Category: Communication

The Art of Relationships

For most people, success in life is measured by the job they hold, the money they make, and the possessions they acquire. We raise our children to aim for this trifecta, focusing on school and grades and constant “upward” movement. Unfortunately I feel the most important skill or tool that we can provide our children with to help them “succeed” in life is often the least focused on – relationships.

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Relationships are the essence of our lives and without the ability to maintain good relationships, I believe we truly cannot succeed. From home life to the office, if you cannot communicate and work well with people, your forward movement is limited. If you do not have a supportive group of family and friends (co-workers too), all of your challenges and hardships rest solely on your head and shoulders.

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But a person who cultivates and cares for relationships above college degrees, money, and acclaim is a person who will get further than just their career/life experience will take them. Did you know that people who were in fraternities or sororities are 60% more likely to have successful careers because they have a network of built-in friends to gain support, leads, and referrals from? Again, it’s about relationships!

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Consider two people with the same exact education and experience applying for the same job. Person A has not learned the fine art of conversation, improvisation, and the ability to find something to relate to with everyone they meet. Person B puts relationships and real communication paramount over everything else they do, and they want people to be comfortable around them.  Guess who gets the job?

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In this age of technology-focused society, the current generation(s) are learning texting instead of talking. We are pushing our youth to stay ahead of the curve with their computer skills and educational goals, which is essential to stay competitive with other countries, but they’re missing out on skills that can really make the difference in the quality of their lives, as well as their careers.

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It’s the same for intimate relationships (marriages, partnerships). A person who is content with only their significant other and/or children for company and does not work at maintaining relationships with life-long friends (who often have moved far away) or does not seek to create new friendships is keeping their world (and therefore their growth) very small and limited. This also teaches children that friendships and the work required to maintain them is not as important as having a family and plowing forward.

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My mother instilled in me the fine art of conversation, something seriously lacking in so many adults, not to mention children, these days. She said there was always something to talk about with anyone you meet. She taught me to ask questions, and then listen to their answers. While this skill has helped me more times than I can count (garnered me many a job lead or an awesome new friend), I am saddened to see how many adults cannot reciprocate. Often they do not engage in asking questions back – a “get to know you” kind of exchange. Once I’m done “interviewing” and offering a few clever anecdotes of my own, the conversation ceases as they do not know how to communicate back. So many people feel uncomfortable unless they’re only talking about themselves (which is very one-sided).  How do you fare where you are forced to mingle with people you do not know?

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In the next week as you think upon this post, look at how you communicate with friends and strangers. Look at how they communicate back to you. See if you can find examples of where your relationships with someone benefited your goals, or where not having certain types of relationships have held you back. Then see what you can do to improve the quality of your relationships and communication skills. Remember there is value in having true, honest and reliable relationships in your life, and those relationships start by you being true, honest and reliable.

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Caring vs. Living

How much time do you spend in a day thinking or worrying about what other people may think of you? Take your time, really think about this. I know that most of us spend a great deal of time concerned with how our actions or words will affect (or have affected) our family, friends, co-workers, and yes, even strangers. This appears to be a built-in commonality to most humans – it is in our “human nature” to need each other. We all instinctively desire families and friends, and as we evolved as a civilization, that instinct created a side-affect of caring about how others view us.

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Recently I’ve been analyzing this trait we share, with the realization that while caring about approval is important, we waste a lot of time caring about the wrong issues or people.  There are, of course, millions of individuals who seem to not care what other’s think, demonstrated either by their clear disregard for anyone’s wishes other than their own, or their overly-vehement verbal claims that they just don’t care what anyone thinks (Mr. Trump?). But even for these types, I know with certainty that in some aspect, in certain circumstances, or at the very least with a select few people in their lives, these non-care-ers do in fact care very much. They’ve just adopted the habit of shrugging their shoulders and letting go of the emotional turmoil that can come with caring. Sometimes we envy those who seem to not care because it appears freeing and less stressful. But remember once you force human nature to not care, you loose a lot of joy in life that comes from caring.

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Now caring should not be confused with compassion, sympathy and empathy — which we all should strive to have more of. But caring to the point that we berate ourselves for our choices, or feel embarrassment or guilt about our actions, is the issue I’m addressing today.

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How many times have you stopped yourself from doing something because you worried about how you might look or sound. What experiences have you missed out on because of this? The sad thing is that 90% of the time no one would have judged you poorly or possibly even noticed. The remaining 10% of the time, or rather the remaining 10% of people who might have a negative opinion, they’re either strangers that you will NEVER see again, or they are friends/family who better have unconditional love for you or they’re not worth being in your lives (in my opinion)!

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Children do not start out with these concerns, they do and say what they want and live life to the fullest learning along the way how far they can go on pure instinct and the desire to find joy and fun in everything. It is only in the structured social and behavioral environment of school that they start to care – or more precisely start to temper their choices based upon their concern that other’s might judge them negatively. While sometimes this is a good lesson (i.e., not to put their bodies in harms way, not to speak out of turn, not to say hurtful things, etc.) it also crushes our inherent instincts to step out on a ledge and try something new.

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While I’m not offering a solution to this dilemma today, I simply want to bring it to your consciousness and offer the reminder that some aspects of childlike abandon could do your life some good. Adulthood doesn’t mean we should stop learning or seeking to push ourselves and our minds and constantly seek new experiences. We have the benefit of adult wisdom when it comes to protecting our bodies and minds, but perhaps we should incorporate back in some of the innocence and bravery of youth. So stop worrying so much about what other’s think and just worry about if you’re doing right by YOU!

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Authentic vs. Honest

A current hot catch-phrase in my industry is “are you living an authentic life?” I hear and read that slogan frequently and I always scream in my head what the hell does that mean? Are people running around living false lives? Well in a way, yes. The issue for me is that I think “truth” is a better and more easily applied word than “authentic.”

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One of Webster’s dictionary definitions of the word authentic is “representing one’s true nature or beliefs…” While that definition is easy to understand, it can be a hard put into practice. How does one represent their “true nature or beliefs?”

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Clearly I do understand the essence of this phrase – that many people choose to not follow their dreams or listen to their instincts, and end up living out circumstances that they never intended or wanted. But my issue is that to live authentically one must first really know and understand who they are and what they want. While some of us enter adulthood already having figured out who we are and what we want (and then spend the rest of our 20’s, 30’s and even 40’s refining that), there is a huge quantity of adults walking around who simply do not know the answers to those questions.

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That’s not a criticism mind you, it is a reality that not all personalities are able, or in some cases even willing, to set in stone the life they want to live. There is nothing wrong with going with the wind and currents and just enjoying where life takes you and how it shapes you, if that’s is who you are. So who then, is really living the “authentic” life? Is it people like me who have things all mapped out and goals firmly being adhered to, or is it those who fly by the seat of their pants? I think what it comes down to is if you are happy with the life you’re living. After all, either approach can leave a person feeling unsatisfied and/or lost.

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To me, what’s truly important is honesty. Are you honest with yourself and those around you – honest about who you are and what you want? Honesty can be much more easily applied to one’s life than authenticity, don’t you think? Perhaps then, the better way to state the catch-phrase would be “are you living an honest life?

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To that end, I leave you with the true essence behind this posting: if you are not living an honest life, if you are not being honest with yourself, remember that life (or time) seems to zip by very quickly (you know the other old catch-phrase life is short). Now I know how hard it is for many of you to be honest. Honesty is sometimes scary for while it’s freeing for the deliverer, it can be painful for the recipient. But honesty, as we teach our children, is always better than the burden of lying (or in this case, living a lie).

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So dig deep, don’t let fear stop you, and start being honest. Remember to take baby steps, and be patient, it will get easier, and that honesty must always be delivered compassionately (that includes to yourself). Honesty is the most powerful tool to altering your life’s course. Take heart in those that live an honest life for they demonstrate that when we live an honest life, we are at the very least, happier and able to breath just a little bit better.

STAND UP

2016 was a tough year for a lot of us, and as I look forward into 2017 to formulate my goals and targets I have come to realize that a three-pronged ideal can help us find better physical and emotional health. Therefore, this year I suggest we all adopt the following mantra: “Stand Up. Stand Up Straight. Stand Up Strong.”

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These words double as a fitness reminder and a social cue. Anyone with a goal of improved physical shape and health should simply stand up more, walk more and sit less (or at the very least stand up and move every 30-minutes). Likewise we should all stand up for preserving our own personal values as well as America’s tenuous democratic values as we forge into unknown (and for many of us very scary) territory with Trump at our helm.

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Stand Up Straight:

I often address the rampant increase of postural distortions in adults and children here in my blog, but this year I am on a personal mission to help everyone improve their health by observing and improving their posture. Your spine is the gateway between your brain and the rest of your body. If you have curved-in shoulders or hips, and knees or ankles that rotate inwards (pronate) you are cutting off and/or shorting out a lot of nerves that bring signals to and from your brain. So set a phone or watch reminder, or buddy up with a friend and remind yourself several times a day to stand up straight and tall, keep your shoulders squared and relaxed, and remember to breathe low and slow.

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Stand Up Strong:

This one can be taken both literally and figuratively. First, you must remember no matter how tough your path is currently, this too shall pass. But the key to improving your emotional or circumstantial life is to stay strong emotionally (and physically) and remember how strong you really are. Stand up for yourself and show your strength! Second, we must all stand up in a show of solidarity and strength so we can change that which is not working for all of us. We truly need to stand up strong together against racial, gender, and LGBT discrimination, double-standards of wages and rights, religious persecution, women’s rights, and the general bullying of anyone who disagrees with the “moral majority’s” opinions (that starts with the Oval Office)!

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For those of you who find this post a bit too soap-boxy, please indulge me as I am a child of the 60’s and it’s in my nature to stand up for my rights, my health and my peers. So if you agree, repeat after me (and then DO IT): Stand Up. Stand Up Straight. Stand Up Strong!

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No Resolutions

A few years back I created this post and it seems like a good time to remind you all to embrace the new year, and renew your motivation to change or meet goals you want to achieve. Set yourself up in a positive way and perhaps this time, you’ll accomplish more than any year prior!

Every year thousands of us make New Year’s resolutions that 99% of us break or don’t complete. Most prevalent are goals to lose weight and get in shape. But just like the chronic cigarette smoker who knows that smoking is bad but can’t stop because they’re addicted, losing weight and getting into shape needs more motivation than just your brain saying (along with everyone around you) that you need to do this to be healthy.

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When you’re in the thick of it, the last thing you want to do is stop doing something that seemingly makes you feel better (i.e., smoking, eating that pint of ice cream, drinking that bottle of beer). Even though you know that these choices are not in your body’s best interest, your brain is used to these comforts to deal with life’s stresses.

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This is why we fail at new years resolutions. They’re made because it’s traditional to make them not because we have complete conviction behind the need to change. So, while the concept of a resolution is good – setting goals and starting them on a pivotal date – there is clearly not enough motivation placed on these goals to sustain our focus, and motivation is key!

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So how then do you get and sustain true motivation? That, my friends, comes from within, when you are truly ready to acknowledge how unhappy you feel in the physical condition you’re in. It’s not about needing to get healthier for someone else; it’s not about wanting to feel sexier or more attractive; it’s not about wearing a different clothing size. It’s about YOU wanting to be different. YOU wanting to end the depression that follows you around because you feel unattractive or don’t have the energy to keep up with your kids or friends.

If personal changes are important enough to you, nothing will stop you.

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Once you want the change for reasons so strong that nothing can deter you, then it instantly becomes a goal you can achieve. You don’t need a date on the calendar to get your started. You don’t need an extreme diet. You don’t even need a personal trainer (did I just say that?!). All you need to keep your desire for change always in the forefront of your brain. What do you stand to gain by this change. Don’t focus on what you’ll lose (energy, clothes, life) – focus on what you’ll gain. Gaining something is actually a stronger motivator than losing something.

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So enjoy the holidays and your New Year’s celebration, but skip the resolutions. Instead contemplate what you want to gain and how badly you want it. Then go get it!

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(And of course, if you DO want a trainer, or a tailor-made workout routine created by a professional trainer, give me shout. I’m here to cheer you on and help you stay focused!)

Happy or Bah Humbug?

This post first ran last December, but I believe it bears constant repeating, so I gave it a little update and serve it up again.  Please read and remember – life can be stressful and intrusive to your goals, so don’t beat yourself up about unrealized dreams – but DON’T GIVE UP either.

As the year winds down and the holidays rear their busy, caloric, stressful heads I want to take a moment to remind you to be accepting and compassionate – OF YOURSELF! Clearly all of us should be accepting and compassionate of others, but I find that so many people can give love and compassion to others but NOT to themselves. Those types are even tougher on themselves this time of year, which leads to more stress and less enjoyment of what should be a wonderful time. Is that you?

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The most typical issues that you might beat yourself up about are:

  • I didn’t reach my goals
  • I didn’t get in shape
  • I’m still at the same dead-end job or relationship
  • Once again I don’t have enough money to enjoy the holidays

So listen what I am yelling at you right now: STOP IT!

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If you didn’t reach your goals because you didn’t try, okay, so know you must see that inactivity and/or indecisiveness clearly doesn’t work. So find stronger motivation and perhaps an easier goal to reach (i.e., the first step towards the total end goal) and come January, get off your ass and start moving towards that goal!

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If you didn’t get in shape because you didn’t stick with healthier nutrition and an exercise regiment, again, nothing will change until you do. But you are human and not alone in this – so stop beating yourself up about it. Just follow this blog, join a gym, find a trainer, or whatever it is that will MOVE you (pun intended) toward your fitness goals in the new year.

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If your job still sucks the life out of you, and/or a relationship has run itself into the ground with no hope of improvement, then decide if you’d rather be exactly where you are NOW one year from now, or somewhere else. If you can’t bear the thought of still being STUCK this time next year, then again, get off your ass and do something about it. There’s ALWAYS a choice that can be made and implemented.

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Lastly, as for the dreaded cost and stress of holiday shopping – I know for a fact that most of us would really rather spend quality time with our friends just sitting around being together, drinking wine, playing cards, watching a movie, having a meal, etc. Same goes for fun or funny homemade or gag gifts that break no one’s bank. A token present or little joke gift to remind someone that they’ve got a friend who cares is really the best gift of all. No one wants a gift when the giver has stressed themselves out over it or incurred debt. The only person who truly demands a certain amount of money spent or certain high quality of gift is usually YOU, the giver. Otherwise, they’re not a person you should be hanging with anyway.

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I’ve actually implemented a White Elephant gift exchange with a large group of my friends. Everyone spends a maximum of $25 and then after an hour or so of drinking and laughing over the constant stealing of gifts (look up white elephant parties if you don’t understand) everyone leaves with one nice gift and no one went broke.

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So do what you can to be happy and not bah-humbug this holiday season, and get your ducks in a row to hit the ground running come January. Then let the rest of your worries go and just enjoy life as it is. (And remember you’ve got me in your corner – I’m always happy to help keep you motivated too!)

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How Hard Will You Work?

Recently I heard a report on NPR that since illegal immigrants are having a harder time getting into and staying in our Country, American farmers are having a harder time getting their crops harvested. Now while I whole-heartedly agree that you’re welcome to come to America seeking a better life, you must do so through proper channels (just like in any other Country), the problem with turning away (or sending back) so many of these hard working individuals is that American citizens are not willing to pick up the slack.

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For whatever reason, a majority of American’s have decided that hard manual labor is beneath them and not worth the money it pays. One Washington farmer stated that every time he’s hired an American to work on his vegetable farm, they quit within a few days finding the work too hard. One such worker even stated that he’d rather work 8-hours at McDonald’s for minimum wage, than 12-hours on the farm for $3-5 more than minimum wage!

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Meanwhile his foreman of 20 years (originally an illegal immigrant who now has a green card), is very happy to have the consistent work and has been able to bring the rest of his family from Mexico, buy a house, pay taxes (unlike our President Elect), and his grandchildren are all going to college. That’s the American dream, right?

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Many small farms have even had to close down (leaving those American families without income) because they can’t use illegal migrant workers any more but few American-born workers will fill the gap. Even the large, federally subsidized farms are having trouble getting their fast-growing crops (thanks to GMO seeds) harvested in time because they can’t hire enough “legal” workers.

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I have to ask, what’s wrong with working in the field people? I know it’s “back-breaking work” in a lot of ways, but fresh air, and lots of calorie burn (active farmers are rarely over-fat) is not too shabby an option if you need consistent work – compared to working in a fast-food joint at least in my opinion. It’s not just farming and gardening that we shy away from. Even unionized jobs like car manufacturing assembly (where machines do 70% more of the heavy lifting labor than 100 years ago) cater to our need to have “down time” and comfortable environments and food breaks, yada yada yada. While Unions are important to keep us from being abused by employers, we still need to embrace HARD WORK.

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My husband used to run a day spa, and he had an abundance of white educated applicants for front desk jobs and massage therapists. But the drudgery work – the cleaning of rooms and maintaining of equipment – was filled 95% by Latin American immigrants (Guatemala, Honduras, etc.) Granted, a lot of it has to do with language skills and education – but there still seems to be a disconnect between jobs available in our country, and jobs that we’re willing to take. Yet we complain about those who will do that drudgery. Can’t have it both ways.

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So I think we need to take a hard look at what we’re teaching the current and future generations about hard work and how to earn a living when life throws you a curve ball. I’m teaching my daughter to always have a back up plan to your career goals, and always be willing to work hard for whatever it is she wants.

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With 2016 winding down, and a radical new presidency upon us, now more than ever we need to band together as Americans and be willing to work ALL the jobs our Nation needs to stay “great.” From farms, to mechanical labor, restaurants to offices, no job is too small if it gets you (and America) from point A to point B.

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The Things We Say

With society being so focused on enforcing “politically correct” language these days, I’m constantly surprised at how many standard statements are not deemed rude or demeaning. For instance, I saw a woman at my daughter’s school yesterday carrying a 4-week old baby. The woman was slender and in workout clothes. She was surrounded by other women all saying how incredible she looks after only 4 weeks! (Believe me when I say not all of them had sincere tones to their “compliments.”)

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The issue I have with this example is that it is implying that women after childbirth (and pregnant women as well) do not look good. Stretched out bodies or extra fat is viewed as “unattractive” and although the majority of women take 6 months or longer to get their bodies back to pre-birth shape (if at all), the idea that a woman who doesn’t look like she just had a baby after only 4 weeks is incredible (i.e., special and/or coveted) bothers me.

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Where does that leave the rest of the women, and how they feel about their bodies? This rides tandem to my pet peeve of people asking naturally thin women if they ever eat. You would never walk up to an over-fat woman and ask her if she ever eats less or diets, but you can walk up to a skinny woman and tell her she needs to eat more! We’re constantly judging each other’s bodies.

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I’m also surprised by how many women will comment about a woman who clearly has spent a lot of money on her clothes, hair and purse (i.e., appears to have large amounts of discretionary money) as if it’s a put down. Yet we don’t know her story, and the irony is that America loves the idea of working just enough to make lots of money and then spending it as a blatant indication that you HAVE it. But these same women get their panties in a bunch if a clutch of “wealthy” woman looked down on a woman wearing sweat pants and carrying a purse from Target.

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The bottom line is that there’s just too much judgment and negativity going around where women are concerned — towards women and BY women. Despite the fact that we almost had a woman as President of this great Nation, women still only hold 4.6% of CEO Positions in S&P Fortune 500 companies (23 out of 500 to be exact). We (women) are still holding each other back with our pettiness and constant need to compare, judge, and find ways to feel superior (or make others feel inferior).

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So take a hard look at how, where and why you judge other women and decide for yourself if you can improve your perceptions, and think about what the affects of what you say. Just like last month’s historical election, it takes all of us, one-at-a-time, to make a change!

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How Far Ahead Are You?

Whether you’re a “plan-ahead planner” like me, or an “addictive over-achiever,” or even a “procrastinator-extraordinaire,” we all suffer from walking ahead of ourselves on a fairly regular basis.

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What that means is that at some point during our days/weeks, we spend a quantity of time thinking about situations or conversations that are looming on our horizon. Some of us do this almost constantly, while others dabble – but no matter how much or little, any time spent thinking about (playing it out in our heads) an upcoming situation or conversation we expect to have is time spent not paying attention to the NOW.

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While I might justify the benefits of thorough planning ahead for everything from the next day to a trip months away, others can equally justify their choices to play it by ear and “wing it.” There’s pros and cons to both styles. But even if you “wing it” I guarantee there are numerous times you think about how you want a conversation or event to happen. This sets up expectations that, if not achieved, can cause disappointment, anxiety, or the dreaded “confrontations” that so many claim to hate.

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I’ve talked before in my blog about confrontations and how they do not have to be seen as a negative (Confrontation Or Communication), so that aside, my issue today is that moving further down your path – in your head – sets up a false future that often doesn’t match up to reality. Experiencing repeated situations or conversations that don’t live up to your imagined outcomes can cause self-doubt in your choices. The irony here is that we’ve imagined how things will go – forgetting that the imagination is supposed to be creative and not realistic!

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So how do you stay in the present – stay focused on the path directly in front you in the now? That’s a question that millions tackle on a daily basis. What I do know is that for me, when I catch myself playing things out ahead of time – I stop and focus on what I’m doing NOW and do my best to keep my attention there, and only considering what needs to be done as the very next step.

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One of the tricks I learned during my Dramatic Arts training is to NOT try to ignore the pink elephant in the room. The more you try to ignore it, the larger it grows. Instead, we learned to turn our focus to something in front of our face that we create right on the spot. I would imagine a purple giraffe and delve into the details of that giraffe, which would cause me to completely forget about the pink elephant.

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While it takes practice, this trick works great when applied to the topic of this blog.  Just today at the gym I found myself focusing on a conversation I want to have with a friend. I was rehashing all my bulleted points, filling in their imagined responses. I shortly realized I wasn’t paying attention to my workout. I shifted my focus to analyze my form and the tempo of my movements and in short order I was thoroughly engrossed with the exercise at hand and enjoyed my workout all the more.

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Try it for yourself and let me know the results.  I guarantee the next time you find yourself traveling down the road in your head, just pull over and think about something relevant to right now – delve into the details of that and you’ll quickly shift your focus away from that false future that you were creating.

Look At It This Way…

In my role as a life strategies coach I regularly utilize a few choice analogies to help my clients cope with and solve issues by seeing their situation from another perspective. Stepping back and changing your perspective on an issue or problem is the best way to remove emotional triggers and baggage which in turn allows you to find the best solution.

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Today’s blog, while it might seem rather heady, is designed to help those of you who are feeling the stress of the last quarter creep into your bodies. Many of my friends and clients suffer from stress induced headaches, illnesses, and depression this time of year because they panic that goals set in January have still not been met, and/or the kids and their schooling require more attention, and/or the expensive holidays are around the bend, etc.

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Here are my three favorite and most used analogies to help you gain perspective on a goal not met; relationships stuck in detrimental cycles; and the ever-present pressure of time ticking away from your life.  So look at it this way:

Swim upstream, find exhaustion; float on the current, and find dry land.

Often we get so emotionally focused on achieving a goal even when things aren’t working, or an expectation or what we felt we deserved, and what is just, that we plow through muddy waters swimming against the current and downpour of debris just to make our point (risking drowning in the process). But imagine if you simply stopped fighting and floated along with the current. You would undoubtedly eventually be lead (or easily steer yourself), towards the safety of the shore, and to your further benefit, often what was upstream finds its way downstream as well. In other words the issue could resolve on its own or be revisited another time when there are less impedances or emotions are calmer.

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You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.

Having spent years riding horses, this analogy is a favorite of mine because it’s simple and true. Imagine leading a horse to water…then what? You cannot force their heads to the trough. If they aren’t thirsty they’re simply not going to drink. If you have a spouse, child, family member or friend that repeatedly requests your advice or repeatedly makes the same unfortunate choices and then anguishes over them – you can advise, negotiate, dictate, plead and bargain, but even if that person agrees completely with the right course of action – if they do not feel full conviction in taking that path, they simply won’t. Save your breath, save your strength, show them where the water (salvation) is, but then let the rest be up to their fate.

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This moment is but a speck on the road.

The road of life is long, and for all of us there are ups and downs, some are high or lower than others, but we all walk the same concept: born – walk – live – walk – grow – walk – age – walk – end. My point is that what seems crucial, urgent or important at this very moment in time, with a little distance (more time) becomes a barely recognizable speck on your road. Granted, there are issues we face that cannot be trivialized (like unemployment, divorce, cancer, or death), but almost everything else that upsets us on a daily basis is trivial, and if you can just remember that it’s ONLY a speck on the road, your anger, frustration or sadness will lessen almost instantly, and most certainly in a day, week, or month, you’ll look back and think what was I so upset about?

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I hope one or two of these will pop into your consciousness the next time there is a circumstance befitting the use of these life-strategy analogies, and please feel free to share any analogies that you have come to rely upon when a coping tool is needed.