Search On

“Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Hope
  • To be inspired
  • Discoveries

These were three of the most frequently searched words/terms in 2014, according to Google. Personally, I am encouraged by this news.

Permit me then, if you will, a somewhat disjointed post; one which makes sense to me though it may not be entirely clear to you.

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What else might people be searching for beyond these three foci? Could it be around:

  • Forcing breaks or sealing cracks?
  • Being a puppet or pulling the strings?
  • How to act on one’s dreams?
  • Possibilities
  • Swimming with or against tides?
  • Being part of a cure or part of an ongoing disease?
  • How to be more open to exploring?
  • Calling
  • Could it be worse… or better?
  • How to summon strength you already have?
  • If I had wings, where could I fly?
  • Significance
  • What you want people to know about you
  • What lights will guide you home?
  • How to be a greater contributor?

Regardless of what you may be searching for — finding it, being it, and appreciating it, comes easier when you are inspired; whether through self-inspiration or by others. Would you agree?

92646099_cc9d599dee_mThere are countless ways in which to become inspired. You’ve read about them, you’ve practiced them, and you’ve seen others successfully embrace them. If you’re searching for or open to a couple of ideas, here are three on inspiring yourself or others:

  1. Create space. Be clear about your position on changes you believe you or another individual can take. But don’t force the change. Instead, give time and space to stay the same; to consider choices. Allow awareness and self-determination to make clear that impending change can bring about desired results.
  2. Consider non-conformity. Falling in step for the sake of business or social conformity makes hypocrites of most. It requires you to replace the real you with a fake you. Expecting that everyone follows rules made and imposed by others is a ploy that creates conformity, establishes control, and drains inspiration. People aren’t made with cookie cutters. You need to be you!
  3. Tell yourself a different story. The stories we tell ourselves inspire us or bring us to our knees. Invoke your inner story-teller and tell yourself better stories. Tell yourself stories about hope, inspiration, and strength; confidence, competence and compassion. Write and tell a new chapter, a new ending, a new story forward.

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I Dare You

285024032_0b8b039b63_m“Iron rusts from disuse; stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.”

~ Leonardo da Vinci

I dare you… to stretch yourself. I’m not talking about exercise or warming up your muscles. Rather, I’m encouraging you to test your perceived limits; to learn, maybe even begin to master, a new skill; to explore something unknown that you’ve been curious about; to challenge your mind, body or spirit.

With most activities, if we want to get better, it helps to stretch ourselves. Athletes strive to move faster or become stronger. Musicians aim to complete a harder, more intricate piece of music. Writers endeavor to craft that literary treasure. And business people are driven to increase productivity, sales and the bottom line.

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In our busy world, where time flies, if you don’t challenge yourself your creativity and even happiness can stagnate. When the status quo becomes not only the norm but comfortable, you may find yourself unrecognizably following your routines even though they are no longer fulfilling or enriching.

This “dare” doesn’t necessarily mean doing something that makes you anxious or nervous. The point is to open yourself to new opportunities when you’re ready. As you meet new challenges, you encounter new character traits, gain new confidence, and enhance your sense of accomplishment. As you meet your doubts and broaden your horizons, your mind can become too busy to worry about inconsequential things that life throws at us from time to time.

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Something I’m uncomfortable with is being humorous while speaking in front of large groups. Some people are naturally humorous; I’m not. Entertaining and witty I can be, but humorous, not. So I am enrolling in an Improv class to learn how to become more at ease integrating humor. For me, this is a stretch.

You have probably given thought to stretching yourself. What’s preventing you from doing so now? 🙂 For those who are curious how or where to step into this, here are three considerations to get you started.

  1. Take cooking classes. Even if you’re hesitant to go to classes of any sort, especially if you consider yourself an introvert, drag yourself out of the house and be open to chatting up (not for long) strangers. There is fun to be had, watching everyone learn and seeing people enjoy being newly creative. Go stimulate your taste buds!
  2. Volunteer at a local mission or soup kitchen for a day and realize how comfortable your life really is, while helping others at the same time. It will likely broaden your perspectives and reground your sense of appreciation.
  3. Be willing. An attitude of willingness is essential. You can make excuses all day that will keep you from stretching yourself and taking the next step. You need to step away from the demands of every day life. An attitude of willingness will stretch you simply by making a commitment to take the plunge.

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Very Hard Things

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“One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.” ~ James Earl Jones

I recently lunched with three friends. We enjoyed a casual conversation that, at one point, meandered into various thoughts and experiences about courage. The things no one else is doing. The things that scare you. The things that define you and that make a difference between living a life of mediocrity or outrageous outcomes.

It got a little deeper. We generally agreed that hard things are the easiest to avoid; to pretend they don’t apply to you. The sense that ordinary people (like us) accomplish great things because they often do the hard things; the things that take courage. Being the demure one among we four, I decided to ask the others what the hardest thing was that they ever had to do. Truly, the most gut wrenching act or decision. And lunch took a very different turn.

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I’m not going to go into what was disclosed. Each of us had a very personal story, just as you and others have. What I will share is that as I was driving back to my home office, I cried. Because I realized how fragile I have been and at times, still am. Especially when we must muster whatever courage we have and deal with life’s hardest things.

Not always do people get the lessons and character they ought to — out of the hard things in life. Some are not good learners in life’s school. Some grow bitter in disappointment and lose some of their innocence. Others have their vulnerability pierced when they endure trial.

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There aren’t many ways to avoid very hard things. It’s part of thriving. Yet there are counter-balances to dealing with life’s biggest challenges; actions to redirect your energy and attention. If you seek or need to refocus, especially after having dealt with something very hard, here are three considerations:

  1. Find beauty in small moments. Don’t wait for the next big thing to happen — winning the lottery, kids, promotions — find peace in the small things that happen every day. Enjoy the pleasure of sharing something you enjoy with someone else; holding hands with your partner; a quiet cup of coffee in the morning. Noticing small pleasures on a daily basis can change the quality of your life.
  2. Start a family. I don’t mean have kids. Make the decision to have a family, which means giving of yourself fully to another person or several people. Risk being vulnerable by sharing your fears, quirks, and failures with someone else; you might find it makes you even stronger. Find someone or some people with whom you can share love, mutual respect, and trust.
  3. Practice self-compassion. People often find it easy to offer support to others at a cost of being less compassionate to themselves. Research shows that people who are kinder to themselves, who don’t get bogged down in personal imperfections and weaknesses, are more likely to be in better health.

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Comfort Food Cravings

“If hunger is not the problem, then eating is not the solution.” ~ Author Unknown

At one time or another, most of us have had food cravings. And often, the preferred choice is “comfort food.” When people eat, they frequently feel better. Yet there’s a big difference between tapping into a food’s inherently calming properties and using food as an emotional anesthesia. That kind of eating may buy you a temporary sense of calm, but it’s usually a quick fix that wears off fast. And where does it often leave people?

Comfort foods work on a purely, and usually deliciously, psychological level. Eating comfort foods from our past works by rekindling happy memories of those times. The same holds true for food that reminds us of someone we loved. Different comfort foods can appeal to different genders. A Cornell University study discovered that women prefer sweet foods such as ice cream, but men go for savory items like soups and steak.

While comfort food may make us feel good at the moment, and may indeed be delicious, psychiatrist Robert Gould suggests that people tend to eat based upon emotion and don’t understand why they think they’re hungry. Think about that. Gould thinks people should ask themselves why they crave a particular food before they eat it and to assess honestly whether or not they are really hungry in a clinical sense. The study also found that men tend to use comfort foods as a reward, while women often feel guilty after indulging.

Regular comfort eating as a response to stress — especially chronic stress — is considered an unhealthy behavior akin to smoking cigarettes. Why? Because comfort foods are often low on nutrition. One 2007 study found that when given both grapes and hot buttered, salty popcorn to eat while watching a sad movie, participants ate far more popcorn.

While foods that produce physical happiness affect our physiology, comfort foods provide happiness on a psychological level. When you’re down in the dumps, however, you probably won’t care about the distinction, as long as you feel better.

People often conflate happiness with comfort. In the case of comfort food, people may be misusing food to soothe themselves to unhealthy results.

If you’re nodding your head in agreement and believe your food cravings may not be in your better, long-term health interests, here are three ways to rethink food cravings and defaults to comfort food:

  1. Experiment to find new favorites. Consider the possibility that you haven’t yet found your favorite comfort food. Think about choices you never would have thought of years ago. You’re never done learning how to savor nutritious food in new ways.
  2. Wait. If you’re really craving some comfort food, try waiting 15 minutes before you reach for the chips. It will give you time to evaluate whether you really want it and the craving may subside.
  3. Find a new comfort. If you’re eating because you’re bored find another way to amuse yourself so you’re not always reaching for food. Try going for a swim, or even a walk. Exercise is a natural mood enhancer. If you’re feeling sad or anxious, try short bursts of any type of activity.

One Small Touch

“Each time someone stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy

Some, perhaps many, of us have learned: We did not have to do something amazing to initiate growth. A small action can go a long way. It doesn’t take a boulder to create a ripple effect in the water. A finger is enough. As everything is interconnected in life, we only need be brave enough to take the first, maybe very small step. Before we know it, we may realize that we are a ripple effect.

A ripple effect is a situation where, like the ever-expanding ripples across the water when an object is dropped into it, an effect from the initial state can be followed outward incrementally. Applied to our lives, everything we do and think affects people in our lives and their reactions in turn affect others. The choices you make have far reaching consequences. Not surprisingly then, each of us carries within us the capacity to change the world in small ways for better or worse.

Examples of ripple effect can be found in economics, social interactions, charitable activities, financial markets, political influence, compassionate action and so on. The concept helps to explain how individual and grassroots efforts can yield significant change.

Case in point: A Harvard University study was conducted on a large, real world social network. It used modern statistical methods to analyze data from the Framingham Heart Study. It found that if a friend of a person became happy, the person’s chance of becoming happy increased by about 15%. If a friend of a friend became happy it increased by about 10% and a friend of a friend of a friend by almost 6%. This event occurred even if the person had never met many of the people involved.

If we can synchronize our intentions and actions toward common goals, our independent waves will continue to add to each other as they travel out through energetic fields. The result will be much greater than we can manifest independently.

Here are three ways in which you can initiate ripple effect:

  1. I’m not promoting this; it’s simply an example: For just US$4 you can provide a child with clean water. Consider joining the Ripple Effect movement and invest US$4 every month to save and improve lives. You’ll contribute to a wave of positive change and watch as the waves get bigger and bigger, bringing clean water, better health, and new opportunities to countless in great need.
  2. Move forward so that you are in your best place possible including relationships, health, career, and spirituality. To effectively help others, you often have to have gone through difficult experiences in order to relate to others. But you also have to know how to grow from those experiences and to use them to benefit yourself and others. If you succeed and “walk your walk,” others can and will be more open to your insight and ways.
  3. Your influence and ability to effect change will grow as your ripples flow outward. Consider smiling at someone you don’t know, acting instead of just thinking, initiating a thoughtful gesture, or alleviating a stranger’s pain. Do good things. Small things. Humbly. For others.

Acting Too Quickly

“A man who sees action in inaction and inaction in action has understanding among men and discipline in all action he performs.” ~ Bhagavad Gita

On occasion, I have been known to take a contrarian viewpoint. I will challenge the status quo and frequently seek uniquely different ways of accomplishing and achieving. Credit my innate curiosity and exploratory nature. It’s simply part of how I process. 🙂

Such is the case with me and action, the latter a meaningful part of existence. Action clearly serves a purpose and can gently inspire, as well as actively incite us. Generally, people are encouraged to take decisive action. And often, too quickly. It’s people less inclined to impulsive action who keep a comfortable grip on the action reins.

Acting too quickly can be the cause of many problems. Having been impatient for a good chunk of my life, I know this well. A lot of personal mistakes result from a combination of exuberance and an eagerness to please – to get the job done. Many of us have experienced moving too quickly without taking time for adequate, even thorough, consideration. And then wondered about the outcome.

I have been surprised to find how many times situations will resolve themselves if they are allowed to. I have also been discouraged at how complex some situations have become when I took action quickly to bring something to a resolution before truly understanding what the problem or goal was in the first place.

And then there are those people who will choose inaction simply because it allows them to stay in their comfort zone, to do only what they’re familiar with, even if it oddly yields desired results. But the comfort zone is equivalent to a safe, relatively unproductive state.

We know that a clear vision, flexible plan, and realistic schedule will take you a long way towards successful achievement. But without action, visions are unlikely to materialize. Thoughtful action is prudent. And while some people may argue ‘time is money,’ it is important to assess the need for expedited action.

“Measure twice, cut once” is an old craftsman’s saying. It’s a good idea for life in general. Restated for action, we could say “think twice, act once.” Because premature action can be much more damaging than a measured approach to most any situation.

Consider your actions as carefully as you do your valuables.

Comfort Zones

“We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.” ~ Max DePree

Those who knew me then, would say I was a relatively shy child. Even today, I am comfortable tagging myself as an introvert. A little insecurity is not a bad thing for a young person trying to find their grounding in the world. Yet overcoming initial insecurity makes one more self-confident and prepared to step out of their comfort zone. At least it did for me.

Animals in the wild have their comfort zones. A bear will return to its lair to lick its wounds or sleep the winter away. But it cannot survive for long without stepping outside its comfort zone. Unfortunately, most of us survive quite well living entirely inside our cocoons. Our lives, our habits, our thinking gets into a rut.

In an early 2012 survey of 5,000+ people, it was found that males have a larger comfort zone than females, but when broken down by ‘comfort zone types’ it’s clear that while men have a larger ‘professional comfort zone,’ women have a larger ‘lifestyle comfort zone.’

At one time, comfort zones served a purpose in our lives. But staying in that space does little to enable the growth most want to achieve now. Parting ways with your comfort zone and stepping into the world of personal expansion can present opportunities that will, in time, assist in refining your purpose. Starting small and choosing to shift beyond your limited comfort zones often exposes you to new experiences, opinions and interests.

It has been said that any challenge falls into one of three ‘zones’ – our comfort zone, our growth zone, and our panic zone. An unwillingness to move out of a panic or comfort zone and into a growth zone, is often indicative of a resistance to change. If you are open to stepping out of your comfort zone and stretching yourself, here are three suggestions:

  1. Understand the truth about your habits. They represent past successes. You have formed habitual, automatic behaviors because you once dealt with something successfully. That’s how habits grow and why they feel useful. To shift from what is less than ideal in your life, you need to give up on your tightly held habits and try new ways of thinking and acting. Those habits are going to block you from finding new and creative ideas.
  2. Do something weird. One obvious way to leave your comfort zone, even if temporarily, is to do something new. But a more interesting option might be to do something weird. When you choose something new you may choose something that aligns with your personality and thus, comfort. This can be limiting. Instead, choose something that is out of character for you. Something that isn’t you and the people close to you wouldn’t think that you would do.
  3. Get a partner. There are some things that aren’t meant to be done alone. It’s amazing to see how much fun it is to explore and create with an ally alongside. And since you’re no longer alone in your adventure, you can feel safe as you step into a ‘growth zone.’ Find a partner. Make it happen.

Choosing the Right Words

“Your day will go the way the corners of your mouth turn.” ~ Unknown

You have unlimited power. You can choose what to do with your life, and with your day. You have influence over the people around you, over your daily schedule and daily activities. You can control many things in life – not all things by any means, but many things. Whether you take charge, choose a direction and move forward or not, is largely a choice. Remember the saying, “use it or lose it?”

Do you use negative, limiting, and critical words to talk to yourself, especially when you make mistakes or are frustrated? Most people do and if you do you probably have the same old feelings and make the same old responses. Words matter and if you want different results, new responses and especially more positive feelings, you will have to choose power words rather than limiting words.

Whatever you aspire to in business, health, fitness, family, spirituality or other areas of your life, you get to choose and unleash the words that will power you! And the best quality of power words is that you don’t have to believe them or be confident of their truth. All you have to do is keep using them and through repetition you will believe them, confidence will increase and most importantly, you will set-up more success. Think of power words as words that:

  1. Focus responses by directing your mind to the present task and how to complete it. These include words such as: how, commit, and yes.
  2. Lower anxiety by keeping responses and choices in the present where actions occur. Anxiety is always about the future, so words about the present reduce or prevent anxiety. These words include: calm, now and present.
  3. Increase confidence by keeping the task within the framework of what can be done right now. Confidence comes from doing, not hoping or wishing to do. Confidence feeling words include: done/do, happen, and can.

In your ongoing self-talk you make a choice. You can use limiting words that never are helpful and supportive of getting you what you desire, want or dream about, or you can use power words that are always supportive. When you choose power words you expect and continually set-up success.

Focusing on Self-Reliance

“People who cannot invent themselves must be content with borrowed postures, secondhand ideas, fitting in instead of standing out.” ~ Warren G. Bennis

On last week’s (10/29) Awakening to Awareness Radio Show, my guest, Bob Grassberger, Ph.D., talked about several issues and related opportunities for Baby Boomers heading into retirement. I thought I’d continue the thread that he kicked off, which included Encore Careers, Lifelong Learning, and Entrepreneurship.

Bob alluded that just because boomers want to work during their retirement years doesn’t mean they’ll find a job. About two-thirds of older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace, according to a survey by AARP. Increasingly, boomers are getting around that problem by working for themselves. In 2011, individuals aged 55 to 64 accounted for nearly 21% of new entrepreneurs, up from 14.3% in 1996, reports the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. I find this fascinating and encouraging.

Intellectual curiosity isn’t limited to the young. Across the U.S., colleges and universities are designing programs for boomers who want to learn a language or read all those books they put aside when their kids were born. Through a program funded by the Bernard Osher Foundations, more than 100 colleges and universities offer noncredit courses for students age 50 and older.

Community colleges, meanwhile, are reaching out to boomers who want to update their job skills. The American Association of Community Colleges’ Plus 50 Initiative help community colleges create or expand programs targeted at students age 50 and older, particularly those who want to prepare for a new career.

Challenging the conventional wisdom which held that boomers are only concerned about the present, another AARP study finds strong evidence that they have actually focused quite a lot on the prospect of retirement. A strong majority of boomers (72%) say they have given a lot or at least some thought to their retirement years, Baby Boomers’ definition of their retirement seems to include a large measure of self-reliance. It is worthy to note that two-thirds of boomers are satisfied with the amount of money they are putting away today for retirement.

In the July 19, 2013 issue of The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Retirement Weekly Editor Robert Powell wrote on “Creating your ‘retirement vision’.” It’s an informative story that talks about tasks that pre-retirees ought to complete before officially leaving their working lives behind. The piece serves as a useful checklist.

If the notion of self-reliance resonates and you’re interested in listening to my Bob Grassberger interview, the free podcast can be downloaded here. Looking for some retirement planning starters, consider these three:

  • Know your boundaries. It is inevitable that people will decide that since you are retired, you have extra time and extra resources. With this in mind, understand that if you are willing to do whatever, someone will let you. Set your own agenda and do so before you are asked. Learn to say “no” and mean it. You can learn to say it nicely and still get your point across.
  • Make life plans. It is important to plan for the non-financial aspect of retirement by considering what will make you happy. Tackle what you’ve always dreamed of doing. Make a life plan and kick-off your experiences as you move forward.
  • Consider what retiree Pia Louise advises: Give up regrets. “I almost destroyed myself over things I cannot change. I’ve reinvented myself. I do not think on the past anymore,” she says. “I’m so present in my life — I went from a zero to a ten. It took some time but I could not be happier.” “You’ve come this far, be who you dream you want to be!”

Approaching Retirement

“Retirement has been a discovery of beauty for me. I never had the time before to notice the beauty of my grandkids, my wife, the tree outside my very own front door. And the beauty of time itself.” ~ Hartman Jule

Mea culpa. In yesterday’s post I mentioned taking a break. I poorly communicated my intention. What I meant was in that specific post (about phobias), I was going to depart from my blogging categories and posting style. Some of you were kind to wish me well on my ‘sabbatical’ which was not where I was heading. You can’t get rid of me that easily. 🙂

A recent New York Times blog listed six benefits of aging and these are not exclusive to the negative stereotype of those in their 70’s and older:

  • Tranquility
  • The cooling of passion
  • Submission to what you cannot control
  • Willingness to be strong
  • Increased appreciation and gratitude
  • The love of family

How wonderful it is to become comfortable with ourselves and others.

Baby Boomers or “the sandwich generation” to some, are definitely reinventing retirement in response to the particular challenges faced as they simultaneously manage their own aging with taking care of their children and their parents. These are no small tasks and there is no ‘right’ way to retire. Everyone has to cut their own personal path and many of us are.

Perhaps surprising to some (many?), getting older actually has been proven to have its own set of health benefits. Researchers have found that:

  • Happiness improves with age. A recent study from the University of Warwick in England surveyed 10,000 people in the U.S. and Britain. The found that the more people aged, the highest levels of happiness with their lives was found in the older respondents. Researchers evaluated quality of life based on eight different mental and physical health factors.
  • Say goodbye to migraines. If you suffer from debilitating migraines, relief may be in sight. Migraines lessen with age according to the Headache Center in Atlanta. The study found that people who were older than 50 got “less acute migraine attacks” than their younger counterparts and symptoms as nausea and light sensitivity decreased with age.
  • Your brain works better. (This finding surprised me, too.) We all know forgetfulness is part of the territory with aging, but parts of the brain actually improve with age. The older you get the better you are to problem solve and understand arguments, according to Barbara Strauch in her well-researched book The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain. Strauch also found that judgment also improves with age, as does the ability to make financial decisions.

Don’t ever think you are too young to start thinking about aging and the effects it’ll have on your mind and body. The healthier you are now and the more positive your attitude is about moving toward retirement (because you are!), the healthier you’ll be then. Don’t let age affect the way you view yourself on either the inside or the outside.