Saturday, February 27, 2010

It's Never Too Late

When was the last time your age stopped you from doing something? For me it was recently when I was wearing a particular outfit, and I saw the look of horror on my teenage daughter's face. My brain doesn't even have to catch up with the notion that I'm too old for something. I have kids who take care of that for me. (Sometimes I take great pleasure in "not acting my age" just to get under their skin!)

Perhaps there are situations when age really matters. I don't want to look like a complete fool or injure myself. But how often do we use age as a reason or an excuse for not really going for it? Whatever "it" happens to be. Sometimes we look at a younger person who's achieving something great, something that we want to achieve. It's hard not to become disheartened if we believe we can't accomplish this same great thing as fast, as easily, or at all.

As the years float by, inertia creeps in on tiny cat feet. To break out of our circle of comfort and familiarity, we have to take bold action. But trying something new and changing our perspective is like budging a rusty hinge. Where's that oil can?

So here's where the rubber meets the road. Whatever age you happen to be, realize that you have a finite number of days left to do the things you want to do. Go ahead, count them up. Let's say you live to be 85. You can do the math. Seeing that number on paper forces you to grasp that every single day is a gift. Don't waste one of them moping around or watching another episode of The Simpson's. Wake up before it's too late!

So here's what I suggest you to do to get the ball rolling:

1. Write a Bucket List
Get some paper and create six columns. Write down the following headings for each column: relationships, career, travel, lifestyle, accomplishments, and altruism. If you think of another category, add it to the heading. Now think of every possible thing you'd like to do related to each category before you die, and write them down under the appropriate heading.

2. Perform Triage
Go through your list and pick the most important goal in each category. Keep doing this until you have prioritized each category. If there are two or three of equal importance, then just order them randomly.

3. Pick Two
From your list of most important goals, pick two -- one that is really challenging or scary and one that's easy. On another paper, write down all of the action steps you'd need to take to accomplish both of these goals. Think of everything, even possible roadblocks or problems you might encounter along the way.

4. Commit Some Time
Commit to some amount of time every day or every week to completing your action steps for both goals. If you can commit to an hour a day, that's wonderful. If not, commit to something. You'll probably achieve your easier goal before the harder one, but that success should motivate you to keep going. Pick another easy goal and create action steps to begin working on it.

5. Try Not To Think About It
Just do it. Don't think about the obstacles, your fears, or your age. Just keep working on the action steps. Worrying hinders action. Action creates results.

6. Inspiration
If you start to lose motivation, don't worry. Just keep taking the actions anyway. But if you'd like a little inspiration, look at what these old creekers accomplished:

-Alice Porlock of Great Britain published her first book, Portrait of My Victorian Youth, when she was 102 years old.

-At age 98, Harold Mark Foster of Owensboro, KY, began learning to read.

-Nola Ochs, age 95, became the oldest person to receive a college diploma, a degree in general studies with an emphasis on history.

-Allan Stewart of New South Wales completed a Bachelor of Laws degree at age 91 from the University of New England. He said he finished what would have normally been a six-year degree in four and a half years "because of my age."

-At age 87, Francis Peyton Rous became the oldest Nobel Prize laureate.

-At age 84, Mae West starred in the movie Sextette.

-Venus Ramey, 82, balanced on her walker and fired her handgun to shoot out an intruder's tires. Ramey, winner of the 1944 Miss America pageant, confronted the man on her Kentucky farm and disabled his vehicle so he couldn't escape. (Don't you just love this one?)

-At 77, Grandma Moses started painting.

-Ronald Reagan was reelected President of the United States at age 73.

So you see, whatever you want to do, just go do it. It's never too late.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ten Tantalizing Travel Destinations for Personal Growth

I'm reading the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I think I'm the last person on Earth to read it, and now I know what all of the hoopla is about. It's a delightfully engaging book about feeding the body, feeding the soul, and feeding the heart. Ms. Gilbert writes about her own journey of personal growth during her travels in Italy, India, and Indonesia. Her adventures got me thinking about all of the places I want to visit, and how I might combine my love of travel with my desire for continued personal development.

So I've been doing a bit of research today, and darned if there aren't a plethora of destinations world-wide that combine beautiful, unique locations with self-development and relaxation or adventure. So here are ten that jumped off the computer and screamed "Buy a plane ticket right now!"

1. Costa Rica
This transforming life safari is an all-inclusive retreat in a tropical paradise with private, professional life coaching from Rosemary Rein, PhD, international author of Go Wild: Survival Skills for Business and Life and the co-author of Blueprint for Success with Dr. Stephen Covey and Ken Blanchard. During this personal growth retreat, you’ll explore the enchantment of Costa Rica, called the "jewel of the planet" while being certified in a personal and business survival course.

2. Hudson Valley, NY
The Omega Institute for Holistic Studies is one of the nation's foremost educational retreat centers. On a serene and beautiful campus in the Hudson Valley, you can enjoy beauty, art and cultural innovation. Regular workshops and classes are offered in personal growth, and you can enjoy film, concerts, and community gatherings. The Omega Institute also has a wellness center with a variety of therapeutic services, a meditation sanctuary, and an expansive library. Lodging is in comfortable cabins on the campus.

3. Kauai, Hawaii
Kauai Healing Vacations is run by Jane Winter, a licensed marriage and family counselor who has a private practice on Kauai. She offers customized vacation programs that include personal growth workshops, personal counseling, and eco-tour adventures on beautiful Kauai. Jane is well-versed in Hawaiian culture, history, customs, hula and chanting and can share Hawaiian tools for achieving peace and balance within. She was also a core member of Shakti Gawain's (author of Creative Visualization) clinical staff and co-leader for many of Shakti's programs.

4. Isle of Wight, UK
The Grange by the Sea is a gorgeous Georgian country house bed and breakfast. It is in the Old Village of Shanklin on the south coast of the Isle of Wight. Nestled in greenery, it is very secluded. Yet it's moments from the thatched pubs and cozy tearooms, the local train station, shops and restaurants and the long sandy beach. At the Grange you can enjoy award-winning authors to sharpen your writing skills, local landscape artists, leading life coaches and exceptional singers, dancers, and yoga teachers. There are a variety of courses from which to choose. The yummy English breakfasts consist of fresh, organic foods -- and tea of course!

5. Cyprus
The Zen Retreat Cyprus offers four different retreats to address well-being, self-discovery, and relationship issues for couples and families. The goal at Zen Retreats is to foster change and harmony within your life and to restore the much needed life - work - emotional balance. The spacious retreat villa offers a commanding view of the surrounding mountains and countryside with views towards the coast at Polis and Latchi. The luxury property sleeps 6, and has its own private pool and garden areas with a covered gazebo were you can enjoy an outside massage or acupuncture treatment.

6. Amalfi Coast, Italy
During the Amalfi Coast Retreat, you will learn leading edge techniques and highly effective personal growth principals. The retreat offers a holistic approach to their teachings, working on the physical, behavioral, emotional, mental and spiritual levels during a variety of workshops. The Amalfi Coast is a spectacular coastline situated in the South of Italy. This retreat is for the luxury traveler, and the accommodations are in one of the finest five star hotel’s on the Amalfi coast. Sumptuous meals, a private yacht outing, and guided tours of the region are part of the luxury retreat package.

7. Kenya
This 14 day Self-Discovery Safari held August 2010 focuses on personal and planetary healing within the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, known as the "birthplace" of man. Meditations, group dynamics, ceremony, and individual healing sessions encourage each participant to realize their highest healing potential for themselves and the planet during this tour. The tour also includes the best in cultural and natural history that these powerful locations have to offer.

8. Alaska
Combine adventure and self-discovery during the Inside Passages Alaska Kayaking Retreat in August 2010. The retreat will be based out of the Keene Channel Lodge on the Wrangell Narrows, a sheltered and secluded location fourteen miles south of Petersburg. The lodge provides a lovely setting for day and overnight kayak trips in sheltered waters, with rustic, comfortable accommodations. The retreat includes a multi-day kayak camping trip to the Castle Islands, as well as the opportunity to explore meditation practice in a wilderness setting in order to experience presence, both inner and outer, through a variety of contemplative disciplines.

9. Charleston
The Sophia Institute in Charleston, S.C., offers retreats featuring nationally and internationally renowned authors and teachers, like Marianne Williamson and Anne Rivers Siddons. The Institute offers a variety of programs for those engaged in personal and interpersonal transformation. The Phoebe Pember House in the heart of historic Charleston offers accommodations and retreat space in beautiful surroundings with tranquil gardens and peaceful spaces to reconnect with yourself, discover a calling or expand your spiritual journey.

10. Bali
The Heal-in-Paradise programs in Bali, part of the Indonesian archipelago, offer strategies for balance, discovery and awakening to manage stress, bring clarity of mind, enhance vitality, re-center and bring harmony. Life coaching, workshops, meditation classes and spa treatments are included in the programs. Cuisine is geared towards optimally fueling the healing process. Accommodations are in bungalows near Pererenan Beach and set in lush gardens. Bali is indescribably beautiful and is regularly voted by major travel magazines as the most enchanting travel destination in the world. It's also one of the settings for Eat, Pray, Love --so of course, it had to be on the list!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Are You Lovable? Ten Actions to Be More Appealing

We all want love. We are hard-wired to want it. From the moment we leave the womb and enter the world, we are kicking and screaming for love and care. Babies demand love, and mothers are programmed to provide it unconditionally. (Thank God, right? Those crying, pooping, eating machines don't always foster warm, fuzzy feelings at three in the morning!)

In most healthy families, love is offered to children unconditionally by their parents. And if we're fortunate, our parents continue to offer this love even as we become adults ourselves -- whether or not we deserve it! Parental love is one thing, but what makes us deserving of love from other people? What qualities make us lovable? Here's what I've learned over the years about lovability:

1. Be Light
There are two meanings for this. Be light as in don't be heavy, and be light as in don't be dark. People who are light draw others to them. It is effortless to be around someone with a lightness of demeanor and an easygoing manner. A person with a light heart reflects happiness and brightness to others, and it is uplifting to be near them. Be someone who offers light, positive energy to the world, and the world will be drawn to you.

2. Like Yourself
If you don't like yourself already, then make that a daily objective. Write down all possible reasons that you should like and respect yourself. Focus on your positive qualities and successes. Don't allow your mind to lock on to negative thinking. If you don't like yourself, your lack of self-esteem will be apparent to others. It is very hard to love someone who doesn't love themselves. It is very hard to receive love openly and completely if you don't believe you are worthy of it.

3. Set Boundaries
I know this sounds pretty negative if you are trying to attract love, but it goes hand in hand with liking yourself. Setting boundaries is about having respect for yourself and gently letting people know who you are and how you want to live. If you allow yourself to be taken advantage of and walked on, it is hard for others to respect you and to offer you real, healthy love. You won't lose love by setting boundaries. You will become more lovable.

4. Show Kindness to Everyone
Just be kind to people. Buddhists have a meditation called "loving kindness" to develop selfless and altruistic love. Show loving kindness to all people, regardless of their station in life or behavior toward you. In this hurried, self-centered world, show kindess to everyone you encounter, the check-out lady at the grocery store, the fussy child on the airplane, the guy who flips you off on the highway. Develop a habit of kindness and make it part of who you are. A kind person is hard not to love!

5. Laugh at Yourself
Don't take yourself too seriously. Have enough confidence to laugh at your own foibles. Embrace a healthy self-deprecating humor. If you let the defenses down, and allow yourself to be vulnerable and real, then you become more approachable and oddly enough, more respected.

6. Show Affection
The power of loving touch is astounding. When you offer someone a hand, a hug, a friendly squeeze, you are jumping into their space and pulling them into yours. You are inviting a connection. There are some who aren't so comfortable with lots of affection, but even so, a small amount of touch communicates volumes about who you are and your willingness to reach out.

7. Be Real
Sometimes in our efforts to be lovable, we lose ourselves. We put on an act to appear smarter, funnier, richer, more powerful or simply to become the person we wish we were. That's all fine if you want people to love the imitation you. But eventually the act is not sustainable and you're found out. Don't waste your time pretending. Just be yourself. Be honest with yourself and others about who you are so the real you can receive the love you deserve.

8. Have Integrity
Honesty. Loyalty. Reliability. Strength of character. You might win love without these, but you won't be lovable for the long term. Define what integrity means to you, and live that every day.

9. Be Surprising
Step out of your comfort zone. Do something unexpected. Go out of your way for someone. Say the nice thing that you are thinking. Say yes instead of no. Gain a reputation for being interesting and surprising -- in your own special way.

10. Love Unconditionally
Offer love to others expecting nothing in return. Offer love because you want to give it without fear, conditions, or strings attached. Give love for the sheer joy of giving, and you will discover that your own lovability factor increases exponentially!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Leave Work Early: Making the Decision to Scale Back

What would happen if you decided to arrive at work no earlier than 9:00 in the morning and left at 5:00 every day? Maybe you already have that kind of job, and if so, you're excused from reading this post. I was talking to a friend the other day who told me he'd lose his job if he left at 5:00 every day. His work requires him to handle certain things well after 5:00 -- it's simply not a nine to five job.

Americans work longer hours than any of our Western European cousins.
We also take fewer and shorter vacations than most Europeans. In my research, I learned one explanation for this: the impact of advertising on our mass psyches. Americans work longer hours so they can make more money to purchase all of the goods and services they see in advertising. If this is the case, we are working harder for fabricated desires. If there were fewer ads, would we relax a little? The irony is that we have less time to enjoy the goods and services we are working so hard to afford.

In my coaching work, many of my clients are striving for balance. They are working long, hard hours at jobs they don't really like. They don't have much time with their families, and they certainly don't have time to pursue their passions. Many are quite successful, but they are drained and unfulfilled.

So here's a bold idea. What if you made the decision to start cutting back? What if you shut down your computer at 4:45, tidied up your desk, and walked out of the office at 5:00? What if you started with the decision that you would work less and have a more balanced life, and then let all other decisions revolve around that commitment? For some, like my friend, that might mean some big changes -- a new job, a simpler lifestyle. It would be a huge shift in thinking. But it would also be a huge shift in living. Life would be a bit slower, with more time to pursue fewer activities -- but with focus and intensity.

At first blush, this idea might seem impossible for you.
But I invite you to consider it and mentally explore the possibility. Start with the concept of scaling back, and think about how you could do that and the possible consequences. Think about how you would deal with the consequences and whether the resulting fall-out and change would be more or less painful than the life you lead now. Perhaps you will surprise yourself.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Money Mindfulness Bootcamp: A Week Long Spending Challenge for You

I just finished a five day "Blogging Bootcamp" with Leo Babauta, the founder and writer for the wildly successful blog, Zen Habits. Leo is one guy who practices what he preaches. In spite of his success, he lives very simply and spends very little money on material things. He focuses his energy and money on truly valuable things like serving others through his blogs, raising six kids and being a good husband, and living mindfully and creatively. He has been able to completely pay off his debt and now can enjoy some of the non-material things that money can buy, like travel and helping other people.

He said something the other day in the Bootcamp about asking yourself every time you start to buy something, "Do I really need this?" Is it completely necessary to spend this money on this thing? So for those of you who enjoy tackling a challenge, I've got one for you. Starting today, begin a Money Mindfulness Bootcamp. Why would you want to do this? Well, for two reasons. First, you will save some money and discover just how much you spend on mindless stuff. Secondly, you might discover some pleasure in living simpler and having less. Here's how it will work:

1. Mental Preparation
So if you're going to do this, you need to prepare yourself mentally. For the next seven days, you won't be living the lifestyle you have been living up until this moment. This Money Mindfulness Bootcamp will be an exercise in financial and emotional dieting. But there will be positive results in the end if you stick it out.

2. Get A Savings Jar
Get a jar for savings. Pull out any one, five and ten dollar bills you have in your wallet and put them in the jar. You can keep any twenties or higher, but once you break those bills, put the ones, fives and tens in the jar. You can keep getting twenties from a cash machine if necessary. But you can only keep twenties or higher in your wallet.

3. Start With Meals
Go through your pantry and refrigerator to take inventory of what you have in stock right now. Using the food you have in the house, write a menu for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for the next seven days. If you don't have enough food in the house for seven days, plan menus using very simple, inexpensive, but nutritious ingredients that you can purchase. Go buy those ingredients at the grocery store, purchasing store brand items if possible. Do not purchase any other items except what is on your list. Now, calculate your average weekly grocery bill. From that number, subtract the cost of the groceries you just bought. Write down the remaining number and shove that piece of paper in the savings jar.

4. Credit Cards
Unless it's an absolute emergency, do not use a credit card during this week. An emergency is a hospital visit, a flat tire, or a hold-up at gun point. Not too many robbers take credit cards anyway.

5. No Starbucks, No Fast Food
Sorry. Make coffee at home. Pack your lunch. If you regularly purchase coffee or fast food during the week, calculate about how much you spend on those purchases per week. Write that number down and put it in the jar.

6. Dinners Out, Entertainment
For the next seven days, you must not eat dinner out. Every meal must be either eaten or prepared at home. Any entertainment must be free. So no movies, concerts, or other activities that cost money unless you have already paid for them. Spend some time finding free ways to have fun. Do some research. There are great web sites about cost-free fun. Consider spending time in nature, playing games with your family, reading, exercising, or doing creative projects. Or use the time to clean, reorganize, and pull out useless stuff to sell or give away.

7. Spend Mindfully
Any time during the week you start to pull out your wallet to buy something, ask yourself, "Do I really need this?" You probably don't, but if it is something you absolutely do need, ask yourself if it can wait until next week. If you don't buy it or you delay buying it, write down the cost of this thing and put the paper in the jar.

8. What You'll Be Buying
Not much. You can pay necessary bills. You may need a few groceries. You may need to pay for parking and gas, although you might find alternatives to driving. Cancel any lawn or housekeeping services for the week. Your kids may have events or activities to attend that cost money. If they are optional, bag them. Wherever you cut back, write down the savings and put it in the jar.

9. Add Up The Savings
At the end of day seven, sit down with your family and open the jar. Add up the money that you saved by creating your own Money Mindfulness Bootcamp. Write a check for the total amount and put it in your savings account, along with the cash in the jar. Pretty amazing, huh?! (This is a great opportunity to talk with your kids about saving and spending.)

10. Make It A Habit
Consider participating in a Money Mindfulness Bootcamp once a month or at least once a quarter. In between, stay mindful about your spending. Keep asking yourself, "Do I really need this?" Keep a running total of your savings from each Bootcamp and total it up at the end of a year.

I'd love to hear back from you about your success with this challenge and how much you saved!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Limiting Beliefs: Overcome Thoughts That Sabotage Success

Right now, think of something that you've always wanted to do but haven't done. Got it? Okay, now ask yourself why. What has held you back from doing that thing you've dreamed of doing? There might be some solid reasons. I have two daughters who are ballet dancers. I've always wanted to be a ballet dancer, but if I started training now, I might make it into Ballet Geriatric. I'd be in the corps, standing in the back, wearing a heating pad under my tutu. Sadly, it's too late for me to be a professional dancer, but I can still dance. (And I do, much to my daughters' chagrin!)

Yes, there are some dreams we might not be able to realize. Most of us won't become professional dancers, athletic superstars, or president. But I'd like to suggest that the vast majority of our dreams can become reality, and we are the only ones holding ourselves back from seizing those dreams. As Paul Simon says, "There must be fifty ways to leave your lover." I think there are fifty ways to sabotage your success. Let's look at a few of them.

I Don't Have Time
Oh boy. This is the oldest excuse in the book, isn't it? You don't have time if you don't make the time. Life is a demanding mistress, and if we let her, she can take over and manipulate us like puppets. We race around with our tasks and jobs and look longingly at our dream like it's a distant vision in the mist. It will stay that way if we don't seize life by the horns and control it. Put your dream first or at least near the top of your priorities. You control time. It doesn't control you. Make the decision to act on your vision, and remarkably all other activities will find their place in your schedule.

I Might Fail
Yes, you might. But if you only do things you are already successful at doing, you will never grow. Even though it can smack you around and embarrass you, failure is really your best friend. If you fail, you have tried. If you never try, you will never make it to your dream. Sometimes success is a pathway cobbled with failures. Every stepping stone leads you to what you want, and you will get there. Try to laugh at failure, even love it. It shows that you are bold and fearless and willing to step out of your comfort zone. Accept that failure is a natural part of the path to success and just keep going!

I Don't Know How
This is the first cousin of I Don't Have Time and I Might Fail. If you knew how, you probably would have done it. You just don't want to take the time to learn, and you might not get it right the first time. Most of the time, it's never as hard as you think. I have been a special needs computer user most of my adult life. Now I'm blogging, even though I just recently learned what "URL" means. (I know.) I figured it out, mostly by myself. Whatever it is, you can learn it. Just get started. Take the first action.

Others Might Disapprove
This is a hard one. It's so uncomfortable to offend or disappoint people, especially people in your family. Like your mom or dad. Or spouse. We do so many things because we feel we "should". Or we let our dreams sail by because someone else doesn't think it's the right dream for us. Sometimes sacrifice is necessary, especially if your actions might really hurt someone. But if you are just avoiding the discomfort of someone's anger, then you will be forever resentful. This is your one and only life. If you live to age ninety, count up the days you have left. Do you want to give up your dream because it might make someone mad? They will get over it, and if they don't, they are not supporting you the way you deserve to be supported.

I'm Too Old
I recently turned fifty, but inside I feel like I did at thirty. Don't act your age. Act on your dreams in spite of your age. Your brain continues to grow and thrive even into old age -- but only if you keep learning! See every single day as a delicious PuPu platter at a Chinese restaurant. There are so many wonderful choices, so keep choosing to engage in life regardless of age. Age has some limitations (I, for one, no longer wear bikinis), but life is to be lived with joy and passion and adventure. Use the wisdom of age to enjoy every minute to the fullest!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Embrace the Blues: How to Find the Good in Winter Sadness

So we are in the thick of it now. It's mid-February, and we are hovering in the windy, dark corners of the winter season. The holidays are a distant memory and spring seems still buried under the cold, hard earth. Here in Atlanta we have seen more rain and snow (yes, snow!) this winter than in the past several years combined. In fact, it's been a blustery, rainy, and mostly sunless stretch of days that has left me and many of my friends depleted and downright blue.

February can be a most unkind month. I lost both of my parents in the month of February. Valentine's Day, for all of its hype and hearts, can highlight loneliness and pain for the un-coupled among us. The cold and harsh weather keeps us inside when we so desperately need the sunlight to boost our mood and energy.

Much has been written about how to boost your mood when the winter blues descend. Exercise, sunlight, healthy eating, positive thinking. These are valuable and worth pursuing. But sometimes there's a stretch when the blues hang on like a heavy old coat. I've been pondering how the winter blues might serve me when I can't beat them. How can the slate grey aura that surrounds many people teach us something and help us grow? Here are some thoughts that came to me as I huddle at my desk.

1. Patience.
This is a highly underrated virtue. In an age of nearly immediate gratification in all things, it's hard to wait on happiness. That's why we frantically scramble for something to do to make those blues go away. When all else fails, just be patient. Moods come and go. Learn the fine art of patience and watchful waiting. Come to accept that this too shall pass.

2. Rest.
Sometimes our moods send us a message. Maybe your heart, your soul, or your body needs to rest and recuperate. When our mood is low, we aren't as productive, and for action-oriented, achieving types this can feel like the ultimate self-betrayal. Try not to struggle against your mood, and allow yourself to rest in acceptance. You will expend less energy this way and will recover more quickly.

3. Reflection
Use these wintry days as a time for reflection. Pull out some books that feed your soul. Write in a journal about how you are feeling. Sometimes just the release of expressing your thoughts and feelings on paper will help your mood lift. Practice prayer or meditation where you quiet your active mind and sit in stillness. Use this time for quiet planning, self-discovery, and goal-setting. You can still be productive and creative during this time.

4. Self Care.
Don't berate yourself about your mood. Feeling blue is part of the normal range of human emotions. Instead of fighting your mood, embrace it. Welcome the blues as a reason to take special care of yourself. What feels comfortable and soothing to you? Take a long, hot bath. Get a massage. Watch a movie. Snuggle up with someone close. Treat yourself with kindness and the tender care you would give to your child.

5. Awareness.
Spring will come and your mood should lift. The winter blues are generally short-lived and rarely intense. They might last a few days or even a couple of weeks. But if you can't shake the blues and feel yourself sinking lower, call your doctor. A blue mood is one thing. A full-blown depression is another. Be aware of the duration and intensity of your mood, and take action if need be.

6. Gratitude.
When your energy is low and activity is slowed down, be grateful for the small things you miss in the rush of daily life. That first sip of coffee. The burst of warm water from the shower. The red bird perched on the branch outside. There is a gift in every moment if you pay attention. Be grateful for that.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Love: The Agony and The Ecstasy

Look at the photo of these incredibly powerful, beautiful dancers from the ballet Romeo and Juliet. Are they in agony or ecstasy? Or both? We know the story of these star-crossed lovers. They are passionate soul mates whose circumstances pull them apart and lead them to untimely death. Damn. I hate it when that happens.

But isn't that the way with love? On the one hand, it is exquisite, thrilling, rapturous, lovely, fulfilling, and passionate. And then that same love can leave you wounded, fearful, angry, confused, and depressed. What gives with love?? We all want it, but boy can it turn us inside out. Even when love gets older and cozy and predictable, suddenly the love rug can be pulled out from under us, and all we can see is that creep who leaves the toilet seat up or the raging Tasmanian she-devil who steals the remote.

Love has so many obstacles, but we still go after it with dogged determination. Why? Because it is a noble pursuit. I think we long for love, strive for love, because it reveals our greatest good. It shows us the depth of our capacity to feel and the measure of our ability to give. It can bruise us, batter us, and reshape us, but we will still knock down doors to get at it.

I suppose it's that way with everything -- that there are two sides to the coin. Without black there'd be no white; without sorrow there's no happiness; and without pain, there can be no love. Just as love brings out our greatest good, it also reveals our deepest hurts and most deplorable behavior. However, the unique blessing of love is its remarkable healing powers. It brings out our best and it brings out our worst. But like a sheepish, steadfast puppy, love creeps back in and licks you on the face when you are least expecting it. Unless the wounds are too deep or the walls too high, we almost always welcome love back with open arms.

This Valentine's Day, whether you are single or with someone, my wish for you is to welcome love in your life. Yes, pain is inevitable. But healing and growth are inevitable too if you keep your heart open.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

20 Amazing Personal Growth Blogs

Now that I'm a neophyte blogger on personal growth, I have become achingly aware of the plethora of extraordinary blogs with different slants on the same subject. I look at them and drool with the dreams of a one-legged sprinter. I am about to take a Blogging Bootcamp with two of the world's greatest bloggers, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits and Mary Jaksch of Goodlife Zen. So you may be seeing some changes for the better in my blog over the next few weeks. In the meantime, here are 20 blogs in no particular order that will show you how the pros do it!

1. Pick the Brain
Topics include motivation, productivity, education, psychology, health, and money.

2. Change Your Life, Change Your Thoughts
The title tells the story. This is a beautiful, easy to read blog.

3. Christine Kane
About creativity, courage, and conscious living. One of my all time favorite blogs. Great writing and practical info.

4. Dumb Little Man
This cool blog offers you tips that will save you money, increase your productivity, and keep you sane! Don't you love the title?

5. Zen Habits
Leo's subtitle is "simple productivity". That's what the blog is about, and it's so refreshing and calm. Leo is a regular guy, married with six kids, who figured out how to blog and now makes a great living at it. Simply.

6. Goodlife Zen
This is a sister site to Zen Habits. It's written by Leo's partner Mary Jaksch who is a lovely, brilliant lady. The blog offers "practical inspiration for a happier life", and it lives up to that claim.

7. Simple Mom
Live simply. Stay sane. All you moms out there, you can't miss this one. It's beautiful, practical and engaging.

8. Live What You Love
This is the coolest web site and blog written by a married couple who are living what they love. They give you great ideas on travel, food, books, goal setting, and many good things.

9. Think Simple Now
It's a "candidly written blog that addresses real-life personal issues on our path to happiness and fulfillment, along with practical and simple solutions for those issues," according to the blogger. It's very sweet and personal.

10. The Change Blog
If you’re looking to make changes in your life this year, then this is the blog for you. Great posts by Peter, the blog's founder, as well as many wonderful guest posts.

11. Litemind
Exploring efficient ways to use your mind. Like I just did with that efficient sentence.

12. The Unclutterer
This is an beautifully uncluttered blog about getting and staying organized with great daily tips.

13. Life Optimizer
This site is about living life to the fullest and getting the most from every day.

14. The Brazen Careerist
According to dear Penelope Trunk, the writer, she offers advice at the intersection of life and work.

15. Motivate Thyself
A guide to helping you make the most out of yourself and everything you do.

16. Universe of Success
This is sort of the superstore of personal development sites. It's dedicated to helping people help themselves by making small changes for the better.

17. The Bridgemaker
This site offers stories of faith, hope, courage and change. We all need some of that.

18. Abundance Blog
The writer offers a simple equation for personal growth: Creatvity + Productivity + Simplicity = Abundance.

19. Positivity Blog
It's easy on the eyes, fun to read, great photos, and usable info.

20. My Super-Charged Life
Great stuff to help you stay motivated and get the most out of life.

Enjoy these amazing blogs, and check back in with me too for more great life blooming goodness!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Listen and Learn

Life is rarely black or white. It is usually various gradations of grey. Any problem, decision, action, or belief can almost always be perceived from a multitude of perspectives with many possible, logical, or even "right" choices or outcomes. Yes, there are some situations that have a best or more believable result, but even then, there is always another side to the story that may have some merit.

We often take a stand about something. We thrust a stake in the ground and proclaim the rightness of our belief or choice. We know best because we have gathered the data, mastered the debate, and slathered ourselves in the self assurance that our "knowingness" about the situation should be enough to convince those other morons that we are right.

But then something or someone comes along and fuzzies up our "knowingness". They present a real alternative, another way of thinking. If they aren't screaming their opinion or bloviating with self-righteousness, it's hard for rationale people to completely ignore them. Whether it's politics, religion, the weather forecast, or the best driving route, if a viable, reasonable alternative is in our faces, shouldn't we close our mouths and listen for minute?

I've seen liberals and conservatives debate about how to serve our country while screaming red-faced into the television camera. I have known atheists who have demonstrated profound acts of kindness while religious fanatics bomb buildings and kill in the name of the Creator. I've known good people to make bad decisions, and difficult, troubled people to surprise me with goodness.

We need to humble ourselves. We need to become listeners and learners. If we accept that very rarely there is one "right" choice, belief, or decision and stay open to all possibilities, we expand our world and find new ways of connection. Become a truth ferret. Assume that your way is not the only way. Hear and acknowledge other people and their ideas and beliefs. Embrace differences as opportunities for enlightenment. Learning and growing is a life-long endeavor and the world around you is your master teacher. Be curious and grateful for your daily lessons.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Create Your Life Vision

Do you have any idea where you're going? I used to wonder that all the time as I bobbled through life like a pinball, bouncing from one task to another. If my dream job was to be a Task Master, I'd become the expert in the field.

Routines, errands and other people's schedules ran my life. This wasn't intentional. It just enveloped me like slow growing kudzu. I was tangled up in a web of insidious activity leading nowhere. In fact, I used my tasks and to-do lists as an excuse for not consciously creating my life.

If I was busy with projects, cleaning, driving kids around, and generally chasing my tail like a crazed puppy, I didn't have to think about finding a passion or accomplishing something meaningful. Frankly I was afraid if I focused on it, I might discover I had no vision or plan for my life at all. Well, I didn't. But I was determined to create one, and here are the steps I took.

1. Step Away from the Car.
You must step out of your routine to begin this process. Force yourself to carve time out of your schedule to work on this vision. Even if it's just an hour a week, breaking the cycle of activity to focus on creating your life is the most important step on the path. Get a notebook and a folder to start gathering information.

2. Become a Self Sleuth.
Start learning about yourself -- your personality, motivations, strengths, and aptitudes. I love assessment tests. They are a great tool for starting this learning process. There are many free tests online and some that require a fee but provide you with more in-depth information. Just Google "assessment tests" or visit to get a list of various assessment tools. A coach or counselor also can administer these assessments and provide feedback.

3. Phone a Friend.
Ask those closest to you to give your their perceptions of your strengths and natural gifts. You might be surprised at what you hear. Sometimes the qualities we take for granted in ourselves are areas where others perceive us as gifted and valuable.

4. Dig Deeper.
Here's the part that assessment tools may not cover. Get pen and paper and write down everything you feel passionate about or that brings you joy, in your personal and professional life. Now write down all of the things you'd like less of in your life. If it's a feeling (ie: stress), write down the root cause for the feeling (over-scheduled). Finally, write down a list of your values and pick the top 4 or 5 that are non-negotiable for your life and career. Here's a great list of value words to help you:

5. Outline Your Vision.
Now you should know a good bit more about yourself -- your personality, your gifts, your motivations, your passions and your values. Using all of the information you've gathered about yourself, you are going to begin to outline your life vision. Get your pen and six sheets of paper. Put the one of the following headlines on each sheet: Career; Relationship; Family; Physical Space/Home; Personal Growth/Learning/ Faith; Lifestyle/Fun. Now begin writing your ideal vision for each of these based on what you've learned about yourself.

6. Find the Imbalances.
Now review the vision you've written for each category, and determine how your current life is out-of-balance with your vision. There may be big areas like being in the wrong job. And there may be small areas like you want to travel more. Go to your list of things you want less of in your life (see #4 above) and decide if you can make adjustments here to help you create your vision in each category.

7. Begin Somewhere.
Pick one of these out-of-balance areas and begin to do something about it. If you are ready to tackle something big, then pick the area that is draining most of your energy. Write a list of everything that needs to be done to get you to that vision and start the work. If this is overwhelming, start small. Pick one action from any category and do that. Then another and another. You get the picture.

8. Visit Your Vision Daily.
Every day, re-read your vision so that you build excitement and energy around it. Make adjustments as you create more awareness. Then keep working toward it. Every step, whether large or small, is moving you forward on the path to your wonderful new life. Don't get overwhelmed. Just take it one piece at a time. One day you will wake up and realize you haven't just created your life vision. You are living it!