It's My Life Inc.

Rule Your Perceptions

My father’s experience with cancer over the last three years has taught me much about patience with the unknown, acceptance of the truth – no matter how painful, and gratitude for the smallest things in life.  But his experience has not stopped teaching us yet.  Lately my father has developed a condition that puts pressure on the brain therefore causing cognitive issues.  It has been an interesting ride.

The first symptom we noticed was diminishing short term memory.  It started with forgetting small things like dates and locations but then escalated to not remembering what he ate five minutes before.  There were also some emotional changes including anger and frustration from a very even-keeled man.  But the symptom that really intrigued me was his new perception of “reality.”

His perception of reality began to shift due to his memory loss.  He thought that people visited who didn’t and forgot who truly did come by.  But then it branched into other areas besides memory.  On Halloween, I spend the night with him in the hospital.  We watched the show Undercover Boss where CEO’s pose as prospective workers to see how their company really works.  This particular episode was about Garden Fresh pre-packaged salads.  My dad started to wonder out loud what it would take to get a job for Garden Fresh.  We chatted about what it would take for a few minutes, but then I realized this was not a hypothetical discussion.  The nurse came in to take his vitals and my father asked her how many bags of lettuce she packed a day.  He truly thought that she was a salad packer, not a nurse.  He got angry when I tried to explain that she was a nurse and that the job was just a television show.  He proceed to ask me what position my brother and other family members landed, and wanted to know if they were all here or at other parts of the company.  My father really thought that he was in the show, that he was supposed to get a job.  And then things got even stranger.  About a week later we were watching a public television show about woodworking.  For hours after the show he complained about how strongly he could still smell the varnish they used.  His ailment was now affecting his five senses or the brain’s interpretation of what these senses were experiencing.  During both of these incidents, my father believed he was experiencing the real world.

It was very difficult to watch my father in this state, but I knew there was a lesson to be learned.  I believe the lesson is that our reality is what we perceive – and we can choose what we perceive.  We choose what we focus on.  We choose what we accept.  We choose how we interpret different situations.  Therefore we are actively choosing our lives every day.  How many times have you gone to a party with a group of friends and upon leaving feel like you were at different events?  One person have a great time reliving old times with old friends, one person was bored by the retelling of old stories, one person was disappointed that there was not enough dancing, and one person thought the food was phenomenal and worth the visit.  Each of these individuals was at the same party – the same reality – but their perception determined how they experienced that reality.  How we grew up, our past experiences, our goals, our likes, and our dislikes all color how we see life around us.  We don’t change reality we are just choosing how we interpret it.

How do you perceive reality?  How are you choosing to live your life?  Do you focus on the good or always look at lack?  Do you share stories of heartbreak or small wins?  Do you look forward to the future with hope or are you resigned to a bleak future?  You can make the choice on how you perceive and therefore live your life.  Watch yourself and catch your thoughts when they start leading you astray into a life of negativity.  Choose the best scenarios.  Choose the life you want to live.  It is amazing how simple it is.  Don’t let society, friends, family, or past experiences determine how you are experiencing this moment.  Take control.  Rule your perceptions.  Create the life you want to live.

It's My Life Inc.

Support

A big thank you to all of you who contacted me with your concern, support, and empathy in regards to my last post.  I was truly moved by the outpouring of empathy for my situation and the recognition of my vulnerability.  My mother’s surgery went very well and she is recovering nicely.  But as fate would have it, we are not out of the woods.  Unfortunately it appears that cancer has again reared its head in our family.

Although this is a trying time, I feel blessed to go through it.  No, really I do.  You see, now I will have a chance to practice what I preach.  As I tell clients every day, self improvement is about a set of habits and tools to use daily, not a program what one learns and then goes back into their daily life.  These tools are there to call on when things get rough or when we are pulled off course – just like I was recently.

So my first step was to go back to taking care of myself.  That means getting enough rest, eating the best foods for me, and just increasing my awareness for my needs.  I think so many times when things are rough or busy we don’t even notice what we need or that we have stopped giving to ourselves.  Sometimes we do not believe we have the time to do what we usually do; responsibilities are added and all of a sudden we no longer can find time in the day to exercise.  Or we put others’ needs before our own; we justify that helping others is more important than helping ourselves.  Or we jump on the perseverance bandwagon; “if I can just make it through this week, month, year then I will have time for myself again.”  But all of those tactics just lead to one being depleted, angry, and tired.  Like a young child who doesn’t get their nap, we are irritable, unable to function, and no good to anyone.  It is important to remember what they say on the airplane, “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.”  We NEED to take care of ourselves.  We NEED to nurture ourselves.  Otherwise we have nothing to give to anyone else.

Along with taking care of myself, a hard step for me is asking for help.  I have an awesome triad of coaches that I can call on day or night for support, understanding, or coaching.  But all too often I jump into that perseverance mode. I believe that I can make it through this rough time alone.  But I can tell you that after a 45 minute conversation with my fellow coach I was able to make the mental shift I needed to address things differently.  I was able to let go of some things that were holding me back and to reframe the situation I was experiencing.  It is so important to remember that we are not going it alone.  That no matter what our friends and family are experiencing, they can find the time to be there for us.  We do not have to handle anything on our own.

Thanks to your touching support and concern, I have turned back to awareness, acceptance, authenticity, allowing, appreciation, and acknowledging.  It is amazing too.  Nothing has changed in my circumstances.  There are still people experiencing cancer, there are still people in recovery, and I am still in the challenging growth phase of my business, but now I see this all with other eyes.  This experience has really shown me that we can choose our own happiness.  We can control the life we have.  No, we can not always control the circumstances, but we can control our thoughts and reactions to those circumstances.  We are amazing and powerful beings.  We always have control.  We always have power.

As you go through your day, notice times you feel trapped or victimized.  Then think of the power or choice you have in that circumstance.  And think of where you want to put your focus.  If you are diagnosed with cancer, how long will you focus on the anger or fear of your diagnosis?  What does that give you besides more anger and fear?  How soon could you shift your thoughts to finding the best way to treat your circumstance and to focus your time on enjoying your family instead of feeding negative emotions?

How can you make a change in your viewpoint today?

It's My Life Inc.

Physician, Heal Thyself

Right now I am in the waiting room of Northwest Community Hospital waiting for a family member to get out of surgery.  Honestly I am tired and exhausted, and any attempt at writing a poignant blog is not happening.  I had intended to write about a really interesting quote I just heard.  Instead I am just trying to keep my eyes open.  You see, I have not been living up to what I preach.  Every day I tell clients to take care of themselves first.  I show them different tools to relax, recharge, and center themselves.  I explain how we are no good to others if we have not first taken care of ourselves.  But I haven’t been following my own instructions.

As with my clients, my fall from stress-free living started simply enough.   A client needed to meet with me for an emergency session over the weekend.  Two new clients wanted to start in the same already busy week.  I was asked to speak at some wonderful events.  A can’t miss networking event popped up.  None of these caused my stress.  But all of them together started to add up.  First I started to have too many morning events and my usual morning meditation started to become sporadic.  As my days began to fill up exercising and clear my mind walks started to drop off.  Then my 40 hour work week became 50 then 60 then even 70 hours.  My sleep began to be interrupted.  My beautiful eating habits started to deteriorate as my travel schedule increased.  About a month or so ago, I realized I was really off-track but thought I could push through it.  “I only have to do it through March (April).”  There were just so many opportunities and emergencies to work though.  As I entered this past week, I could feel my exhaustion.  I had hit my breaking point, but I couldn’t break down now.  I had too many important things that week.  So again I pushed on.  Finally on Thursday night, my body said enough is an enough and it sent me a cold to slow me down.  But, of course, I fought against that too.  I have made commitments on Friday and Saturday I needed to live up to.  But after those commitments, I allowed myself to do nothing.  And, as Peter Gibbons said in Office Space, it was everything I thought it could be.

Over the weekend, as I watched chick-flick after chick-flick in between little bursts of sleep, I remembered who I was.  I remembered what it meant to have a life.  What it meant to LIVE my life.  Be IN my life again.  As much as I love coaching, as much as I love working on my business, as much as I love meeting new people through networking, I was missing out on just being me.  I have a history of thinking my career, my profession is me.  Don’t get me wrong, it is not that I don’t love what I do.  But it is not me.  The analogy I might give a client would go something like this.  Michael Phelps is an incredible swimmer and has dedicated much of his life to his sport, but it is not who he truly is.  If he suddenly lost the use of his legs and arms so he could not swim, what is left is truly Michael Phelps.  Everything outside of ourselves – our roles, our jobs, our hobbies, our passions – are part of the fun of this life, but they are not our soul and our true being.  Who we are in the moment, at our core, in the silence, is who we truly are.  And I am so glad that life has once again taught me this lesson.

So instead of forcing myself to write a brilliant blog for you, I am going to stop writing now, because it is what I need to do.  It is what I need to do to take care of myself.  And it is what I need to do in order to be fully present for my family member after surgery.

Have a wonderfully, centered, relaxing, recharging week!

It's My Life Inc.

Heart Planning

It is finally spring here in Chicago and along with noticing all the work that needs to be done to the yard many families are making their plans for spring break.  Some are big extravagant plans like trips to Florida.  Others are just day care arrangements and maybe one family day together.  Planning a trip or arranging childcare takes time.  First one decides what spring break looks like to them whether that means visiting Mickey Mouse or making sure the children are taken care of while the parents are at work.  Next there is research, pricing, and scheduling.  And finally there are phone calls, purchases, and contracts.  It takes a lot of work to make a family’s spring break happen.

How many hours or days did you personally spend conceiving, arranging, and planning spring break?  Now how many hours have you spend this past year in determining your ideal life, researching what it would look like, and determining what would need to occur to make it happen?  It has been said most people spend more time planning their vacations than planning their lives.  Is this true for you?

All too often we drift through life without a direction.  I know there were many years of my life where I didn’t know what was next and most importantly I didn’t know I could decide what was next.  I spent the time doing the best with what I had, reacting to events and opportunities, and wondering if this was all life was suppose to be.  I thought life was only about survival in a system someone else created.

For example, I had gone to California for theatrical directing graduate school just because UCLA accepted me.  If they had not, I had no idea what was next.  After graduate school did not work out because my heart was not into it, I floundered around Los Angeles for a few years not knowing my future or what I wanted that future to look like.  Then when the company I was working for was no longer stable, I decided to come back to Chicago.  What I was to do there, I had no idea.  What happened was I worked with a placement company to find a job, any job, to pay the bills.  This chance secretarial position led to a 15 year marketing career.  There was no conscious thought.  The decision to find this job and accept it was made out of fear and desperation.  It was not made from my heart, from my passion.  And eventually my body made it clear that the 9 to 5 corporate world was not right for me by waking me up with undiagnosable pain so I could finally begin listening to my heart.

All too often we move through life not being aware that we have a choice in what that life looks like.  We go through our days doing what our parents did, what are friends are doing, what we perceive society expects from us, or just accepting what comes our way.  We go to college, get married, have children, and retire at 65.  That’s the course that is laid out for us.  That is the course we assume we have to take.  Sometimes that course is not right for us.  Perhaps the course laid out is not composed of the right elements or those elements are not in the right order for us.  But it is difficult to go with our heart, to move toward what makes us happy versus what we assume we are expected to do by society.  People who stray from society’s course are seen as courageous, rebellious, or gutsy.  But really they are just following their heart.  They have put their heart’s needs above the fear of assumed repercussions of not following perceived expectations.

We make it difficult to plan our lives from our hearts because we fill our time being busy with stuff.  All day long we have to answer emails and texts.  We have to buy this or that to remain modern, trendy, and to keep up the image of success.  We have to race between work, soccer practice, and karate.  We fill our days with stuff keeping ourselves from looking at our heart’s desires.  The analogy I often use is that our lives are lived like we drive our cars.  We put the pedal to the metal.  We race through yellow lights.  We rush around slow cars.  We get angry at roadblocks and potholes.  We are racing around fast and furious because we are late and have to so much we think we need to do.  But if we don’t stop and define if we are driving to Los Angeles or New York, will we ever get there?  We spend our days adding mileage to our lives but we are not moving toward our desired destination.  All too often I found, the more I did, the more fires I put out, the more to-do’s on my list, the more I was actually pulling myself away from what makes me truly happy.

Are you ready to let go of what you think you need to do and to begin listening to your heart?  Are you ready to start planning your life today? Share with us the first steps you will take to have the life you truly desire.

It's My Life Inc.

Anything piling up?

My neighbor is a lovely man.  He takes our recycling bins in when we are out of town.  He has helped us find contractors for house projects.  On more than one occasion, I have also seen him helping other neighbors.  He is a great guy.  But he has one flaw.  He is a perfectionist with his driveway.  No matter what the season, he ensures his driveway is pristine.  He blows grass off in the summer and leaves off in the fall.  And in the winter, we see him outside every time a half inch of snow accumulates, no matter the temperature or if the snow is still falling, to remove every flake.  Most days I’d rather eat off his driveway than my kitchen floor!  The driveway looks great, but we all think he is a little bit obsessive.

In the last few weeks, the Chicago suburbs have been blessed with quite a pile of snow.  And without fail my neighbor was out there every hour or so constantly removing any trace of snow.  He not only does his driveway, sidewalk, and steps, but he ensures that every ounce of snow is removed from the street surrounding his drive.  On the other hand when I worked at an office and had to be out of the house at 8:00 am, the snow piled up all day long until I got home.  Then I would struggle to remove the two, three, or five inches of snow that accumulated while I was away.  But I learned something now that I work from home.  Shoveling snow a few times a day means that the amount of snow shoveled each time is smaller making the weight of the snow lighter and easier to manage, and makes it easier to remove any ice patches forming due to tire treads or footprints.  I may be spending more time removing the snow, but the actual effort of removing it is much, much, much easier.

Often times we let our pain, frustration, stress, guilt, or anxiety grow and grow until they are overwhelming.  Then we finally get a massage, take some herbs, get some counseling, or go on a retreat.  Our efforts alleviate our pain, but it does not remove all of it.  There is just too much to go through.  We let it pile up and now it is too heavy and large to deal with in one sitting.  We need to work extra hard to get our emotions back to an acceptable level, back to a level where we can function.  But we have not totally cleared the problem.  Like trying to clear eight inches of snow after a long day at the office, the process is difficult, seems overwhelming, each shovel-full is heavy and hard to throw, and we are left with patches that we can not remove.  But imagine if you spent a few minutes every day clearing away your anxiety, fear, stress, and frustration.  It would not have time to build into something unmanageable.

The key to a clear mind, as learned from a clean driveway, is:

Don’t Let It Pile Up

Work at every day.  Don’t wait until you have a nervous breakdown or a major medical issue to force you to examine your life.  Address issues as they come up.

Small Loads Make Easy Work

Working on things a little bit at a time makes it easier.  Instead of having a major issue to deal with, work on things when they are small.  They take less time and are easier to dispel.  Waiting until they grow larger makes the work to remove them harder.

Be Consistent

Even when things are terrific, take the time to examine what is going on.  That little, insignificant annoyance today could become something greater over time.  Remove it before it has time to grow.  Take the time every day to examine your mental state even if you are feeling blissful.

A benefit of staying on top of your emotional well-being is that you also feel much better.  Shoveling away the anxiety every day will keep you from hitting rock bottom.  Each day will be better because there are no issues lingering from the day before.  You will be starting from a clean slate, which is another benefit.  If your mind and emotions are clean, it becomes much easier to spot potential issues as they stand out in contrast to the rest of your peaceful well-being.

This week in Chicago looks to be wonderful.  Mild temperatures are promised which may help remove some of the piled up snow.  But things can change.  The projected rain at the end of the week could easily become ten inches of snow.  So I am being prepared.  I am ready to take the time I need to keep the snow from becoming a larger issue than it needs to be.

Are you ready to keep your emotional worries from becoming larger than they need to be?

It's My Life Inc.

What Story Are You Telling?

Thanksgiving is here and it is quite a mess.  My cousin is hosting dinner downtown and it is such a pain to find parking.  My father doesn’t want to go because he thinks his last round of chemo will make him tired.  So I am having the parents to my house which means cleaning the house from top to bottom which I despise.  And since we are not going to my cousin’s I will miss spending the day with my great aunt and godmother.

Sounds like a rotten holiday, huh?

What if I looked at it from another angle?

I am having my parents and mother-in-law over for Thanksgiving.  They have all struggled with health issues over the past few years so it is a blessing we can share this special day together. There will just be a few of us so we can really spend some quality time chatting and laughing.  My godmother is in town for the week so we are able to extend the holidays by meeting up over the weekend with her and my great aunt.

Sounds like two different situations, huh?  Actually they are both my Thanksgiving, just told by two different narrators.  One interpretation of the story is obviously much more positive, loving, and comforting.  Our words are truly powerful.  How we decide to describe our life is how we also decide how to live it. How are you the author of your life? Are you creating an joy-filled story or a horror film?

When we let our inner narrator prattle on, it often spins a negative, self-attacking story of victimization and pain. But we can retrain our inner narrator to write positive, uplifting life stories.  The moment you roll out of bed each morning you make choices on how you interpret your day.  Are you stuck in stupid traffic again or do you have a few extra moments to call a good friend as you drive to work? Become aware of your inner narrator and make positive changes to your life story.

This Thanksgiving start retraining your inner narrator with an appreciation audit.  Write down all the things that are wonderful in your life.  Every morning before I get out of bed I think of five things for which to be grateful. The mornings when I don’t conduct an appreciation audit because I don’t think I have time or when I am caught up in deadlines and fears instead of appreciation, I notice that my inner narrator writes the rest of the day with fears, disappointments, and hassles.  When I fill my inner narrator with positive thoughts each morning, the day is joyful, positive, and filled with opportunity.

To get you started, here are a few things for which to be grateful: You woke up this morning, you are breathing, there is adequate food for breakfast, you have the mental ability to read and comprehend this post.

For what else are you grateful?

What life story will you write today?