Choose Compassion Over Judgement to Thrive in Community

Judgement says, “I see you; you’re different from me.” Compassion says, “I see you and we’re in this together.”

Judgement makes us unavailable for new information; compassion opens our hearts and minds.

We spend a lot of energy being concerned about other people’s judgement of us for any number of reasons. Too often, our worry prevents us from doing things we might really enjoy like meeting new people or having new experiences. What we forget is that other people’s judgement of us reflects something in them and has nothing to do with us.

People are going to judge us; that’s a fact of life. It’s how we respond that makes the difference. When we choose our response, we must remember that we don’t have to take everyone’s opinion on board because their view isn’t about us at all. However, if we feel their judgement is warranted, we can ask ourselves what we can learn from it.

People have judged me because I’m short in stature. Truth be told, being small has been a ticket to the front of the line more times than I can count, and I’ve never felt that my height was a disadvantage. You know what they say about good things coming in small packages, right?

When I worked in mainstream television, I had someone tell me that I was too short to work on TV. I mean what do you do with a comment like that? Truthfully, I was offended and what I learned from that encounter was to lighten the moment because I understand that people don’t necessarily intend to offend. It happened quite a bit over my career because our beautiful imaginations project all kinds of qualities onto the people we see on television that don’t necessarily match with reality. When someone would say, “I didn’t expect you to be so short,” I’d say “well you have to be small to fit into the box” when televisions were shaped more like a box. It lightened the moment and diffused any awkwardness for the person making the comment. That’s employing compassion in the face of judgment and for me it is always the right thing to do.

“We cannot always do great things on this earth.  We can only do small things with great love.” -Mother Teresa

As much as we find it easy to judge others, we have an equal supply of compassion we can call on. It may not be our first thought but remembering that we’re in charge of our responses to other people, we can choose again and select compassion instead of judgement any time. It takes practice but it’s a habit I strongly recommend nurturing, especially when we’re living in a community. You never know how the compassion you show someone else is going to impact their day. One small act of kindness, instead of judgement, can make the difference between someone feeling alone or feeling included.

When we care about other people and act from an intention of compassion instead of judgement we benefit because we feel good, our family, our friends, and our community all benefit too because the intention and the action coming from compassion help to lighten the moment and diffuse any awkwardness, just like I did with the people who said silly things to me.

“Compassion for others begins with kindness to ourselves.”Pema Chodron

There is one very important piece about compassion and judgement that we can’t overlook. Nobody is more judgmental of you than you are, and I think that needs to go. I wouldn’t want your fear of making a mistake, saying the “wrong” thing, or failing at something to prevent you from enjoying your life and trying new things. When we’re compassionate toward ourselves, we stretch what’s possible in our lives. If something difficult or painful happens, think of how you might comfort someone you care about and say those things to yourself. Take good care of yourself; when your body wants rest, listen, and give yourself a rest. Cultivate a habit of speaking kindly to yourself about yourself. Accept yourself, your thoughts, and your feelings as they are without trying to change anything. This practice of being nonjudgmental softens us and increases the compassion we feel for ourselves, which in turn makes it easier to be compassionate toward other people.

Here are a few ideas to help nurture the habit of being compassionate:

  • Listen. Being a good listener means asking questions and listening without having to talk about yourself or offering advice.
  • Put yourself in someone else’s place. Imagine what it must be like to be new in your community for example and invite someone new in by making them feel welcome. If someone in your community is going through a tough time, send a card or drop off a thoughtful gift to let them know you’re thinking of them. Ask them how they’re doing and just listen with compassion. If someone is celebrating something, the same thing applies. You never know the impact you can have on one person or many people just by letting someone know you’re thinking of them.
  • Say encouraging things to others and know that they feel better for having been in your company. 
  • Use the words thank you as often as possible.

Compassion is one of the keys to living well. Remember we’re all human, we all have a story, we all have feelings, and we are all in this together.

Thriving In Community

I remember my first day on the kibbutz in Israel. I was a twenty something Catholic girl from Montreal moving into a community I knew very little about; frankly, I was overwhelmed. Over my three months stay as a volunteer, I would be rotated through working in the kitchen, laundry, orange groves, cotton fields and helping with young children. I made friends among the volunteers and the kibbutzniks; I learned about a rich culture of collaboration, kindness and inclusion. The overwhelm I felt at the start was replaced with a feeling of deep admiration and connection with a community that felt more like family.

The aspect of kibbutz life that impressed me the most was how families were integrated and elders were revered. I enjoyed many conversations with older people, who had settled the kibbutz and soaked up insights from them on the importance of sustainable gardening and the beauty of growing older. They felt their importance in the kibbutz culture and when I came back to Canada, I was reminded of how we’ve had it so wrong for so long. I knew we were missing the gift of being able to hang out with and learn from people who have accrued a lot of wisdom over their lifetime.

Many years later, when I learned about The Wellings model of community living, something resonated deeply with me. In my mid-sixties at the time, I was now becoming one of those older people and I recognized that there was a great wave of us entering an important stage of life. We’re interested in being active, social, feeling part of community and we want to choose how we invest our precious time. The folks who designed The Wellings communities recognize that we are all important and we matter. I feel honoured and excited about the work we do to support people in making the next chapter of their life one of the best.

When we are part of a community that wants the same things such as comfort and convenience, connection with others and freedom to do as we please, the only thing we must do is realize how to maximize the experience. None of us are irrelevant, regardless of our age or our abilities. We need to accept that there will be challenges, just like every other stage of life but we don’t want our challenges to define our experience.

Which brings me to the subject of happiness and the question: what really makes us happy? The first answer most people give is either family, children or grandchildren which translates to feeling seen and feeling part of community. While we all have something to contribute to our family and our community at every stage of life, having an open mind and an open heart as we age means we’re receptive to new ideas, we’re interested in hearing other people’s stories, and we want the best not only for ourselves but for everyone in the community.

Once we have clarity around what’s important to us or what makes us happy, we can prioritize that in our everyday activities. One thing we must understand is that if we want to feel valued by others, we must make the first move and show others why we’re valuable instead of waiting for others to acknowledge it in us. If we want to feel kindness in our community, instead of waiting for others to show kindness to us, we need to pledge to be kind to others.

Kindness is one of the most important qualities in any human being at any age and it’s powerful. Dr. David Hamilton a physicist turned kindness expert explains that every act of kindness we do impacts at least five people: first, you benefit because your brain produces dopamine (known as helpers high). When you feel good, you produce oxytocin, which causes the release of nitric oxide, which reduces blood pressure and is said to be cardio protective. Oxytocin is also said to slow aging by reducing inflammation in the body. We are all wired for kindness so when we’re kind it’s much easier to make connection and form relationships. Obviously, the person receiving your kindness benefits and so does anyone who observes the act of kindness and anyone they tell about it. Added bonus: kindness is contagious, so you never know who you’re inspiring by being kind.

There are so many mixed messages in our culture about getting older and we want to support ideas such as ageless living, where your age doesn’t matter but who you are does. Just like life on the kibbutz, we want to encourage cooperation and collaboration in community instead of complaining and above all we want everyone to know that they are important, and they matter.

Reading reference: The Five Side Effects of Kindness Dr. David Hamilton, Hay House 2017

How You Begin Your Day Is How The Day Will Roll Out

What’s your favourite time of day? You might guess from the title of this blog that I favour mornings. I believe that what I do for myself first thing sets me up for the day. I start with gratitude as soon as I wake up, reminding myself of all the good in my life: a comfortable bed, a home I love, work I love to do, that kind of thing. Then it’s onto affirmations and a glass of lemon water before coffee enters the picture. Lemon water helps with hydration and digestion as well as vitamin C and affirmations help direct my focus. I say things like “this is going to be a great day,”  “I am capable,” “I am adventurous” to name a few. It took some time to implement the habit of saying affirmations but after learning from author and speaker Louise Hay that affirmations are rooted in the idea that our thoughts can influence our health and our mindset for the better, I was inspired to try them. Ten years later, they’re part of my daily routine. Affirmations as simple and direct as these examples can benefit how we think about ourselves:

I appreciate what my body does for me each day.

 – I keep myself in good health with regular activity, great connections and nutritious foods.

– I am enough exactly as I am.

– I am adventurous and willing to experience things outside my comfort zone.

– My happy thoughts help create my healthy body.

“The past is gone. Today is full of possibilities.”  
Karen Casey

Having a morning routine can be a game changer and I have found that gradually adding in healthy habits really supports me and provides a solid underpinning for how the day will go. After I make my bed (which makes me feel like I’ve already accomplished something) and have coffee, I include either yoga and meditation or a walk outdoors in the morning, to help me feel both calm and mentally energized for the day.

I think we all know that good nutrition plays an important role in how we feel; I’ve learned from experience that for me it has to be sugar, caffeine and spicy foods in moderation. I do my best to include lots of fruit and vegetables as well as good quality protein but in all honesty my pandemic eating plan included too many potato chips and some days I was definitely on the see-food diet: if I saw food I’d eat it. Joking aside, the unspoken stress of the last few years has tested my good habits but has not deterred me from returning to what I know is good for me.

“With the new day comes strength and new thoughts.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

You’ve heard the expression “dance like nobody’s watching?” That may be exactly what you need to do as part of your morning routine, if you don’t enjoy going to the gym. Including some kind of movement early in the day seems to clear out the mental cobwebs and increase circulation. Movement doesn’t have to be fancy; it can be walking in your neighbourhood with a friend, catching up as you go. Research tells us that getting out in daylight first thing in the morning helps keep our sleep/awake rhythm in check. Move for ten minutes a few times a day or thirty minutes in the morning while you have the energy to get it done. Fitting movement into our day is easier when we’re not pressuring ourselves to do what everyone else does. Find out what works best for you and do that. Move to enhance mental clarity, increase your energy, improve your mood and sleep as well as strengthen your muscles.

I think it’s important to start our day with the intention of not overwhelming ourselves. I find having a list for the grocery store helps, so I can add to it as needed. I also like to make sure I have a “to do” list for tasks that are both immediate and long range; this way I don’t have to keep track of all of the information in my head. Put a little fun on your “to do” list every day too by adding an activity or an experience that you know will make you happy. It could be calling a friend, writing an appreciation note for someone, reading a book or enjoying your favourite refreshment in the garden. We’re so used to taking care of everyone else before ourselves that if we don’t write it down, it might not happen.

Try journaling to either express some feelings you might be experiencing or to help solve a challenge in your life. Sometimes, I enjoy journaling about what I love: food, experiences, people, or activities. I also love to write down what I’m grateful for (it’s a long list). I think you’ll find that this exercise can be a powerful tool to help clear out mental clutter.

However you begin your day, incorporating healthy habits benefits your health on all levels and having a good self-care practice incorporating some of these ideas is a great reminder to yourself that you are important and you matter.

How To Manage Full Days Like A Boss

I am what you might call a reluctant gardener. I love flowers but the work required to get them going in springtime sometimes feels like house work to me. I do the work reluctantly; knowing that down the road there will be a great reward. I think of the garden beds as Mother Nature’s works of art and I light up when I see her creations over the summer months. To help with weed management and to highlight the flowers, I like to put black mulch around the plants, to serve as a background.

I went to the garden centre early this spring, to get several bags of mulch and planned to get it into the gardens before too many weeds popped up. I got started early in the morning before the black flies were up and after emptying seven bags of the stuff I ran out of gas. I decided to stop and after a big glass of water, I had an epiphany. What was the rush? Why did I feel disappointed that I hadn’t finished the job?

I think it’s built in, this conditioned thought that we should have the job done yesterday, that we’re behind in our work so we must push harder, we need to go faster. Sure there was a time in my life when I would have pressed on and exhausted myself to feel that fleeting victory of having completed the task. But I’m not that person anymore: that was then; this is now.

A few days later I got up again before the mosquitoes and got the rest of the mulch down in the garden. I realized that it didn’t matter to anybody else how or when I got the task done; it only mattered to me and from that experience, I’m learning to ease up on myself and manage tasks in a way that doesn’t overwhelm me.

We are all just a little too hard on ourselves don’t you think? We’ve seen others doing the extraordinary and we naturally think we’re falling short but we’re all different and we should pace ourselves accordingly. Remember that you are important and you matter; your health and happiness are important and they matter too.

We all have some days that are busier than others and learning to handle them well is more about managing our energy than it is about managing our time. I’ve learned over the years that lists are my friend. Rather than go to the grocery store, trying to remember what I need, it’s much easier to write a list. This way I’m focused and with the odd impulse purchase I’m in and out without the feeling that I may have forgotten something, even though I do that too from time to time.

Perhaps you have company coming to stay or guests coming for dinner. Make a list of the tasks you know have to be taken care of and divide that list into manageable pieces, so you don’t feel overwhelmed. This way, you’re managing your energy and the event instead of the event managing you and your precious energy…especially in the middle of the night. It’s all on the list, you can go back to sleep.

I’m full of energy early in the day, so I like to make sure I do some of the things on my list early to celebrate getting them done and to allow for rest or other activities that bring me joy. Getting up early may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I do recommend tending to your to do list early in the day, when you have the energy to take care of it.

Give yourself a break. Make sure that while you’re attending to your to do list you pause now and then for a cup of tea or a glass of water and while you’re pausing, why not cross out the items on your to do list as you get them done. We’ll call it our done list. I’m all about celebration so make sure to give yourself a pat on the pack as you go through the list because you’re getting it done like a boss. You’re a boss who manages their energy well and appreciates good work. Good for you!

Be open to receiving support when you have a lot on the go. People are waiting to help us out; all we have to do is ask. It takes nothing away from us when we receive help; in fact it makes the person helping out feel good. So don’t be so proud that you can’t receive support when you need it. We are wired to be helpful, so feel comfortable and appreciate the kindness.

The last tip I want to offer is that it’s okay to say no when you have a lot going on. It’s responsible energy management to know when you have to put your needs ahead of doing favours for others. When someone asks you for something and you feel enthusiastic right away, go ahead but if you’re hesitant either politely decline or tell the person you’ll check the calendar and get back to them. This way, you’re creating space to consider carefully whether their request is something you have the energy for or want to participate in.

You can be sure that from time to time life will throw us curveballs and nobody wants to feel that their life is out of control. When things get hectic, being prepared by having a few healthy habits handy will make it easier for you to navigate and will support you in your quest to live well.

Tips for managing busy days:

– Make a To Do list and break it up into manageable pieces.

– Start working on your To Do list early in the day or well ahead of your event, so you don’t feel pressured.

– Take breaks and cross tasks off of the To Do list as you address them.

– Be willing to ask for and receive support. Many hands make for light work.

– Feel comfortable saying no when you have a full plate. It’s okay to put your needs first.

Finding Purpose at Every Age and Every Stage of Life

We’ve been taught that having purpose in life centers on achieving things like getting good grades in school, finding a life partner, having a family, earning a certain amount of money or attaining status in the business world. Are these markers really what give our lives purpose and meaning and once we’ve achieved these goals, what then? I ask the question because I’ve seen too many people feeling confused once they’ve achieved what they thought would give their life purpose and they’re asking the question, what now?

According to one analysis on the subject of purpose by The New York Times, about 25% of American adults admit to having a clear sense of purpose about what makes their life meaningful, while 40% claim neutrality on the subject, or acknowledge that they don’t feel aligned with a purpose at all.

In my view, having purpose is simply a way of framing our day, so that we look forward to either sharing our gifts with others or being of service in some way. Perhaps it’s that it feels like such a big subject that people shy away because they overthink it. I think we all want to feel that we have meaning in our lives and that may have little or nothing to do with what’s in our bank account or what we do to earn money. It’s about what makes our day worthwhile and that can imply different things at different stages of our lives.

When we’re young, we’re in foundation building mode, figuring out how we’re going to shape our lives. It’s followed by raising a family if that’s the choice we make; then helping our children find their way as young adults. This is often where it gets challenging for many people because purpose and meaning take on a different flavor when our nest is empty. That’s the time to get curious again because we have accrued experience, hopefully we’re a little wiser than we were when we were young and we can choose again how we want to shape the next chapter.

“I believe the second half of one’s life is meant to be better than the first half. The first half is finding out how you do it. And the second half is enjoying it.” – Frances Lear

Having purpose is not necessarily connected to our goals; rather it’s how we have ongoing impact on the world around us with our gifts. It’s about knowing our “why” at every stage of life. Our “why” is our calling, our conviction; you could say it’s our mission statement. Knowing what our purpose is at any stage of life gives us stability and a sense of direction. Before you jump to the conclusion that your purpose has to be something grand I’m here to say that having purpose doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to feel right to you. We’re not talking about the purpose of life; we’re talking about your purpose in life which can change, depending on where you are on your life adventure.Your purpose is as unique as you are. Remember we all have distinct talents, experiences, skill sets and interests that fire us up and there are always new ideas to uncover.

Which brings me to connecting with purpose; I’m often asked how we connect with it; is there a formula for finding it? While these are good questions, there are no easy answers. Often we look outside of ourselves, thinking that there must be someone who knows what our purpose is. Could it be an elder, a partner, a teacher or a friend? While feedback about our skills and talents from others can be helpful, in truth we are the only ones who truly know what purpose means to us. So it’s best not to chase it; rather allow it to emerge by asking yourself a few important questions, such as: What are my gifts? What do I stand for? What are my values? The answers to these questions hold clues for us and will help point us in the direction of our purpose.

“When it comes to staying young, a mind-lift beats a face-lift any day.” – Marty Buccella

If your gift is that you’re a good listener or a nurturer, allow those qualities to guide you. If you stand for safety for children, pets or older people, those are clues for you and if family is among your values, you can tease out ways to express your values, your gifts and your principles in your every-day life. You could be the best Grandmother or Grandfather; you could be a fantastic friend who really listens to those you cherish. You could align yourself with an organization that rescues or protects animals, a group that advocates for children or older people. You could do intentional acts of kindness for your neighbours; the possibilities are limitless.

“Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.” – Albert Einstein

Be careful around FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real because fear is a trickster; it can convince us to stay small; not to step outside of our comfort zone. However stepping out is the only way we can create space for our purpose to emerge. Remember there’s no one way to get there, just as we are all unique our exploration will be unique as well. Keep in mind too that we are all creative beings regardless of our talents and it is never too late to connect with activities and communities that will make your heart sing.

While you’re investigating your purpose, here are a few tips to help you on your quest:
– Be open hearted and open minded.
– Think about what you’re good at.
– Look for ways to be of service to others.
– Ask people who know you what they think your talents and skills are.

While reshaping our sense of purpose in life can feel challenging please don’t feel pressure to find it; rather let it find you because it’s already in you. The world needs you at every stage of life to share your skills, knowledge and your wisdom. This is ageless living.

Footnote: How are you doing with your intention for 2022?

Cultivating Optimism For Good Health And Longevity

These last few years have been a little confusing for optimists like me. There’s a sense that we’re not on firm footing; Pandemics will do that. This roller coaster ride has reminded all of us that we’re not in charge of life’s events but we need to remember that we are in charge of how we respond to life’s events. We can choose to be skeptical, cynical, fearful or we can choose to be optimistic despite the evidence in front of us.

How we respond to difficult situations has a wide ranging impact on us emotionally, physically and spiritually. How we think influences how we feel and over time, how we feel has an effect on our physical health through chemical interactions in our brain, which is connected to every part of the body. So the question is: what is the message you want your brain and body to share?

I get it. We’re not all naturally optimistic but we can learn how to nurture more positivity in our lives and we have excellent motivation to do so. Research tells us that optimistic people have a better quality of life and tend to live longer. Skeptical? Then this blog is for you.

Recent studies conducted at the Montreal Heart Institute show a relationship between optimism and a decreased risk of cardiovascular events as well as a longer life span for optimistic patients, while studies at Carnegie Mellon University in the US show lowered risk of return hospitalization for cardiac bypass surgery patients, who were deemed optimistic.

If you’ve read this far, you’re likely curious about how to increase optimism in your life and by association, you’re choosing to improve your physical health. Optimism isn’t measurable the way we measure blood levels and obvious physical outcomes but there is speculation that optimistic people have healthier habits than pessimists. It’s also suggested that optimists have stronger social connections, are more likely to exercise and more frequently follow medical advice. It should also be noted that it’s perfectly fine to have days when we feel discouraged; it’s just not where we want to stay, if we’re looking to be more optimistic.

So how do we turn up optimism in our lives?

Start with small shifts in your attitude by allowing optimism in. Watch for opportunities to interact with people you see as optimistic; their generous, positive energy will help get the process started. Where perhaps you may have dismissed them in the past, see them as your teacher and be open to receiving their kindness.

Don’t forget to give positive feedback. Most people are reminded by others when they make a mistake but it’s just as important to share positive feedback.

Be mindful of what you’re consuming in the media. Too much News can fuel fear and while it’s important to be informed, make sure to limit your exposure and find resources that make you feel lighter: watching uplifting videos or movies, enriching your day with upbeat blogs, books or television shows.

Watch what you say. It’s easy to be critical and our thinking habits are tenacious. To increase optimism we have to become mindful of the negativity we put out into the world and make the choice to shift what we say to something more optimistic or positive or say nothing. If you’re in conversation with someone and you feel their negativity, I find the best strategy is to just listen without getting into it with them. I also like to say “I’m sorry you feel that way” because I am sorry they feel that way but it’s not my job to correct them or to instruct them. We are all free to think and say what we want but I don’t have to participate in negativity and gossip; I can turn it around by being kind and compassionate. When I come across negative, critical people I recognize that it’s fear speaking and I say to myself “if there’s no audience, there’s no show.” In other words, if I don’t engage in the gossip or negativity the conversation will either end or change course.

Use role models as mentors. Think of people who you consider to be optimistic in your social network, workplace or even on television. When you find yourself challenged by a negative or cynical response to something, ask yourself: what would that person do or say? Then try doing or saying that; it’s another way to let more optimism in.

Look for the good. It’s so easy to find something wrong with just about everything; optimists invest their energy in looking for the good. It’s there in every situation but sometimes we have to look carefully. Ask yourself: what is good about this day? Your brain will go looking for the answer. It’s also helpful to ask yourself what you can learn from challenging situations instead of letting disappointment win. There’s always something to learn that will benefit you in the future.

I want to encourage you to embrace the process of becoming more optimistic even though it’s uncomfortable; even though it may go against deeply engrained habits. We all have negative thoughts, we’re human; it’s what we do with them or about them that makes a difference. I like to remind myself and others that we are all beautiful works in progress and every day, every minute is a new opportunity to learn and grow. There’s no instant fix but the investment you make in yourself by inviting more optimism into your life will improve your overall happiness and allow you to collect more hopeful thoughts about the future.

The Distraction Attraction: Is It Helpful Or Harmful

Now that I’ve checked my lottery tickets, had a bath, washed and dried my hair, made lunch and a cup of tea, I think I’m ready to start writing this blog about distraction. The topic has been dancing around in my brain for a while now because I’m fascinated by human behavior and want to understand more about the role distraction plays in all of our lives. So, I put my distractions aside and here we are. Hahaha.

“Your results are the product of either personal focus or personal distractions. The choice is yours.”
– John Di Lemme

Here’s the question: is distraction a good thing or a bad thing? Well there’s a role for distraction and it’s helpful when it leads to interesting results. Sometimes we look for distraction because our work feels monotonous (I’m looking at you bills) or perhaps we have a short attention span and require ongoing stimulation to stay engaged.  If you’re having a challenging day, being distracted by a loved one, a furry or human friend is welcome medicine. There’s nothing like a good laugh to clear out stress or using proven mindfulness tools to take your attention away from feeling unsettled. So, I see the value in distraction but I also understand there’s a flip side.

Distractions are everywhere and we hold one of the biggest diversions in our hands when we scroll on our smart phone or dopamine dispenser. Dopamine is a feel good neurotransmitter the brain releases when we do something that meets a need like eating. Since about 2013, our devices have gradually crept into our lives and taken us over as a top distraction. Regulating how much time we engage with our devices is a real challenge for us humans, especially those with developing minds.

“One way to boost our willpower and focus is to manage our distractions instead of letting them manage us.”
Daniel Goleman

There are so many expectations placed on us at every age and every stage of life that we often turn to distraction to palliate the discomfort of feeling pressured to perform. Too many people move through their day without being intentional around how their day will unfold, so there’s time wasted and opportunities missed. It has to be said that procrastination is one of life’s most challenging distractions to manage and one of the best excuses we humans use when it comes to avoiding achieving something great, like paying the bills or writing the first chapter in your yet unwritten book. Setting an intention at the beginning of the day can be helpful when it comes to guiding our behavior and focus which will determine the results we’ll get. Committing to half an hour a day or each week on the bills or the book will move you closer to realizing your goal. Make sure to prioritize activities in your day and put yourself and social connection with others near or at the top of the list.

Worrying or ruminating are common habits of distraction that are more like place holders than productive practices because they achieve nothing; they’re like chewing bubble gum to solve a math problem. Recognizing that there are situations in life we have no control over and taking some small action on the situation instead of worrying about it helps to lower the stress hormones activated when we think too much.

“All profound distraction opens certain doors. You have to allow yourself to be distracted when you are unable to concentrate.”
– Julio Cortazar

Some people consider daydreaming a waste of time but I disagree. I think we should make time to day dream because that’s when we’re really connected to our imagination and in that creative space, our logical thinking mind can rest. Remember, there’s no expiry date on dreaming and goal setting, so feel free to imagine whatever you wish. When I get stuck while I’m writing, I’ll look out the window and let my mind wander. It doesn’t take long before an idea pops into my head and I’m back at it. So I’m living proof that daydreaming can be a productive practice. It just shouldn’t be a full time job because action, even small action, is the secret sauce when it comes to bringing our dreams to life.

We have high expectations for ourselves and sometimes get to the end of the day feeling like we haven’t accomplished much. Remember there will always be a to-do list and perhaps the distraction you chose, whether it was a walk around the block, a chat with a friend or a good laugh while watching a funny movie was just the thing you needed to make your day rewarding. We are so hard on ourselves and that is certainly counterproductive. So be gentle with yourself dear friends and enjoy every moment of everything because nobody is keeping score of how many things you check off your list. In fact the people who love you just want to see you be happy. So don’t dismiss distractions entirely; rather learn to embrace and manage them, so you can be well and live well.

Change your World by Changing your Words

What does it take to be a good communicator? Just because we can speak doesn’t mean we’re great at communicating but it’s a skill we can all learn and improve on. Surprise! Being a good communicator entails being a good listener too. We’ve all encountered people who listen just waiting for a chance to say something. You can be sure they’re not really listening to what you have to say and it’s important to recognize that, so you don’t waste not only your words but your time and energy. Keep that for people who want to listen to what you have to say. I believe we all deserve to be heard; it’s all in how we present ourselves and how we receive others.

“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.” Brian Tracy

I’ve come to understand good communication as a superpower and I’ve learned from years of being a people pleaser that there’s absolutely nothing for me to gain in telling people what I think they want to hear. People are smart; they figure it out.  I’ve been a student of communication since my University days at McGill and over four decades as a journalist and interviewer. I’m always working on improving my skill and as a coach, I enjoy supporting others as they learn about the power their words carry. Becoming mindful of our tone when we’re speaking can make a big difference in how our words are received by others. Communication is a powerful spark of life that connects or disconnects us as humans. When someone says something that hurts your feelings, you feel it, as you do when someone says something that lights you up. Being mindful of how we use our words makes the difference between a positive encounter that leaves everyone feeling good and a negative experience that leaves everyone feeling less than satisfied. It’s up to us which one we choose.

“It’s important to make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” Barack Obama

Being a good communicator requires that we’re curious, interested in others and that we notice what’s happening in front of us. Behavioral psychologist Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s extensive research on the topic of body language resulted in the 7-38-55 rule showing that 7% of all communication consists of words, whereas the nonverbal component such as the tone of our message makes up 38% and 55% is attributed to our body language. This information is very much relevant today, especially with people wearing masks and doing their best to communicate over Zoom.

Several years ago, my brother took me to dinner at a very fancy restaurant. He said let’s start speaking loudly and observe what happens in the room. We raised our voices a little and as we did, so did everyone around us. The level of noise in the room went up, it was the strangest thing. Same thing when you’re in a stressful situation, if you raise your voice, you’ll raise the stress. Likewise, if you speak calmly, your tone will help to dissipate the stress. Good communicators are naturally good leaders because they’re aware of what’s going on around them and they respond in a mature and compassionate manner.

Being mindful of the words we choose to use has great impact. Do you use positive words that show your kindness and compassion or do you choose negative words that make you sound like you’re complaining? You are in charge of the words you choose in the same way that you’re in charge of the thoughts you choose to think. You may have heard me say before that complaining is a sure sign that we’re ready to change something and maybe all we need to do is change how we communicate what we’re thinking and feeling. I get it, frustration fuels complaining but it’s our frustration and it has nothing to do with anybody else. There’s always a solution when we approach a challenge with a compassionate mindset instead of negativity or complaining.

Learning to improve our communication skills is really good for our mental health. Communicating well helps us to provide clarity and creates better relationships because it shows people that we care about them. Remember communication is your superpower too. Let’s all do our best to choose words that heal instead of harm. The next time you’re in a social situation, keep in mind that your words have great power and you can change someone’s day for the better by choosing your words carefully.

Here are a few tips to improve your communicating skills:

-Know your audience and act accordingly. Not everyone is into jokes but if you’re into them go ahead and tell one. Gauge the response and if people are interested keep going. If they don’t seem interested, try asking them a question about their day or ask something about them. Remember communication is a two way exchange.

-Notice your body language. Crossing your arms over your chest sends a message that you’re closed off, even when you’re not. Using open body language: uncrossed legs and arms send a signal that you welcome what the other person is saying.

-Practice active listening. This is especially important in a serious discussion. To ensure you’re hearing what the other person is saying, wait for a pause and say back to them what you heard. This helps to avoid misinterpretation and misunderstandings.

-Take a beat before you respond. It’s so easy to overreact and we need to watch that behavior. Before you respond, especially in a stressful or heated discussion, take a minute to think through what you really want to say. Too often when we don’t take a pause before speaking, we say something we may regret later.

-Be optimistic and positive. If you’re being rude, you might get that coming back to you; if you’re positive and optimistic, chances are good that that’s how others are going to treat you too.

Confessions of a Recovering People Pleaser

Click Here To Watch The Video. 

A quick review of my life so far indicates that for most of it, I was a people pleaser. I gradually developed into a diplomat instead of a doormat and eventually I courageously stood in my power and now live to love people without having to try to please them all. 

I can’t decide which takes more energy: the habit of people pleasing or mustering the courage to give it up. What I do know is that as a recovering people pleaser, I have more energy for creative pursuits, I have more time for friendships that are reciprocal and I have more space for joy to find me. I can tell you with confidence that it’s work worth doing.

“Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight.”
– Bruce Cockburn

My story certainly isn’t unique; it involves a splendidly dysfunctional family and parents who absolutely did their best despite the traumatic blows of losing two of their babies. I think you get the idea. I felt like I was always working hard for approval, recognition; even just to be seen. I probably wasn’t the best people pleaser though because I had and still have a rebellious streak and a deep curiosity which in the end may be what helped propel me forward. 

One of the greatest revelations for me on this life adventure is learning that I’m not alone; that many of us have resorted to people pleasing as a survival strategy, to keep the peace, to fit in or to feel that we are valued. Using this habit of pleasing others is often a first choice because we don’t believe we have options and it does work for a time, until it doesn’t. You’ll know when it’s not working because you’ll feel emotionally depleted, physically exhausted and life will feel less than satisfying. I hope you won’t wait until you hit those markers to shift out the habit of pleasing others and choose to create space for yourself.

What does it feel like to be a people pleaser? Well, it feels like other people’s needs are more important than your own and there’s a willingness to try to take care of their needs even when it’s at the expense of meeting yours. It may look like you’re a do-gooder but it may feel like you’re a victim. Sometimes the habit is so deeply engrained that it’s tough to recognize in ourselves; see if you relate to some of these symptoms:

You agree to something you don’t really want to do.

-You have no free time.

-You feel that you need to be needed, to feel that life has purpose.

-You apologize all the time.

-You can’t say no.

-You need others to like you.

-You feel that people take advantage of you.

-You don’t get your needs met in relationships.

-You expect others to read your mind.

If you recognize yourself in any of those people pleasing symptoms, you are definitely not alone. My younger self can relate and my present self wants to help you shift out the need to please anyone but yourself. 

Waking up to the notion that I had chosen to please others over getting my needs met was quite rude because I didn’t know any other way to operate. I had to renovate my mindset which meant remodeling my thoughts about myself and how I operated in the world. What I did was begin with small steps and repeatedly interrupt the habits I had relied on to function in the world. 

Before we go any farther though, I have to say that pleasing people isn’t all wrong. Having healthy relationships means that we are compassionate and caring when it comes to those we love; the challenge is when we’re trying to win someone’s endorsement to bolster our self-esteem or we’re doing for others at the cost of our own well-being. By all means, do nice things for people; be kind but be careful because you are important and you matter too. Let’s get that straight.

True confession: it takes practice to shift out this tenacious habit of pleasing others and I strongly recommend starting with little steps that won’t scare you. Just take one of the tips on the list below and see how you can challenge yourself to put yourself first. Example: I never say yes right out of the gate to an invitation unless it’s an enthusiastic YES for me. My new habit is to say: “I’ll give it some thought and get back to you.” This way I recognize that I have a choice and I’ve learned to exercise that choice.

Here are a few tips to help with your renovations, if you choose to give up the habit of people pleasing.

-Know what your intention is in relationships.

-Know what your intention is around acts of kindness.

-Make time for yourself.

-Set boundaries: learn the power of the words yes and no.

-Think requests through. When someone asks you to do something, tell them you’ll get back to them. This gives you an opportunity to choose whether or not it’s a fit for you. 

-Establish mutual benefit in your relationships.

-Care for yourself in the same way you care for others.

Please don’t overwhelm yourself with the assignment because it’s easy to give up and revert to old habits. Let me remind you, so you can remind yourself that you are important and you matter; your dreams and goals are important and they matter too. Be confident that when you give away your resources and your kindness that it’s bringing you joy and not trouble. 

Focusing on our recovery as people pleasers helps us to move into more of a balance in our relationships, where we feel energized and satisfied that we are not only taking care of others but we’ve included ourselves in the equation. Don’t get me started on feeling guilty about making some alterations to how you operate because feeling guilty is like chewing bubble gum to solve a chemistry problem. It’s useless and it doesn’t serve anyone. Its action that creates the momentum, so here we go….in 3, 2, 1 action!

Footnote: How are you doing with your intention for 2022?

Is it the End of an Era for New Year’s Resolutions?

While the holidays are about celebrating, connecting, sharing and exchanging gifts, it’s how we choose to begin the New Year that will continue to make life merry and bright. The tradition for many people is to set New Year’s resolutions, despite the fact that most of us fail miserably when it comes to setting such high expectations for ourselves. We’re human after all and resolutions are intimidating. Okay maybe I’m speaking for myself here LOL. If resolutions work for you, congratulations you’re among the 20% who succeed; the rest of us need a better way and I might have found it.

Work on your strengths, not your weaknesses. How many of your New Year’s resolutions have been about fixing a flaw?      Jonathan Haidt

I think the tricky part about New Year’s resolutions is that when we’re setting them, we’re focusing on our vulnerabilities, thinking that if we shed forty pounds, give up smoking by March or start waking up at 4:30 am to get to the gym we’ll be happier. But that’s just not how happiness works. Happiness is nurtured by taking the pressure off and setting ourselves up for success with kindness.

Want to focus on fitness in 2022? Then write down your intention, which could be something like: I want to feel fit and fantastic. Then look for and create opportunities to make that happen. Invite someone to walk with you, join a walking club or look for fitness classes on line. Take responsibility for your intention and repeat it often. A system that has proven to work is to write your intention on sticky notes, placing them on your bathroom mirror, your fridge and on your front door, to remind you to take on the day with your intention in mind. We need bite sized pieces instead of the whole enchilada to help us feel that we’re being successful.

Resolutions are goals with no clear path to get to them whereas intentions are more like a guide for our behaviour. I propose that we take our power back and set intentions instead of resolutions.

“One resolution I have made, and try always to keep is this: to rise above the little things.”   John Burroughs

Patience has been a challenge for many of us during this Pandemic pause. There are so many reasons we can feel frustrated because we feel restricted or maybe ignored. Choose an intention that helps you feel better, such as: I will be more patient. This means being more patient with yourself first and then with everyone you encounter in the day.

The handy little reminders on your mirror and door or beside your computer will prompt you to remember what’s important to you, especially when impatience wants to pop up. Saying to yourself “I will be more patient” calms frustration and creates space for a different result. After all, the only person we hurt when we act on our frustration is ourselves. Even when you aren’t patient, be kind to yourself and remember you can do better next time.

“Do the best you can until you know better; then when you know better, do better.”      -Maya Angelou

Intentions recognise our willingness to do better so we can feel better. It’s all about improving our behaviour in small increments and being present to our circumstances, so we feel that we’re in charge of our response to any situation. The little wins add up to big ones over time, trust me. The pressure of resolutions creates an underlying stress and because resolutions are focused on the future, we’re actually delaying our happiness until we reach the goal, which in many cases we never do. Setting an intention allows us to choose and develop healthy habits that are both achievable and meaningful.

Happy New Year and cheers to having the best intentions for 2022.

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