How do you recharge your batteries?

Starting my own business has been rewarding, exhilarating, and yes, frustrating and discouraging.  After a spate of “beginners’ luck”, the reality of starting a new business (as we recover from the recession) set in.  I’ve never been a patient person and  have quit many times before, so this is presenting some new challenges.  However, unlike earlier endeavors, this is one I wholeheartedly believe in, so I know that I owe it to myself not to give up.  I’m learning how to stay positive and focused on my goals when every cell in my body wants to lie down and cry.  Most of the time, this  is easier than it’s ever been, in part because I listen to my affirmations every night, I look at my “dream board” to remind me of my goals.   Also, I absolutely love what I’m doing.  Still, I’m human, and learning to stretch, challenge and make myself vulnerable like never before.  What do I do when I’m so discouraged  that nothing else seems to make me feel better?  I do the one thing that I know always helps:  go for a hike in the woods.

Whether I’m depressed, nervous, angry or confused, the brisk hiking releases tension.  The smell of the woods is my aromatherapy, and the sights, ever-changing with the seasons, distract me from unpleasant thoughts.  The blessed sound of silence is my meditation.

Though I know that to achieve my goals, I must stay focused on putting my thoughts into action, sometimes, when I hit a brick wall, this is the only way to back up and start going in the right direction again.  I know that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.  But remember the Energizer Bunny commercial?  Even though he kept going and going, what the commercial didn’t show was that eventually his batteries, like all batteries, had to be recharged or replaced.  Hiking is how I recharge my batteries when they’re on empty.

It’s different for everyone.  People have told me they don’t feel right when they’re not taking photos, drawing, journaling, exercising.  It doesn’t matter what your recharge activity is, just that you have one, and more importantly, that you use it when you need it.  What do you instinctively know will make you feel better, even if you are thinking that you don’t have time to do it?  Sometimes, when nothing seems to be going right, you don’t have time NOT to recharge your batteries.

Try it next time you feel yourself spiraling down  into negativity.  Promise yourself that you will stop and do that one activity that you know will refocus you.  Imagine what you can achieve when you are staying positive and focused on your goals!


Ten Mistakes People Make When Planning for the Future

Eighties music fans will remember the Talking Heads song, “Once in a Lifetime“:

You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
You may find yourself in another part of the world
You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife
You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

Probably most of us can relate to this sentiment, waking up one day and wondering how we ended up in a dead-end job, or a life that is somehow not what we want.  Well, how did you get here?  What leads us away from our true hopes and dreams?  It’s true that there should be no regrets in life because every situation, for better or worse, is a learning opportunity.  Still, many of us find ourselves repeating these “learning opportunites” ad nauseum, as is repeated in the refrain at the end of the  song, “Same as it  ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was….”  Why do we keep ending up someplace other than where we thought we were headed?  Here are some common mistakes people make when planning for the future:

1.  Trying to live up to the expectations of others.  We do what we think our parents want, what society expects, what our high school guidance counselor advised.  As most brides discover when planning their wedding, you can’t please everyone, so you might as well give up trying.  Just please yourself.

2.  Not taking time for self-discovery.  (See last week’s post, “Who are you? Exploring the wilderness of your intuition”)  It is amazing how many people, when asked what they want, are surprised to discover that they don’t know.  They’ve never stopped to think about it.

3.  Thinking in terms of “should”, as in, I should focus on earning a lot of money, I should stay home with the kids, I should pursue this career because it’s what’s “hot” right now….

4.  Underestimating yourself.  Way too many brilliant people I know have a horror story about what an “advisor”  or authority figure told them they weren’t smart enough to do.  We tend to internalize these negative messages, and when opportunity knocks, talk ourselves out of it because we think we aren’t smart enough, experienced enough, tough enough, etc.  Why not give yourself a chance?

5.  Not addressing your skills.  I recently attended  a workshop in which the presenter said that many people make decisions totally with their hearts or their  heads.  Your unique gift to the world is a combination of the two.

6.  Not addressing your passions.  See #5.

7.  Allowing life to decide for you.  Many people just float along, working at whatever presents itself.  As the saying goes, if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice – just not necessarily in your favor.

8.  Feeling like you can’t change the path you’re on.  Repeat after me:  it’s never too late.  It’s never too late.  It’s never too late.

9Not being willing to be a life-long learner.  Many times, taking a new direction will require learning new skills, going back to school, or doing things differently.  Don’t let this hold you back from your future.

10.  Quitting too soon.  “Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game, one foot from a winning touchdown.” – Ross Perot

I admit I’ve made most of these mistakes in my life.  Which of these mistakes is holding you back?

Who are you? Exploring the wilderness of your intuition

A friend shared this quote from Alan Alda today:  “You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”  Alda, most famous for his roles in Mash and The West Wing, is by all accounts a brilliant actor, having six Emmy‘s and a Golden Globe to his credit.  Though I’m not an actor, I can imagine that this insight into knowing one’s self is key to digging deep within, to identify with and portray a character.  You may be thinking, but what does he mean, and why should it matter if I’m not an actor?  Here’s what I think it means:  finding yourself, really getting to know yourself, not just the surface image you have created for others, is  a scary process that has no map, because it is different for everyone. 

What is the “city of your comfort”? I think it is how we’ve come to identify ourselves:  teacher, preacher, mom, DemocratRepublican, vegetarian,  quilter, trekkie…you get the idea. Finding a “city of my comfort” never seemed as easy for me as for most.  I’ve always struggled to identify with particular groups. I have an acute memory from junior high, milling around the hallway before school one morning.  As I moved from one cluster of friends to another, a girl in my class demanded, “Jenny Sherburne!  Whose group are you IN, anyway?”  Oh gosh, I thought?  I have to choose?  I DON’T  KNOW WHERE I BELONG! Now, as I struggle to discover and break free of old ideas about who I am that no longer serve me, I realize that this confusion was a blessing in disguise.  Maybe it’s made it easier for me as an adult to let go of labels and explore the “wilderness of my intuition”.

How to  do this?  Again, I believe it’s different for everyone, hence the word “intuition”.   No one else can tell you  – you have to follow your gut.  If you shed all of the labels you’ve given yourself, (or worse, allowed others to give you), what is left?  If you knew you were going to die soon, what would you want to do?  What would you want people to say about you after you were gone?  Morbid, I know, but the answers to these questions can be very revealing.  Letting go of labels (limits) and living each day with purpose and meaning can free you to really get to know yourself.  And, as Alan Alda wisely says, what you’ll discover will be wonderful.

Want to Succeed? Let Yourself Fail

We’ve all heard the catch phrases attributed to people we envy for being the most successful:  “failure is not an option”;  “Never settle for anything less than perfect”.  We tend to think of our heroes as magically ascending the ladder of success without any setbacks along the way, but is this really true?  According to what I’ve read this week, no.

An article in Time magazine, “Back to School:  Why Grit Is More Important than Good Grades”, argues that failure is, in the long run, a key to success.  The author states that in an “ultra-competitive academic environment, the idea of failure — even a small, temporary failure — can be very scary, to students and parents alike.”  I would argue that while this is definitely the case in schools, it is also true for adults trying to earn a living in our struggling economy.  However, the article goes on to say that, “experiencing failure and adversity, researchers have found, is a critical part of building character. Recent research by a team of psychologists led by Mark Seery of the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, found that adults who had experienced little or no adversity growing up were actually less happy and confident than those who had experienced a few significant setbacks in childhood. Overcoming those obstacles, the researchers hypothesized, “could teach effective coping skills, help engage social support networks, create a sense of mastery over past adversity, [and] foster beliefs in the ability to cope successfully in the future.”

This idea is supported by a book I’m reading, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck, a Psychology professor at Stanford.  Dweck studied people’s attitudes about their own intelligence and found those who though of intelligence as being “fixed”, (I’m as smart now as I’ll ever be and there’s nothing I can do about it) tended to give up easily when they failed.  However, those with what Dweck identified as a “growth mindset” viewed their failures as temporary setbacks, even learning opportunities.  She  says that if we look at our heroes, we will find that, contrary to popular myths about innate talent and luck, they succeeded by using their failures as opportunities to learn and grow, and they kept on trying until they succeeded.

So how do we cultivate a “growth mindset?”  Dweck says to think of times that others did better and ask if they really were more talented or just more tenacious.  Identify times when you have had a fixed mindset and brainstorm ways to change it.  She also says to stop telling our kids that they’re smart, citing research that shows that praising kids’ intelligence actually LOWERS their IQ scores!  Instead, she says we should praise effort, reinforcing the idea that trying again and learning from mistakes is more important than innate ability.
While being open to failure is scary (and in the case of earning a living, not always economically feasible), it seems to be a necessary component of success.  Most important is to remember that any failures are not indicators of a lack of ability, but merely an opportunity to learn and grow, paving the way for success in the future.