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How to Get the Most Out of Your Weekends

friendsPhoto courtesy of Sarah Buckley

Everybody’s working for the weekends – at least that’s how the song goes.

If we’re working for the weekends, it’s my opinion that once the weekend comes, we’d better make damn sure we enjoy it! What exciting things do you plan for your days off?

Running out of ideas for fun activities that will make your work-week seem worth it? I came up with a list of some potentially new and (I think) unique ways to let off some steam and let loose.

Most importantly, spend time doing these activities with people who make you feel good, and who make you smile.

  • Get theatrical. Check out your local theater for upcoming plays or musicals, or visit an opera house if one is nearby.
  • Change bored to board. As in GAMES!
  • Go digital. Create a scavenger hunt of things you and your friends have to find and take pictures of.
  • Look in the bucket. Pick one item from your bucket list and do it.
  • Learn how to juggle.
  • Build a fort. Even if you don’t have kids, blanket forts never get old, and as a bonus, they make a great place to read a good book.
  • Take a test drive. Pick a fantasy car that you’d probably never be able to afford, and go drive it around for awhile. Fun!
  • Stay in a hotel. If you have the money, take a road trip somewhere cool and spend the night in a nice hotel room. Everyone loves hotels, right?
  • Go zip-lining. (Or something equally as thrilling, if you’re into that. How about sky diving or bungee jumping?)
  • Visit old friends. Hooking up with pals from way back can incite some feel-good nostalgia that’ll really make your weekend quite memorable.
  • Have a makeover night.  Invite some girlfriends over and do home makeovers and nails. You’ll be saving money and having a great time.
  • Find a free workout. Many gyms and yoga studios offer a trial workout or session free of charge. If you try out a different one every weekend, you could keep this going for quite awhile!
  • Go to the beach. If you live near the coast, pack up the car and spend the day enjoying the sun, sand, and breeze. Bring along a kite, too!
  • Have a movie night. My family has a tradition every Saturday night called Foovie Night. It stands for Fun Family Movie Night. We pick the movie together, enjoy some yummy movie treats, and snuggle in together for a few hours of entertainment, right in our living room.
  • Volunteer. Giving your time to those who need help can be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. Look for local soup kitchens, homeless shelters, or even hospitals or clinics that could use you.

Remember to surround yourself with those people who make you feel good, regardless of what it is you end up doing on the weekends. If you’ve done something fun and interesting lately, share with us in the comments!

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8 Ways to De-Stress at the End of the Day


Photo courtesy of Janet Ramsden

Whether you work in an office building, a home office, or chasing toddlers around all day, it’s imperative that you regularly find time for yourself. Ideally, you should set aside at least 45 minutes to an hour every day and dedicate that time to an activity that relaxes you. If you’re able to – tag team your partner (if you have kids or other responsibilities), so that both of you have adequate down time in order to recharge and face each day feeling refreshed.

On the other hand, if you shoulder a lot of responsibilities yourself with little family nearby to help, consider asking a friend or neighbor who might be willing to offer a hand now and then so you can take a short breather. Another option (if you’re a parent) is to take time for yourself after the little ones are in bed for the night, or in the early morning hours, while the house is still quiet.

Once you’ve found the time, here are some things to do that will help you breathe easier and make it through the rest of your week:

  1. Get your blood flowing. Most likely, you’ve been sitting at a desk for a big portion of the day. Take at least 10 minutes to stretch our your muscles so they don’t grown stagnant from lack of attention.
  2. Gain perspective. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with your problems, read some news articles. Suddenly, your life issues won’t seem so bad after all.
  3. Be with others. Socializing during your downtime is a fantastic plan – if it’s realistic. Being around friends, sharing stories and laughing is one of the best ways to loosen up. Pass on the alcohol, though – it will only leave you with a headache in the morning, defeating the purpose of re-energizing yourself.
  4. Look at photos. Sometimes when I’m trying to get myself into a better frame of mind, I set my laptop photos folder onto slideshow and watch as my life scrolls before my eyes. All of those happy memories instantly put me in a good place mentally.
  5. Use humor. A great piece of advice a friend once gave me was to watch videos of cute animals when I was feeling stressed. At the time I thought it was silly, but one day I clicked over to YouTube and watched a bunch of kittens doing funny things. You know what? IT WORKED.
  6. Turn on some tunes. The connection between music and mood has long been established, so play your favorite songs and sing along!
  7. Bathe. Add a few drops of lavender oil and some rose scented bubbles to a bath, and soak your troubles away. Combine this with some soothing music and you’ve got a two-fer!
  8. Hug it out. Research shows us that hugging for just 2 minutes a day does amazing things for our mental state. So, open your arms to your partner, your kids or your friends. Physical contact with someone you love releases oxytocin – the “feel-good” hormone.

Less important than the actual activity is just making the effort to set aside a block of time for yourself. During your “Me” time, shift the focus away from all of the stressors in your life and onto You. Slow down your actions, your intentions and your thoughts throughout your relaxation time. Be mindful of everything around you and within you, and you’ll become more centered and better equipped to handle anything.

“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”  ~Lily Tomlin

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How to Unblock Your Life Path

blocked pathPhoto courtesy of Nicholas Canup

Many of us are striving for something better, something more. We want a life that’s full of the kind of experiences and people that make us happy.

As you move toward living your best life, you’re probably working daily to make changes to your circumstances. You may be surprised when you discover that the hardest hurdles to overcome are the intangible kind.

Unhappy at work? You can get a new job. Lackluster marriage? Invest in couple’s therapy. Trouble paying the mortgage? Get a tabula rasa with a good bankruptcy lawyer. If you’re still feeling a general dissatisfaction with life even after you’ve taken strides to change the obvious, you’re probably wondering:

What is blocking my path to happiness?

For each of us, the precise answer will be different, but one thing is certain: the most important changes come from within. In order to live authentically, you must continually challenge yourself to live up to your own expectations. Is it easy? Absolutely not. But it’s so totally worth it.

As you take a closer look at what’s standing in your way, see if any of the following inner obstacles are blocking your forward momentum:

  • Passivity – Allowing yourself to get too comfortable with a mediocre existence can and will prevent you from ever making significant changes. Let yourself feel the discomfort instead of becoming numb. A little bit of pain for a lifetime of happiness is more than a fair trade.
  • Fear of failure – Sometimes, a fear of failing becomes strong enough to blind us from acknowledging to ourselves that we need a new approach. Denial is a deep ditch to dig yourself out of, but once you’re out of the ditch, your view of the journey ahead will be much clearer.
  • Envy – Take it from me – pining over the grass that’s always greener on the other side is putting your energy into the wrong yard. Buy some fertilizer and watch your own grass grow. Maybe even plant a garden!
  • Regret – Looking longingly backward in time, wishing for a do-over or obsessing over a what-if is a waste of your time in the here and now. You can’t go back again. Shift your focus from the coulda, woulda, shoulda and start telling yourself: ‘I can.’
  • Unrealistic expectations – Try to set reasonable, attainable goals for yourself. Expecting perfection will leave you disappointed in yourself rather than feeling accomplished and confident.
  • Guilt – If you’re living with the guilt surrounding an event from your past, attempt to make amends with the situation. This will allow you to move forward more freely and easily. Feeling guilty about your current circumstances? Remind yourself that no one’s perfect. Adjust your behavior accordingly, let go of the guilt and embrace yourself – flaws and all.
  • Impatience – Opportunities for immediate gratification are bountiful. As information and results become readily available, you may find yourself frustrated with achievements that take time.  Feeling impatient can really weigh you down, making you crabby and edgy. Remember: good things come to those who wait. Your dreams will come true if you have the patience to put in the necessary time, effort and dedication to get there.

As you gather speed on your journey forward, you’re going to get really good at swerving to avoid any outside obstacles that threaten your momentum toward your best life. By eliminating any interference from within, you’ll be sure to cross the finish line even sooner.

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Disconnect Your Phone and Connect with Life

cell phonesPhoto courtesy of Ding Yuin Shan

Recently, a friend of mine treated me to a day at a local spa for my birthday. It was utterly blissful – we were pampered from head to toe, and I haven’t felt that relaxed in a really long time.

However, as I took in my surroundings during one of my treatments, I slowly became aware that I stood out.

I had been sitting, reclined in my spa chair with my eyes closed, attempting to be mindfully aware of my entire body. The sensations I noticed were incredible, and I am certain I would have missed out on half of them had I not been paying extremely close attention to my experience.

As I looked around the pedicure room, I noticed that every other woman was bent over and white-knuckling a digital device of some kind. I picked up my phone to check for messages. Admittedly, I even “checked in” to the salon on Facebook. But then I had an alarming thought: am I holding onto my cellphone or does it have a hold on me?

I plunked my phone back into my purse and didn’t look at it again until hours later when I came home.

I’m the first person to admit that having an iPhone has improved a lot of things about my life. My job is easier, I can get directions instantly, and I’m never at a loss for a good place to eat. I’m definitely pro-smart-phone. What concerns me, though, is the loss of social cues that seems to come along with owning one.

Many people today seem to have lost their grip on good manners. Ever been in mid-conversation with someone who interrupts you to answer a work call?  How about a personal text, or to check their Facebook notifications? Perhaps you’re even guilty of some of these things yourself.

If so, there are things that you can do to prevent your cellphone from running your life and potentially ruining some of your relationships. The key is setting some boundaries when it comes to when and where you choose to let yourself be interrupted by your phone.

In order to protect and nurture your most important relationships, it’s a good idea to earmark certain times, situations or events during which you will not be reachable on your cellphone. This will allow you to focus all of your attention of those people who are physically present with you during those times, giving them reassurance that they are more important than your need to “stay connected.”

Perhaps these times will include things like date night, dinnertime, and family gatherings. Alternatively, you could set aside a certain amount of non-negotiable screen-free time each day or week. Regardless of when and where it happens, by designating regular times to silence your cellphone and put it out of sight – you’re giving your loved ones a guarantee of your undivided attention. It’s only when we give our full attention to our families, relationships, and self-awareness that each of them will be able to grow and thrive.

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12 Things Guaranteed to Improve Your Life (So Start Doing Them!)

Photo courtesy of kalyan02

We’ve talked about the top twelve things that could be making your life hell and why you should stop doing them immediately. So, now that we’re potentially doing twelve LESS things every day - it seems that our schedules should be opening up a bit.

In an effort to stay away from those nasty habits that do nothing but drag us down, let’s try replacing them with twelve things that will only have positive effects on our lives:

  1. Laugh – I’m naturally a pokerface kind of gal – most of my friends will tell you it takes a lot to really make me laugh, but, based on the fact that the Mayo Clinic says laughing a lot relieves pain among many other things, consider me a crack up from this day forward.
  2. Say nice things about others – Remember when your mother used to tell you, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything?” Unless it’s constructive criticism, focus on the good things about other people, or better yet, don’t worry so much about everyone else!
  3. See the glass as half full – Even if you’re missing both legs and an arm, you’ve still got a beating heart, a working brain, and a WHOLE OTHER ARM! ‘When you focus on what you do have, you will always have plenty.’ - Gillian MacBeth
  4. Meditate – By taking the time to regularly limit the stimulation on your nervous system, you can increase your powers of awareness, which will allow you to fully engage in and enjoy your life experiences.
  5. Appreciate the joy that comes from small pleasures – After all, life’s big pleasures (vacations, birthdays, holidays) only come around once in awhile. A happy life is made up of small pleasures. Listen for and see all of the small beauties and pleasures that are all around us.
  6. Take credit for being awesome – Accept compliments and own your accomplishments. If you deserve credit, TAKE IT. You’ll become more self-assured, which will actually impress people even more.
  7. Choose friends who are positive thinkers – Because we eventually pick up the habits and attitudes of those we spend the most time with, spend the majority of your time with the people who make you feel like the best version of yourself.
  8. Show gratitude – Being thankful for all of the good in our lives only perpetuates good feelings all around.  And be sure to tell those around you how much you appreciate all that they bring to your life.
  9. Help someone else  – The happier you become, the more you feel like helping other people. Why not see if it works in reverse? Lending someone a hand gives you a feeling of satisfaction and can even make you start to see your own faults in a more positive light.
  10. Do what you enjoy - You never have to do something – you choose to.  If you’re spending a lot of time doing something you don’t enjoy, ask yourself why and start choosing differently.
  11. Project confidence – In order to get what you want, approach situations in a relaxed manner. Speak clearly, make eye contact, and smile.
  12. Say “yes” – When you’re invited to take part in something, whether it’s listening to your nephew’s fourth grade play or going to an independent film festival, get into the habit of saying YES!

If you’re working toward creating a better version of your life, remember that reactions only happen with actions. Don’t just wait for a better life – make one.


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How to Beat Burnout Before it Beats You

Photo courtesy of The U.S. Army
There are several professions that tend to have high rates of burnout, and in my lifetime I’ve been deeply ensconced in two of them. For seven years I taught elementary school, and I can tell you that teachers everywhere are dropping like flies. That job is tough.  People in professions that involve helping others are highly likely to burn out because of the amount of emotional attachment that develops, causing an incredible amount of mental strain.

I’m now considered an entrepreneur, in that I’ve started up my own business and I’m my own boss. Studies show that entrepreneurs are also more likely than most “typical” professionals to experience burnout. This is due to the fact that there is no limit to how much success we can attain, and because of that, we have a hard time turning down opportunities.  Before we know it, we’re exhausting ourselves by taking on more projects than we can reasonably handle.

If you’re making your living in a job that has the potential to evoke excessive amounts of stress, involves a high level of responsibility, or demands long hours, be proactive about avoiding burnout. If you’ve started to feel the first twinges of distress surrounding work, use the following list as a guide to avoid causing a major professional setback.

  • Pin point the source of any discontent and fix it. It’s not the job itself that will bring you down, but its interference with the things you love to do most – like spending time with family, working out, or getting a good night’s sleep every night. What do you wish you had time for?

  • Set boundaries for those above events to ensure that they will always come before work in order to refresh your energy and motivation.

  • Make sure you’re keeping it interesting! Even as an entrepreneur, if your projects all start to look the same, you’ll get bored fast. Pick and choose a variety of assignments, or simply make a change to your daily routine.

  • Pace yourself for the long haul and don’t expect miracles.
  • Take vacations! If you have a corporate job, USE your paid days off – don’t just bank them. If you’re self-employed, start setting things up so that your business can remain successful even when you take a few days off.

It’s extremely important to be able to recognize the early symptoms of burnout so that you can attain the level of success that you’re reaching for while remaining in good physical and mental health. Once burnout occurs, it can spell disaster and is quite difficult to reverse. Always keep that fire extinguisher nearby and at the ready, because if you don’t beat burnout first, it can most certainly beat you.

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Does Taking the Road Less Traveled Really Make a Difference?

Photo courtesy of Bill Ward’s Brickpile
I’m a planner.  I feel better when there’s a plan in place for just about everything.  I lay out clothes for my entire family each night before bed. I make To Do lists. I know how I’m going to spend my money before I even have it. I planned what age I wanted to be married by and when my children would be born and succeeded at achieving both. Planning makes me feel in control of things and gives me a sense of accomplishment. I don’t handle surprises well at all and my loved ones have all been forbidden from throwing me a surprise party, like, EVER.

I had planned to live happily ever after with my first husband, but, after ten years of marriage, we found ourselves separated and filing for divorce. This was definitely not in my plans, and all of the life changes that occurred afterward were enough to really throw me off balance. However, despite it not being part of the blueprint I had created for my life, I slowly adapted to the idea and life after a divorce.  Now, 2 years later, I am happily remarried to an amazing man and good friends with my first husband. It seems The Universe knew what it was doing.

What I learned from this situation is that, while it’s good to be organized and have life goals, you can’t expect the unexpected. That’s kind of the whole definition of the word, right? Whether something takes you by surprise personally, professionally, or medically, it’s how you react that counts. You can spend your whole life making and executing plans, and bravo if you accomplish everything you set out to do. However, the real life lessons come from navigating the bumps in the road along the way.

Avoiding the bumpy roads keeps us in our comfort zone but doesn’t allow for the personal growth and self-awareness gained by facing a challenging situation. What we learn about ourselves as we face seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be quite an eye-opening experience and can lead us to re-think our original plans.  The next time your life goes off the grid, don’t panic.  Sometimes, the road less traveled can take you where you should have been going all along.

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Create Your Own Paycheck and Cash in on Life

Photo courtesy of blakespot
So many of us spend upwards of eight hours a day behind a desk in an office somewhere, wishing we were free to come and go as we please. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people say, “I’d give anything to be my own boss.” However, it’s rare that anyone does anything about it, and instead there are millions of Americans resenting their jobs on a daily basis due to feeling unfulfilled, under-appreciated, under-paid and overworked. Most people are too afraid of the “unknown” to take a dip in the entrepreneurial pool, but what they don’t realize is that unless they are the boss, their 9-5 job is the unknown. In most workplace settings, employees can be fired for virtually any reason, at any time.

I have been on both sides of the job fence. I went from teaching to motherhood and then changed courses after a divorce to pursue a job as a legal assistant. During the motherhood phase of my journey, I discovered my innate ability to be my own boss quite by accident by freelance writing while my children napped. However, like most people, I became concerned about my lack of health insurance coverage after I went through a divorce, and headed back into the corporate world, working eight hours a day and commuting an additional 80 minutes, making the total time I dedicated to my job approximately 9 1/2 hours a day.

Personally, I loved that job, and it is probable that I would have continued working there were it not for health reasons that forced me to re-think my entire life strategy.  I decided that my original intuition about being my own boss would be my new direction, as I was given no other options and had to make it work. I began by making as many contacts as possible in my field, building up experience and clients. It slowly dawned on me that I was branding myself, creating my own job, making my own rules, setting my own income, and working the hours that I wanted to work. I don’t know if I would have been so successful at creating my own business if I hadn’t been forced into the situation, but what I have learned is that anyone can do it.

I would never have described myself as a business woman , and yet I was able to create a job for myself based on my innate talents and skills . I found a niche where I could be successful using what I know how to do well. I  decide what things I want and need and then I set out to make enough money to pay for them.  Rather than letting my boss tell me how much my efforts are worth, I decided to tell my clients how much my efforts are worth, and it turns out that they agreed.

If you’re completely fed up with letting your paycheck dictate what you can and cannot afford, take the time to re-evaluate your view on who you really want controlling your income. If you have a talent or skill that is in demand and want or need to work in a non-traditional setting, take it from someone who made it work: anything is possible.

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Why Life Is So Much More Than a Paycheck

Photo courtesy of Colton Witt

I recently jumped on the Game of Thrones bandwagon; it was inevitable, really. As a fan of other epic fantasy works, like Tolkien’s Middle-earth, I was surprised to find there was a whole unexplored mythology from the mind of writer George R. R. Martin that covered a disturbingly gritty place unlike other fantasy worlds. After watching the first season of the excellent HBO TV series, I delved right into Martin’s books. For those who aren’t familiar with the Song of Ice and Fire series, these books (or which A Game of Thrones is the first) are huge, sometimes spanning over a thousand pages, so I was aware that they were going to cut into my already busy schedule quite a bit.

After reading through a hundred or so pages of the first book, I realized I was hooked. I’d become so drawn into Martin’s writing – the despicable characters and harsh, bloody settings – that I was trying to find little pockets of time here and there between working hours to fit in extra reading sessions. I also couldn’t stop telling people about it. It was probably quite annoying, but I wanted to share how thrilling the journey had been for me so far. I told my friends and siblings—basically, anybody I knew to have a preexisting interest in large fantasy works.

When I told one of my closest friends about the TV show and books, he was clearly excited by the concept and said that it reminded him of when he was a child and read the entire Lord of the Rings series. Because of this interest, I offered to loan him one of the Game of Thrones books, and his expression suddenly changed. “I could never get into this – how would I get anything else done?” he told me. After thinking about this for a moment, I asked him if he was reading anything else at the moment, or tuning in to watch a TV show on a regular basis. He admitted that he used to do these things, but that his work was now taking up too much of his time, and when he returns home from work each evening, he’s too tired to focus on anything.

For me, this was a bit of an eye-opener. My friend was basically denying himself things he agreed he would enjoy simply because of his work schedule. In addition, he thought that if he found something he truly enjoyed, he wouldn’t have the restraint to plan his work hours around it. I think a lot of people have this view of things that are deemed “less important” than making a living. They neglect small pleasures because they are too focused on working, and can’t find the time to enjoy themselves. I’m not saying that people should cut back on work in order to have fun, but with a little forethought there is room for both.

People spend plenty of time scheduling their work lives so that any time that is left over for personal things like reading a book or going for a mountain hike gets almost no thought at all. Planning out your personal time with as much detail as you use to plan out your work hours could offer you far more fulfilling opportunities in the future. Life is not all about working to make a living, so make use of the little spaces in-between.

If you gave yourself more time to indulge in a personal hobby, what activity would you choose?

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How a Few Minutes a Day Can Earn You Freedom for Life

Freedom for Life

Photo courtesy of Bohari Adventures

Last summer, I had steady stream of friends staying with me as house guests. One evening, one of my guests was gazing over my shoulder as I went through my nightly ritual of typing up my to-do list for the following day. After watching me for a minute or two, eventually he shook his head and said, “I couldn’t live like that.”

Er, live like what, exactly?

“With every aspect of my life planned out to the last detail, no room for fun or spontaneity. I would find that extremely boring.”

At that moment I realized just how misunderstood to-do lists are, as I’m one of the most spontaneous people you’ll ever meet. I’ve been known to move to another continent on a whim (twice, in fact), and I frequently drop everything to accept last-minute invitations to hang out with friends, or pop over to Munich for Oktoberfest just because I feel like it, or jump on any other crazy opportunities that come my way.

The only reason I’m able to do these things is because I’ve intentionally built a life structure that allows for that level of freedom, by making sure that all the essential tasks get done and shifted out of the way in the most efficient manner possible. If you’re always staying several steps ahead, which is what a high level of organization allows, then you can easily jet off for a few hours (or a day, or a week) whenever the mood strikes you, without stress or guilt.

I see people who repeatedly take all day to do things that could easily be done in a couple of hours, providing that they would set aside a few minutes the night before to create a plan and a list. When you don’t have a detailed plan, you can spend your whole day not knowing exactly what to do next, backtracking when you realize you forgot to do something, and generally wasting time that otherwise could have been spent on the things you really want to do.

Left to my own devices, I’m pretty much your standard, disorganized, right-brained creative. This is where to-do lists come in handy – allowing me to sculpt that life of freestyle creativity, by ensuring that I get the essential foundation work out of the way first. It’s reasonable to want a life defined by personal freedom, and it only takes a few minutes to put the structural supports in place to allow that freedom.

Do you have a personal organizational system that helps you get things out of the way so you can enjoy your life?

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