blackboard formulas

Simple is the Solution

The other day I found my husband’s Reader’s Digest magazine open to a puzzles page. One of the puzzles consisted of five simple addition formulas using letters, like A+B=C. The goal was to replace the letters with the given numbers. I started out with analyzing the letters; how many times was each letter used as either an additive and as a sum. Then I analyzed the numbers; I figured out how many different ways I could add them together to create sums that would fit within the given set of numbers and using this data, I uncovered how many times each number could be an additive or a sum. Then I spent hours trying to use all of this data to solve the problem. All to no avail.

blackboard formulas
Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash

In the middle of the night, I woke up with the solution. I threw out all the complexity I created, all the comparisons and analysis. Instead I simply looked at the formulas. Based on the formulas to solve, I created a simple greater-than-to-less-than scale of the letters based on the formulas. Then I started to plug in the numbers. This number had to be all the way to the right because it is the largest, that number is somewhere in the middle because it can be both a sum and an additive. Once I had the majority of numbers where they had to be based on this logic, I started to plug them into the formulas to uncover the position of the other numbers. In less than five minutes I had it solved. It was simplicity and simple deduction, not over-complex analyzation that allowed me to solve the problem.

This reminds me of a few elections ago, the first time the electoral college caused a bit of an issue. By chance, it was the first time a television network used a fancy new electronic tally board. As the night went on, it became less clear what was needed for the candidates to win the election in this neck-and-neck race. The fancy electronic board had tons of data and cool images and pre-programmed formulas, but it couldn’t handle this unexpected situation. The host of the show, Tim Russert, asked for a white board. He threw out all the complexity of the super computer and went back to the facts. Using simple calculations, he was able to more accurately predict what was needed for each candidate to win.

How often does our self-created complexity cause more problems then it solves? Sometimes it is our making a situation too complex. Sometimes it is having too much complexity, too much stuff in our minds. Brigid Schulte author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time first introduced me to the concept of “tunneling.” Tunneling is the result of being too busy. Our brains are overloaded with what is on our plate, all the details, all the continuous thoughts, all the worries and fears. When we tunnel, when we are caught up in the complexity of life, we can not see broadly anymore. We have tunnel vision losing our big picture thinking. And we lose 13 IQ points in the process. Lost in the complexity of tunnel thinking, we can not see the solution that is staring us in the face. We are lost in our thoughts and not thinking clearly.

I don’t know about you, but I can easily point to times in my life – more than I care to admit to – where I was caught up in the tasks, in the responsibilities, in the overwhelming challenges. My mind swirled with all there was to do and fix. I didn’t identify it at the time, but yes, I was not using my whole brain. I was so consumed by the complexity of the small details that I couldn’t see the simple answer right in front of me.

Where in your life are you currently challenged? What obstacles or overload of challenges are consuming all your gray matter right now? Can you put away all the details for just a bit and look at it with fresh, expansive eyes?  How does it feel to be stuck in the tunnel? Are you effective? How would things shift if you got out of the complexity and into simplicity?

planning

How to Change

I have been listening to John Siddique on Insight Timer. One thing he shares is about how self-help articles often tell us what to do – we should have more self-esteem, we need to treat our bodies better, we need to release our past – but they don’t say how we accomplish these things. I believe if I asked you each right now what you should do to change your life for the better, you could easily come up with a list of things you should do. And if I asked you how you were going to make them a reality, you may come up short. Or if you do have a plan to make them happen, you probably find it hard to follow your own program.

Below are a few tools I use to create change which help me and many of my clients to accomplish our goals.

Ask Why Change is Important

planningWe know what we should do. We know what is best for us. We read the data; we know the facts. However, many times we don’t really buy into it because we are fearful, feel unworthy, or just think we can’t accomplish it. As Goethe said, “Knowing is not enough.” Knowing what we should do is not enough. We need to dig deeper. We need to get down to the real reason we want change. I found a great TED talk that recommends that we “start with the question.” I often do this when I coach people; I call it being the two-year old. I ask “why” and then to each of their answers, I ask “why” again. With each “why” we get closer and closer to the real truth. The real desire. The real fears. It is not what we think should do but what we are driven to do from the deepest part of our being that empowers us to make change. We have to get past our lies or others’ expectations, to the truth of what we really want. It is in this vulnerability that we can choose and stick to what we really want.

Stop Looking for the Reason

We use “why” to help us get to our personal truth, but asking the bigger “why” – the reason behind our situation – is not helpful. The other day I was learning about indirect objects in my Spanish class. In a few situations, verbs are not handled like they are in English. Instead of saying “I like chocolate,” the direct translation in Spanish is “Chocolate is pleasing to me.” In the Spanish sentence structure chocolate is take the action, not me. Because the concept is so different, I wanted to know the “why” behind it. I wanted to use logic and knowledge to help me learn. Truth is, there is no logic per se. It just is. It is a fact of that language. Personally, I spent many years trying to find the reasons in my past of why I act and think like I do. Some of this reflection was good and a little bit of understanding is helpful. But knowing the deep-down sole reason “why” things are like they are is not necessary for change and does not always exist. Don’t get stuck in trying to find the why. It only keeps you from moving forward.

Don’t Be Rigid

When we want to make changes in our life, we often create a plan we are going to enact – a daily diet plan, the number of times we will go to the gym, or other resolutions – and we try to force ourselves to adhere to that said plan. And to which we usually fail. The reason why is that we think we know the right answers today for what is going to happen tomorrow. We don’t. Life changes and we need to adapt to it. What we think will work may not and we need to adjust. Instead of creating a rigid plan to follow, have some simple goals like “I choose to be healthy” or “I am deepening my relationships.” Then in each moment ask yourself if the belief or action you are choosing is making you more healthy or is improving your relationships. If not, choose differently. After choosing for a few weeks, you will see a pattern of good choices arise that will then become your new way of being.

Be in the Moment

As mentioned above, instead of following a plan, change is best accomplished by making moment by moment choices. To make moment by moment choices, you need to, obviously, be in the moment. Throughout your day, try to focus on the present moment. Steer away from replaying the past or worrying about the future. As Ram Dass wrote, “Be here now.” Use meditation and mindfulness tools to help you retrain your mind to be in the moment. You can not change the past or control the future. Change only happens in the moment.

Choose, Don’t React

You are empowered to change. Really. You may not be able to change circumstances or the actions of others, but you can control your reactions to people and situations. One other benefit of being in the moment is to that you can learn how to choose your thoughts and actions, instead of having them be unconscious reactions. First, strive to be aware. Next, discern the thought/action which will serve you best.  Finally, act. A friend once told me, “You are responsible for your second thought and your first action.” Our first thought is usually a knee-jerk reaction based on fear and past experiences. This is human and part of us all. The key is not acting on this first thought. Take a breath, think about options, and choose the healthiest thought you can. Then act on that second thought. Breaking out of a reactionary way of being empowers us to make better choices.

I hope one or more of these concepts will help you create the changes and life you want to live.

march of the penguins

Think Before Committing

Have you ever watched March of the Penguins or any other penguin documentary? Those silly little birds who can’t fly are pretty tough creatures. They migrate for hundreds of miles and then overcome amazing odds to feed their young. If I wanted to choose an image for persistence and perseverance, it would be a penguin.

march of the penguinsI am a penguin. I am very good at doing, at persisting, and at pursuing difficult challenges come hell or high water.  What I am not good at is choosing where I should put my efforts. I am still learning to discern and choose.

Last August I participated in a yoga class that consisted of doing a twelve-step sun salutation for one-hundred eight (108) repetitions. Penguin powers activate!!!!! Somewhere in the smart part of my brain, I knew that I should not have accepted the challenge. It was clear halfway through that I could not maintain the speed of the rest of the class. I finally had to recognize that one of the twelve moves was difficult for me, and my doing it incorrectly was hurting my lower back and shoulders. But I didn’t want to stop. I felt I chose to take the course and I should persevere no matter what my body was telling me. Thankfully, I finally chose to recognize and fulfill the needs of my body and stopped.

How many times do we feel like we have committed to something and have to see it through?  I understand that some of us make commitments we never intend to complete, or we have a hard time with follow-through. I am not talking to this camp. I am talking to those people, or all of us at times, who push ourselves harder and harder to complete something we don’t really want or worse, which may be hurting us. If you are like me, you need to learn to stop, discern, and choose what is really best for you.

Stop

Before raising your hand at the PTA meeting or just jumping in to fix something, take a breath. Count to 10. Turn off the knee-jerk reflex to do and allow there to be space to decide.

Discern

When we allow space, we are able to more clearly see the right choice. To discern is to come to know and to recognize one choice from the other, and which is right for us. Take the time to see what the options are and how they affect our experience and goals.

Choose

Sometimes we can discern what is best for us, but we do not feel we can choose it. We always have the power to choose. When working with career transition candidates, sometimes they have to take the first position offered so they can keep their family afloat. That is a choice. It is also a choice to continue to search for the ideal position while working the new not-so-perfect position. Choice is always available to us. Sometimes we receive the result immediately, sometimes in the future, but we can also choose the path we take.

As you go about your week, notice the things you are pushing yourself to do. Stop. Discern how this project could benefit you, or not. Choose what is for the highest and best of all involved, especially for you.

we all fail it is up to you to rise again

Oops, I did it again

Did you see this coming? I should have. Again.

Back in March, my perfectionist ego was triggered during the 30-day yoga challenge. To help create a daily practice of yoga, there was a contest to attend yoga every day in March. Those with the most days won a massage. At first, my competitive overachiever was triggered. It was not just winning, doing the most or being “the best,” but it was the feeling that I was a failure if I did not meet the challenge. Thankfully, after about a week I caught myself. Yoga isn’t about competition. Yoga is about a physical, emotional, mental connection, and a way of being which improves our lives.

we all fail it is up to you to rise again
Photo by Simeon Jacobson on Unsplash

Unfortunately, pride, competition, overachieving, and perfectionism are my life’s challenges, so I was tested again this summer with the headstand. At first, I set a realistic goal for achieving a headstand. I had a year and a half until my 50th birthday and thought that was a fair goal. I was proud that I did not push myself to do it faster. The concept of a headstand was the challenge and giving myself plenty of time to get there was in alignment with yoga. Instead of sticking to my plan however, a comment by the 20-something instructor that I didn’t need that much time kicked me into overachievement mode. Now the goal was to do a perfect headstand by my 49th birthday, just a few months away.

The yoga class I took at the time included headstands as a basic part of the routine, so I thought I would have enough time to master it by my birthday in September. However, I went on vacation for two weeks in July then in August there was teacher training at the studio. Not only was my morning routine thrown off and my daily opportunity to practice the headstand gone, but now the classes were much more difficult. I could not keep up with them and the perfectionist in me was triggered. I was no good. I should never have started yoga. Instead of quitting, I pushed myself harder. And I did what I set out to accomplish. I was able to do a headstand by my 49th birthday, but there was a price.

Because I rushed things. Because completion of the headstand was more important than technique. Because I was driven out of anger, resentment, and self-attack. I hurt myself. If you look at the headstand I shared, you can see I am in pain. The headstand happened, but it was not well executed and doing it caused damage. So much damage in fact, that for the last two months I have not been able to do any yoga and initially lacked even basic mobility. My routine changed from morning yoga to regular cupping and acupuncture to make the pain manageable. What happened?

What happened was that I got in my own way. I made the accomplishment more important than my health. I listened to instructors and gurus instead of my own body. I pushed myself toward perfection instead of accepting where and how I was. Throughout my life I have a history of pushing myself harder than is necessary, pushing myself past my breaking point. Because I push myself, I have accomplished amazing things. Always followed by a need for recovery.

The theatrical director Peter Sellars shared that his mentor told him he was bound to repeat the same mistakes, only in the future he would recognize them. So it is with me, and all of us. We all have our character defects. We all have the challenges we are going to be plagued with this lifetime. They will not go away. What we can do however, is notice them earlier and earlier, and choose differently when we realize we are headed down the wrong path.

What challenges do you continue to repeat? How can you approach them differently next time? How can you catch yourself earlier so things do not go too far? How can you cut yourself some slack when it inevitably happens again?

doing a headstand

Embrace the Challenge

Before moving down to Mexico, I would occasionally go to a gentle yoga class or do a few poses suggested by the Wii video game. When I first moved to Cabo, I had a practice of my own, for about a day. Truly for the first two years in Mexico my practice was non-existent. Finally, just after Christmas 2017, I knew it was time to get back into yoga.

Let me tell you, the first month I started back up, I was surprised at how bad I had become at yoga. Ok, so there is supposedly no good or bad to yoga, so let’s say that I had very limited flexibility, balance, and strength. It was a struggle for me. And I was angry at myself for slacking and at my body for not cooperating. I was disappointed at my abilities and was really hard on myself.

The 8am classes I attended are challenging, and I often felt like a floundering walrus doing the moves instead of a graceful swan. Toward the end of this style of class, the focus is on backbends and inversions. I remember the first time I heard, “If headstand is in your practice, go into it now.” I can imagine the incredulous look that passed over my face.  Needless to say, headstands were not in my practice. When I looked around the room however, most of the class had their feet in the air before I realized what had been said.

doing a headstandAs the morning class was the one I attended, my nemesis – the headstand – was ever present. The first few classes, I didn’t even try. I hid in child’s pose or tried to blend into the corner. Eventually I realized that headstands were part of the usual routine and that I could not get away from them, so I started to do the beginner version, the rabbit. I felt stupid with my tush in the air and my head and knees on the ground looking less like a rabbit and more like a discarded wad of gum. But it was more progress than not trying at all.

And, as usual, when I am hard on myself, I push myself to get better. I continued going to classes. I participated in the 30 days of yoga challenge in March. Little by little my strength, flexibility, and balance started growing the more I practiced. I started to learn that yoga was more of a mental journey than a physical challenge. I learned that getting well sometimes means getting sicker first and that there is strength in letting go. I learned the importance of balance on and off the mat and how to let go of self-judgment.

As I started to see my physical ability improve, I gave myself a challenge. My goal was to be able to do a headstand by my 50th birthday. This gave me over a year to reach this goal. My yoga instructor laughed at me. “Headstands are easy. You won’t need that long.” I mocked her. Did she not see my age, strength, and physical inability? I thought this was a Herculean task and she saw it as easy as tying my shoes.  Little did I know at the time that the issue was more mental than physical. The instructor thought fear was holding me back, but it was actually due to disbelief in myself and a tendency to keep myself down (in this case, physically as well as mentally).

It took me from April until June to do my first, albeit assisted, headstand. It was ugly, but I did one. Afterward, I started to do them with more strength and poise. I was no longer flinging myself in the air, but I was controlling my movements as I got into and out of the pose. Yes, I had strengthened my neck and core over the months, but the real reason I was able to do the move is that I took advice from my friend Catherine Johns and spent time outside class visualizing doing it. I overcame my body by first overcoming the limiting beliefs of my mind. The achievement of doing the pose gave me a strength in my body and mind that I don’t think I have ever felt.

What do you think is impossible in your life right now? It is time to take baby-steps toward your challenge?

nighttime routine

The Necessity of Daily Habits

Throughout my book, From Type A to Type Me: How to Stop “Doing” Life and Start Living It, I enforce again and again the importance of Daily Habits. “Because life changes, it is necessary to have Daily Habits to keep us centered and focused on the life we want. This is why they are Daily Habits, not one-time tools. The work in this book is not to be completed and then forgotten. It is one thing to know the road. It is something different to walk it.”

If you have read my blog for any time now, you must know that I am not perfect. Because of this, sometimes I forget to take my own advice. Recently, I fell off the Daily Habits bandwagon. “I got this,” I think. “I wrote the book, literally, on stress relief and living joyously. So now I don’t have to put any effort into it. I can just get on with living.” Wrong.

nighttime routineIt is ok to take a break from our Daily Habits. Maybe on vacation or during an emergency. A few days here or there. Or perhaps we take a bit of time off, so we can consider which Habits are helping us and which need to be revised. But taking off weeks or months at a time can be detrimental. After being away from my Daily Habits, I first notice that I reach for bandage solutions to handle difficult situations. Instead of being centered and having the ability to think clearly, I look to quick-fix pacifiers for issues. They make me feel better in the moment, but they don’t resolve the issue. Then, over time, I notice that I am not handling non-difficult situations well either. I am irritable, resentful, and triggered by the smallest things. I find myself having tantrums like a three-year-old who is not getting their way, feeling out of control and powerless. Then finally, I hit whatever bottom I need to in order to snap out of this phase and go back to my Daily Habits. Within a few days I am more centered, have clearer focus on issues, and just enjoy life better.

If you do not already have Daily Habits or if perhaps it is time to revised and reinvigorate your Daily Habits, let’s review the components of a Daily Habit routine. First, create your personal Daily Habits by what feels good to you. Absolute right and wrong don’t exist. Some things will work for you, and some won’t. Consider it okay. Create your habits from your center, your heart, and your core. Ensure your habits are in alignment with you. Here are some components you can choose from for your Daily Habits or create some of your own. Find two or three that resonate with you and that you can commit to doing daily.

  • Every morning read from the inspirational book of your choosing. What you read and even how much you read is not as important as the text being something that makes you feel calm and centered, and that it helps you see your life, your relationships, and the world more objectively.
  • Do something to feed your soul. Whether it is something creative, cooking a wonderful meal, or playing Sudoku, spend a little time doing something that stirs your soul.
  • Before getting out of bed think of five (5) things for which to be grateful. These gratitudes can be as simple as having a nice bed to wake up in and air to breathe.
  • At the beginning of the day write your intentions and goals to focus your efforts.
  • Spend at least fifteen (15) minutes in the State of Gray or meditation.
  • Move! Take a walk, practice yoga, or go for a swim. Whatever gets your blood pumping.
  • Google some different breathing techniques and find one that calms and centers you.
  • Take breaks throughout the day to check in with your mood, stress level, thoughts, and attitude. If you are headed down the wrong path, try to get back to center.
  • Take some time to write, say or listen to positive affirmations.
  • At the end of the day, journal about the good things that happened to you throughout the day. We tend to focus on the negative so purposefully calling out the good can shift our mindset.

Remember to use these Habits daily. They are not something to learn, have your life changed by, and then move on. The key to making permanent changes in your life is by using Daily Habits to help you through everyday stress. These habits also give you a solid foundation to manage when major stressful events occur.

Share with us here the Daily Habits you are going to commit to for the next thirty days.