Parenting, Self-awareness, Self-improvement

phrasesIn my ripe old age of somewhere in my fourth decade, I’ve come across three phrases that can make a world of difference when dealing with your children, friends, family, argumentative adults, anyone. Lately, I’ve noticed the lack of these phrases coming from people of power (or those who think they have power), those who feel superior, or just people who feel owed (at any age). Regardless of who you are, consider these phrases and question when you last heard or said them. Here they are in no particular order:

1) “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” These synonymous statements can go far in releasing someone’s anger directed at you or anyone, and it doesn’t take much to utter them. Hopefully, they are said meaningfully, but even if you’re not truly sorry, “I’m sorry to hear that” is at least a little something that can ease a person’s angst. Whenever someone, adult or child, has a problem and tells me all about it, one of my first responses is “I’m sorry.” Sometimes I then hear, “You don’t have to be sorry; it’s not your fault,” but to me that doesn’t matter. The fact is I’m just sorry that person is going through said difficult situation. Even if my kid is starving to death after just eating dinner, my reply is usually, “I am sorry to hear that.” Mainly because I am sorry to hear that (“And why didn’t you eat all of your dinner?” but that is usually said in my head) and I’m also bit dismayed as I offer the plate of uneaten food, but it’s better than an argument. Other times, kids (or adults) just want to be heard or validated, and by saying “I hear you and I’m sorry that happened,” can go a long way in many cases.

2) “That was my fault.” (Or, even, “Oops! My fault!”) Why is it that people have such a hard time assuming fault? This one goes hand-in-hand with “I’m sorry,” such as “That was my fault; I’m sorry.” It’s not going to kill your ego and it is truly okay to admit self-blame. You’re still a good person, and not perfect (because who wants to hang out with the person who never makes a mistake?). Once you admit fault, the pressure is often faultrelieved. This applies to situations with your kids or in a meeting, just assume the blame if it truly is your fault, remedy the problem, and move on. I’ve been in multiple situations lately where the same person doesn’t ever accept fault or blame, but instead turns it around and puts it on someone else. That not only makes everyone upset (and infuriates me), it also reveals that this person cannot be trusted because who knows who will be wrongly blamed next? It could be you; it could be me.  It also seems to say that this person never does anything wrong, and how is that possible? We’re human, we make mistakes, own up to it, learn, and keep going. It’s that simple.

3) “Thank you.” This very easy two-word acknowledgment can go miles in someone’s life. Just saying “thank you” makes people feel like the effort they put into something was worth it. Expressing gratitude can be applied to adults or children. They all appreciate it because no matter who it is, thank-youpeople like to be recognized for their work, and saying “thank you” (or even “thanks!”) is so easy. When my kids finally put their shoes away instead of kicking them off and leaving them on the floor, I say thank you. If someone goes out of his way and holds the door open, tells you that your gas cap is not screwed on, or whatever small token it might be, just say “thank you.” Express your gratitude for those big or small things and everyone wins.

So there you have it, three phrases that can make a world of difference; try them out (if you don’t use them already) and see the results for yourself. (And thanks for reading! :) )

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Health & Diet, Self-awareness

According to Tony Robbins, “Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.” (I went down an internet rabbit hole and ended up watching Tony Robbins videos.) He then gave examples of people who earn lots of money, achieve big goals, or overcome obstacles onlywoman-570883_640 to think, “now what?” Many of us have experienced this thought. We had a problem or a challenge, set a goal, succeed, then felt a little…empty, sad, or possibly depressed.

After listening to an episode of podcast I like, Zen Parenting Radio, they quoted five things that “Tony says” leads to a fulfilling life. None of these include overcoming some type of hardship or setting goals. They are tasks, some daily, that would ultimately lead to a practice and fulfill you on a regular basis. Here they are in no particular order:

1) Feed your mind (20 minutes/day). I assume this means reading, watching, or listening to something that involves new learning, instead of the regular habit scrolling through social media or filtering through email. I have the intention to read on a daily basis; that often doesn’t happen. Twenty minutes a day seems possible, even if it’s broken up into two ten-minute intervals. That can be done while eating lunch or during some people’s bathroom breaks!

2)  Strengthen your body (20 minutes/day). This is another one that we have to set aside the time for, or else we’ll never do it. Fortunately, I have two dogs that get very lethargic then annoyingly antsy if I don’t walk them. This past summer, however, I slacked off due to ferrying kids to swim practice, intense summer temps, or really bad air quality (from wildfires). The effects showed. I put on a few pounds, my dogs did too. The incentive here is not just keeping weight off, though. Using your body and making it work not only makes you feel good; it also contributes to its longevity. I see countless older people who can’t do many of the basic things they used to because they simply don’t do them anymore. It’s worth it just to keep our bags of bones strong and moving!

3)  Find a mission bigger than yourself. This one can be tough. As a culture we’re not often taught to think bigger than ourselves. Instead it’s: work hard, earn as much as you can, and keep it for yourself. But that mindset usually leads to selfishness, jealousy, and a sense of lack (because you always need more). Many people focus on their families and raising their kids to be good humans (I try to anyway), but we can think even bigger. Are there any national or global problems that bother you? Are there any small ways you can help? (No one is suggesting that you get on a plane and help needy people across the world.) What do you think would help make a better society or planet? How can you do something about it in a way that works for you?

4)  Have a role model. This one is also difficult I think, especially for adults, but it’s possible. I have never been one to have role models or think I should, but maybe there is something to it. We can aspire to be like someone we admire, and that could, in turn, make us better. I don’t think that the chosen role model needs to be someone you know, or would ever even meet. It is a person who demonstrates qualities or has achieved things that you would want too. It’s worth thinking about.

5)  Always know that there is someone worse off than you, and that person has overcome their own obstacles. I find thahip-hop-1209499_640t it isn’t always helpful think about other people and their bigger problems because it makes me feel petty and small about my own (i.e. my “first world” problems). But, good or bad, we all have problems; that is the nature of life. And maybe giving ourselves the perspective of knowing that other people have faced problems, similar or even worse, and they got through them, therefore, I can too. It might just be the little lift we need to feel better.

So there you have it, five things to help us feel fulfilled. I’m going to try them, or at least keep them in mind, and see if it makes a difference in my little life. A couple seem easy (like #1 and #2), a couple seem a little more challenging (like #3 and #4). I welcome you to try it too. If you do, you tell me your role model and I’ll tell you mine.  😊

 

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Kids, Self-awareness, Technology

A couple years ago, I went on my kindergartner son’s field trip to the local fire station. The firemen explained what they do and why, showed the kids their living quarters, their kitchen, and most importantly, the fire engines. They opened the many compartments revealing axes, oxygen tanks, yards of hoses, and firetruck2much more. Most of the kids were very interested, watching with gleaming eyes. Then we got to the part which the fireman boasted was the most fun – he opened the door to the passenger side of the truck revealing the “Captain’s seat.” He explained that this is a very important seat, and said that all of the cool tools and technology were used in that spot. Then he asked, “would you like to sit in this seat?” Yes!” they all cried excitedly.

Brief chaos ensued as he asked all of the kindergartners to get in one line. After much pushing, shoving, cutting, and complaining, they were all single file and waiting to get a chance to see the Captain’s seat close-up. The first child was helped up, but as soon as she started to look around, one of the parents called out her name, told her to smile, and took her picture. “Her mom will love this,” the parent said. Then, without even thirty seconds to get a glance at the famed seat, the girl was taken down and the next kid was put in it. Again, the child was asked to look at the camera and smile, then removed from the seat. And this is how it went. None of the kids got to really sit in the seat, feel what it was like to be up there, look out the front window, or explore the various interesting knobs and buttons. I was dismayed to see that the field trip had turned from experiencing the moment to taking a picture of it.

And the fake picworst part was that the kids knew exactly what to do – get in the seat, turn to the camera, fake smile, picture taken, get down for the next kid.  Only one boy out in the whole group insisted on sitting in the seat and asking questions about everything around him, and he was quickly encouraged to “get down so someone else can have a turn!” A turn at what? I thought. The kids will see their pictures and probably like them, and being five years old they probably won’t remember the field trip too much, but how much more valuable would it have been for them and their little working brains to sit in the Captain’s seat and pretend they really were the captain of the fire truck? Something could have sparked inside one of them as they explored and examined all of the new things they saw there. But instead, we take a picture of the moment and we rush them off for next kid’s photo opp.

How often does that happen? I see it all of the time. Parents telling their kids, “Okay now I need a picture” right when the kids are in the middle of something fun, thereby ending the fun and spontaneity of that moment. Trying to pick it up again sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. It’s not just our kids we do it to, we also do it to ourselves. Think about a recent time where you went somewhere new and exciting – a trip to the Eiffel Tower or standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Did you stand there and take in the sight? Breathing the air and marveling at the height and scenery around you? Or did you get there, quickly look around, make a few comments, say “come on, let’s take a picture”? The typical scenario of what happens next is the person stands there looking down at his phone blocking the way for everyone as he uploads it to show everyone his moment that he wasn’t experiencing because he was too busy taking a picture of it and posting it.

firetruck
The famed “Captain’s seat” picture that came out blurry and not worth the photo opp.

A friend of mine said, “it’s all about instant gratification, they want everyone to know they are having fun in their perfect lives so they can feel good and be reinforced about their experience.” Is this true? I hope not. I’m also not bagging on every picture taken in a special place. I love taking pictures and I do it often. I torture my kids mostly because I just enjoy photography and I like looking back on pictures.  My computer always has some type of slideshow running and I even take out those old fashioned photo albums occasionally.

More than likely, we will look back on the picture of my son in the Captain’s seat and enjoy it, even though he won’t remember it. Still, we would benefit from occasionally just being in the moment and feeling it; and we need to let our kids do it too, especially them, because they are watching and learning how to take a picture of the moment like we do.

So next time, if we need to take the picture, maybe do it while they are looking in wonder at something or laughing hysterically at something they just saw, experiencing this brief moment in time for all it’s worth.

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Grief, Illness, Self-awareness

ginger
Old Ginger – when he was nice.

Last week, the vet put our old goat down. He had reached the point where no food interested him, his arthritic bones ached him to the point of limping, and he was ready to move on to the next plane. We weren’t sure of his age, but the vet commented that he outlived his teeth (he only had about two left). We got him about six years ago with his buddy, Maggie, who has passed on last winter. And yet, Ginger kept hanging in there. He had a severe liver infection over the winter that nearly killed him, but he recuperated on antibiotics and kept going, despite his body continuing to deteriorate.

When we first got Ginger he was generally a jerk. He would threaten to head butt my husband (a sign of dominance) and would lean over the fence if my son was nearby and pull his hair with his teeth! My son learned to fear Ginger and my husband mostly disliked him (especially when he severely sprained his ankle because of the goat).

I’ve generally had an okay relationship with the grouchy goat. I tried to treat him kindly and in the end, he usually just wanted pets (some goats are just like dogs who want attention). Of course, I didn’t appreciate him pulling my son’s hair and I always warned my kids and their friends to stay out of the pasture with the goats, but generally, he was an “okay goat” in my mind (think of a family pet that you weren’t very close to, but tolerated well enough).

Recently, in his elderly years, he became much nicer, to people anyway. Maybe he didn’t have the energy or the will to try and be dominant, maybe he realized that it doesn’t really matter, or possibly he knew that he was old and vulnerable and just couldn’t be on top anymore. Whatever the reason, Ginger had softened. Almost anyone could approach him in the last few months and he would just look to see what you might have in your pocket for a snack, or an ear scratch would often suffice.

Do we all soften like Ginger with age? I watch my father interact with my own children. He is a much more gentle and understanding grandfather to them than he was as father to my siblings and me. He watched his own father do the same thing. My own grandfather was sweet and kind, and always nice to us grandkids. My dad has different memories, which is probably typical of any parent dealing with his own children versus grandchildren. Maybe, as we age, we realize how fleeting it all is, and that kids will be kids for a relatively short time.

Enjoying apples.
Enjoying the moment – with apples.

Still, it seems like a choice for most people as they get older. Will someone realize that all of the worries they once had aren’t as important as they thought and just living each day peacefully and contentedly is the path to be on, or, as we all have seen, do they choose to be angry, cursing any new trend, and repeating how good “things used to be,” and generally being, well, a jerk like the younger Ginger was?

I’m hoping to take my lesson from the old Ginger, regardless of why he became nicer and realized that the fight isn’t worth it, he changed from an “ornery old goat” to a “relatively nice old goat.” I’ll go with that description for myself, human or otherwise.

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Kids, Parenting, Self-awareness

From Part One: Bringing Home Baby

“I think society really does not let the world know how hard it is to be a mom. We are all supposed to act like it is this wonderful thing all the time … I don’t think moms want people to know if they are not enjoying being a mom, because how dare you even think it? The truth is that it is a hard job, and society does not show that.” -Nancy

I read the populaRodgers6r pregnancy books before I gave birth to my daughter. My husband and I took the classes on delivery (which I found scary instead of comforting). I went to the breastfeeding class. I talked to mothers with both young and older children. Few, if any, of these sources could prepare me for the life transformation that a baby actually brings. What was more frustrating was that no one warned me that this was a complete life change. Having babies and entering motherhood is so commonplace in our society that few people stop to think about how our lives are transformed by a baby. One reason for this might be that the women who have experienced motherhood, like grandmothers or mothers with grown children, quickly forget what it was like that first year. In the time span of your child’s life there is so much that will happen, from his first steps across the living room floor to his stride across the stage at high school graduation, it is easy to forget what that first year was like. There are also those moms who blend into motherhood so easily that it appears they do not have the same experiences or feelings that many of us do. I am confident in my belief that these mothers are part of a very small minority, and even they have difficult times coping with the responsibilities of motherhood sometimes. There are some of us, too, who do not want to admit or accept this permanent change that happens in our lives. I wanted to have a baby, but I was afraid of the idea at the same time, and I did not want to believe that a baby would change me, my husband, or our marriage. My thoughts were: What if this is not what I expect? What will happen? I cannot go back…right?

For the majority of us, experiencing motherhood and a new baby is both amazing and shocking. Here is a human life that you and your partner made. She spent nearly ten months inside of you growing and developing, and here she is in your arms. The process of life is breathtaking and miraculous. It does not matter that humans and animals have been doing this for millions of years; when you are the one who has actively participated in the process, it is astounding. For the first few months of my daughter’s life I marveled at the idea. I simply could not believe that 1) we created this baby who is here with us now, and 2) that she really came out of me! Right in front of me was a real baby who had swelled in my belly with her heart beating, her body moving around and showing up on the ultrasound. While I was pregnant I understood that she was there, but could not quite grasp it. Then, once she was out in the world, a tangible live human being, I was astonished. The change seemed to be instantaneous: one minute you are pregnant and the next you are a mom. I did not know what to make of it.

But, as we all soon learn with our babies’ cries of hunger or discontent, they are here and they mean business. Feed me, rock me, change me, hold me…wait, I don’t know what I want! my daughter seemed to say. And quite honestly, I had no idea what she wanted either. I felt like I was thrown into a play already in progress. I did not know my lines or where I supposed to stand on-stage. I did not even know what character I was playing. But everyone else did. I was “the new mom.” And I felt like I was going to receive some bad reviews for my performance. I struggled to keep up with the needs of my new baby during the first few weeks. Was she hungry? Did she have a dirty diaper? Was she hot or cold? Did she need to be swaddled or maybe have her blankets loosened? Sometimes none of the answers applied. Sometimes it was just walking outside and seeing something new that calmed her down (or worked her back up into tears). There were no consistent answers, and I had a very hard time accepting that.

“I felt overwhelmed by the gravity of it [having a new baby]. I had never been in a role before that was a never-ending, twenty-four hours a day, and that was entirely mine, even with my husband’s support. I still feel there’s never a real sense of utter relaxation, I mean in the way there was before I had another life to protect.” -Kelley

I attended college and worked in an industry where there was almost always a right or a wrong way to do things. In school it is fairly straightforward: you perform the tasks asked of you and receive a grade for your effort. At work it is similar, you show up, do the duties of your job description, and receive a paycheck. It all makes sense. A new baby is quite different. We try to interpret what this little life needs when he may not know himsbaby2elf. The adjustment of just coming into the world must be overwhelming for a baby. He is nestled in a confined, warm, dark place listening to the steady sound of a heartbeat and other bodily noises. Then, probably without warning, muscles around him contract and he is pushed out into the world of bright lights, loud sounds, and a place that makes his body feel cold. Just learning what these new sensations are must be exhausting. (There is a reason we have no memory of our births, afterall; it is probably too traumatic for us.) So we care for him. We hold him, we love him, we offer him a breast or bottle, we try to make him as comfortable as possible in this new and strange world. But in the end, we really do not know what is going through his new and functioning mind. We do our best, but it might not be right. And if it isn’t, then we often hear about it, very loudly. It is extremely frustrating to make blind guesses and not know whether it is the correct answer. Yes, the crying may stop, but does that mean the problem is fixed? Maybe, temporarily, this time. Grasping this understanding that the right solution doesn’t always exist was extremely hard for me to take. Why can’t I plug in the correct number and get a solid answer? Because, I realized after many months, this little being is human and she possesses the complexities that all of us have: emotions, feelings, needs, and wants. And she is just now learning what all of these things are, and who exactly I am, that person who holds her, feeds her, and tries to console her. Sometimes she might have been crying to release all those emotions that she did not understand. In the end, I felt just as confused as she probably did.

A therapist I know describes becoming a mother as a “growth process.” We, as new mothers, are growing and changing almost as fast as our babies are as we accept this new role in our lives. The more we resist this change, the harder it becomes. It might seem unbelievable that you and your spouse were released from the hospital in charge of a brand-new baby, but you were. You are now parents. As we left the hospital, I sat in the backseat with our new daughter (yes, the paranoid new mom in the backseat) while my husband drove. It was a warm day for late October and the sun seemed especially bright. As we drove away, I cried. And cried, and cried. I blamed it on an influx of hormones and exhaustion. My husband looked nervously in the rearview mirror, “Uh…are you okay?” he asked. I assured him that I was fine, but the tears needed to come out. I suppose it was just a release after a very long labor, and the actual realization that this baby was coming home with us, ready or not. Our lives had changed.

“I was so worn out [after labor] I wasn’t thinking much beyond ‘get me out of this bed.’ Then curiosity about the baby set in, followed closely by terror. I had never been around little kids before, let alone infants, and now I was responsible for this little thing?!” -Leisel

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Kids, Parenting, Self-awareness

Recently, my husband discovered that he will move-up to the next level in his engineering firm. It is a big promotion and one that is not offered to everyone. He deserves it. He works hard and is a careful engineer. I am happy for him as he is not always acknowledged in his job.

Although I truly am happy for him and his success, I can’t help but think of the lack of awards for mom and dads who don’t work in typical industries. There are no promotions for parents. No one comes up to me after a difficult phase and says, “You did a great job handling the incessant whining and constant tantrums for the last two months, you get a promotion and a raise!” or, “You limited your child’s screen time everyday despite the battle it causes, congratulations! Here is a certificate of appreciation and a free pizza.”

If anything, most of us are grading our own performances and we don’t think it stacks up to “CEO of Parenting.” Who makes it to that stage anyway? Maybe once your kids are grown and lead somewhat respectable lives? That is a long time to wait to find out about your job performance.

So what can we do?

1) Accept that this unique and important job does not come with the traditional accolades or acknowledgements of a job well domother-childne. If your children are relatively content in their lives, even with the frequent complaints about life in general, assume that your parenting is up to par. All kids, all people, typically want something they don’t have, so if you child’s biggest complaint is that he wants his own tablet and doesn’t want to share with his brother, then you’re doing fine.

2) Look within to judge your performance, but be truly honest. The reality is that sometimes we could all do a better job with anything: your mechanic could have cleaned up the grease splatters after working on your car, the sales clerk could have gone and checked to see if she had your size instead of giving a flat-out no, high-ranking officials get no forgiveness no matter what they do. Sometimes we could have done better, but just try to do your best on any given day. And be careful not to get caught up in the trap of perfectionism. Perfection in parenting does not exist. Children and their parents are too unique and everyone needs something different. One day your daughter would have been soothed by some encouraging words and a hug, the next time she wants her space and shuts her bedroom door instead. We cannot know; we can only go with what we think is the right thing to do in the moment, and not condemn ourselves if it was not the best choice.

3) If you really want feedback, ask others. It is beneficial occasionally to ask other people, “Do you think I did okay there?” “Are there any other ways I could have handled that situation?” That can pertain to parenting your children or dealing with an unhelpful representative from the phone company. Be sure that you truly want feedback, however, and not validation for the wrong you felt you received. And ask people who would really think about the situation and give helpful feedback, not someone who is quick to point out what you did wrong, or quick to placate you.

I think we can all agree that parenting is not an easy job, especially if we want to do it well and have children who are ideally kind, respectful, and interested kids (I deliberately left out “happy” there because happy is a subjective feeling that comes and goes – in my opinion. If we wanted to keep our kids happy, we would hand them a bag of candy and an iPad, in most cases).

Most of us just do our best, try to be good examples, and attempt to understand the world from their limited child’s view (which can be a freeing way to look at the world sometimes!).  As far as our own performance review, we must accept that this job does not come with them, and possibly stop looking for them. That is difficult for me, as I said, watching my husband excel while I try to think up more interesting lunch possibilities, but I know deep down that I am doing the best job that I can.

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Kids, Self-awareness, Technology

Did you ever notice how much time others spend with their faces in front of their phones? How about yourself? I am guilty of it too. It’s hard not to pull it out when we have a spare moment to see what the weather or traffic will be like, distract yourself with a game, text someone, or watch the endless scroll of social media.

We can't see your face.
We can’t see your face.

But what did we do before getting glued to this ultimate shiny object?

At my kids’ sports practices nine out of ten parents are looking at their phones. What did they used to do before that was an option? Watch the practice? Read a book? Stare at the wall or the sky?

In line at the grocery store what did people do? Look at terrible tabloids to see which celebrity or politician was abducted by aliens? Stare at the person who is taking too long and get annoyed that he or she is writing a check? Let’s not even bring up how many kids are glued to them as they are pushed in the cart through Target or Costco, or sitting in a restaurant mindlessly watching a show while everyone else dines.

I am guilty of all of the above (except the restaurants, that really bothers me), but what are we missing out on? I was, and still am, one to bring a book wherever I go so I suppose that I have always craved some type of distraction. You can read quite a few chapters while getting your oil changed or waiting in that endless coffee line. I remember getting my first smart phone and telling friends that I used to people-watch in the grocery store and observe what was happening around me, and I still try to do that, but when someone is having a price check or deciding on something that takes awhile, I’ll get out the phone.

Are we doing a disservice to ourselves by getting sucked in or allowing our kids to be? Yes and no. All parents want to do is shop in peace and not be hounded with “can I get that?” or “I want that!” so I understand the desire to stick a phone in kids’ hands sometimes (not to babies though, come on); but at a restaurant I tell my own kids to look around: watch the people, the food being served, that guy trying to eat his spaghetti that keeps falling off his fork during his obvious first date. Pay attention. They’re not too keen on that idea, and it often ends up being a big headache with relentless whining until I threaten that they will never use anything smart again.

And what did industries and companies do before smart phones or cell phones? On our summer vacation this year my husband checked his email on a daily basis and his boss asked him to write two proposals because the due date was in two days. He did that while we slept at night, forgoing his own vacation time. What did people do before that? Do the proposals themselves? Say sorry, we have no one to do that at this time? And, more importantly, what would happen if my husband turned off his cell phone and left it at home? He’s not willing to entertain such an idea (…yet).

My last observation concerns our kids dependence on us through their phones. A few people I know have kids in colleges far away. Once upon a time, college newbies would have to write letters or wait in line at a dorm phone to contact their parents. Now, they can do it immediately, in any situation. In some ways that is a good thing. We all need some moral support from parents occasionally. But in other ways, it prohibits them from figuring out basic problems on their own. One friend’s daughter called to ask her mom where to buy a stamp, yes, a regular postage stamp. Figure it out! And don’t ask Siri or Alexa; just think about it.

There are many times when I wonder what would happen if the whole grid shut down and we couldn’t use anything “smart,” and most of me thinks it would make life easier. Would it though? It’s a double-edged sword and one that we must work at and be conscious of all the time; otherwise we run the risk of becoming anti-social screen zombies. Need brains? Just pop on over to your Amazon app and order one up over your phone, should arrive in two days if you have Prime (and thankfully, yes, I do).

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Self-awareness

Much has been touted about the benefits of thinking with gratitude. If we can be truly grateful for what we have, we are supposed to feel happier, be less stressed, and experience life with more joy, overall. It’s true. If you stop and think about two things you are grateful for that happened at the end of the day, be it the guy who let you in on a crowded freeway or that you got your kids to school on-time with no complaint from anyone, a little gratitude can go a long way.

But sometimes it’s just too hard to be grateful, or to truly feel it in difficult situations. If you’re behind on bills and have nearly run out of money, thinking about how grateful you are that you’re not starving to death in a third world country, or that you don’t have some terminal disease, doesn’t really help matters. Granted, you might feel truly grateful for those things (I know I do), but it does not change your attitude or situation for the most part.

A shift in perspective when gratitude isn’t working is to think in terms of abundance. This means seeing what you have instead of what you lack: abundance instead of scarcity. Many of us see our lives in terms of scarcity only – what we don’t have, what we want but can’t get, what we think we will never have. Advertisers bombard us  with the latest things that we just have to have, be it a gadget or a lifestyle, and show us how much better they are with those things. We can’t help but think we are lacking, and when we try to be grateful for what we do have, we still don’t feel truly glad.

Thinking with abundaabundancence in mind means looking at situation and seeing the possibilities in it instead of the lack. Back to the example of being behind on bills and money, we can see the piles of bills and the small stack of money with which to pay them, or we can see the possibilities we have in creating more wealth and paying those bills (which could be anything from a second job to a yard sale to selling unwanted collectibles on E-bay), and we can be grateful to have the opportunity to do those things. We can see how to make that money stack grow instead of continue to shrink. Will that solve all of your money problems? Not yet, but it is a start, a way towards seeing the world in terms of offering you opportunities instead of stripping you of everything and just being glad you don’t have to worry about eating lizards for dinner or contracting Ebola.

Steven Covey states it well, “The Abundance Mentality… flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.” This can be difficult to do when you had a bad day at work, you find dog crap (again!) at the front door, or all of your dieting has equaled to weighing more instead of less, but instead of going to extremes and trying to be grateful for things that you can’t really connect with, try to stop and see the abundance in your life. That may mean just accepting that things aren’t perfect right now, but trusting that they will get better, reasoning that you usually have more good days than bad at work (the dog as well), and that you do actually feel better and your pants are looser even if the scale doesn’t say so.

thanksgiving-table-1888643_640So, as the holiday comes and we sit at the table with our families and friends, try not to focus only on the one person who antagonizes you or triggers you. Instead, notice the many people you enjoy being with, the table covered in food, and the one day out of the year when we overeating is encouraged!  Abundance abounds (when we choose to see it).

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Money, Self-awareness, Writing

sucess chalk boardAs I start down this path of publishing and marketing a book, one repeated piece of advice I have read is to define success and what success means to me. The argument is that that most people have no real definition of success, so how can they ever reach it. In the world of writing, it is wanting to be a successful author. What does that mean? Getting on the best seller lists? Making a fortune? Turning books into block buster movies? I have yet to define mine, but I highly doubt that it will be any of those milestones. Selling 20,000 copies would be nice, but I don’t know if my dad can afford to buy that many.

What does success mean to you? We often think of it in terms of income, fame, or prestige. If you are well-known and paid extravagantly, you are successful. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines (among other businesses) appears to be a down-to-earth billionaire, if there is such a thing, and he says, “Too many people measure how successful they are by how much money they make or the people that they associate with. In my opinion, true success should be measured by how happy you are.”

Another billionaire, Mark Cuban, says, “To me, the definition of success is waking up in the morning with a smile on your face, knowing it’s going to be a great day. I was happy and felt like I was successful when I was poor, living six guys in a three-bedroom apartment, sleeping on the floor.” That might be true, but I’m pretty certain that he does not sleep on floors any more or live with six guys in a crappy apartment.

Success?
                                        Success?

For others, even defining success seems scary because what if we fail and never reach that point? We are paralyzed with the idea of even starting so we stay stuck and don’t try. One point can be made about the billionaires above, they never stopped trying. And then there is the flip-side, what if we reach our definition of success? Let’s say someone decides that success is earning $1 million in a year and this man or woman worked hard and reached that goal – their definition of success. Then what? Success attained, does he or she just roll over and die now? What next? I think we bump against this often. Why try, we ask, because 1) we might fail or 2) we might succeed.

And because of those pitfalls I think there are many of us who never stop to define success, and therefore just never stop. We’re always striving, nothing is ever good enough, once we get something that we want, we change what we want, so that we are never satisfied. We fear that if we reach that point of being completely satisfied and successful then we have nowhere to go and nothing to do, so we keep ourselves on the treadmill. And that is not a fulfilling life either because it’s never done, we never truly succeed, we keep going and going and going, until we die. That is pretty bleak.

I think I will go with the ideas of two other successful people: Maya Angelou who says, “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” And John Wooden, a very successful basketball coach with 620 wins and ten national titles who thinks, “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” Both are easier in theory than in practice, but something to strive for on a daily basis and over a lifetime.  What is your definition of success? Have you reached it?

 

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Self-awareness

It sounds like it might be a eastern disease from across the globe, but it’s not. The China Syndrome is a phrase coined by author, Gretchen Rubin and her sister. I heard it on their podcast “Happier with Gretchen Rubin,” and it just means that we have certain ideas of what it means to be an “adult,” and for Gretchen it means having and using China dishware. She thinks that she has finally arrived at adulthood when she can get out those delicate dishes and eat off of them. For her sister it is having all matching and beautiful furniture, no hand-me-down or garage sale pieces, a complete set that her family luxuriates over, or

Does your table look this nice? Mine sure doesn't.
This does look like an adult table setting. And mine looks nothing like this.

it’s wearing nice clothes every day to work instead throwing something on and running out the door.

I liked their term and examples because so often I do not feel like an adult, or a grown woman for that matter. I like to think that some day I will have “arrived”  and I’m officially an adult woman, but it would be for different reasons. For instance, China dishes are a waste of time and money to me. I don’t want to create more space in my house for plates and silverware that I use maybe twice a year, and I have to worry about chipping or breaking (“oh no, they don’t make that pattern any more!”), let alone cleaning and keeping out the dust. Matching furniture is another one that does not matter to me. At this point in my life, it seems time-consuming, expensive, and stressful. I have young children, dogs, and cats. None of those creatures combine well with sparkling furniture that I am trying to keep clean and “nice” for as long as possible (maybe when our obnoxious black cat who scratches everything to shreds finally dies, I’ll consider something new, but she made of pure evil and never dying).

So, what makes one feel like an “adult”? Owning a house? Having kids? Retiring? Even though I don’t feel like one much of the time, my kids certainly think I’m the grown-up. At forty, people half my age agree that I am. When our driveway was getting paved, the paver said I looked just like his niece Buffy, but when he asked his son who was working alongside him, his son said I looked more like aunt Barbie than cousin Buffy. I realized that I am probably closer in age to aunt Barbie, and may have her same graying hair and wrinkles too. It’s hard to accept because I have always looked young and people have always doubted my age. Once, on a flight when I was eighteen, the flight attendant asked if I was old enough to sit in the emergency exit row. You have to be twelve or older to sit in those seats! But now, I don’t look twelve, or eighteen, I look like an adult, so how does one feel like one? Obviously, China doesn’t make you an adult, matching furniture, a new car, or a paved driveway. Nice clothing with the right accessories might make a person appear more together, however it seems like a lot of effort, and these are all things…so what is it?

I guess, for me, I would feel more like an adult if I earned more  money. I made the choice to stay home with children and write, and because of that choice we don’t have a double income (my writing earnings are pretty negligible at this point). I used to work, obviously, throughout high school, college, and beyond, until those kids showed up. However, getting my social security statement recently and seeing the obvious drop in yearly income over my working career was a little depressing. So I don’t know if I would necessarily feel more like an adult if I earned more, or just feel better about myself in general. However, probably opening and actually reading my social security statement might be an indicator of adulthood right there!

I do have this vision of a day when I have it “all together,” the house is clean, the checkbook balanced, the pile of unopened mail is appropriately sorted and filed, the retirement accounts are in order, those college accounts are well funded, and essentially I can sit on the couch and open a book with a nice contented sigh – “Ahh, everything is finished.” That would be nice. However, the reality at this point is much different, if I could get two out of four of those tasks accomplished, I would feel pretty good. And the other reality is that all of those things might be done in that moment, but the next day, the ball keeps rolling – mail keeps arriving, dust collects, purchases are made, college costs even more – there is no end point. Well, there is, but that would mean the ultimate end, and that is not a very positive outcome either. So, for the time being, I will keep on, keeping on and know that, even if I don’t feel like an adult, I certainly look like one, my age says I’m one, and hopefully I act like one most of the time. What’s your definition of being an adult? Have you arrived or are you still waiting for some specific time to make it official?

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