Who Do You Listen To?

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“The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell.”  ~ Confucius

This previously shared: I have neither owned nor watched TV for 16+ years. I do not read or listen to mainstream media. However, I do read about topics that intrigue, inspire and/or inform me. It’s selective choice.

Last week a friend forwarded this linked article, knowing it would induce a cringe rather than a favorable nod. It’s a healthy read so I’ll leave that choice up to you. The article is titled “Drugs You Don’t Need for Disorders You Don’t Have.” Essentially, it is about Big Pharma’s campaign to sell us prescription drugs.

For a variety of reasons, drug companies are now increasingly relying on direct marketing to American consumers. Last year, the pharmaceutical industry spent $5.2 billion on ads promoting specific drugs – an increase of 16 percent over the previous year. In this era of escalating drug prices, spending on prescription drugs now accounts for one in every six dollars that go into medical care.

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When the people raising awareness about a condition are the same people selling a drug to treat it, some obvious concerns arise. Ads rarely provide the kind of context consumers need to make good decisions about our health – about how a drug actually works or whether an alternative treatment might be better.

Only Europe and Australia have considered and decisively rejected proposals to allow companies to advertise specific drugs there. Wonder why?

A study on drug safety conducted by the Institute for Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, found that “The credibility of the FDA, the pharmaceutical industry, the academic research enterprise, and health care providers has become seriously diminished. Of particular concern are the common but inaccurate perceptions that the FDA approval represents a guarantee of safety, that approval is based on high degrees of clarity and certainty about a drug’s risk and benefits.”

Yet many people listen to these ‘authoritative’ experts.

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Disease mongering is prevalent in today’s media-rich world. It can be harmful to our health. When it comes to considering any prescription drug, I listen to my body and personally vetted, trusted sources. What do you do for yourself and loved ones?

There are many steps we can take to ensure we are listening to the right sources when it comes to what (if any) pharmaceutical we put into our bodies. Following the Nike tagline is not one of them. Here are three for your consideration:

  1. Ensure you are getting the right medication. Make sure your health care provider understands your condition and the signs and symptoms. Ask that individual whether there’s an alternative medication with ingredients that have less potential for bodily harm or addiction.
  2. Familiarize yourself with Alternative, Complementary, Holistic and Natural Medicine. Western medicine is not always a silver bullet.
  3. Consult Medication Risk Assessment Tools online. They are simply another resource as you evaluate what you may not need for a disorder you may not have.

The Thrill of Inclusion

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“No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive.” ~ Mohandas K. Gandhi

Being included may not always be thrilling. Yet most of us, I suspect, appreciate being invited and involved.

Basically, inclusive refers to the extent to which we welcome a broad range of backgrounds and interests, taking into account issues of language, ethnicity and culture, gender, sexual orientation, age, socio-economic status and disability (or as a wise blogger taught me, ‘diffability’).

A colleague directs diversity and inclusion programs for a large, global business. I recently heard him speak about the proactive measures his company is taking to integrate and enrich diversity and inclusion, worldwide. What he shared, even though it was specific to the workplace, prompted me to reflect on how we consciously and unconsciously, include and exclude.

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How often do you go out of your way to include people? How frequently (even after-the-fact) do you realize you inadvertently omitted or forget to invite others? Perhaps our knee-jerk response is ‘I always invite others,’ until we see or are reminded of an unintentional exclusion. It happens. Yet it need not happen.

Inclusion connects us to innovation and happiness. It’s true! It invites and allows us to make better decisions about the future when all voices are heard – especially younger and elderly voices.

Embracing diversity can bridge cross-cultural divides. Just think of the last time(s) you found yourself in a different cultural setting. Were you open to experiencing all of the newness or were you inclined to stay within your comfortable cocoon? Did you encourage others to share unique aspects of their lives and thinking or were you too tethered to your own beliefs and norms?

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Take potlucks; potlucks are cool. And they’re making a comeback. The act of gathering with others to eat homemade food has health benefits. Merely inviting a diverse group of people to get together, to enjoy one another’s concoctions and to have a good time can be an amazing way to foster connections and build relationships. Simply because people were included.

Most of us know how to be inclusive and to create more positive environments. What helps to foster inclusivity is when our actions are intentional. If you are interested in simple inclusion starters, here are three for your consideration:

  1. When you have the chance, introduce people. Find that shy individual at a social or networking event and introduce them to someone they don’t know. Invite others into a conversation.
  2. Become a mentor, even if informally. Consider the wide variety of people you interact with, then make an effort to help another person to more openly understand and communicate with others. Think: encouraging action.
  3. Simply smile. People are put to ease at this simple facial cue. Building a rapport with someone, discovering more about them and listening to what they have to say builds trust and inclusiveness. The thrill of a smile can go a long way. 🙂

Our Well-Being

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“Life is an attempt to change a piece of a dream-world into reality.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

British Airways recently released data from two somewhat sad studies, which revealed two of the biggest regrets of 2,000 U.S. baby boomers – that they worked too much and didn’t travel enough. Not much new there!

Some of the study’s findings:

  • 17 percent of male respondents said that working too much was their biggest regret
  • 22 percent of women said not traveling enough was their biggest regret
  • 26 percent of respondents said losing contact with friends was their biggest regret

Regrets. Need they be? Are we able to make choices in the physical, social and emotional areas of our lives that can influence our well-being? Of course we can.

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In another survey of over 2 million Americans, Gallup-Healthways’ found that poor financial management can actually cause obesity (not just a correlation). Ed Diener, author of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, says that the key to greater well-being is to have money but not to want it too much. Not surprisingly, there are strategies people of all ages can use to relieve financial stress and thereby lose weight and live longer. (See suggestion at post’s end).

One physical area of our lives that significantly affects our well-being is the workplace and what we do to earn a living. According to Claremont University psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, it’s best to find a job that challenges us to an optimal level – one that’s neither so hard that we give up nor so easy that we get bored. Finding a job that engages your natural talents and gives you constant feedback is sure to contribute to your well-being. You know this, right?

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Two years ago I posted (here) about existing or thriving. I suspect you would agree that a thriving life is vital to our well-being.  If you are interested in optimizing (or perhaps, simply adding positively to) your life and thus your well-being, following are three considerations:

  1. Embrace a sense of safety. Research shows the biggest deterrent to physical activity for some people is perceived danger. You want the outside environment to draw you out, not nudge you in.
  2. Make it a lifelong and relentless habit to exercise serious caution when it comes to anyone who or anything that wants to touch your money or your welfare.
  3. Grow a garden. Several studies have shown that gardening lowers stress hormones. Hoeing, planting, weeding, fertilizing and harvesting all include regular, low-intensity, range-of-motion exercise.

And while you’re at it, create time to play. Get a passport or just reintroduce yourself to life’s simple pleasures.

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Gucci, Pucci, Prada…

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“Once you label me, you negate me.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard

To label or not to label — that is the question.  From a sales and marketing perspective, labels help to distinguish brands. They serve a product differentiation purpose. Labels can also benefit when used to identify or inform, to wit, nutritional labels on food packaging. I read those zealously.

Then there are cases where labels are used to highlight differences in people. We use them often without thinking, even if unuttered. Some examples:

  • right/wrong
  • introvert/extrovert
  • clean/dirty
  • ugly/beautiful
  • Type A/Type B
  • left-wing/right-wing
  • the list is, unfortunately, endless

Label Loser

Increasingly, it seems, we have an unhealthy compulsion to categorize. Between social media, the Internet and other quasi-anonymous platforms, people are becoming more obsessed with telling other people what their label is, supposedly so they’ll better understand and accept them/us.

Or consider stereotyping: how have the labels we placed kept others from truly being who they are meant and blessed to be? How much of life’s joy and goodness have we actually missed because our labels have masked us to what is actually within another person?

I, and likely you, have seen people get carried away with negative labeling. They become their label and the label (sadly, often) becomes their identity. They don’t know where the label ends and where they, the incredible being begins.

Label Toxic

Conversely, it’s rare that people get caught up in positive labeling. Surprisingly, many people are unable to cite a single positive for themselves. Try this: ask a few people, “What are your good qualities or character strengths?” Then notice their immediate reaction(s).

Reinforcing labels need to be nurtured, now more than ever. Why not consider using and promoting labels that describe positive human goals, worthwhile achievements, or an improvement in the human condition? She is healthy. He is educated, They are free!

Labeling Colors

What if each of us abandoned the negativity of personal, social, and political labels? Imagine our interactions and relationships when the differences we highlight and label are an individual’s unique qualities!

For your consideration, here are three exercises that could augment your label assigning awareness:

  1.  When you catch yourself labeling someone, ask yourself, “Why did I do that?” Be mindful that definitions belong to the definer, not the defined.
  2.  Focus on intentionally using labels that positively reflect a person’s attributes.
  3.  When you observe someone doing something positive, label the strengths you observe them demonstrating.

Intentional Focus

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“There are two kinds of people in the world – those who walk into a room and say ‘Here I am’ and those who say ‘There you are.'” ~ Abigail Van Buren

Looking east this evening at the sunset’s reflection on the Sandia (‘watermelon’ in Spanish) Mountains, I was reminded of the elusive green flash. Green flashes are optical phenomena that sometimes occur right after sunset or right before sunrise. The green appearance usually lasts for no more than a second or two. They were first observed and photographed in 1960.

I say ‘elusive’ because I have witnessed countless sunsets from mountain tops, Key West, and San Diego beaches where I focused on glimpsing a green flash. And once, it presented.

That flash would have been missed had I not been focused; had I not been concentrating on it, exclusively. Yet focusing can be challenging for many people.

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Every minute of every day, thoughts, desires and sensory experiences stream through our minds. Each wants our attention making it near impossible to focus. Our minds (well, at least mine) tend to drift to other matters when we try to focus on one thought, subject or activity. Truth?

In the last 10+ years there has been an unconscious shift from encouraging focus to belittling it. And it often happens without us noticing. As soon as multitasking became the rage, focus was quietly relegated to a space of lesser importance.

I consider focus and concentration, interchangeable. What is interesting (as well as encouraging) is that researchers have found that concentration is driven by interest, and interest is driven by attitude. If your attitude towards a specific person or project swells with interest, intrigue and passion, concentration becomes profoundly easy.

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Lack of focus is a common killer of making things happen. If you want to realize a dream, accomplish a goal or deepen a personal connection, pay attention to your attention. Stop yourself from getting on a wrong train of thought early – before it leaves the station.

We get so busy with our ‘stuff’ that it’s easy to forget others’ needs and our affect on them. If it’s significant to you, consider the value in focusing on the importance of caring and compassion for others, of seeing through their eyes. Be mindful of distractions, the frequency with which they interfere and the impact they have on your focus. Distractions can be stealth-like stealers.

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If you want to manage what you focus on, these three actions might be helpful:

  1. Plan some joy!
  2. Take a break. Boredom and distractions invite procrastination. Find a comfortable balance between the activity at hand and the level of focus it truly requires.
  3. Consider less multitasking. The truth is you cannot see that green flash (or whatever you have your sights on) when you are doing multiple things at once.

A Lion, a Tiger, and a Bear

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“Love is blind; friendship closes its eyes.” ~ Frederich Nietzsche

Humans aren’t the only ones who have best friends. Many animals benefit from forming strong, platonic relationships because friendships and social bonds actually serve as a survival mechanism.

Case in point: Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary in Georgia, USA. Considering how animals of different species don’t always get along, there are exceptions. For 15 years, three brothers, an American black bear, an African lion and a Bengal tiger have lived together, in the same quarters. Not separated since cubs, they have always been a source of love and comfort to each other.

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So… some (at least to me) interesting facts about friends and friendships:

A Harvard Medical School Nurses Health Study found that not having close confidants or friends was as detrimental to your health as being overweight or smoking.

A University of Oxford study indicated that each individual is only capable of maintaining a certain number of friendships at any given time. It found that the human limit for simultaneous friendships is around 150. However, those who maintain hundreds of friendships may do so at the expense of their closest relationships – those we turn to when we really need them.

Our friends truly bring out the best in us. In 2013, UCal – San Diego research found that people look more attractive in a group than they do individually. A simple reason to be with friends, right? (After publishing this post I’m off to hang with friends.) 🙂

And according to MSN researchers, in a lifetime one makes 396 friends – only 36 last – and only one in six are considered to be close friends.

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How much time do you set aside to cultivate friendships? Are casual friendships as important to you as close friends? How do you nurture your closest friendships?

Friendships are relationships and they often go through testing times. There will always be ups and downs. Sometimes friends will let you down and sometimes you will let them down.

I miss my closest friends. They don’t live nearby. Acknowledging this, I am reminded of what brought us together in the first place and what will keep us as close as Leo, Shere Khan and Baloo (the lion, the tiger, and the bear):

  1. Make friendship a priority. When you do you empower yourself to say no to less important things in your life and elevate the value of friends in your life. It is always friendships that transcend the daily routine of life.
  2. Be honest. This is essential if you want to improve/keep your friendships – even when it may hurt. Your friends will respect you more, if they know that they can count on you to tell the truth.
  3. Take a road trip. Together! A simple getaway can bring a new level of connection to a friendship. Time away from the day-to-day will help you feel more relaxed, and the anticipation of the trip and memories afterwards – will give the experience additional meaning and value.

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Do You Tell Stories?

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“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~ Maya Angelou

For several years I have attended an annual speaker’s workshop in Las Vegas. One of last year’s presenters was Michael Hauge. Michael works with Hollywood Screenwriters to find and tell what is most authentic in every moment of a story. I learned from him.

Do you tell stories? And I don’t mean fictitious tales. If you do, to whom? For what purpose?

Some of you know that I speak in public. As “facts tell but stories sell,” rarely do I speak exclusively about facts. Rather, I stitch them together into stories to provide an interpretation and to point to a larger significance. I do this because, among other commonalities, we are wired for relationship. In order to grow, develop and move closer in connection, we need to gather from one another. And this can be accomplished by simply sharing an insight or experience with other people.

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For much of my adult life I worked in linear environments, settings which dealt in data, lacked color and focused on bottom lines. We didn’t tell stories; we delivered results to stakeholders. We grew business enterprises that did little to build cultural bridges, construct meaning or provide a shared understanding of our lives as knit together in society.

The only emotion we elicited was scorn from investors when goals weren’t met or elation from the same cohort when financial targets were surpassed.

Yet stories with emotion, the kind that bind families, generations and cultures, are key to what profoundly shape civilizations.

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Have you ever paused to consider how your stories might change hearts and minds? An example: The Diary of Anne Frank did more to educate people about Auschwitz than any research on the topic. And it was simply her story. Stories invite participation. When you tell a story, you are essentially creating a framework for the listener, reader or viewer to insert their own details, thereby enabling an active role in the story itself.

Think about this: Identifying common value is attractive, not just for those with whom we want to communicate directly, but also to other listeners we might want to be part of the conversation. And many of us want to be part of some conversation. Right?

The reality is that each of us can be a storyteller. Perhaps you’ve not thought of yourself as one. What might be an insignificant experience to you could serve as a meaningful lesson for others. Yet, how are they going to benefit from said lesson if you aren’t telling your stories?

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Don’t zip it. Share it! As an emerging (or growing) storyteller, consider these points:

  1. Have a reason or an objective. It may be to encourage or inspire or cause someone to think differently. Keep the story’s purpose in mind. At the story’s end, reflect on what you shared. And ask if there are questions.
  2. Be imperfect. We are delighted by stories that involve some vulnerability. People want to hear about struggles, and how to overcome them. It’s okay to talk about success but talk about the challenges; what got you there!
  3. Spread the glory. Give credit and explanation to those in your life who have helped you in your journey. Acknowledge those who influenced you and lifted you up to the heights you reached.

Nosey or Curious

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“Curiosity is not an only child; it is part of a family of terms used by writers, scientists, and everyday people making conversation to capture the essence of recognizing, seeking out, and showing a preference for the new.” ~ Todd Kashdan

Yours truly is a curious guy. Always have been. And it has raised eyebrows at times. Some people who are unaccustomed to or uncomfortable with my staying interested and engaged in life have likened my desire to learn more about people, places, things and concepts – to being nosey.

Nosey is being unduly curious about the affairs of others; prying or being meddlesome. Think: Gladys Kravitz, who I am not. 🙂 Cue the proverb, “Curiosity killed the cat” which basically translates: beware of poking your nose into others’ business as it may get you into trouble.

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Some say a healthy curiosity serves us in many ways: It nurtures intelligence, contributes to good health and it often increases happiness. Curiosity is a state of arousal so it needs to be prompted. A spark simply launches the interest. Stimulating curiosity is like lighting a fire; once lit it keeps going and can become all-consuming. It can also be doused, if necessary.

An important facet in developing curiosity is to be open-minded whether in questioning anything in life or a task at hand. Some of us do this naturally and some of us drive people crazy with our open-mindedness. Rarely do we know, for sure, what a willingness to investigate something new and/or investing time in discovering a new interest might yield. Until we do.

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If you don’t consider yourself a curious person (maybe you prefer nosey), perhaps the thought of becoming so is now piqued. It doesn’t matter what you decide to become curious about as long as you have a willingness to explore. It could well make you a smarter and more interesting person. Any qualms with that?

I’m about adding spice to life. Maybe you enjoy bland over spicy. And sticking with your preference is fine. But if recognizing and seeking out the new appeals to you, here are three ways in which to develop curiosity:

  1. Ask questions constantly. One way to dig deeper beneath the surface is by asking questions. What, why, when, who, where and how are great sentence starters when engaging another individual. People love to share their knowledge and opinions so why not inquire? Relentlessly. 🙂
  2. Acknowledge your surroundings as dynamic and interesting. We easily become accustomed to what we see, smell, see and feel every day. Stop, think, and wonder about your surroundings as refreshing in their own way.
  3. Model curiosity. You can do this by exploring others’ passions, expanding on their ideas and engaging them in meaningful dialogue about what matters most, to them.

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Patience Patients

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It is very strange that the years teach us patience – that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting. ~ Elizabeth Taylor

“The years.” How significant those two words. They reference a manner in which we score time. They are also an expanse that provides us space to assess and test ourselves.

This past Fall I took my mother on an Eastern Mediterranean cruise. We spent time in Rome both prior to and following beautiful seaborne excursions. While she is still amply able-bodied and of sharp mind, I wanted to share more time and experiences with her.

I also wanted to test my own patience.

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As do most children, I love my mother. She is responsible for countless aspects of my grounding, my growth and my character. She also tests my patience. 🙂

Patience is the ability to tolerate waiting, delay or frustration without becoming agitated or upset. It is also the ability to control our emotions or impulses and proceed calmly when faced with challenges. It comes from the Latin word pati which means to suffer, to endure, to bear. Needless to say, patience does not come easily for many of us.

In today’s world of instant everything, technology, and a readily available universe, we can obtain, experience, and consume practically anything we want – almost immediately. Some wonder, do we even need to be patient anymore?

Time with my mother helped me to better understand and appreciate how we wait alongside and accept others. As a grown man, I needed to reassure myself that I possessed and embraced this capacity. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” In the spirit of this quote, planning and measured growth take time and taking time takes patience.

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Eknath Easwaran, a spiritual teacher and author once said, “Patience can’t be acquired overnight. It is just like building up a muscle. Every day you need to work on it.” It makes sense then that the more we can remain patient, the easier it gets. It’s a muscle we build over the years; a muscle I am still developing.

To those who acknowledge patience as a virtue, these three considerations may be worth your time and practice:

  1. Accept the reality of your humanity. You are going to need time, effort and energy to change and grow. There will be natural resistance to altering long-standing habitual ways of acting, reacting and believing. Simply give it time.
  2. Plan a day to make patience your goal for the entire day. Take your time and think about everything you do. At day’s end, reflect on all the ways you made conscious choices, got along better with others and actually understood what took place.
  3. Be patient with yourself. Keep this kindness reminder in mind when it comes to life. Things don’t always go as planned. You will do things you know you ought not have done. Don’t beat yourself up. Or give up.

Consider being a benefactor of patience.

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A Different Way

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“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” ~ Albert Einstein

Have you ever caught yourself doing something the same way and then asked yourself: 1) Why am I so predictable? or 2) Why not try this differently?

There are many explanations for our conditioned behavior and/or actions, among them: We think, act and create in certain ways because that is likely how we were taught or told; Maybe it seems a more convenient or efficient manner in which to produce a desired outcome or; There exists the possibility that we’ve simply not given ourselves permission to explore or invoke an alternative.

Here is a personal example. I am a ‘night owl.’ I have been seemingly forever. I get much accomplished when other people are winding down their day or perhaps, even asleep. It’s my productive time.

Not long ago I gave pause and considered, could I be just as effective, more creative, maybe an even better problem solver were I to try being a morning lark? And guess what?

downloadTo those of you who can relate to this – one way or the other – you probably understand the challenge in pulling a 180 here and shifting your lifestyle to the early morning or late night hours. This could be brutal!

Yet not every one of us is this adventurous or willing to introduce subtle (or radical) change into our routine. You may be one of those people who enjoy being a creature of habit or living the status quo. And that’s fine.

However, if the prospect of different (and possibly pleasing or beneficial) results intrigue you, then why not step outside of your certain comfort zone?

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Who says you have to plant a kiss squarely? Consider modifying that tried and true recipe. Be open to finding new ways to drive to a regular haven. Act on those crazy ideas you get when showering. Seek a destination that differs from where you always travel.

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Three simple suggestions, for your consideration, if you desire different results:

  1. Follow your heart for a change, even if your mind thinks otherwise.
  2. View something boring or monotonous as an opportunity to mix things up.
  3. Be comfortable dispelling or dismissing boundaries. Invite your inner rebel to act, respond, or be different. Shed your old thinking and welcome a new, distinctive mind-set.

Why not?