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10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash

Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir

 

Who doesn’t enjoy a walk outdoors in nature? The fact that nature settings are less and less accessible to those who live in cities should be concerning, especially with respect to overall health and well-being. The fact is, however, that continuing research shows nature has multiple benefits for your well-being.

More than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas and that proportion is projected to increase to 70 percent by 2050. Despite many benefits of urbanization, studies show that the mental health of urban dwellers is negatively affected by their city environment, with greater prevalence of anxiety and mood disorders and an increasing incidence of schizophrenia. Finding that bit of green space in cities or spending time in nature visiting rural areas may do more than provide a temporary escape from concrete, steel and glass.

Being in nature improves creativity and problem-solving.

Ever been stumped, hit a wall, unable to arrive at a well-reasoned decision? Most people have, at one time or another. It isn’t coincidence that talking time out to be in nature can result in a subsequent creativity surge and/or the sudden realization of a workable solution. Beyond that, according to 2012 research published in PLoS One, there is a cognitive advantage that accrues from spending time in a natural environment. Other research published in Landscape and Urban Planning found that complex working memory span improved and a decrease in anxiety and rumination resulted from exposure to natural green space.

Individuals with depression may benefit by interacting with nature.

Research published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2012 suggested that individuals with major depressive disorder who engaged in 50-minute walks in a natural setting showed significant memory span increases compared to study participants who walked in an urban setting. That participants also showed increases in mood was noted, the effects were not found to be correlated with memory, leading researchers to suggest that other mechanisms or replication of previous work may be involved.

Reductions in anxiety levels may result from green exercise.

While exercise is nearly universally recommended as a means of improving overall health and well-being, the benefits of green exercise have recently been studied relative to how such activity reduces levels of anxiety. Researchers found that green exercise produced moderate short-term reductions in anxiety, and found that for participants who believed they were exercising in more natural environments, the levels of reduction in anxiety were even greater.

Urban and rural green space may help mitigate stress for children and the elderly.

Relief of stress is an ongoing goal for millions of Americans living in urban areas, as well as for residents of cities across the globe. For children and the elderly, access to parks, playgrounds, gardens and other green areas in cities can help improve the health of these groups vulnerable to some of the challenges of urbanization.

Reduce stress by gardening.

Gardening can produce more than food for the table or aesthetically pleasing plants and landscaping. Working in the garden is also beneficial for reducing acute stress. So says the research from Van Den Berg and Custers (2011) who found reduced levels of salivary cortisol and improved mood following gardening.

A nature walk could help your heart.

Among the many health benefits ascribed to being in nature, say scientists, is the protective mechanism that nature exerts on cardiovascular function. This is due to the association between improved affect and heat reduction from natural environments in urban areas. Other research found that walks in nature reduce blood pressure, adrenaline and noradrenaline and that such protective effects remain after the nature walk concludes. Japanese researchers in a study published in 2011 suggested that habitual walks in a forest environment benefit cardiovascular and metabolic parameters. Another Japanese study of middle-aged males engaging in forest bathing found significantly reduced pulse rate and urinary adrenaline, as well as significantly increased scores for vigor and reduced scores for depression, anxiety, confusion and fatigue.

Mood and self-esteem improve after green exercise.

A 2012 study published in Perspectives in Public Health found that study participants, all of whom experienced mental health issues, engaging in exercise in nature activities showed significant improvements in self-esteem and mood levels. Researchers suggested that combining exercise, social components and nature in future programs may help promote mental healthcare. Research by Barton and Pretty (2010) found that both men and women experienced improvements in self-esteem following green exercise, with the greatest improvements among those with mental illness. The greatest changes in self-esteem occurred with youngest participants, with effects diminishing with age. Mood, on the other hand, showed the least amount of change with the young and the old.

Green space in a living environment increases residents’ general health perception.

Not everyone lives in a natural environment, where abundant trees and open space provide welcoming respite from everyday stress and a convenient outlet for beneficial exercise. However, the addition of thoughtfully-planned open spaces in urban environments can add to city dwellers’ perceptions of their general health. That’s according to 2006 research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Nature can improve the quality of life for older adults.

As adults age, they often experience diminished quality of life due to medical issues and mental health concerns. In a 2015 study published in Health and Place, researchers found that nature exerts an influential and nuanced effect on the lives of older adults. They further suggested that a better understanding of how seniors experience both health and landscape will better inform methods to improve daily contact with nature that can lead to a higher quality of life for this population.

Natural environments promote women’s everyday emotional health and well-being.

Sedentary lifestyle in urban environments has been lined with poor mental health among women. Yet, it’s more than just getting up from the desk in an office environment and taking a quick walk that works best to augment overall emotional health and well-being. There’s increasing evidence that public access to natural environments helps women to alleviate stress and anxiety and facilitate clarity, reassurance and emotional perspective.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

Combat Stress With Mindful Walking

10 Ways Stress Harms You

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10 Proactive Ways to Figure Out What’s Most Important to You

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Life offers infinite variety, along with myriad challenges and opportunities. It’s easy to get lost in indecision with so many choices. You want success, yet wonder if you’re on the right path. You’d like to have balance in your life, but there are so many conflicts that you often find yourself spending energy too much in one direction.

What’s happening here is a lack of prioritization, of figuring out what in life is most important to you — and then acting upon it. While not life-threatening, a failure to identify what is most meaningful to you can erode your quality of living. To ensure that you have the most opportunities to live a full, happy and productive life, you must zero in on your key priorities. Here are some ways to do just that.

Identify the most important people in your life.

When you care about someone, they are important to you. Sometimes, however, we take loved ones, family members, friends and coworkers for granted. This does both them and us a disservice. By listing the most important people in your life, you make a conscious effort to recognize and value these meaningful relationships. Since man is a gregarious creature by nature, tending to those closest to you is a practical, effective way to make the most out of life.

Think about what you most enjoy doing.

For some, it may be arranging floral displays, trying out new recipes, walking at sunset with a loved one. Others may most enjoy sports and recreational activities, or reading books, listening to music, participating in spirited debates. Whatever you most enjoy doing is obviously important to you. It is more than passing time or relaxing. If you take the time to identify what you like doing the most, you are more likely to make room in your life to take advantage of those opportunities. In the process, besides identifying what is most important to you, you will also be acting upon that knowledge.

What qualities, skills or talents do you have?

Looking back at your life, what qualities, skills or talents would you say you have? When you were a kid, for example, were you great at marbles, ping pong, sledding, multiplication tables, spelling bees? Did you find you excelled in science or English or math? Are you skilled in carpentry, landscape design, building things, figuring out how to fix what goes wrong? Do you lose yourself in artistic expression, creating something from nothing? There is a strong likelihood that what is most important to you is deeply embedded in these qualities, skills and talents.

List your highest achievements and accomplishments.

In line with analyzing what you believe you do best, take some time to jot down the successes you’ve had. It doesn’t matter if it’s a huge accomplishment or something minor. What does matter is the feeling the result gave you. When you are proud and excited about your accomplishments, you experience joy and satisfaction in life. It is also a good hint that these are important to you.

Ask your friends, loved ones and family members to list your best qualities.

You might think you know your best qualities or strengths, but you might over- or underestimate what you’re good at. Besides, you are not very objective when it comes to self-analysis. That’s why asking those who know you best what they believe are your best qualities is illuminating. You might discover, for example, that you possess keen analytic ability, something you haven’t tapped or put to effective use. Maybe it’s your compassion that is most impressive. Or, the fact that you listen well and are supportive of others in a way that’s empowering and uplifting. Once you know what these qualities are, you can decide what, if anything, you want to do to take advantage of them. There is something here that is important to you. Perhaps asking others to help you identify them is a painless way to figure this out.

While it might be challenging, you don’t have to sacrifice a goal because it’s too difficult.

One of the saddest things to witness is someone giving up just as they are about to reach their goal. We’ve all done this, not that it’s anything we like to admit. Granted, some goals are incredibly challenging. They’re difficult, expensive, take an inordinate amount of time, or require resources and allies that are hard to come by. The secret to holding fast to a goal that seems out of reach is to parcel it into pieces. Take it apart and identify stages or steps. By focusing on the next stage instead of the end goal, it’s easier to make the effort necessary to see this phase through. Over time, you’ll pass through various stages on the way to the goal. That’s how you achieve even the most challenging goal.

You can still pursue your dreams and make ends meet.

Maybe you find yourself stuck in a job you don’t like. You took it because you needed the money and stick with it because things haven’t changed financially, or because you can’t see a way forward. It’s time to ditch this dead-end thinking and map out a plan to make changes that allow you to both pursue your dreams and take care of your financial responsibilities. It may be that you decide to back to school to get additional training or pursue or finish a degree. What you learn in the process, the people you meet, the opportunities you are exposed to can make a profound difference in your outlook. In addition, be sure to maximize your leisure and recreational pursuits. If you love skiing, schedule some ski trips. If painting is your forte, get busy creating in the medium of your choice.

Deal constructively with the depression or anxiety and may have stood in the way of doing what you want.

Fleeting sadness or anxiety is a normal part of life. The emotions, while not without pain, can motivate us to make necessary changes. Prolonged depression or anxiousness, however, will only be alleviated with professional help. Perhaps medication and/or therapy is in order. If you find that these powerful emotions are standing in the way of doing what is most important to you in life, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to get the help you need.

Get past the feeling that you’re not good enough.

Most of us have felt the sting of disappointment, either that we didn’t live up to our own expectations or those of someone else. Overt or covert criticism, biting or harsh comments, the gradual shifting away of friends and colleagues just adds to the sinking feeling that we’re not good enough. Yet, others don’t define us and we should never allow them to act like they can. The only way to be good enough is to believe that you are. Since no one can make you do anything and only you make the decision how to live, choose the option that’s affirmative and uplifting. Select what gives you the best likelihood of achieving the outcome you desire. Give it your utmost effort, attention and diligence. If you do the best you can do, you’ll always be good enough. In fact, you’ll be better than just good enough. You’ll be right where you want to be.

What makes you happy? Do that.

Happiness is like sunshine. It makes you feel good, envelops you in warmth, and costs nothing. Yet, how many times do you walk away from happiness and instead involve yourself in some task or activity that’s boring, uninvolving, repetitive, endless or unproductive? If you want to be happy in life, think about what makes you happy. Find a way to insert that pursuit or activity into your everyday life. It might be walking in nature, working in the garden, whipping up a culinary delight, playing with the children, making love to your partner. Whatever it is, this is something important to you, something you value highly. Be sure to do it as often as you can, with full presence of the moment and joy that you can have this experience.

 

This article was originally published on PsychCentral.

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How to Manage Your Anger

how-to-manage-your-anger-photo-sollers-unsplash

Photo by Sollers, Unsplash

Anger is a much-misunderstood emotion. While powerful and often intense, anger can also manifest itself in subtle ways. It can motivate you to act or compel you to take inappropriate action. It’s also somewhat unpredictable, in that you may not always know when you’ll get angry, not understanding the triggers. Pent-up anger can lead to physical complications such as cardiovascular disease. Learning how to manage your anger is important, especially if you’ve noticed you’re experiencing this emotion more frequently or intensely.

Slow down and listen.

Let’s say you find yourself in a discussion with a co-worker, family member or friend and it starts to get heated. Listen carefully to what the other person is saying. Instead of blurting out an angry retort, hit the pause button. Think of what you’re going to say before it comes out of your mouth. Slowing down will also help you figure out what’s behind the words — yours and the other person. If your partner feels like you’re not spending enough time with him or her, for example, you can adjust your behavior and your words to recognize this fact and do something about it.

Say hello to humor.

Laughter is a wonderful antidote to negativity and anger. It helps you put things into perspective and helps you not take yourself so seriously. When you feel like you are up to the brim with hostile thoughts and must stop yourself from saying or doing something out of anger, turn instead to lighter fare. Watch a comedy. Go to a website with humorous quotes or jokes. Be sure to avoid sarcastic humor, though, as that is counter-productive.

Put some relaxation into your life.

There’s a lot to be said for learning how to relax and how that helps you deal with anger in a much more proactive and constructive way. Whether you engage in deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation or a walk outside in nature, putting relaxation techniques into your daily schedule will loosen you up and help soothe angry feelings.

Switch your routine or environment.

If bottleneck traffic gets you riled up, try driving alternate routes on your regular commute. If you can’t stand the mess the kids leave in the living room that greets you when you walk through the door, go in a side door. Or ask your partner or an older child to clear away the biggest piles so it isn’t so noticeable. Sometimes it’s also about changing the timing. For example, let’s say you and your spouse or partner always argue at night. This could be triggered by stress, because you’re exhausted, just looked at the mountain of bills, don’t feel well, or are anticipating an argument. Make an appointment to discuss pressing matters at a different time so that your evening can be more enjoyable and relaxing.

Change the way you think about things. Psychologists call this cognitive restructuring and it simply means reordering the way you think about things. You replace negative thoughts and words with those that are more reasonable. Instead of saying you failed and will never succeed, tell yourself that this was a disappointing result, makes you feel frustrated, but it’s not life-threatening. You will have other opportunities to succeed.

Here are some other tips:

  • Words to remove from your vocabulary (and thought processes) include “never” and “always.” These are ultimatums that back you into a corner. It’s better to give yourself some leeway.
  • Be conscious of goals. When you always have something to look forward to, it’s a little easier to look beyond an immediate emotion, such as anger. You can take the next step toward accomplishing your goals instead of stewing in anger.
  • Remind yourself to be logical. People aren’t generally out to get you and their words and actions aren’t normally vindictive. Things just happen sometimes. By reminding yourself that this is a temporary rough spot you’ll help to deflate angry feelings before they become unmanageable.

When to Worry

While you can learn how to manage anger, there are some warning signs that should be heeded. You may need help from a psychologist or other mental health professional if the following occurs:

  • Your relationships or work begin to suffer because of angry outbursts.
  • You’re afraid you might hurt others or yourself.
  • You feel like your anger is getting out of control.

 

This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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Related post:

8 Ways to Let Go of Anger

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5 Tips on How to Get Started When There’s Work to Do

5-tips-on-how-to-get-started-when-theres-work0to-do-photo-geran-de-klerk-unsplash

Photo by Geran de Klerk/Unsplash

“A feeling of aversion or attachment toward something is your clue that there’s work to be done.” – Ram Dass

 

Ever wake up with a feeling of dread about some project or task you’ve got on your list of things to do today? This is a common feeling that no one likes but must learn how to deal with. There are also times when the opposite is true. Sometimes you wake up knowing what you must do today and just can’t wait to get started.

Either feeling – aversion or excitement – is a clear sign that there’s work to be done and you need to do it. The way you deal with either emotion will affect not only your motivation to keep going,

particularly when the going gets rough, but also the resulting outcome.

How can you turn dread or anticipation into action that makes sense, is effective, and allows you to feel a sense of accomplishment and increased self-esteem? Here are some tips to help get you started.

  • Take a minute to process the emotion – and don’t be overcome by it.

No doubt the prospect of diving into a mountain of tax receipts on deadline is the last thing you want to do, or you might just be so eager to get on the road on your vacation that you slip and fall out of bed. Take a minute to process whatever emotion you’re feeling before you get up. This gives your mind time to arrive at a game plan and put your thoughts in order before you need to do the work. Be aware that conflicting emotions can occur simultaneously. That’s OK. Acknowledge them, then proceed.

  • Learn to separate what’s nice from what’s necessary.

Both will not be true. You might find it pleasant to think about taking a swim in the ocean but you know that report for work demands your immediate attention. It might feel great to lounge around all day in your sweats but you’ve got clients to see, and such attire is no way to make a good impression. It’s fine to indulge yourself in thinking about what’s nice, but don’t dally. Get on with what’s necessary. The bonus here is that by dwelling briefly on what beckons gives you temporary satisfaction before you dive into the work that must be done.

Either take projects in order or arrange them according to a prioritization that works for you. Do the most difficult one first to make some headway at it, or start with some quick and easy ones you can get out of the way so that you feel a sense of making progress. Once you finish one, cross it off your list. This is a visual reminder that effort equals accomplishment.

  • If you’ve fallen behind, work out a plan that won’t overwhelm you.

Everybody gets swamped at times. Instead of tossing your hands in the air and writing off the project or task as hopeless, figure out a plan or approach that will be effective and won’t overwhelm you. This is a case where the intention to underpromise and overdeliver will pay off nicely. You’ll gradually become accustomed to the pace you’re comfortable maintaining and can better estimate the amount of time and effort specific tasks will take.

  • Recognize that work – what you do — is the best way to show who and what you are.

Another way to get started with work to be done is to keep in mind that your output is a clear way to show others who and what you are. Since no two people approach a project the same way, this shows your uniqueness, talent, decision-making ability and willingness to keep going until the job is done. You want to put forth your best efforts. This requires that you jump in and act. Perseverance, willingness to accept responsibility for your output and taking pride in your accomplishments are all part of what it takes to get the job done.

 

This article was originally published on PsychCentral.com http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2017/01/01/5-tips-on-how-to-get-started-when-theres-work-to-do/

 

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How to Be Flexible With Your Perceptions

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How to Be Even More Effective

Success Means You Make Things Happen

 

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10 Tips to Start the New Year Right

10-tips-to-start-the-new-year-right-photo-by-tim-marshall-unsplash

Photo by Tim Marshall/Unsplash

It’s 2017, time to get off on the right foot. All the procrastination, stuffing yourself, indulging to excess, staying up too late – that’s got to go. Replace those bad habits and pure laziness with healthier behaviors.

Trust me. It’s not that difficult.

If you want to jumpstart a pattern of living life to the fullest, feeling joy and fulfilment as well as peace, some of these tips may be just what you need.

Set Your Priorities

You must set your own priorities. Never let others do this for you. The corollary to this advice is to never allow others to impose their priorities on you. To live according to someone else’s wishes is no way to enjoy life. That’s a charade, not something you want to pursue. When you make your own choices, prioritizing what’s important and what’s not, you’re in control. This is a top recommendation for starting off the new year right.

Be Accountable

Remember that what you do has consequences. Every word and action you take has reverberations, many of which you may never know about. People look up to you and model their behaviors after yours. Live with integrity, owning your responsibilities as well as your faults, making good on the mistakes you’ve made.

Prize Self-Improvement

Make it a point to continually improve. Whether it’s learning a new skill, taking a class, getting involved in a hobby, working on interpersonal communication or something else, self-improvement is integral to living a vibrant, purposeful life. The goal is to achieve the best you can, to be the best person you can be. Accept nothing less.

Know Your Limitations

In your drive to improve yourself, keep in mind that you must know your limitations. This doesn’t mean that you don’t push past your comfort zone. You need to do that to grow. Push, but not too far.

Recognize Opportunities

You can train yourself to recognize opportunities. In fact, being able to identify an opportunity is the first step toward success in any new endeavor.

Rely on Your Strengths

There are going to be rough times, periods when the only thing you’ve got going for you is your inner strength. This is what you call on to get you through problems, tragedies, pain, sorrow and suffering. It’s also your inner strength that will help you navigate complex situations, difficult challenges and obstacles.

Maintain Balance

It’s important to maintain a sense of balance in life. If you veer too far out in one area, rein it in. It doesn’t matter if its work-home balance, or diet-exercise-sleep balance, or another kind of balance. What does matter is keeping things in harmony. Lack of sleep and pushing yourself mercilessly won’t result in success. Just the opposite, in fact. But maintaining good self-care, recognizing stress and employing adequate coping strategies, taking time for fun and relaxation – these will help you maintain balance. Now’s as good a time as any to get started.

Be Genuine in Relationships

One of the most powerful resources you have can be summed up in one word: relationships. But just having mere acquaintances isn’t enough. To gain the most from relationships, you need to be genuine always. No phoning it in. A key aspect of being genuine is learning to be an active listener.

Speak Clearly

How many times have you thought one thing and said another? It’s no wonder others misinterpret your intentions. You’re not being clear. People aren’t mind readers. If you want to convey something, speak clearly. It’s also important to say what you mean and do what you say. This builds personal integrity, inspires trust and makes others view you as reliable.

Dream Big

If you’ve given up on something that you once thought important, maybe it’s time to revisit that dream or goal. Just because the time wasn’t right before doesn’t mean it is lost for good. With respect to goals and dreams in general, dare to dream big. Nothing inspires and motivates like a heartfelt goal. Consider the fact that if it means so much to you, it’s something to aspire to and figure out ways to bring the dream or goal to reality. This last part is vital. It’s not enough to dream. You must be willing to act on your intention.

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Related articles:

5 Ways to Find Peace of Mind

10 Quick Ways to Take a Much-Needed Break

10 Ways Stress Harms You

Self-Care: The Most Important Person to Take Care of Is You

 

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10 Ways Lies Hurt You

 

Photo by Matt Sclarandis/Unsplash

Photo by Matt Sclarandis/Unsplash

Who hasn’t told a lie from time to time? Maybe just a half-truth, but still a falsehood? Whether you’ve learned from experience that lying gets you ahead or destroys what you thought you had, lying will always have a profound effect. What you may not realize, however, is just how negatively lies and lying are. Here’s a look at 10 ways lies hurt you.

  1. The more you lie, the easier it gets.

Like a sled rocketing down an icy slope, repeated lies begin to spew out of your mouth without any effort. You’ve gotten away with it, suffered no ill consequences and have no governor on your tongue to keep your lying at bay. After a short time, it’s just easier to lie than tell the truth.

  1. The more you lie, the bigger the lies you tell.

What begins as a small lie never stays that way. One lie begets a slew of offspring, sometimes related, often just hanging around like ill-tempered friends. Think of a lie as a snowball, first small and accumulating in size as it rolls downhill. It’s also impossible to make a lie smaller once it’s begun to grow. Thus, the more lies you tell, the bigger they get.

  1. Lies destroy relationships.

No relationship can flourish on a foundation of lies. If you can’t rely upon a partner, loved one, close friend or co-worker to tell the truth, how can you put your trust in that person? When you know someone is a liar, it creates a chasm across which you’re increasingly reluctant to travel. In the wake of lies, relationships founder and fail or become quashed before they have a chance to begin.

  1. Lies trigger the release of stress hormones.

A lie isn’t just words that come out of the mouth. Precipitating the verbalization of the lie is a build-up of stress hormones. You get excited, releasing cortisol and readying you to combat the effects your lies might create. Long-term spikes in cortisol are bad for your health, creating a perfect stage for developing serious medical conditions.

  1. Lying uses a lot of negative physical and mental energy.

When you lie, you must constantly think of how to spin it, where there’s a nugget that others may cling to, how much they’ll be able to buy before beginning to question the veracity, how to keep others from finding out the truth. In short, it takes a tremendous amount of physical and mental energy to construct this negative and elaborate form of communication. That’s energy better spent doing positive things.

  1. Constant lying builds a false sense of reality.

It doesn’t take much time at all for you to begin to believe your own web of lies. In fact, the reality you inhabit is false. It just seems real to you. The more you lie, the more out of touch with reality your life becomes. You may not even recognize the truth anymore, let alone voice it – even to yourself.

  1. Lying creates a vicious cycle.

It’s often been said that once a lie is out of your mouth, there’s no putting it back. What’s also true is that lying sets into motion a vicious cycle. To exist, knowing that you’ve lied repeatedly, you must perpetuate the lie, rigidly adhere to it despite all proof to the contrary. Lying is a spiral that is nearly impossible to escape from.

  1. Lies are a way to avoid the pain of living.

Many people tell lies to mask the pain they feel in their lives. They don’t like that they have no or few friends, so they create imaginary friendships and boast of their connections. Pathological liars are all over social media, along with everyday fabricators who seek to maximize their made-up accomplishments to make them feel better about themselves and convince others of their superiority. This doesn’t work in the long run as constant lying is a sign of some serious deficit in the liar’s emotional well-being.

  1. You waste time covering your tracks.

While there’s much good you could be accomplishing in life, when you habitually lie, you’re going to miss out on opportunities because you spend so much time covering your tracks. This is time wasted, time you’ll never get back. It’s also increasingly impossible to cover the trail of lies you’ve told. Sooner or later, you’re going to get found out. Dreading that eventuality won’t make it go away.

  1. Lies extinguish hope and trust.

The accumulation of negativity because of lies has another life-altering effect: It destroys hope and trust. Not only is the liar incapable of trusting others or finding hope in any situation, he or she has drained all hope and trust in himself or herself. Life becomes bleak and dreary, indeed, when all there is to look forward to is a never-ending litany of lies.

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10 Tips for Less Stress During the Holidays

Photo by Toa Heftiba/Unsplash

Photo by Toa Heftiba/Unsplash

If the sounds of Christmas carols playing in the malls make you cringe, it could be you’re letting the stress of the holidays get to you. With so much to do and so little time to get it done, this seemingly-innocuous musical reminder just adds more fuel to the fire. You’re primed and ready for these 10 tips for less stress during the holidays.

  1. You Don’t Have to Do Everything

Where is it written that you must be the poster person for everything done and everything right for the holidays? If you’ve assumed this mantle willingly, now’s the time to toss it aside. It’s impossible to be perfect, so why should you pursue perfection? The biggest hurdle for you to overcome is your own self-expectations. Tell yourself – and listen so it takes hold – that you don’t have to do everything. This is the first step to much less stress this holiday season.

  1. Know Your Own Limits

You might think you’ve got everything under control, even after you’ve told yourself that you don’t have to do it all, yet you still push yourself beyond what’s realistic. When you wind up haggard and exhausted at the end of the day, don’t look forward to tomorrow’s to-do list, start shortchanging your own well-being in a constant quest to do more, you’ve got to stop. Here is where you must know your own limits and never exceed them. You’ll be tempted, but don’t succumb.

  1. Make Your Boundaries Clear

If you haven’t let others know what you will and won’t do, you need to make your boundaries clear. Let them know it’s not OK to automatically expect you to host the big holiday dinner, just because you may have done so in the past. Times change, other responsibilities may take precedence, or it’s just not equitable, besides no longer being fun. Don’t think that others can guess what your boundaries are, however, because they can’t. Most won’t want to. You must tell them.

  1. Shop Online

The best thing that ever happened with holiday shopping, in my opinion, is the ability to easily, quickly and seamlessly do almost all of it online. Free shipping, discounts, extra gifts, suggestion lists, cash for purchasing via sites like eBates.com and TopCashBack.com are all excellent for easing this type of holiday stress.

  1. Watch What You Eat

Gobbling a sandwich on the run, skipping meals, eating unhealthy snacks and eating too much are all a recipe for increased stress, if not a serious medical condition. The human body requires nourishment, not junk food. Eat sensibly, in moderate portions, at the appropriate times and regularly. Not only will you have more energy, with good self-care you’ll be better equipped to deal with the stressors you’ll encounter during the holidays.

  1. Get Some Good Shut-Eye

Just as eating too much, too little or the wrong kind of food can increase your stress level, insufficient sleep is a huge contributor to added stress. It might be tough to get 8 hours of sleep each night, especially if you wait until the last minute to wrap presents, clean the house, launder the holiday linens and make sure all the decorations are in good shape, but this is one area you can’t afford to ignore. Remember the tip about knowing your limits and not trying to do everything? When it’s time to go to bed, go. You need your sleep.

  1. Steer Clear of Alcohol

Another big culprit in holiday stress is alcoholic consumption. One drink won’t kill you and probably is fine – unless you are in recovery, do crazy things with the slightest sip of alcohol, or some other reason – but keeping up with the party-hardy folks is just going to land you in a tight spot. Maybe literally, as in handcuffs from drinking and then driving. Just say no. Drink something festive and non-alcoholic. No one will care. And this is a safe choice that will cut down on your stress level as well.

  1. Begin (or End) Each Day with Something You Enjoy

If you want to have something to look forward to, begin or end each day with something you enjoy. Maybe that’s a massage from your partner, a specially-prepared latte, a hot bath or soothing shower, listening to your favorite album, taking a mindful walk outside, working in the garden. What it is matters less than you derive pleasure from doing it. The release of endorphins you get from doing something you enjoy will dramatically reduce your stress.

  1. Enlist Help and Make It Fun

Since there’s a finite amount of time and you only have so much energy to go around, one way that you can reduce your anxiety and stress during the holidays is to ask for help. If you also make it a fun activity, there’ll be less chance others will resent the request. Furthermore, if everyone pitches in, the task or project will get done that much quicker. Be sure to let others know you’ll reciprocate. It’s more than a grand gesture. It makes them even more willing to lend a hand.

  1. Cherish the Moments

Think about what it means to you to have your loved ones and family members to spend time with this holiday season. What you take for granted, others would gladly trade places to experience. Also, time goes by quickly. The moments you cherish and share now will be loving memories later. Love is a healing balm that can magically erase stress. Be open to it and soak up every minute with those you care about.

* * *

Related articles:

Combat Stress with Mindful Walking

How Your Memory Suffers with Poor REM Sleep

Self-Care: The Most Important Person to Take Care of Is You

To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my daily blog and more.

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10 Ways to Make Mondays Better

Photo by Albert Amor/Unsplash

Photo by Albert Amor/Unsplash

No matter what you do in life, you can’t escape Mondays. You can dread them, try to avoid them, delay the inevitable by coming up with all sorts of excuses not to do what you must, but Mondays will still arrive each week like clockwork. The best you can do is figure out how to embrace them. Here are 10 ways to make Mondays better that may change your mind about this day of the week.

1. Have something to look forward to when work is done.

Nothing motivates more than the prospect of doing something enjoyable after the workday is done. What that is doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you put it in your schedule. Having fun, spending time with loved ones and friends, working on a hobby, participating in sports or a recreational activity, engaging in an educational pursuit, shopping, writing or whatever gives you a positive endpoint to your Monday that puts a lift in your step and jazzes your spirit. Mondays may even turn out to be one of your favorite days of the week. If not that, at least they’ll be more pleasant.

2. Get to work early.

Sleeping in, trying to grab the last few winks, throwing the alarm clock or jangling cellphone across the room won’t do anything to make your Mondays better. What may give you a leg up, however, is becoming an early riser — getting your legs out of bed a little earlier than usual. Go for a half-hour ahead of your normal wake time. That’s sufficient to help you gather your thoughts, prepare for the day, allow for unexpected traffic, weather or last-minute family details and get to work ready to go. Stopping for your favorite latte along the way is another reason you might want to get up earlier.

3. Go big.

Many employees put off the tough and difficult tasks until they’re smack against a deadline or the boss is banging on their door looking for answers. Another way to make Mondays better that seems counter-intuitive is to charge ahead and tackle something you know is important and demands your full attention. While it causes you to work a little harder than you probably want to first thing Monday morning, the sense of accomplishment and progress you’ll feel be getting to it is a huge boost to your self-esteem, self-confidence and overall well-being. Besides, the boss will likely take notice, and that’s always good for raising your work profile.

4. Prepare with good self-care.

If you’ve made a practice of partying until all hours from Friday night on, chances are you are still hung over or feeling the effects of such disdain for your well-being. You can turn this around by instituting good self-care. In addition to getting sufficient rest (forget the three hours of sleep; go for 8 hours), eating well-balanced meals (and no late-night snacking), cutting down on alcohol and curbing smoking, find other ways to relax, restore and rejuvenate. These include meditation, yoga or Pilates, walks in nature, listening to calming music, self-reflection and prayer. Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it. Greeting Mondays with a healthy body-mind-spirit makes the day so much better.

5. Map out time chunks.

Instead of looking at your to-do list with a grim demeanor and a sinking feeling that you’ll never get it all done, try this: map out time chunks. For example, if you have a report that’s due tomorrow, allocate one to 1-1/2 hours or so to work on it today. If it’s something critical, move everything else aside until you get it done. Set aside a half hour to tend to emails at a scheduled time, not whenever they come in. If you must answer emails from your boss, give them a priority with an alert. The point is to arrange your day in time chunks. This provides a sense of order and a schedule you can easily follow.

6. Craft a plan.

For any project or task, your best approach is to craft a plan. How will you arrive at the result you’re looking for – or that someone else demands? What resources do you need? Will you need the assistance of others? Are some elements missing? How will these items affect timing or delivery? With well-crafted plans, you’ll boost your self-confidence, knowing that you’ve taken variables into consideration and have a workable approach to pursue.

7. Take mini-breaks.

You can’t go breakneck speed without a break, not unless you want to risk crashing to a dead stop along the way. Exhaustion, physical or mental, work stress, tension, irritability, anger, disappointment and other negative effects from working nonstop will take their toll. Ward them off by the simple and quick practice of taking mini breaks throughout the day. Walk to the water fountain on the next floor. Get up and stretch. Do isometric exercises. Close your eyes and meditate. Take the stairs to your next meeting instead of the elevator. Whenever possible, walk outside instead of within the building so you get some fresh air and a different perspective.

8. Go somewhere different for lunch.

Like having something to look forward to at the end of the workday is the idea of going somewhere different for lunch. If you always brown bag it at your desk, go to a park or somewhere in your work complex to eat. If you go out for lunch only on Wednesday or Friday, switch to Monday to give your first work week day a changeup. Not only will this brighten your day, it will make it speed by.

9. Skip coffee and go for a walk.

Coffee may be a workday staple, but it doesn’t have to be a boring routine you’re locked into. For one of those times you’re headed to the coffee room or vending machine, skip the brew and indulge yourself with a brisk 10-minute walk. Outside is best, but even a walk in the building will suffice. You’re getting up and moving, always good for mental stimulation and physical exercise.

10. Celebrate all the things you accomplish.

While you’re busy working on Mondays, be sure to take the time to celebrate all the things you accomplish today. It may seem like a trivial thing, but giving yourself credit for your hard work is important to your sense of completion, tending to your responsibilities, seeing the fruit of your labors, and making progress. It also helps make Mondays better. What better way to start the work week than with a string of accomplishments?

* * *

Related articles:

10 Tips to Decrease Work Stress

5 Tips on How to Make Plans

Time-Saving Tips for Early Risers

How Do You Get Ready for the Day?

Self-Care: The Most Important Person to Take Care of Is You

* * *

To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my daily blog and more.

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Forgetful? 8 Tips to Help Memory

Photo by Stefanos Martanto Setyo Husodo/Unsplash

Photo by Stefanos Martanto Setyo Husodo/Unsplash

 

“We try many ways to be awake, but our society still keeps us forgetful. Meditation is to help us remember.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

 

The days leading up to a holiday are often filled with chores, errands and obligations. Not only do you find yourself with endless lists of things to do, but you often neglect good self-care in the process. No wonder you forget details, fail to live up to your obligations, or walk around in a fog.

Everyone has bouts of forgetfulness from time to time. It’s generally nothing serious and doesn’t linger. If forgetfulness does become persistent and begins to cause problems in your life or that of your loved ones, see a doctor to rule out any medical issue.

For the occasional memory problems, however, here are eight tips that may help.

Learn how to make and use lists.

Far from being a bother, lists are very effective in helping keep track of important tasks and goals. When you take the time to construct a list, you’re removing the burden of trying to keep too many things in your head. By eliminating this logjam, you’re freeing up memory. Listing things on paper is much simpler and more effective than juggling, and dropping, them in your head.

Get a good night’s sleep.

Lack of sleep is one of numerous causes of forgetfulness. In addition to waking up grumpy, insufficient sleep messes with your memory. You forget details, don’t remember what you told yourself the night before was important. The solution is to make it a habit to get a good 8 hours of sleep each night, more if you’re a teenager or young child.

Avoid drugs and alcohol.

As the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) warns, one of the ways alcohol affects the brain is by impairing memory. Memory deficits can occur after only a few drinks, increasing in length and severity with more drinks consumed. Binge drinking – consuming five or more drinks in about 2 hours for men, four for women – causes blackouts. These are serious episodes where you wake up and don’t remember anything from the night or day before.

Drug use, whether prescription or illicit substances, can produce similar impairment in memory. Some drugs also interact with other medications and significantly impair memory when used in combination with alcohol.

The best way to protect your memory is to avoid drugs and alcohol, especially to excess.

Meditate.

Clearing your head of all the conflicting messages can give you more than just peace of mind. It can also aid memory. For centuries, people have been practicing meditation to produce a sense of harmony and balance, as well as the calming influence it bestows. And studies have shown that mindfulness meditation helps with attention span and memory. When you meditate, you’re not shutting off all thoughts as much as you’re acknowledging them and letting them go. The resulting peace of mind disentangles those internal conflicts you felt and allows your memory to recalibrate. Also, try mindful walking to ease stress and help with memory.

Do one thing at a time.

Unless you’re a professional juggler, you can’t juggle more than one thing at a time. In a similar manner, trying to do more than one thing at a time is likely to result in a less-than-favorable outcome for both. Not only that, but you don’t focus completely on the task at hand, thus splitting your concentration and causing your memory to work overtime when it doesn’t have to. The clear solution is to do one thing at a time. Then you can move on to the next item, task, project or goal with a clear head and a sense of accomplishment.

Eliminate distractions.

How can you concentrate on a project that’s on deadline when you’ve got your social media messages flooding in, the phone’s jangling nonstop, you allow interruptions from your co-workers or seek out distractions to keep you from tending to the job? In addition to wreaking havoc with a work, school or home assignment or duty, constant distractions produce a confusing effect that’s bad for your memory. When you eliminate distractions, however, you facilitate full use of your mind without overtaxing it.

Make use of reminders.

Sticky notes, post-its, alerts, reminder calls and emails are a great way to keep from forgetting important things. There’s nothing wrong with using these to ensure you never miss what must be done. That way, even if you didn’t get enough sleep last night, are ill, overstressed, had too much to drink or too much on your to-do list, you’ll have a ready reminder at hand.

Take time to relax.

Not only do you not want to be that dull boy (“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”), but you want to have quality time for yourself. This means making sure that you take time to relax. Whether the relaxation takes the form of a hobby, walking outdoors, going to a movie with a friend, shopping, recreational activity or sport doesn’t matter. You and your memory need some downtime, time that you spend doing something you enjoy.

* * *

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Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my daily blog and more.

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10 Tips to Decrease Work Stress

Photo by Kristopher Allison/Unsplash

Photo by Kristopher Allison/Unsplash

Are you stressed to the max at work? Feel like you can’t catch a break no matter how hard you try? The truth is that work stress will kill you if you don’t do something about it. But what should you do? Here are 10 tips to decrease work stress you can begin today.

Figure out what’s causing you stress.

Before you can begin to decrease work stress, it’s helpful to know what it is that’s causing you to be stressed in the first place. Are you taking on too many projects at once? Is your boss expecting too much from you and have you not mentioned any limitations to what you can reasonably do to him or her?

By analyzing what bothers you at work, you’ll be better able to pinpoint ways to effectively deal with the stressor. If, for example, you’re overworked, you must carve out some of those responsibilities and either delegate them or reduce them.

Your supervisor will be a great help in this area, although it might be tough to broach the subject. Construct a proactive approach. If you let your boss know that you’ll be able to finish X project within deadline if Y and Z are either delayed, assigned to a different person or team, or can be consolidated, he or she may be amenable to making some changes.

Take regular breaks.

Working non-stop is going to wear you down, increase stress and make you miserable. The only way out of this dilemma is to institute a practice of taking regular breaks. Even if you only get a 10-minute break in the morning and afternoon, you can still stand up and walk around at regular intervals.

Instead of staring at a computer screen for hours on end, avert your eyes and gaze outdoors once an hour. These mini-breaks help you compartmentalize what you were doing and provide a buffer so that stress doesn’t exact too great a toll.

Cut down on tasks.

When your to-do list starts to resemble a phone book, you’ve got too much to handle. No human being can possibly tend to an overwhelming number of tasks, not to mention the unnecessary stress such an accumulation tends to produce.

The quickest and perhaps the only way around this is to simply cut down on the number of tasks. Streamline the entries, combining similar ones and deleting, delegating or deciding others. For example, if you have 30 tasks listed, see how many are necessary and which ones are perhaps holdover items no longer relevant. Cut the list in half. That’s a good start. Shedding this amount of weight will lighten your load and help to decrease work stress.

Prioritize what’s necessary.

No doubt there are some work items that need to rank high on your to-do list. Your boss may demand action on a project, or you’re the head of a team working on a hot development. Some are time-sensitive, while others require the assistance of others only available for a certain period.

But there are also other items on your to-do list that don’t require immediate action. They may be better suited to a lower ranking on the list or even deserve their own list of tasks and projects for when there’s a lull.

Mark each item on the list in numerical order, with #1 being the most important and requiring prompt attention. You might even color code those items in the top five, assigning different colors to those further down the ranking of priority.

By prioritizing things, you exert control over what and when you intend to work on them. This alone will reduce the type of stress that often goes together with work-related duties and responsibilities.

Limit distractions.

When you’re trying to work on a task or project, listening to your co-workers’ conversations in adjacent cubicles or offices isn’t exactly conducive to productivity. Neither is having your email client notifications of incoming messages going to keep you focused on the work at hand. Constant interruptions of any kind drain your energy, scatter your attention and limit your ability to get work done.

What’s helpful is to schedule times to check emails, take or make phone calls. Turn off your email client, put the phone on silence mode and automatic answer. Tell co-workers you’re not going to be available for the next hour while you tend to an assignment. Most of all, don’t allow yourself to search for distractions to keep you from your work.

When you’re less distracted, you can concentrate on what you need to do now. This is a great way to curb stress at work and something very much in your control.

Confide in someone you trust.

When you’ve bottled all that stress inside you, you feel like you’re going to burst. That’s not a pleasant feeling and it won’t go away on its own. A huge help is finding someone you trust that you can confide in. This doesn’t mean you do a dump of everything on your mind. That will just succeed in exhausting you and your confidante. Maybe talk about the biggest thing that’s bothering you, the one causing you the most stress.

Also, be aware that you can go to the well too often. Instead of abusing your relationship with too many instances of crying the blues, balance your time with that person by doing other things. Ask about his or her problems and listen without jumping in to talk about your own.

Sometimes it’s enough that you have someone you can go to and talk over things. It isn’t always necessary to dwell on them when you’re with that person.

Meditate or try yoga.

You don’t have to be spiritual to get value from meditating. Think of meditation to get in touch with your inner self, whatever that concept means to you. Through the practice of meditation, you’re not forcing items out of your mind as much as you’re acknowledging their presence and then allowing them to dissipate. This is a huge boost in reducing work stress. You can take classes to learn how to meditate or teach yourself with the help of books, tapes and information on meditation websites.

Another way to decrease work stress is to practice yoga. Again, there are classes you can take to learn yoga as well as self-help instruction. There are numerous types of yoga, so you can check out what resonates with you.

Eat well and sleep better.

Too much stress at work also wreaks havoc on your health in other ways. You tend to eat inappropriate foods, eat too much or fail to eat altogether. You’re also likely to toss and turn at night, mind racing over things left undone at work, remembering something you should have done but didn’t, endlessly going over in your mind what’s on tap for tomorrow.

A key part of your quest to decrease work stress begins at home. You need good self-care: to eat well-balanced, nutritious meals and get a good eight hours of sleep each night. There’s no getting around the fact that your body requires adequate nutrition and rest to function properly. This includes the ability to fight the cumulative effects of stress.

Start to exercise.

You might think that scheduling time for exercise has no place in your busy life, especially given all your work responsibilities. Who has an hour to devote to something that doesn’t lighten your work load? When you exercise, your energy levels get a boost, your mood lightens, and you’re better able to channel the anxiety and stress you feel at work.

Furthermore, after a quick, brisk walk, riding an exercise bike or working the treadmill – or any other vigorous physical exercise that gets your blood flowing, heart rate increasing and oxygen coursing throughout your body – you’ll likely return to the task at hand with greater focus and a resulting increase in productivity.

Enjoy a recreational activity or hobby.

All work and no play is bad for your health. If you’re so caught up in work projects that you never have time to do things you enjoy, your life is seriously out of balance. It’s time to remedy that by figuring out something you can do away from work that, well, takes your mind completely away from anything related to work.

What the activity is doesn’t matter. It can be a recreational activity you do alone or with others. It can be a hobby you’ve long wanted to pursue or just discovered you have an interest in. Spending free time with friends, loved ones and family members also qualifies if this brings you a sense of contentment, love and fulfillment.

* * *

 

Related articles:

Combat Stress with Mindful Walking

10 Quick Ways to Beat Stress

Self-Care: The Most Important Person to Take Care of Is You

10 Ways Lists Rule

To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my daily blog and more.

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Are You Lonely Tonight? How to Combat Loneliness

Photo by Molly Belle/Unsplash

Photo by Molly Belle/Unsplash

 

Are you lonely tonight? Do you feel powerless about how to combat loneliness? You’re not alone. But there are things you can do about it.

 

Loneliness is a powerful emotion that can be devastating in its consequences. Being alone and isolated has been shown to be an underlying factor in some of the most common health conditions, including depression, substance abuse and chronic pain.

 

This is borne out by the findings of a recent study conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of more than 2,000 American adults surveyed said they have felt loneliness, while nearly a third (31 percent) admitted to feeling loneliness at least once a week.

 

What Loneliness Is…And Isn’t

 

Do not confuse loneliness with being alone. You choose to be alone or solitary, sometimes to meditate or think through problems, sometimes for other reasons. Loneliness, on the other hand, is a state of mind. When you are lonely, you may feel unwanted, empty and isolated. Most lonely people desperately want contact with others but find it difficult to make connections because of their state of mind.

 

10 Effective Ways to Combat Loneliness

 

As dire as loneliness sounds, it can be overcome. Whether your loneliness is situational due to travel, business or other circumstances, or the kind that almost always accompanies the loss of a loved one or close friend, there are things you can do to combat it.

 

Get checked out. To rule out any underlying conditions, physical or mental, it’s important to get a thorough medical checkup by your doctor. This is especially true if your loneliness has spiraled downward into depression that lasts for longer than two weeks. If there is a medical reason at least contributing to your lonely feelings, your physician will be able to offer approaches to remedy the situation, perhaps with professional counseling, a prescription for medication or other treatment.

Recognize loneliness for what it is. Just saying you feel miserable isn’t going to make things change. You need to recognize that what you’re feeling is loneliness in order to make a decision to change.

Understand the effects of loneliness. Talking with your doctor and reading about the effects of loneliness will give you a clearer picture of how loneliness affects your physical and mental well-being. If you’re so lonely you don’t want to eat, for example, your physical and mental health will suffer as a result of poor nutrition. Once you know the ways loneliness is bad for you, you can concentrate on working to change those areas of your life that need attention.

Learn to be resilient. Instead of breaking under the weight of your problems and withdrawing even further into a shell of self-imposed isolation, work on cultivating resilience. Granted, this might seem impossible at first, but learning to bend with the wind and not snapped by its force will help you nurture resilience.

Adopt a positive outlook. When everything seems dark and hopeless, it might appear to be counter-intuitive to look on the bright side. Yet, when you adopt a positive outlook and see life’s possibilities instead of its negatives, you’ll find yourself more willing to go after opportunities. Furthermore, you’ll be more motivated to be with others and end your self-limiting isolation and loneliness.

Be sparing with social media. Connecting virtually with others on social media isn’t the same thing as one-on-one and face-to-face interaction. When you’re lonely, the last thing you need to do is immerse yourself on Facebook and other social networks.

In fact, studies have shown that social media addiction actually contributes to feelings of loneliness and depression. For now, go for a hiatus on using social media. At the very least, limit your time there. Get out and interact with people real-time.

Take care of yourself. When you’re lonely, you tend to ignore good self-care. You likely aren’t getting enough sleep, or the sleep you do get is fitful, interrupted, plagued by unsettling dreams. You wake feeling exhausted and even more lonely.

Sleep deprivation erodes mood, contributes to getting sick, saps energy and becomes an ingrained pattern. Along with ensuring you get sufficient, quality sleep, also work on eating healthy, drinking plenty of water, and getting a good amount of physical exercise.

Create a list of goals and plans to achieve them. Many times, when a person says they feel lonely, they also describe feeling that something is missing from their life. Spend some time to determine what that might be.

o Is it that you have no hobby or interest to devote your time to?
o Do you feel unable to make any progress in your career?
o Is the house just too empty?

Once you know what that missing piece is, you can work on finding potential solutions. Most of them, you’ll find, involve interaction with other people.

Take action. In order to stop feeling lonely, you have to take action. Sitting around the house feeling sorry for yourself is not the solution. If you identify that there’s no one in your surroundings that you can hang out with, join a club or group.
o Connect with others at work with whom you share something in common.
o Go visit your neighbors.
o Volunteer at church.

Making new friends and keeping your social calendar filled will help dispel loneliness.

Consider a pet. For some people, there’s nothing like a pet to help banish loneliness. Why is this? For one thing, pets need nurturing and attention. Along with feeding and grooming and cleaning up their mess, pets naturally gravitate toward displays of affection. They give as well as receive. As the pet’s owner, you benefit from this loving exchange. It helps you feel less lonely when you have your constant pet companion.

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Also see these articles for inspiration and uplifting messages:

7 Tips on Mastering Change
Self-Care: The Most Important Person to Take Care of is You
5 Tips on How to Make Plans
Stuck in a Rut? Tips on How to Break Free from Monotony

* * *

To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my daily blog and more.

I also invite you to like me on Facebook, facebook.com/suzannekane.net follow me on LinkedIn, on Twitter, @SuzanneKanenet and Google+ .


Featured post

How to Be Fair to Yourself

Photo by Lance Anderson/Unsplash

Photo by Lance Anderson/Unsplash

“You cannot be fair to others without first being fair to yourself.” – Vera Nazarian

 

Are you quick to criticize others? Do you find fault in the smallest things? It might be that you lash out at others to mask what you don’t like in yourself.

And that’s not fair.

It’s not fair to you most of all, because you’re capable of so much more that you’re not giving yourself credit for.

If fairness is important – and it’s a highly desirable trait – what can you do to start being fair to yourself so that you can be fair to others?

This isn’t a trick question. It does, however, deserve some careful thought.

What is Fairness?

What does it mean to be fair?

When you consider a solution to a problem, several options or approaches likely come to mind:

  • You might brainstorm and arrive at these, or they may be suggestions from trusted advisors, friends, family members, co-workers or someone else.
  • Some you might toss out immediately as unworkable, impractical, too costly or time-constraining.
  • Other ideas you may mull over for a while before deciding which category they fall into: toss, analyze further, modify or use.

When weighing the pros and cons of each possible solution, giving credence to fairness should be part of the equation. Often, however, it’s not. Instead, other considerations take precedence, such as expediency, return on investment, instant recognition, catapulting to the top or edging out someone or something else.

Ask yourself, is that fair?

Don’t Sabotage Yourself by Being Unfair

Why do people fail to give themselves a fair chance? Why have you done this? Is it because of a feeling of inferiority or that something’s lacking? Is it that you never received encouragement as a child, have a history of mistakes or failures, or never believed enough in yourself to take a chance? Any or all of these could be underlying contributors to a lack of self-fairness.

And they’re all examples of sabotaging yourself by being unfair – to you, most of all.

Steps to Take to Be Fair to Yourself

But this tendency to self-sabotage can be overcome. You can learn how to be fair to yourself. It just takes determination and practice.

  • Think first. The next time you want to take an action and think about what it is you’re going to do, take a minute to think how this proposed action is fair to you – before you proceed. Are you doing yourself justice? Are you taking advantage of strengths and abilities you possess but haven’t allowed yourself to pursue? Or, are you doing what others tell you without any thought to whether it’s fair or not? Figuring out your underlying motivation will greatly aid in your goal to be fair with yourself. You have to know what’s driving your behavior before you can change it.

 

  • Commit to self-fairness. When you insist on fairness to yourself, you’ll radiate that sense of fairness to others. Indeed, after you diligently practice fairness, you will find it easier to be fair in your dealings with others. For example, instead of demanding employees stop everything to jump on a project you deem important, you’ll consider whether this is a fair request. This means putting yourself in their position, to understand how your request affects them. If it’s not absolutely critical, you may decide to alter the due date or timetable for completion, allowing for other high priority items already on your employees’ work schedule to continue. The positive reinforcement you’ll receive from grateful employees will add to your recognition that being fair to others starts by being fair to yourself.

 

  • Put yourself first for a change. Often, you’re the last person on your list. Everyone else’s needs are tended to before you even think about taking care of your own. That’s definitely not conducive to overall well-being. In fact, it sets you up for disappointment, increased tension and stress, and a general malaise and dissatisfaction with life. On the other hand, when you take your own needs into consideration, in conjunction with or ahead of those you know you need to attend to, you’re inserting balance into your life. After all, you need to do what’s right for you in order that you can do right for others.

 

  • Model fairness to others. Be a leader who models fairness. This type of leadership is inspirational and motivational. When you show others that fairness is important in all dealings, and being fair to yourself is part of that, you’ll be demonstrating an admirable trait of effective leaders. If you need any help with this, take a lesson from some of the world’s most respected leaders, from Winston Churchill to John F. Kennedy to Mother Teresa. They not only knew what was fair, they embodied fairness. Others, seeing such leadership, were inspired to insist on fairness in their own lives.

At the heart of living a vibrant and purposeful life is a fairness to self. Being fair to others will naturally ensue.

 

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Combat Stress with Mindful Walking

Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel/Unsplash

Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel/Unsplash

“When you look at the sun during your walking meditation, the mindfulness of the body helps you to see that the sun is in you; without the sun there is no life at all and suddenly you get in touch with the sun in a different way.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

 

A lot of people are scared off by the words “mindfulness meditation” and likely shy away from anything mindful. That’s a shame, because research shows that the practice of mindful meditation and mindfulness in everyday activities is powerful and effective.

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to get involved with mindfulness is to begin mindful walking. To gain some insight into how meditation can work to help manage stress, I got in touch with David Lynch, Namaste Culture Limited, who practices in the United Kingdom.

Is there a simple statement you use to help people be more present – even if they are resistant?

Meditation can seem like a daunting prospect, especially if you’re already feeling anxious or low in mood. When addressing an audience who have little experience of it, I tend to talk more in terms of a practice that helps you still your mind, in the way that a run or yoga might do. I use terms like an invitation to experiment with a new approach to managing stress. I make reference to the findings of neuroscience and the many proven benefits of developing a regular practice.

What is a mindful walk? How do you do it?

It’s like any other walk with an extra focus on all the senses, exploring both internal and external landscapes, and their interconnectedness. It’s walking more slowly than usual, less concerned with the final goal, more engaged with the sensations of the body, and savoring the impact of the external world on the inner experience.

How long does it take while walking to let go of all the “noise” in your head and embrace nature?

Not long at all, although it can feel like a long time, if you’ve come straight from a busy office environment, where you’ve been very goal-focused. Walking outdoors in nature helps you to switch off, to disengage from fast thinking and problem-solving.

Suppose there aren’t any gardens near work or school or elsewhere to walk. How can you get the same effect otherwise? Can you walk up and down stairs, for example, and be mindful? Or do you need some calming influence you best achieve when in nature?

In some ways, it can be easier to walk indoors, either in a circle or in straight lines, where the invitation is to focus very much on your body’s internal experience, without the distraction of nature’s beauty. I think you have to be clear in your motivation to walk purposefully in a room, to be yourself on track, but once you get going, the rhythm of your body and the simplicity of the task soon stills your mind. Even 10 minutes on your lunch break can make a difference.

What are the specific benefits of mindful garden walks?

My experience is that the combined regenerative effects of walking in nature’s beauty, breathing fresh air and practicing mindfulness, results in an immediate uplift in mood and outlook. It’s as if these combined forces offer a fresh perspective on whatever your mind is grappling with.

How long do they last?

This summer, I was inviting office workers to a 40-minute experience, enough time to get back to the office during a lunch break. [This included] 10 minutes [of] instruction, 20 minutes walking and 10 minutes debrief and discussion.

Can you talk about the benefits of mindful walking to relieve stress? How does this work? Do you intentionally shut your mind off from stressful emotions, thoughts, etc., or do you go through a process of letting go?

Mindful walking helps relieve stress because the invitation is to connect with the felt experience of stress in the body and mind, the opposite off switching off from it, or suppressing the unwelcome and sometimes painful sensations of stress.

Walking works on at least two levels to relieve stress:

  • The mind is focusing on the moment by moment experience of the walking movement, the placing of the foot, the shifting weight from leg to leg, and not on the source of what’s inducing the stress response. Just keeping balanced and upright is enough to focus the mind.
  • The invitation is to acknowledge and connect with the sensations, emotions and thoughts, no matter how unpleasant and unwelcome, e.g. I can feel my heart racing, I feel nausea in the pit of my stomach, I notice my racing obsessing thoughts.

The additional benefit of walking in nature is that our mind’s attention falls on the sound of the rustling leaves, on the beauty of the light falling on the path, and gains a broader perspective on our experience. Suddenly, we note that we are part of something bigger and [better] than our stress response.

Is it better to walk with others or alone – or does it matter?

It’s probably easier to practice together when you first start, as it helps motivate you. However, once learned, mindful walking can be done anywhere and enjoyably by yourself; walking to work through busy streets, walking to your next business meeting. You just choose to do it with your attention on your felt experience, slow down and enjoy the sensations of walking.

How long does it take to make mindful walking a healthy habit?

Our program is for eight weeks, because that’s what the researchers/experts recommend to establish a sustainable meditation practice, to embed a change in our daily routine, to commit to a lifestyle shift in how we manage demands, responsibilities and stress.

Of course, it is not enough to learn mindfulness practices for eight weeks and then to expect the change to happen, without maintaining a daily practice, or at least regular practice. We’re talking lifestyle change. That said, I have trainees who have said that although they no longer meditate on a regular basis, they have learned the tools to address stress differently when it arises, and therefore benefit from the skills development, no matter what.

Any final thoughts?

I am no expert in mindfulness. I am a practitioner, a facilitator of learning, a coach, who has combined several professional qualifications (teaching, counseling, management) and 30 years’ experience to create an experiential model of learning that adapts to the learners needs and vulnerabilities. They learn, I learn, and I love my work.

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Also check out My 10 Favorite Summertime Stress-Busters and 10 Quick Ways to Beat Stress.

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10 Ways to Feel Good About the Money You Make

Photo by Jason Chen/Unsplash

Photo by Jason Chen/Unsplash

Money isn’t bad or evil. It’s what you do with it that counts. In fact, according to recent research involving two studies, money can actually contribute to happiness.

That’s money that’s readily available, not funds locked away in pension or retirement accounts or tied up in real estate.

Not that you shouldn’t allocate some of what you earn for either of those. You definitely need to plan ahead and likely want to invest in a home for the comfort and well-being of your family.

The Wall Street Journal interviewed Joe Gladstone, a research associate at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, and a co-author of both studies. The takeaway from the first study is that a bank balance may be more important to happiness than overall wealth. Meanwhile, the second study found that the things that you buy can result in you being happier, if they are a fit for your personality.

While this all sounds great, for those of us who’ve worked hard for our money and want to spend a little of it now, not 20 years in the future, here are 10 ways to feel good about the money you make:

    • What you earn is a reward for your hard work. Think of the investment you’ve made in your career, in learning new skills, getting a degree or two, pushing past failures and disappointments. The resulting financial largesse – call it your spending cushion or dream account – is very much a product of your continued effort. You deserve it. You should feel good about making it and spending it the way you like.
    • Money gives you freedom. When you have money, there are many things you can do with it. This freedom of choice also means you get to do something with it that makes you happy.
    • It can’t buy love, but it can help you love what you do with it. If you are an ardent skier, having some extra cash on hand can mean you take that ski trip to the Rockies this winter instead of putting it off for another year. If you love music and play it well, the money you put toward that grand piano or guitar will be music to your ears and fill your heart with happiness.
    • Since you can’t take it with you, it’s smart to spend some now. Your life insurance and named beneficiaries on pensions and other investments will ensure you take care of loved ones, but there’s no sense accumulating wealth and never doing anything with it while you’re alive. It’s no good to you after you die, so take some time and take some cash now to enjoy life.
    • Money helps reduce stress. If you’ve struggled most of your life to have two dimes to rub together, you know the value of having some money in the bank. Knowing you have this safety net helps reduce the levels of stress that a bank balance of zero never can. You have the added benefit of knowing that some unexpected event won’t wipe you out, and you’re not living paycheck to paycheck. As stress goes down, you feel the freedom to pay more attention to what matters in life. And that might mean using some of the money you make.
    • Having some makes you less needy and vulnerable. When you’re in deficit mode, having little or no money, there’s a tendency to be dependent on others, even to the point of being needy. You’re also vulnerable when you are penniless or strapped for cash. On the other side of the coin, having some extra cash – the result of your hard work – boosts your self-confidence and makes you feel more in control of your life. That’s a great reason to feel good about the money you earn.
    • A good bank balance can help you sleep better. Tossing and turning over an inability to stay on top of financial obligations is not pleasant. Your slowly growing bank account can benefit your sleep quality and duration since that’s one less problem you have to worry about.
    • Your intimate relationships may improve. Money problems and sex are two of the biggest conflict producers in intimate relationships. When money is not an issue because you have enough, that barrier can crumble. Besides, when you have some funds left over after paying the bills, think of the things the two of you can do to spend some quality time by spending some of that cash.
    • The focus isn’t on acquiring, but enjoying. The money you make has yet another decidedly enticing aspect: It allows you to focus not on acquiring and holding onto it, but enjoying the fruits of your labor.
    • You choose when and how to spend it. It’s your money. You worked for it. Outside of tending to your necessary obligations, what, when and how you spend your money is entirely up to you. At least it should be. There has to be some allocation, some mad money, some do-whatever-you-want-with money that’s yours.

 

After reading these ways to feel good about the money you make, aren’t you feeling better already?

I’m interested in hearing how you feel about the money you make. Do you give yourself permission to do something purely enjoyable with some of that cash?

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7 Tips on Mastering Change

Photo by Roberto Nickson/Unsplash

Photo by Roberto Nickson/Unsplash

“You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering change rather than allowing it to master you.” – Brian Tracy

 

Change is nonstop. Life coaches and proponents of positive thinking are nearly unanimous in recommending that we accept and embrace change.

While that is good advice, sometimes change brings with it uncertainty, fear, doubt, failure and dashed hopes. We may start off with an optimistic outlook, only to encounter some difficulty or unexpected problem that throws everything we had planned off-kilter.

We might just give up on the change we’re trying to make.

Or, we might become even more determined to see it through.

The attitude we adopt is really the key to what comes afterward. Granted, we cannot predict what will happen or what will ultimately be the result of our actions, but we can control how we think about our prospects, what we believe our strengths are and how self-confident we are.

It does take practice to see the hopeful, rather than the dismal, but we can learn how to do this.

Here are some tips on mastering change:

  • Keep your eye on the goal.

While interruptions and challenges are bound to occur, if you have a firm grasp of what you want to achieve, you’ll be poised to weather distractions and detours along the way.

 

  • Revisit your plan often.

Sometimes, with everything being thrown at you, it’s tough to stay focused on the plan. That’s why you write it down, so you can refer to it as often as necessary to remind you of your goal – and the steps you need to take to be successful.

 

  • Be optimistic about being able to find solutions.

Problems will occur, but you have been through these kinds of situations before and figured out solutions. Remind yourself of this and it will help bolster your resolve and maintain your optimistic attitude.

 

  • Don’t be afraid to adapt and revise.

Just because you have a plan doesn’t mean that you have to adhere to it so rigidly that you miss opportunities. The key here is to remain flexible so that you are able to adapt and modify your plan to incorporate new ideas and perhaps take advantage of a different approach. Flexibility is one of the hallmarks of mastering change.

 

  • Surround yourself with positive people.

When you’re embarking on change, or making a decision to change, you don’t need naysayers around you challenging your actions. Choose to be with others who are upbeat, supportive of your ideas and goals, and whose success and demeanor you admire. Positivity is contagious, and you’ll benefit from associating with positive friends, co-workers, neighbors and acquaintances.

 

  • Find the lesson in failure.

No one likes to think about failure, but the fact is that it happens. Should this quash your attitude about ultimately succeeding? Not if you study what happened and discover the lesson the experience holds. This makes you that much more prepared to handle whatever comes next and to take proactive measures to deal with them.

  • Be open to new ideas.

You wouldn’t eat the same meal day after day, would you? Just as variety is the spice of cuisine, so, too, is the willingness to entertain new ideas. Even if what you read, see or hear is a somewhat different way to accomplish a goal than you’ve used before, it might hold some merit in terms of adaptation, revision or addition to what strategies you have in your toolkit. Knowing you have options is a great confidence-builder.

Keep in mind that the way you regard change says a lot about who you are. You can be in control of your attitude and master change, or allow change to master you.

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Success Means You Make Things Happen

Photo by Joshua Sortino-Unsplash

Photo by Joshua Sortino-Unsplash

“There are people who make things happen, there are people who watch things happen, and there are people who wonder what happened. To be successful, you need to be a person who makes things happen.” – Jim Lovell

 

Are you a doer, a watcher or a wonderer? The answer may lie at the heart of whether or not you find yourself successful in life.

Granted, sometimes you need to watch for a while to become motivated to take action. After all, what interests you may involve stepping outside your comfort zone and taking a few risks. Well, nothing worthwhile ever occurred without a little discomfort. For one thing, it’s anxiety-provoking to think about taking on a challenge, something you’ve never done before. Maybe you should watch and wait for a while.

But not too long. If you wait until the proverbial time is right, you may still be waiting months and years down the line. At that point, instead of being successful, you’ll be one of those people who scratch their heads in dismay and wonder what happened.

Making things happen sounds too easy. It isn’t. Often, it involves long periods of practice, building skills and acquiring knowledge. It generally takes longer than you anticipate and requires more work than you intended.

But success is worth it if the goal is one that you truly desire.

Are You Ready to Make Things Happen?

Ask yourself these questions to see if you’re ready to make things happen.

  • Is this (goal) something I really want?
  • How much effort am I willing to put into achieving it?
  • What will I do if distractions get in my way?
  • Do I have a plan to follow, or am I just going to wing it?
  • What about resources? Do I need to line them up or are they readily available to me?
  • How will I handle criticism, failure and rejection? Am I strong enough to get past this?
  • Am I willing to learn from my mistakes?
  • What about revising my plan along the way? Have I incorporated that into my strategy?
  • Have I factored measurement into my plan so that I know when it’s a success?

The Caveman Scenario

I’d like to illustrate this with the following scenario. Early caveman enjoyed sitting around the fire with his companions, partner and offspring. Telling tales of hunting exploits got everyone going and lasted well into the night. But some of the little ones fell asleep, missing out on the stories.

The caveman started etching shapes into the earth with a stick, but the images were quickly obliterated as everyone dispersed. This same stick, used to poke and prod the fire, was blackened at the tip. The caveman pondered the sooty blackness on his fingers and noted it was tough to remove. He looked up at the empty cave wall and thought about scratching his pictures there.

First, it was just a rudimentary sketch. Then, the images grew in size, complexity and number. Before long, they told a complete story. Now, not only the little ones, but everyone in the caveman’s group, could enjoy the tale. He was designated as the official keeper of the tales and his stature grew in the community.

Was this a success? Did the caveman make things happen? From a desire to share his tales with his children, he figured out a way to do that and made it happen. It was an absolute success.

If the caveman could do it, just imagine what you can do.


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8 Ways To Let Go of Anger

Photo by Wil Stewart

Photo by Wil Stewart

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” – Buddha

There are lots of frustrations in life to deal with, many of which ignite angry feelings and a desire for retribution or revenge. Some inconsiderate driver cuts you off in traffic. The woman in front of you in line at the coffee shop gets the last pastry – the one you had your eye on. Your co-worker takes credit for the report you researched and wrote. Neighborhood kids smashed your car with rocks, causing extensive damage.

You seethe with anger, wanting to lash out at the perpetrator, giving them their just desserts. But will this do anything to change what happened? Or, will it only result in you feeling more miserable as you can’t escape the fire of your anger?

No one would ever pick up a hot coal with their unprotected hands. That’s the action of a fool. Fire burns. Yet, when it comes to powerful emotions such as anger, that’s exactly what we sometimes do: We hold onto it. Expecting a different outcome than us getting burned is the definition of insanity.

If the better way to deal with anger is to let it go, how do we go about doing that? Here are some suggestions:

  • Walk away. Putting some distance between you and the situation or people that prompted the angry feelings to begin with is a logical first step. If you aren’t in proximity to the source of your anger, you’re less likely to lash out and do or say something that will cause harm to another. In addition, by walking away you’ll allow yourself time to cool off, so that you can think about what happened in a more rational way.

 

  • Identify why you’re angry. Take the inconsiderate driver that cut you off. This happens all the time. Why is today any different than another day? What is it about being cut off that makes you so angry now? Is it that you’re already late for work? Is it just another in a string of things that went wrong today and this is the last straw? Are you upset with yourself for failing to complete a task or due to an argument you had with your spouse, child, or co-worker? By identifying what’s underneath your anger, you’ll be better able to get past it.

 

  • Let it out. Instead of bottling up your anger and holding it inside like a captive coal that continues to burn, find a place where you can let it out with a scream, a vigorous physical workout, a good cry. Letting go of the anger before you decide to confront the person that prompted the negative feelings will allow you to behave in a more constructive and proactive manner.

 

  • Figure out what to change. Realize that you have three options when dealing with anger: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it. Once you decide that there’s something you can do to change the situation, act on that. It will help you let go of the anger and move on.

 

  • Own responsibility. Secretly, you might be the one who prompted the situation that made you angry. Instead of trying to shift the blame and punish others, take responsibility for your part in what happened. Even if you only acknowledge this to yourself, it’s a huge step. Then, focus on what you could have done differently so that the next time something like this occurs, you’ll act in a more responsible way.

 

  • Calmly talk with the offender. You’ll need to use the walk away technique before you confront the offender about what made you angry. When you’ve put some time and distance between you and the person and situation, you’re better able to tell that person how you feel about what happened. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that you’re not going to be able to control how that person reacts. The only thing you can do is express your feelings kindly and calmly. This will help you let go of the anger.

 

  • See the anger melting away. The anger you feel doesn’t affect the other person as much as it does you. Knowing this, why hold onto it? Instead, visualize the anger as ice that’s melting away in the heat. Feel the sense of coolness that replaces the anger. This will help you regain peace and kindness toward yourself.

 

  • See it from the offender’s perspective. Maybe the person who so angered you wasn’t aware he or she was doing anything wrong. They could have inadvertently done something, not out of malicious intent, just without thinking of the potential consequences. Mistakes happen. People don’t necessarily intend to do harm. Recognize that you’ve probably done the same thing to other people. Have a little compassion. This will go a long way toward your ability to let go of anger.

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Self-Care: The Most Important Person to Take Care of is You

Photo by Wilson Magalhães

Photo by Wilson Magalhães

“There are days I drop words of comfort on myself like falling leaves and remember that it is enough to be taken care of by myself.” — Brian Andreas

 

When life swirls around us, it’s often difficult to remember that the first priority has to be taking care of ourselves. Instead, we look to care for others, even to the point of self-exhaustion. While it’s loving and kind-hearted to be so selfless, it’s not good for our overall well-being in the long run. In order to be around and able to help others, we have to be physically, mentally and emotionally healthy.

Good self-care, then, is not only important, but also imperative. Here are some tips on how to take proper care of you.

Eat right. With life so hectic, the temptation to skip meals, scarf down junk food and eat too much at once is sometimes tough to ignore. That doesn’t mean it’s good for your body. Think about what you put in your mouth before you eat. Maintain a well-balanced diet and eat regular meals. Your body will thank you for eating healthy.

Sleep well. In order to be alert and ready to go each day, you first need to get a good night’s sleep. Sleep, according to experts, plays an important role in everything from memory to learning. Adults generally need 7-9 hours of sleep a night. The key is uninterrupted sleep.

Get regular exercise. A healthy body and mind requires regular physical exercise. What you do is less important than doing it. Start with something manageable, such as a good run or walking in a park or through the neighborhood. If you have a dog, this is a natural for both of you. Ask friends to accompany you. Walk instead of drive to a nearby coffee shop. Take up a recreational sport. Join a gym. The choices are endless. The point is to do it.

Drink plenty of fluids. You might not realize it, but your body constantly loses fluids during the day. Such losses occur naturally in urination and elimination of stools, in breathing, and skin evaporation. The more physical exertion you do, the faster you lose fluids. The human body requires hydration for organs to operate efficiently. In fact, the body is about 60% water. The best way to replace lost fluids is to drink water. It’s readily available and the fact is that you can’t live without it.

Manage stress. Allowing the day’s turmoil to eat at you is going to drag you down, physically and mentally. Taking proper care of yourself means that you do whatever you find that works to manage stress. This can take many forms, from meditation to deep breathing exercises, massage, prayer, yoga or other relaxation techniques, to cognitive-behavioral therapy and setting clear goals.

Spend time with friends. You know how much you value friendships, particularly with those who share your interests. Studies show that friendships enrich life and make it healthier. Not only do you enjoy being with good friends, the interaction is good for your overall health and well-being. What more evidence do you need to share some quality time with your friends?

Engage in learning new pursuits. When you pursue something new, something different, your mind is actively involved in a desirable goal. The unknown, while sometimes scary, can also be stimulating, challenging and ultimately rewarding. Learning something new can help you overcome fear, push you beyond self-imposed boundaries, and provide a much-needed boost in self-confidence and self-esteem.

Tap into your spirituality. You don’t need to be religious to be able to tap into your spirituality. Tending to your spiritual needs is as important as getting sufficient sleep, eating well and everything else you do to take care of your body. There is more to life than just existing. You are more than the sum of your parts. Take time to reflect on the bigger picture, using yoga, meditation, self-reflection or whatever helps you get outside of yourself.

Avoid excessive alcohol intake. Using alcohol as a coping mechanism is bound to backfire. The tendency to reach for a drink to deal with problems or forget about them for a while can quickly spiral out of control. If you aren’t able to decrease your drinking on your own, get professional help. Otherwise, cut down on how much you drink.

Don’t smoke. There is absolutely no physical benefit to smoking. If you’ve never smoked, don’t start. If you do smoke, make a decision to stop. Smoking can lead to serious health problems, but you will improve your health by quitting the smoking habit.

Pay attention to your needs. Put yourself at the top of your list of priorities. Remember that you need to be healthy in order to be available to help others. This means being mindful of what you need to do to stay healthy. It isn’t selfish, it’s actually self-care.

Maintain an optimistic, hopeful outlook. Life will throw you a few curve balls, to be sure. And you never know when you’ll be called on to deal with them. The best thing you can do is to adopt and maintain an optimistic, hopeful outlook. If you believe you will succeed, you will. If you see the positive instead of the negative, the results are likely to follow suit. Don’t be afraid of challenges. Be hopeful, prepare yourself to act and follow through.

 

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My 10 Favorite Summertime Stress-Busters

Photo by Ryan McGuire

Photo by Ryan McGuire

A writer by profession and a long-time executive in public relations and communications, I’ve experienced the cumulative effects of stress on more than a few occasions. While each person needs to find their own unique ways to combat stress, I’d like to share my 10 favorite summertime stress-busters here – while summer is in in full swing.

Bicycling on Mackinac Island

Although it was many years ago, the fond memory of bicycling on Mackinac Island (situated between mainland Michigan and the state’s upper peninsula in Lake Michigan) with my mother and my son and daughter still lowers my stress level. It was a wonderful bonding experience between three generations and great exercise to boot.

Go out and rent a bicycle when you’re on vacation or during a trip to an inland lake or other recreational area and see how your cares seem to float away as you pedal along. This is an inexpensive and effective summertime stress-buster that anyone can do.

Going for a long drive

When I’ve had it up to here with deadlines, pressure to finish a task, non-stop phone calls and nagging emails – not to mention all the things left to do around the house – I get in the car and head out for the open highway.

Since I live in California, however, that means timing my escape to avoid the gridlock on the freeways. Still, there’s nothing like cruising along the 101 freeway somewhere north to clear the cobwebs from my mind – and melt any stress that’s built up.

Hiking a new trail

I’m fortunate to live just blocks from the Santa Monica Mountains preserve and numerous hiking trails. This sounds like a lot of work, but there are easy trails to climb as well as more strenuous ones.

An early morning hike – especially when I’m able to check out a new trail – is one of the quickest ways to dissolve stress for me. My family members are equally appreciative. And who doesn’t love to spend some quality time outdoors with those you love?

Taking a well-deserved vacation

Too many times we tell ourselves that we can’t afford to take a vacation or don’t have the luxury of taking that much time off work.

I know. I’ve said as much myself.

The truth, however, is that a vacation is not only deserved but necessary in order to recharge and revitalize, to gain peace of mind and restore a sense of balance.

Thinking back on memorable vacations, I count trips to Cancun, Kauai, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Jamaica, as well as visits to great national parks such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, and more.

Arranging a long weekend getaway

Sometimes a weeklong vacation just isn’t practical. There’s still the opportunity to take a break by going for a long weekend getaway.

Head out to the beach or a cottage by the ocean. Explore what nature has to offer in a national park in the area. Visit a not-too-distant city to sample cuisine and nightlife or other attractions.

Romantic, sight-seeing, educational or pure leisure – whatever inspires you can be the ingredients in a getaway this weekend.

And the stress will just disappear.

Attending an outdoor concert

My daughter and son remember going to Bob Seger, Beach Boys and Fleetwood Mac concerts with me at an outdoor concert venue in Michigan. Just recalling those magical nights under the stars gives me a nostalgic rush. How perfect to wash away stressful thoughts?

No matter where you live, there’s probably a venue offering outdoor concerts, music festivals and the like. Check out some of your favorite artists, search for some reasonably-priced tickets and take the family for an unforgettable outing.

Digging in the garden – and creating a lush landscape

Whether I’m yanking out weeds, cultivating an area to plant flowers, shrubs or helping to dig the requisite size hole for a tree, the sheer enjoyment I get from digging in the garden is undeniable.

The fact that the result is something I’m proud of – and don’t mind accepting compliments from others for – is a plus.

Don’t think you have a green thumb? I didn’t either, but years of practice and effort have definitely paid off. Now, even if the plant eventually dies, I know I’ll get something to replace it that will prove equally lovely in my garden.

And there’s something about washing away the dirt from my gardening sojourn that is very satisfying as well.

Reading a good book

I’ve loved to read all my life. Still do, although I don’t seem to do it as often as I’d like. Now that I have Kindle, though, I can quickly access new ebooks from my favorite authors.

Mysteries, true crime, thrillers, autobiographies, inspirational – you name it, I’m there. Nothing like whiling away an hour or so engrossed in a good book. If you get into the habit of reading something you like, you’ll find that the stress you had is gone, faded away like a distant memory.

Seeing an adventure movie

Movies are another favorite pastime of mine. I actually like a number of genres, but for dissipating stress, a go-to favorite is an adventure movie. I can feel the adrenaline rushing through my body and while that seems counter-intuitive to eliminating stress, it actually works.

Realizing the outcome along with the protagonist (or hero) is doubly satisfying. It’s like I’m there. Not bad for a quick escape from stress, right? Best of all, there are always plenty of adventure movies to choose from at the movieplex near you – or available to rent or download from your TV provider or Netflix.

Checking out an amusement park

Do you love roller coasters? I do. When I have the opportunity to check out an amusement park with the family – and occasionally for business, believe it or not – I head straight for the biggest roller coaster in the park.

If you’re going to go, go big or don’t go at all. That’s my motto.

Part of the reason I’m so drawn to this particular ride is that I remember riding a roller coaster with my dad just a week before he died. I was thirteen. He was my everything.

Other attractions in the amusement park are also great stress-busters for me, including the haunted house, dodge ‘em cars, the Ferris wheel and more.

And who doesn’t love the cotton candy, hot dog on a stick, outdoor cafes and other tempting gastronomic delights? You can work out later. For now, indulge and have a good time.

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My 10 Favorite Ways to Waste Time — and Not Feel Bad About It

Photo by Ryan McGuire

Photo by Ryan McGuire

So much has been written about how not to waste time that I thought it might be fun to list some of the ways we waste time all the time. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else, so here are my favorite time wasters.

I should add that I don’t feel bad about doing any of these. In fact, I rather get a kick out of how good I feel after I’ve lollygagged, been consumed with and totally exhausted from any of them.

 

Getting Lost in LinkedIn

 

Networking is an absolute must for anyone in business. Whether your business is writing or recruiting or manufacturing electric cars or anything else, who you know can sometimes make all the difference in the world.

Need an introduction? Your LinkedIn contacts may be able to provide that. What about a recommendation or endorsement? Ditto.

Building a LinkedIn network (or any social media, for that matter) takes time. Often, that’s a lot of time.

I know. I’ve spent many hours reading profiles of LinkedIn members, absorbing their posts and likes, commenting on what I see and hoping others will reciprocate.

Come to think of it, LinkedIn is pretty essential to what I do. There’s no way this is a waste of time.

 

Searching for the Perfect Photo

 

When I write a Daily Thoughts or blog post, I’m always on the lookout for the perfect photo to illustrate them. I can literally spend a couple of hours searching for one photo.

I use multiple free and paid sites for photos. And I love discovering new photographers.

Since my profession is writing, it’s not a stretch to say that my time spent in pursuit of just the right photo is far from a waste of time. Yet I do find that I get a little carried away at times, continuing to search through photo albums and recent posting to see what’s new – in case I want to use it sometime.

 

Writing To-Do Lists – and Promptly Losing Them

 

I’m an inveterate list-maker. I’ve gotten it down to a science, in fact. I jot down items, then prioritize them, revise and add or subtract – and then put aside the list for later.

Somehow what happens more often than not is I lose the list.

Then I start over.

All is not lost in this seemingly hopeless endeavor, however. My mind catalogs what I’ve written, cementing it in place. It lets me know that there is a list somewhere, just in case I forget. So I don’t have to worry that I’ve missed something.

And that gives me great comfort.

Just don’t ask me where my list is.

 

Going for a Walk

 

Why do I walk? I used to think it was for healthy exercise, and there certainly is that component to it. But the underlying reason I walk is that I like being out in nature.

To me, a walk affords me the opportunity to connect with life outside the home. I take the time to listen to the birds and watch them flit from tree to flower to bush and back. I particularly enjoy watching the interplay between birds, protecting their mates and nest, doing the courtship dance, feeding offspring, etc.

I also feel good knowing I’m burning fat – but that’s another story. My sore muscles tell me if I’m giving it what I need or not. Still, my 45-minute walk may be considered a waste of time to some people, but not for me. I’ll do it any chance I get.

 

Working in the Garden

 

There’s nothing like getting my hands dirty digging in the garden. Granted, I’m not that fond of some of the bugs I have to pluck out, but wrestling with weeds to give my flowers, bushes and trees room to grow gives me great satisfaction.

It’s also wonderfully fulfilling to see the results of my carefully-tended garden. Worth all the hours I toil in garden, no matter what time of the year.

 

Shopping for Organic Produce

 

I’ll admit I was a little slow getting on the organic food bandwagon, but now I’m a firm believer. So much so that I can literally spend more than an hour just roaming the aisles of my go-to grocery store (even Costco) looking at the newest organic versions of produce I’ve eaten in old form since I was a kid.

If I had to excuse my wasting time on this activity, I’d have to say that putting the healthiest food into my body is a priority. I’m OK with any amount of time I spend looking for anything organic.

 

Doing Price Comparisons on Running Shoes

 

First, a confession. I don’t run – at all. But I am an aficionado of running shoes or cross-trainers or whatever the latest athletic shoe is.

My reason for the obsession is that I want my feet to be well taken care of. Whether I’m hiking a mountain trail in the preserve near my house or traversing the mall in search of a good deal or just driving, I want a great pair of shoes on my feet.

As such, I’m always looking for the best price on shoes and have bookmarked my favorite websites. Time just flies by when I’m on the hunt.

And I don’t regret one minute of it. So, there.

 

Going for a Massage

To some people a massage is an indulgence they can do without. Not me. I learned long ago that my Thumper I bought from Relax-the-Back does a great job easing out a kink, but I’d much rather get an expert to do the work for me.

It feels so much better when I don’t have to exert myself.

And the massage professional can reach areas I can’t.

Besides, the overall effect afterward is simply out of this world. The therapeutic aspects alone are worth the time I take from my day to get the massage.

Come to think of it, I haven’t had a massage for a while. Time to make an appointment.

 

Trying Out a New Recipe

I may not be the greatest cook around, but I do enjoy trying out new recipes. Like searching for the perfect photo, checking out recipes is a real time-hog.

Once I’ve found a recipe to make, I often have to go to the store to get the ingredients. Invariably I’m missing one or more. And I learned long ago that substituting what might work usually results in a disaster.

As a professional chef once told me, stick to the recipe until you’ve amassed years of experience and absolutely know what you can safely substitute without ruining the dish.

Regarding the mess that I have to clean up when I’m done, that’s another chunk of time that necessarily has to occupy my time.

 

Watching a Great Movie

Another one of my favorite pastimes – and a huge time waster – is watching movies. I love a number of different genres, so a drama doesn’t necessarily lose out to suspense, thriller, comedy or horror.

I’d much rather watch a movie that’s gotten stellar reviews, but I’m also game to check out the little-known or obscure flicks as well. This is especially true if they’re by famous directors or ones whose other work I’ve enjoyed.

Get out the popcorn, chips, ice cream and other snacks (OK, junk food, but sometimes you just have to indulge) and I’m good to go – for at least an hour or two.

Chores can wait until later.

* * *

What are your favorite ways to waste time? Comment below and I may do a follow-up blog post mentioning some of them – giving you credit, of course.

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How to Be Even More Effective

Photo by Anders Jilden

Photo by Anders Jilden

Everyone is always on the lookout for a better way to do things, to accomplish goals in record time, to improve effectiveness. While such a quest is admirable, it can prove problematic if you begin to fixate on success instead of searching for ways to be more effective.

Can you improve on your rate of effectiveness? Absolutely, and here’s how:

  • Learn to manage your time. It can’t be stressed enough that lack of time and trying to crowd too may obligations and tasks into a 24-hour day will quickly overwhelm almost anyone.
    • Instead of fighting the clock, trying to cram in that last item on today’s to-do list, put some space between duties and eliminate some from the list altogether.
    • Time management isn’t only for business people. It works for busy moms, students, artists, inventors, scientists and, well, everyone.

 

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” – Peter Drucker

 

  • Keep a list of what worked well before. Making incremental improvements in your effectiveness is the best way to gradually become more successful in whatever you do.
    • One way to do this is to keep track of what you did before that resulted in a favorable outcome. Maybe there’s something about that technique that you can utilize in a similar or even different project, task or endeavor.
    • When you have a reserve of effective approaches (as in, they worked before), you’re never going to be at a loss for ideas.

 

  • Ask for suggestions from trusted others. Just because you generally accomplish what you set out to do doesn’t mean you’re as effective in your approach as you could be.
    • Make use of your network of trusted friends, co-workers, loved ones and family members and ask them for suggestions on how you might improve your rate of effectiveness. Their comments may prove helpful in identifying gaps in your method or highlighting areas of strength and expertise you haven’t yet tapped into.

 

  • Take time to reflect on your accomplishments. Once you do succeed at a goal and before you rush into the next thing on your list, take the time to reflect on your accomplishments. This can be viewed as a small self-congratulation, but it’s actually much more than that.
    • Away from the whirlwind of activity, your mind can calmly assess the various aspects of the now-completed job or task and come up with inventive approaches and ideas you may be able to use the next time.

 

  • Aim for continuous improvement. If a job or task seems too much of an obstacle, but you still want or need to tackle it, instead of fixating on only complete success the first time around, it might be better to aim for continuous improvement.
    • Do the best that you can on whatever portion of the project you’re on.
    • Learn from what you do. Strive to put that knowledge to use when you pick up the project again and move on to the next phase of it. This will help you increase your overall effectiveness.

 

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Why You Need a Vacation

Photo by Faye Cornish

Photo by Faye Cornish

If your days are filled with crashing deadlines, too much on your to-do list and never enough time to get things done, you might be more than a little stressed. In fact, overwork can lead to dissatisfaction in other areas of your life as well.

What a perfect time for a vacation.

Before you object that you just don’t have time to get away, consider the following very good reasons why you actually need a vacation.

 

Vacations help you disengage and reconnect with self

You can’t hear yourself think when you’re all caught up in forcing yourself to finish this project and begin work on the next. Facts and figures, phone calls and emails, the boss barging in with yet another hot assignment – no wonder you’re feeling frazzled.

Getting away from it all, however, frees your mind from incessant interruptions, constant distractions and self-imposed pressure. What better way to reconnect with self than relaxing in a hammock under a shady tree, gazing out at nature?

How about going out on the river or lake in a canoe, rowboat, sailboat or powerboat? Nothing like being in the outdoors, taking in the sounds of silence and just hanging out to clear your mind.

 

Taking time for yourself helps you unwind and relax

Rushing from one task to another without a break is enough to cause anyone distress. High-pressure office environments and frantic schedules at home and school do nothing to bring peace of mind.

On the other hand, when you physically get away from the normal routine, the picture changes dramatically.

Instead of reacting to what people demand, you can act in accordance with your own wishes. If you feel like doing nothing, that’s just fine. If you want to hike a trail in pristine wilderness, there’s nothing to stop you.

Whether you choose to be alone or in the company of loved ones, family or friends, taking time for yourself is just the right tonic for relaxation and unwinding.

 

Vacations help you free your mind

When all the noise subsides and you’re on the beach, at the lake, hiking, golfing, getting a massage or doing whatever you like, a curious thing happens. Your mind empties.

All the stuff crowding your brain, those urgent projects you told yourself you couldn’t forget, the massive responsibilities you felt you had to shoulder – they seem to melt away.

It’s not that you’re walking away from anything. You choose to be away, and for valid reasons. Research shows that people are more productive after they’ve taken a vacation than those who stick it out at work.

Furthermore, solutions to problems often seem to magically appear when you’ve stopped thinking so hard about them. While you’ve shut down the engine, so to speak, your mind is still humming away in the background, making connections, figuring out creative approaches, relishing the time to arrive at a sound decision.

All this from just taking a vacation? What a bonus.

 

This is the time you can be yourself

A vacation is when you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone. Not your boss. Not your neighbor. Not your best friend. Certainly not to yourself.

In fact, one of the great things about a vacation is that you can dress how you like, eat what you want, do what you feel like when you want to. There are no schedules to keep – unless you want to make them, no one you have to impress with your PowerPoint presentation or glitzy ad campaign.

It’s all about you.

Some people have a hard time being alone with themselves. So unused to having time off, too tethered to duties and deadlines and making a good impression they don’t know where or how to begin to enjoy a vacation.

Try it. You’ll soon get into the rhythm of doing whatever you like or nothing at all.

 

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5 Tips to Make the Right Choice

Photo by Dave Meier-Picography

Photo by Dave Meier-Picography

“Nothing is so exhausting as indecision, and nothing is so futile.” – Bertrand Russell

 

Standing at a crossroads and deciding which way to go is a metaphor for life. No matter who you are, you’re going to be faced with situations where you need to make a choice every day. Even deciding to do nothing is a choice, although not the most productive one.

Still, it can be extraordinarily difficult to know what the right choice is. Here are some tips that may help:

 

Tip #1: This particular choice isn’t life-altering.

Most likely, the choice you make now isn’t going to drastically change your life. It also isn’t generally going to be of long-term duration. So, you can enter into a decision with the confidence that you can revise your actions later, take a different course of action, learn from your mistakes, and keep going.

 

Tip #2: Weigh and balance your options, but do take action.

You can put off making a decision for a long time, but what does that really get you? It’s just a stall tactic that buys very little and may cost a lot. The wiser approach is to carefully review your options and tally up the one that has the most positives going for it. Then, take action. It’s much better than sitting by the sidelines doing nothing.

 

Tip #3: Seek advice from trusted others, but tailor your actions to suit your circumstances.

It’s OK, even recommended, to ask others what they think. This is especially true the more challenging or important the decision you need to make.

After you hear what your network of loved ones, family members, good friends or other trusted individuals have to say, sift everything through the lens of your mind to come up with a plan that will work for your particular situation.

 

Tip #4: If it doesn’t work, do something else.

No one is going to be successful in making the right choice every time. That’s not how life works. But giving up when you encounter disappointment or failure isn’t the way to get the most out of life. Doing something else, however, is.

If you stumble the first time out, it doesn’t mean you’re awful at making choices. It does mean there’s a lesson here you need to learn. Take stock of the lesson and figure out a new approach.

 

Tip #5: Find your best time to think about your choices.

If you try to make a decision when you’re stressed out, tired, hungry, angry or depressed, the choice you make may not be well-informed. Instead, pick a time when you’re well rested, full of energy and receptive to taking action. This may be early morning, a mid-afternoon break, after you wind down at the end of the day.

Whatever time works best for your decision-making process, when you feel you can objectively analyze the various choices and come to a reasonable, workable decision, use that time to your advantage. The choices you make will reflect this proactive approach.

 

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8 Tips to Help Decision-Making

Photo by Ryan McGuire

Photo by Ryan McGuire

Do you agonize over choices or waffle back and forth before finally settling on one? Even if you don’t think you have much difficulty arriving at a decision, everyone can always use a few pointers, right?

Here are some suggestions on how to make the decision-making process a little easier, less stressful, and a lot more satisfying. 

Get organized

To get started, you need a clean and clear space. A cluttered desk, sloppy workspace or no space to sit comfortably do not help you do anything productive – least of all make an important decision.

Take the time to put things where they should go, wipe up spills, toss out unused and unwanted items or trash, and for the files and materials you will need, arrange them neatly on your desk or work area.

If the project or task that requires your decision involves specific files, folders, artwork, renderings or other items, keep them front and center. 

Eliminate distractions

When it’s time to think about a decision, you can’t afford any distractions. Simple tips to eliminate them include:

  • Turn off your cell phone or let it go to voicemail.
  • If you’re in a physical office with a door, close the door.
  • Turn off email notification sounds on your computer.
  • Better yet, get out of your email client for the time being.
  • Let co-workers and your boss know you’re working on a project and are trying to concentrate. (It helps if this is something you’re on deadline to do, as the boss will likely understand.)
  • Avoid the tendency to doodle, no surfing the Internet to kill time or game-playing just because you think you can.

Clear your mind

Now it’s time to get down to the business at hand. In order to begin the process of decision-making, it’s necessary to clear your mind. This is often one of the hardest things for people to do, especially in today’s non-stop world.

Since it’s next to impossible to completely wipe out extraneous thoughts, the best way to deal with them is to acknowledge their presence and allow them to go away on their own.

You need a bit of time for all the “noise” in your head to die down, so don’t be in a rush. Gradually, your mind will quiet and your thoughts can become better focused. 

Focus on the goal

Speaking of focus, once you’ve cleared your mind it’s the right time to focus on the goal. What do you hope to achieve? What’s your optimum outcome? Are you trying to solve a problem, brainstorm ideas, come up with a creative approach, make a tough choice involving conflicting ideas or options?

Knowing what you want to achieve as an outcome will help you in selecting various avenues and possibilities to consider.

Analyze the pros and cons

The things that come to mind will each have plusses and minuses that you’ll need to take into account. To get through this part of the decision-making process involves the ability to envision what might happen if you choose option A over option B or C, and so on.

Really take the time to think this through. Jot down into columns what the potential outcomes or ramifications for each choice might be. When you can look at these pros and cons on paper, the decision you need to make will be easier, if not obvious.

Sometimes, however, the decision you make will need to be the lesser of two negatives. Always strive to select the choice with the most positive outcome.

Finalize the approach

By now you’ve probably narrowed down your choices and selected the one that you think will serve your needs and help you arrive at the goal you intend.

You’re not done yet.

This is the time to fine-tune your approach, adding the various elements that will make it stand out and shine. You want it to be the best you can do, to reflect your strengths and talents and the benefit of your experience.

It’s possible that you’ll want to make use of one or more facets of other approaches or solutions you were considering. If it helps solidify your ultimate choice or gives it a better chance of success, by all means add it to your approach.

Factor in follow-up

Once you zero in on your decision, the final step before taking action on it is to spend some time figuring out what you’ll need in the form of follow-up.

Will reports help determine the success or failure of your decision? How will the choice you make affect others in the workplace? What benchmarks are important to achieve in order for the decision to be considered effective, valuable, repeatable or industry-first?

Follow-up is one aspect of decision-making that many overlook; yet it is critical to the success of any major decision.

Make the choice

This is the final stretch in decision-making: actually making the choice and beginning to take action. There’s no turning back now. If you’ve gone through the process in a thoughtful and purposeful manner, the decision you make now reflects your attention to detail, your creativity and vision.

Go ahead. Make the choice. And feel good about your decision.

 

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Leadership Lessons I Learned from Dad

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Among the many articles written about leadership, how leaders develop, if they’re born with the ability to lead, how to nurture and mentor someone to become a leader, I’ve rarely seen one that mentioned the importance of fathers modeling leadership for their children.

Personally, wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for the lessons I learned from my dad. So, in celebration of Father’s Day and an acknowledgement of the profoundly important role fathers play in the development of their sons and daughters into leaders, I’d like to talk about my own father.

Clem Harland was the eldest son in a family of four children, one of whom died in infancy. His father was a lumberjack in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, after toiling as a farmer in North Dakota for many years. When Clem’s father died, he had to leave school to begin providing for his mother and two sisters. He took up lumberjacking, the best income potential for the family.

His mother was sickly and died young. This left Clem the sole provider for his two sisters – and he put them both through college, sacrificing his own personal needs and putting the idea of getting married and starting his own family on hold for years.

Although Clem was born with a congenital heart defect and doctors told his parents that he probably wouldn’t live past his teens, nothing deterred the young man from pursuing life to the fullest.

Whether it was lumberjacking in the bitter cold, stinging rain and dangerous conditions (his father died by being crushed between logs jammed up in the water), working a second job as a musician, taking a third job as a cook, or staying up all hours to care for his dying mother, he persevered.

Years later, when he was 31, Clem got married to Mary Jean. By now, he lived next door to her in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They soon were the parents of one boy, lost several infants to miscarriage and finally welcomed their only surviving daughter, me, some four years after the birth of their son.

Clem worked in an automobile factory in Detroit, Michigan. He generally worked the graveyard shift, coming home just as my mother was headed off to work. His health continued to deteriorate, but he never let on.

 

“Everything you want to know is in here.”

While he never went back to school to finish his education, let alone go to college, he taught himself by reading books. When I was about five and asked my dad how he knew so many things, he closed the book on astronomy he was reading and pointed to it, saying, “Everything you want to know is in here.” I thought he was talking about the stars and planets, but he meant that knowledge is readily available to those with a desire to learn.

This was my first leadership lesson from my dad.

Another came following a heated fight I had with my brother. He broke my doll (we didn’t have much, and this was my favorite toy) and I beat on him with my little fists. He was much bigger and stronger than me and just laughed. I ran to my father crying that life wasn’t fair, boys were mean and I hated my brother.

My dad listened to my complaint and comforted me as best he could. He promised to fix dolly (and he did) and told me that I should never let others take advantage of me. Even though he didn’t condone fighting (and my brother had a stern talking-to from dad as a result), he believed that individuals have to stand up for themselves.

This important leadership lesson sticks with me today. A leader doesn’t back down just because there’s opposition. He or she takes a stand and leads by example.

When I was 12, I was fearful all the time. I was aware that my father wasn’t well. I’d heard my mother discussing how the factory put him on a sweeper’s job due to his poor health. But he was still the breadwinner and the factory took care of its employees.

I began having nightmares about my dad dying. I was so frightened that I didn’t dare tell him. All I could muster was a conversation where I asked what he wanted out of life, did he ever regret his choices, and was he happy?

“…Don’t let anyone or anything prevent you from following your dreams.”

His answer still brings me to tears. He said, “I have everything I ever wanted. You, your brother and your mother mean the world to me. As for my life, I am happy and blessed. What you need to know is that you can be whatever you choose to be. Don’t let anyone or anything prevent you from following your dreams.”

We even went to a local amusement park over the Fourth of July to celebrate his 52nd birthday. We screeched in glee as the cars lurched to the top of the roller coaster and flew downward with neck-straining fore.

My father was dead less than a week later. His death was massive coronary occlusion. He died on the job. The personnel people that came to the house to inform us said he died in seconds.

 *  *  *

I also remember long walks on the beach of Lake Michigan, running up and down the sand dunes, catching and cleaning perch and whitefish after being on the frigid lake since before dawn.

And so much more.

All these things happened decades ago, but the memories are as vivid as if it was just yesterday.

My father taught me everything I ever need to know about leadership. Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

 

 


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Why I Hate Clutter

DeathtoStock_Creative Community8

If you’re like me, sometimes it’s hard to get your head in the game. The deadline’s looming, you’ve got a sore back from doing too much over the weekend, you had to skip breakfast because you slept in, and now you can’t seem to get started. Looking over your desk or workspace, all you see is clutter.

 

It’s enough to make you want to turn off the computer, get up and walk out, right?

 

For me, clutter is a big four-letter word. I just can’t stand to come to work, all ready to go (or not) and be confronted with a pile of disorganized papers, mail someone dumped in the middle of the desk instead of the inbox tray, pens that found their way into corners, empty paper ream wrappers and so on.

 

I think to myself that this is a big waste of time – but I can’t help myself. I have to tidy up before I do anything else.

 

Most of all, however, I’m angry with myself that I didn’t take the time before I left the office yesterday to do what I normally do: clean up my workspace.

 

In reality, it only takes a few minutes to do the job properly. The caveat is, of course, that it’s done regularly. It kind of defeats the purpose if the clean-up task is left undone for a solid week. That just results in a massive job that takes time away from more productive or enjoyable pursuits.

 

Here, in no particular order, are the reasons I hate clutter. Maybe some of them resonate with you.

 

  • Clutter makes me look disorganized.
  • The boss doesn’t take too kindly to a messy workspace.
  • It takes much too long to find what I’m looking for, especially when I need it quickly.
  • I can’t think clearly when I’m surrounded by clutter.
  • If it’s a leftover food container or latte, there’s a smell I have to deal with in addition to the mess left behind.
  • Ever have a problem with ants from something sticky or sweet that didn’t get cleaned up? I have. And I hate bugs even more than clutter.
  • The messier my desk looks, the worse I feel.
  • I think clutter is contagious. It often seems like my co-workers don’t tend to their mess if I don’t keep my workspace clean.
  • When I’m surrounded by clutter, I feel completely unmotivated to get anything done.
  • Clutter reminds me that I need to do a better job managing my time – so there’s enough time to take care of this annoying, but necessary, daily task.

 

Change Your Habits, Change Your Life

 

I’m a big fan of Gretchen Rubin and I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from her tips on how to change your habits to live a healthier life.

 

I’ve also read books and blog posts, and watched how-to videos and presentations on time management, simplifying your life, prioritizing goals and how to become successful in everything you do. I think I’ve done my research.

 

What I’ve learned is that not only is cleanliness next to Godliness, the sign of an orderly mind and a good habit to practice, it also feels good to get rid of all that clutter.

 

It really is possible to change your habits and change your life.

 

Now, what happened to my to-do list? It was just here somewhere…

 

What irks you most about clutter? More important, what tactics do you use to deal with it?

 

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How to Deal With Insidious Office Gossip

Photo by Ryan McGuire

Photo by Ryan McGuire

You’ve heard the whispers, caught the sly glances cast your way, felt the cool brushoff from co-workers and people you thought were your friends. No matter how connected and well-liked you think you are, you’re not immune to being the target of gossip.

While it can seem harmless, gossip can also ruin your career, seriously damage relationships and crush your self-esteem. So, it’s never something to take lightly. How do you deal with insidious office gossip? Here are some suggestions.

Don’t Repeat It

You can’t stop other people from spreading gossip, but you can stop yourself from repeating it. This means you don’t repeat it in any form whatsoever, not in person, over the phone, in an email or text or any kind of written communication. Repeating gossip reinforces what may very well be bad information, lending credence or some air of authority to baseless, harmful words.

Never Encourage It

When you ask for more details, nod in agreement, look interested and keep the conversation going with the gossiper, that’s just giving the person the green light to keep spreading such tales. Even if the tidbit might give you some kind of leverage over the person gossiped about, it’s very bad form to be part of this tangle of negativity by subtly or overtly encouraging the gossip to continue.

Change the Subject

Suppose you have coffee with some co-workers before heading into work or dashing off to your desk. In the middle of exchanging pleasantries, talking about the great game your child had yesterday, making plans for lunch or after work, one of your co-workers says with a hushed voice, “Did you hear that Marsha (your boss) is having an affair with Dave (her boss)?”

Instead of immediately requesting details, the best course of action here is to change the subject. Tell your gossiping co-worker that you have to go, you’ve got a project that’s due, you forgot something in your car, or something else. Without an audience, the gossiper will have no one to dish to. And you’ve helped possibly halt the transmission of office gossip – at least with you and for now.

Don’t Make Time for It

It’s not always non-stop work at the office. There are periods of downtime as well. It could be during a coffee break or lunch or walking from one meeting to the next, in the car on the way to an office function or on the phone chatting when you have a minute. It’s during such times that gossip can be inserted as a way to shake things up, keep work interesting or attempt to garner support for someone with an ulterior motive.

You, however, have the power to not be a part of this. All you need to do is not make time for it. When you refuse to participate, the gossiper can’t draw you in. Use whatever statement or action works best for you, but just don’t allow yourself to be swept up in the gossip.

Don’t Confuse Gossip with News – It Isn’t

Most gossipers have a great lead, as if what they’re about to say carries the importance and timeliness of news. You’ll know fairly quickly if what comes after the headline – or even the headline itself – is legitimate news or something else, like gossip.

While the person spreading the gossip wants you to believe and join in the gossip trail, you know instinctively that this is not good for anyone. It won’t help you in your dealings at work, won’t elevate you in the eyes of others (who trusts a gossiper, anyway?), and may very well come back to bite you.

Again, use your most effective tactics here to get away from the gossiper, but never confuse gossip with real news.

Think How You’d Feel

If you want to know the effects of gossip, put yourself in the shoes of the person being gossiped about. Think how you’d feel if everyone was saying these awful things about you. That sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, knowing that others are spreading gossip about you? Multiply that by 10 and it won’t even come close to the damage insidious office gossip can create.

Watch What You Say

If you start a conversation with “You can’t tell anyone…”, it’s almost guaranteed they will as soon as they’re out of your sight. For this reason, watch what you say to others. Before you say anything, think about why you’re saying it, what purpose your words have and what the effect may be on whoever hears them.

Will your comments be taken as literal, fact, rumor or innuendo? Is this something that you really need to say? Suppose you are behind on a project and need help to get it in on time. Ask for help, but don’t blame your shortcomings on someone else on your team, sabotaging them behind their back. Rally those whom you know you can count on, especially people whom you’ve helped in similar circumstances.

Confront the Gossiper One-on-One

When you’ve heard negative office gossip and especially if you are in a position of authority, the best way to stop it in its tracks is to confront the gossiper directly. Do so in a private location where no one else will hear the discussion – and seek to spread even more gossip about the goings on.

Let the gossiper know that what he or she is doing is harmful to others, and can result in disciplinary action or other negative consequences. While the gossiper may have thought their actions harmless, reminding them that gossip is anything but may be enough to quell it.

Model the Best Behavior

If you’re the boss, the leader of a team, or just one of the employees who contributes to the overall company’s success, you can make a difference when it comes to dealing with office gossip. How you do this is to model the kind of behavior that’s proactive, positive and uplifting.

This is called leading by example and is something that every employee can do. By showing through your words and actions at all times what is acceptable behavior, you will be serving as a role model for others.

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How Your Memory Suffers with Poor REM Sleep

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Photo by Jordan Whitt

Do you find yourself yawning during the day? Are you tired, listless and can’t seem to focus on the task at hand? Is it difficult to remember things – like what you have on your to-do list, what you did an hour ago, the promises you made yesterday?

You could be suffering from the effects of poor sleep.

Thanks to a study published in Science by researchers at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute at McGill University, and the University of Bern in Switzerland, there’s new awareness that rapid eye movement sleep, or REM, plays a direct role in the formation of memory.

REM sleep, also called dream sleeping, is actually the fourth and final stage of sleep. This sleep stage is characterized by rapid eye movement back, shallow breathing, heart rate and blood pressure increase, and paralysis of the legs and arms.

Although scientists already knew that the brain stores newly acquired information into different types of memories. These are spatial or emotional memories. After they are stored, they are consolidated or integrated.

But how this brain function performs has remained a mystery until the researchers proved, using optogenetics, that REM sleep is critical for the normal spatial memory formation in mice. Optogenetics is a recently developed technology that helps scientists to precisely target a population of neurons and control its activity by light.

REM sleep has long been considered a critical sleep component in all mammals, not just humans. Poor sleep quality is also becoming increasingly associated with onset of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

The results from this study suggest that disrupted REM sleep may be a direct contributor to the kind of memory impairment that those with Alzheimer’s disease exhibit.

But disrupted REM sleep isn’t good for anyone, not in the short- or the long-term.

 

How to Ensure Good REM Sleep

If disrupted REM sleep is wreaking havoc with your memory, there are some things you can do to ensure you get back to having a good night of REM sleep.

  • Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages – particularly in the hours just before you head off to bed. While alcohol may make you drowsy, it interferes with REM sleep. Caffeine, meanwhile, negatively affects REM sleep. So drink that latte earlier in the day.
  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress that is supportive of your body.
  • Watch out for taking certain medications, including decongestants and diet pills, because they also have a negative effect on REM sleep.
  • Medications taken to promote sleep, both prescription and over-the-counter medicine, work to suppress REM sleep.
  • Cigarette smoking is also counter-productive to a good REM sleep. That’s because nicotine withdrawal wakes the sleeper prematurely, thus disrupting adequate REM sleep.
  • Maintain a comfortable sleeping environment. If the room where you sleep is too hot or too cold, it will interfere with your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. That’s because the body loses its ability to regulate temperature during REM sleep. So, if you wake up because you’re shivering or in a sweat, your REM sleep is disrupted. It may be a while before you fall back asleep, and your REM sleep may not be enough.
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule. Retire for the night at a consistent time and wake up at the same time each morning. When you maintain a regular sleep schedule, you’ll be giving yourself more opportunity to cycle between the various sleep stages and experience longer REM sleep later in the night.
  • Get rid of all distractions in the bedroom. Light from electronic devices, such as smartphones, tablets, television and computers stimulates the brain, cuts down on the production of melatonin that encourages REM sleep, and can mess up your body clock. Technology is a huge culprit in sleep-deprived individuals.
  • Exercise at least 20 to 30 minutes daily – but do it 5 or 6 hours before you’re ready to go to sleep. Daily exercise has been proven to both help you sleep and allow you to stay in REM sleep longer.

 

If you try these techniques and still have a problem getting adequate REM sleep, a visit to your doctor might be in order. There could be an underlying medical condition that needs attention. For most people, however, understanding the various stages of sleep and the things that typically interfere with REM sleep, and taking proactive steps to counter them usually works.

 

Now, go ahead and get some good ZZZZs.

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10 Biggest Daily Work Time-Wasters

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There are only so many hours in the day to get things done. Knowing this, sometimes does it seem like you’re constantly chasing down the clock, scrambling last-minute to finalize projects, gather your thoughts and make it home in one piece?
Could it be that you’re wasting precious time doing things that are unnecessary, low priority, out of sequence or simply the wrong things at the wrong time?

Here’s a look at some of the biggest daily wastes of time at work. See if you recognize your time-wasters among them.

Time-Waster #1: Checking texts and tweets

If you can’t bear to miss what could be important texts and tweets, you’re likely guilty of FOMO (fear of missing out). In reality, most of the instant messages, texts and tweets can wait for later. It’s all too easy to become hooked on checking, replying and checking again cycle. No wonder you can’t get anything done at work, home, school or elsewhere.

What to do: Only check texts and tweets on a pre-determined schedule. And don’t make that too often or you’ll defeat the purpose.

Time-Waster #2: Addicted to email

Email is a necessary part of doing business. It’s also the bane of productivity at the office, home business, on the road and so on. If you always have your email client open and notifications pop up on the taskbar or chime to let you know another email’s arrived, you’re engaging in highly unproductive behavior. Not only are you inclined to rush to that incoming email to see what it’s about, you’re also taking your concentration away from the task you’re engaged in.

That’s not conducive to good work habits. And it won’t win you any points with the boss – unless, of course, the email is an urgent one from your superior.

What to do: Set specific times to check emails, say at 9:00 a.m., Noon, and 3:00 p.m. Don’t be tempted to interrupt your schedule to peek. That’s defeating the purpose.

Time-Waster #3: Multitasking

You’re not a superpower. That means you don’t have the ability to perform multiple tasks simultaneously. Somehow, however, you’ve come to believe that you’re really good at juggling several things at once.

You’re not.

What to do: Prioritize your day, setting a specific time to accomplish each task. Work to complete one before beginning another. By focusing on one task at a time, you’ll train yourself to finish it in the allotted time. You’ll probably do a better job at it as well.

Time-Waster #4: Reacting, not acting

How much of your day is spent reacting to something others foist on you, interrupt you with or feel you have to comment about? If you’re always reacting, that robs you of time you could better spend taking action.

What to do: While you can’t stop all interruptions, you can figure out how to deal with them more effectively. Don’t answer the phone when you’re in the middle of a project. Let it go to voicemail. If someone asks you to help them, say you’ll be glad to when you’re finished with what you’re doing.

Time-Waster #5: Doing personal stuff

Everyone does it. That doesn’t mean tending to personal stuff when you’re supposed to be working isn’t a huge time suck. Hoping you can post to your social media or sneak some errands in before your boss notices is not the best strategy. And you’re more likely to extend the time than cut it short.

What to do: Use your lunch break to take care of personal matters, such as updating social media, gabbing with friends, etc. Let others know they can reach you during this time, not when you’re working.

Time-Waster #6: Endless surfing the Web

The Internet is a wonderful resource, but it’s also the perfect venue for wasting time. Not only can you get lost by following different links, the temptation to endlessly surf the Web is almost irresistible.

What to do: Here is a case where you really need to set limits. If you can’t engage in a quick peek when you’re researching something for work, set your surfing aside and indulge in it during lunch break or after work. At least finish what you’re working on now. Otherwise, the end of the day will arrive and you’ll have wasted it.

Time-Waster #7: Looking for things

Where did that report go? You know it was just here, but you can’t seem to find it in the pile on your desk. If your work area – or the area where you do work – is cluttered, scattered and messy, you are wasting time you can’t afford.

What to do: Spend 10 minutes at the end of the day to clear your desk. File what needs to be kept. Recycle or shred documents no longer needed. Make your workspace neat and tidy. This will add to your efficiency tomorrow and cut down on wasted time.

Time-Waster #8: Little breaks that go on forever

Stretching a coffee break into longer than necessary is another common time-wasting practice. That smoke you just have to have (even though you’ve promised yourself you’d quit) seems to take you away from the job far more often than it should. These constant little breaks are adding up to a lot of lost productivity. Not good.

What to do: While mini-breaks, as in, looking away from the computer or getting up to walk around every 15 minutes, are good, heading out for too many breaks is counter-productive. Cut them to mid-morning, lunch and mid-afternoon and you’ll find you’ve gained back some of that time you lost.

Time-Waster #9: Meetings that go nowhere

Who doesn’t hate unproductive meetings? The fact is that many meetings lack a solid agenda, meander without ever accomplishing their goal, degenerate into argument or reach no consensus.

What to do: Distribute an agenda prior to the meeting (if you’re the one calling it). If you’re an attendee/participant, encourage others to stick to the agenda. Most important, if a meeting isn’t necessary, elicit ideas and input another way, perhaps via email.

Time-Waster #10: Nonproductive in-between time

Your workday isn’t all alone-time at your desk. It’s comprised of meetings and phone calls and time in-between meetings. These windows of 15-30 minutes are often completely wasted.

What to do: Instead of doodling at your desk, using the time to check social media, emails and engage in other time-wasters, try to schedule meetings back-to-back. The time you save can then be grouped into a single block of time, possibly later in the day. That allows you uninterrupted time to actually get something done.

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6 Reasons to Love Routines

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With everything you have to do on a daily basis, it can sometimes get to be a bit too much. It doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO of a startup, a small business owner, a home-based entrepreneur trying to juggle kids and family and still tend to your company, everyone struggles to find balance and figure out effective ways to get things done.

Here’s where routines come in handy. In fact, instead of considering daily routines as something boring or to be avoided at all costs, routine should actually be your friend.

I know I’ve come to appreciate the value of routines. Here’s why:

 

Routines are comfortable

Like that outfit you automatically reach for in the closet because you can just be yourself in it, a routine that’s established offers comfort.

You don’t have to worry that it isn’t the right one or try to figure out which one to use. You’ve got it down, know the steps, what to do first and what follows after that.

Less worry, more comfort. How easy is that?

 

Routines are familiar

When faced with something strange, the natural tendency is to shy away, to wonder if this is perhaps out of your league, to procrastinate until a deadline or demand forces you to take action.

On the other hand, even when you know you’re likely to encounter moments requiring you to make a decision today, you can still rely on the familiarity routines provide.

Familiarity in routines is like a dear friend. You know what to expect. There are no surprises. When I’m on autopilot – especially first thing in the morning when I’m not quite fully awake – my familiar routine is a blessing.

 

Routines are easy

While some routines can become unnecessarily complicated, the best ones are simple and easy to follow.

Who wants to think too hard about which part of the routine requires additional steps before you can begin? What you want is the cleanest, most straightforward and basic routine to make doing it as easy as possible.

The key is to break the routine into small, easy-to-follow steps. This helps cement it in your memory and you can pull it out whenever you need it.

 

Routines offer security

A lot of times you don’t get to choose what you have to work on today. Your boss, teacher, parent, friend, neighbor, acquaintance or associate or someone else lays down the itinerary for you. More than likely, they also insist on a deadline.

Not knowing what’s coming when tends to make you a little insecure. Enter the security of your familiar, comfortable and easy routine. Nothing like going back to basics to reestablish calm and give you the sense that you do have control over what you do.

Whenever I feel things getting out of control, I take the time to indulge in one of my favorite routines. Mine is having a delicious latte. The whole process of anticipation, making it and sipping it never fails to make me feel great.

 

Routines help you get started

Pressure to complete multiple projects often results in an unwillingness to begin on any of them. It may seem like the more you have on your to-do list, the less inclined you are to get started.

The beauty of routines is that they serve as a neat primer to get your energy revved up. Consider a routine as the spark that ignites the gasoline to power the car or the fuel in the breakfast that nourishes your body and mind.

Whether you make use of a routine to get up in the morning or go to bed at night – you might even refer to these as rituals — what you do before tackling a difficult or time-consuming project at work, or something you do before having an important conversation, routines are very good at helping you get started.

 

And sometimes we all need a little help doing that.

 

Routines serve as a transition or bridge

It’s a well-known fact that human beings can’t run flat-out for long periods of time. There are only so many all-nighters you can pull before your body gives out.

A routine makes transitioning from one state of energy, focus or concentration to another a little less jarring. It also helps to smooth the way from one task to the next by factoring in a buffer zone to refresh and regroup.

One of my favorite routines helps me do just that. It’s also good exercise. After working on a task for about an hour, I get up and walk downstairs, go outside to do something small in the garden (another familiar, comfortable and easy routine), or take a walk.

 

What are your favorite routines? Do you have some you use only in certain situations or that you find are more effective than others? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

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Can You Name Your Top 5 Goals?

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Chances are you want a lot more out of life. And you’re well aware that success requires ongoing effort, a plan and willingness to do what it takes.

So, why are you floundering? Or are you just confused, unclear or unmotivated?

When the thought occurs to you that you’re not where you want to be, the next question to ask yourself is, “What are my goals?”

This basic self-query is essential to achieving anything in life, whether it’s success in business or career, at home, school, in relationships, and in finding happiness and purpose.

Goals are the key.

With this in mind, can you name your top five?

If not, all is not lost. Here’s help to get you back on track.

 

What All Good Goals Have in Common

Goals are as plentiful as grains of sand on a beach. They’re also as unique. Your goal for achieving success at work is different from mine, from that of your friend and co-worker, the neighbor across the street, your best pal in high school.

Yet good goals have a few characteristics in common:

  • They’re meaningful, highly desirable to the individual.
  • They can be separated into smaller, specific goals for different parts of your life (such as career, relationships, health, self-fulfillment, hobbies, etc.).
  • They’re realistic.
  • They’re achievable.
  • They generate inner excitement.
  • They spark enthusiasm and drive to achieve them.

 

How to Understand What Really Matters

Everyone’s heard the story about the patient who learns she has only six months to live. What will she do with that remaining time? A lot gets clarified in a hurry when time is short.

Translate that to your situation – and that means putting yourself in the life and death scenario. Think about the people and dreams that are most important to you. Are you making progress toward doing what makes you most happy and fulfilled?

Suppose you always thought that having $100,000 in the bank would be a sign of success, that this was a worthwhile goal. Is the bank statement showing you’ve got $100,000 in your account a manifestation of what you believe is truly important in life?

Will it sustain you and bring you comfort over the next 180 days?

Granted, it’s painful to envision the end of your life. Yet this exercise may help you drill down to the essence of your values and beliefs. It may be easier to strip away the nonessential and hone in on goals that really do make a difference.

These will be the goals that are meaningful, can be broken into workable parts, are realistic, achievable, exciting and motivating.

 

Step-by-step Process to Achieving Goals

After you’ve completed your self-awareness analysis and gotten to the crux of what means most to you, you’re ready to begin work on goals.

Specifically, this is an eight-step process to achieving goals:

  1. Identify goals. Remember the various aspects of your life that matter? Take the time to write down goals that affect your career, attitude, health, relationships, financials and more.

 

  1. Prioritize goals. Assign a number to each, from most- to least-important. Do this for each category.

 

  1. Create sub-goals. While you have already identified primary goals, each of these need to have sub-goals that you create. A sub-goal is a goal that must be achieved before you can succeed in attaining the primary goal.

 

  1. Develop intermediate goals. Take each goal category and list what you feel you need to achieve in several timeframes: a month, six months, one year, five years and 10 years. Make these intermediate goals specific. Write them down.

 

  1. Do a present status assessment. Next, figure out where you are today relative to your goals. If you find that you’re far short of where you need to be, consider what you need to do to either change your circumstances or reconstruct your goals. This isn’t giving up on your goals. It’s revising them to acknowledge the constraints you’re experiencing while still giving you the opportunity to achieve them.

 

  1. Get used to achieving goals. You want to become familiar enough and comfortable with attaining goals. Once you succeed, instead of considering that you’re done, revise the goal again to the next level up. As you gain more self-confidence with continued goal achievement, you will experience continued growth.

 

  1. See yourself being successful. A crucial part of goal setting and achievement is actually visualizing yourself a success. Engage in a little daydreaming here to see how that success looks, sounds and feels.

 

  1. Set a timeline and plan. Having gone through steps one through eight, you’re not done yet. Now it’s time to put down a timeline and a specific plan in order to achieve each of your goals.

 

The more you go through this process, the easier it will become. After a while, it’s going to become second-nature. Instead of struggling to figure out where you’re going from here or not knowing what really matters, you’ll have an instinctive blueprint.

You may not end up with five top goals. You may have only three, or you could have 10. The number isn’t important. What matters is how these goals help you to live a vibrant and purposeful life.

If they don’t, are they really that important after all?

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How To Help Your Child Combat Loneliness

 

lonely child

Photo by Max Goncharov on Unsplash

“You are never alone. You are eternally connected with everyone.” – Amit Ray

 

Many children, especially latch-key kids who must fend for themselves while one or both parents work, suffer from loneliness. Some have it worse than others. I can relate, having endured years of loneliness as a child. While I’m not a trained child psychologist, some of the basic habits I used to overcome loneliness may be helpful to parents of lonely children, as well as to the kid themselves.

By all accounts, I was a lonely child. My older brother, usually charged with watching over me, couldn’t be bothered to play as we were separated by four years. It might as well have been 10, for his friends teased him about babysitting his sister and his interests were far different than mine. With no other kids in the neighborhood my age, this generally resulted in me spending hours by myself. I envied my brother’s many friendships and how happy he seemed to be when around them. I wished desperately for someone to play dolls with me, to cook on my Easy-Bake oven, to build marvelous creations with Legos or Lincoln Logs, all to no avail.

My parents both worked and when they were home, there were chores to do, dinner to prepare and dishes to clean afterwards. I helped as much as I could, yet I was mostly in the way of getting the meals to the table on time. This made me feel left out and didn’t help with how lonely I felt all the time. Little did I know that some of the daily activities I took for granted would greatly assist me in becoming more externally-motivated and less prone to dwelling on how sad, depressed and lonely I felt.

Reading

A bright spot for me turned out to be reading. My love of the written word began early as my mother read to me every evening, no matter how tired she was and how much laundry or other tasks remained to be done before she could rest. I loved the colorful photographs in these books and remember vividly the wondrous tales told by L. Frank Baum in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and other chronicles, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and a host of other books. I started reading books on my own before age 5 and my mother took me to the public library once a week to borrow several to keep me occupied for the next seven days. I quickly graduated from typical children’s books to ones with fewer pictures and longer chapters. I read through complete series, several genres at a time, always eager to see what was new at the library.

What reading did for me was open me to new worlds. I identified with the characters, their challenges and journeys, their triumphs and heartbreaks. I wasn’t alone any longer, now that I had a repertoire of favorite characters.

My strong recommendation is that parents today adopt the practice of reading stories to their children. The earlier this habit begins, the better it is to help develop the child’s imagination, foster a sense of self-empowerment and discovery, and a willingness to try new things. It doesn’t take a great deal of time, either. Just 15-20 minutes a night on a consistent basis will work wonders. Research also shows that curiosity helps children become better at math as well as reading. This is a win-win.

Playing with Dolls

I became an expert at play almost when I began to walk. As a young girl, I had several dollies (my word for my little companions). I’d dress them in various outfits for activities we’d do and little excursions we’d take. The occasional mishap, where a head or limb would fall off during tree-climbing or other strenuous pursuits, didn’t faze me. My dad was, among other things, an expert carpenter. He could literally fix anything. I know. I watched him do it.

How, though, did playing with dolls help me overcome loneliness? For one thing, I developed the art of casual conversation, talking with my little charges as if they were human. I even spoke their responses so that everyone both participated and got their turn to say what was on their mind.

Naturally, this jumpstarted my imagination, as every day the girls (all my dollies were girls) wanted to experience something new. We had tea parties, played hide-and-seek, picked wildflowers in the field behind our house, sampled strawberries and blueberries from our truck garden and got dirty weeding and picking off caterpillars and other insects clinging to the vegetables.

Lots of girls, and some boys, still like playing with dolls. Whether they’re Barbie and Ken or Wonder Woman, Superman or some other action hero toy, such play stimulates curiosity, enriches the imagination and pushes the boundaries inherent in isolation. Besides, if your children do have friends, it’s wonderful to take the dolls on a little road trip to play with other dolls. This is a childhood pastime that never seems to go out of style, for good reason: it works to keep children amused and occupied with healthy activity.

Making Things

Our family was modest of means when I was growing up. I didn’t know this, however, until it came time to buying a new toy or dress or something I fancied for Christmas or my birthday. My mother was the one to let me know we couldn’t afford the most expensive item, although she usually cloaked that disappointment with an acceptable substitute. She’d help me make a new wardrobe for my aging dolls, or she’d take me to the sewing center or fabric store to let me pick out ribbons for a new sash to freshen my dress, or other items for my hair.

She encouraged me to make what I wanted as well, whether that meant fashioning toy cars from cereal boxes or constructing buildings and houses from leftover cardboard, bits of wood my dad gave me, using twigs for trees and flowers for bushes in the communities I fashioned at the side of the house. To an adult, it might have looked like a mud pile or merely an odd arrangement. My parents, however, knew these were my creations and told me how creative my designs were. Thus, began my lifelong interest in making things, seeing how to extend the life of items, transform them into something new and useful. It was also a trait that others found helpful, and I soon had friends who wanted to make stuff with me.

Instead of automatically replacing what’s broken, out of style, a little threadbare or cracked, encourage your child to figure out ways to redeem the item. Recycle various parts, give them a coat of paint, regard them as trusted family members worthy of respect and friendship. This helps your child develop problem-solving skills, discover talents they didn’t know they had, and instills a sense of pride and self-accomplishment. Besides, knowing how to make things is a skill they’ll use the rest of their lives. People gravitate toward those who can be so self-sufficient.

Spending Time in Nature

Another habit I cultivated early was being outdoors. My parents made it a point for their two kids to spend time outside, no matter the weather or season. While we didn’t know they needed alone time, we didn’t need any prodding to scurry out to play. My brother, of course, raced off to be with his friends, while I had plenty to do with my village creation, picking wildflowers, walking the cat on a leash (he didn’t much care for that). There was sledding and ice skating in the winter, making leaf houses in autumn, and so much more. Since there was a city park adjacent our house, I got lots of exposure to nature. Plus, families picnicked in the area and I was often invited to play with all the kids they brought along. Even though I might never see them again, we had lots of fun.

It’s a memory I treasure today. My parents could see me from the window, so I was never far away. I also knew to stay within calling range, so I’d be on time for dinner. Granted, things were much safer decades ago. People were more trusting, and trustworthy. Still, outdoor activity and leisure pursuits are excellent ways to banish loneliness.

Go for walks in nature with your children. Take vacations to visit state and national parks. Go to amusement parks, zoos and wildlife habitats with them. How can you be lonely when you’re able to witness such abundant life, the riches of nature? In addition, you’ll be helping your kids to appreciate what this world has to offer, and love of being in nature is a healthy habit they’ll likely pass on to their children as well.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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15 Ways to Increase Your Happiness

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5 Secrets to a Happy and More Productive Life

5 Secrets to a Happy and More Productive Life

Photo by Austin Schmid on Unsplash

“Sometimes it’s the smallest decisions that can change your life forever.” – Keri Russell

 

Everyone has a favorite theory about what constitutes a happy life. Likely you know a few people who’ll readily tell you theirs. Allow me to share my five secrets to a happy and more productive life.

Only do what matters.

On any given day, we’re assailed with nonstop demands on our time, from the insatiable fount of hard-to-discern-what’s-valuable information on the Internet, to work, home, entertainment, invitations from friends and colleagues, junk mail, spoof robocalls and more. No wonder it’s become paralyzingly difficult to carve out chunks of time to devote to yourself. By prioritizing everything you must do, however, and giving weight only to what matters most to you, what you deem essential to accomplish today, you’ll find that you’re less distracted, cut down on daily stress, and find pleasure in completing task, projects and pursuits that are paramount.

Instead of letting others dictate what should matter to you, make sure you are the sole arbiter of this distinction. When you control what you feel is important, you’re taking the first proactive step to not only simplifying your life, you’re also enriching the precious 24 hours you have to live today.

Love what you do.

No doubt many have found themselves in dead-end jobs, forced by economic circumstance to take and keep whatever gainful employment was available. By resigning yourself to forever being less-than-satisfied with your means of bringing income into the home, however, you’re likely to lose out on a priceless and crucial ingredient in living a happy and more productive life. When you love what you do, every day is filled with opportunity, hope, discovery and purpose. Even challenges, major or minor, will not dissuade you from your enthusiasm, diligence, willingness to take risks, or forego immediate gains for long-term progress.

Here’s what happened to me. When I was raising two small children myself, I took an entry-level job in the purchasing department of a major automaker. I did very well there, all the while earning two college degrees at night. My supervisors wanted to promote me to the position of buyer, but I declined. I heard about a job in the public relations department, interviewed for it and got the position. At last, I was able to make use of what I had learned in school and every day flew by. I received incremental promotions and eventually rose to the executive level, even though there were some disappointments along the way (losing a plum reporter’s job during a major financial downturn and being reassigned to financial analyst position, for example).

Granted, it takes some imagination and a well-thought-out plan to see past the pigeonhole job you may be in right now (like my stint doing budgets, paying bills, analyzing and forecasting how the department could afford a mid-year new-car press preview). You can get beyond this unsatisfying stint and leave depression behind, starting with an adjustment to your mindset. Do the best you can with everything you do, no matter how menial, whether it’s considered drudge work no one else wants, or beneath your talents. How you meet challenges is a testament to your creativity and problem-solving, two traits that will serve you well wherever you go in life. So, be the best barista ever. Welcome guests as you park their cars. Find satisfaction in creating an efficient filing system. Think how you’re instilling a sense of wonder in your small children as you distract them from sibling rivalry or engage their curiosity when they complain of boredom. Offer suggestions when asked in company meetings. Become an expert in your area, so that you’re looked to for answers.

It’s by loving your part in excellence that you widen your sphere of influence, expand your horizons, and go on to bigger and better things.

Engage in your passions.

Think about what gets you excited, what you can’t wait to do. The origin of this excitement is your passion. And passion is what makes life extraordinarily rich and rewarding. How sad that so many people put off doing what they find pleasurable because of a sense of duty, citing lack of time, or that it’s not right to have fun when there’s so much work to do, or some other excuse that robs them of vitality and fulfillment.

What I love is a lengthy list of pursuits and hobbies. These include reading, writing, gardening, travel, trying out new recipes, mastering a difficult challenge, getting several degrees in my chosen fields. When I’ve deprived myself of my passions, I’ve suffered the consequences. There’s no point in telling yourself that you can do this another time or that you just shouldn’t waste time on this, for tomorrow may never come. You don’t have to take all day to do what you want for free or play time, just take a small amount of time for yourself. Watch that comedy. Stroll through the mall and check out interesting sales. Linger on the nature trail to notice what’s changed since last you were here. Engage in continuous learning so you’re always reaching for the next level, expanding your horizons, and making new friends.

Be true to yourself and your values.

When you live in accordance with your values, you are living in integrity. No one can take your values from you, although many people hide what they believe and are afraid to live according to their core values out of a mistaken idea that they’ll do better by going along with what others or the majority believe and do. Herd mentality never serves anyone well, least of all the person of integrity.

Granted, you may have to buck the trend to be true to yourself and your values, but isn’t living in harmony with what you believe worth it? It is so much more life-affirming to live what you believe than to exist in a discordant state. For my part, among the many instances where I was torn between my beliefs and values and doing what was considered appropriate for me (by others), was when I took the exam to get into law school. Attorneys make a very good living, and if I became a lawyer, I thought, all my money troubles would be over. I did well enough on the test and began to take law classes. I hated every minute of it. That career choice was short-lived. I did a deep soul search and realized I owed it to myself to believe in my talent to write, and to find a career that allowed me to make use of my gifts.

Share your joy with others.

Spreading your enthusiasm and showing your happiness and joy can be contagious. If you are happy and filled with enthusiasm, others cannot help noticing. Your positivity can at least cause them to rethink their outlook for today, to entertain the possibility that things may be better than they thought and potentially improve their mood, subsequent interpersonal exchanges and action.

I’ve always enjoyed people-watching when I get my morning latte at my favorite coffeeshop. Instead of standing in line like a robot, waiting to be assisted, I find something congenial to say to the person in front or behind me. I do so with a smile. Invariably, I both surprise and delight the individual, who generally reciprocates with a smile and pleasant banter. It’s nothing consequential, yet it spreads a positive emotion and embraces human connection.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

11 Ways to Simplify and Enjoy Your Life More

How to Keep Frustration From Blocking Your Goals

Combat Stress With Mindful Walking

7 Tips on Calming the Noise of Life

10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

15 Ways to Increase Your Happiness

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Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more.

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How to Remain Focused in an Increasingly Distracting World

How to Remain Focused in an Increasingly Distracting World

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

“One way to boost our will power and focus is to manage our distractions instead of letting them manage us.” – William Goleman

 

I know I’m not alone in being easily distracted. In fact, with the proliferation of smartphones, smart TVs and other home devices, I’d venture a guess that all this burgeoning availability and use of technology contributes to societal distraction, not the opposite. Indeed, it’s so easy to succumb to the siren call of an incoming tweet or message, to pore through social media for hours to see what’s happening, to feel included, in the know, popular and liked that zeroing in on tasks at hand or what’s really important today can get lost in the competition for our attention.

After missing a few deadlines and failing to accomplish more than one pressing task, I embarked on a mission to teach myself how to remain focused – despite the lure of incessant distractions around me. Maybe some of the tips I’ve discovered that worked for me will help you find focus as well.

Take a personal time-out.

No, this isn’t a recommendation to go sit in a corner as punishment for bad behavior. On the contrary, when you opt for a personal time-out, what you’re doing is opening space to clear your mind and allow focus to return. I find that taking my time-out is most useful when I can feel my heart rate increase, my breath becomes shallower, and I sense the pressure of not enough time to get something done. In fact, it’s at these times that taking a pause is the best way to address digital distraction overload – literally.

During a personal time-out, it’s important to do nothing. That means no multi-tasking jotting notes, listening to TV news, reading emails, posting on social media, doing laundry or whatever. Put aside everything else and be in a quiet place where you can let your mind go blank. I like meditation, although yoga is also a great practice to utilize. As difficult as this may be for always-on-the-go and ever-connected individuals, stopping the whirlwind distractions for a short time is the only way to calm the noise and regain balance, equilibrium and sense of well-being. Trust me, after some trial-and-error, you’ll find this technique works. When you return to your day, you’ll likely be better rested and even find solutions or answers to problems or questions pop into your head without effort – almost as if they only needed the space to come out and be noticed.

Learn self-discipline.

Discipline often gets a bad rap, associated for years with punishment doled out by parents, educators, law enforcement, the court system and others. Yet, discipline is an integral part of learning, self-growth and success. Without discipline, no one would ever learn the multiplication tables or why you shouldn’t bang your sister over the head when she snatches your toys. The discipline to continue higher education by taking a series of ever-more complex and difficult courses is required to achieve a desired degree. It’s much the same way when it comes to self-discipline and how that can help you regain focus in today’s distracting and distracted world.

How does self-discipline in this context work? Take losing yourself in social media for hours as an example of distraction that erodes focus. Using self-discipline as a technique here means setting and adhering to limits on time spent with this activity. It must be something meaningful and workable in order to work, however, or you won’t wind up benefitting. If you say you’ll only devote one hour per day to social media, and it will be late afternoon once you’ve finished work, reward yourself with unfettered access to your social media for that allocated hour. Do not allow yourself to be tempted to sneak in a few furtive peeks when you’re supposed to be engaged in other tasks – like work, school, tending to the kids.

Now, the fact that research shows that teens spend up to nine hours per day using social media platforms and adults devote 4.7 hours per day on smartphone and other connected devices only shows how formidable the pressure of nonstop distractions is. Combatting this obsession will require cultivating some measure of self-discipline. The ultimate reward, though, when you exercise self-discipline to be gadget-free will be your ability to focus and remain focused when you need to.

Reap the benefits of family face-to-face communication and interaction.

The joke about family disconnection that’s not funny is played out daily in homes throughout the country. Mother, father and kids are at the dinner table and everyone’s on their smartphone. Communication between family members is often via text – while in the same room, ostensibly sharing a meal! Talk about lost opportunity for family bonding, parents and children sharing their day’s experiences.

Where all this broke down is anyone’s guess, but it likely had much to do with the proliferation of smartphones and the skyrocketing popularity of social media. Instead of face-to-face dialogue, where differences can be ironed out in real-time and by using visual and auditory clues, emojis and abbreviated language and shortcuts sabotage genuine conversation for a quick exchange, albeit less satisfying.

Granted, kids may not want to look their parents in the eye when they’ve gotten a bad report card, got caught speeding, or mom and dad are likely to grill them on their friends, who’s going to chaperone the party they want to attend and so on. For their part, parents may much rather issue vague generalities or denials of anything wrong than let on to the kids. Hiding from the truth, however, in this form as well as others, does nothing to confront and solve problems. Least of all, it aids and abets resorting to distractions as a coping mechanism.

How about instilling a family rule that says there’s no use of technology at the dinner table? Be prepared for intense opposition, even for yourself, as curbing the use of smartphones and such won’t be easy. Tell yourself that the benefits of seeing and hearing what’s really going on instead of getting it third-hand will be more than worth the temporary separation from the distraction of tech devices. After all, for many families, mealtime is the only block of time they share. Make it free of distracting interruptions. Make this family time count by focusing on what’s real and happening now.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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How to Keep Frustration From Blocking Your Goals

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11 Ways to Cultivate Resilience

11 Ways to Cultivate Resilience

Photo by Simon Schmitt on Unsplash

“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” – Carl Jung

 

Bouncing back is a concept well understood in the context of recovering from a sports injury. Following favorite players’ comeback stories fills fans with inspiration, encourages perseverance in pursuit of personal goals, and fosters a sense of self-confidence, like we can do it if they can. Cultivating resilience in the face of all life’s challenges is a proactive way of dealing with the unexpected, the upsets and disappointments, the pitfalls and successes in life, including how to cope with trauma, chronic pain, adversity and tragedy.

RESILIENCE: WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT

An article in Forbes defines resilience as “the capacity for stress-related growth” and states that resilience has two parts related to the way you bounce back and grow:

  • From big work or life adversity and trauma
  • From dealing with daily hassles and stress

A study in Health Psychology showed that the frequency and intensity of repeated or chronic everyday life strains is strongly associated with overall health and illness, even more so than major life events.

A 2013 study found that exposure to chronic frequent negative emotion and the inability to process daily stress exacts a long-term toll on mental health.

Resilience, say researchers in an article published in Trauma, Violence & Abuse, can manifest either as “prosocial behaviors or pathological adaptation depending on the quality of the environment.” If individuals suffering from lasting effects of trauma and adversity have access to resources that help them cope, they will be more likely to develop prosocial behaviors that may facilitate healing.

Rolbieki et al. (2017) explored resilience among patients living with chronic pain and found that they showed resiliency in four ways: developing a sense of control (actively seeking information and conferring with their doctor to confirm his/her recommendations; actively engaging in both medical and complementary treatment; making social connections and exhibiting acceptance of pain and positive effect.

One surprising finding is that chronic stress accelerates aging at the cellular level – in the body’s telomeres. These are the repeating segments of non-coding DNA at the end of chromosomes. Scientists have discovered that telomeres can be lengthened or shortened – so the goal is to have more days of renewal of cells than destruction or wear and tear on them.

Researchers suggest resilience should be regarded as an emotional muscle, one that can be strengthened and cultivated. Dr. Dennis Charney, co-author of “Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenge,” says people can weather and recover from trauma by developing and incorporating 10 resilience skills, including facing fear, optimism and social support. Dr. Charney, resilience researcher and dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, was shot as he exited a deli. Following the shooting, Dr. Charney faced a long and difficult recovery. The resilience researcher himself had to employ strategies of coping he’d studied and taught.

The American Psychological Association (APA) says that resilience isn’t a trait that people either have or don’t. Instead, resilience “involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.”

WAYS TO CULTIVATE RESILIENCE

Among the varied ways to develop and cultivate resilience, some are more self-evident than others, yet each is worth a try when attempting to weather life’s challenges.

Act.

Even small steps add to a sense of accomplishment, of being proactive instead of reactive. Start with something you feel confident you can do and ask for help if you need it. There’s a lot to be said about self-empowerment when you act in your own best interests. After all, no one else can act for you.

Add to coping resources.

Everyone can benefit from having a toolkit of effective coping resources. Combat stress, depression, anxiety and other emotional, psychological and physical issues and conditions through meditation, mindful yoga, exercise and whatever helps you relax, including reading, music, doing puzzles, painting, writing and more.

Learn flexibility.

Instead of regarding your situation as no-win, steer towards an attitude of flexibility. Learn the art of compromise, as in, “I may not be able to run a marathon, yet I can manage a walk in the neighborhood with friends.” In addition, when running into fatigue or pain that prevents you from continuing, congratulate yourself on your effort and the fact that you acted to improve your resilience. Over time, you’ll get stronger and be able to do more, thus adding to your resilience and helping to improve your overall physical and mental health.

Practice optimism.

Science says that some optimism is genetic, while some is learned. You can train yourself with practice in positive self-thinking to see opportunity instead of a dead-end, to view a glass as half full instead of half empty. There’s also truth in self-fulfilling attitudes. If you believe you’ll be successful in overcoming adversity, you’re more likely to succeed. The opposite is also true: If you think you’ll fail, you probably will.

Take advantage of support.

When you need help, it’s OK to ask for it. In fact, when you know you have support available and are willing to use it, you’re exercising prosocial behavior. Similarly, when you can do so, offer your support to others who may need it.

Avoid personalizing.

There’s no point in engaging in blame or endlessly thinking about your situation. Besides being counter-productive, it makes you feel worse. Make use of some of the healthy coping measures you’ve successfully used before and stop ruminating about what happened to you.

Regard the setback/disappointment as temporary.

Nothing lasts forever, not even life-altering events, trauma, adversity and pain. You can navigate through this turbulent and emotionally trying time by realizing that this is temporary, and things will get better with your active involvement in your healing process.

Write your new story.

Psychiatrists and psychologists call this “reframing” and it refers to changing your story to focus on the opportunities revealed. For example, say you’ve returned from active deployment in a war zone with extensive physical and psychological injuries. Instead of remaining steeped in the negative aspects of your experience, allow yourself to center on other senses, traits, skills and resources you have at your disposal – your empathy, understanding, ability to solve problems, a wide support network, loving family and close friends.

Cultivate gratitude.

When you are grateful and actively cultivate gratitude, you are taking advantage of a basic part of resilience and in contentment in life. The more you develop gratitude, the more resilient you’ll become.

Remind yourself of other victories.

This may be an intensely challenging time for you, a time when failures and negativity seem paramount and inevitable. Now is when you must remind yourself of your past successes, examples of seemingly impossible hurdles you’ve overcome, victories you’ve scored. This serves as self-reminder that you’ve come back from adversity before. You can do it again.

Enhance spirituality.

Religion and spirituality have been shown as predictors of resilience in various populations studied, including returning war veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), trauma sufferers, children and adults who experience abuse or violence, patients enduring chronic pain. Prayer, self-reflection, communicating with a Higher Power serves as a healing balm to many who otherwise may resort to negative coping behaviors, such as drinking and drug use.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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10 Tips on Reaching Your Life Goals

10 Tips on Reaching Your Life Goals

Photo by Nghia Le on Unsplash

“Having an aim is the key to achieving your best.” – Henry J. Kaiser

 

It’s normal to wonder what you want to accomplish with your life. Sometimes such thoughts occur only intermittently, typically at milestone events such as high school graduation, entering college, getting a first job, meeting someone who becomes a romantic interest. Other times, though, you might dismiss any focus on future goals due to a more immediate concentration on what’s happening now. Still, life goals are important, for nothing worthwhile can be achieved without having a plan and working to succeed. These 10 tips on reaching your life goals may be helpful to do just that.

View goals as growth and aim high.

Having a goal is part of the growth process in becoming an adult. What’s often underappreciated, however, is what it takes to achieve those goals. It is more than merely thinking of the goal, working on it and then succeeding. One point that’s both straightforward and can make the achievement of even the loftiest goal a bit less formidable is to aim high. There can be immense satisfaction in knowing that the process of goal attainment helps you grow. Another crucial aspect of successfully achieving important life goals is to put into place specific plans to help you realize the goals.

Include stretch goals.

Why is aiming high recommended? For one thing, it always helps to have stretch goals. Like it sounds, a stretch goal is one that you know is beyond your current reach, yet it is highly desirable. A stretch goal will require you to put in a great deal of thought, time and effort to be successful. It’s not something easily attainable or a goal that you can do with barely any thought or effort. While some successes you have are accomplishments, most aren’t all that memorable. Stretch goals involve challenges, going beyond your comfort zone, entertaining the possibility that you may be in a little over your head – for now. On the other hand, when organizations set stretch goals for employees, it may serve to undermine organizational performance.

Always have several goals.

In line with regarding goals as growth is the recommendation to always maintain a list of several goals. These can consist of starter goals, which can be goals you’re just investigating or want to try to see if they hold your interest, intermediate goals, such as a stepped approach to landing a coveted career, or long-term goals that may include where you want to one day retire, how many children to have, whether a one-on-one relationship is what you want. The reason to have several goals is so that you always have something to work toward that you consider valuable and worthwhile. The more a goal interests you, even if it’s considerably far off, the more motivated you’ll be to put in the time and effort required to see it through.

Give careful consideration to goals when planning.

To be truly memorable, and worthy of intense concentration and effort, your goal should cause you to think long and hard about how to approach it, when, where and how to revise or adapt it to changing circumstances, and what to take away from it one you either succeed, stumble, or discard it. For there is always a lesson or two to learn. Those who are most successful in achieving their stretch goals are the ones who’ve taken the time to master the lessons they learned during mistakes.

Stagger goals.

When putting your goals into a list, make sure to include a rough timetable for completion. It’s also wise to space out more complex, difficult or time-consuming goals so that you’re not trying to work on more than one of these at once. That’s scattering your focus and depleting your physical, emotional and psychological resources. Besides, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Sure, you can chip away at some of the easier goals to get some successes to your credit, while still putting in appropriate time, effort and attention before or after the no-brainer goals working on your high-value goals.

Be realistic, yet adventurous in goal-setting.

Does aiming high include taking risks? You bet. When a goal is stimulating, gets you excited and eager to begin, it’s also likely to contain an element of risk. You might not achieve it, at least not at first try. On the other hand, the journey toward life goal completion is an adventure, as it should be. Do be realistic about the goals you set, while still seeing yourself successful in some seemingly unattainable goals you’d like to master. Besides, research shows that goals that retain your interest can both improve your work and help reduce burnout.

Take note of past goal successes.

No matter what your goal, you’ve likely had some experience already in something similar. If not in totality, at least directionally, by aspiration, training, skill or talent. Such successes are the reservoir you can draw from for inspiration, motivation, and lessons learned. They can and will serve you well in any goal you want to pursue in life. You succeeded because you had a plan, persevered despite obstacles, found the lesson in mistakes, and were flexible enough to quickly adapt to changing circumstances.

Be flexible in goal implementation and be sure to monitor progress.

Recognizing that you might not fully realize a goal the first time you attempt it, keep in mind that flexibility in how you proceed with goals is crucial to ultimate success. What appears to be a rock solid plan may turn out to be less than ideal. Revision is not only advisable, but necessary. If you’re locked in and refuse to adapt and adjust, you will not only increase your frustration and stress, but you’re also much more likely to abandon the goal altogether. It’s also good strategy to monitor your progress toward goal achievement, as such regular check-ups increase both motivation and likelihood of success.

Allow room for error.

You can’t know everything, nor can you anticipate every possible circumstance before working on your goals. Succeeding in important life goals involves acknowledging, allowing and even accepting that you’ll make errors, mistakes, fall short on some aspects, perhaps undershoot the mark. Seniors with cognitive impairment may find themselves making more errors and mistakes than they did when younger, yet they’re still able to work toward life goals and gain a measure of fulfillment from both the pursuit and completion of goals they deem worthwhile. Practice patience, both if you are older and have trouble with concentration, focus and follow-through, or if you are the adult child, sibling, co-worker, friend or neighbor of someone who’s having a tough time succeeding with their goals.

Recognize some goals may feel uncomfortable – and that’s good.

Perhaps the best advice on reaching your life goals is to go for goals that are a little disconcerting. That is, they give you a twinge of uncertainty, even feel a bit uncomfortable. Why is that good? You want to strive to achieve goals that are yet beyond your reach. If they’re too easy, or too quickly achieved, you may not gain as much satisfaction, wisdom or advancement from their completion. That’s not to say that quickly-accomplished goals shouldn’t be on your list, just that the ones you really need to work for may be more meaningful to your life goals.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related posts:

Success May Be Elusive, But It’s Possible

Success Means You Make Things Happen

How to Keep Frustration From Blocking Your Goals

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11 Ways to Simplify and Enjoy Your Life More

 

11 Ways to Simplify and Enjoy Your Life More

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

“Our life is frittered away by detail…simplify, simplify.”Henry David Thoreau

 

If the idea of simplifying your life is appealing, you might be more motivated and likely to get started on this goal if you can find an easier way to do it. Complicated lists filled with difficult tasks won’t get the job done.  What will, however, are ways that are both easily-understood and generally easier to do and have the added benefit of helping you get more enjoyment out of life. Here are 11 to try.

Streamline your to-do lists.

Most efficiency and time-management experts recommend streamlining items on your to-do lists. There’s good reason for this, since having less items staring you in the face daily helps remove the gnawing impediment of impossible-to-achieve success. Maybe you have 20 tasks, projects and objectives you’ve told yourself are essential. That’s too many. No wonder you get frustrated and abandon or put off working on them. Start by paring the numbers, doing away with the nonessential and non-value-added ones.

Focus on quality, not quantity.

It’s easy to lose enthusiasm and get lost in the muddiness of details, timelines and complexity of too many goals. Instead of generating momentum, the opposite is likely to occur. The solution? Once you’ve pared your to-do lists, focus on delivering quality results, not half-hearted and hastily completed items that add up to an arbitrary and too high a number. Remember, you’ll get more satisfaction out of producing a quality result than several that are less-than-your-best effort versions.

Do what matters most to you personally.

Simply put, when you do what you find valuable and focus on what matters most to you personally, you’re much more likely to be motivated to begin with and to follow through to completion. Tackling goals, projects and tasks that you don’t feel strongly about or that don’t align with your values will drain your enthusiasm as well as your energy. It will also add complexity to your life that will leave you feeling less satisfied overall. On the other hand, when you get to work on what excites and interests you, time will fly, and it will seem less like work and more like fun. Isn’t that a terrific way to enjoy your life more?

Create desirable goals and create workable plans to achieve them.

In line with streamlining to-do lists and focusing on quality over quantity, another highly-recommended way to simplify your life and enjoy it more is to create desirable goals and workable plans to achieve them. You may identify an overarching goal, such as getting your college degree, buying a home, getting married and starting a family, or a few seemingly-unrelated goals, even some that are tangential. If it stimulates your interest enough to research and pursue, it’s worth adding to your list. Keep in mind that goals and plans are a work-in-progress strategy, something you revise as your interests and objectives change, you achieve some and identify others. It’s also a great feeling to tick off the successes as you make your way through your goal list.

Eliminate sources of stress – and find effective ways to keep stress at bay.

Stress, especially chronic stress, depletes you in every possible way. There are numerous physical consequences of stress, as well as emotional and psychological ramifications of this insidious condition. Learn how to recognize stress, whether the cause is something at work, relationship oriented, self-generated, or environmental. Get rid of the stress sources that you can and then research and put into practice effective ways to keep recurring stress from negatively affecting your life. One proven method to reduce stress is exercise, and experts say almost any exercise will help to manage stress.

Focus on a few true friends.

Trying to please 100 friends or follow up and stay in contact with a 1,000 or more social media contacts is a losing proposition. Casual contacts, commenting on posts, celebrating milestones is one thing, but you simply cannot maintain high-quality friendships with that many individuals. Instead, single out those who you value as true friends. Spend one-on-one time with them as often as possible and practical and be truly with them when you are together. This is both satisfying and personally enriching as well as adds to your overall well-being and life enjoyment.

Clean out your closets and de-clutter your surroundings.

A UCLA study on “The Clutter Culture” found that the need to constantly reward ourselves with material things, to offset the stress of the workplace and life in general, instead contributes to increased stress. At least it did for moms in the survey of American families. One of the quickest ways to get busy simplifying your life is to literally clean out your closets and buckle down to declutter your surroundings at home. Researchers in the study found that participants mentioned parking their cars on the street, so they could store accumulated stuff in the garage and piling the dirty laundry in the shower because there’s no other convenient place to stash it out of the way. How many of us have garments and objects ferreted away in the closet and drawers that have never been used, still have the price tags on them and have gone out of style? Start with your wardrobe and keep going from there. Once you’ve got piles of things you never wear or use, are still serviceable and potentially useful to others, donate them to a worthy charity. Recycle, repurpose or toss out everything else. Trust me, this suggestion is very effective in both simplifying your life and helping you find more joy in it.

Practice gratitude daily.

There must be something you’re grateful for, even if what that is does not spring immediately to mind. Start by acknowledging the gift of life today. Go on to express mental thanks for all that you’ve been given, whether that’s good health, recovery from illness, accident or injury, a satisfying job, plentiful friends or something else. Being grateful is a personal sentiment in the sense that you’re putting out to the universe a thank-you for what you value. The more you practice gratitude daily, the more your well-being will improve and the happier with your life you’ll be.

Enrich your spirituality.

Along with expressing gratitude every day, find ways to nourish and enrich your spirit and your spirituality. This may mean going to the church, temple or synagogue or being outside in nature and reflecting on a Higher Power. It may involve meditation, yoga, visualization exercises, imagery, focused breathing or some other technique to connect you to your inner self and the overarching meaning of life. A sense of connectedness to the universe, to the God as you know Him or Her is always beneficial in expanding your enjoyment of this precious life on earth, altogether fleeting and worthy of spending what time you have well.

Make time for yourself.

It isn’t selfish or self-centered to carve out time to do what gives you pleasure. On the contrary, making time for yourself is an endeavor that’s both life-affirming and produces a sense of joy and satisfaction. Go for that walk in nature. Meet with friends. Relax with a good book. Garden. Pass the hours involved in a hobby, gardening, sports or other form of relaxation or activity. You’ll know you’ve simplified your life if you feel good about allocating time in your daily schedule to do what you like. It will also make today much more enjoyable.

Live in the present.

In addition to creating space and room in your life through simplification of non-essential, non-value-added items and activities, focusing on doing what matters most to you personally, spending time on yourself, eliminating sources of stress, prizing a few true friends, creating desirable and workable goals and plans, exercising gratitude, nurturing your spirituality and embracing quality over quantity, you’re primed and ready to accept and practice living in the present. This is also called mindfulness. Frankly, the present is when you live. You cannot relive the past or experience the future. Today is it. Make the most of today by fully being present in the moment. It doesn’t get any simpler or better than that to enjoy your life more.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related posts:

7 Tips on Calming the Noise of Life

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Self-Care: The Most Important Person to Take Care of Is You

 

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10 Easy Ways to Increase Your Energy Levels Naturally

10 Easy Ways to Increase Your Energy Levels Naturally

Photo by Jared Erondu on Unsplash

 

“You are responsible for the energy that you create for yourself, and you’re responsible for the energy that you bring to others.” – Oprah Winfrey

 

I’m all about doing what I can do in a better way. This includes taking proper care of my health and watching my energy levels throughout the day. There’s no denying that a busy lifestyle contributes to a drain on how much energy you feel you have, yet there are natural ways to boost your energy levels that are easy and relatively quick to do. After doing my research, I’ve discovered that science backs up the merits of the following 10 easy ways to increase your energy levels.

Lower stress.

Stress is a huge culprit when it comes to drained energy. When you’re stressed-out, you’re likely worn out as well. If you suffer from chronic stress, the effect is cumulative and can result in worsening physical and mental conditions over time. Most stress is the result of anxiety, worry about things you have no control over or agonizing over making the wrong decisions, even worry about decisions you know are right. In short, living with non-stop stress will zap your energy like an electronic bug killer. Figure out healthy ways to lower your stress levels and you’ll find that you have more energy daily.

How can you lower your stress? Do whatever relaxes you, whether that’s reading an engrossing novel, going for coffee with a friend, watching a favorite TV show or movie, exercising vigorously, gardening, playing sports, working on a hobby, taking a drive, going out for dinner and so on. It isn’t what you do but how relaxing the activity makes you feel that will lessen the tension and reduce stress.

Eat more nuts and fish.

Studies of women with magnesium deficiency showed that the women felt physically exhausted much of the time. Why? When you have magnesium deficiency, your heart beats faster and requires more oxygen to get things done. Natural sources of magnesium that are low calorie and delicious include almonds, cashews and hazelnuts, as well as fish such as halibut. Recommended daily magnesium allowances are 300 milligrams for women and 350 milligrams for men.

Get out and walk.

Perhaps one of the simplest ways to boost energy levels is to go out for a walk. How can it be that engaging in physical activity such as walking increases your energy? It sounds contradictory, yet the science is sound. A brisk 10-minute walk is enough to elevate energy levels and the effects last up to 2 hours. Do regular daily walks and you’ll have not only increased energy and stamina, your mood will also improve.

Drink lots of water.

Another nasty culprit causing lack of energy is dehydration. Simply put, when you’re dehydrated, your body is starved of life-saving water. You may not realize that you’re thirsty, though, and by the time that you do, you’re likely dehydrated. Sometimes, you think you’re fatigued when the truth is that you’re dehydrated. You also might confuse hunger with thirst, thinking you need to eat something when what you really need is water. There is a simple solution: drink lots of water at regular times throughout the day. Strive for eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily. If you have trouble downing that much plain water, go for fruit-flavored, sugar-free water. In so doing, you’ll be benefiting every organ in your body, including muscles, which are re-energized with water. You’ll also find that you’ve got a little more energy by exercising your water-drinking habit.

Cut back on sugar.

Besides contributing to a thicker waistline and more pounds on the scale, eating a diet high in sugar will also leave you feeling drained. While sugar initially spikes blood sugar and provides an energy boost, that increased energy is short-lived, quickly followed by a rapid blood sugar drop. You may feel wiped out consequently. If you’re like me, however, adding a natural sweetener to morning lattes and hot tea is an absolute must. I’ve become an aficionado of Stevia, a no-calorie natural sweetener that tastes 30 times sweeter than table sugar. Another natural sweetener I’ve decided to try is coconut sugar, which has 20 calories per teaspoon (the same as table sugar), but it is an excellent alternative to regular sugar for baking.

Meditate.

If you’re a fan of yoga, you might already know that the Savasana pose (also called the corpse pose) is beneficial in reducing fatigue. I was unaware of this, not being very proficient in yoga, yet willing to learn. The Savasana pose is what you do at the end of your yoga session. It looks like taking a quiet nap on the floor while resting on your yoga mat. You are resting, yet fully conscious for the 10-20 minutes you allocate for this restorative energy exercise.

Eat breakfast every day.

Your mother probably told you that breakfast is the day’s most important meal. That advice echoes what nutrition experts have said for years. It’s tempting to skip this vital meal, though, especially when busy schedules mean every minute counts, yet don’t fall for that excuse. It doesn’t have to be a long, sit-down affair for you to gain the benefits of breakfast. Just make sure you eat wisely. Go for breakfasts that help you power up your morning. As Harvard Medical School experts points out, include whole grains, fruit and protein – and eat at home, not from a fast-food eatery.

Add power snacks to provide energy between meals.

It might seem a long way to dinner or your next meal, especially if you’ve been engaged in vigorous physical activity or concentrating on a complex work project. The healthy solution here is to snack on some power foods to give yourself an instant energy lift. Do a combination of fat, protein, a little bit of fat and fiber and you’ll be doing yourself and your energy levels a favor. Try a low-fat, low-salt (or salt-free) cracker with peanut butter or enjoy yogurt with a small handful of nuts.

Try a 1-hour power nap to prevent burnout.

Experimental research conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that participating subjects who took a 60-minute power nap were able to prevent burnout. Like physical effects of stress that cause fatigue, mental performance during repeated cognitive tasks, especially stressful ones, can simulate feelings of fatigue and low energy levels. While not everyone has the luxury of taking a 1-hour nap every day, if you do opt to take time for a snooze, remember that 60 minutes is more beneficial in preventing burnout than a half-hour nap.

Tend to your emotional health.

Depression and anxiety often make you feel exhausted, tired all the time, lacking energy and desire to do much of anything. If you are otherwise healthy, yet you feel constantly fatigued, examine your life for what may be bothering you emotionally. If you’ve experienced depression or anxiety that persists for two weeks or more, consider getting professional help. Psychotherapy can help you overcome these debilitating issues and help regain your normal energy.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

10 Health Benefits of Daily Exercise

10 Ways Stress Harms You

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7 Tips on Calming the Noise of Life

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10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

 

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15 Ways to Increase Your Happiness

Photo by Anders Jildén on Unsplash

Photo by Anders Jildén on Unsplash

Life is so busy, hectic and filled with challenges. There are also myriad opportunities for personal enrichment, satisfaction, friendship, love, finding purpose and doing good for others. Still, while the desire for and pursuit of happiness can sometimes seem elusive or fleeting, there are effective ways to increase your happiness.

Find joy in the little things.

For most people, life consists of an accumulation of small moments. There are, of course, momentous events that occur in a person’s life that can precipitate a dramatic shift, changing direction, embarking on a new path. Still, everyday life goes on, populated with small, seemingly inconsequential moments. It is in the little things that you can find your joy and boost feelings of happiness. When you allow yourself to be joyful, it’s easier to find joy. While that may sound too good to be true, it works. Feel the deliciousness of descending into cool water in a lake on a hot day. Savor the aroma and taste of a favorite meal and enjoy the presence of loving family. These are the little things that are too often taken for granted, yet they are great contributors to happiness.

Start each day with a smile.

This is more than a simple suggestion. It’s backed by science. When you smile, you not only trigger smile muscles in others, according to research, you also benefit. Smiling activates neural brain circuits associated with well-being and happiness. It also feels good to smile, especially when you do it regularly.

Connect with others.

The power of social connection to boost happiness and well-being is another area explored by researchers. The construct of time, for example, motivates people to choose being with family and friends more than working – behaviors associated with greater happiness. Other research found that happiness is a “collective phenomenon,” with people’s happiness dependent on the happiness of those with whom they connect.

Do what you’re most passionate about.

If you get swept up in what you do for a living, barely noticing the passage of time, or can’t wait to get to your job or do things with your children or participate in an activity with friends, you’re engaging in what you find most passionate. Pursuing your passions is highly conducive to increased happiness and, contrary to a mistaken notion that to do so is selfish, when you do what you’re most passionate about, you’re helping develop your potential, broadening your horizons and contributing to higher self-esteem and overall well-being.

Reflect on your blessings and be grateful.

Everyone has something in their life to be grateful for. Most of us have many, many blessings. A simple ritual of daily reflection is enough to center in on them and allows us to take a few moments to express personal gratitude for all that we have been given in life. Good health, loving family, satisfying relationships, an enjoyable career – the list is endless and highly personal. There’s also a scientific basis for the statement that gratitude helps increase happiness, demonstrating that it also helps protect you from negativity, stress, depression and anxiety.

Choose to be positive and see the best in every situation.

A positive attitude is scientifically proven to increase happiness and well-being. How can you develop a positive attitude and learn to see the best in everything? It does take practice and a willingness to confront your fears and reject their power to control you. If you’ve always seen life as a glass half-empty proposition, turn that assumption around and strive to see situations as a glass half-full. Other research has found that positive emotions can even counteract the effects of adversity.

Take steps to enrich your life.

Seeking knowledge, exploring unknown areas, pushing yourself to go beyond your current skill set or experience, striving to learn something new – these are steps each of us can take to not only enrich our life but also maximize personal joy and happiness.

Create goals and plans to achieve what you want most.

If you expect or desire to achieve a certain standard of living, aspire to earn a college degree, receive a promotion, buy a house, marry and have children or any other goal you find meaningful and purposeful, you must identify the goal first and then create action plans to help you achieve what you want.

Live in the moment.

Worry about the past or anxiety over the future are both counterproductive and a waste of time. Instead, to add to your happiness quotient, change your mindset so that you live in the present. Another way of saying this is to be present. When you focus on now, this moment, you are more aware of your surroundings, your breath, how you feel, what’s going on with your loved ones, family, friends, co-workers, other drivers and everything in your immediate environment. You’re alive and fully aware of it. Being present is a proactive way to increase your happiness and something anyone can do.

Be good to yourself.

Overeating, drinking too much, staying up all hours and other bad habits aren’t good for you physically or mentally. Instead, embark on a lifestyle that includes healthy behaviors: eat nutritious foods, cut down or cut out alcoholic intake, get sufficient and restful sleep, hydrate well, exercise regularly and take frequent breaks so that you give yourself breathing time between tasks. You’ll be healthier and happier because of being good to yourself.

Ask for help when you need it.

There are times when you know you’re overwhelmed and will not be able to finish what you started. In addition, you may run into unexpected problems or difficulties while you’re working at a task or pursuing a goal and don’t know what to do about it. There’s no shame in asking for help when you need it. In fact, it’s a sign of good mental health and a positive attitude that you’re comfortable doing so. Another person may have a suggestion that works or discussing what’s perplexing you may stimulate a solution you hadn’t realized before. Similarly, if you’re bogged down with financial problems, asking for assistance to overcome them will help you figure out a path to get past this difficulty. Asking for help allows you to get unstuck and move ahead toward your goals.

Let go of sadness and disappointment.

Why torment yourself with thoughts of how sad you are or how disappointed you feel because you didn’t immediately succeed in a task or goal, lost a friend or loved one, can’t pay your bills or don’t see a clear path to your future? Stewing in sadness and disappointment will only further erode your feelings of self-worth and chip away at your self-esteem, not to mention cause your happiness to plummet. Let go of those toxic feelings. Seek professional counseling if the problem worsens or doesn’t go away after two weeks. Remember, you deserve to be happy. To get there, ditch negative emotions and replace them with more uplifting ones.

Practice mindfulness.

There are many forms of mindfulness and meditation, sometimes called mindfulness meditation. Whichever style you prefer, when you find one that fits, make regular use of it. One example is loving kindness meditation — opening hearts to positive emotions. Research shows that it not only increases positive emotions, but also personal resources and well-being. This type of meditation has many other benefits, including increasing social connectedness.

Walk in nature.

The benefits of getting outside and walking in nature have long been documented as easy, convenient ways to increase happiness. For one thing, the physical act of exercise releases endorphins in your brain that elevate mood and make you feel better. Walking in nature also highlights other aspects of joyful, happy living such as a greater appreciation of natural beauty, thankfulness that you’re alive and healthy enough to be physically active, helping to tone your body and improve cardiovascular, lung and other vital bodily functions.

Laugh, and make time for play.

It’s almost impossible to see someone else laugh and not be affected by it. Indeed, laughter is not only contagious, it also constitutes a big part of play.  What is playing? It is the act of doing what gives you pleasure, engaging in discovery, letting your creativity flow. Laughter can reduce levels of stress and inflammation and benefit heart functioning.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

7 Tips on Calming the Noise of Life

8 Healthy Reasons to Ditch Your Bad Habits

10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

Can You Name Your Top 5 Goals?

 

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In Search of Better Sleep

Photo by Alberto Restifo/Unsplash

“Sleep is the best meditation.” – Dalai Lama

 

After a year of emotional upheavals and health challenges, I resolved to enter 2018 with a singularly proactive step: getting more restful, productive sleep. It can’t be coincidental that numerous sleep studies caught my attention, as my subconscious mind probably directed me to find them. I already know, as do most of us, that sleep is necessary for the body to rest and replenish, as well as heal, yet there are many more aspects of stages of sleep and effective sleep that I’ve discovered in my quest to become more sleep-proficient.

NIGHTMARES: MORE COMPLEX THAN YOU THINK

As someone who’s been plagued by vivid nightmares many times in the past, and sometimes even the present, I welcome research that provides a more complete picture of this nighttime torment. Ever wake up in absolute dread, feeling a sense of impending doom, like you can’t escape the horrible dream you just awakened from? That’s a nightmare, and who wouldn’t relish the opportunity to learn more about them as well as how to overcome them?

It makes sense to me that, as a study in Brain and Behavioral Sciences reported, the form and content of dreams is not random, but constructed by the brain in an organized and selective fashion. Furthermore, certain types of waking experiences profoundly affect dreams. Study authors proposed that the function of dreaming is to simulate threatening events, and then rehearse both threat perception and threat avoidance. Weinstein et al. (2017) found that waking-life psychological need experiences are reflected in daily dreams. Another study published in Stress and Health linked need frustration to higher stress, leading to greater evening fatigue and subsequent poorer sleep quality and shorter duration of sleep.

University of Montreal researchers found that nightmares have more emotional impact than do bad dreams, and frequently contain themes of physical aggression – death, health concerns and threats. Researchers learned that men more often have nightmares involving calamities and disasters, while women’s nightmares centered on themes of interpersonal conflict twice that of men.

During the dream stage of sleep, called REM (rapid eye movement), the sleeper’s brain processes emotional experiences and can promote healing from the reactivation of memories of the event, say researchers. This is thought to happen due to low levels of norepinephrine, a brain chemical associated with stress, during REM sleep and results in a stress-free environment in which to process emotions. The sleeper awakes the next day with those experience memories softened, thus, better able to cope. This finding holds promise for new treatment for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

IN SEARCH OF BETTER REM

If REM sleep is so important in sleep hygiene, I wanted to know more about how to achieve a higher quality and longer duration of this vitally important sleep stage. An intriguing 2015 study by Japanese researchers identified a neural circuit in the brain in mice that both regulates REM sleep and controls the physiology of non-REM sleep, another major sleep stage. Of interest to me was a 2017 study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology that found that people who get less REM sleep may be at greater risk of developing dementia.

Checking recommendations on the web for improving REM sleep, I found several that seem to be self-evident:

  • Avoid alcohol before going to bed.

Alcohol interferes with the various stages of sleep and can result in restless sleep, interrupted sleep, and less high-quality REM sleep as well as deeper, more restorative sleep.

  • Skip that late-day caffeine.

Since caffeine is a stimulant, sleep experts advise curtailing any caffeinated drinks (lattes, coffee, espresso, sodas and teas) later in the day. Drinking caffeine just before retiring can result in an inability to fall asleep or remaining asleep.

  • Mind your meds.

Certain medications can have a negative effect on sleep. This includes both prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as herbal remedies. Check into their effects on sleep and ask your doctor if there are other medications that can be substituted that won’t interfere with sleep.

  • Curb the urge to smoke late in the day.

Nicotine interferes with sleep. Heavy smokers are prone to be light sleepers, which cuts down on the amount of REM sleep they achieve nightly. Complicating the matter is the fact that nicotine withdrawal during the night causes heavy smokers to wake more often, which makes it hard to fall into REM sleep or maintain it.

While I don’t smoke or drink, I do like my daily lattes. Sometimes I have one in the afternoon and, now that I’m more knowledgeable about the effects of caffeine, I understand why my sleep is erratic. I also take a few prescription medications, although they do not cause me any sleep problems.

Other helpful tips to achieve better REM sleep include meditation, setting a relaxing sleep routine (getting ready for bed), arranging a comfortable sleep environment, and even adding an extra 60 to 90 minutes of sleep. The latter is because REM sleep occurs in cycles every 60 to 90 minutes, so in theory, adding that extra hour to hour and a half should provide another chance at REM sleep. I’ve implemented each of these to my sleep program and attest to their effectiveness.

I also bought and wear a monitoring device on my wrist that helps me keep track of my steps, heart rate, calories consumed, and amount of time spent exercising. Through an online dashboard, I can log my food, water intake, weight and see the results of my nightly sleep. This smart technology allows me to see my sleep patterns and view the results in graphs (showing the various stages of sleep) as well as minutes/hours in each stage, where I am in comparison to benchmark, and 30-day average. It has proven immensely valuable in helping me achieve better REM sleep.

DEEP SLEEP RESTORES THE BODY

If the mind and emotions become revitalized during REM sleep, when does the body get the opportunity to recharge itself? Researching this question, I learned that the third stage of non-REM sleep, called N3, delta sleep, or slow wave sleep, is the deepest stage of the nightly sleep cycle. It’s during N3 that the body repairs itself and, in fact, the body requires deep sleep to perform other vital functions such as building muscle tissue, healing wounds and regenerating cells. The kidneys clean the blood and organs detoxify during the deepest stage of sleep as well.

Sleep experts say that deep sleep typically occurs in longer periods during the first half of nightly sleeping, with the first N3 episode lasting from 45 to 90 minutes and subsequent deep sleep episodes of shorter duration. N3 decreases with age, sleep is intermixed with wakefulness, and is considered normal. Minus other factors, does not indicate presence of a disease or disorder. During this time, muscles relax, breathing and heartbeat slow further, and brain waves (measurable on an EEG) become even slower. It is very difficult to awaken someone in deep sleep.

Factors inhibiting deep sleep that you can control include mitigating stress – especially pre-bedtime stress – and controlling the temperature of the sleep environment. If the room where you sleep is too warm, getting to sleep will be more difficult, since the body drops temperature when it’s ready to sleep. Too warm and you’ll be restless. In addition to adjusting room temperature to between 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit, make sure sleeping clothes, bed linens and pillows are conducive to cooler sleeping.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

How Your Memory Suffers With Poor REM Sleep

The Incredible Value of Dreams

10 Ways Stress Harms You

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How to Feel Normal Again

How-to-Feel-Normal-Again

Photo by Jad Limcaco on Unsplash

 

“The possibility of stepping into a higher plane is quite real for everyone. It requires no force or effort or sacrifice. It involves little more than changing our ideas about what is normal.” – Deepak Chopra

 

When I was a young girl, I often felt as if I was not normal. It wasn’t that I had a noticeable birth defect or considered myself ugly or stupid, though. My feelings likely stemmed more from a sense that I was too sensitive or fragile or in need of protection and couldn’t stand up for myself. I had an older brother who sometimes was tough on me, yet I loved him dearly. He was my protector against the bullies in the neighborhood. Still, I wondered why I didn’t feel normal. My quest to achieve what I considered to be normal took many years. Maybe some of these hard-learned tips can help others learn how to feel normal, or normal again.

Let go of preconceptions about being normal.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice about how to feel normal again is to let go of any preconceived ideas as to what normal means. Forget ascribing metrics or characteristics or boundaries and limitations to what is possible and what is real, and therefore normal. Instead, expand thought to the point that normal is not constrained, nor is it rigid. Normal evolves, as it should, as nature intended.

Normal is a construct of ideas and changes day to day.

Consider that what we consider normal one day may seem abnormal another time. What seems impossible can be viewed as possible. What never occurred to us before may suddenly pop into our thoughts as an idea that’s tantalizingly accessible and real. We didn’t have a house when I was an adolescent, yet I had school friends who lived in nice homes with big yards. Their life seemed normal, while mine did not. A few years later, however, my parents were able to buy a house and we did have a nice yard with roses and other flowers in neatly manicured gardens. This felt normal. Being able to help my Dad cultivate the roses and peonies (I learned how to graft various kinds of rose bushes together) instilled in me my love of gardening. Today, it’s still one of my passions.

There is no training required to feel normal.

It isn’t necessary to go through physical or mentally grueling tests or regimens to feel normal. Likewise, there’s no need for a mentor or to join a group. A side benefit is that there’s no cost or penalty involved in feeling normal. And there’s also no reason to take mind-altering drugs, alcohol or any other substance to feel normal.

Trust in the simplicity of being true to your feelings.

Normal is not extreme or going to extremes to feel normal. To realize that you’re normal, that you feel normal, it helps to trust in the simplicity of being true to your feelings. Know that you’ll feel awkward and out of place at times, or disappointed, upset, angry, possibly in pain, depending on what’s happened recently, your physical condition, any undue stress or pressure at work, school or home. Know that it’s OK to feel bad sometimes. In fact, it’s a sign that you’re human if you feel emotion deeply during times of grief, tragedy, heartbreak and compassion, as well as happiness, joy, pride and more. Acknowledge what you feel, then go on about your day. In other words, be true to your feelings, yet not enslaved by them.

Create goals and word to achieve them.

I didn’t receive the kind of recognition my brother did and somehow that made me feel like I might lack some innate ability or intelligence. It’s not that I felt stupid because I didn’t. It was more that my brother seemed to always know the right answer. Just ask him. The plus side of this is that I always knew I’d get an answer from him if I asked – and he felt like giving it to me. Still, I saw how he went after goals and I strived to do the same. Each success I earned, however small, boosted my self-confidence and added to my self-esteem. It’s a lesson that stuck with me. Always have goals you’re working toward. When you achieve one, create another to replace it. This allows you to always be forward-looking, motivated and optimistic – all traits that help you feel normal again.

Be good to yourself.

It isn’t being overindulgent to take loving care of yourself. In fact, it’s indicative of a healthy reverence for your overall well-being, a part of feeling normal. Get sufficient rest each night so that you awake revitalized and ready for the day. Eat well-balanced meals. Engage in vigorous exercise on a regular basis. Avoid excessive intake of sugar, fats and carbohydrates, including alcohol and junk foods, for consuming too much can be unhealthy and contribute to jitteriness, bloating, gastrointestinal distress, intoxication, sluggishness and more.

See each day as an opportunity to grow.

What will today bring? If you wake up with this thought – after, of course, you’ve given thanks for the gift of today – you’ll be priming yourself to see what’s good and hopeful in whatever happens. Even if you encounter disappointments and setbacks, they won’t deter you from learning the lessons they contain and seeing opportunities to grow.

Seek professional help if you need it.

None of us has all the answers. Nor do our assortment of loved ones, family and friends. For certain experiences and diagnosable conditions, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), prolonged grief, substance use disorder and others, the only way to regain a sense of normalcy is to seek professional help. Learning how to let go of outdated beliefs and self-perceptions, to learn how to successfully cope with difficult situations or an inability to function through psychotherapy and evidence-based therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization therapy (EMDR), relaxation techniques, mindfulness meditation and others may help restore both functionality and the ability to feel normal again. There is no shame in seeking help. Rather, it is proof of a recognition that you need objective, trusted assistance and that you’re willing to do what it takes to heal.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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