Tag Archives | changes

A Real Life Report Card: Making Changes for the Better

Photo courtesy of Hannah Swithinbank

As December is getting ready to melt into January, I’ve started taking note of the good habits I’ve formed in 2012.  In the past year, I’ve become mindfully aware of the power I have over my own life. The last thing I want to do is slow or halt the progress I’ve made in areas that are very important to me. Since I started making a conscious effort to break a bunch of bad habits and replace them with new ones, I’ve experienced some extremely positive changes in my life.

Being aware of your progression toward the kind of life you really want is crucial to your success, but being immersed in your day-to-day life can sometimes blur your perception of the big picture. And with that line of thinking, I had an a-ha moment.

In your school years, you always knew how well you were doing in a multitude of subjects all at once because you were given tangible evidence of your success every marking period.  Now you’re trying to master a much more complex subject: Life. Here in the real world, you’re the only one who can determine how close you are to achieving your goals. As both the student and the teacher, you’re pretty much left to your own devices when it comes to assessment. While most people have a pretty good idea of what it means to ‘Fail at Life’, it seems much more difficult to ascertain exactly when you’ve passed with flying colors.

What we could all use is a real life report card – a tangible way to measure the progress we’re making toward our goals. Succeeding at life isn’t something that’s easy to measure, though. And since we’re all improving in a wide array of different ways, I’ve compiled a few suggestions you can use to create an assessment that’s appropriate for your life.

  1. Put it in a jar.  Start each year (or other predetermined length of time) with an empty jar or other container of your choice. Whenever you reach an important milestone in your Happiness Journey, write a short note about it and place it folded in the jar. At the end of the year (or the real life ‘marking period’ of your choosing), read all of the notes aloud to give yourself recognition for making positive changes. Another possibility is to make a second jar for any setbacks you’ve experienced.
  2. Cross it off. Before implementing the above idea, write the small changes you hope to make in a notebook. List style works best for this assessment tool. When you empty your jar, cross off all of the accomplishments as you read them aloud. If you incorporate two jars, make notes under each item that still needs work.
  3. Blog it. Whether you prefer electronic posts or the kind you make with pen and paper, start a Journey Journal. This acts as a running record of your self-improvement, and can replace both #1 and #2.
  4. Reflect. Mentally assess where you are now versus where you were last year, or six months ago.  How do you feel?  Ask yourself if you are coming closer to ultimate happiness or veering off the path.
  5. Snap it.  Get into the habit of taking pictures of happy/momentous occasions so that you can refer to them later as you self-assess. Pictures can really jar the mind, and they will remind you of everything you’ve accomplished.  Conversely, photos can also help you remember moments that were low, giving you a reality check about how far you’ve really come.

Pick and choose some (or use all) of the above methods, but make sure you stop to take inventory of your satisfaction with life every now and again.  There’s a reason we had report cards in school, and although we shouldn’t spend too much time assessing ourselves (that would be too time consuming and detract from living mindfully) - if we don’t check in, we’ll be much more likely to check out, ending up right back where we started.

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Make Fear Less of a Factor in Your Life Equation

Photo courtesy of epsos.de

You know those long e-mail questionnaires we all used to send around to our friends under the guise of getting to know people better? Loaded with questions about our physical characteristics, likes, dislikes, and aspirations – they presented us with the perfect opportunity to talk about our favorite subjects – ourselves.

With changes in technology happening faster than the blink of an eye, email surveys quickly became yesterday’s news. Personally, I found them tiring pretty much from their inception, and I had a reason for my dislike. It was simple, really. I used to be uncomfortable in any situation where I didn’t have all of the answers.

I suppose you might ask why I wouldn’t have all of the answers to an email survey about my height, hair color, and whether I’d rather be a pirate or a ninja. Obviously, those weren’t the questions that tripped me up (ninja, naturally.) It was the deeper questions I never felt like answering, like whether I was in a happy relationship or what I hoped my life would look like in five years.

As it turns out, I wasn’t alone in avoiding harsh realities about my life.  In actuality, there are thousands of people trying to avoid facing feelings of discontentment and many other disappointing realities in their lives, and for most of us, the driving force behind our avoidance is the four-letter f-word.

FEAR.

Every day, countless people bury themselves in avoidance because they fear that facing the problem could cause them to experience failure of some type.  Fear is a very powerful emotion that can keep us from shooting for the stars and achieving our ultimate goals that would skyrocket our happiness level.   Allowing our fears to control us prevents us from living the lives we really want.

Fears of abandonment, job loss, going into debt, rejection, intimacy, not measuring up, and even a fear of success itself are all common and natural. Usually, feeling scared keeps us safe and prevents us from doing things that often might end up causing us harm. There are times, though, when it’s in our best interest to feel afraid of something and to pursue it anyway.  The hard part is knowing when to listen to our fears and when to challenge them.

It’s quite possible that, unless you feel quite substantially miserable in your current life circumstances, you’ll be less likely to pursue your dreams due to a fear of the unknown. Even if your life as you know it is far from your ideal life, it’s familiar and safe. Many people have a desire to live a different kind of life, work in a different field, or be married to someone different, but the fear of what it would take to get there is simply too strong.

I’m a prime example of a person who faced a great deal of fear in order to live the life I really wanted. The life I had before wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t my ideal existence. It was SO SCARY taking that first step in the journey to where I am now! But once I took the first step, the momentum kept me moving in the direction I should’ve been heading all along.

Will you let fear control your decisions or can you handle feeling afraid of the fall but taking the leap anyway?

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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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Give Your Brain a Break by Creating Effectual Habits


Photo courtesy of *CQ*

One day my psychologist looked at me and told me I needed to change my habits. I was confused. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink alcohol, I eat well, I go to bed at a reasonable time, I don’t use drugs (illegal ones anyway), and I’m trying really hard to stop cracking my knuckles. I told her I didn’t really have any bad habits to break other than biting my nails and plucking my eyebrows too much. She seemed bemused by my naïveté. Oh my dear, sweet patient, ye who has so much to learn. She then shared with me yet another one of her almighty wisdoms that would help me succeed in life.

It turns out that more than 40% of our actions are actually habits rather than real decisions that we put thought and effort into. Understanding how habits begin is the key to being able to break the bad ones and replace them with habits that can help improve our lives. Habits actually form in a three-step process which is known as a ‘habit loop’ – a cue is followed by a behavior which is followed by a reward. The behavior is what we all associate with the habit, but what we need to recognize is that the entire process is important if we want to make significant changes.

Habits and decisions are carried out by entirely different parts of the brain, therefore, as soon as a behavior becomes habitual, our brains slip into ‘automatic’ mode, which allows us to focus mental energy on other things. Studies show that we typically perform behaviors the same way if we are in a familiar environment. Simple acts like the order we put on our shoes or the way we brush our teeth remain habitual as long as we are ensconced in our daily routines receiving subtle cues. By changing our routines slightly, habits are easier to change and create. Breaking or starting a habit is usually extremely effective on vacation for this reason.

By changing some of your decision making acts into habits, you can free up some of your brain power to do other things, like achieve success professionally or be more present while parenting. Regardless of the act that you want to automate, create a cue for yourself that will spark the desired behavior at the same time and place every day. Force yourself to perform the action or behavior routinely, and give yourself a pre-planned reward every time until it becomes habitual. Save decision making for the most important aspects of your life, and leave the rest to HABIT.

For further reading and information about creating new habits and how they are formed, check out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

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How Small Changes Can Rejuvenate Your Productivity

flower
Photo courtesy of Theophilos Papadopoulos

We’ve all been there at some point in the past—one day we’re working fine, efficiently, and then the next, without explanation, we discover we can’t work anymore. Writers get writer’s block; artists find they can’t decide where the next brushstroke should go. For whatever reason, something in our brain clicks and we lose that spark that tells us we’re good at what we do.

This condition of ‘being stuck’ is often attributed to feelings of inferiority as a professional. Sometimes the effects can be trivial, lasting mere hours or days, but in worse cases they can lead a person to go years without successfully returning to work, or sometimes giving up their craft altogether.

I’ve been in this situation several times in the past, and it isn’t pleasant. I was frustrated with myself because I just wasn’t feeling motivated to work. So I decided to change things up. Instead of working at home like I was used to, I went out and tried working at a local coffee shop. At first, nothing seemed to change. In fact, I found the new environment distracting. Then over time I started to work again, just a little at first, but enough. Then I returned home, and astonishingly I was able to work more efficiently than I had before. I’d killed my artistic block.

If you really want to get out of your creative rut, I would suggest changing something in your workflow in order to rejuvenate your productivity. Change your environment – go outside, work in park, a coffee shop, wherever. Change your tools – your paints and brushes, your software. Change the people you surround yourself with on a daily basis. Change your hours. Change everything about your workflow if you think it’ll help.

And make the decision to take time off too. Listen to music. Watch movies. Play video games. Read. Study the work of other professionals in your craft. Just because you’re not working at the time doesn’t mean you won’t take something positive away that will benefit your workflow later. Inspiration can be found in absolutely anything, so enjoy yourself while you’re not working.

It’s surprising how a little change can make all the difference to your workflow. If you’re stuck in a rut, try changing something in your day-to-day life and see your productivity flourish.

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