday was born.
The research is out there and I encourage you to educate yourselves about both the positive and negative aspects of technology. However, this post is not to advocate that you take on a similar practice. Your relationship with technology is personal, and I'm in no position to dictate how much screen time is right for you or your kids. And while I've seen positive effects on our family, I'm not here to talk about the evils of too much technology or even the benefits of cutting back. I'll just say that we all need to be thoughtful consumers in this brave new world.
What I want to talk about it this: my family's incorporation of a screen free day is actually a great metaphor for any kind of positive change you might attempt. First of all, it was a conscious decision. We didn't just default to a screen free day. It was fully by design that we got here.
Secondly, it was not the easier route. Let's be honest, the iPad is a great kid-sitter. While my kids are playing iPad, I don't have to worry about fights, I don't have to answer a million questions, and I can go GSD around the house. That was hard to give up.
Thirdly, this change was met with resistance. Sundays are weekend days, for goodness sakes. Shouldn't we be allowed to do whatever we want on Sundays? Can't we just relax in front of a movie? We've spent the whole week working hard and doing homework and going to karate, don't we deserve to play some video games? We don't like screen-free Sundays.
I'm imitating my kids here, but doesn't it kind of sound like your inner voice when you are trying to establish a healthy habit or new thought pattern? Our brains like to be efficient. We get addicted to the familiar, even if the familiar isn't the best for us. So we try to default back to what we know, back to the path of least resistance because change is HARD.
But here's the good news. If you really believe in the benefits of something, if you really want to make positive change, it does get easier. You start to see the payoff. What was new and hard becomes normal and familiar.
Let me tell you about yesterday. My oldest daughter was getting over the crud (fever, cough, general yuckiness), and I admit that I was tentatively planning on making an exception and allowing a movie. But alas, it wasn't necessary. My kids woke up, and immediately started playing with some of their legos. Later, they bundled up and started a really creative game of catch outside, followed by some chalk art on the driveway. My daughter felt good enough to go to a cute little Elf Academy that my town puts on, so they learned elf dances and played kazoos and decorated cupcakes there. When we got home, they wrote thank you notes to a family member, practiced piano voluntarily, made-up missed work from school, and asked to start board games as a family, which we did. Screen-free Sunday just happened. It had become our new normal.
I know this paints a very pretty picture and I'll be the first one to admit that it isn't as clean and easy as all that, but it is that simple. Change can happen if you don't give up when it gets hard. And if you push through, the fight in your brain diminishes. Soon, it takes just simple reminders to stay the course, and eventually, your brain will default to the new and better pattern.
At one point yesterday my youngest daughter, Cici, asked to see the "Christmas Fails" video we had watched earlier in the week. "It's so funny!" She said. "And it's short. Can't we watch it?"
"But it's Screen-Free Sunday," I reminded her.
"Oh right," she said, rolling her eyes a little (because she's 7 going on 17). I braced myself for begging or arguing, but she simply skipped away and rejoined her sister at whatever imaginative game they were currently playing, leaving me stunned and smiling.
When my oldest was not even a year old, my husband and I decided it would be a great idea to do a little biking tour of Oregon wineries (we lived in Portland at the time), WITH our 11-month-old. We had just gotten a Burley bike trailer, you see, and we were eager to put it to use. We booked a kid-friendly B&B, mapped out a good route, and away we went.
I know it wasn't all easy and good. I know the route had big hills and narrow shoulders and speeding semi-trucks. I know that Aleida cried...a lot. I know that I wasn't in the best shape and arrived at the wineries sweaty and out of breath. But all I remember, 8 years later, is the fun and the fact that we did it. We tell the story about biking up a big hill with a crying child and we laugh. We recall the looks from the other wine tasters, some admiring, others judging, and we revel in our adventurousness. "Aleida wasn't even a year old!" we say. "We took a crawling baby on a winery bike tour in Oregon!" we laugh.
This probably wasn't the first time, but it stands out in my memory as one of the important moments when I realized that we would be this couple, and now this family. We are a high effort family. When our kids were 3 and 5, we took a trip with another family (who had 2 kids, also under 5) to Nicaragua. Even the flight attendant questioned our choice: "You're taking a family vacation to Nicaragua?"
Two summers ago, when my kids were 6 and 8, we hiked our first 14er and went on our first backpacking trip, which prompted Aleida to say, "Summer break is hard in a family like ours." And she's right: it IS hard.
Just this weekend, my husband said, "You've gotta love effort, and I do love effort." I can't even remember what we were talking about because we literally had half a dozen scenarios he could've been referring to--just in the past week. We went snowshoeing and sledding in deep snow on Black Friday (a new tradition we are calling "White Friday), and yesterday we drove 1.5 hours to go cut down our own Christmas Tree. We are a high effort family. Admittedly, my husband is the leader. I often roll my eyes or get heart palpitations when he conjures up a new undertaking, but ultimately, I am grateful for it. I am less effort-averse than I use to be, and I know my kids--who whine and complain and cry like all other kids--are learning to appreciate the pay off if worth their exertions.
Still, I am sometimes self-conscious about the level of effort we put out there. To be fair, we live in an abnormally active town, full of sponsored mountain bikers and ultra marathoners, and we are surrounded by like-minded families who take their kids skiing at age two and plan camping trips and adventure vacations. But outside of our little snow globe of high effort, I know that some people think we are crazy. And maybe we are...but here's the thing about effort:
Effort is the main ingredient when making the best memories. Effort creates the best stories. Effort is behind all the hilarious fails and spectacular successes and amazing discoveries and awesome inventions. Without effort, you cannot see what you are really made of. Without effort, you cannot feel proud of yourself. Effort means learning and progress and improvement.
I sometimes joke that I do things just so that I can say I did them. And while I'm all for enjoying the process, I'm also a big fan of looking back and telling the stories. And because of this motivation to have good stories, I have learned to appreciate and savor the effort. No pain, no gain, right? Likewise, no effort, no stories. So the next time you find yourself thinking, "That's a lot of effort," I encourage you to reframe it to..."Just think of the stories!"
We are a high effort family, but boy, do we have stories.