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How to Say No Without Feeling Like a Dud

Photo courtesy of Melissa Maples

It’s become a popular trend to come from “a place of yes” in many aspects of the hustle and bustle of modern life.  The pressure is on to do good deeds, raise well-rounded kids, have a respectable job, serve on a multitude of committees, attend the right social events, and look good while doing it all seamlessly.

I support the idea of generally coming from a place of yes; in fact, one of the quotes I live by is: “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference” (Winston Churchill). I work hard to make sure my children know that they can do anything they set their minds to. I applaud their attempts at new things and their willingness to step out of their comfort zones whenever possible. And of course, I lead them by example.

With all of that being said, without the right boundaries in place, this can easily lead to a life crammed too full of all the wrong things. By saying “yes” too often to others, your life may suddenly seem emptier than ever before.

The solution sounds easy enough, but suddenly saying ”no” can be quite difficult. Your desire to keep the peace, fear of appearing rude, and a strong desire to be helpful are some of the reasons that may be causing you to overfill your plate, time and time again.

Surprisingly, many people report that others begin to show a newfound respect for them once they start declining, and that their own self awareness improves exponentially. The key is finding the right way to say “no.”

  • Get clear on your “Yes.”  Decide what is most important in your own life, and get your priorities in order. By putting your needs first (and the needs of your family), you’ll then have a better idea of how much you can agree to take on without cutting in to your own time, creating a sweet balance.
  • Think before agreeing. Some people feel pressured into taking on more than they can handle when put on the spot.  To avoid this, practice buying time. Tell the person that you’d like to think about it/check your calendar/ask so-and-so before committing. By putting a little time between the request and your response, you’ll have an easier time coming up with a reason for saying “no.” Anyone who is respectful of your time will be ok with waiting for a response.
  • Offer an alternative. Sometimes you may get requests for your help when you’re really not the best person for the task. If this happens, explain that while you may not be able to offer much help, you can steer them in the right direction to get the help they need.
  • Share your reasons. If you simply can’t help because you’re too busy, it’s ok to say that. Explain that you’d love to help, but that you’ve got x, y, and z going on at the moment, and that you don’t like to commit to something if you can’t devote the appropriate amount of time and effort required to do it well.

It’s easy to fall into a pattern of bowing to others’ needs before your own, but it’s also really important to get out of that habit as soon as possible. Helping other people is admirable and can be an extremely rewarding part of life, as long as you leave more than enough time in your schedule to be able to stop and smell the roses on a regular basis.

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Is Etiquette Dead? Minding Your Manners in a Modern World

Photo courtesy of woodleywonderworks

In our world of modern conveniences, we can communicate instantly through Skype, Facetime, online chats, texting, and more. Sites like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr allow us to upload the important moments in our lives to keep friends and loved ones in the loop. Want to know how my trip to Hawaii was? Read my WordPress blog (and leave a comment if you have a question.) Check out my Flickr pics if you want a visual of my new bikini and how we lavishly lived it up.

As a generation who grew up in the shadow of Baby Boomers, Generation X is now having a midlife crisis, and virtually none of them seem to notice.  They’ve hung all their hopes on eternal youth – refusing to grow up and follow the rules of society. While generations past have experienced similar phenomenons – Dad leaving Mom after 20 years of marriage (when Mom leaves Dad it’s therapeutic and not a travesty), Dad buying a convertible and getting a younger girlfriend. Mom might have quit her stable job to start up her own cookie business. Whatever the scenario, at some point, most generations fight the aging process as they desperately try to feel young again.

The difference now, of course, is that Generation Xers have never really grown up. They’ve clung on to their youth white knuckled and sweating, even as they’ve gone through the motions of being adults – like getting married and having kids (marriage optional). Becoming parents hasn’t stopped this generation from partying hard and tweeting harder. “I’m too old for this. Remind me never to do this again!”

One characteristic that seems to be glaringly missing from society these days? Etiquette. Baby Boomers cluck their tongues at the younger generations who figuratively thumb their noses at ‘Manners’. They’ve got better things to do than sending paper thank you cards for all of life’s events. Besides, who uses actual paper anymore? Texting was invented for a reason, right? A thank you text is pretty much all that Generation X feels is necessary.

Women and men are equals now, and this generation embraces that fact like no generation that has come before us. Same sex couples, opposite sex couples, who cares? IT’S ALL GOOD. Today’s thirty-somethings are living life for the moment, shrugging off societal expectations and the need for anything that’s deemed a ‘waste of time.’

Can you sufficiently express thanks and appreciation through a little palm-sized device rather than with a pen, paper and a stamp?

Living mindfully and enjoying all of life’s moments isn’t replacing manners, but it is changing the way we express them. It’s still important to show your appreciation and to keep in touch with loved ones who don’t live a stone’s throw away, but what isn’t important is how you do it. The world as we know it is ever-changing, and as Bruce Barton once said, “When you are through changing, you are through.”

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14 Reasons to Open Your Mind

Photo courtesy of Hobvias Sudoneighm

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” -  Oscar Wilde

It’s true that most of us have been raised with a certain set of morals and beliefs about life that can sometimes make it difficult to entertain or accept ideas that differ from ours. Much of our childhoods were spent surrounded by people with very similar belief systems and ways of living.

Even as adults, we tend to surround ourselves with like-minded individuals because it’s much easier to enjoy life without daily conflict.

It’s okay to have your own opinions regarding important life issues. I definitely have some strong opinions concerning matters close to my heart. However, if you asked the people who’ve known me longest, you’d find that my attitude has shifted away from the need for absolute truths.  At some point I realized that I can live a much richer and fuller life by being open-minded.

How far open should your mind be?

Personal choice will dictate how receptive to new ideas and differing opinions you are able and willing to be.  Your innate personality and the open-mindedness of your closest family members will play a part as well. Even if you have to go it alone, opening your mind’s door and allowing yourself to be receptive to new information and ideas can be quite rewarding and beneficial.

Approaching life with an open mind can lead to positive things like:

  1. Increased knowledge and understanding of concepts that had previously eluded you due to your lack of exposure or willingness to except new ideas.
  2. New friendships – If you were raised to eliminate entire groups of people from your friendship pool because of their differences, imagine the potential relationships you are missing out on!
  3. Pleasurable experiences you might have otherwise missed, including personal experiences and professional opportunities alike.
  4. Creating the life you’ve always wanted by taking a different path - Remember - there is always more than one way to get where you are going.
  5. Personal growth -  Letting go of some previous beliefs or letting in new information may lead you to make some changes that you never even realized you needed.
  6. More interesting conversations -  Earn a reputation for your open mind and more people will get a lot more pleasure out of holding conversations with you.
  7. Empathy -  It’s hard to have empathy for people when your mind is closed off to them.
  8. Better relationships - Open-minded people are not easily angered by opposing views, and this leads to healthier interactions.
  9. A more secure sense of self -  Are your viewpoints really your own or are they ideas that have been passed down to you from your parents and grandparents? Taking a step back to analyze your beliefs before calling them your own will give you more confidence in your own points of view.
  10. Being less judgmental -  Someone who is open-minded would never make a judgment before hearing both sides of an argument.
  11. Improved listening skills – Taking in all information before formulating an opinion means you’ll be engaging your analytical thinking skills on a more regular basis.
  12. Getting more enjoyment out of wherever life brings - Life has so many wonderful opportunities; those who can let go a little bit and see where life takes them will end up happier and more fulfilled.
  13. Lower stress levels -  It’s significantly less stressful to be open-minded and relaxed about opposing views  than it is to be closed-minded and argumentative.
  14. Physical health improvements – By not allowing a difference of opinion to provoke you, things like your blood pressure, heart rate, and blood oxygen will stay within desirable ranges.

Having your own beliefs and opinions is an important indicator of who you are as a person, but so is how amenable you are to new ideas when they’re presented to you. The best way to formulate a set of beliefs that you can call your own is to be willing to listen and think analytically about all the facts that come your way. Also, staying receptive even after you’ve formulated your opinions shows respect to others who have contradicting viewpoints.

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Can the Truth Really Set You Free?

Photo courtesy of Tiago Pinheiro

Do you feel like you’re on a search for truth as you make your way through the world, dodging hyperbole as you go?  For a long time it was the opposite for me. I felt like I was blatantly avoiding some hard truths in my own life. I buried my head in the sand, thinking that avoidance would keep me safe and help me hide from the truth.

Looking back, I thought I knew my own truth for a very long time, but only on a subconscious level. Knowing your truth and acting on it are two very different concepts, because when you finally begin to share your truth with others, they will react accordingly. Those who have different truths and beliefs will potentially be hurt or offended.

Staying silent when you know your own truth is perhaps one of the most detrimental forms of dishonesty. It has been called the ‘Disease to Please’ and curing yourself can be quite difficult. If you question your own truth, you may end up trying to please others forever.

But here’s some food for thought – some people who are convinced that they know their own truths may actually be wrong.

Is it possible to be wrong about your own truth?

People in the public eye are the most notorious of all for not living truthfully – we see examples of this in the news, in Hollywood, in politics and in professional sports. Our society seems to be riddled with untruths everywhere we turn. If everybody’s doing it, then why can’t we?

Should we give up on honesty and truth?

We should not give up on truth! It is empowering and liberating, even while it may be complicated. Living untruthfully can ruin just about anything - including your health, according to recent research presented at the American Psychological Association’s 120th Annual Convention.

In order for you to live a truly authentic and (mostly) truthful life, you’ve got to really get in touch with yourself. Having the confidence to live a truthful life is never easy, because it means taking responsibility for all of your actions and decisions. Be able to answer for yourself with self-assurance. What you know to be true for you may not sit well with others, but what matters is that it works for you, and that you feel good about your decisions.

As important as it is to live your truth, remember that others around you are attempting the same thing, and their truth may not look like truth at all to you. Only when you can learn to accept other people as they present you with their truths is when the truth really will set you free.

I’d like to leave you with an open-ended, thought provoking concept today.

Does absolute truth exist?

If everyone’s versions of the truth are ’right’, even if only for them (I imagine Hitler thought his truth was ‘absolute truth’), what then?

My truth, your truth, we all fall down?

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Can You be a Leader and a Teammate?

Photo courtesy of myheimu

When it comes to working collaboratively in teams, keeping everyone on task and maintaining productivity levels are important responsibilities.  Without a leader, most teams would end up as vacillating mobs of confusion, resulting in wasted time and fruitless efforts. As a general rule, highly successful teams are led by ambitious and motivating leaders.

Most of us are quite familiar and comfortable with letting others fly the plane (proficient pilots preferred).  Some of us ride in coach with others making it up to first class. A select few possess the right skills and end up as co-pilot. Moving toward the cockpit is by and large the direction of choice.

If we go by that logic, what happens when the captain decides to switch on auto-pilot while he ventures back to first class, or maybe even coach? Can the leader be an effective member of the team?

To be a leader and a teammate simultaneously takes a person who possesses a specific set of characteristics. No leader works totally separate from his team, and vice versa, but a leader who either has to or wants to do some of the ”grunt work” must be absolutely certain he maintains his authority while doing so, or retaining his leadership role will be impossible.

At times it can be unsettling for team members when their leader suddenly wants to be an active participant rather than a supervisor. As leaders are often (but not always) Type-A personalities, they can be a bit overwhelming in the team environment, where the rest of the teammates are more even-keeled.

If you are in a situation where you must switch between the two roles of leader and teammate, it is crucial to remember several key points in order to do so swimmingly.

  • Always keep the team’s goals in mind rather than your own personal agenda.
  • Show your team members respect at all times. In order to eventually return to your role as ‘leader’ you must be careful not to lose the support of your team. Disrespecting someone is a surefire way to lose any respect they at one time held for you.
  • True teammates will ‘take one for the team’ when they have to. When you work as a teammate, be sure that you are willing to do everything you would expect other members of the team to do.
  • When you work as team leader, keep your interactions soft and keep the environment collegiate.  This will allow you to move easily between the two roles.

Keep in mind that the best leaders don’t create good followers – they create other leaders because they lead by example. To be an extraordinary leader means keeping your focus on the success of the team and doing what it takes for the team to thrive. If you keep your eyes on the runway, you’ll be able to keep your team on track for a safe and sound landing every time, whether you’re in the cockpit or sitting in the very back row of ‘coach.’

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The Friendship Test: What’s Your Score?

Photo courtesy of Kiran Koduru

As I started thinking about Thanksgiving this week and all that I have to be thankful for, my family members naturally sit at the top of my list. However, my friends are a close second, and for many people, they tie for first. As we think about why we are thankful for the amazing friends we have, let’s take a moment to reverse it and think about what our friends want and need from us. After all, this Thanksgiving day, those same friends are going to be sitting around a table (maybe yours), thinking about why you  make their lives more enjoyable.

What makes you a good friend? Do you know? Take a look at this list of traits that people treasure most in their nearest and dearest companions, and see how you measure up :

  •  Trustworthiness – This personality trait covers a lot of bases and, when it comes to friendships, most people are looking for someone who will keep their secrets and keep their promises to be there when times are tough.
  •  The ability to forgive – Of course it is important that friends don’t do wrong to each other on purpose, but when you are friends to the end, you’ll be going through many life events together and mistakes are unavoidable. True friends forgive easily because they have a solid foundation based on a connection that goes beyond trying to be perfect. A good friend understands your faults and flaws and loves you anyway.
  • Self confidence - While this may not seem like a necessary component of being a good friend, a person with a high level of self-confidence is more likely to be giving, loving, and generally more fun to be around.
  • Reliability – If you’re showing up for your friends late all the time, you’re sending them a message loud and clear: Their time is less important than yours. Make the effort to be on time more often, and let your amigos know they’re worth it.
  • Willingness to give slack – Long-lasting friendships can span lifetimes if you treat them right. As we know, time brings struggles of all shapes and sizes. When your friend is facing something challenging and asks for a little slack – give it.
  • Going above and beyond - Friends will go to the limit and beyond when a friend is in need. Are you willing to go to extraordinary lengths to help, even if it inconveniences you greatly?
  • Taking one for the friendship – Sometimes you might be called on to take the fall – or the blame – in order to save a friend’s hide (or reputation.) Are you willing to put a friend’s reputation before yours in times when it might really make a difference?

Of course there are about a hundred other good qualities that lead to great friendships, like having things in common, having fun together, and having similar goals and aspirations. This Thanksgiving, let your friends have one more thing to be thankful for by making sure you ace the friendship test. If you don’t ace it, at least put forth the effort to make sure you consistently do the best you can. Your true friends will be willing to cut you some slack.

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The Biggest Surprise About Hitting Rock Bottom

Photo courtesy of Vincent Desjardins

On my journey to live the life I really want, a multitude of very important changes are occurring within me, but they are changes that I worked toward; they were goals that I clearly set out to reach. Today I want to talk about something remarkable that has happened to me along the way that I never expected.

Up until a year ago, I spent approximately 18 months fighting and clawing against the gravity that was inevitably pulling me toward rock bottom. I wanted nothing to do with hitting the bottom, because I knew I would have to admit some harsh realities after the impact.

After the collision, I remained curled into the fetal position with my eyes squeezed firmly shut in denial. A few weeks later, when I finally managed to open my eyes, it was with the sudden realization that I had exactly two choices: get busy living, or get busy dying.  And if I planned to stay alive, well, I had better get up and get moving, because I had some real work to do.

Thus began my exploration of self-empowerment and taking back control over my own happiness. Divorce, illness, unemployment, depression, low self-esteem, abuse, toxic relationships, obesity, lack of direction, and drug and alcohol addiction are just some of the reasons that have put many of us on the path toward self-love and acceptance.

As we all make strides toward living the life we really want to live, most of us have seen and felt a number of changes happen within us, like increased self-confidence, better self-image, and more effective life skills, all of which have led us to accomplish many personal achievements and overcome hurdles that we never thought we’d conquer.

As we accomplish more and come closer to our ultimate happiness, the image we project to others begins to shift. They can see us more clearly now that our walls of self-loathing, destruction, or denial are crumbling. Liking yourself makes you infinintely more likeable to others, which is something that most of us have known all along.

I am thoroughly enjoying how the positive changes are affecting my life, but I have to say that there was something that took me totally and completely by surprise in all of this, and it wasn’t mentioned as one of the most common side effects of self-improvement.

It is also something that is rather hard for me to admit, because in doing so, I will be making a confession about who I used to be. Ok. Here goes:

(I like helping people now.)

What many of us don’t realize as we’re spiraling downward (in some cases completely obliviously), is that we really don’t even like other people all that much, let alone want to help them. Only upon reaching the summit of self-love and appreciation can we begin to really care that other people are suffering too.  Going through the motions of helping others is one thing, but really, genuinely wanting to help someone simply for the sake of making his or her life better?  Well, that’s another beast entirely, and frankly, it’s something that makes hitting rock bottom 150% worth it.

Karl Reiland said, “In about the same degree as you are helpful, you will be happy,” and although we most definitely must focus on helping ourselves first, the level of our satisfaction in life can most accurately be measured by how much joy we feel when we reach out a helping hand.

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Does Your Body Language Need a Translator?

Photo courtesy of Jose Goulao

Self-awareness is a huge factor in the equation of true happiness. Part of being totally in touch with ourselves includes realizing the effects we have on others, both good and bad. To reach our ultimate life goals, it’s likely that we’re going to have many interactions with people from all different walks of life. Today’s Mindful Monday focuses on being aware of what we’re saying to others…when we’re not saying anything at all.

I recently came to terms with how much my body language was saying about me. For years, I was told by anyone within a ten mile radius of my face to “smile more!” Another phrase I heard a lot was, “I’m sorry, you must be busy. I’ll come back later.” While I used to stand firmly in denial of the image my serious facial expressions and constant fidgeting were portraying, now I finally get it. My body language was causing me to be mis-read, and the translation did not look good at all.

Most people have a number of physical gestures they perform on a regular basis without even realizing it. For many, these gestures could be sending signals to other people,  causing them to draw inaccurate conclusions. To ensure that you’re sending the right signals, try being more mindful of some of the following body language:

  • Fake smiling (or not smiling at all) - Try not to force a smile when you’re just not feeling it – people can tell you’re faking it when you only use your lip muscles, but as you begin to feel happier in life, let it show with a crinkle in your eye and a big ol’ grin!
  • Biting your lips – In psychologists’ terms, this means that you’re uncomfortable with the situation you’re in. Resist the urge to bite, lick or nibble your lips too much. Try wearing chapstick or lip balm.
  • Avoiding eye contact – Not looking someone directly in the eye makes it appear that you’re lacking in the self-confidence department.
  • Rolling your eyes – I used to do this a lot until I realized how rude and arrogant it made me look. Now, to keep the temptation in check, I widen my eyes instead of rolling them upward to avoid insulting people.
  • Picking or biting your nails – If you want to look really meek, avoid eye contact and chew on your nails. If you’d rather avoid this habit,  try to keep your hands in front of you during conversations and touch your pointer fingers together as a reminder not to pick.
  • Acknowledging distractions – I know that someone is really interested in what I’m saying when they ignore distractions when I’m talking. If you regularly turn away from conversations to attend to phone calls or other interruptions, you are sending a signal of disinterest or disrespect.

When you send strong signals to others that you are truly interested in what they have to offer (by sitting still, leaning toward them, keeping eye contact, smiling and nodding), chances are good that they are going to respond accordingly by treating you well in return.

The saying goes that you get what you give, and if what you want is respect (from yourself and others), make sure your body language bodes well for your your success.

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How to Avoid Being Bullied

Photo courtesy of puuikibeach

I’m a fairly strong-willed person. I don’t typically let people use me as a doormat, and my opinion is something I’m not terribly afraid to share. But even I have found myself in a situation where I felt like I was being bullied. It hasn’t happened too many times in my life, but when it did happen, it was quite disturbing and distressing.

Feeling victimized can happen to the best of us – at home, at work, or socially, and figuring out how to handle it can be tricky. Adult bullies are really good at mind games, and if you’re not used to their thinking, they can get pretty good at making you look the fool. Even though we typically associate bullies with middle school, some grown women never outgrew their mean girl mentality.

This type of behavior can range from mildly annoying to harrassment. As a thirty-seven year old woman, I honestly did not think bullies existed anymore until I met one first hand. It takes a lot to shake me, but when I finally realized that it wasn’t going stop, I had to figure out the right way to address it.

Things to remember if you feel like someone is trying to push you around:

  • Bullying behavior has nothing to do with you. People who try to belittle others have internal issues that need to be worked out.
  • Determine how much your life is being affected. If you feel harrassed, it’s time to stand up for yourself.
  • Approach a bully with care and remember that aggressive people are already insecure. Assert  yourself but don’t get in anyone’s face.
  • Choose somewhere private to talk and don’t get overly emotional. Bullies tend to be out of touch with their own emotions, and the situation could quickly escalate toward anger.
  • If reasoning doesn’t work, get out of the situation and do your best to remove this person from your life.

It’s important to stand up for yourself, and you can also help prevent this from happening to someone else, too. Be more conscious of excessive negative gossip as an easy way to prevent aggressive women in your group of friends from targeting someone. Change the subject if it keeps swinging around to someone else’s dirty laundry. At age thirteen or seventy-three, it’s never fun to be on the receiving end of a bully. Whether you’re the victim or friends with the bully, do what you can to put an end to mean girl behavior for good.

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Why Lending a Helping Hand Sometimes Really Bites

Photo courtesy of ninasaurusrex
One day last week, while I was taking my lunch break, I looked out my front window to see a gigantic turtle lumbering across the sidewalk in the direction of the road. The amount that I love turtles is akin to the amount that Kristen Bell loves sloths. Yeah, it’s a borderline problem. For me. For Kristen Bell? There’s no borderline about it.

Given my passion for turtles, I made the impromptu decision to cut into my jam packed work schedule in order to protect this beast from himself. Off I ran, hair akimbo and with no concern for my crocs and socks footwear.  “I will save you from death, turtle friend!” I yelled. I pit-stopped at my mom’s house and panted at her that I needed help relocating a reptile. Knowing me as well as she does, she immediately understood that we were on a Turtle Mission and we continued onward toward salvation.

This is what we had to attempt to save.
Photo courtesy of slappytheseal

Admittedly, we were suddenly skeptical, and we wondered if this guy even slightly wanted our services. Happy to see us, he did not look. We vacillated between spending our time as it had previously been judiciously and pragmatically allotted, or attempting to preserve the life of what appeared to be the last living dinosaur who seemed pretty angry that no one told him about extinction. Ultimately, we threw caution to the wind and waved good bye to precious work hours in order to save a turtle.

Anky, as I now refer to him, was not one bit interested in our “help” and he did everything to rally against us at every turn. He thrashed his razor sharp claws and snapped his long fangs at us.  His thorny tail whipped through the air in warning when we approached. If we were there to assist him, he would prefer that we would just drop dead, thank you very much.

That got me thinking about all of the resistent people in our lives who we repeatedly try to help, to no avail. They respond similarly to Anky, except in a more passive aggressive manner. They make it clear that they are “heading toward disaster.” We offer a helping hand, which is forcefully pushed away. This cycle can go on indefinitely, repeating itself ad nauseum, until we finally wake up and make the connection that these people don’t want help; they want attention, and they’ll sabotage our work days, our productivity levels, and our own level of success to get it.

Before you sap precious energy that could be better spent improving your own life, determine whether or not your assistance is needed or even really wanted. You’ll learn to sort out people who really need you from those who only want attention. Trying to help the unhelpable is a waste of time that could be spent increasing your productivity or learning something new. Your time is valuable! Use it wisely.

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