Swap Out Stress for Moxie

Sitting with my coffee cup in my hands one cold morning,I was reminiscing about the good old days. One day in particular, a long time ago. I ran a small preschool, it was a work day. I was sick as a dog but couldn’t take the day off. I was shaken awake by my two kids — fighting on my bed. And it was my birthday. Ahh, the good old days.

I’ve been talking to bunches of people who are stressed. In these conversations I can feel the anxious energy rising up like an electrical charge. This can’t be healthy. And it isn’t the way they want to live. Stress is a boomerang that flies at them and steals away control. Lack of control comes in the spectre of demands from others, bad news pop ups, the have to do list that spams the want to do list. Maybe kids fighting on your bed when you’re too sick to raise your head off the pillow.

-If compassion doesn't include yourself it is incomplete.- (3)

Wait, don’t put your head under the pillow. (So tempting when your little angels are exhibiting a flash of ugliness on your comforter). And don’t let stress tie a rope around you and whip you around. Tie on a carpenters belt, stuff some tools in the pockets, and get back to doing your beautiful thing. Harness that energy. Here are your tools:

Tool #1: Step away for a moment. Take a deep cleansing breath. This act alone will create some space. Bonus? You can control this. Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat until you feel a sense of control returning. Simple. Powerful.

Tool #2: Information. Ask some questions. ‘If it’s a bad news pop up, ask — ‘What information do I need to handle this?’ Then get it. Another question: ‘What resources do I need to give myself some ease?’ Then follow through. If it’s a ‘I have to do list’ that’s longer than the ‘I want to do’ list, you’ve got to change that up. Go immediately, schedule something that makes you smile and put it on your calendar. Other, demanding people? Ask yourself, “What’s my stuff? What belongs to someone else?” Highly responsible people (that’s you) have a tendency to accept other people’s stuff and take it on as their own. It’s not. Give it back if that’s the case.

Tool #3: A shaker of endurance combined with a bit of moxie. Tell yourself, “This anxiety is trying to tell me something. Am I afraid I can’t handle what’s been thrown at me?” Remind yourself of all the tough stuff you’ve handled in the past. You’ve got this too. “Am I losing myself in this (job, relationship, etc.)?” Maybe feeling stress is a wake up call to make some big changes.

Tool #4: Do something nice for yourself. Small. Large. It doesn’t matter. I know when I was sleeping at the hospital when my Mom was sick, after one particularly stressful week, I came home and immediately scheduled a foot massage. It was one blissful hour, and it helped me change perspective, and take care of myself so I could take care of my Mom.

Tool #5: Groupies. Surround yourself with positive, loving, supportive people. If it’s a work situation that is full of negativity, it’s especially important to seek out uplifting people.

Don’t get sidelined by stress and anxiety. All that does is suck your energy and give you a negative charge. Stress and it’s cousin anxiety are part of life. Keep your power tools handy.

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Send yourself a little Chocolat’

“One taste is all it takes…..”  Chocolat’, a classic movie, follows Juliette Binoche as she opens a chocolate shop in a conservative town full of bitter, sad and lonely people. Juliette stirs a little kindness and nurture into the chocolate pot, and soon, everyone is changed. You know the human value of kindness towards others. Now, flip the mirror. How compassionate are you toward yourself? Are you kinder to strangers?

Are you one of those people who avoids the notion altogether? This is a dangerous idea.

-If compassion doesn't include yourself it is incomplete.-

Compassion shown to yourself makes a difference in whether you survive and thrive. Studies prove that it’s not what you face in life, but how you relate to yourself when the going gets tough. (Do you think of yourself as your own ally or as deficient?) This perception determines your ability to cope successfully. Do you expect yourself to do it all, and then beat yourself up when you fall short? I’m betting you do.

Aaron told himself to stay strong, maintain being a ‘tough guy’ during his divorce. He believed that hiding his feelings and not admitting to how much pain he was in, was what would get him through. But instead, it kept him stuck, feeling miserable, and angry. He saw compassion for himself as a weakness.

Is your reluctance to extend kindness to yourself based on the premise that it will make you weak? Do you resist thoughtfulness toward yourself because you feel it will undermine motivation to push forward?

Your best friend comes to you and shares how overwhelmed she is. She is having trouble coping with everything she has to do.  Would you say, “What’s wrong with you? You loser. Suck it up and get busy!”

You wouldn’t talk to a friend like that. But you might talk to yourself that way. The pain caused by self judgement is significant. “I’m not good enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not ________ enough.” Studies now prove that self compassion is a far more effective method for personal motivation than self punishment.

In our work together, I help my clients learn how to move from self judgement to self acceptance. And that is the beginning of tremendous growth and accomplishment.

What does self compassion look like?

Self compassion is caring for yourself and accepting your feelings, struggles and pain.

Acknowledge that (this moment, challenge, transition) is hard. Don’t push it away, but ‘be’ with that. Say “This is hard. I’m doing the best I can.” Then, stick with me here, close your eyes and send yourself love. (If you’re feeling awkward, that’s resistance. Try it anyway.) Imagine a shower of love pouring down. Some call this grace. Let this good feeling flow through you. Self compassion builds your capacity for love, wisdom, courage and generosity toward yourself and for others. It’s not weakness or laziness to send some kindness to yourself. It is smart.

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(This article inspired by “The Five Myths of Self Compassion” by Kristin Neff, PhD. Published on the website Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. September 30, 2015.)
Chocolat’ is a 2000 movie directed by Lasse Halltrom, starring Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench and Alfred Molina.

This can’t be what abundance looks like

“I will love the light for it shows me the way; yet I will love the darkness for it shows me the stars.” Augustine (Og) Mandino

“Crap, the timing couldn’t be worse!”
That’s me talking. To my friend Monique.

I was dramatically sharing about events unfolding in July. It was dawning on me that I had major upheaval on my calendar, all of it invited by me, although not all of it within my control. Family, travel, moving, business expansion, major reorganization. All of it poised and scheduled to happen in the same two-week period in July. Screenshot 2015-07-01 20.39.04

As I was spilling ’the timing couldn’t be worse’ to my patient friend, I next blurted out, “I guess this is what abundance looks like!” Darn. Truth, Told.

Had I really expected that my life would unfold perfectly and exponentially? If I do this, then I do that, then my blessings multiply very neatly and orderly. Yes, I guess I had expected that. But this life is messier, AND more abundant than even my imagination could cook up. After the “I guess this is what abundance looks like” revelation, I more calmly realized that this was ALL GOOD.

There are few absolutes. Every blessing can have a dark side. Every negative can yield a positive. It depends on your perspective. I’m really good at helping my clients look at their strengths. We build bridges over what to them look like valleys of despair. While my present circumstance in no way describes a story of hardship, I had slipped into ‘negative thinking’. And that mindset had caused me stress for a full week. Then I flipped the story in my head. “I love the darkness for it shows me the stars.” Do you have a story that could use a different perspective? One that is causing you stress? I’ll bet you can tally up an affirmative side to your problem. That’s where you can begin to build something more useful to you than stress. Tweak this formula:

Your challenge (acknowledge here): _________________
Silver lining: (Think, then make a list) ________________
In this silver lining list, where do you see opportunity? _________________________
Plant your feet there.

If you need help looking at your silver linings, I’m here.

With love,

Aid for the Confounded

So you want to take some action, but with so many variables  piling up, even the most dedicated mathematician would throw in the chalk. Like a restaurant menu with 300 entrees, you have too many choices,  which makes choosing impossible — ironic isn’t it? Then you figure, every choice has a consequence. And when you start calculating that out?  You’re tangled into knots, you cry, and then you quit. Back where you began.
Being stuck feels awful. Stuck in a job? Stuck in a relationship that makes you unhappy? Stuck in boredom? Stuck in a cycle of soul sucking hyperactivity. Should I marry that guy? Should I retire? Should I take that job across the country? Should I get a divorce?
Stymied. Stumped. Stuck. But thinking about the alternatives gives you hives.Screenshot 2015-06-24 16.11.32
Surprise! This type of itch is a good thing. Because noticing the ick of stuck is the message you have been waiting for. When things get really uncomfortable, the energy begins to shift from inertia to response. There is a tipping point. And you are now leaning in the positive column. Don’t just think about it or worry about it. Make a plan for how you’re going to deal with it. Then do something about it. What to do? Here are a few ideas:
1. Dedicate some extra time to thinking and planning. Take yourself off on sabbatical for the weekend. Start making notes of all the possibilities. Remove all the ‘shoulds’. Include all the ‘wants’. Then zero in on the ideas that make your heart sing.
2. Get some coaching so you get a shortcut to the most effective strategies. (Of course I would suggest this. But I suggest it because my clients tell me it works. I’m here to be of service.)
3. Read some books written by folks who have ‘been there’ or have practical advice. There are lots of self help books with proven track records. Google your topic, see what comes up. Ask your friends for suggestions. Do a Facebook poll.
4. If it’s a relationship problem, seek a mediator or counselor (if all parties in the relationship are agreeable). If it’s a financial issue, enlist a financial advisor. There are great resources out there that are free too. Getting help before it becomes a crisis relieves a lot of stress.
5. If it’s a career decision you want to make, think about people you could reach out to in your circle who would be helpful. By talking with people you trust and have perspective, you can gather more information to help you make good decisions.
Any of these ideas are good. Just do something. Being so indecisive feels awful. Recognizing “this is me stuck”, is seeing the road sign. Let ‘stuck’ direct you to the first step. Now, get going.

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There was a note of panic in her voice in the telephone message. As she laid out the problems she was facing, I heard “but what if this happens, and what if……”  Two days in a row, I saw faces full of anxiety, heard words that lacked energy, people who appeared vulnerable and without power. Stories of sleepless nights, brought on by impossible expectations or the specter of trouble ahead. 

I heard a lot of ‘overwhelm’ stories this week after my last newsletter article  (“It’s Snowing Overwhelm”)  This is how it went………Small anxieties became large worries that became distress that spiraled into sleepless nights. Trouble fermented like a large pot of ugly stew.

When you were a kid and you went to the county fair, were you drawn to the cotton candy booth? The paper cone swirls around the vat, a few strands wind on, pink fluff begins to collect and by some magical force it creates a big ball of fleecy sweet. Worry and overwhelm spin out like that. Stress multiplies and snowballs. Only it’s not sweet. It’s toxic.

It’s time to be kind to yourself. Give yourself a break. If you begin to feel a sense of panic, stop, breathe, and make a plan. Here is the framework:

Analyze and ask yourself —

  • What is it I need to know?

  • What is the one essential thing that needs to be done first?

  • What is an action I can take that would help?

Panic makes us vulnerable to crisis. A plan gives you choice and is empowering. 

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Screenshot 2015-02-20 19.10.28

Where I live, it’s been relentless snow and cold. We’ve had below zero windchill temperatures, and, well, pull on your boots and parka designed for arctic adventurers. While the weather is good or bad, depending on your perspective and time zone, what really bothers me most is when I hear people mention the words “I feel overwhelmed”. My heart breaks.


Even my dog Buddy looks cold

I’m always on the lookout for tools to help people live their best life. To cope with things like OVERWHELM. Because we can’t do everything, but we’re told we should. Overwhelm is an energy and joy stealer. It prevents you from doing your best work, living a full and complete life, feeling happy. Neuroscientists report that “94% of working people in the industrialized world have felt overwhelmed to the point of incapacitation.” (Christine Carter, PhD.) We try to do more multi-tasking, to get everything done. But that doesn’t work either.“Multitasking has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking.” (From an article in the Guardian written by Neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitan) No wonder I hear that undertone of hopelessness when people say, “I’m overwhelmed.” Screenshot 2015-02-20 19.32.18

Because you can’t do everything, you need to make choices. In those areas, begin to practice ‘no’. But what do you say no to? Say no to all the things that don’t line up with your values. I’m not talking values as in ‘family values’, although family can be one of your core values. Values are the principles, beliefs and attitudes that guide your decisions, actions and behaviors. When you are not in alignment with your values, your life doesn’t flow easily. My clients do a values assessment that helps them clarify where their values lie. They work with a list of words associated with values, such as ‘Career’, ‘Individualism’, “Innovation’, “Helping Others”, “Family”, “Adventure”, etc. I work with them to get really clear on what their top 5 values are. They can then make decisions on where to say yes, and where to say no. Any tool that can help you make decisions and set priorities, is helpful with overwhelm. So, make a list of ten words describing important personal principles. Compare them with each other, and see which 5 are most important to you. These are the values that drive your life. By getting clear on your core values, you can make decisions on where you spend your time and energy. At work, you may not have control of all of your decisions. Zero in on the areas you do have control over, and choose what and how you spend your time.This leads to a life lived with integrity, and a whole lot less overwhelm.


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Cultivating Optimism When You’re Two Quarts Low

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 6.00.48 PM

You just got a phone call from someone you used to have a great relationship with. But since they had a switch in leadership, they have dealt with you in a less than respectful way. Today, the voice on the other end of the line nailed you to the wall. You get off the phone feeling shaken and wondering what you had been thinking when you decided to ……. a) start this business, b) go into this field, c) serve in this capacity …….  take your pick.

Developing optimism when your energy is low, is a skill. Discouragement hits when you’re tired or sick or when you’ve had too many difficult challenges in a row. Your normal optimism is weakening, and you feel yourself looking into a bleak closet. There are a few tricks you can use to turn your boat back around, chugging along in the right direction. Here are a few tips — they may at first seem simple, but there is solid positive evidence behind these  techniques. Simple is good, right?

1. First, step back a moment. Take a long deep breath, let it out slowly. Remove yourself from the scenario. Imagine yourself separate from what is happening. This technique cultivates space between you and whatever nasty pessimistic bug is developing.

2. Remember what it is you have to offer. Write these down. List your past wins. Your clients who love you and why. The research you’ve done recently that you are very proud of. The evaluation that  made you swell with pride.

3. Set down in words, how this moment can help you improve what you do. For example: Clarify agreements with the people you do business with. Create more choice in your work. Pull the plug on a relationship or job. Is there some change that you can make that would take the pressure off?

4. Spend 5 minutes with your Mission/Purpose statement outlining why you’re here doing what you do.

5. Take a 5 minute walk outside your office. Down the hall, around the block, to the coffee shop, wherever you can clear your head.

You were put here with spectacular gifts, meant to be shared with the world.