world series winner

Average Happiness

Much of our society is focused on being the best. One MVP is chosen. Only one singer becomes the American Idol. It is no longer an accomplishment to write a book, you have to be a #1 best seller. Getting a high GPA is not important unless you are the valedictorian. We are obsessed by being the “best” and receiving awards. We have accepted that striving to be the pinnacle should be our goal in life.

But is the competition to be acknowledged good for us? How is the desire to have one winner hurting our society as a whole?

world series winnerParents and educators must have recognized that all this competition, all the desire to have one winner, is hurting our children. Because of this, we now have participation ribbons making everyone special. But this solution is still based on the current way of thinking that our goal in life is to be the best. This solution makes everyone the best, which really makes no one. The problem is the striving to be recognized. It is the desire to be special which is hurting us. We should try to be our best and we have every right to be proud of our achievements. But we need to stop the all or nothing attitude of either I am the best or I am meaningless. I believe this desire and need to be the pinnacle is what is causing us stress and depression.

Is the more we need to brag – the less we really think of ourselves? Do we need praise and accomplishments to feel good about ourselves? Do we need to stand above others to feel as if we are worthy?

A dear friend of mine is constantly telling me how he has been singled out, proving to me how special he is. It is sad to watch how he needs to promote himself, to tout his accolades. He needs to win. He needs to receive rewards. He needs to be the one and only. He truly believes that in being numero uno he will receive love and adoration.  What I usually see in him is not someone who is happy, but someone who is constantly needing reassurance. If he is not the top, he does not exist.

Could the pressure to be “special” be the reason for high rates of depression? Could the expectation of constantly winning be the cause of our unhappiness? Neuroscientists at the University College of London (UCL) think so. According to Robb Rutledge of UCL during their recent research, “We expected to see that recent rewards would affect moment-to-moment happiness but were surprised to find just how important expectations are in determining happiness.” Basically, they discovered that having lower expectations made it easier to surpass those expectations therefore causing joy.  Basically, if we set our expectations too high, we have more of a chance to be disappointed. Expect less, get more.

A good example of a culture which embodies the less is more attitude is Denmark which is once again the world’s happiest country. As a culture, the Danish seek to have an average life. They do not need to be the star of their own reality show. They do not need to win the highest award in their field. They do not need to have their picture on the cover of Time Magazine. Danish do their best, expect an average life, and are happy as a clam when things go better than expected. Look at that in contrast to Americans who strive to be the best, and are often disappointed. Only one person can be “best” which leaves millions of others very unhappy.

Much of our society is focused on success, top dog success. Millions of dollars are spent every year for this or that course to help you make it to the top of the ladder. Instead of joining the masses all pursuing the one elusive top seat, why not create your own definition of success? Keep it attainable. Keep it realistic. And work toward it. You may gain more than you planned, and you may not. But either way you will be more content and happy than if you had unrealistic prodigious expectations.

by Matthew Henry

Augmented Reality

I was speaking with my friend Melissa Amling that other day who was telling me about her virtual reality concept for a new children’s book. It is a very interesting idea to bring children into the world of the book so they could fully experience and become a part of the story. She then mentioned the newest craze, augmented reality. Augmented reality is using glasses to reveal graphics and audio as well as enhancements to our senses, into the actual world around us.

by Matthew Henry
by Matthew Henry

Melissa said augmented reality allows us “to see things that are not there and to experience them as real.” I thought perhaps that Pokémon GO was a type of augmented reality, but to the experts that does not take it far enough. Scientific American wrote a great article explaining augmented and mixed reality. Where Pokémon GO could only be viewed through a phone and was not immersive, augmented reality merges computer produced items into our reality seamlessly creating a new, enhanced reality. I wrote recently about how our brain can be influenced to see things that are not really there and now it seems this technology is making the most of our easily manipulated brains.

“To see things that are not there and to experience them as real.” How often does this play out in our lives? How often does a fear consume us and suddenly cover our reality with negativity? How often do we take someone’s opinion and make it into a truth? How often do we want to believe something is real so we make it into a fact in our own minds? How often do we color everything we see and experience with our own bias and suppositions?

We now live in a world of alternative facts. We see things as we want to see them. We have a narrow view of how things should be and we try to interpret everything we see according to our beliefs and understanding. What happens is we are pained and stressed when the actual reality does not meet our expectations and/or we alienate others because they can not see things through our filters. What we need is to release our beliefs, to release our desire to control, release our fear of reality, and embrace what truly is. Mindfulness can help us get there.

Mindfulness teaches us to release our bias and our filters allowing us to see things as they truly are. Through mindfulness we can experience things as they are without our beliefs and expectations. Mindfulness releases our judgments helping us gain a true view and acceptance of reality. When we are mindful, we are in the present moment. We are not trying to relive our past or feed our fears thereby coloring the present. When we can be truly and completely in the moment we are empowered by seeing things as they actually are. It is in this state that we find peace and clear actions.

You can learn more about mindfulness in this article.

love it or list it

Love It or List It

Working with a client the other day, we were trying to get to the heart of what she needs in her life right now. She was dissatisfied but had a hard time defining what she wanted, what would fulfill her. To get her unstuck, I tried approaching the subject from a few different angles. Finally, she said, “oh, I get it, like Love It or List It.”

Love It or List It is one of the ubiquitous home remodel shows currently filling the airwaves.  The concept is to help couples whose homes no longer work for them. The couple lists everything that is not working with their home. Then one of the hosts sets to remodel the home with this list in mind while the other host searches for the perfect new home. At the end of the show, the couple decides to either love their newly remodeled current home or to list their current home and buy a new one.

love it or list itWhen one buys a home, it is perfect for them in that moment, but then things change. Children are born, grow up, and leave an empty nest. The home that was perfect in the beginning may not be perfect as things shift. The same goes for our life. A decision we made 10 years ago, which was the right decision, may now leave us with something that no longer works. When we realize we have outgrown our life, it is time for a change.

When we are considering changes in our life, we often think we have to list it. We are frustrated and unhappy. We think we need to quit our job, get a divorce, and move to Patagonia. The result is either we become stuck because those changes are too large to contemplate. We know that things need to change but we only see the all or nothing options which stifle us against any change. Or we throw caution to the wind and jump blindly into a major change, many times when we didn’t need to. We throw the baby out with the bathwater and lose the good things in our lives trying to rectify some of the not so good things.

Using the show as a premise, here is a three-step process to changing your life.

  1. Make a List: Look through your work, home, relationships, finances, and all of the aspects of your life. What is not working? Where could you use more space? Where are you having trouble functioning easily? What feels old and worn out? What does not express who you truly are? Instead of looking at that one thing which is not serving you, take a full inventory so you truly understand how your current life is functioning and where it could use improvement.
  2. Remodel: Look at the list you made and prioritize it by what would be most impactful. Then determine how you can make adjustments to the top priority areas to improve them. This is a remodel, not selling and moving. What tweaks can you make in make your life to make it a little bit better?
  3. Love It or List It: Allow some time after your remodel and see how things have shifted. Have the smaller changes in your life given you the joy you are looking for? Do you feel more comfortable and fulfilled in your life? If so, acknowledge and embrace it. If not, begin to look at larger changes you may need to make.

Sometimes we need some time and a blank slate to look at our lives without our responsibilities and previous choices so we can really analyze what is going on. Sometimes we need bite-size changes to give us the courage and momentum to move forward into a necessary transition. And sometimes, we do need to walk away. However, in much of my life I have seen more positive shifts in tiny changes. What do you need to remodel in your life?

time, clock, calendar

Controlling Your Time

Two years ago, I had the honor of being part of the Washington Post Time Hack Project. I was one of a handful of coaches who were paired with readers struggling with work-life balance. It was fun to help individuals from around the world and from every age group to take back control of their time and their life. The Time Hack Case Studies and Top 10 Time Hacks provide some tangible tips to help you take back your time.

The first order of business for taking back your time is to acknowledge you have the power to do so. With a schedule packed full of work hours, childcare and household responsibilities, and a myriad of other tasks, it is too easy to feel a slave to your schedule. One of the main reasons we feel stress with a busy schedule is we allow ourselves to be the victim of time and responsibilities. What we need to do is to run our schedule, not to let it run us.

time, clock, calendarThe initial step to taking control of our schedule is to consciously create our schedule. How often during the day do you say “I have to . . .” Just changing the wording to “I choose to . . .” can move the power from the schedule to you. When you feel you “have to” to do something, you are a victim, a slave, a drone of the responsibility. When you choose to take action, you are in the driver’s seat. Blame, anger, and stress are removed through consciously choosing how you spend your day.

This is more than just word choice. Being conscious about your time is more than taking responsibility for what you are choosing to do, but it is also choosing to do – and not to do – certain things. Look at everything on your list and really consider if you are consciously wanting and choosing something – or does it feel like an obligation. I was speaking to a small business owner the other day who was overwhelmed by the amount of work on her schedule. However, when we delved into each item, we discovered that many items were actually obligations, not business necessities. She felt compelled to take on additional work for her clients, for which she was not receiving compensation. Yet, “as a good business owner,” she felt she had to do these things. Not true. Once we sorted through her actual responsibilities and removed the obligations, she suddenly had a reasonable schedule.

Once you have pulled unnecessary obligations off your schedule, look at what is left. Look for items which you feel responsible to complete, but may not be the best use of your time and resources. An example of this comes from a woman taking care of an elderly relative. She chose to help her relative, but between doctor’s visits, trips to the grocery story, doing laundry, and ordering prescriptions, her days were filled with caretaking. In this case, we looked through the list of caretaking to-do’s and separated them by things she wanted or needed to do, and those things which were more easily taken care of by others. Doctor’s visits were something she definitely wanted to attend in order to monitor her relative’s health. But there was no reason she had to spend an hour a week going to the grocery store. Peapod or other delivery services could ensure the task was done – just not by her.

Take a look at your schedule for this week. What are things you truly want and need to do? What obligations can you remove from your list? What responsibilities can be more easily taken care of by someone else? Then embrace what is left on your schedule as those things you are actively, consciously choosing to do. Notice how you feel you have more time, and less stress, throughout your day.


Start From a Place of Peace

I have been writing a lot lately about compassion and understanding, as I think that is what is sorely needed in the United States and the world at large these days. My readers seem to be having difficulty with the message. They are angry. They are scared. They find it impossible to understand and accept the other. But this is exactly what we need to do.

In February, I wrote about the importance of channeling anger into compassion and understanding, not more anger. Recently I ran across an article focused on peaceful activism which professes the same message. Thich Nhat Hanh, well-known Buddhist spiritual teacher and Zen master, agrees that “meeting anger with more anger only makes matters worse.”

by Jack Moreh

Thich Nhat Hanh teaches about Engaged Buddhism which uses mindfulness to help people find “peace in themselves so that their actions come from a place of compassion.” Before we can instruct, educate and move others toward enlightenment, we first need to be in a place of peace. We need to be aware of our emotions and thoughts. We need to be in control of our actions. We need to love and accept our selves. Then we have the calm power to reach others.

In graduate school, I participated in a March at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Although I agreed with the cause, I found the shouting and other displays of anger anti-productive. The crowd was acting like a three-year who didn’t want to go to bed. We whined and complained. Like-minded people agreed with us, were triggered, and took on our anger. And those who opposed our beliefs, were more resistant. We made it easy for those who disagreed with us to fight us. It was not a discussion or an education. It was an attack. And when you attack, it provokes others to attack back.

Part of the march went past the hospital on the campus grounds. As part of our march permit and out of respect, as we passed by the hospital everyone was quiet. I found this to be the most powerful part of the march. Thousands of people walking in unison exuding a quiet power. We weren’t victims. We weren’t attacking others. We were marching together in strength. It was that moment that the march was most powerful.

Here are a few ideas to help you find your peace, turn your anger to compassion, and start helping to heal our community.

Count to ten before reacting. Remember that old rule? When we are triggered, we tend to have an immediate gut level reaction – which is usually negative and counterproductive. Take a moment to release your anger before speaking or taking action. This will ensure you are consciously choosing the most positive and helpful reaction.

Take a few moments and explore your own thoughts and beliefs. If you are angry at racists, are you treating them with the same blind hate with which they are treating others? If you disagree with consumerist ideas which are not taking into consideration the needs of the people, where in your life are you putting your own need above others? If you are flabbergasted by how someone can completely disregard reality and hold fast to their own truth, where in your life are you stubbornly holding on to what you believe in lieu of facts? Work through your own fears, lies, and assumptions, before you try to reach out to others.

Stop retelling the story. Rehashing what has happened and how wrong it was, simply burns grooves of anger, fear and hate into your brain. Instead, once you have understood what has happened, release it, and then find ways you can act, in a peaceful manner, to right the wrongs.

This is not an easy time for so many, but like all growth, the most painful and difficult times are the ones that bring us to the next level. Join me in seeing this as an opportunity for us to rise out of the ignorance of the past and create a new more peaceful world.


I’m Mad as Hell and I’m Not Going to Take It Anymore

I heard a wonderful segment about anger on Public Radio International’s To The Best of My Knowledge Our Knowledge March 26, 2017 show which is worth a full listen. The show features a brilliant discussion with the author of a new book The Age of Anger: A History of the Present which traces the shared feelings of powerlessness experienced by both nationalist movements and fundamentalism terrorists to a disagreement between Enlightenment philosophers Voltaire and Rousseau. The show also explores how anger can be a channel for good and how we may have become addicted to anger. If you have the time, check out the recording.

The part of the show which got my attention was focused on our personal anger, how to look at, and what to do with it. Many of us are feeling angry these days. Whether it is an unjust layoff, personal relationships gone wrong, or current political events, we are surrounded by reasons to be angry. But what is anger and how do we manage it.

The first guest on the show, Northeastern University Distinguished Professor and psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett, talked about what anger is, why we can’t trust our anger, and how to make anger work for us.

angryAt the core, our emotions are based on the mind predicting a sequence of events based on what we experienced before. When our friend is late for dinner we are angry, not because they are late, but because last time they were late our friend had forgotten to tell us which made us feel unimportant. The mind is reacting to its assumptions about the meaning of the event not the reality. When you are triggered by an emotion of anger, look at the reality of the situation. Are you reacting to what is there or what you assume is going on based on previous experience?

Ms. Barrett also expressed that anger is both a form of ignorance and a source of wisdom. Anger results from our ignorance of others. We see the result of how people react, but we don’t know their why. How often have you become upset with a speeding driver? You focus on how much the driver is a jerk and how they are threatening others. But did you ever stop to wonder why they are driving recklessly? Perhaps they have someone injured in the car and are going to the hospital, or a sick child delayed them at home and they are late for work, or it could be they just like speed. Anger is our emotional reaction to our ignorance about others and their motivation.

Anger is a source of wisdom. Anger is a catalyst to uncovering truth. When we are angry, we don’t see the whole truth of the situation. Anger encourages us to take a moment, explore and uncover others’ perspectives and needs, and to truly understand the circumstances. Without taking this moment to analyze what is really going on, we can unconsciously enter us-versus-them thinking; good drivers versus bad drivers in the instance of the speeding driver. We pass judgement on them and feel righteous indignation about their actions. But this indignation only separates. Anger is actually calling us to understand and come together.

Anger can also be helpful in reminding us about things of which we feel deeply about. If you are triggered by anger, look to your why. Why is this thing, this event, this issue important to you? As I have mentioned in past posts, I am currently focused on deep self-care and self-love. When my anger arises now, it usually points to the fact that I am not nurturing myself. Next time you are angry, besides understanding the other, take some time to understand what your anger is highlighting. What challenge are you not addressing? What actions do you need to take to make things right?

Next time you feel anger stop feeding it and stop playing the victim. Instead take a few moments to understand the others’ motivation and perspective, and to understand why this issue is important to you. Anger is a tool of insight which can help us come together with understanding.