Thursday, November 26, 2009

Divorced During the Holidays

At first I was afraid I was petrified
Kept thinkin’ I could never live without you by my side
But then I spent so many nights
Thinkin’ how you did me wrong
And I grew strong and I learned how to get along…

Okay. This basically sucks at the beginning. You haven’t figured out what to do when the holidays are not as before. Generally speaking, we don’t like change and this is a whopping one.
You have the kids, you don’t have the kids, you have the kids but not the ex who you miss, you have the kids but not your ex-sister-in-law who you loved like a sister. The list goes on and on. You cook but now there’s no one to appreciate it. He cooked and now the food is like a Cracker Barrel Thanksgiving, no offense intended for those who love said meal.
What to do?

Do what you do to de-stress. Run, yogacize, read a trashy novel, do crossword puzzles, listen to music (the up kind).

Create new rituals. Go out instead of cooking. Cook instead of going to the in-laws (now ex of course). Go away instead of staying home. Stay home instead of going away. You get the idea.

Look good. No look great! It helps.

Accept the new. Just try. There’s no turning back now. It is what it is. The papers are signed, the moves have taken place. This is your life. Make it a great one.

Remember why you made the choices you made. You decided to do it this way for good reasons. What were those reasons? OR, stuck with a change you didn’t want? Embrace it. It was probably meant to be anyway, wasn’t it?

And you can always try Gloria Gaynor, I Will Survive.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Communicating with your Kid: Car Talk with Peter Pan

On my way to the office the other morning, the SUV beside me at the light caught my eye. They were probably dropping a kid at school and on the video screen was a Disney-like movie. I had to wonder, why do you need a movie during what is likely a short hop?

I don’t want to sound like one of those it wasn’t like this when we were kids and we survived emails, but seriously. Given how difficult it is to talk to kids of all ages, taking every opportunity to do so seems like a good idea to me. I don’t mean to sound smarmy and holier than thou. Perhaps these kind parents were starting out on a three hour ride with their four year old, but even so. When my kid was four and autovideo was not ubiquitous, we enjoyed that time for talking, observing, words games and the like.

One of the things I know I’ll miss when my now-teenager starts driving himself, is that captive time in the car. Although I don’t always have his undivided attention, I often have enough of it to allow for discussion of everything from girls to politics, an angry diatribe about teachers, a peek into the intrigues of his peers and loads of anecdotes about life in his world I’d never otherwise hear. Sometimes we talk about the music he’s listening to in the car. And, I’m not gonna lie, we entertain one another with stories about the people in the next car and those we pass on the street. It’s kind of like Mad Libs without the paper.

It really irks my son when he’s in the car with me and I’m on the phone. See, I think he likes that time as well, receiving my relatively undivided attention. Relatively. I do have to drive after all. Or watch him drive.

So I think this time is really useful. It may not be “quality time” in the typical sense, but it’s one-on-one time and it's good to grab every opportunity. After all, it’s not like Peter Pan; they do grow up, and fast.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

No One's Perfect

You don’t get to wear a NY Yankee jersey by being a talented little league player. Sure, ability is essential. But you have to combine that with the passion. You’ve got to want it more badly than anything else and work harder to get it than seems humanly possible.

That said, you don’t get to wear a LA Angels jersey just by having some talent either. It’s the same drill. And what an amazing wealth of talent between the two teams.

So what happened last night? The Yanks stomped the Angels 4 to 1. But not because they’re more talented. Okay, maybe the jury is still out on that one. More importantly for those striving to be the best in their game, whatever it may be, what happened had to do with human error, pure and simple. How often do you see a shortstop and third baseman looking at one another as the ball drops between them? We saw the pitcher throw wildly to first, missing the out and allowing the runner to advance to second. A third error in a ball glancing off a star center fielder’s glove contributed further to the loss.

What can we make of this? These are world class players on two incredibly good teams.

We all make mistakes. There it is. So give yourself a break next time you don’t quite live up to the standards you’ve set for yourself.

But Derek Jeter…I’m not gonna lie, he was perfect. Have a listen to Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys to get in the mood for a Yankee series.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Breathing, Relaxation and Meditation

This is just a quick how-to-find guide to breathing, relaxation and meditation. These topics have been coming up a lot lately in my work and with friends.

Breathing, you ask? Yes. Absolutely all relaxation, meditation and yoga techniques rely on correct breathing. Okay, there’s no right or wrong to yoga and meditation, but abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing certainly helps the relaxation response. The particular approach doesn’t matter. It’s whatever works best for you. Try:
  • abdominal breathing,  at

  • or yoga breathing, at

Then consider relaxation. It’s always good to practice a new relaxation exercise 2-3 times a day. Once learned you can use it when you need it, i.e., when you’re stressed out. Try these two sites:

I also like a couple of iTunes downloads:

  • Mini-relaxation break
  • 8 minute power meditation
An alternative to relaxation is meditation. It’s similar, but less structured and a little more woo woo. If you can be a little woo woo, try:

As always, the key is to find something that works for you. That is to say, something you feel good about, something you can find the time for and something you can stick with. Remember, no matter what is recommended, 5 minutes of breathing, relaxation or meditation is better than no minutes. You can’t find 5 minutes in your day…really.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Love Thy Neighbor. Try a Loving Kindness Meditation

Would you imagine that loving one’s neighbors can improve feelings of self-confidence and reduce depression and physical symptoms? The loving kindness meditation has been empirically studied and the results suggest just that.

How does this work, one might ask? It seems that simply sitting calmly, breathing abdominally and focusing inward has multiple benefits. The loving kindness meditation appears to augment these gains by also increasing positive emotion. Positive emotions, in turn, are linked to positive outcomes in life like success and good health. Generally, the meditation begins with extending the feeling of acceptance and good will to oneself. Gradually, the acceptance is extended outward to others one loves, likes, respects or simply knows, and even to those one dislikes. In this way, it’s also like a forgiveness (and self-forgiveness) practice. Oh, and it induces a loving attitude toward the self and others.

Try it yourself at BuddhaNet Audio or Beliefnet.
And Imagine (John Lennon).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mindful Eating: Three Questions

In our obesogenic environment, mindful eating is a way to curb the impulse to overindulge. The basic idea is to slow down all behaviors related to eating, from your attitudes toward eating and choosing foods, to portion size and the mechanics of eating itself. Tuning into your body and the sensory experiences related to eating in an accepting and nonjudgmental manner are among your goals.

The three questions I really like are from a recent study using acceptance-based therapy (ABT) interventions to facilitate weight loss. In addition to mindfulness, ABT helps you tolerate distress by learning to accept thoughts and feelings without trying to change them, using values to choose behavioral directions and being open to your present experience in the here and now.

The three questions to ask before eating:

1. What is triggering me to eat this food right now?
2. What are my other options for food to eat or behavior in which I can engage?
3. Is eating this food the option I want to choose?

Your conversation with yourself might go something like this.

What’s triggering me? Am I bored, upset or feeling entitled to a special treat?

What are other options? If I’m bored maybe I need to get out and do something…upset, call a friend…entitled to a treat…take time for myself, a hot bath, massage, walk, those would be healthy treats.

Is this what I want to choose? There may be other options that are healthier, more consistent with my eating plan and will make me feel better later. What are those?

Also check out Susan Albers’ website for great info. And get more tips for eating the mindful meal from Brigham & Women’s Hospital.

As Albers says, eat, drink and be mindful. And before you indulge, ask the 3 questions.
To get in the questioning mood, I recommend Questions 67 and 68…Chicago

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Truth or Fiction? Write Your Stories

In an interview, author of That Old Cape Magic,“ Richard Russo says: “The deepest failures any fiction writer is likely to have are failures of not quite comprehending the truth of the story that he or she is telling. And I think that's why Jack Griffin can't write this story ... there's something about himself that he hasn't quite recognized."

Russo goes on to talk about how missing the truth of one’s life happens in real life as well as in fiction. Memories of the past are not necessary shared precisely by the participants, much as eyewitness reports frequently differ. So where’s the truth?

What does this have to do with anything? It speaks to the need for all of us to address our own truths and try to gain perspective about ourselves, our choices, our behaviors.

There’s a great exercise in Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life (Steven Hayes). It calls for you to write the story of your suffering, including the main problems and all the reasons (historical, situational and personal) for the presence of these problems in your life. Suffering being a bit strong for some of us, you could just write the story of your present difficulties. Then you underline only the facts of your story…not interpretations or analyses. Finally, you take the facts and write a completely different story, with a different ending. As you can imagine, the meaning of the facts changes dramatically in the two stories. Hayes goes on to suggest that you can write yet another story using the same facts to further demonstrate how the stories we tell change the meaning of the facts.

In other words, our interpretations of the facts of our lives change our beliefs about the truths of our lives. It suggests that we can change those truths by re-writing or re-interpreting our story.

For example, it’s possible that you’ve been less accomplished, less intelligent and less capable than all your siblings. It’s equally possible that you’ve taken the road less traveled, made unpopular choices and picked experiences you desired over those preferred by others. The question becomes how can you be the person you wish to be instead of the incompetent you’ve believed yourself to be? (It’s just one possible example.)

My suggestion: Write and re-write your story. See how it comes out each time. Stick with the one that feels true and good at the same time.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Anticipatory Principle...Driving it Home

The anticipatory principle is the notion that what we anticipate about our future influences what actually happens to us. It comes from research about appreciative inquiry. Appreciative inquiry, let me be clear on this, is not to be confused with the law of attraction , which I am in no way, shape or form endorsing.

Jackie Kelm has a great example in her book The Joy of Appreciative Living. She asks the reader to imagine their upcoming weekend. Then she asks that you consider how much the following affect your answer:

What your friends, family and neighbors like to do and would like you to do
Where you live
What your religious beliefs and your upbringing suggest you should do
What the media says you should do
What others like you do

Kelm’s point is that we unthinkingly allow other people and things to influence our choices. In doing so, we begin to live their life, not our life. So this weekend, if you feel like hanging out with the cats, reading, piddling around the house and watching old movies, why not?

Kelm urges us to “get in the driver’s seat and become conscious of where the bus is heading.”

I might ask: What’s your 90 day plan? Your five year plan?

Who’s going to decide where you’re heading? Do you have to have kids because all your friends do it? Do you have to marry for the same reason? Perhaps your idea of joining the International Red Cross isn't popular with your family or friends. Who’s going to decide?

In other words, take control of your destiny and shape your future. Don’t let others convince you to drive your bus to their desired destination. Choose your own.

We can drive it home, with one headlightOne Headlight, The Wallflowers

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Scheduled, Overscheduled or Just Right?

Many of us are already overscheduled, so I know you don’t want to hear about more items for your calendar, but…

If you want to be ready to face all the competing demands of work, family, friends, the world, your public (okay, just wanted to make sure you were paying attention), you have to be disciplined in ways you may not be accustomed to considering.

Take food and exercise, for instance. How many hours do you go without eating? What happens after you’ve gone for 5 hours without food? Do you start getting tired? A touch irritable? Maybe you notice your thinking becoming a bit foggy. Do you snack? Little Debbies or Cliff Bars? How about exercise? How many times a week do you put in the magic 30 minutes?

In The Power of Full Engagement, Loehr & Schwartz argue that planning eating and exercise, along with sleep, breaks from work and lots of other useful routines, help us perform at higher levels. I’ve just written about some of these ideas relating to athletic performance in my newsletter about Maintaining Focus Under Pressure, but it’s not just for athletes.

No matter what your job, doctor, lawyer, Indian chief (oops, politically incorrect I’m sure), routines matter. I love the way Loehr & Schwartz talk about starting the day, when you’re fresh, with big projects, think pieces and the like, instead of checking your email. They also discuss taking time out for pleasurable activities and positive emotions, both of which are renewing.

And don’t forget to laugh…it might help you live longer, or at least stronger.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Values in Action, or, Can we Give Michael Phelps a Break?

Michael Phelps entertained us with his ability to perform the equivalent of leaping off tall buildings in a single bound. He brought home the bacon (okay, it was actually gold) giving us a renewed sense of our country’s greatness. He loved mom and, well, grits and pancakes, among other typically American foods. But with one fell swoop, or one small puff, he’s persona non grata, a pariah,a bad influence on our children.

I’d like to suggest, not to be Pollyanna-ish, that we cut him some slack, give him a break, chill out, while we consider the Signature strengths (or values in action) that can be brought to bear on this situation. We all have many of these strengths as part of our personalities. We use them in various situations. I think they’re valuable in analyzing the Michael Phelps fiasco.

Forgiveness, of course, jumps out. Don’t we owe a little forgiveness to the poor guy?

Humility. Is it not too pretentious to put Michael down for one little slip, or even a couple?

How about honesty? And speaking of hypocrites, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Open-mindedness also seems pertinent. I’m sure Michael had his reasons for what he did, or if not, he is just a young man after all. Think about all the pressures of being such a young superstar.

Wisdom is another closely related strength. Using a broad perspective to examine his behavior, can’t we see possibilities for understanding this?

Then there’s kindness and generosity. Wouldn’t it be good and show great understanding to give the guy a break?

Maybe even a little loyalty for someone who has represented our country in the best possible way?

How about a little fairness and gratitude?

There are 24 signature strengths identified by Peterson and Seligman in the Values in Action questionnaire. If we just applied a few to situations like this, in our everyday lives, I think we might get along better in our little worlds. The lesson to our children is that everyone makes mistakes. And sometimes you pay dearly. So think before you act, and if you mess up, hope others will treat you with the same kindness and understanding you can give to one of our national heroes.

Where is the love? Black-eyed peas.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Stress: The Inner Game

"The cause of most stress can be summed up by the word attachment. [The ego] gets so dependent upon things, situations, people and concepts within its experience that when change occurs or seems about to occur, it feels threatened. Freedom from stress does not necessarily involve giving up anything, but rather being able to let go of anything, when necessary, and know that one will still be all right. It comes from being more independent—not necessarily more solitary, but more reliant on one’s own inner resources for stability."

The words of a Zen master? Actually, W. Timothy Gallwey in The Inner Game of Tennis, a very interesting read even if you don’t play. Consider applying the notion of attachment to one’s performance in a game like tennis, or any game. In giving up the need to win, the implications of losing and so forth, we are freed up to perform without stress.

Can you apply it to your life? If you can give up the idea of things being as you expected them to be, wanted them to be, thought you needed them to be, does it free you up to relax without stress?

Disengaging doesn’t mean we’re not interested, motivated or working hard. It simply means that we’re not getting caught up in emotional entanglements and self-criticism that move us away from our true goals. Whether at work, at play or in relationships, there are many applications of these ideas.

I hate to be pedestrian, but having just seen (and enjoyed) Yes Man, I am reminded of Terence Stamp’s life coach from hell. He does make the good point that you have to start somewhere in your life and start saying yes to opportunities. I’d argue it’s a way of disengaging and letting go of some of your long held and dearly beloved beliefs about the way things should be.

So try saying yes to opportunity and no to stress.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Walking in Memphis, or Downtown?

The current issue of Psychology Today mentions research by Stephen Kaplan at the University of Michigan. He and his colleagues study urban forests. They conclude that a walk in the park improves cognitive abilities more than a walk downtown.
It’s not surprising. Getting around downtown requires a lot of attention and concentration. Witness the experience of the once inveterate New Yorker; now a country-bumpkin, she realizes during a visit that considerable attention must be paid to avoid stepping in front of oncoming cabs and figuring out what that smell really is. It’s work. On the other hand, in country-bumpkinland, noticing deer, rabbits, ducks and leaves is interesting, yet not cognitively demanding. It’s relaxing and renewing.

We know that being in nature improves stress management and decreases negative emotions like anger and anxiety. Apparently, it also improves cognition.
So even though all the noise and the hurry seems to help, I’d skip both Downtown and Walking in Memphis. Instead, consider listening to the tunes on your iPod while having a stroll in a more natural environment. Can't get to the country? Central Park will do just fine.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Treatment for Depression: Psychotherapy or Exorcism?

I’m a fan of psychotherapy, being a 25 year veteran in its practice. In addition to positive psychology approaches, the usual subject of this blog, I’m drawn to solution focused therapies. In my mind, these include those so named as well as cognitive behavioral and allied approaches that clearly ask clients to make behavioral changes and work toward solving the problems of life. Not just talk.

But I still have lots of questions about the practice and the process. I have questions about how it’s conducted, the role of medication, where mindfulness and values fit in, if we sometimes do more harm than good, what works for whom, what doesn’t work, and so forth.

I like my clients to think about the process too and take some responsibility for the work we do together. I think it’s healthy to question my work and for clients to question it, and their role in the work.

I believe that most people can live without disabling depression. There is a lot of evidence that the relationship with the therapist is itself a helpful and healing relationship. Repairing important relationships in one’s life and beginning new ones is equally important.

Additionally, I encourage people to do a variety of things, including:

· getting out and doing things in nature and in the world
· listening to music, experiencing art, going to church, or doing whatever pulls them up
· getting support from friends and family
· talking about good things going on in life, and good things desired (not just talking about problems)

I was delighted to hear a story about African approaches to healing depression by exorcism. On the surface it seems quite unlike what I find useful, but when you dig down deep, there are many shared beliefs. It’s definitely thought-provoking. Have a listen to Andrew Solomon’s experience.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Best Friends for Life

What’s the first thing you let go of when you’re busy and stressed out? Be honest. Many of us would say “me time,” which includes things like hobbies, exercise, taking time to eat right and sleep enough, and spending time with friends.

While all of these things and more contribute to good stress management, for women, girlfriend time is huge. Perhaps because of that interesting hormone oxytocin, not to mention estrogen, relationships with friends have been shown to lower blood pressure, heartrate and cholesterol. Friends helped one group of subjects manage the loss of a spouse, increased joy in another study and even reduced the risk of death in yet another study.

The benefit of social support is a highly robust finding in positive psychology. So it’s not just for women that friends are important. Unfortunately, as we juggle responsibilities, friends are quick to take a backseat in our lives.

So in an effort to increase friend time, consider:
· if you don’t have time for lunch or dinner, can you meet for a quick coffee
· combining a shopping trip with friend-time
· engaging in the dreaded multitasking by calling a friend while performing some mundane household task (like folding laundry, but not while driving please)
· working out with a friend (with the added benefit of boosting your compliance by buddying-up)
· using those frequent flyer miles to visit a friend

There are lots of other ideas you might come up with if you take a few minutes to think about it. And it's important, because best friends really are for life, for a long, happy and healthy life.

Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is call. Carole King

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Positive Affirmation: Accentuate the Positive

Imagine you’re about to go to an anxiety-provoking social event (a party, a fundraiser, an intimate dinner or whatever makes you nervous). Is there a difference between telling yourself, beforehand, don’t say something stupid, or telling yourself, be brilliant? You betcha.

In efforts to improve organizational and athletic functioning, and more recently other aspects of achievement on an individual and even global scale, researchers have examined the nature of positive thinking and affirmations. Especially when learning something new, positive self-monitors (those who notice what they’re doing right and try to repeat it) are more successful than negative self-monitors (those who try to avoid doing something wrong).

Can you view your own behavior through this kind of an appreciative lens, affirming the good? Consider potentially difficult situations like public speaking, competitive events, meeting new people, learning something new. Approach them with an eye toward what your strengths are, what you want to do and what you hope to do. Avoid focusing on your weaknesses, what you don’t want to do and what terrible thing might happen.

I know it’s corny, but we could probably all benefit from Mercer and Arlen’s advice, and start reviewin’ the attitude of doin’ right.

More corn: Hear Bing sing here.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Are you Flourishing?

What comes to mind when you think “mental illness?” For most of us it’s depression or anxiety. Maybe something a bit more exotic, schizophrenia or alcoholism, if you’ve encountered it.

How about “mentally healthy?” What comes to mind on that? Again, for most people it’s something like the absence of depression, anxiety, and so forth.

What about “flourishing?” What comes to mind for that? And do you even think of it as a description of human functioning?

Not to make anyone feel bad about their adjustment, but just because you don’t have a mental illness doesn’t mean you’re flourishing. Flourishing, as defined by Corey Keyes, is having a sense of well-being and satisfaction with one’s life which includes feeling mastery, autonomy and ongoing personal growth.

To be flourishing, one must:

· Be interested in life and often cheerful
· Be satisfied with one’s life
· Feel good about yourself
· Seek new challenges
· Believe your life has a purpose and makes a contribution
· Have rewarding relationships
· Believe you can control your environment, and do so
· Be interested in the social community and its potential for growth

Flourishing adults miss fewer days from work, function better psychologically and have fewer physical illnesses.

So how do we flourish? There’s the rub. We’ve studied mental illness for so long we’re just beginning to get serious about flourishing.

But here’s one tip. Think about what you do really well. That’s something you’re very good at and something you love doing. It could be part of your job, something in your role as a parent, or your ability to make people happy with your cooking (remember Chocolat?). Once you’ve got something, then ask yourself how you can do more of it? And do it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Single Daily Action (or, keep on turning)

I don’t usually write about things that have no apparent empirical basis, but I’m making an exception in the case of the Single Daily Action, or SDA. SDAs are designed to help you roll forward on a plan. Developed in the world of sales, I think they have wide applicability.

The SDA is an action that you perform daily to move you toward a larger goal. So the salesperson who has to make cold calls decides to make ten a day. That’s their SDA.

SDAs are consistent. They’re performed daily.

SDAs are simple. You don’t have to get fancy.

SDAs keep the big goal at the front of your mind. You will not forget.

SDAs are motivating. You don’t have to figure it out, you just do it.

Let’s say you want to spend more time with your kids. SDA: Play with them 15 minutes daily.

Maybe you want to start an exercise program. SDA: Walk 20 minutes a day.

You want to eat better. SDA: Eat one healthy meal a day.

You want to sleep better. SDA: Cut out caffeine after 3:00PM.

The SDA is a small step in the direction you’re headed. It’s a great way to start moving and keep on turning. SDAs make it easy. I’m thinking, “rolling on the river.”

For inspiration listen to Proud Mary, CCR.

Saturday, January 31, 2009


As part of my strengths project, I’m working on helping people get things done. So you wanna get something done? Set the goal, and make it SMART, as in:

Time-bound, trackable

Okay, I’ll admit I’ve talked about goals before in this very blog. This is a different twist.

Maybe you’re trying to start a mindfulness meditation practice (and please see Kabat-Zinn for wonderful ideas on the nature of such a practice). So you tell yourself on Saturday you’ll practice meditating daily. Of course, you meditate on Saturday, and maybe Sunday. By the following Saturday (I like weeks for tracking progress, but it’s entirely up to you) you barely even remember you set the goal of starting your practice, much less know how much you accomplished, what’s left to do, etc. With SMART goals, you can assess progress, and more.

For starters, be specific. I’m going to start a mindfulness meditation practice by meditating daily. Okay. Nice and clear. If I wanted to be a little more specific I could say I’m going to meditate every morning at 5:45AM for 15 minutes. Now that would be quite clear and specific. Generally speaking, experts prefer goals stated as positives (I’m going to…) versus negatives (I’m not going to…). It feels better.

Next, I’m going to measure my progress. Either I meditated daily or not, right? Quite right and often motivating in and of itself. It’s very nice to be able to say that you’ve done something two days in a row, three days, etc.

Attainable and realistic are similar. I like to think of attainable as reflecting the notion that I can actually do it. I can meditate daily. Attainable goals are usually performance goals (e.g., doing it daily), not outcome goals (e.g., in a week I’ll feel more relaxed as a result of meditating).

Realistic is an answer to the question: am I really going to do it? Really? Maybe I’d decide that I’m only going to meditate on the days I don’t run, just to be realistic.

Finally, time-bound. Can I track my progress in time. Of course, daily, specific, measurable goals are usually trackable. Tracking give the thing an urgency. I’m going to see how many days out of the next seven I can do this. It also makes it tangible. You can see your progress by tracking it in your planner, on or in some other concrete manner. In other words, I highly recommend writing it down. The progress makes you feel good.

So go for it and make it SMART. And Namaste.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Strengths Revisited

I’ve been doing some work on strengths. Even though I’ve written about strengths before here and in my newsletter, there’s always something that strikes me as useful in the revisiting.

Take the VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire if you haven’t. You can also identify your strengths by considering the things you’re good at; then ask what strengths enable you to perform well. For example, are you someone who mixes easily at cocktail parties? Is it because you love people, are curious about what they have to say or like to learn things from new people? Is it something else?

Once you’ve identified your strengths, or some of them, consider how you use them across situations. Perhaps you’re a spiritual person who sees beauty in all things and can point this out to others, can bring beauty into the lives of others and can impart peace by your mere presence.

Once you’ve considered how you use your strengths, consider how you might use them differently. It’s well known that people who use strengths in new ways feel happier, more fulfilled and more vital. Say you have zest as a strength. It’s more common among youth, so it’s pretty cool to have it as an adult. Can you bring your enthusiasm for life to someone and pump them up? Can you bring that zest to a situation that sometimes feels a little stale or tedious (perhaps to a board meeting or a road trip)?

Maybe you’ll be surprised at how you can use your strengths in ways you’ve not previously considered. Like many things, improvement comes with exercise and use. And, of course, age.
Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look there. Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Holiday Recovery

A number of people have mentioned to me that they have to recover from the holidays. It struck me as odd. The appropriate Wikipedia entry for this meaning of holiday is: A period of one or more days taken off work by an employee for leisure. Then if we look at leisure we find: Freedom provided by the cessation of activities.

What’s wrong with this picture? I’m thinking freedom provided by not working is not something we ought to have to recover from. So how does this happen?

I know that we may overdo things, trying to pack too many activities into the time. It’s not that you can have too much fun. But if we are constantly on the run, trying to fit everything in, we lose one of the great pleasures of holiday time: relaxing. We make the holiday into work by trying to to see everyone, get the cards out, get the perfect gifts delivered, be certain that everyone around us is having a good time, and so on.

What if we just tried to relax and have fun? It might look different than the usual holiday. Perhaps you would only send cards to the important people, give gifts that reflect what you feel instead of trying to figure out what others want (it takes a lot less time to express your feelings than to attempt to intuit others’ needs), see only those people you really want to see and do only those things you really want to do. I don’t mean in a selfish way. Of course you do things to please others at times. Emphasis on “at times.” In other words, not all the time.

And when you think about what you want to do, ask yourself if you really want to, or if there’s a hidden “should” in there. For example, I should go to the new exhibit at the museum because… This is quite different from, I’m going to the new exhibit because I’m really interested in seeing the Chinese terracotta soldiers.

So I’m picturing a holiday that’s actually a holiday for you, not for everyone else. Maybe next time?