Tag Archives: Renewal

Setting Yourself Up For Success

Here we are again, another year has gone by and a new one is set to begin. Amazing how fast time seems to go by anymore – feels like I was just enjoying my July girls’ weekend in Cape May only last week. But alas, it is the end of December and I am staring 2017 in the face.

It’s the time of year when most of us, intentionally or not, spend some amount of time reflecting on this past year. What all we did. What all we did not do, but wanted to.  The good stuff and the bad stuff.  The happy stuff and the sad stuff.  It is also the time when we tend to make promises to ourselves about how next year will be different.  We may even go so far as to make some New Year’s Resolutions surrounding the really big things we want to accomplish in the year to come.  This is all common enough – reflection and goal setting are both admirable activities, but how many of us take it to the next level?  How many of us actually follow through on the realizations from our reflection time and/or on the promises we make for the coming year?  I think we all know the answer to those questions – not many of us at all.

For years I was guilty of that too. If I even bothered to reflect on a previous year or dared to suggest a goal for the coming year, it pretty much ended with those thoughts. In many cases those thoughts never even made it into the new year.  I’d get up the first day of the new year and go about life as I always had.  New Year’s Resolutions?  What New Year’s Resolutions?  And for those few times when I did take my New Year’s Resolutions “seriously”, by 2-3 weeks into January they had fallen by the wayside and it was back to the same old same old.

This pattern held true for me until a few years ago when I began to do things differently. Rather than haphazardly reflect and make a mental goal for myself, I actually sat down and intentionally set 4 pretty significant goals for myself in 2014 and then proceeded to break those goals down into small parts and gave myself benchmarks throughout the year to meet. And every Sunday evening I would take 5-10 minutes to review my progress on those goals.  And so by the time December, 2014 rolled around I was delighted to see the growth and progress I had made with those 4 goals.  I had completely achieved 3 of the 4 goals and was well on my way with the fourth one.  That never happened before, ever.  Before employing this technique I couldn’t even bring one simple goal to fruition.  And happily I have continued to build on that success the past 2 years using this same format.

As I prepare to do my intentional reflection and goal setting for 2017, I share these tips with you in the hopes that you can also help yourself to make 2017 your most successful, productive year yet, personally or professionally…

Step 1 – Take the time (even if it is just 5-10 minutes) to reflect on the previous year

Give this task your undivided attention – you may be amazed at what you can learn. Here are some questions to consider asking yourself as a part of that reflection:

  • What went well this past year?
  • What didn’t go as planned?
  • What made you happy?
  • What made you sad?
  • What would you do differently if given the chance?
  • What were the obstacles that got in your way?
  • How were you your own obstacle?

Step 2 – Choose 3-5 goals for yourself (personally and/or professionally)

These are the things that you absolutely love the idea of…the things that make you light up…the things that will make you feel the way you want to feel and help you to live the life you have always wanted to live. They can be as big or small as you want, but don’t sell yourself short – dream big! Don’t be afraid to ask for what you really want from the new year.

Step 3 – Establish benchmarks for each goal throughout the year

Work backwards from the end point and break your goals down into their smaller parts. (Whatever ½ way for a goal is should be done by the end of June.) Make them realistic but yet also push yourself a little as well.  These can be realigned at any time (especially in light of major life circumstances that cannot be predicted), so don’t be afraid to push yourself on these.

Step 4 – Set time aside to check in on your progress toward each goal

Ideally you should do this once a week. You may not be able to do something related to each goal every week, but checking in helps you to keep track of your progress and to notice areas you are falling behind in. This time should be non-negotiable – the moment you start skipping this step you will have started down a path that will very likely lead to unmet goals in December.

Step 5 – Set yourself up for success

Make sure you have the resources gathered to help you achieve your goals. Those resources might be other people, time, money, or physical resources like books or other materials. Know your own strengths and weaknesses and go from there.  Whatever you will need to ensure forward progress on your goals, make sure you have it at the ready.

Step 6 – Remove the obstacles, including yourself, from the equation

If you want to be successful at achieving your goals you have to be honest about the obstacles that stand in your way (and that includes yourself and your old habits). The best way to identify them is through the very first step above (end of the year reflection) as well as through the daily checks mentioned in #4 above. Call your obstacles what they are and give yourself permission to let them go, change them, remove them, whatever you need to do so they are no longer an obstacle for you.

Step 7 – Be honest with yourself throughout the whole process

Anything less will not net you’re the results you are looking for.

There are many resources out there that share best practices and tips for planning a successful new year. The things I share here are what have worked unequivocally for me. Using these tools I have accomplished more big goals in the past 3 years than I have in all of the rest of my adult life prior to using this technique.  It is amazing.  It is powerful.  And if any of these tips speak to you, please give them a try and set yourself up for an amazing 2017!

Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible. – Tony Robbins

Surrendering

I just wanted to scream. You know, the kind of scream that originates in your toes and flows all the way up through your body. The kind of scream that hurts to the point of feeling good.  That kind of scream.  Yes, that is what I felt compelled to do.  Just let it all out with one giant scream.    Wait.  I wanted to curl up into a ball and pretend like no one could see me.  That none of this was real.  That this was all just a bad dream.  A really bad dream.  Yes, that was what I wanted to do.  Disappear.  Pretend it wasn’t happening.

Ever feel that way? I am sure you have. In fact, I am sure we all have at one time or another.  And I am also fairly certain we have all experienced those feelings repeatedly.  My most recent rendezvous with those feelings just happened to be this past week.  I had to throw up the flag.  I had to admit it can’t all be done, that I can’t do it all, and then I had to come to peace with that realization (something my perfectionist self did not like at all).

What it came down to was this – there were simply not enough physical hours this past week to get everything done that needed to be done at work, so work bled over into my personal time. That meant a lot of my personal stuff got dropped, rescheduled, etc. Sleep was lost, activities had to be cancelled, my meditation practice and my morning routine got skipped most days, my In Box was overflowing, and my weekly blog didn’t get published for the first time since I started it over a year and a half ago.  I was feeling exhausted and out of control.  I started to feel like a failure for not getting to everything, for having to cancel things, for not being good enough in general, for dropping the ball on my meditation practice, for not getting my weekly blog published, etc.  It was a vicious, unproductive, ego-based cycle that was not serving me.  Arrgghh!!  I had to hit the “make it stop now” button.  I had to pause, breathe, and get re-centered.  I needed to figure out why things felt so out of whack.  And so after spending some time chatting with a good friend and refocusing on what was really important, I had what I needed in order to understand the problem and let go of it.

The problem, as it turned out, is that I stopped honoring the boundaries I set for myself and for my daily life. I got lax with them and the net result was a state of unrest and imbalance that thoroughly wrecked my world for the better part of a week. Truth be told it will take the better part of this current week to fully rebound, but rebound I will because the alternative is not only unpleasant, but it doesn’t serve me or anyone in my life.

So my big lesson this past week was all about learning to surrender (okay I should really say it was remembering to surrender). Surrendering to the knowledge that I will occasionally neglect the boundaries I set for myself (it just happens on occasion). Surrendering to the fact that my ego-mind will sometimes win a few of the battles.  Surrendering to the idea of asking for and accepting help from my friends and colleagues.  Surrendering to what I cannot control and to the fact that I am human.  It really, truly is exhausting trying to hold on to all of it.  Hard as it can seem sometimes, surrendering it really is the better choice.

Truth

By definition truth is being in accord with fact or reality. But what is truth really? What does it look like or sound like in today’s world?  Is anyone really truthful anymore?

I sometimes wonder these things. Life moves so quickly and we have so many different, often conflicting roles to play that I can’t help but speculate how many people really aren’t being truthful in how they live their daily lives. We all have various roles to play and thus numerous masks to wear.  Society, and sometimes even the people closest to us, ensure we know what’s expected of us and most of us work very hard to conform to those expectations.  Not doing so can often be too difficult a thing to bear – the criticism and ridicule, the shame, and the rejection.  But adhering to those expectations or rules is often at the expense of our truth, of how we really feel, and of who we really are.  We tell ourselves it is okay because we don’t have time to worry about that anyway – there’s so much to do and never enough time.  Besides, we try to convince ourselves, everyone else seems to be doing it just fine – no one else is having any issues following the rules so therefore there must be something wrong with us if we can’t do it too, so we had better just learn how to deal with it all and follow “the rules”.

“We know what the world wants from us. We know we must decide whether to stay small, quiet, and uncomplicated or allow ourselves to grow as big, loud, and complex as we were made to be.” – Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior: A Memoir

There’s no room for truth telling and there’s no time for being your authentic self, at least there doesn’t seem to be in today’s frantic and chaotic world. At least that is what we tell ourselves. Yet, stop for one moment to consider what you are giving up by not living your truth.  What sacrifices are you really making?  Are you losing a part of yourself through it all?  Most likely you are.  I know I was for many, many years.  When I was brave enough to express my truth, my dreams, and my hopes, both as a child and as an adult, they were met with discouragement, disinterest, and/or disappointment.  They didn’t match up to what society and those closest to me said I should be doing.  So I let go of them for many years and in doing so lost something very important – myself.  And so for the past few years I have set out on a journey to reconnect with myself and my truth.  I am ignoring the negative messages from society and the people around me and instead believing in myself and what I know to be true for me.  And you know what?  The world didn’t stop spinning on its axis.  No one’s life came to an end because I chose to speak my truth and live my life on my own terms.  I’m still here.  In fact, I am better than ever.  And I have found that I am not alone, as it appears this is a struggle we all seem to share though it is one waged almost entirely internally.

We are so caught up in appearances, in fitting in, in keeping up with everyone else, and in not breaking any of the sacred, secret societal rules for how we should live our lives that so many of us have become broken souls just wondering through life feeling lost, alone, rejected, and/or broken in some way.  I believe this is a huge contributor to all the illness and mental health issues we see today.  If only we could each find the courage and the strength to speak our truth…not only would we feel better overall, but I also believe we would find many kindred souls out there who feel the same way that we do.

“It strikes me that I need to throw out the dictionary the world gave me about what it means to be a mother, a wife, a person of faith, an artist, and a woman and write my own.” ― Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior: A Memoir

If you haven’t read Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton yet, I encourage you to do so.  She is the best example of a truth teller I have come across yet.  Her story is powerful and empowering.  And while her story is not my story, there is so much in her truth that I can relate to that it feels a bit like my story – and I think you will feel the same way about it too regardless of what your story is.

“Be bold, be brave enough to be your true self. – Queen Latifah

Special Places

There are places in this world that just seem to resonate with us in ways we may not always be able to explain. These are the places that help us “find ourselves”. We usually refer to them as our “happy places”.  They are the places that often “feel like home” to us in ways that nowhere else does.  Time in those places help us to refocus, to remember what’s important in life, to reconnect with ourselves, and to relax.  We can’t wait to be in these places, and we absolutely hate to leave them, doing so usually while kicking and screaming (either literally or at the very least mentally).  We all have such a place.  It may be a physical address or building, or it may be some place more general like a tropical island or the mountains, but either way, we all have such a place.  Just pause for a moment, right now, close your eyes, and picture that place in your mind.  Recall how it makes you feel.  Just breathe it in for a moment.  Allow those feelings to come back to you in this moment of reflection.  It feels so good, doesn’t it?

For me, that special place is the beach. Any beach really, so long as it is warm. The feeling of the sand between my toes, the rhythmic sound of the ocean, the relaxing feel of the breeze on my face…these are some of the things about the beach that call to me.  Time there helps me to refocus my life, to remember what’s most important, to reconnect with myself and my dreams, to relax, and to re-establish that sense of calm in my life which I appreciate so much.

It is in these places and at these times when life gets a bit clearer and we start to see the areas of our life that could use a little adjustment. We can sit back, away from the normal daily chaos in our lives, and reflect on things like:

  1. What about my life is working right now? What about it do I really like?
  2. What about my life is not working right now? What about it do I not like so much?
  3. What am I willing to commit to in order to have more of what is working in my life/less of what is not working in my life?
  4. How do I keep this clarity about my life when I go back?
  5. What can I do differently in my daily life to maintain this feeling?

Maintaining the feelings, the clarity, and/or the calm that you experience in your special place can be accomplished after you leave that place, though a conscious effort is needed on your part. Taking the time to ask the questions listed above is a great place to start, but that is only the beginning. You have to actively work to make the changes you committed to once you return home.  You have to take the steps you identified when answering the 5 questions above in order to maintain the life you identified as desirable when you did that reflection.  With practice and perseverance, living that way will become your new habit, but until then you have to become aware of the times when you slip back into your old habits and then work diligently to pull yourself out of them.

Reflection for the purpose of awareness is the first step. Taking consistent action is the second step. Together you can create a life anywhere that resembles the one you have when you are in your special place.

Breaking Old Habits

“It is easier to prevent bad habits than to break them.” – Benjamin Franklin

There’s a saying that old habits are hard to break. Truer words have probably never been spoken. Breaking old habits seems so much harder than picking up a habit in the first place, don’t they?  Granted, supposedly it takes 21 days (or 30 days depending on who you listen to) for something to become a habit, but once it becomes a habit, breaking it can take a whole lot longer than 21 or 30 days. At least that has always been my experience.

Some of our habits are things we picked up at a specific point in our lives – a behavior or action we learned at one point in time. Others happen more on a subconscious level, such that we don’t even realize we have developed them into habits. Take for example what I share with my friends about myself and my life when we get together to catch up.  It isn’t something I ever really thought about to be honest, until my one, really good friend from college brought it to my attention not all that long ago.  She point blank asked me one day why I never really shared anything that was going on in my life – nothing real specific anyway, just very general, sweeping statements.  Why did I only share very general things and then proceed to focus on asking her how she was and what she was up to, never wanting to spend much time on me?  She said it felt like she was always the one doing the talking when we got together.

Again, it wasn’t something I ever really noticed or paid attention to and it certainly was not anything I was doing intentionally, but upon a little reflection and further conversation with her I quickly realized she was right. I didn’t share a lot of information about myself or my life when I was with her, or my other friends for that matter. When I spent some time later looking at why that might be I realized it was an unconscious habit I could trace back to my childhood.  You see I grew up learning things like, “children should be seen and not heard”, “when people ask you how you are you say you’re fine and leave it at that because they really don’t want to hear all the details…they really don’t care, they are just asking to be nice”, and “you have two ears and one mouth for a good reason…you should listen more than you speak”.  These lessons came from various sources in my life and they were consistent and persistent, so it didn’t take me long to internalize them.

My childhood mind processed those things in such a way that I learned quite unconsciously to keep most things to myself. It was what I was supposed to do, right? It was never meant to come off as rude or uncaring, or anything else for that matter.  It was just what I had learned, and it is therefore what I did out of habit for many, many years.  But now that my friend brought it to my attention, I am trying to be more mindful of my participation and engagement with my closest friends because they do care and are asking because they are genuinely interested in knowing.  It’s going to take me a long time, I think, to overcome that old habit entirely (after all I’ve been doing it for several decades at this point), but I keep plugging away at it because I know that in time, with a little perseverance, I can break that habit.

So why is it so difficult to change a habit? Well, simply put, our brains like patterns. Patterns help make us more efficient and our brain likes that.  Patterns help the brain streamline processes and go into autopilot when it comes to those things, thus allowing the brain to focus on other things that are not yet set into a pattern.  It’s all about efficiency.  So in order to break a habit we have break the patterns our brains have established and literally rewire our brains.

If you have ever tried to break or change a habit, you know firsthand how hard it can be. In order to make a permanent change, we may need to try something different (or sometimes even several different things before we find what works). We can’t keep trying to break habits using the same unsuccessful tactics we have always used and expect to get different results – if it didn’t work doing it that way the first time, then chances are pretty good it won’t work in future attempts either.  (Somewhere in the midst of that is the definition of insanity, I believe.)  The bottom line is you need a different approach.  A good formula for successfully breaking habits is to take small steps experimenting with one tactic in an attempt to break the habit followed by reflection on how well it is working, followed by either more of that same technique (if it is working) or a new technique (if the other one wasn’t working for you) – that’s the key for successfully breaking habits.  You just have to keep picking away at it.  It’s seldom quick and easy, but if you stick with it you can change your habits and thus change who you are and how you show up.

Our daily decisions and habits have a huge impact upon both our levels of happiness and success.” – Shawn Achor

Celebrate The Good And The Bad

Four years ago today my life changed in a way I could never have imagined or foreseen. And it was certainly not in a way I would have ever wished for, but the end result so far has been, surprisingly, quite amazing. I would never have guessed it could go from what felt like the end of the world as I knew it to the most amazing time of my life.  It has truly been a radical transformation.

In the blink of an eye, it seems, I went from being married to someone I considered my best friend and partner for life to being single and uncertain of what the future had in store. It was a painful and confusing time to say the least. But after a few years of deep reflection, soul searching if you will, and dedicated time spent working on myself and figuring out what truly makes me happy, I reconnected with parts of myself I had lost touch with over the years…parts of myself I really liked and which held great meaning for me.  So I began doing things that allowed me to stay in those places and be that person again.  So freeing, so energizing, and so empowering.  And now I am doing things I am not even sure I could/would have even imagined for myself before.  I am playing bigger than I ever have, embracing the opportunities life sends my way, working hard to make a positive difference in the lives of others and the world as a whole.  I have never been happier or more focused, nor have I ever experienced as much success as I am right now.  It has definitely been a transformational couple of years for me.

Isn’t it funny (not in a humorous way but rather in an interesting and curious way) how life can throw things your way that feel and seem just absolutely awful and insurmountable? Like you will never recover? Like things will never be the same again?  Like you will never be happy, or successful, or (fill in the blank) ever again?  And yet, in all the cases I have ever seen in my life, things that have happened both to me personally and to people I know or have encountered in my life, better things always seem to come.  It’s as if the universe is saying to us that difficult change, while it can be temporarily devastating, can actually be good for us.  One might even argue it is a necessary part of life.

I’ll use a butterfly as an analogy. Caterpillars change into a beautiful butterfly through an amazing metamorphosis process we all learn about in elementary school. They wrap themselves in a cocoon and begin a massive transformation.  When that transformation is complete they are radically different from their initial form…they have become beautiful, colorful creatures.  Clearly, their transformation is not easy, but the end result is absolutely amazing to behold…a new life having been born.

What I have seen and experienced is that, despite how awful it can feel on the onset and even as you trudge through it, major changes in our lives are what seem to help get us on the path we are suppose to be on in the first place. Could it be the universe dealing us the hand we need to have in order to fulfill our greater purpose? That’s certainly one explanation for it.  Of course, when dealt that hand we have to play it or nothing can ever possibly come of it…but if we choose to play that hand, again despite how hard it can be at times, amazing things can, and in my experience do, happen.

We all experience challenges in our lives, but if we embrace those times as opportunities to bring something even better into our lives we open ourselves up to amazing transformation. Our view or perspective of those challenges makes all the difference. If we get caught up in the negative side of the things that happen to us, that cause major change in our lives, we will miss out on the opportunity that has been provided to us to make something great out of a negative or unpleasant situation. So celebrate both the good and the bad, the blessings and the challenges, in your life – they all serve a purpose, designed to help us live the best life we can.  You just might be amazed at the outcome!

“I dwell in possibility.” – Emily Dickinson

Big Plans…No Regrets

Have you ever had any big plans for yourself or your life? Most of us do, at least at some point in our lives. And they often change throughout our lives for one reason or another.  They may change because our interests or tastes change or because we feel we can’t afford whatever it might take to realize those big plans.  Or perhaps we just got afraid when it came time to take the big step.  Maybe we listened to someone’s advice and took another path.  Regardless, for many of us releasing the big plans we had for ourselves is a very real struggle.

Personally, I always wanted to be an archeologist. All the way back in 7th and 8th grade I can recall researching archaeology as a career. No, I wasn’t enamored with Indiana Jones (though I did enjoy those movies), but I was however quite smitten with the deep rich history of our world, and the idea of being able to discover things from ancient cultures fascinated me.  But somewhere along the way someone (to be honest it was probably more than one someone)  in my life convinced me that wasn’t a good choice for a career.  I remember being told I would never be able to afford the schools where I’d have to go to get that degree.  I remember being told it was a lot of years of school and I probably would give up on it before I finished it either because of the amount of schooling or the cost of it all.  I remember being told it is a job that doesn’t pay a lot of money so I neded to rethink it.  And I remember being told it was not a secure job to have so therefore it was not a good choice.

The message was clear to me from a young age – my big plans were flawed and I needed to abandon them and figure out something safer, cheaper, and closer to home. As I said, I was young and I trusted the adults in my life to give me good, sound advice. In reality they could only give me the best advice they personally had to offer.  There was no guarantee it was going to be good advice for me but it is all they had to offer (not finding fault here, just recognizing that everyone operates from where they are and can only give from what they have and what they know.).  And looking back I would say it was not good advice for me, but I took it because at the time it seemed like the smart and logical thing to do.  So I gave up that dream for something I was told would be a better, more secure option – teaching.  And I was a teacher for 10 years before I finally left that profession because, while it is a very worthwhile profession and can be quite fulfilling, it was not what my heart and soul wanted to be doing.

I could easily look back on that experience and have regets or be bitter or angry toward those who steered me away from my original career choice. Thinknig back on the big plans you never realized can tend to make you feel a whole host of emotions including regret, anger, and bitterness. And while regret, anger, and bitterness are a strong words, if we are being honest with ourselves we can understand how we or someone we know might find themselves feeling that way.  But regardless of whether you feel regret, anger or bitterness OR you just find yourself wondering what if you had stuck to the path that would have led you to living out your big plans…how would things be different…we can get caught up in focusing on what could have been instead of what can still become.  Whether we actively blame someone or something for the fact that we did not achieve our big plans or we just get stuck in an endless bout of what if questions, we are stuck and cannot move on to whatever iscould be next in our lives.

On that I offer two thoughts for you to ponder…

  1. Do it now – so if your big plans really are still meaningful to you and are calling to you (regardless of whether it was your original big plans or some new big plan you recently developed), just do them now. There is no time like the present and it is never too late to start something new or change your course. There is always a way if you want something badly enough.  So no matter if you are married, have kids, have a busy job, don’t let those things become excuses.  Look for ways to incorporate those things into your plan and go for it.  There is no time like the present.  You are never too old and it is never too late.
  1. There’s a reason for everything – consider that maybe your big plans as you envisioned them just weren’t meant for you or weren’t right for you. Maybe the universe had another plan, a bigger and better plan. Or maybe it just wasn’t the right time for that plan to take root in your life.  Maybe it is time to let go of the regret, of the what ifs, of the anger and frustration still surrounding you on a daily basis because you didn’t achieve your original big plans.  Maybe it is time to let it all go and embrace new opportunities which could well turn out to be even better than what you had planned on.  Take a chance on happiness…take a chance on yourself…consider what big thing could be next for you.

My second career, the one I am still actively in, was a choice made out of an opportunity that presented itself when I was looking to get out of teaching. It was a good and secure choice as well and has been fullfiling in its own right over the past 10 ½ years now. Is it what my heart and soul long for?  No, not really.  But to be honest, I am not sure archaeology is anymore either.  And so I have begun to embark on a little bit of a personal journey to explore my core desires and feelings when it comes to a career.  I have decided to let go of old thought patterns and expectations, making a promise to myself that I will do whatever I feel called to do regardless of what others or society as a whole says about it.  I want to take that leap of faith, follow my heart and soul’s desire, and land in a career that fills me with purpose, meaning, and joy.  It may not be the typical, expected, traditional, secure job, but it will finally be something that lights me up in a way that nothing else has ever done so before.

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” – C. S. Lewis