Tag Archive | CYACYL

Are You Vanilla Ice Cream?

In the past few months, two major publishing houses have shown an interest in publishing the book I am planning to write. Most writers spend their entire life working for the kind of opportunities that have been presented to me, so I do not take these blessings lightly.

Words usually flow out of me like a river, but every time I attempt to write this book, I am dry. Nothing of significance gets put on paper.

I wrote a few chapters and submitted them to one publisher, only to realize afterward that they were terrible (not her words, she was too kind, but mine). I wrote about my journey, my life, like I was an objective observer, a newspaper reporter stating the facts of an event; not as someone who was thrust into darkness and climbed out of it to share the story.

I admit, the thought of actually writing a book terrifies me. The negative voices swirl round and round in my head: What if the readers don’t like it? Who am I to write a book? Who would care about what I have to say? What if people laugh at me?

But, I understand the importance of releasing such thoughts, and I have never let fear keep me from trying something new. It is my philosophy to push aside what others think, throw caution to the wind, and “go for it.” So, what is different this time? What is stopping me?

I have racked my brain for months trying to put my finger on the problem, and then, after a conversation with Dr. Barbara DeAngelis, it dawned on me that it isn’t the fear of failure that is blocking me, but rather my unwillingness to reveal a deep part of myself; my unwillingness to be vulnerable; my unwillingness to step out from the pack.

For most of my life, my identity has been based on my strength, my ability to be in control. I take care of others. I handle situations with nerves of steel. I am the energizer bunny – I keep going and going and going. If I reveal my vulnerability, as this book challenges me to do, I will show a part of myself with which I am uncomfortable. I will be flawed…exposed…human. Am I ready for that?

I am most comfortable somewhere in the middle of life – not blending into the woodwork and not swinging from a star. As Renee Gambino, an income breakthrough strategist, would say, I’m vanilla ice cream.

Writing this book presents me with the chance to make a difference in someone’s life, but in order to do so I must be willing to be authentic, open, and rise above the mediocrity. A true challenge… but a worthy endeavor.

So, after much self-examination, I’m listening to Barbara and writing again. This time with a very different approach – I’m writing from a place of truth, vulnerability and humility. Who knows where this challenge will lead me but it will definitely be an interesting ride.

The moral of this story: If you want to achieve something worthwhile in life, if you want to fulfill a dream or reach for the stars, you must be willing to dig deep to a place that makes you uncomfortable. You must be willing to expose a part of yourself, for better or worse, and you must be willing to stand out from the crowd. We have one life and it is brief. Isn’t it better to be pistachio almond (with hot fudge and sprinkles on top)?!

Eliminate the Number One Relationship Killer

Communication is an important part, if not the most important part, of any relationship. The way you communicate has a major impact on your ability to get along with the various people in your life – spouses, children, coworkers, friends, and neighbors. When communication breaks down, relationships suffer. According to recent research, poor communication is the number one reason why couples (and friendships) break up.

Any relationship worth having experiences conflict at some point. The conflict isn’t the problem (conflict is a natural part of intimacy), how the situation is handled is the determining factor in whether the relationship will deepen or be torn apart.

Interpersonal communication styles are developed from life experiences. Your responses are often so automatic that it’s easy to fall into the trap of using ineffective communication. Being an effective communicator requires some work; it requires being mindful about your style and being honest about your role in the conversation. As George Bernard Shaw stated, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

While there is a long list of behaviors that lead to ineffective communication, below are a few that may be the biggest culprits. Do you see yourself in any of these scenarios?

Making Assumptions
A big mistake that can shut down communication is when one person makes an assumption about what another person has said or done. You’ve heard the old saying, when you assume, you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me”. While corny, the saying holds true. Assuming is a prescription for trouble.

Recently, I heard a story about one friend who blocked another friend on Facebook because she assumed the person made a post about her. Without discussing it, making her feelings known, and hearing what the other person had to say, she accused, tried and convicted the person, all the time the accused had no idea why she was being sentenced. This person offers more courtesy to someone in the judicial system (innocent until proven guilty) than she did to someone she “cared” about. This is an example of what happens when we assume to know a situation or create our own version of it instead of finding out the truth.

As Miguel Ruiz wrote in The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, “If others tell us something we make assumptions, and if they don’t tell us something we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and we don’t understand we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.”

More times than not, nothing people say or do is about you. When you remove the assumption that something is about you, you stop taking it personally and open the door for honest communication.

Projecting
Projection involves projecting undesirable feelings or emotions onto someone else, rather than admitting to or dealing with the unwanted feelings. When you project your feelings onto another person, you give your voice to the other person and create a scenario that may not actually exist.

For example, if you have done something to a friend for which you feel guilty, your friend may not agree with your feelings or be upset with you, but you project your guilt onto that person and then believe he or she is angry at you. Anything that person says or does leads you to believe he or she is acting from a place of anger and you respond to the imaginary situation. This is a distorted vision of reality that will undoubtedly create a communication issue.

Mental Telepathy
How often do you believe someone should know what you are thinking or what you want or need without telling him or her? This is a common complaint when discussing communication issues – the expectation that he should have known. How could someone know what you want if you don’t tell her? Stop expecting and start stating!

Keeping Feelings to Yourself
Do you believe that it is better to keep your mouth shut and avoid conflict? Keeping things bottled up inside is not the way to develop or sustain a loving relationship. If you have something to say, say it. Effective communicating means just that … to communicate. I pride myself on my ability to let people know how I feel. Friends and loved ones may not necessarily like to hear my expressions, but like it or not, no one can ever say that I didn’t communicate my feelings. Open communication also shows that you love and respect someone enough to trust them with your deepest thoughts.

Just as important, if you have something good to say about your partner, say it often. Praise and appreciation are usually unspoken and they go a long way in cultivating a relationship.

Good Listening
In addition to discussing your feelings, you must have the ability to enable others to talk about theirs. Stop worrying about what you are going to say next and listen to what is being said to you. Listening, empathizing and sympathizing are skills that can strengthen a relationship. Really hearing what someone says and then being able to put yourself in his or her shoes may create an understanding that can diffuse any situation.

Own Up to Your Part
Two of the most powerful words are “I’m sorry” and yet so many people have trouble saying them. Admitting the error of your ways does not make you weak, to the contrary, it shows your strength. People twist stories, shout louder, and reject others simply because they can’t admit they are wrong. Don’t be one of those people.

The importance of effective communication becomes obvious when you see all the ways ineffective communication can harm a relationship. Taking the time to recognize your style and improve your interpersonal skills is definitely worth the effort. As Anthony Robbins said, “The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives.”

The Heart of a Friendship

To have a friend and be a friend is what makes life worthwhile. ~Unknown

February is the month of the heart, the time when we celebrate love. We buy chocolate, flowers, jewelry, and greeting cards to profess our undying love to that special someone. But, in all the hoopla of the season, perhaps we forget to honor the affection provided by the people that sustain us and enable us to thrive – our friends.

We hear so much about marriages, committed relationships, and romantic breakups, but I believe we neglect to truly understand the dynamics of what may be the most important relationships in our life – friendships.

Boyfriends come and go, spouses are replaced, children grow up and leave the nest, but our friends will be by our side through it all. If we are blessed, some of them will be with us from childhood until death; and these people know us better than anyone else.

We all have friends. Fate brings friend to friend, then leaves the rest to human nature. We have best friends that stick with us forever, and we have friends that come into our life for a brief period and then go on their way. Whichever role they play, you can be sure they serve a purpose.

According to experts, friendships have a major impact on our health and well-being. Friends help us celebrate good times and provide support during the bad times. As philosopher Aristotle said, “In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge.”

Friends prevent loneliness and increase our sense of belonging and purpose. They boost our happiness and improve our self-confidence. They help us deal with our mistakes.

So … if friendships are so great, why do they cause so much pain?

The word friend is defined as “a relationship of mutual affection between two or more people; a person whom one knows, likes, and trusts.”

We all have a preconceived notion of what a friend should be; we place expectations on relationships based on our needs. But sometimes we use the word “friend” to describe anyone with whom we have contact. We project the intimate bond we desire onto a person where no deep bond exists.

To avoid the pain of an unrequited friendship, it is important to recognize that there are different kinds of relationships and varying degrees of affection attached. When it comes to friendships it’s not one size fits all. Some people are great for Friday night outings. Others are partners for work events. Some people are not willing and/or able to commit to a relationship on a deeper level. And then there are the people who offer unconditional love and trust – they are always there, no matter what. They are the ones by which we set the standards for everyone else. But, they are a rare gift, not the norm.

Each of these relationships has a unique purpose for our life and as such should be valued. Just as a financial expert advises to diversify investments, the same is true in friendships. Invite people into your life that bring different personalities and skills to the table – they will broaden your horizon and enrich your existence. But, to avoid heart break, see each relationship for what it is. Just as you wouldn’t rush into a romantic encounter without some courting, don’t place too many expectations on a friendship without getting to know the person. When you take it slow, you will be able to objectively evaluate the relationship and the role a person will play in your life so you won’t be disappointed.

Even if a friendship doesn’t develop the way you want, acknowledge that you simply have different needs. Treasure the relationship for what it is and release your expectations; value the gifts it offers.

Through the pain and through the triumphs, friendships are the treasure of a life well lived. As Emily Dickinson said, “My friends are my estate,” and I couldn’t agree more.

 

For Big Change, Think Small

It’s the end of another year (how is that possible?). The time when we reflect on the past 365 days, take stock of where we are, and decide the path of our life moving forward. We make a list of things we want to change and create resolutions to get the job done. We start the year off with a bang moving full force in the new direction, and then boom… a different bang, we hit a wall. Everything we strive to accomplish with such passion slides to the side and we fall back into the routine of the behavior we know so well.

There’s a familiarity about the promises we make to ourselves each year. You can easily ask yourself: Didn’t I make those self-same promises last year? And maybe even the year before?

So why, if we are so determined to make change, do we fall short of our goals?

According to experts, one of the main reasons New Year’s resolutions are so hard to maintain is because the thing we want to change is a habit – behavior that comes from the subconscious part of our brain that is done automatically, without conscious thought.

Typical resolutions like eating healthy, quitting smoking or drinking, increasing physical activity, or spending more time with loved ones, are designed to change routines that have been around for many years. While it’s easy to assume that we should be able to willfully make long-term changes to established patterns, desire alone is usually not enough.

According to Charles Duhigg, in his book, The Power of Habit, there is a three step loop that occurs: A cue or trigger, which tells your brain to go into automatic mode. The routine, which can be physical, mental or emotional. And the reward, which helps your brain determine if this loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop becomes more and more automatic.

While wanting to change is the first step, experts say that the key to enacting lasting change is understanding the process and identifying your triggers. For example, if you want to quit smoking, you can quit cold turkey, but understanding what triggered your smoking will give you a greater chance of success. When you recognize what situations trigger your current habit – having a morning cup of coffee, stress, drinking alcohol, going out with friends, driving, etc. – you can create a positive habit that you are going to do instead.

So, when you wake in the morning and have coffee, instead of smoking, what will you do? If you’re stressed or out with friends, what will you do? Replace the old habit with a positive one. Be mindful and consistent. Create the new routine that results from the trigger and your brain learns the new reward.

Don’t try to change your life all at once. Some people decide that they are going to lose weight, exercise every day, quit smoking, get a new job, and spend more time with family. A complete overhaul will lead to overload and you will give up. Work on one habit at a time and take baby steps. Lean in gently. If you usually leave work at 7 pm and want to spend more time with family, go home at 6:30 pm for a few weeks or even months. Then gradually make it earlier. Once that becomes a new habit, work on something else.

Lasting change won’t happen overnight. But with mindfulness, determination, consistency, and patience, you can achieve any goal you desire. Remember for big change, think small. As Mark Twain said, “Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”

Nothing is Impossible

During Thanksgiving dinner I was relaying a story about how I was planning to become a member of a local government board. Without skipping a beat, my 21-year-old niece looked at me and said, “Yes, Aunt Joanie, you can be on the board.” I replied, “I know, I am going to be.” She then said, “Of course you can if you believe it.” To which I stated, “No, really, I am going to be on the board.” She came back with a resounding, “Yes, I believe you can!”

At this point I was laughing hysterically because I realized that she was reinforcing what she believed to be wishful thinking on my part. She was cheering me on guided by the advice that I (and her mother) always offer her: that anything is possible with a positive attitude and belief in oneself.

Even though I was actually appointed to the position and wasn’t referring to making a wish come true, I was so proud of her (and shocked that she actually listened) for getting the message.

And what a powerful message it is: anything is possible when you believe in yourself!

Think about that for a moment … anything is possible!

When was the last time that you truly believed anything was possible, that you could achieve a goal or make a dream come true?

It isn’t always easy have the confidence to believe that you can make anything happen. The routine of daily life beats you down and often you’re left jaded and depressed. Fear has a way of sneaking in and governing the way you live. Naysayers remind you of your shortcomings until their beliefs become yours too.

Climbing out of the rut we call life can be a challenge. But, guess what? You have the power to change every aspect of your existence. But, in order to do so, you have to do two things: you must decide what you want and you must believe you can do it. Everything else will follow; you will find a way.

As another year comes to an end and a new one begins, with endless possibilities, it’s the perfect time to examine where you are in your life and where you want to go. Once you know the direction, create an action plan, educate yourself, and get moving!

Remember … nothing is impossible when you believe Im Possible!

Do You Know When You’re Happy?

“If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, if you’re happy and you know it and you really want to show it if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands”

Thinking about this song brings back joyous memories of dancing around my family room singing it with my children and perhaps, even having it sung to me as a child. The lyrics are simple and yet so profound – if you’re happy and you know it, show it (feel it, live it, experience it).

This past weekend I tried something that I had never done before. One of my friends invited me to a Tarot card party where an expert would offer private readings. Intrigued, I agreed to attend. During my reading, the woman said something that really struck a nerve with me; she told me that I don’t know when I’m happy.

Interestingly, this thought has been on my mind in recent weeks, ever since I interviewed Dr. Rick Hanson, the author of Hardwiring Happiness. As a result of our discussion, I have been contemplating whether or not I truly feel happiness. Dr. Hanson spoke with me about how we let life pass us by, never realizing the joy of our experiences, thus allowing peace and happiness to elude us. He explained that when we feel pleasure, really let it sink in and focus on it, we are not only happier people in the moment, but we change our brain chemistry resetting it back to its natural resting state – its responsive mode – which refuels and repairs the body, makes us feel peaceful, happy, and loved, and helps us to act with confidence and compassion.

I don’t know when I’m happy. Boy was she right. Even though I know better, I still expend energy reminiscing about family members that have passed on, a marriage that fell apart, betrayals, missed opportunities, time I believe to have been wasted. I rush through my days barely picking my head up to notice all the blessings that have been bestowed upon me, not allowing myself to be content. Then I wonder why I have moments when I feel sad, unfulfilled, lonely, anxious, and depressed. It’s an inside job!

How about you? Do you let yourself feel joy and gratitude or do the good times pass you by? Do you see the blessings in your life or do you ruminate constantly about what’s missing, what you wish you had?

Dr. Rick Hanson’s advice? Spend a few extra seconds concentrating on something happy and joyful. Let the experience linger. Really notice it. Appreciate it. Be grateful for it. If you see a beautiful flower, look at it a few extra seconds. Don’t just glimpse at it and move on to the next thing. Savor pleasant experiences and make this become a daily practice. According to Dr. Hanson, this is all it takes to make a dramatic change in your brain and in your life.

So, next time, when you’re happy, KNOW it, FEEL it, SHOW it and remember to clap your hands, stomp your feet, shout hooray!

Out with the Old and In with the New

Recently, I was in a round table discussion in which we talked about interpersonal relationships. A repeating theme of the conversation was that people felt like they were replaceable, that there was no value given to them and/or a relationship by a friend, partner, family member, or employer.

Hearing so many people express the same feeling made me start to wonder if we have become a society of disposables. It reminded me of an expression my mother used to say: “Out with the old and in with the new.”

It seems like just about every aspect of our life today is disposable. We throw away televisions, computers, clothing, phones, food, furniture, and so much more.

By contrast, when I was growing up, we fixed everything. There was a neighborhood television repairman. We ate leftovers for dinner. We took our shoes to the local shoemaker for new heels. Baby diapers were cloth and appliances were kept until they could no longer be repaired. We drove the same car until it died on the road. And most marriages lasted “until death do us part.”

While it is true that we have more conveniences and opportunities than our parents and grandparents, I believe our ancestors had something that many of us lack – the ability to attach to and appreciate what they had.

Today, we want immediate gratification. If it’s broken, an old model, or not working the way we want, we simply throw it out and replace it with something new, something upgraded. Is it possible that we are carrying our new disposable/replaceable mentality into our relationships?

How many people do you know that “cut off” contact with someone with whom they had a disagreement? They end the relationship and find someone new to fill the void.

How many marriages suffer from infidelity because of boredom or not having particular needs met? One spouse moves on to someone new, often breaking ties with their old partner and even their children, and creates a new family.

How many employers replace or demote an employee for a minor infraction without giving the person a second chance? They hire a replacement.

If any of these scenarios sound familiar to you (I know they do to me), perhaps it’s time to examine how we interact with others. Are we looking for a quick fix? Would we be willing to cut someone out of our life because we are angry? Are we considering replacing a spouse (or have already done so) before exploring every avenue to repair the relationship? Would we fire an employee without giving it a second thought?

If you believe that you may have adopted a disposable mentality, now’s the time to make a change. Start nurturing your relationships – put in the time and do the necessary work. Appreciate and value what you have (material items and relationships) and stop keeping one eye open looking for something better. Empathize with others before taking action. Repair something before tossing it in the trash.

If you feel like someone who has been replaced, remember that we can’t change or control other people and how they behave, but we can change our behavior. We can change the way we respond and the way we treat others. And, little by little, perhaps our treatment of others may just start a movement in a more positive direction.

As Michael Jackson so eloquently stated in the song, Man in the Mirror, “If you want to make the world a better place take a look at yourself and then make a change.” Who knows, one day we may all learn to treasure the “old” and forget the new.