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Controlling Your Destiny

When you think about influence, what comes to mind?

Many of you think of influential people as those who are in high-level positions—at work, in politics, at church, and in your community. Sometimes it seems you need lots of money to wield influence. (It certainly doesn’t hurt.)

Or do you think of influence as the ability to control circumstances? If you are influential, you wield greater control. BINGO! Influence does give you more control over circumstances.

Why am I so passionate about finding the most effective ways to impact circumstances? Primarily because there was a long period of my life during which I felt out of control; I felt like a victim. It felt awful. When you are a victim, you lack the ability to do something about what’s happening to you.

When did you have a similar time in your life?

At the heart of what we all want is control over our own destinies. If you ever wonder why some homeless people are adamant about staying on the streets versus accepting shelter when it’s offered, it is often because they are determined to control their own destinies.

Question Mark Controlling one’s own destiny is why I am so crazy about the power of questions. Without a doubt, the  easiest  and most impactful way to increase your influence has to do with asking the right questions—of  others and of  yourself.

When I was feeling victimized, I often wondered, “Why me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” Here’s the problem with questions like that. When you ask your mind a question, it will answer you! So you can imagine the kinds of negative answers I was given in response to those questions.

I wish I had known some alternative questions:

  • What can you do today to make things just a little better?
  • What are three things about your life that you like?
  • Where in the world did that missing sock go?

I have a similar wish about my work as a manager and as a parent. Instead of giving others instructions and suggestions, I wish I had asked questions that empowered them. I see now that my team and my children wanted control over their destinies and that too often I robbed them of that. Maybe they couldn’t control the things required of them (we all have rules and laws we have to follow) but certainly they deserved to have some influence over how they performed their assignments.

You needn’t be in charge of others to influence them. You have daily opportunities to influence. In fact, you already do—the question is are you influencing in a positive direction or a negative one?

What was the best part of your day- copy As you go about your work and your life, start noticing situations where a  good question could influence your or someone else’s day toward the  positive.

Here’s an example: instead of asking, “How was your day?” ask, “What was  the best part of your day?” This is a particularly good question to pose at the  dinner table with your family but it can be used in other situations as well.  However you utilize it, the conversation will turn in a wonderful direction.  I’d love to hear from you after you do this. What were the results?

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Passionate Self Care VII – DO Sweat the Small Stuff (it will save you in the end)

You may remember a very popular series of books and programs by the late Dr Richard Carlson called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. While well intended, it is an approach to life I don’t necessarily agree with. Let me tell you why.

As a species, human beings have proven to be extraordinarily well equipped to handle catastrophe. We somehow survive life-challenging illness, war, financial ruin, the deaths of loved ones…the list is endless.  BUT get a flat tire on the freeway and we fall apart.

One time I was sitting in a 12-step meeting and a woman was sharing about her financial troubles.  She said, “It got so bad I almost had to cancel my cable TV!”  She seemed perplexed when the rest of us laughed. To her, that would indeed have been a catastrophe.

One of the ways I am supporting my life partner through his cancer journey is to prepare nutritious meals.  For some of you, that would be no big deal.  That’s because you are cooks, something I am decidedly not.

So I was turning this relatively minor logistic into a big deal and it was causing me a lot of stress. What I finally did was sit down and figure out how to do it more easily. I now keep a list of things I need so that when I go grocery shopping, I don’t forget anything (thus avoiding exasperation and extra trips).  I plan our meals for the week.  When I get onions and garlic, I chop them all at once and keep the ingredients in the fridge to use when I need them again. Simple things but I am here to tell you, when I start to prepare a meal and everything I need is ready to throw into the pan, I grin from ear to ear (and feel smug, let’s not forget that particular small joy).

Seemingly these examples support Dr. Carlson’s philosophy of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. Shouldn’t my 12-step friend and I simply lighten up?  Would that we could. I think our inability to not sweat these small things point to something very different.  If we don’t practice Passionate Self-Care by making sure the smaller details of life are taken care of then we very quickly turn life into a catastrophe.

What I have come to understand is that when you have things in your life you have no control over (cancer, not having enough money, etc.) it is perfectly natural to let small things upset you.  You can either learn to turn a blind eye or you can set things up so the small things are under control.

One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is to make sure the logistics of your life run as smoothly as possible. Over the years, as I have gotten increasingly better at this, I’ve noticed that my emotional wellbeing has increased. Here are a few examples designed to get you thinking:

  • At night, lay out your clothing for the next day. That way, if what you choose has a rip or needs to be ironed you discover it when you have time to do something about it instead of in the morning when it will only cause you stress.
  • Organize everything you need to take with you when you leave and put it by the front door, especially your keys.
  • Use electronic reminders to help you remember.  My new iPhone has an incredible Reminder app that ensures that things don’t fall through the cracks. If you have a computer or a smart phone, you have access to similar technology.

Assignment:  Look into your own life and figure out the things that are causing you the most stress.  Use your creative mind to figure out how to head these stressors off at the pass.  Write me and let me know some ways you have done this or will in the future.

In the long run, the most important word in the term Passionate Self-Care is self.  Both the good news and the bad is that it’s all up to you.

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Dancing With Passionate Self Care III – Rituals

Rituals are keys to Passionate Self Care. Let me give you an example, I feel wonderful when I take the time to perform the ritual of developing my action plan. I call it a ritual because it has a set pattern of components: (1) reviewing my in box, my list of action items and my emails; (2) deciding which I need or want to tackle today; (3) writing my plan; and (4) deciding which to do first.

After years of trying to find the right “formula” for this ritual, I stumbled on a relatively inexpensive online test for the Kolbe  “A” Index (www.Kolbe.com).  The Kolbe analyzes your natural work style. After reviewing my results, I came to understand that if I develop my plan at the beginning of the work day, I get bogged down in details and it kills my enthusiasm.  Instead, I develop my plan the night before so I can dive into action the moment I start work. It’s amazing what a difference one adjustment to a ritual can make.

How many grouchy or distracted people have you heard say, “I’ll be okay after my first cup of coffee”? Admittedly, the caffeine helps but the ritual of coffee is every bit as much of an energy boost. It’s usually the skipping of the ritual that has thrown them off, not the lack of caffeine.

There are rituals we depend on and rituals we’d like to develop. To exercise Passionate Self Care in your life look for rituals you want to start incorporating until they become routine. Some of the best places to look for opportunities for ritual development are in the areas around which you feel guilty. A few of mine are:

  •  Exercise
  • Dental Care
  • Keeping up with finances (bill paying, etc.)
  • Car Care
  • Filing

Can you see the opportunities for rituals?

There are also rituals we love. We don’t feel guilty if we don’t do them but we feel SO MUCH BETTER when we do:

  • Planning ahead for the weekend
  • Meditating
  • Weekly manicures (one of my favorites)
  • Leaving work at quitting time
  • Taking time for a hobby we love

Rituals give life a certain continuity, which most of us crave. They make us feel more grounded. That’s why you see professional athletes who perform the same ritual every time they begin the game. Maybe it’s superstition, or maybe they know it works.

In a world where change is constant, rituals are a way for us to feel as if we are in control.

Rituals are very comforting and the more comfortable we are, the more we attract things that are a match to that feeling. I’ve noticed, for example, that when I take the time to perform the ritual of putting together my action plan, my work goes very smoothly. It can be no other way because I’m feeling good and in control. Events and circumstances that match those feelings are the only ones I will attract. That is how the Law of Attraction works: you get more of what you focus on.

So what rituals would you like to put into place in your life? What will make you more comfortable each day and give you more of a feeling of being in control? Start today, as soon as you finish reading this.

One of the biggest steps toward Passionate Self Care:  Develop rituals that make you feel good, and practice them every day.

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Dancing With Passionate Self-Care

This month begins a series of blogs focused on Passionate Self-Care. This phrase often brings a smile of embarrassment to faces because most of us consider ourselves failures in this arena.

Sure, we devote time to self-care but it is generally based on negative rewards instead of the positive actions that make up passionate self-care. In other words, instead of taking an exhilarating walk after dinner, we settle down to watch Wheel of Fortune, usually with some sort of high calorie drink or snack in hand.

What brings this to mind are the myriad news reports on the high cost of health care and the ensuing crisis for aging Baby Boomers. As I listen to this conversation with interest, I’ve realized that what I haven’t been hearing is much of anything about patient responsibility.  Where does self-care fit into all this?

If you bought a house and did nothing to keep it up over a 5-year period, would you expect your insurance company to pay for repairs? They would deny such a claim saying it was neglect, not damage from an outside force such as fire or wind. Yet, we bring our sad, neglected bodies to our doctors or our sad, neglected psyches to psychologists and psychiatrists and expect them to give us a magic pill.

We want pills or surgery to fix what we systematically destroy through complacency.

Passionate self-care starts with the premise that you are at least as worthy of daily care as your house, your car, your children, your boss, or your clients.

Just as you would look at a messy house and say, “It’s time to clean this up,” it’s equally important to pay attention to an ache in your body and say, “It’s time to start taking care of this.” This requires a change in behavior and change requires conscious effort.

I’ve earned the right to talk about this because I spent the first part of my life going to doctors and therapists trying to get them to “fix” me. They helped, that is a fact, but I took no responsibility for having gotten that way in the first place. I sat in the dentist’s chair for example acting bewildered when told I had a cavity. The fact that I only brushed my teeth once a day and poorly at that seemed beside the point. Isn’t fluoride in the water supposed to prevent cavities? I chose to be a victim.

One of the more important things I’ve learned in my conscious effort to move from victim to victor is that, no matter what happens to me, I had a part in it and it’s important to take responsibility for whatever it was.  Now, if I were in an earthquake, do I have a part in that? The surprising answer is “Yes” – I’m responsible for how I respond. I can be a victim or a victor and that’s the choice we each have in every situation.

Where are you currently behaving as a victim and how can you transform into a victor?  Taking ownership for your life is very freeing and it’s an important component of self-care.

I don’t know about you but I’d really rather NOT be one of those old folks who goes to the doctor with muscles atrophied from lack of use saying, “I can’t understand why I’m so TIRED all the time. Can you give me something?”

We all have a small, active child inside of us who JUST WANTS US TO MOVE!!!! As you get more physically active, you will almost hear the child inside of you yelling, “Whoopee! We’re finally moving!!!” I’ve come to realize that most of my aches and pains, physical and mental, were sent by that impatient child, trying to get my attention!

Take five minutes, right now, and make a list of all the “upkeep” sorts of things you’ve done over the past month for: your car, your home, your clothing, your pets, your children, or other people. Now think what life would be like if you put yourself at the top of the list.

“That’s so selfish!” you might cry. And I say, “Yes, it is, and that is a good thing.” I don’t know when the concept of putting ourselves first got to be so negative. I suspect it was from people who wanted us to put them first so they taught us that self-care is bad.

When we practice passionate self-care, we accomplish several things:

  1. We take back control of our own well-being
  2. We set an example for others
  3. We begin to enjoy our own lives instead of living vicariously through TV or other entertainment

The most important thing that happens when we practice passionate self-care is that we are happier and proud of ourselves. And the Law of Attraction says, “You attract what you are.” The happier you are and the more empowered you feel, the more situations that match those feelings come to you. And that is the ultimate in Passionate Self-Care.

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Dancing With Negative Relatives

On Thursday many of us will gather around a food-laden table with family and friends, presumably to celebrate those things in our life for which we are thankful.

If you are envisioning this with dread because one or more relatives or friends ruin it for you every year, then read on. There are some things you can do about it.

I am no stranger to annoying relatives. I have some and I have been one and probably still am. My siblings could regale you with tales of Thanksgivings past when I tried to control everything including seating arrangements lighting, timing and injecting a “no TV during dinner rule.” Can you say “controlling?”  It wasn’t even my house!

My family of origin-if this photo could talk!

Of course the flip side of that was how annoying they were when they resisted my brilliant suggestions.  Some of them teased, others got mean and the worst were those who merely dismissed me.  They ruined the holiday for me!

Ah, excuse me.  Who ruined it?  Mirror, mirror on the wall…

What follows are a few things I’ve learned from both sides of this equation:

You get what you expect. If you are already anticipating the day with a sinking heart and an ache in the pit of your stomach, you’re in trouble.  Sit down today and rewrite the script.  I mean that literally.  Sit down with pen and paper and write a story in third person with you as the hero/heroine. In your story everything turns out for the best. Example, “Even though she saw her brother roll his eyes when she asked if they could each say something they were thankful for, it didn’t bother her.  She knew she couldn’t control what he thought.

Instead of anticipating problems, why not anticipate a day where the usual triggers don’t bother you at all?  You’ll be amazed at how well this works.

Memorize the serenity prayer. Even if you’re not spiritual or religious, this works as an affirmation:  Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (like people), the courage to change the things I can (like not letting others get to you), and the wisdom to know the difference.

Pick your battles. If Uncle Joe is drunk and he always gets insulting when he’s drunk, is that the time to give him a lesson in etiquette?  Probably not.  Instead of being hurt or angry, why not see him as someone who is (a) very troubled and (b) incapable of hurting you without your permission.

Don’t sucker punch.  Families are often too blunt with each other. If you need to tell a family member something that might sting, use this method:  “There’s something I need to say to you and it might upset you. That’s not my intention.” This method is so effective! Instead of hitting your sister with something she wasn’t expecting, you give her a warning. This allows her a bit of time to steel herself. I can promise you that whatever she conjures up in her head will be infinitely worse than what you finally say.

Cynical/negative people really care. My father was pretty grouchy. He didn’t think the glass was half full or half empty—he wanted to know what was in it and who put it there?  (Did I mention he was also suspicious?) After decades of observation (mine—he wasn’t committed) I realized that Dad was passionately negative because he really cared about the issues he complained about. He also felt powerless. Roz and Ben Zander wrote about this in The Art of Possibility, “A cynic is a passionate person who does not want to be disappointed again.”

SO, if you have a relative that gets all worked up this year, instead of trying to calm him down or just ignoring him (which as you know will only inspire him to repeat his points only more loudly), try saying, “You really care about this issue, don’t you?”  It may not stop him forever but he’ll be so shocked that you get it that it may stop him for a breath or two. If nothing else, you’ll score points.

Respond, versus react. What is ultimately true is that the only person you are able to control, Thanksgiving or not, is you.  So you can choose to react (which puts the person who pushed your button in charge of your emotions) or you can respond (which puts you firmly in charge).

I once heard a psychologist explain it best.  When you react, the small child inside you is controlling you. When you respond, your adult is at the helm.  Even if you’re the only “adult” present on Thursday isn’t that preferable?  Think how peacefully you’ll be able to sleep that night! (Added bonus:  no apologies to make!)

John McEnroe's Inner Child Reacting

Please know that one of the things I am very grateful for this Thanksgiving is the privilege it is to be able to “talk” with you via this blog.  I love it when you talk back so please feel free to write with kudos, criticisms or topic suggestions.

Have a happy!

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