When was the last time you woke up in the morning, greeted yourself in the mirror, and told yourself that you were beautiful, wonderful the way you are, and worthy of love and happiness? Have you done this recently? Have you ever done this?
Among most people I know, myself included, this type of inner narrative rarely takes place. When it does, it’s often the result of years of focused inner work, and kindness directed towards oneself. More typically, most people I know tend to be harder on themselves than others might be, somewhat (if not a lot) perfectionistic, and struggling with an inner dialogue that has come to be known as the “inner critic” or, more simply, those gremlins.
It’s been said that we are our own worst enemies, and though that is so often true for women, men are not immune to the ravages of self-doubt. Too often we hold the perceptions and judgments of others in higher esteem than our own. Sometimes our inner voice is negatively influenced by those others, and sometimes it is our own inner critic that sabotages us. The need to be impeccable in every aspect of our lives isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One of the Four Agreements is: “Be impeccable with your word,” and what a lovely thing to strive for. Having high ideals is healthy. Berating yourself because you don’t measure up to some imagined or extreme standard of perfection is not.
Having high standards for oneself fosters determination and ambition, a hunger to keep going. It only becomes detrimental when we allow negative thinking to seep into our minds, when we compare ourselves to others and fall short, when we end our day thinking we somehow didn’t measure up.
So how can we begin to silence that critical voice inside? Choosing positive mindsets as part of a healthy lifestyle, such as: “ I did the best I could today and I’ll try again tomorrow,” or “I am working towards what I want and I won’t give up,” is a good place to start. Taking time to review what went well for us on a given day works, too. It’s a rare day when we don’t do something well, no matter how insignificant we may think it is. The point is that setting realistic expectations and being our own best friend strengthens us, empowers us.
The pressures of everyday life are enormous, and women especially face a unique set of challenges. Everywhere we look we see models and women on magazine covers and television, fashion magazines telling us what to wear, lifestyle magazines telling us what we should have achieved by the age of 30. The message is that it’s not enough to simply enjoy our lives and the things we accomplish, large or small. We’re taught to compare ourselves, as if we’re in constant competition with others and with ourselves. This creates a cycle that detracts from our sense of wellbeing, creating an environment where nothing will ever be good enough.
Accepting that we aren’t perfect and that’s okay is key. It’s liberating. None of us are, and that’s the wonderful thing about being human: we get to constantly learn and evolve. Freeing ourselves of the constraints of perfectionism gives us permission to be uniquely ourselves. Instead of criticizing yourself for what you didn’t do today, or that task you didn’t complete just the right way, think about the people who made you smile, think about the kind words you spoke to someone in need, think of the impact you are making in the world by sharing your spirit with others. The more you embrace your inner beauty and authenticity, the more freedom you will have to become your best version of you. There’s no one better to be.
Being a small business owner has its advantages. One of my favorite things is having a home office. I’ve had a home office for many years now and have learned a few things along the way about how to stay organized, and use it best for my benefit. Being organized will keep your business running smoothly, and your attention where it needs to be – on creating a dynamic and profitable business.
Here are a few of my most important guidelines when it comes to setting up your own space.
- Systems, systems, systems! (Did I mention systems?) The more orderly your way of doing things, the freer you will be to take care of what’s most important. For example, client intake: what do you do when a potential client contacts you? Do you make an appointment and just see where it goes? Or do you have an orderly way of responding that you can rely on each time to present you and your business in the best light? How you show up for this initial contact can be the difference between getting hired or being passed over. A professional scheduling system, a confirmation email, and a follow up thank you is one example of a standard you (or an assistant) can easily implement on an ongoing basis that eliminates just “winging it.”
- Save a tree. Use technology to your advantage and store files and documents on your computer or online whenever possible. Scan receipts and information into an online file. It’s easier on the environment and will save you filing time and space. Speaking of filing time, stay on top of what paperwork you do have – have a regular time to sort through and discard papers and such, so that you don’t end up with piles everywhere. Nothing’s more distracting.
- Use a timer. Having an office at home can come with built-in distractions – phone calls, laundry, pets, you name it. One of the most valuable things I’ve learned is using a timer to focus on projects for a set period of time. I usually set it for 30-45 minutes when I’m working on a project and I don’t get up until it goes off. It helps me to not only stay focused but also to track my time. A simple kitchen timer is all you need.
- Discard what you no longer need. One of the best ways to stay organized is to get rid of what’s no longer relevant. The more you have (files, outdated articles and resources, knickknacks) the more you have to keep in order, and the more cluttered your space is likely to become. Make it a habit to go through your office regularly and dispose of whatever you no longer use or need. This will also free up space for more up-to-date resources or – even! – free, uncluttered space.
- Create a pleasing environment. This is a really important one for me. I spend a lot of time in my office and so I like to surround myself with pictures of family and friends, inspiring words, and meaningful remembrances. I also like to keep a diffuser going with a calming essential oil such as lavender or another fragrant blend, creating a soothing and pleasing environment.
Like most things in life, getting and keeping my home office in order is a work in progress. I’m constantly revising and trying to find better ways of keeping things in order. If you work from home and have systems that you’ve put in place that work for you, I would love to hear about them.
Every so often someone will recommend to me a good book, a must-read. When the same book keeps getting mentioned to me repeatedly, that usually gets my attention. I had this experience recently with The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. At first, I wasn’t quite sure why it was being recommended to me. I’ve never considered myself particularly artistic, much as I admire those who are. (I fall into the category of maybe I can draw a half-decent stick figure on a good day.) I read a few reviews here and there, all of which mentioned either procrastination or resistance. I’m not one to procrastinate typically and I didn’t really get what was meant by resistance, but still…….the fact that I kept hearing about it intrigued me.
Having just finished it, what I realize now is that it wasn’t really a book about being an artist, at least not in the way I was thinking of it. What it really was about, at least for me, was the 1001 ways we find to avoid the scary place of really putting ourselves out there, of discovering what it is that is inside us and somehow bringing that forth, however clumsily. This doesn’t necessarily mean the creation of a beautiful painting, or a great piece of literature. It can just as easily mean taking the risk to begin a new career or business, or explore the cultures and rainforests of the Amazon, if that’s something we’ve always wanted to do. What Pressfield’s mission really is with The War of Art is pushing us to live up to our potential, and not settle for less.
The resistance Pressfield writes about is really about how we hold ourselves back, consciously or unconsciously, from becoming all we are meant to be, from finding our purpose, and operating from that. Research confirms that those of us who live with a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives and work benefit in a multitude of ways. They’re healthier overall, live longer, have better relationships, and enjoy more life satisfaction in general. Why would anyone in their right mind resist that?
One of Pressfield’s main points in the book is that there is something each one of is here to do, is meant to do – that we each have a calling. Resistance is the myriad number of ways we find to avoid doing it: I don’t have the time, the right circumstances, the money, I’ll start tomorrow, when the kids are grown, and on and on. We are the ones who hold ourselves back, and only we can remove the obstacles that we have put in our path. Whatever keeps us from starting – or finishing – that which calls to us – that is our resistance and the only way around it is to get honest with ourselves. By acknowledging our blocks and letting go of excuses, we can get on with our real work in the world – expressing the creativity that resides in all of us, whether it lies in creating a sculpture, a second career, or our own version of a successful business.
The author doesn’t pull any punches; he calls it the way he sees it. As a result, it might not be for everyone. For myself, I’m going to read it again.
Summer is finally here, so I thought it’s time to lighten things up a bit. This is the time we (traditionally) slow down, get outdoors more, vacation and, generally, hang out. I don’t know how much hanging out you plan to do, but the thought of adding in some relaxation sounds good to me!
Having fun and enjoying down time is just as essential to health and wellbeing as is physical activity and healthy foods, but too often it’s last on our to-do list. We might be on top of scheduling time for workouts, but not so much when it comes to scheduling in time for relaxation. Too often we end up feeling tired or run down, when just a little self-care could make a big difference.
To that end, I’ve put together a list of ideas to get you started on the road to feeling less stressed, happier, less prone to illness and maybe even more fun to be around. If you’re already thinking you don’t have the time, you can know that some of these can easily fit into your day in a space of 10 or 20 minutes. If you’re still thinking you don’t have the time, you’re probably more in need of a little recreation than you realized. (Did you notice that the root of recreation is re-create?) Here are a few ideas to get you going on the road to re-creating you.
- Get lost in a good book. So often these days we get our information or entertainment from our laptop or tablet, often while on the fly. When was the last time you pulled up your favorite chair, and became so absorbed in a book that you lost track of time. Researchers call this state “flow,” and it refers to any activity in which we find ourselves completely immersed in the moment. Being in this state can lead to increased positive affect, and enhance performance and concentration.
- Taking a 10 or 15 minute walk outdoors can work wonders to boost your mood and your energy. Taking along a friend or the dog can up the ante.
- Turning on some tunes can fast track you to feeling happy and relaxed. Can you really listen to Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy,” without getting a lift? Better yet, take a break and watch the video on YouTube.
- Treat yourself – to a massage, a mani/pedi, or an afternoon movie. This is (hopefully) self-explantory.
- The verdict is in. Research shows meditators are, in a nutshell, healthier and happier than their non-meditating counterparts. I’m not going to enumerate all the benefits here. Google “benefits of meditation.” You’ll see.
- Be neighborly. Pay someone a visit, stop and chat when you walk the dog, admire a garden. Taking even a short break out of your day can enhance your feelings of community and connectedness, in turn increasing feelings of well-being.
- Play time with your puppy or kitty can be a ton of fun for both of you. Studies show that having a pet lowers stress levels, and increases the levels of “Oxytocin,” the feel good chemical in the brain.
- Do yoga. A yoga practice is portable and can happen anywhere you take your mat. Taking a 15 minute yoga break can help you to slow down, relax and be more present. Being outdoors adds in the benefits of Mother Nature.
- (I talked about this last time – I’m on somewhat of a kick here.) Having too much stuff around or being disorganized can be a source of stress. Give yourself some breathing room.
- Go on a field trip. When was the last time you took a day trip? Maybe a drive and lunch in a nearby city or town you’ve been wanting to visit. Or checking out what exhibits are at your local art museum, and spending the day there with your partner or a friend. Take the day off and forget about work and commitments. Playing comes naturally to kiddos, but as adults we often neglect to carve out time for fun, and that’s a mistake. Fun adds joy to our life and joy enhances physical, mental and emotional health.
- Plan at least one weekend morning to sleep in. Better yet, spend the rest of the puttering, reading, and doing whatever you feel like doing. Stop rushing around and give yourself a break. Dare I say it: just hang out – with your husband, wife, kids, or the dog. You’ll go back into the world the better for it.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject – what are your favorite summer pleasures? Post them in the comments below.
I must admit I’ve always been intrigued by a minimalist approach. Not intrigued enough, apparently, to necessarily practice it but intrigued nonetheless.
The trend towards minimalism has been growing. New articles, blogs, websites and books are popping up all the time. Interestingly, millenials seem to be leading the pack towards having less stuff. That silver service (that belonged to her mother) Granny wants to offload on your son or daughter when they get married? Not happening. Why? They simply don’t want it. Millenials are way less into “stuff” than the generations before them. And that may actually be a good thing.
Research in positive psychology by Dr. Martin Seligman, author of several books on the subject, describes happiness or well-being (his preferred term) as measured by the following: Positive emotion, engagement, meaning, relationships and accomplishment. Positive emotion is described as happiness and life satisfaction. Engagement refers to using one’s abilities and interests in service to an absorbing interest or calling , while meaning refers to using our strengths to contribute to a larger purpose. Accomplishment and relationships round out the five, which Seligman identifies by the acronym “PERMA.”
Millenials, having come through the recession, concerns about the environment and sustainable lifestyles, not to mention the prospect of student loan debt, seem to be more focused on living a scaled-back lifestyle, on having experiences rather than acquiring stuff. If that’s the case, according to Seligman’s ideas, they may be on to something. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review (May 2010), millennials “place a strong emphasis on finding work that’s personally fulfilling,” and “are the most socially conscious generation since the 1960’s.”
The idea of paring down isn’t just limited to millennials. Although better living through consumerism isn’t going away anytime soon, there is a noticeable trend towards the idea of less being more. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo, was a number one New York Times bestseller, and currently ranks as #1 in Religion and Spirituality on Amazon. (Yes, religion and spirituality.) Examples of minimalist living are everywhere. Steve Jobs, a noted minimalist, favored simplicity both in his designs and his personal life, and was well-known for his signature look of black turtleneck, blue jeans and sneakers. The clothing store and website, Cuyana.com, celebrates a life “filled with fewer, better things,” and features simple shapes in neutral colors. It even encourages the reader to join their “Lean Closet Movement,” simplifying personal wardrobes and donating items no longer worn to those who can use them.
It’s not difficult to see why a movement towards simplicity appeals. In a world that seems increasingly complicated, a simpler lifestyle translates to less pressure, reduced expenses, and more freedom. As many of us transition to different lifestyles, such as being solopreneurs with home offices (my case), more clutter – more stuff – equals more distraction and expenditure of mental and physical energy that could be focused elsewhere.
Here are a few ideas on how adopting a more minimalist lifestyle can impact you.
- More time. The more stuff we have the more time we need to take care of our stuff. Our things have to be organized, maintained and stored. Sifting through a packed closet looking for our favorite blue blouse can be time consuming and frustrating. So can sorting through a crowded cabinet of office supplies trying to locate the stapler. Picture, if you will, a closet with several well-chosen items hanging and actual space in between the hangers and you can almost feel the difference.
- More money. We’ve got to pay for all that stuff and the more we have, the more money goes out to do that. Moreover, we may even pay someone else to help us take care of it – maintenance, cleaning and the like. Choosing to buy less means being able to save money for other things – a dream vacation, retirement, education, and reducing the weight of debt.
- More life satisfaction. Our consumer culture has for decades hyped the “When I get the (new car, new dress, new kitchen, latest whatever,) then I’ll be happy,” mentality. Advertisers depend on our buying into these notions. If you accept Seligman’s theory of PERMA, however, the life satisfaction doesn’t hold weight for the long-term. Some thoughtful folks are realizing that the happiness and satisfaction they seek is better found elsewhere – spending time with loved ones, in service to a cause they believe in, or challenging themselves to accomplishment or learning a new skill.
- Less stuff means less stress on the environment. As recent generations have become more aware of how consumer consumption impacts the natural world, trying to minimize our footprint has become of increasing concern. More awareness has led us to recycle, re-use, and reduce non-essentials, positively impacting our natural surroundings.
What about you? I’m curious to know if you have considered simplifying, downsizing, or streamlining your life? I know I have. Right now I’m working on clearing out my overstuffed bookcases of books I no longer need. I’m donating them, along with some other items, to a shop in my community that supports a cause important to me. Not only am I reducing clutter and distractions at home, I also get to feel a sense of satisfaction and contribution. That’s something money can’t buy.
How did your day start out today? Did you wake up feeling rested and ready for the day? Did you make time for a healthy breakfast to get you started on the right foot and take you through the morning with energy? Did you take a few minutes to set an intention or plan for the day so you can go into it with clarity and confidence? What about exercise? Do you make time in your schedule for it? If mornings don’t work for you, do you have a plan to fit it in somewhere in your day?
We live busy lives and often feel that “fitting one more thing in” just isn’t going to happen. Yet, there are ways to set ourselves up for a successful day that can affect the quality of our lives in a big way, and they don’t necessarily take up a lot of time. Successful days add up to a rich and rewarding life, and all it takes is establishing healthy habits that become routine over time. Taking 10 minutes for a brisk walk, some inspirational reading or quiet meditation can significantly affect how we feel and the quality of our day.
Here are some daily habits you can start now to make a real difference in the bigger picture of your life:
- Get a good night’s sleep. How you start your day can make a HUGE difference in just about everything – your mood, appetite, and level of performance and productivity. How much you need is individual – most research suggests anywhere from 7 to 9 hours per night.
- Water – Upon waking up after a night’s sleep your body is naturally dehydrated. Drinking a large 8-12 oz glass of water after waking up provides your cells with the necessary hydration to feel energized and will also flush out any unwanted toxins. You’ll feel refreshed and ready to go.
- Exercise – The proven benefits of physical activity are many: more energy, stress relief, weight control, a better mood, a good night’s sleep, a sharper brain, improved focus and learning. Regular exercise is essential for health of body, mind and spirit.
- Quiet – We live in an age of constant stimulation: emails, phones, texts, social media – the list goes on. With all that going on, finding some space in our life for quiet and silence is vital. Even 10 minutes a day can improve physical and mental wellbeing and enhance one’s feelings of relaxation and control.
- Remember what’s really important. Taking time to connect – daily – with those people who mean the most to us is essential to wellbeing. When asked for a definition of positive psychology, psychologist and university professor Chris Peterson said it could be summed up in three words, “Other people matter.” Research shows that close relations with others – family, friends, community – reduces stress and increases emotional well being so making the effort to nurture close relationships is well worth the effort.
- Reading stimulates ideas, broadens knowledge, improves analytical thinking, speaking and writing. It encourages interest in the world and people around you, while making you more interesting at the same time. An added benefit in this over-stimulated world is improved concentration – immersing yourself in a good book or interesting article can be one of the great pleasures of life.
- Do something for someone else. Research shows that doing kind acts for others also benefits us – we feel good about ourselves, more ethical and positive. People who are caring and kind to others reap the benefits of being happier people themselves.
What about you? Do you have a daily practice or habit that adds value to your life? What has worked best to set you up for a good day? Please post comments on my blog – I’d love to hear from you!
Today’s article is a bit more personal than usual because graduation is right around the corner, and I’ve been feeling very nostalgic. It’s a bittersweet time – Our son Matthew is graduating from high school – Class of 2015! – and with this time so close at hand it’s been impossible for me to avoid feeling a bit misty at times.
I became a mother somewhat later than most – well into my 30’s. Looking back, I don’t think my age really felt like much of an issue. I felt really good most of my pregnancy, I worked out, and went to yoga class into my eight month. I remember talking to my yoga teacher, planning to bring the baby in his carrier after he was born so “he could sleep while we had class.” Neither of us ever having had children, we were clueless as to how completely unrealistic that was. (I went back to yoga class 12 years later.)
I have not ever before or since experienced what I felt when Matthew was born. Suffice it to say that from that moment on, I was changed forever.
When I look back now, I realize I had two guiding principles throughout his growing up years that today I feel very grateful for.
- It goes so fast. From the time Matthew was very young, I heard this from friends and strangers alike. People would stop to visit and maybe fuss a bit over him, as we do with babies and small children, and it seems I heard that repeated, often wistfully, more times than I could count. I am so glad I paid attention, because I felt that what they spoke was true and so I became determined to be there as much as possible for everything I could. I am so glad I did. It went so fast.
- “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.” – Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis I came upon this quote around the time Matthew was born. It rang true for me then and it rings true for me today. It was my call to action when it came to child-raising – whatever else I did, I wanted to be the best mother I could be for him. I wanted to be present in his life, and see to it that he had everything he needed to grow well. Most mothers I talk to are this way. Motherhood is initiation into that group of women who have in their lives that special person or persons that are more important than themselves, that they would pretty much be willing to do anything for. As a youngish mother once said to me, “You can’t remain self-absorbed and be a good mother.”
I’m fortunate that Matthew was raised in a loving home with two parents who made him a priority. My husband was, and is, a devoted father and has been a strong partner in our marriage and family. We’ve had a lot of fun over the years, leaving some great memories. We always travelled as a family, starting with a trip to Canada and New York when he was just two months old, and have been able to experience many wonderful countries and cultures together. I am so grateful to have had these times.
Mostly, though, I’m grateful for Matthew and who he has become – a kind, intelligent, responsible and honorable young man and, often, the funniest person I know. It’s been my gift to be his mom. So to Matthew, and the Class of 2015 – Congratulations and the best of everything always – Well done!