Happiness

Happiness

Being Happy is Not Always Easy

Being happy is not always easy. Life is never going to be free of challenges or stress.  Our lives get complicated. Complicated is not bad, unless your view of life is  “half empty”.  A negative outlook makes it even harder to see the bright side of a situation.  With a “half empty” outlook towards life, nothing ever goes your way; making it next to impossible to be happy!  There comes a point when you need to let go of inhibition or negativity and start enjoying life. We all have challenges and stress – why not be happy despite them?

Are you Happy?

It’s important when you do the below exercise that you are honest. If dishonest, the only person you are fooling is yourself.   Fill in the below graph by asking yourself, how is/are my __________ (relationships, friends, career, finances, health, your general well being) and rate them as: Excellent, Good, OK, Not Good, Bad.

 

 

If you have indicated “Not Good” or “Bad” for an area of your life.

With time and a positive outlook, happiness will return. Remain positive and work towards happiness.  It can sometimes seem easier to feel “Not Good” or “Bad”. Change is not easy, but the benefits of working on you far outweigh giving up.  Have no fear for the unknown!

If you indicated “Not Good” or “Bad” for more than one area of your life.

You need to work on yourself.  Prolonged periods of extreme negativity can lead to worse, sometime destructive, behavior to mask your depressed state. Be willing and open to accept change and humble enough to ask for help.

 If you have indicated “OK” for one or more areas of your life.

That is cool! A small change or adjustment will get you to “Good”.  Things could be better, but truth be told, everything is fine. Maybe there is room for improvement, small needed changes. You are moving in the right direction. Work on positive changes. Change can be slow; don’t let the small pitfalls inhibit your journey.

If you have indicated “Good” for one or more areas of your life.

Checking Good indicates that you perceive this area in your life to be secure. While there is always room for improvement, you are confident with your position in this arena.

If you have indicated “Excellent” for one or more areas of your life.

You are probably experiencing a high point in life. Falling in love, promotions, babies, graduations, and celebrations of any kind…. All the wonderful things that make us feel super amazing excited and happy.   If you are feeling Excellent in one or more area in your life – congratulations and enjoy!

The Objective of this Exercise

Checking “Good” for all the areas in your life is the goal of this exercise.  No ones’ life is “Excellent” all the time. Excellent is reserved for the wonderful highs. Checking good, indicates that you probably enjoy a wonderful balanced life. All the parts of your life are in check. You are in check.

Why are you unhappy?

When one part of your life is out of whack it can make your overall existence fall off balance.   It’s easy to fall trap to a downward spiral of negativity when one aspect of your life isn’t going as planned.

When you are unhappy, it’s best to isolate the area of your life makes you miserable.  Are you between jobs? Experiencing a life changing moment – like a divorce, death or loss of any kind? Are you lonely?  Has weight gain caused you to be insecure?  Are you bored?  Once you isolate the real reason you are unhappy – compartmentalize it.  Don’t use this shortcoming as an excuse for not seeking happiness and wallowing in negativity.   Address your issues; don’t let your issues consume you.

How do you get happy?

Once you admit you are unhappy you are the only one who can change.  Life challenges will always be there. It’s important to counterbalance the less pleasant aspects of your life with positivity.  Having positive outlets makes it easier to cope with the harder moments. Stepping away and giving yourself a timeout may also enable you to handle or cope easier with difficult subjects.  Don’t avoid your problems. Instead, increase opportunities to lessen negative pressures – make them less overbearing

Where do you go to get some of this happiness?

Stay busy with activities that make you happy.

Keep it simple- easy things. Try sitting in your favorite park and reading a book. Spend time doing something you love, like dancing in your PJ’s to your favorite tunes.  It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it’s fun and makes you feel good. Find activities YOU enjoy. Can’t come up with any ideas?  Walking is easy and you never know what you will get into.

Mutual respect

Start treating others like you would like to be treated. Being nice to others will result in people being nice to you.

Smile More

It’s hard to be unhappy when you are smiling. Not to mention, smiling prevents premature aging and wrinkles, that’s something to be happy about.

Making these small steps will make it easier to get to a happier place.  Stay upbeat, keep it positive, embrace health, LIVE HAPPY.

Check this out

Recently read Miles and Jo Love story in Blue…

Really enjoyed it!

“From an early age I’d been groomed to be a perfect wife instead of an independent thinker, so consequently I became insecure and had very little expectations concerning my options, but as Miles pushed me toward new challenges, my confidence increased both mentally and physically.”

– Jo Gelbard, Miles and Jo: Love Story in BlueScreen shot 2013-05-31 at 1.48.44 PM

Amazing job Jo!  Thank you for sharing your journey!

From one “groomed to be a perfect wife” to another, change is hard.   Liking who you are is a good place to be… I admire your courage!

Below is a link with more information about Jo’s work (Thanks Jo)

    MILES DAVIS & JO GELBARD – The Artwork

http://www.jazzviews.net/miles-davis–jo-gelbard-the-artwork.html

 

 

 

The 20-Minute Solution to Coping With Grief Recovering From Loss

ThirdAge.com

http://www.thirdage.com/widowhood/recovering-from-loss

By Susanne Veder Berger

Recovering from loss is always a work in progress. I speak from experience. When the marriage I expected would last a lifetime came to an abrupt end, I found myself in the position of having to reinvent myself and support my two children. Then I married again but lost the love of my life in 2010 to an untimely death. Since then I have been delivering my message of hope and self-improvement during presentations to various groups. In the course of doing that, I’ve found that my 20-minute solution for coping with grief resonates with others. The journey is ongoing, but you can make it possible 20 minutes at a time. clock

20 minutes of movement For example, walking for 20 minutes several times a day was the key that allowed me to assess my pain and think it through. Small blocks of time in the sunshine with positive music playing on the iPod can do wonders. I found that 20 minutes of this was all it took to put me in a better mood, so no matter that I didn’t feel terrific most days and didn’t want to leave my house, I forced myself to do it every day and I was surprised how much it helped. Suddenly not only was I feeling better, but I was looking better too. I shed that waxy indoor complexion, and then one day I looked in the mirror and I was myself again.

20 minutes of good talk Talking with your family and friends for 20 minutes every day is also important – and not necessarily about your loss. While everybody who goes through a tragedy needs people to talk to about it, I realized that if I kept talking about the same thing over and over eventually my family and friends wouldn’t want to hear it anymore. It was just too depressing. So I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to wake up seven years later and still be talking about the same thing, still be trying to find a reason to justify why my husband was taken from me so soon. When you talk to your family and friends, it’s important to focus on the future so they remain your confidants and not your lifeline.

20 minutes of self-assessment I spent 20 minutes every day taking stock in myself. How was I taking care of myself? Did I need therapy to deal with what had happened? Identify your areas of opportunity and put them in black and white on a piece of paper. I looked at my life and saw that I had all of the freedom and opportunity of a 21-year-old, but I also had a lot more experience and wisdom under my belt. I also knew that I still had a list of things I wanted to do with my life, things I wanted to enjoy. I had forgotten about that list for a while, but it was never really gone – I just needed to look for it. For example, I had always wanted to cook more, so instead of eating out as an escape, I went grocery shopping and cooked my own dinners. That’s a small accomplishment, but when you assess yourself the next morning, you’ll already be on your way to overcoming loss.

20 minutes of something new I needed something to keep me busy, so I started taking tennis lessons, something I’ve always wanted to do since I was a child. And tennis made me smile. I have met incredible people playing tennis and those new relationships have helped move me forward.

Sometimes after a loss we take a period of time and isolate ourselves to make ourselves stable. There is no shame in that. But sooner or later, often when things just seem too much to bear, lace up your jogging shoes and get out to the park for 20 minutes. You never know what you might find.

Susanne Veder Berger is an inspirational speaker and expert in building self-esteem at all ages. She is a successful corporate CEO and is the founder of the self-perspective blog, CreateANewLifeWithSusanne.  

http://www.thirdage.com/widowhood/recovering-from-loss?page=1

 

 

 

“Health for a Lifetime” Part III

In the first two parts of this essay, I wrote about a new Harvard essay offering scientific proof for what many of us have known for years – that eating in a nutritious way and getting regular exercise can prolong your life.  After looking at why it’s so easy to resist this common sense approach to life, I explained how keeping a journal in which you record everything you eat and drink and the activity you engage in each day can help you make small changes that will enhance your health, energy and lifespan.

When seeking a motivating reason to improve their health, many people say “I’ll do it for my children.”  I’m not sure that this is such a good idea, however.  You really need to make these changes for you – and not someone else.  It’s great to be a role model for your children, to encourage them to develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime – but be sure to take these actions for yourself, not your children.  Do it because you acknowledge that you are important.  A lot of people – especially women – sometimes feel guilty if they spend even a moment doing something for themselves.  It’s time to get over that.

Also, support groups like Weight Watchers and A.A. can be helpful, of course, but I strongly encourage you to make sure that you’re making the changes in your life because you know that you deserve it and because you feel the results, not because – as part of a group – you’re “supposed” to be doing these things.  If you quit smoking for the benefit of your children, once they’re grown and out of the house, you may easily pick up those cigarettes once again.  If you’ve curbed your eating because you’re a member of a diet club, once your friend drops out of the club, there’s a great risk that you’ll fall right off the wagon yourself.

If you just look around, you can easily find plenty of reasons to motivate yourself to take action.  You can easily see what happens when people don’t limit the amount they eat each day, and you can see what happens when they don’t make exercise a regular habit.  You can also see medical photographs of the diseased lungs of lifelong smokers.  These are all compelling reasons to embrace a healthy lifestyle.  Also, if you’re not taking action for yourself, it can be very easy to join a friend in overindulging when life feels stressful – whether that means digging into a big carton of ice cream, or some other destructive behavior.  Misery loves company.

You need to step into these changes with strength and determination, and in a way that will last.  In the past, you may have told your friends that you were skipping dessert “because I’m on a diet.”  Chances are good that your friends were not surprised to hear this, because they fully expected that within just a few weeks you’d be back off your diet and joining them for dessert once again.  It’s time to stop this “yo-yo” behavior, and make a permanent change in your behavior instead.  Don’t “diet” because you want to fit into that special dress.  Instead, adjust the way that you eat on an ongoing basis, so that you can literally add years to your life.  Don’t experiment with “juicing” as a fad, but instead create meals that include plenty of fruits and vegetables with the intention that you’ll be doing this for years to come.  Embracing these new habits with the right attitude means that you won’t be slipping easily back into your old habits.

This is a “back to basics” plan for health and fitness.  I’m not asking you to run a marathon.  I’m asking you to walk up and down a few flights of stairs.  I’m asking you to be observant, not in denial.  Pay attention to the number of calories that you’re consuming at each meal, and be honest with yourself about how they add up.  I’m also not asking you to deprive yourself of the things that make life joyful.  In fact, I think you’ll find that by making a few simple changes, you’re actually adding more joy to your life.

I use the word “joy” because attitude and emotion are important ingredients if this plan is going to work for you.  Just as you’re making careful notes in your journal, notice if you tend to complain a lot.  Complaining often leads to the behavior we’re trying to address here – overeating, drinking too much, and indulging in other bad habits.  Instead, tell people what you love about your life and what you’re grateful for.  You may find that this takes a little effort at first, but soon it will come easily and naturally.

For those of you worried that I’m asking you to make big changes in your life, I have some good news for you.  I’m actually opposed to making drastic changes that are big.  Those who are passionate about running know that it can be dangerous to overdo it.  Making little changes, however, can put you on a great path.

Like the mice in the Harvard study, it’s time for us all to start adding years to our lives – and adding joy and energy.  As I’m sure you’ve concluded, the most important ingredient to making this plan work is you.  I believe you’re capable of great things, and I look forward to hearing your story, and to celebrating your new life!

 

 

 

“Health for a Lifetime” Part II

In Part I of this essay, I wrote about a new Harvard essay offering scientific proof for what many of us have known for years – that eating in a nutritious way and getting regular exercise can prolong your life.  After looking at why it’s so easy to resist this common sense approach to life, I suggested that starting a journal in which you record everything you eat and drink and the activity you engage in each day can provide a framework for the small changes that will enhance your health, energy and lifespan.

One small change you might make in your daily routine is to take the stairs at work, rather than the elevator.  You may notice a few people looking at you a bit quizzically.  Oddly, some people look down on those who walk rather than drive.  After all, they must be thinking, if you’re wealthy enough to own a car, why not use it?  If there’s a perfectly good elevator in our office building, why the heck are you using the stairs?  Years ago, when I first moved to New York, I used to walk everywhere and many people thought I was crazy.  They thought that perhaps I couldn’t afford a car.  It’s amazing how creative some people can be when coming up with excuses to avoid exercise!

At this point, if you’ve taken the bold step of avoiding the elevator and doing a bit more walking, it’s time to start measuring your distance.  When my son and daughter were young, and it felt like I was constantly running after them, I bought a pedometer.  With this handy and inexpensive device, you can see how far you’ve walked each day.  The next step, of course, is to increase that distance.  Stepping into health is all about making small, incremental changes and then taking it a bit further each week.

Now that we’ve made a small change to the amount of exercise you get each day, it’s time to look at what you’re eating.  Once again, let’s start with making one small change.  If you want to start eating healthier meals, the best thing to do is to make these meals yourself at home.  Many people imagine that cooking in their very own kitchen will be infinitely more complicated than going to a restaurant or – horrors! – stopping for a quick, fast food meal.  Cooking at home doesn’t need to be complicated, however.  There are many wonderful cookbooks and recipes that you can find online that consist of three simple ingredients.  It’s time to disengage from a life of “Super-Sizing” your meal and instead find how enjoyable it can be to prepare your own healthy meals.  This is also the only way that you can accurately keep track of calories, and that’s important.

Once you’ve started to make these simple changes in your daily routine, you’re going to start feeling proud of yourself – and you should.  But it’s not yet time to make bold announcements about the amazing way that you’ve reshaped your life.  Keep making notes in your journal about how you’re spending your day, but be patient about sharing your excitement.  You want to savor the rewards of increased energy and a noticeable change in your weight and fitness level.  I suggest that you wait for friends and family to start noticing the “new you” – and believe me, it won’t take long for this to happen.

If you’re a smoker, you may be hoping that I’d forget to address this important subject.  Sorry, but I’m here to tell you what you surely already know.  It’s time for you to kick the habit – and I know it’s not easy to do that.  I was a smoker too, and there was one day that was the turning point for me.  I didn’t try to taper off, but instead I realized that it was time to stop smoking once and for all.  I made a long list of reasons why it was “a must” for me to quit, and I did.  Just like the notes you’ve been taking in your journal, it’s time to take an honest and accurate look at what it means to be a smoker – from the smell of your clothes and the people who avoid you, to the harsh fact that you’re choosing to take years off your life because of this destructive habit.  It’s time to stop – and the benefits that you’ll experience (increased energy, the joy of rediscovering tastes and smells that seemed lost forever) will make you glad you did.

What’s required in order to make these gradual changes is nothing less than a shift in how you look at life.  There can be no doubt that we live in an age of instant gratification.  Infomercials promise us that we can develop “six-pack abs in only 15 minutes,” and commercials for fast food skillfully avoid the subject of nutrition.  If you’re really going to embrace a healthier way of living, however, you’re going to need to start thinking about the long-term effects of what you put into your body as well as the consequences of successfully avoiding exercise.  Fortunately, as I mentioned earlier, you’ll start feeling the benefits of your efforts sooner than you might expect – and once you reach that point, it will be much easier to stay on track.

Needless to say – whether it’s eating nutritious meals or taking steps to have a happier relationship with loved ones — you’re the one who needs to take action to create a better life.  No one can do it for you.

It’s tempting to seek the help and support of doctors when we’re thinking about moving our life in a more positive direction – and there’s no doubt that there are times when medical treatment is vital – but I’d like to discourage you from seeking out a “diet pill” in order to lose weight or “a patch” to help you quit smoking.  Personally, unless you’re in a very delicate state, I’m convinced that we can each reclaim and improve our health through the kind of small, incremental steps I’ve been telling you about.  Instead of pills, we need decisions.  You need to decide that you’re going to take the stairs instead of the elevator, and that you’ll have water with your meal instead of that “Big Gulp”soft drink.

In Part III of this essay, I’ll focus on why attitude is so important to successfully adopting new, healthier habits – and how these changes can bring a new, joyous edge to your daily life.

 

“Health for a Lifetime” Part I

Unless you subscribe to the scientific journal “Nature,” chances are that you may have missed the announcement of one of the biggest breakthroughs of our age.  Scientists at Harvard University’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have concluded that it’s actually possible to reverse the aging process.  True, this breakthrough was discovered in a study involving mice — not human beings — but the finding is reason for all of us to be excited nonetheless!  The study echoes common sense, of course — because I think we’ve all known for many years now that if we quit smoking, get plenty of exercise, and eat in a healthy way, we’ll maintain a high level of energy and remain relatively disease free well into our later years.  What I find most remarkable, however, is not this dramatic news from the medical research community that it’s actually possible to “turn the clock back” and reclaim our health, but the fact that so many of us have been ignoring this common sense advice for years, sometimes decades.

Why, then, don’t we live our lives in a way that supports our health and wellbeing?  The simple and frustratingly illogical answer is because “it’s not cool.”  For several generations now, it has been “cool” to embrace a lifestyle that includes smoking, drinking and sometimes even (legal and illegal) drugs.  Most of us went through one or more of these phases too, so we’re not in a position to claim that we were immune from this pressure ourselves during our younger years.  The problem, of course, is that many young men and women who neglect and even assault their health during their younger years never change their ways.  They continue these destructive habits into their college years and beyond.

A lot of these bad habits offer us a much-needed escape from life’s pressures.  Young mothers often are embarrassed about the changes their bodies are (quite naturally) going through during this phase of life, and taking a cigarette break or joining the girls to enjoy a cocktail often seems to make it all easier to take.  Young men, facing the pressures of building new careers and still adjusting to the new demands of family life, succumb to the desire to escape too.  When it comes to over-eating, still an epidemic in this country, many of the so-called solutions turn out to be totally ineffective, with the result that millions of men and women are engaged in a lifelong pattern of frustrating “yo-yo dieting.”  As the mice in the Harvard study would tell you if they could, this kind of lifestyle is not one to aspire to.

Living a healthy lifestyle is easy for some of us, and harder for others.  When I was in my thirties, many of my friends were starting to get sick from neglecting and abusing their bodies and I didn’t want to fall into the same trap.  Around this time, I also began to notice that having a healthy state of mind could make a major difference too.  A number of my friends were good about exercising, but they were highly stressed and didn’t feel good about themselves – and they were getting sick as often as those who didn’t exercise at all.  They all had plenty of excuses, of course, but this didn’t really matter.  Many of these friends were suddenly showing their age, and even in my thirties I was determined to remain as youthful and energetic as possible.  I also believe that it’s easier to get on the right track earlier in life when it comes to taking care of yourself rather than trying to undo years of damage and neglect later in life.

Many of these friends frequently complained that exercising and sticking to a healthy diet is difficult, but I disagree.  The truth is that staying healthy is a simple matter of common sense.  As St. Augustine wisely advised nearly two thousand years ago, “everything in moderation” is the secret to a wonderful life.  My friends who frequently indulged in smoking, drinking too much and overeating – and those who did nothing to reduce the stress in their lives — continued to deteriorate.  Many of them developed arthritis, diabetes and a variety of other health problems – and they’re well on their way, of course, to paying the “ultimate” price for this kind of abuse and neglect.  It’s time for all of us to understand the consequences of too much sugar, too much alcohol, and too many calories – because failure to understand how the various pieces of “the health puzzle” fit together can literally be fatal.  On the other hand, taking action to incorporate this knowledge into your daily life can reverse the damage.  All it takes is simply being conscious.

If I’ve inspired you to ask what you can do to start reclaiming your health, the answer is simple.  Make a list.  For seven days, write down absolutely everything you eat and drink, and also make careful note of your activity – walking, using the stairs, sitting in front of your television for three hours, and so on.  During this week, don’t do anything differently because the idea is to take an accurate look at the way you’re living your life right now – and this assessment will probably shock you.

Now that you have your list, as you start your second week, it’s time to make one small change in your normal routine.  Remove one thing that is bad for you – something you eat or drink, or some way that you avoid exercise – and replace it with something that is good for you.  (Be sure to continue making notes each day just as you did during week number one.)

For example, if you’re in the habit of using the elevator at work, it’s time to start using the stairs.  Even if your office is only on the fourth floor, this simple change is an improvement over a daily routine that is completely sedentary.  You may be surprised to find other people doing the same thing, and you’ll start to notice that you have more energy at work.  With this new burst of energy, you’ll find that you’re more productive – and even your boss will be impressed.  This all comes from making one simple change in your daily routine.

In the next two parts of this essay, I’ll focus on why it’s so important to make these changes for you – not for your children or your friends, and not because you’ve been told that you “should” make these changes to your lifestyle.  I’ll also discuss why attitude is so important to successfully adopting new, healthier habits – and how these changes can bring a new, joyous edge to your daily life.

 

 

 

 

“Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence”

For the past few months, I’ve enjoyed contributing to a wonderful website called HereWomenTalk.com.  When I learned recently of the horrific murder of a member of that online community – a beautiful, sensitive woman and loving mother whose life was brutally cut short by her ex-husband – my immediate reaction was anger.  More specifically, I find it disturbing and outrageous that over the past several decades we haven’t made more progress in taking a “Zero Tolerance” stand against domestic violence or abuse of any kind.

images-2During her 25-year run, Oprah brought a fair amount of attention to this issue, and way back in 1984 the courageous Farrah Fawcett starred in disturbing made-for-TV movie about domestic violence, “The Burning Bed.”  Now, it’s more than 25 years later, and not enough has changed.

The statistics regarding this kind of abuse are truly disturbing.  The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.  The National Institute of Justice and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention report that an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner every year.  Further, a recent study by the CDC reveals that here in the US, 24 people per minute are the victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner.  That’s 12 million individuals – mostly women – every year, and this is simply unacceptable.

If we ourselves are fortunate enough to be free from this kind of terrible abuse, the odds are good are we have a friend, relative or co-worker who is caught in this terrible situation right now.  We need to open our eyes and look for the warning signs, and when we see them, we must get involved.  More than perhaps any other situation in which lives are in jeopardy, we seem to be blind to the warning signs – black eyes, bruises, burns, frequent visits to the emergency room.

The fact that one human being would cruelly inflict physical harm on another, when they have entered into what was thought to be a loving and supportive relationship is disturbing enough – but perhaps the worst aspect of a situation like this is when children witness this kind of abuse.

In their tender years, children learn so much from what they observe in the household – eating habits, how to manage money, the importance of being respectful of others.  In households where domestic violence takes place, they are very likely to perpetuate it.  (The heartbreaking experience of watching one parent physically abuse the other is bad enough, and the damage resulting from this kind of instability at home can literally last a lifetime.)

The perpetrators of this kind of violence are not always who you might expect.  We read about rap artists and musicians accused of this kind of thing, but a Harvard educated stockbroker can just as easily be guilty of this kind of horrific behavior.  One of Europe’s most esteemed financial leaders became the subject of front-page news last year when he was accused of sexual assault by a maid working in a New York City hotel.  Did the fact that apparently his wife was accepting of his philandering ways make this situation any less disturbing?  We mourn the death of a beloved singer, but when it was clear – years ago – that she was enmeshed in an abusive and controlling relationship, did any of us step up and intervene?  Now, of course, it’s too late.

Stories like these are still far too common.  Whether it’s the death of a talented musician or the abuse suffered by a friend or neighbor, we can no longer turn a blind eye to this kind of cruelty.  After all these years, isn’t it time to finally take a firm stand against domestic violence and abuse?

“Resolutions: Avoiding the Pit Falls & Making Them Work”

As the new year gets underway, the sense of excitement and anticipation we all felt a few weeks ago remains.  When the clock struck midnight on December 31, we all had a blank canvas of 365 fresh new days ahead of us, and we were ready to make 2012 a special year to remember. Now that the holidays are behind us, however, those ambitious dreams seem a bit more out of reach and the challenge of achieving them seems a bit more daunting.

I remain excited about the adventures that will unfold for all of us this year, and I want to share some strategies that have worked for me whenever I get that feeling that perhaps I’ve “bitten off” more than I can chew.”  There are a number of pitfalls and challenges we’re all likely to encounter as we turn our resolutions into reality, and I want to share a few ideas with you that may make the process a bit easier.

Over the years, as I’ve faced a number of challenges and set some major goals, I’ve learned that two things are essential when it comes to achieving goals and dreams – taking action and being honest with ourselves.

By definition, the things we focus on in our resolutions are ambitious and not easy to achieve – so it’s natural to feel that perhaps we’re not really capable of achieving these goals, and this uncertainty and self-doubt can indeed undermine our progress. Often times, the reason that something we claim to want doesn’t work out is that, within our own private thoughts, we really didn’t want it to work out.

Putting ourselves “on the record” in a very public way with our friends and family is a great way to move us away from these doubts and uncertainties, and making a few resolutions on New Year’s Eve is a great first step, but these declarations must be followed up by taking action. Whether we dream of finally losing an unwanted 15 pounds or starting a wonderful new hobby, visualizing those things really happening is exciting, but all too often those wonderful ideas come crashing down to earth before they really have a chance to take flight and become reality.

The excitement and desire we feel regarding these wonderful new goals provides the fuel for our journey, but as the first few weeks of the year unfold we quickly realize that making them happen is like any journey — a step-by-step process, and not something that falls into place easily or overnight.

IMG_0012_2It’s important to remind ourselves, right from the very beginning of this journey, that every road has bumps and “pot holes,” and we must remain determined not to give up when we encounter them. Every road – especially the long and winding ones – also has side streets and detours, and we will almost certainly be drawn to them from time to time.

When unexpected distractions and obstacles appear, and the rapid progress that was so exciting at the start of the year becomes more of a slow crawl, don’t be discouraged – and don’t beat yourself up when you find yourself experiencing doubt and uncertainty.  Everyone who has achieved a great goal, triumphed in sports or business, or come up with an idea that has changed the world has had the moments of doubt too.  It’s all part of the journey.

Also remember that many of the most successful and extraordinary journeys are solitary ones.  That’s not to say that you shouldn’t enjoy the companionship of friends and loved ones, but at the end of the day, this is your journey – not a shared adventure.  It’s natural for those around you to want you to stay the same, even if they don’t say so.  We all have a tendency to embrace the status quo, and worry that we may lose the connection we currently have with those we’re close to.

Knowing that it’s likely to be a long and challenging road ahead on the way to achieving that goal means that it’s important to strengthen your determination, and take bold action rather than timid little steps.  Rather than simply having “a preference” for making a change in your life, make an ambitious declaration about what you will achieve, and take the uncertainty out of the picture.

“The Power of a Moment: Part II”

Family at the Amsterdam Airport

My family at the Amsterdam airport (just arrived to spend the summer)

I was hesitant to go back to Holland.  It had been 45 years since I left.  Nobody I knew was there anymore and I thought it just wouldn’t be the same.  But when I arrived, I was surprised to find that the doors opened up for me.  When I mentioned who I was, people said, “Oh!  Your grandfather danced at my wedding!”  Others I met said, “I remember when your father got married!”  All of a sudden, I remember saying to myself, “Oh my God, I’m home.”  It was thrilling. The community actually threw a little party for me and I’d never felt more welcome anywhere.  In that one moment, my whole life changed.

Celebrating with Liejse (my cousin) and friends

We all have good moments and bad.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that out of the bad comes the good.  I’ve struggled through many hardships in my life, and with each one, I can tell you that when I took the leap to move past whatever was holding me back, it changed me.  It made me feel better and stronger.  It made me grow.

It’s so essential to keep ourselves open to every experience.  You never know where someone is going to lead you, but if you’re open and ready to allow the world to embrace you – ready to drop your expectations and follow where life takes you – you’d be amazed at where you might end up.

And yes, there will always be disappointments, but we must steel ourselves for those difficult moments and be ready to move on.  Your blind date may end up being your best friend or he may end up being a jerk.  Either way, the important part is that you tried.  You were open.  And if it doesn’t work out, you just need to cut your losses and move forward.

Sometimes we make good moments just by being ready for them.  I remember the day I walked into Freedom Academy as a guest speaker. It was chaotic.  The kids were all over the place, yelling and fighting, and the teachers were frazzled.  It was clear that no one was going to listen to the presentation I had prepared.  This could have been a huge disappointment; I could have run screaming from that auditorium.  But instead, I stopped and looked around me, and I realized that these were amazing kids.  They were intelligent and bright and they didn’t want to waste their time listening to someone who didn’t care what they had to say.  So I changed my plan, started asking them questions instead.  And when they opened up to me, I realized I had an opportunity to make a difference in their lives, to help them succeed.  Now there’s a moment.

The bottom line is that if you’re not open to change, it’s not going to happen.  You’ve got to know what you want and you’ve got to ask for it.  You’ve got to be prepared to take action when an opportunity presents itself, and you can’t be surprised if getting what you asked for takes a little longer than you anticipated.  I made the decision in 2005 that I wanted to become a writer. It’s 2012. It took me a little longer to become what I wanted than I had thought it would, but I did eventually reach my goal.  The path I took was a little more roundabout than I had expected, and if I wasn’t open to the possibilities, I would never have made it.  You can’t just wake up one morning and twitch your nose and all of a sudden have everything you want.  It doesn’t work like that.  Just as you can’t drive to across the country without a roadmap, I needed to put in the time and to set goals and to work towards them.

At Freedom Academy, I gave my 11th grade students each a folder and told them it’s their college prep folder.  This folder says to the world, “I am getting ready for college.”  It says, “I am getting ready to graduate. I am on track and I am working towards a goal.”  I told them that they can dream – that they can be anyone they want – but they’re not going to be anyone until they step up and own those dreams.

We each need to design who we want to be.  Just like I told my 11th graders, you can be anybody you want to be, but that dream has to come from your heart.  Write your list of what you dream of and every time you achieve one of those dreams, check it off the list.  Those are the moments you control.  Those are the moments you need to focus on.  Those are the moments you need to embrace.  Don’t stop yourself from going for what you want and being open to change.  Moments, encounters, relationships that you thought would be disappointing could turn out to be the best experiences you’ve ever had.  Those moments are precious.  They make you happy and make you proud and they evoke the most positive energies that you can possibly have.

beautiful summer day in Holland

My favorite moments are the ones where I sit back and smile and say, “I did it.”  Many years ago, I didn’t know what was going to happen to me.  I had two kids, fifty bucks to my name, a dog, and a tractor I didn’t know how to drive.  Today, I know how to drive that tractor.  I know how to earn money.  My children are grown up and their success amazes me.  I’m living my life the way I want to, but only because I was willing to take the steps and see the moments and see the joy.  There’s been a lot of adversity in my life, and I much prefer the successes and the joys.  But because of the lessons I’ve learned from those adversities, I’ve made it to where I am: finally enjoying the good moments.

“The Power of a Moment: Part I”

Maui Hotel view

Sunrise

I woke up in Maui to sunshine and a warm sea breeze.  As I luxuriated in my plush hotel bed, my husband was taking our children for a walk.  Though everything was as it should be, the only feeling I remember having at that moment is guilt. Yes, my life was perfect, but I wasn’t happy.  Yes, I loved my children madly, I loved my husband, and I was in the middle of a dream vacation, but I wasn’t fulfilled.  Something was wrong and I didn’t want to admit it to myself, so instead of recognizing that moment of premonition for what it was, I wallowed in my guilt — feeling that I was not properly grateful for all that I had been given.

Pool Side

Pool side Maui

Sometimes we just know that something is wrong.  In a single moment, we look at our lives and realize that something is off. But we don’t know what to do, so we push this feeling away, shove it down underneath our routines and our obligations and all the things we think we’re supposed to be doing and feeling. And we let that feeling or intuition stay there… at least until it forces its way out.

Six months later, my husband walked in and told me that he was leaving me.  That was the moment my life turned upside-down. Though abrupt development turned out to be the right thing for our family, the way it all came about was traumatic for me. And I know today that if I had listened to my gut back in Maui and taken action, much of that trauma could have been avoided.

The people I admire most are the ones who can look at themselves honestly and admit when they’re not happy.  Instead of bottling it up or feeling guilty about it, they say to themselves, “There’s a reason I’m not happy and I need to find out what it is and do something about it.”  These people are always great communicators.  They talk to their spouses and their children and friends, and they communicate that they’re not doing well.  In this way, they are able to work through their unhappiness and forge change in their lives in ways that are healthy and productive.  Unfortunately, for most of my life, I wasn’t one of those people.

Instead, I was one of the people who gets hit with a trauma and just wants to stay in bed. After my husband left, enjoying my life was hard, if not impossible.  I struggled to hold things together, to take care of my children and pay my rent, and I was sinking under the weight of it all.  And then one day I had another moment.  I reached the point where I had to decide whether I was going to make it or whether I was going to give up.  I realized that I liked who I was and I loved my children, and I didn’t like the way my life had been going. And more importantly, I realized that I didn’t have to continue letting this event ruin my life.  I decided that I would not spend another minute being a victim of my own inaction.

I know for a fact that there are a lot of other people out there today dealing with the same feelings that I dealt with.  Most of us put those feelings in a box and bury it deep inside.  The essential truth, however — a lesson that I had to learn the hard way — was that in time, that box has to open, and the longer you wait, the more self-damage you’re going to do.  I know that we’ve been taught that we’re supposed to think and feel and behave a certain way, but sometimes we just can’t do that anymore.  And it doesn’t get us anywhere to deny that.  If we continue to do the same things day after day, it’s not fair for us to expect different results.  Instead, all we get in return for our perseverance is anger and bitterness and loneliness.  Those negative energies have an effect on us – mentally, physically, and emotionally.  Those negative energies literally make us sick.  But the power to heal ourselves is in our hands.

Iao Needle

Iao Needle Iao Valley National Park

When my children’s father told me it was over, I felt as if I was being thrown off a tall waterfall with jagged rocks at the bottom.  And when I survived that fall, I felt like a fish out of water, flopping everywhere and gasping for air.  I was an emotional wreck and became someone I didn’t even know.   I was all by myself, I didn’t know what to do, and I needed release.  So I talked and talked to anyone who would listen, sometimes even to a wall.  This felt good at first, but later I was mortified at what I’d done.  Instead of sharing what I was going through with the right people, I shared it with anyone, and it was embarrassing having these people know the intimate details of my life.  In retrospect, the entire situation could have been avoided if I had only listened to what my heart was saying that morning in Maui.

Life is not a light switch.  Learning to listen to yourself and make a change in your life is not an overnight process, and you have to be prepared to really work at it.  It’s not easy to teach yourself that there is nothing wrong with you, and that there’s nothing you should feel guilty about.  When you have a moment of clarity, the important thing is to communicate to the right people.  I knew when I was lying in bed in Hawaii that my life was wrong.  That realization wasn’t a mistake.  The mistake was not discussing these feelings with my husband and working through it together, even if that meant divorce.  Instead, I hid my feelings, and when my husband blindsided me, I was plunged into insanity.

If I could do it over again, I would have controlled the insanity.  I would have communicated my feelings right away. I would have done what I now call “getting naked” — load my iPod with happy songs and go for a walk, read a self-help book, and talk to my girlfriends about anything besides my trauma.  This for me is the recipe for recovery.  My walks give me time to be introspective and work through my feelings. My books give me support and advice.  And my friends are there to keep me grounded.  Talking with my friends gives me the chance to take a break from life’s challenges, and just be silly for a few minutes.  It’s a great way to remind myself that life is not always hard.  And if all that wasn’t enough, I would have had no trouble turning to a therapist who would listen to me without judgment.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from the challenging moments in my life, it’s don’t settle.  If you settle for what you have and don’t go for what makes you happy, it will eat away at who you are and change you into someone you don’t recognize anymore.  I know because it happened to me.  None of us can escape the trauma that’s a natural part of life.  Marriages end, loved ones die, and jobs move on without us. Sometimes our moments are more subtle, just a feeling we get when things are supposed to be perfect but we know they’re not.  Either way, the key to minimizing the pain and being aware of life’s great lessons is through communication and trusting in ourselves.  We don’t want our sons and daughters to make the same mistakes, so we need to set the example by sharing our feelings and working through them together. When we start making the right decisions for ourselves, it’s not just a moment anymore, but a gift – a gift of investing in who we really are and in our own happiness.  And that’s a gift that you can only give yourself.