#144 Give Up Your Favorite Beverage for a Day.

It’s a reminder to your psyche that YOU have authority over your actions.

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#144

Give up your favorite beverage for a day.

If you happen to be reading this just as you move your favorite coffee cup up toward your nose, simultaneously enjoying the aroma and the bold flavor of liquid caffeine… I apologize. Yet – any negative reaction to the suggestion is further evidence that it may be just what you need.

We tend to get sewn into our habits and that morning cup of coffee, tea, lemon water, the evening frosty mug of beer, or the stemless glass of wine are easy habits to do without much thought or consideration; and that’s the danger. Some habits aren’t necessarily good for us. Indeed, it has been postulated that any  habit at all is rather detrimental if we have little awareness of it.

Perhaps the best part of making a decision to give up your favorite beverage for a day is the subliminal (or direct) understanding that YOU are in control of your being. It’s a reminder to your psyche that YOU have authority over your actions. Far too often I hear people say… “I couldn’t help it” or “I don’t even realize I am doing it” when it comes to habits. Paying attention to something as automatic as pouring a cup of coffee or a glass of wine helps you to raise awareness overall.

It’s a simple suggestion and a simple effort that helps you stay focused on the little things. Make a decision to…

Give up your favorite beverage for a day.

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below

#146 Plan a Surprise for Someone You Love

We love the dopamine rush when we pull off a surprise and many of us enjoy the experience of receiving these kinds of gestures.

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#146

Plan a Surprise for Someone You Love

This suggestions will elevate happiness for both you and someone special in your life. Surprising someone is always fun but planning a little (or big) surprise for someone you love is the best! For this particular post, the intent is to up your game romantically.

Dopamine Rush

A lot of us made this part of our early romantic life. We commonly offer the unexpected as a way of initiating romance. We love the dopamine rush when we pull off a surprise and many of us enjoy the experience of receiving these kinds of gestures. Coming home to an impromptu candlelight dinner… a hot drawn bubble bath with spa music… being whisked away for a steamy night in a local hotel room… These kinds of surprises turn up the ‘you’re special to me’ meter in any relationship and they are generally low cost; low effort.

Awareness

Keeping this type of energy alive in a relationship demands awareness and intent. An awareness of time and activity with the intent to keep our romantic partners needs and interest in the forefront of our mind regardless of the years that have passed.

Appreciation

Perhaps the surprise is being picked up from work and escorted to a coveted sporting event or a favorite restaurant. Perhaps it’s bringing in a cleaning team or scheduling a babysitter for a couple’s night out. It could be as simple as declaring it “Jane/John Appreciation Day” – and treating that person as if you would on a birthday or Mother’s/Father’s day – but for no special reason other than they are ‘appreciated’. Everyone receives an endorphin rush by being appreciated.

Keep Them in Mind

It’s important to specifically consider the individual you are wanting to surprise. The surprise needs to be something THEY would enjoy. Some people don’t like ‘surprises’ so the gesture needs to be softer and maybe less spontaneous. It may be important to have a random and casual conversation with your romantic partner to find out what kind of surprises they would enjoy and then write them down or commit them to memory.

Spice up your life, invest in your relationship, and elevate your mood by…

Planning a surprise for someone you love

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below

#305 of 365 Ways to live Easier, Happier, & More Productive

…swallow the raisin – paying attention to the sensation of it moving across your tongue, to the back of your mouth and then down your throat.

Sharing a daily life lesson, tip, or hack; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#305

Eat mindfully

Most of us never do this and even those of us who have tried it a time or two don’t spend many meals engaged in intention but when you do… is a whole new experience.

Eating mindfully is frequently taught with a raisin. Sometimes it is referred to as an eating meditation -mostly because ALL of your focus is on the process – the entire process – of eating.

Imagine the raisin. Hold the raisin and notice how it feels in your finger; notice the ridges, the color, and the size. Intentionally, place the raisin on your tongue and let it sit there for a minute; noticing its smell, the sensation of it there, and perhaps how you begin to salivate. Move the raisin between your teeth and gently squeeze… notice the texture, the flavor, and how your mouth responds. Notice with each movement of your jaw – how the raisin changes – the change in flavor or texture or size. And finally, swallow the raisin – paying attention to the sensation of it moving across your tongue, to the back of your mouth and then down your throat.

Now do this for an entire meal. Same process with each and every bite.

Yes – it will take a long time to consume your food – and it will be good for you. The first time I had ate something other than a raisin intentionally I immediately noticed how reflexive it was to put a spoonful in my mouth and then immediately shovel the spoon back into my plate of food – prepping the next bite. That’s NOT mindful.

I was curious enough to persevere through an entire plate of Kung Pao Chicken but it was cold by the time I was finished and an entire hour had elapsed. I had visions of my father telling me to “stop fooling around and just eat!”

Out of all the people I’ve ever known, very few eat slow enough to truly ‘experience’ their food and my personal belief is that it is becoming problematic in our culture. We eat so fast, we don’t know when we’ve had enough to satisfy hunger and consequently, we frequently overeat. Mitigating that issue is easily rectified when we …

Eat mindfully.

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

When Darkness Knocks

He does an amazing job but I watch him and I am sad and pissed and helpless and scared.

“If you want to find happiness, find gratitude.” ― Steve Maraboli

In the beginning of the year I started a gratitude challenge on my Counseling Facebook page. Each day since then – except for two – I have listed three things I am grateful for that day. I’ve tried not to replicate anything, which has been hard because every morning when I am writing them I am always grateful for my coffee! Certainly, at first it was easy as there are many obvious pieces of my life that I am always thankful for … a roof over my head, a warm room, comfy pillows, enough food, etc.

I’ve noticed as the time goes by however that unless I begin duplicating items, I must stretch my awareness a bit and it has been interesting to extend my awareness beyond my immediate surroundings to include the sound of my wind chimes and birds chirping. I am so grateful for those things. Not only do they represent the fact that I can hear but they are pleasant sounds and by noticing them, I also notice how they resonate in my body – my spirit. They create a nice sensation; pleasure.

It promotes more consciousness of people smiling, friendly service, and kind hearts. It stimulates my recognition of generosity, helpfulness, and benevolence, which are all contributors to the experience of happiness. Indeed, I believe I’ve felt a little bit happier than usual despite the negativity that tries to inject itself into my life.

It’s one thing to be a mental health counselor and experience the sadness, frustration, and negative emotions of clients – that’s my job and I am sufficiently capable of keeping it away from my personal psyche. Along the way, I learned the art of allowing clients to dump their stuff in my office without feeling as though I needed to pick it up. I rarely experience a derogatory impact of my clients affect. Don’t get me wrong… if there is something deeply sad – a client who lost a child or someone so deep in their own pain that they are suicidal – I feel sad but I don’t hold it. I can walk out of my office and leave it there.

It’s a whole other thing to live in an environment that is frequently heavy. Our political climate is currently stressed – no matter one’s affiliation – every day there is some element of drama pumped into our consciousness and we are exposed to exhausting bickering, draining our enthusiasm and confidence.

I am still adjusting to the whole ‘empty nest’ experience. While I quite enjoy the clean and constantly straightened atmosphere of my home, there is an eerie silence here that highlights the absence of my family. I miss the anticipation of hearing the creaking steps as one of the girls would come home from work at midnight or the sound of the shower and blasting music in the morning as she prepared for her day. I am blessed that they stay in contact with me via Face time or regular phone calls but it’s entirely different from the smell of their perfume lingering in the air.

And then there is the reality of Harlan’s illness. Coping with fatigue is one thing but coping with pain is another entirely. Every day is filled with the blessing that he can still work and concurrently filled with the reality that he does it battling the effects of chemo and the relentless pain of bone lesions. I see him getting tired. He does an amazing job but I watch him and I am sad and pissed and helpless and scared.

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I don’t like those feelings yet I know they are real and appropriate. They exist like fleas that jump on me when I walk in the door and every time I think I have fumigated their existence with my coping skills, they find another entrance or they are simply re-birthed into our experience. The early spring weather allowed me the opportunity to open the windows and replace the dark sad air with fresh spring hope and then it got cold again. I can feel the air thicken and so I walk outside where the sun is starting to stay longer and a bit brighter.

I live by the motto that there is something good in every single experience; not only on a global level but day by day. What is good about today? The gratitude challenge that I am conducting forces me to pay attention, to look beyond the obvious, to deny those damn fleas too much of my blood. It helps to push the pendulum back, to balance the scale, to make life tolerable.

When I am sad that he is hurting, I am grateful for his doctors. When I feel helpless to fix it, I am grateful to hold his hand. When I am disappointed that we aren’t bike riding, I am grateful to sit next to him on the couch. When I am frustrated that he goes to bed so early, I am grateful that his body heat warms the sheets on my side.

Please know that this is a ‘work in progress’ and I am – in no way – perfect in my efforts to find the silver lining every. single. time. But I keep trying. My daily expression of gratitude is one of the ways that I am working to create balance and a stronger sense of happiness in a time when darkness is constantly knocking on our door.

Won’t you join me? Hop on my HCC Facebook page and add your own three things. The more positive energy we can put forth in the world – the better.

 

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It Wasn’t Me – Or Was It?

The problem is that unless we OWN our actions, reactions, and behavior – we are giving someone else our power.

 

“The moment you accept responsibility for EVERYTHING in your life is the moment you can change ANYTHING in your life.” ~ Hal Elrod

In the last couple of posts I’ve made the comment to “own” you stuff… your thoughts, your actions, your reactions. What does it mean really to ‘own’? I find that just saying it may not be enough, I find that we often need reminded what it is to ‘own’ because we don’t necessarily live in a culture where taking personal responsibility is front and center. We easily fall into patterns of ‘blame’.

At the turn of the century, the Jamaican reggae singer ‘Shaggy’ came out with a song entitled “It wasn’t me”… he was being given advice to deny his responsibility even though he had been caught red handed. Even the music we listen to seeks to reinforce methods of circumventing personal responsibility. We watch crime shows and movies that demonstrate how to ‘Get Away with Murder’ and we see Oliva Pope ‘fix’ problems that high level officials don’t want to be associated with. While I realize that those are fictitious stories on broadcast television, they seep into our subconscious and weep on patterns of blame whenever there is a chance.

“I can’t be happy because he….”, or “if she would change, everything would be ok.”… I hear people saying these things weekly. My response is always – “what about you?” “What is YOUR role in this?” Relationships are BETWEEN people and so every soul in the interaction has some level of responsibility in the dialogue; some level of input in the collaboration. Relationships by definition, are never one sided. Consequently – even if the only contribution is a RE-action… every person is engaged.

What would it look like if we all took responsibility for only OUR own behaviors?

What would it look like if we all stopped and reflected on what ‘I’ could do better or more effectively?

First and foremost… we have to be aware of what we are bringing to the table. What is it that ‘I’ am contributing to this interplay?

  • Am I being antagonistic?
  • Am I being supportive?
  • Am I being defensive?
  • Am I listening well?
  • Am I validating?
  • Am I being clear?
  • Am I saying what I mean?
  • Am I contributing positively?
  • Am I keeping score? Playing tit for tat?
  • Do I maintain my composure? My tone? My voice?
  • Have I kept my promises or vows?

YOU must be so self-aware that you know – and can admit – your role in any interaction or collaboration.

You must be so self-aware that you can recognize when you are deflecting (changing the direction or focus) – “oh yeah? Well when you ….” Or when you are defensive… “well, I did that because….” And when you aren’t listening – by interrupting. People who interrupt are NOT listening well.

I use these examples because they are usually easier to comprehend when it comes to relationships… we can each see ourselves in an interaction with another and notice when we contribute to the exchange.

In addition, we are also responsible for our own LIVES… no – we don’t control many of the things that happen but we DO control and need to take responsibility for the way that we respond to our lives. We need to OWN the decisions we make in response to our lives. Each of our actions generates a consequence which, ultimately means that we must own part of the consequence.

Ben and Sally went out for her birthday. Ben bought Sally a bunch of ‘shots’ and Sally got drunk. Sally tells her friend – “Ben got me drunk last night”. Ummm… not really. Unless Ben poured the shots down Sally’s throat… SALLY got herself drunk.

Our decisions, our actions, our behavior – determine how we are viewed in the world… they determine how we think of ourselves and they each become a part of our history… things that stay with us, literally forever. Every action becomes a memory that is imprinted on our soul. So… no wonder we may not ‘want’ to take responsibility. No wonder that we may not want to ‘own’ something that has already happened – something that we don’t necessarily want to be there forever…

The problem is that unless we OWN our actions, reactions, and behavior – we are giving someone else our power. If I am a wife blaming my husband for his addictions or blaming the problems in our marriage on his demeanor… I am denying that I have the power for my own decisions… for my own change. I am denying that I have any control over my own life.

What do we need to take responsibility for? We need to take responsibility for our own life… for what happens in it. Did you just get fired? Why? Look at the questions I asked earlier … go through them one by one… could you have done a better job? Could you have been more communicative? Could you have put in more effort? If so… just acknowledge it. Yes –  your boss may have been a dick. The working conditions may have sucked but at the end of the day – it was more than likely the way YOU reacted to it… the way you responded that made the decision.

If my husband is unfaithful, I can blame him for not keeping a promise but I am the one who needs to take responsibility for how I RE-act. Will I be vindictive? Seek to hurt him the way that I am hurt? Will I go deep into the uglies? Some of that will – of course – simply be a human reaction but if I go there – no matter my reaction – no one is putting a gun to my head and telling me how to behave. ANY reaction is one that I will have to OWN. I will have to remember that when I look in the mirror – it will be there with me.

Be aware – constantly aware – of what you are willing to carry with you – for the rest of your life.

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Looking Backwards

In my years as a financial advisor, I was trained to tell people that ‘historical precedence does not indicate future results’… that can apply to us as people too!

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

~ Søren Kierkegaard

I speak the essence of this quote almost daily, actually – I live it. It is the premise of my memoir… a journey of understanding who I am – how I became me. It is also the premise from which I seek to understand each of my clients. I strive to make sure that they leave my office with a curiosity of ‘why’ they are ‘who’ they are.

We need to look backward – not to blame or regret… in fact, those are worthless efforts We must seek to understand what it was that designed the framework for the way that we understand the world. I sometimes talk about the ‘fabric’ that shrouds us… comprised of the threads of each of our experiences. A vibrant red one from my first love, a purple one for that time I was touched by a hymn in church, and a blue one for the deep sadness I felt when Billy laughed at me in 4th grade.

Each of us wears a shroud that has been designed through the years very differently than the one that is worn by another. Even siblings – growing up in the same household weave shrouds different than one another based on the precise experiences they encounter. If I believe that I am my parent’s favorite my thread may be pink while my brother, who felt challenged to garner acceptance may have a brown thread. The oldest child may weave white, the middle child – yellow, and the youngest, perhaps gold.

Imagine the diversity of each shroud. We wear them over our eyes and ears. We listen to and see the world through them. How could we ever – ever anticipate that any of us see our environments in the same way? And yet – that does not keep us from the expectation that you might think or feel like I do…

If we consider our shroud and look at each thread – not with judgment – but with interest, just to observe and take note… Oh, that is the thread from when my girlfriend broke up with me and that green one is the thread I wove into my shroud after graduating with my Masters… every experience, good or bad, woven into the fabric of our life.

The way that I interrupt the world depends entirely on which threads the sound is being filtered across. Likewise – how I interpret what I see is dependent on the placement and combination of those threads.

Do you know what thread comprises your shroud? The bright ones and the bleak ones? Do you recognize the patches that exist in your shroud? Are you aware of the contradictions – perhaps twisting that happened during weaving? I am reminded of times when someone told me they loved me but they behaved in a way that wasn’t at all loving.  Those threads may have been twisted in such a way that my perception/understanding of love was disorganized and convoluted.

It’s no wonder that communication can be incredibly difficult between people.  The way that we anticipate or expect someone to behave is directly related to those threads that we correlate to ‘love’ or ‘friendship’ or ‘family’. We develop expectations based on what we know, want, or observe. I find examples of it constantly with clients and in my own life. If I consider the word ‘friend’ I have several examples and each of them is very different. Is it because the word friend has a variable definition? No… the basic definition (per Webster) is “someone attached to another by affection or esteem”.

I can safely state that I have a great number of ‘friends’ based on Webster’s definition but then there is my ‘expectation’ of what denotes friendship (the quality or state of being friends). You see – we all have a thought or a vision of what constitutes a good friend or friendship – much of it dependent on the construction of those ‘threads’ that are woven into our shroud. I may experience disappointment if my ‘vision’ of a friend is different than that of some I consider a friend.

In any regard – seeking to examine your ‘threads’ so that you glean an understanding about yourself that is rich and precise is worthy, albeit perhaps a bit daunting. We probably are unable to examine each and every fiber of that shroud in an unemotional manner, thus allowing for maximum acceptance… but we can take a good look at the thick ones. The ones that tend to shape or instruct the bulk of your perception and understanding.

Using my own experience, I notice a LOT of threads that are woven from the experience of people I love – leaving me. It’s not always on purpose and hence, they may not be identical threads but they are common nonetheless. I realize that I tend to see the world from the perspective that if you love me – you will leave me. This isn’t a universal truth – just a common theme in the shroud of my life. If I am looking at it objectively – it is just something I notice.

If I look at it emotionally (which is where most of us do our observing) then I must pay attention to how it directs my emotions and consequently… my behavior. I would be doing myself a great disservice if I allow myself to forgo love because it ‘might’ not be there at some point. It would be a sin to harden myself against love because there is a historical precedent… what progress has ever been made with that inclination?  In my years as a financial advisor, I was trained to tell people that ‘historical precedence does not indicate future results’… that can apply to us as people too!

Our future may depend on how well we understand the composition of our shroud. It’s certainly possible for us to twist, turn, and/or position the fabric in a way that more accurately allows us to interrupt what comes. For example, I don’t have to allow the experiences of lost love in my past to dictate how I will engage in love going forward. I can choose to pull threads when appropriate… eliminate their influence in my future. I can choose to experience love and be in-the-moment rather than anticipating loss and living in fear of losing.

Looking back is ONLY for understanding. We don’t live there anymore and so going forward… pay attention to what was learned because of having lived and keep what worked. If there are threads that exist in your shroud that prohibit you from seeing – cut them out. Purposely and with intent… weave in a new thread that is woven from positivity and pleasure.

Stay aware and intentional so that only the threads of experiences that are meaningful become dominant in your shroud. Today… even though the pain and uncertainty of cancer are appearing in a variety of colors throughout new weavings, there are thicker – stronger threads that represent intention – awareness – and coping; positive traits that will continue to serve me regardless of the others. Going forward, I am paying attention to the threads that I allow to dominate.

Prince Charming Remix

Seemingly, for the second time in my life, Prince Charming had infiltrated my world in such a way that I appeared to be rescued

“We race through our life without pausing to consider who we really want to be or where we really want to go.”  – Jim Loehr

Moving wasn’t a problem for me. I had done it approximately every 12 months since I was 12 years old with one two-year exception those last couple of years in high school. Fortunately for me this move was considered a ‘corporate’ one so the packing, loading, and moving was completely managed by a third party. I was present for the pack-out and everything went painlessly until the moving men lifted the mattress and box springs to reveal the (thankfully still boxed) dildo that E had given me as a gag gift which I had stored under my bed. My face abruptly surrendered to a warm crimson flush and I was immediately torn between a quick grab and hide or a quick run from the room pretending that I hadn’t seen a thing. I bolstered my pride and exited the room reminding myself that I’d never see these men again. Today I am sure it’s not the first one that they had ever seen but then – I felt as though it might as well be a scarlet letter plastered on every box that they packed and carried onto the moving truck. I imagined myself branded.

I moved first into his apartment until we received the occupancy permit on our townhouse. One might imagine that a lot of information can be gleaned from a man’s bachelor pad. The only thing I realized is that he collected Playboy magazines and considered salt and pepper ‘spices’. My commute to Jersey was grueling and to compliment the difficulty, I had enrolled Francis in a Catholic school not far from our new house; a school that didn’t offer transportation so I drove him into the city daily and picked him up from their aftercare program by 6 pm.

I had a vision of what constituted a family. I naturally fell into thoughts and routines that had felt comfortable when I was married. I failed to distinguish them from my marriage with Rocky and this new relationship. I wasn’t on the same page as my new guy. As a matter of fact, we probably weren’t in the same book or perhaps even in the same library. I intellectually knew that he would need time to adjust to a lifestyle with a child that wasn’t biological his but the emotional part of me had difficulty balancing that logic. I was straddling life between being a single mom and a couple. The triangle had yet to close.

Wedding plans were furiously moving forward as we moved into our home and began to establish a life together. We were getting married in his hometown. We used his church and his pastor. For the second time in my life I was going to marry on terms that were dictated predominately by my future husband in terms of location and clergy. The other details were mine or ours as it would be and it took years for me to realize that each time, I was so eager to be loved that I acquiesced my own wants. I recall telling myself that it wasn’t important to me. That I was compromising. Indeed, that part may be somewhat true. It is also true that I felt if I were to make my needs known or demand they should be a priority – that the plan may decompose, self-destruct, and never manifest. I had somehow developed a belief that if I didn’t ‘go along’ with the desires of my partner, that I could be – would be… dismissed.

Our relationship had challenges – after all, we had known each other all of 5 days before a proposal, 12 days before an official engagement, and 6 weeks before moving in together. In addition, there was a cute little (almost) 6-year-old in our midst constantly – yearning to get to know this new ‘dad’ and we were still attempting to learn about one another – all three of us. I was afraid. Plain and simple – I was afraid that if I allowed myself to really love this man – he could leave me and I would experience something similar to the pain that I felt when Rocky died. I was constantly in a state of vacillating between wanting to be in love and afraid of loving.

In addition, I had fantasized for six solid years about what it would be like for my son to have a father. There was a solid, visceral, and vivid picture in my mind of what that entailed. It wasn’t manifesting in the way I had dreamed. The raw, organic paternal representative that I had envisioned all these years was slow to emerge. I had very little empathy for what it must have been like to integrate an immediate ‘family’ into the life of a serial bachelor. He was a year older than me and had never married.

Back then it was less typical for people to wait until their 30’s to marry. As a female, when you met someone that age you would simply assume they were divorced. When I found out he hadn’t been married I was immediately suspicious – why not? Of course I heard everything that sounded like a string ensemble to my heart “he had been waiting for me”. I was completely impervious, simply devoid, of an understanding of how gullible I was.

Work wasn’t working. The drive, the change, the people… it wasn’t working for me and I didn’t want to move back into a sales position. It didn’t seem like an alternative to me because it would have put us in the same sales office, competing against one another. He was the top broker in that region. I was at least smart enough to know that our egos (and hence, our relationship) could not have afforded such direct rivalry. His success afforded me the option to work or not.

I quit – by fax machine. I had thought long and hard about my decision and had drafted a superb resignation letter but I was pretty much a big ‘chicken shit’ because I knew that I would be disappointing a lot of people. A few whom had invested a lot of time and energy in my success and I was quitting – letting them down – giving up. I didn’t have the heart to face their disapproval. I faxed my letter at 9 am. They were incredulous. It became a ‘story’ that I never lived down; a sublime example of ‘what NOT to do’ in a corporate environment.

It was early 1990 and everything had changed. My life had pivoted in a way that had been unimaginable just six months earlier. I adopted a narrative of romance – it was all so romantic. Seemingly, for the second time in my life, Prince Charming had infiltrated my world in such a way that I appeared to be rescued. Perhaps this time it was more a reality than a simple perception. I was no longer alone, broke, or a sole parent. I was beginning to dream again. I allowed myself to visualize a future that included another grownup. I was again, allowing myself to depend on someone to be there; to have my back, to be reliable.

There was only one problem.  Just under the level of my conscious awareness, fear was woven into my thoughts, actions, and reactions. No matter the reassurance or behavior, no matter the support or reinforcement, I had learned to distrust that someone who loved me would ultimately be there for me. In retrospect, I wonder if I somehow intentionally chose someone who would fulfill that prophecy.

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