I used to have a love-hate relationship with To Do lists. On the one hand, they felt like a never-ending litany of things that fueled an undercurrent of stress. On the other, there was something so wonderfully pleasing about crossing off an item on my list as I made my way through the day. Love won and having made a few tweaks to my list-making strategy, this is my go-to tool that keeps me moving forward, one little step at a time.
The construction of a To Do list is an intentional effort so it serves us rather than works against us. When items on the list are too grand, we risk becoming immobilized rather than energized. An overly ambitious item can be an obstacle to completion, denying us the pleasure of crossing it off with an oh-so-satisfying histrionic wrist flick. The gratification and subsequent feeling of productivity associated with making one’s way through a list is motivating.
How can we capture the advantages of a To Do list without allowing overwhelm to creep in?
Overwhelm is common with the number of responsibilities we are juggling. Many of us become paralyzed when we experience too much on our plates. When this happens, productivity and efficiency are replaced by inertia, preventing us from accomplishing anything close to what we intended.
And this is precisely why a well-prepared To Do list can be our ally, not our foe.
No item is too small to include on the list. Routine tasks can go on that list if need be. Let’s face it, there are days when a shower can feel like a major accomplishment. Feeling like a slacker from binge watching This is Us? Include “Me Time” on the list and suddenly you are crossing off an item that fills your cup in a world where we are often depleted. Taking time for ourselves, a.k.a. self care, whether it be to nap, exercise, self-pamper, socially connect, etc., is necessary to avoid stress and burnout.
The secret to a useful To Do list is in the details. Breaking down a high level list into multiple subtasks and explicit micro tasks is key. Three easy steps for a successful To Do List:
1) Take a few moments to intentionally brainstorm and write the high level daily/weekly items you want to complete
2) Examine what you jotted down and break each item into subtasks
3) Look at the subtasks and determine how each can be further detailed into a series of micro tasks
This exercise is a sanity saver. The result is a comprehensive list of activities that can offer a little boost when an item is scratched off or need a reminder that productivity is not all about big-ticket items. Some days will yield many crossed-off items; other days we're lucky if we get to one or two.
I recall an article about a highly productive solopreneur who talked about how she had completed 27 items from her list while her kids were at school. This was before I had discovered the micro task methodology and assumed this superhero had posted on her blog, interviewed for a podcast, participated in multiple meetings, baked for an evening event, plus twenty or so additional actions in the span of seven hours. I have since learned that the items were more along the lines of:
Especially now, in 2020, when so much has been uprooted and our lives impacted on many levels, To Do lists help us manage what is in our control.
Parenting/caregiving is one of the most rewarding and challenging jobs many of us will experience. We devote endless time and mental capacity raising our kids to be some version of responsible, kind, curious, and humble beings. Childrearing books and advice from those who walked the parenting path before us offer useful insight, but unfortunately there is no personalized handbook that contains the customized recipe for raising each little human we welcome into this world.
Feeding them a steady diet that includes our pearls of wisdom, values, and guidance, we try our best to do reasonably well in this job while simultaneously juggling the myriad demands of adult life. As many can attest, the role of parent comes with a plethora of feelings; a mixed bag of emotions that range from joy and enamor, to frustration and concern. Many proud moments as well as a fair share of worrisome sleepless nights are par for the course.
By the time the little ones make it through their late teenage years, we will witness their struggling that comes from straddling the two distinct realms of dependent child and autonomous adult. We will likely observe that they have mastered the skill of tuning out. They become tone deaf to our voices at a certain point such that our words morph from distinguishable and meaningful to some nonsensical sounds like the off screen adults in those Charlie Brown Peanuts television specials. Life lessons we shared throughout their upbringing may get tossed aside and add to our frustration. Many of their actions seem to dismiss the survival skills we so diligently taught them.
This period is tough for parents to navigate. On the one hand, we know that our children’s need to express their independence and exert defiance (as we 0bserved in their toddler phase) is a natural part of the maturation journey. Their actions will be reinforced or discarded depending on the outcome they obtain (natural consequences). On the other hand, our instinct to want to protect our kids from potential harm never goes away, no matter how grown-up they are.
And then - - WHAM
After settling into some degree of acceptance that our messages and lessons have not been absorbed, SURPRISE!! We receive a sign, a signal that all those words of wisdom that we thought went in one ear and out the other actually landed solidly right between their ears, parking in their brains. This indication can take on many different appearances. In my case, it was a text with a photo of the nutritious meal my proud son cooked for himself; my mantra “protein and vegetables” had sunk in. Milestone noted.
I've summarized the key to this part of parenting in 3 not-always easy steps:
1. Give Them Space
We parents must step aside in order to create room for our children to live independently; how can they flap their wings if we stand too close?
2. Trust Yourself
We have given them everything they need, hard as it is to believe, for them to take flight. The takeoff might not be so smooth at first, but they will fly.
3. Resist the Urge to Pick Them Up From the Less-Than-Perfect Attempts
We learn from trial and error. Fixing the mishaps in our kids’ attempts will rob them of the opportunity to figure it out on their own.
They’ve got this. And you’ve got this.For support in this area, coaching can help you explore and navigate the parenting path that feels best for you.
“I want to be successful.” I love hearing these words from clients and friends and the conversation that unfolds is always interesting.
Success is a highly subjective concept with a definition that varies from person to person. For many people, measures of success are tangible, distinct endpoints: graduating at the top of the class; achieving a specific job title; settling down with a life partner; completing a marathon; launching kids to college; purchasing a house; starting a business; selling a company; etc. The list is endless.
Working towards achieving such success can feel wonderfully motivating and move us along a desired path. Until we achieve it....and then what?!
What happens after we reach the goal that we equated with SUCCESS? If you have ever felt letdown or some degree of the blues after reaching the summit of the proverbial mountain you were climbing, you are not alone. Disappointment and that feeling of “what now?” are not uncommon after the joy from an accomplishment diminishes, which it inevitably does and usually much faster than we expected.
Getting lost in the endpoint can mean missing out on the experience while it is happening.
At times, having our eyes on the grand prize can blur our view of the rewards in the foreground. For example, in my quest to climb the corporate ladder, I sacrificed key family activities while my kids were young. Professionally, I received the promotions and accolades for which I strove. I was successful - - from a career perspective - - and not feeling it. No superpowers or magic wand accompanied my new job title. I was caught off guard by a feeling of emptiness that signaled something was missing. I didn’t know if this void was the space created by no longer channeling my energy into achieving the goal, or a hole in my soul for missing that which I dearly valued – relationships.
Creating memories with my kids and experiencing key milestones in real time during the fleeting period when I was the center of their universe was more valuable than the impressive paycheck I earned. My definition of success had evolved and I realized that my personal meaning was less about professional status and more about being in the moment and living without regret. Success for me had shifted, and I became aware that my updated, definition emphasized being a present parent and enjoying my family. With this epiphany, I pivoted to focus on what I valued most. This does not mean that everyone should quit their job to make play dough and visit museums. Rather, this is an invitation to look inwards and be open to self-development and the growth it yields with respect to your personal definition of success.
Defining your vision of success begins by first becoming aware of what matters most to you right now. Perhaps it is taking charge of your health, slowing down to spend time with aging parents, hiking the Appalachian Trail, or baking your first cheesecake. Priorities will shift due to variable life circumstances so it makes sense that your definition of success today may not match what it was in the past or will be in the future. Second, understanding why your top priorities are important is useful and connects you to your core values. Transformational coaching helps you get in touch with both of these - - the what and the why.
How are you living your best life without regrets?
How often have I stared at the blank page, frozen, without a clue about how to begin? I have had these face-offs with my computer monitor countless times when tasked with a research report, business proposal, book chapter, or blog post. Interestingly, the majority of these catatonic moments occurred around topics I knew well and was excited to produce. Go figure.
What is this roadblock really about? What I have observed is that my desire to sound knowledgeable, authentic, and eloquent sometimes ignites my inner critic that tells me I am none of the above. Rationally, I know this to be false and thankfully, coaching has helped me squash the negative voice in order to make room for the loud supportive one bursting with motivation.
I remain surprised when the words still do not pour out of me after my internal pep talk. I am mindful that the feelings accompanying my snail’s pace are largely attributed to an unrealistic wish that the words flow in thoughtful, melodic prose at first pass. I refer to this as the perfectionist hurdle and she is not my friend.
When she shows up, it is time for me to implement the same strategy I often use to support clients when they are feeling stuck. The “I don’t know where to start” that often follows a client’s declaration that they seek a change in one or more aspects of their life.
The strategy, whether applied to my own hurdle or in support of a client’s, is to take the task at hand and break it down into several small bites. Shifting the focus from the final product to a series of doable steps is an incredibly useful tool. Empowering.
This strategy can be applied to a variety of life scenarios where a change is desired - - career, relationship, fitness, etc. To illustrate this, take Cici (not her real name), a client who was expecting out of town guests for a weekend later that month and she wanted to de-clutter her spare bedroom, which had become the dumping ground for household goods she did not regularly use. Items such as suitcases, giftwrap, animal carriers, old textbooks, etc. covered the guest bed and much of the floor, making the room inaccessible for an overnight visitor. Tackling the accumulated stuff felt understandably overwhelming to Cici and she kept putting it off believing her goal (having a useable guestroom) was out of reach.
Using the method of breaking down the task into smaller pieces, Cici devised a plan to undertake one corner of the room before our next coaching session in one week. She set out to clean a 4-foot by 4-foot area – a space she felt was reasonable to progress towards her ultimate goal. Days before our scheduled coaching session, I received a text from Cici stating she not only completed the designated corner, but she finished cleaning half of the room. Once she rolled up her sleeves to confront what overwhelmed her in a manageable dose, she was motivated to keep going. She indicated she would have done more but was limited by her schedule. She could not wait to get back and finish what she started.
The beauty of this strategy is that it is widely applicable to matters big and small. And the transformational impact is limitless. Seeking change and having goals are part of our personal growth process. Should perfectionist tendencies and overwhelm appear along the way, overcoming them to progress towards your goal is at your fingertips.
Hard to believe we are mid-summer. I love this time of year for all of its simplicity…farmer’s markets, flip flops, easy picnic dinners on the beach at sunset. Perhaps an echo from my younger days, I have always felt that summertime feels more relaxed, even though work and family responsibilities continue with a steady rhythm.
Yet the summer of 2020 is far from relaxing. In addition to the financial stress and health concerns that are a reality for many, favorite summer activities are on hold or extensively modified. The mental energy required to thread moments of fun and respite while keeping everyone safe can be exhausting.
Spontaneity is on hold. A last minute trip to the beach requires advance planning to secure the requisite parking pass that assures access.
5:00 PM cocktails on Zoom replace evenings spent at a crowded, trendy restaurant.
And our kids? Their summer plans have been cancelled, reduced, or adapted, leaving them with yet more time to fill after their education was abruptly disrupted in March. Parents tap into their limited energy reserves to negotiate with teens yet again, weighing the effects this period will have on their emotional, physical, and intellectual well-being.
The hardships are real and by no means can we trivialize them. With no end in sight, stress and anxiety take a toll on us. It has become increasingly difficult to plan anything given the rapidly changing rules and policies that drive a lot of routines.
And still, there remain many things that we can enjoy, as long as we take the time to notice, to be mindful of them. The gifts of summer extend well beyond the vacations, pool parties, and traditions we find ourselves mourning. Many summer treasures are accessible and more than ever, offer necessary moments of joy when we pause and pay attention to them. Topping my list this summer:
Think about your list of summer favorites. How would it feel to slow down and notice those tiny moments of happiness that sometimes pass unacknowledged? Allowing oneself to enjoy these simple pleasures is a simple and powerful tool to use, especially during these unprecedented times.
A howling April storm is knocking things against my house at this moment, which I find strangely comforting. As our world has shrunk in the past few weeks, I’ve relied on getting outside each day to simultaneously enjoy nature and exercise. Today, I will ingest my dose of the great outdoors from the large picture window that allows me to watch the storm from a place of warmth and safety. I am fortunate.
As a reformed planner extraordinaire, my awareness has shifted from investing significant energy into the future to living in the present. In fact, focusing on the day in front of me has been my saving grace during this pandemic. I wake up each morning with gratitude for the day. I am here. My family is safe. How can I use my time today to find that sweet spot of flow between my life coach work, book writing, parenting, partnering and supporting others? What can I do for myself today to make sure I am in a good place emotionally and physically?
Obviously, there is no single answer. Each day looks different. A couple of days ago I found my groove with my clients and making volunteer calls to check on elders in my local community. Yesterday, I gave myself permission to read for hours then shifted my focus to the 1000-piece puzzle that adorns the living room coffee table amid detritus of shelter-in-place family life. And today, I am driven to writing an overdue blog post and ignore the nagging voice inside me urging me to work on my book in that “I told you so” cadence. Thankfully, I have learned how to talk back to that uppity echo inside my head and turn it into one that is supportive rather than antagonistic – a nod to coaching.
How does one balance the need for routine during a time when so much is not schedulable?
The answer rests in working with what we can control and allowing ourselves permission to simply be with our feelings. With so much that we cannot control these days, we can still choose how we respond to our current reality. One of my absolute favorite questions that I adapt to negative feelings that creep in is: How does being angry/worried/resentful at the current situation serve me? Guess what? It does not. Here I share what I do to reframe the current situation while we shelter-in-place for an indefinite amount of time:
1) Check-in with your feelings. Acknowledge them. If negative, remind yourself they do not add value to your mood and day.
2) Ask yourself what in your power would make today feel even a wee bit better. Is it productivity you crave? Connection with others via phone, zoom, writing a letter, etc.?
3) Recharge your battery every single day. Restated: practice self-care. My faves: long walks; yoga; relaxing shower/tub; getting lost in a good book.
4) Establish a routine, even a loose one. This will look vastly different from before Covid-19 days, and is equally if not more important to our emotional health. Mine includes something that resembles the following, remembering flexibility at this time is key:
My routine takes into account that all of my work is remote, incorporates previous goals I can still work towards (e.g. completing a book) with modifications to do things important to me in ways that are doable (ex. experiment with new healthy meals based on whatever food is available). It also includes letting go of things important to me such as hugging my family and friends who live elsewhere; enjoying a social evening at a vibrant restaurant; celebrating important milestones in ways I want to honor them.
Finally, two reminders to help us through this period with a bit more ease:
1) It is okay to let go of expectations that are carryovers from before Covid-19 days.
2) Allow yourself space to just be without the negative self talk. Our level of productivity will not match what it used to be. How can it? And that is okay.
Let us all be gentle with ourselves and generous with each other.
Why are some conversations so difficult to have? We all have uncomfortable topics that we find ourselves bargaining to postpone, downplay, or avoid all together. Decades ago as a grade schooler, I remember suffering through an entire weekend in anticipation of telling my parents of a poor score I received on a math test. In my small world, this felt like a big deal. I was unable to fully enjoy going to the movies with my friends with the feeling of doom that followed me all weekend long. I waited until the last possible moment that weekend -- bedtime Sunday night -- to break the news. My parents are caring and reasonable people and yet I feared having to say aloud what felt like an earth shattering proclamation. They were, not surprisingly, reassuring and calm. In hindsight, I was struggling to reconcile my self image as a smart kid with my low grade, and had neither the wisdom nor self awareness to understand that a single test score did not define me.
As I have evolved, so too has my understanding and approach towards difficult conversations. I am not talking about unpleasant talks such as sharing a poor annual review with a supervisee (they can improve), or telling your kid they have to miss "the party of the year" to attend their cousin's wedding (there will be other parties). I mean those conversations that merely thinking about elicits stress sighs, stomach knots, and head spins.
How big is this hurdle? Does our own gunk - - that negative internal dialogue - - cast doubt on our communication skills? Or are we afraid of how the recipient will hear and subsequently react to the message? Both are real concerns and can cause us to dance around what we want to say. We minimize. We sugarcoat. We withhold information. We avoid. You know what I'm talking about.
For the parents among us, one of the areas I've heard folks stumbling over is talking with their kids about sex. For so many of us, talking about sex with our offspring sends us reeling. What are we afraid of? What would it take for us to feel more at ease in this arena? Imagine if sex conversations with our kids flowed easily in matter-of-fact tones like a conversation about a historical event or a recap of last night's football game. How empowering and liberating does that sound?
Stay tuned as I revisit this topic in the future. And please, share your concerns that prevent you from communicating more effectively, though I bet you are much better at it than you think you are.
The long days of summer are here. That time when we make all kinds of promises to ourselves about things that we will accomplish professionally, personally, and physically. The greater number of daylight hours and perhaps the break from the school year routine with lighter commuter traffic makes us feel we have more time available, regardless of the number of work hours that define our week. "This summer I’m going to finish my business plan; organize my closets; cultivate an abundant vegetable garden; train for a half marathon; foster amazing communication with my teenager; lose weight; take a bucket-list trip; summit a few high peaks; get promoted; etc." - - some examples from my own circle of humans. Sound familiar?
For me personally, one of the goals I set for myself this summer is to make significant progress on a writing project that I’ve challenged myself to do. Lately I've been wondering why I haven’t made nearly as much headway as I had intended. However, rather than berating myself and going down the path of negative self talk, I have learned to swiftly shift my thoughts to the things that I AM doing this summer: growing my business; enjoying quality time with dear family and friends; reading; participating in varied sports using my able body; visiting farmers markets; slowing down to admire neighbors' gardens; in other words, I'm being present.
Rather than focusing on what I am not doing, I re-positioned my thought process from "You're Not Writing Enough" to a "This is Where I AM" perspective. We set high standards for ourselves and then feel a sense of defeat when we don't reach our goals on our original timeline. We have a tendency to focus on what we don't achieve rather than what we do. Instead of celebrating the 10k run we completed, we feel disappointed with our time and less worthy for having walked up the steep hill in the middle of the race. How is this serving us?
And yet I acknowledge there is tremendous value in establishing goals and am a goal-setter myself. Having something to work towards is motivating, grounding, and propels us forward. I also like to explore what is beneath the goal. In other words, why is (your goal) your goal? For what reason are you running that 10K? Why is getting promoted important to you? My writing project goal fit nicely into what I thought would be a chunk of available time with few distractions in an environment where the words flowed easily from my brain onto my computer monitor. I wasn't wrong. I made a choice to prioritize other things that felt more fleeting, I simply pressed the slow motion button on my writing which allowed me to experience more of what is in front of me these warm long days. And I feel this is exactly where I want to be, even if it's not precisely where I thought I would be.
You are at your high school reunion and having a blast catching up with people you haven't seen in years. You start conversations with many people, and talk at length with a select few. Many conversations are interrupted by a squeal of recognition from someone nearby, followed by hugs, and comments about how you haven't aged a bit. For the conversations that last longer than a brief exchange, my experience is that it typically revolves around where you are living, what you do for work, family status/updates, and some reminiscing of shared memories. It's a good time. The mood is light and fun; most people seem genuinely happy. But are they?
Happiness, as much as we desire it, seems to be increasingly difficult to achieve for a variety of factors - - political strife; economic concerns; career demands; social pressures; caregiving responsibilities; etc. This elusive quest to find happiness has prompted universities to teach classes about it. Yale's most popular class (as of spring 2018) was "Psychology and the Good Life," otherwise known as "the Happiness Class." Denmark's Happiness Research Institute explores why some cultures and some countries are happier than others. The World Happiness Summit is an annual international event that brings together world experts to raise awareness about the science of happiness and the benefits of implementing policies and tools to drive a happier population. And these are just a few of the international efforts that are exist to increase happiness and wellbeing.
With all of this attention on happiness, it prompted me to do my own quick research. Using social media, I asked people how they define happiness. Specifically, I invited them to complete the following: "Happines is..."
The answers I received were beautiful. A cursory assessment of the responses led me to these major categories (in random order) of what happiness is:
My non-scientific research confirmed my personal views of happiness: the things that bring us moments of pleasure contribute to our overall happiness aura. Not a single person responded that happiness is there job, the size of their bank account, material objects they own. Happiness, according to my "empirical" study, is derived from simple pleasures, nature, and shared social experiences. Small joys which fill us up. Happiness comes from within.
This is a much bigger topic than a single blog post and I will undoubtedly revisit this in the future. I invite you to share what happiness means for you in the comments below.
I am grateful it has been cold outside. I have been hiding under this knit hat for the better part of two weeks without looking totally out of place. But now I find myself vulnerable, feeling naked without my head topper as I sit in the exam room of the dermatologist's office waiting for the doctor to examine my crusty forehead. It takes a great deal of practice to write that word without grimacing in disgust. If we were talking about a warm loaf of freshly baked baguette, it'd be a different story. But my crusty skin? Blech! My forehead is a red, splotchy, hot mess; the area above my brow an interesting combo of spotted leopard and alligator.
My skin is sore. By the second week, applying the medicine twice a day feels like a form of self-punishment. "Health first, health first" I've been chanting through clenched teeth while applying the wonder drug. In reality, the soreness is bearable. I'd give it a 5 out of 10 on the pain scale. There are also headaches. And itchy eyes.
After a light rap on the door, in walks Dr. Perfect Skin. "Your forehead looks amazing," she cheerily proclaims as she approaches me. I disagree. But I know what she means. What I've been covering with my snazzy cap is exactly what she is delighted to see. Yet I can't disguise my skepticism. "I'm serious. The treatment has done what it's intended to. You look fantastic. You can stop using the medicine now," chimes Dr. Perfect Skin. This is welcome news.
My treatment was for basal cell carcinoma. Nobody dies from this. If I had to have cancer, bring this one on. I did not require surgery beyond an outpatient procedure - - I drove myself home. The surgery did not remove any parts of my body with the excision of the cancer lesion. The same cannot be said for many people I know who suffered more serious cancer diagnoses. I know far too many people who have fought breast, ovarian, cervical, colon, prostate, and pancreatic cancers. I have friends and family who waged wars against melanoma, leukemia, and malignant brain tumors. I am close to people who endured intravenous and oral chemo therapies, leaving them nauseous and depleted of energy. I have people in my life whose treatments caused hair loss, suppressed their immune system, and inflicted a host of other harsh side effects. Some were given odds of combatting their cancer. Others were told how long they had to live.
There are risk-factors for many cancers. And there are also many instances when cancer strikes by random selection. Basal cell carcinoma is preventable with the primary risk factor being the sun. Why wouldn't you protect yourself? I get that there's nothing like feeling the warmth of the sun on bare skin, particularly after a cold New England winter. The production of Vitamin D from those rays almost tingles. But you and I know the sun can be harmful. By adopting consistent safe sun behaviors, the risk of basal cell carcinoma drops tremendously. This is a no-brainer.