I can't express how important I find this article to be! Please don't let fear rob you of your health and quality of life. If you attended Boise's Live Your Legend event in February, you were able to study this article with our other local legends. If you've not read the whole thing yet, do it now! 3 Tools for Transforming Fear: A Doctor's Prescription for Courage If you'd like some extra support taming your demons and harnessing your strengths to create your ideal life, fill out this form to be updated with details on my upcoming FREE webinar: Taming Your Inner Monster.
Think back to a time you decided you were going to start exercising, or journaling, or eating better. Maybe back as recently as this Year’s New Year’s Resolutions. How’d that go for you? Were you able to make that lifestyle change? If our brains have the capacity to adapt to new behavior as I’ve asserted they do, then why, even when we’re committed to making those positive changes, is it so hard to actually change our long term behavior?
Well, if you were relying on your will power to create this new habit, don’t beat yourself. Let’s quickly review the connection between your neural wiring and your habits.
According to William James, a psychology researcher from the early 20th century, humans are biologically prone to habit, and thank goodness!
This is the reason we’re able to perform the majority of our daily tasks automatically. Think about it, from the time we get up, we play nearly the same program each day from all the tasks involved with managing our morning to brushing our teeth before bed at night. Think how exhausting it would be and how much longer it would take to get things done if we had to make a conscious choice about every action we took each day! Instead we run mostly on auto-pilot, letting our habits take us through the day, not calling on will power and debating the pros and cons of eating breakfast or starting up the car to head to the office. I imagine you can see the benefit of being bundles of habits, as Mr. James described humans.
Habits become hard-wired in the brain. This is where those programs we rely on so heavily reside. Remember, anything you practice regularly will become second nature as the wiring in your brain strengthens to accommodate it. And again, thank goodness. This is why we can run mostly on autopilot and why we become more skilled at activities the more we practice them. It stands to reason though, to change a habit, you’ve got to change that wiring. Easier said than done, right? I just explained why humans have a biological need to take the path of least resistance.
Which brings us to the trouble with will-power. It turns out that people have a limited amount of will power. If you deplete your reserves, you have less of it for the next action that will require it. Another renowned researcher, Roy Baumeister, performed exhaustive studies that demonstrated that even if the next task was unrelated, if you used a large amount of will power on completing an initial task, you would not have enough left to complete that next one. No matter what the tasks were that required will power, and no matter how unrelated they were, his research subjects always performed significantly less well on the second task.
This explains why so many people are stuck in their negative habits. When you think of the myriad of tasks each day that require use of will power from sitting still and attending in long meetings, to focusing on a work task, to resisting the sugary treats someone offers you, it’s no wonder that so many of us still have that annoying ring tone our cell phones came with or have inboxes full of junk mail that takes just a bit of effort to unsubscribe from. We lack the will power to make desired changes because our reserves have been depleted by more immediate needs. It’s no wonder, human nature takes us down that path of least resistance, keeping us firmly rooted in those patterned behaviors.
So what’s the solution? How do we rewire our brains with new programs? It comes down to what Mihaly Czyksemahali refers to as activation energy. In physics, activation energy means the initial spark needed to catalyze a reaction. According to Csikszentmihalyi, for humans to kickstart a new habit, they need to summon the mental and physical energy needed to initiate the behavior. And beyond just initiating, we need to activate this energy daily for at least 30 days, and often longer to ensure rewiring.
How do we manage this activation energy in a way that leads to the desired behavior?
This depends on whether you want to eliminate an unhealthy behavior or create a new happy habit. Positive psychologist, Shawn Achor, recommends lowering the barrier to change by at least 20 seconds, regardless of whether you’re creating or eliminating a habit. To eliminate an unhealthy behavior, you increase the resistance you must overcome to engage in it. One example he shares is of a client who was losing hours of the day to repeatedly checking his emails and following the shiny objects he found there. Can you relate? To eliminate this time-sucking habit, he started by keeping his email program closed while he worked, but this wasn’t enough. It was still too easy to access his email, so he then disabled the automatic login and deleted the shortcut to his email program; he hid the application icon in a digital folder within a folder within a folder. He created a path of high resistance to access his email. Let's apply this strategy to another scenario: Maybe you want to watch less television? You might take the batteries out of the remote control and bury them deep in a closet on the other side of your house. Then, when you want to go plop your bottom on your sofa and flip on the tube, instead of exerting the energy to go dig out those batteries, you may pause and come up with something more productive or healthy to do and actually do it.
Similarly, to create a new habit, you put it in your path of least resistance and make it as inconvenient not to do it as possible. Having to pick up your journal--with a pen already tucked into it-- to move it off your pillow might be all it takes to encourage you to open it up and write in it. Sleeping in your workout clothes with your shoes in a location that you’ll trip over in the morning might be enough to get you starting your day with exercise.
Another big drain on our will power is the continuous stream of choices we have to make. Knowing this we can make some of these choices ahead of time. Make decisions and take action for your future self when you’re feeling strong. You'll notice that this was part of the strategies suggested above. When you hide the batteries, place your journal on your pillow, or put your workout shoes in your path of least resistance, you conserve the will power you'll need in the moment to follow through once you've maximized your activation energy. This might also look like rules that you create for yourself that you can always fall back on. I create my planner for the next day before I go to bed, while those to dos are fresh in my mind. This allows me to dive right into my objectives the next morning without the energy of wracking my brain to recall and record what it was I needed to do. If we set rules ahead of time like only checking our email once in the morning and once in the afternoon, or "I can go to bed once I record 3 gratitudes," we’re less likely to succumb to our old habits. Your future self might grumble but will thank you in the end.
Combined with additional strategies, managing your activation energy might be the most effective way to change your longterm behavior! Of course, your activation energy strategies need to stay in place until you successfully rewire, and you'll likely need to revisit them on occasion to reinforce the neural wiring. Remember that you are changing programs that have likely been running for years in your brain!
Let me quickly reiterate the benefits of creating happy habits in your life. Remember happy people have higher levels of intelligence, creativity, and energy allowing them to experience more success and satisfaction. I've created a Happy Habits card with some simple suggestions for increasing your happiness advantage, as well as a reminder that will power is not the ticket to long term change. Post it somewhere you'll see it often and use your activation strategies to incorporate a new happy habit into your life!
In my last post, I shared how adopting a practice or maintaining one you already have is literally a brain-workout that rewires or strengthens neural pathways. I explained that choosing to or passively practicing something will eventually lead to that practice becoming second nature for you and part of who you are. This post outlines the benefits of practicing happiness and explains how everybody stands to gain by creating happy habits.
I love my work as a mindset coach because it means I get to spend lots of time studying the mindsets of happy, successful people. One way I accomplish this is to follow the research of many experts in the exciting field of positive psychology. One of my favorite statistics to emerge from this discipline is that happy, optimistic people are 30% more likely to experience success than people who view the world through a neutral or negative lens! Shawn Achor calls this the Happiness Advantage. He claims that positive brains have a biological advantage over brains that function on neutral or negative. Now I know what you may be thinking right now…happy people just appear more successful because they view their world through rose-colored glasses and perceive situations as positive where others might not.
But studies have shown that across industries—regardless of your job, performance improves and opportunities are more readily recognized if you have an optimistic outlook on life. I’m going to let that sink in.
Performance improves and opportunities are more readily recognized if you are a happy person!
Think of the major implications of this and how differently one’s life might play out based on the lens through which they view it! By just being happy, we’ve learned that you literally boost your intelligence, creativity, and energy levels!
Well, This is great news for people who are naturally optimistic, right? But what if you’re not one of those people?
Well, I wasn’t one of those people. I came into this world with a naturally critical energy, especially critical of myself. When no one or nothing is ever good enough, it’s a challenge to remain rosy! Thankfully, I had some other things going for me. I’m also naturally very reflective and driven to learn. Plus, my mother was, and continues to be, an amazing model of optimism—but she wasn’t always this way. The house I grew up in could be a pretty stressful place. There was lot of love, but there were also lots of mouths to feed and not a lot of money to buy food. Most of my childhood, both my parents worked and we had to learn to take care of ourselves pretty quickly. When I was little, my parents also fought a lot. But somewhere along the line, my mother started to change. She became, at least to me it seemed, someone determined to enjoy and appreciate her life. So much so that when I saw the movie, Elf, with Will Farrell in a constant state of awe and wonder, I thought to myself, “Oh, my gosh, that’s my mom!” She’s now in her early seventies, and she still manages to find delight in what most people would see as the mundane every day. Through witnessing her transformation, I learned two very important things:
1) life is more fun when you’re happy, and
2) even if you’re not happy, you can get happy if choose.
Neuroscientists and positive psychologists are now proving that you can change how your brain works and how you perceive your world, and by choosing to rewire your brain for optimism, you get to experience more intelligence, more creativity, and higher energy levels that in turn bring you more of...well, whatever you want!
Happy people attract better jobs; they perform better in those jobs which leads to more promotions. Happy people often describe themselves as “lucky” when really, they are just much more aware of the opportunities that are constantly presenting to all of us but those with negative lenses don’t recognize. Happy people are more resilient and more likely and able to turn failures, and even tragedies into opportunities to better themselves. And they have tighter social networks which we all know is a strong contributing factor to longevity. And I’m barely touching on the effects happiness has on physical health!
Who wouldn’t want this?
Our country’s forefathers declared our right to pursue happiness. Their intent was good, but there’s a fundamental problem with this approach--by chasing or searching for happiness, your brain learns that happiness is something you find outside of yourself! Well, folks, I’m here to tell you that the research is in! Your levels of happiness and success have very little to do with external factors. The way your brain is wired is a much more reliable indicator of your potential to experience these states. And that wiring is in your control.
If you are not a naturally optimistic person, or if you used to be but lost it somehow along the way, consider creating some happy habits. Along with the practices I’ve described in previous posts, there are other simple things you can do each day to boost your happiness advantage. And as I’ve described, by doing so, you also increase your intelligence, creativity, and energy levels making you more effective at your job and more aware of opportunity. The more you attend to your happiness, the more successful you’ll be.
Now, I know it can be challenging to create new habits, and as you might have expected, I have strategies to help with that also. I will share that information with you in a future post along with additional happy habits you might consider adding to your daily routine. What I’d like you to walk away with today is this message: It’s time to stop pursuing happiness and start creating it!
This is the transcript of my latest oral presentation. You'll notice that it is directed to an audience of speakers-in-training. I make an important point through the relevance of this particular audience, and I left it unedited.
Image from Brain Unleased
You’ve probably all heard Dr. Wayne Dyer's assertion, “Change your thoughts, change your life” and know the idea that we become what we think. Scientists are recognizing that this statement is truer than anybody realized and it’s not just about using will power to control your thoughts but about literally rewiring your brain. I’m going to share my story of how I changed my world, what was happening in my brain to accomplish this, and the results of this brain work-out.
Almost exactly a year ago, a couple things happened that were to cause me to have a major shift in my life—again.
The first thing that happened was I received a gift. It was a Christmas gift from my teaching partner, and dear friend. She gave me a calendar for Christmas. It was one of those daily calendars that fed me an inspirational quote or saying every day. My friend said her husband was concerned about the message she would be sending by giving me the calendar. Might I think she assumed me to be depressed? Well, he was right—I was probably not clinically depressed, but I was in a pretty dark place and receiving this calendar from her did confirm what I was already coming to on my own. It was time to address the situation!
That was the second thing that happened. I made a choice. I decided that I needed to get happier, so I made a New Year’s resolution to incorporate certain practices to help me toward this end.
Specifically, I decided to keep a gratitude journal. I also decided to incorporate daily exercise—even if it was just 10 minutes each day.
There were some other specific health habits I incorporated, but essentially, these three practices—turning that daily calendar, recording 3 things I was grateful for every day, and incorporating little health practices into my life--led to some pretty profound changes for me including a complete change in career and a joyful lifestyle that is in stark contrast to what I was experiencing this time last year.
How could those seemingly, minor changes in how I was going about my daily routine have such a major impact on my life? Well, to be honest, this wasn’t my first rodeo. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve reinvented myself a number of times, and it’s nearly always been during one of these dark and challenging times in my life.
But this time was different. Why? Well, this time, I was driven to understand it so I could make it more permanent. And to help other people to do it! I was now armed with the knowledge of growth mindset that I’d recently gained through my role in professional development at the school where I taught. I now became an avid consumer of TED talks and through this medium, I discovered positive psychology, and my favorite expert among those in this field, Shawn Achor who coined the term, "the happiness advantage."
The reason it was easier this time and the effects more dramatic was because my brain was wired for this change. Every time I’d done it in the past, I’d strengthened neural pathways to make the next time easier. I needed to oil them up, but it wasn’t long before they were ready for action.
See, scientists used to believe that our intelligence and our abilities are biologically fixed and that once our brains reached maturity, you are who you are—“you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, right?
Well, clearly this is a room of people who know better and who are committed to continued learning. But did you realize that the reason public speaking gets easier for you as you continue in this course is because you are actually changing the wiring in your brain. You’re not just becoming desensitized to being in front of crowds, you’re literally strengthening the pathways that allow you to recognize potential topics, and to design and deliver oral presentations. This is known as neuroplasticity and scientists can now prove that your brain literally changes to accommodate and make easier anything that you practice regularly--whether it's by choice or through passivity. The testing they’ve done shows that you actually GROW certain areas of your brain according to the activities that you give most of your attention.
I chose to practice happiness, and as a result, I developed what’s known as The Happiness Advantage, a concept that I’ll discuss more at a later date. What I want to share with you today are what have been and continue to be the results of the my rewiring.
That daily calendar? Well, it provided nuggets of wisdom. Many of which I tore out and pinned up in strategic places. When I started feeling grumpy or discouraged, I could find the right message and use it to change the lens through which I was viewing the situation. By practicing this regularly it became much easier to shift myself out of a funk.
Secondly, the gratitude practice rewired my brain for appreciation. It taught my brain to see the world through a lens of awe and wonder and to find the lesson in any situation so that I could be grateful for it. Again, such a simple practice—it starts by recording three things each evening—I know many people who practice this one; one client of mine said in the beginning all she could come up with one day is that she was grateful for butter, flour, and sugar, and that when you combine them you get cookies. Eventually, though, you change your brain to recognize the potential positive in just about any situation and the gratitude just becomes natural. It’s a much more pleasant way to experience this life than through a lens of anger or resentment.
Finally, the daily health practices I adopted told my brain that my body is important—that I am valuable, and that my choices matter. Because of my commitment to this area, I have attracted teachers that know how to keep me interested and increase my knowledge of how to maintain optimal health so that I can continue to reap the enormous benefits of attending to my physical wellbeing!
I am so grateful for the dark place I came from. Being able to contrast my life now with what it used to be motivated me to maintain these daily practices until they became habitual. Wiring my brain for positivity led to even more major changes, but that will have to be a story for another day. For now, I hope you remember that adopting a new practice—or maintaining one you already have--be it productive or destructive—is literally a brain work-out. The more you do it, the more you strengthen those pathways and the more it becomes second nature for you. You get to decide how you’ll work out your brain.
I felt compelled to repost this episode of This American Life! I have followed the psychology experts who have demonstrated the devastating effects of low expectations and promote the parenting approach of Love and Logic that supports children to explore and learn through natural consequences as much as possible, but this episode BLEW MY MIND and left me in tears! What kind of life are children who are "loved too much" going to live?
I gave my first Toastmasters presentation last week. It was the “ice-breaker”assignment intended to introduce oneself to fellow toastmasters and to obtain a baseline of one's presentation skills. I thought I’d share mine here since it gives a little more background as to how I arrived at this point in my life and what motivates me to do what I do. (I’ve edited it slightly and adjusted the format so that it would work as a blog post.)
To begin, I am an Explorer…
...regularly reinventing myself. Growing up, my family moved frequently and I believe I developed itchy feet and a deeply embedded sense of adventure as a result.
I grew up in a large, low-income family, but from an early age, I always dreamt of living an exceptional life. It was unusual in my family to pursue a college degree—out of 12 children, I’m one of three who accomplished this seemingly lofty goal. I was among the few to move out of state to a big city, to travel to foreign countries, to pursue ambitious opportunities.
I am a bit ashamed of my original motivation to seek these adventures; I think I was trying to elevate myself above my humble environment and to stand out among those who took the road most traveled. I like to think I’ve recovered from this need for superiority.
I am an Enlightened Mother…
…who imagines a world of endless possibilities for her children, and who wishes for them an education by which they develop resiliency and grit, from which they learn that challenges are to be sought not avoided for fear of making a mistake. I want them to understand that every mistake is actually a gift, an opportunity for learning and growth, and that when you fail at something, you pick yourself back up and figure out how to make the next attempt more successful.
I’m passionate about this because I am still recovering from a fixed mindset and a desperate need to appear more intelligent and capable than others. As a child, this presented as perfectionism and it was crippling! I avoided any situation where I wasn’t confident I would excel among my peers. When I had no choice but to participate in activities in which I had no natural ability, I didn’t bother to try. Then I could claim apathy and avoid humiliation. As a result, I missed out on so many things. For instance, I avoided all sports. “I am not an athlete,” I would say. I was way too cool to sing in choir or to play an instrument in band. I skipped Spanish class as often as I could get away with and still pass. But the real reason I declined these and many other opportunities to develop myself was because I couldn’t bear the discomfort of “looking stupid.” Even when I did have natural ability, like in art and dance, I abandoned these activities when they became challenging and I had to actually put effort into my progress. You see, this threatened my identity of being naturally gifted.
I want my children to understand that THIS is actually how you fail—in LIFE. That to thrive and experience sustained joy during this journey, you must be willing to be vulnerable and make mistakes, to take risks that move you out of your comfort zone.
I am an Educator…
…who was recently scolded by her clients because I referred to myself as a former educator. I spent a number of years as a classroom teacher and finally walked away from that career when I could no longer tolerate the conformity needed to be successful in that system, or that part of my role was to condition my students in this conformity.
My clients reminded me that they are now my students and I am still sharing knowledge, resources, strategies, and wisdom only now I get to choose my students, and how and what they will learn.
I understand that good educators are also life-long learners. I now passionately embrace my identity as a learner and know I am a more effective educator as a result.
I am an Entrepreneur…
…who became a certified coach and started my business because I imagine a world where more people take responsibility for the quality of life they are living and for creating their happiness throughout their journey—a world where more people understand that success is a state of mind, not a destination.
My vision for myself as an entrepreneur is to become an engaging presenter and trainer who compels others to make major shifts in mindset and to seek and embrace personal responsibility and growth.
I am passionate about the work I have committed to and recognize the importance of developing my skills if I am to be effective. I am committed to pursuing the necessary resources and opportunities to share my message and reach those who would choose to create a joyful life for themselves.
And lastly, I am Excited…
…to be on this new journey, far outside my comfort zone, sharing my vulnerability, and contributing to a new world of forward-thinking citizens who understand how to maximize their own potential through the pursuit of a meaningful life!
p.s. Still terrified, but I’ve learned that if it scares me, that’s an indication that I should move toward it…
“How are you doing?”
Honestly, this question used to annoy me. I couldn’t just say, “oh, fine” unless I was actually feeling it, and I knew no one wanted to hear me complain either. As a result, this question often just served to make me grumpier than I already was! (Okay, so every day wasn’t horrible, some were even amazing—but I had a very different reality back then—read older posts and explore the site if you need some background.)
I don’t dread this question any more. In fact, now I love it! I generally answer with something like, “Never better!” I get comments about how much lighter and happier I seem and lots of inquiries into what’s changed and how can they get some of that!
In this post, I’m going to share how I changed my reality. It all started when I took charge of my happiness! I adopted daily practices that provided little shifts in my thinking. These shifts eventually opened up to me a whole new world of possibilities!
Simple, quick actions or thoughts that had the power to transform my lens. Without them, I would have continued to just drudge through the daily grind, discontent, and wondering if this was all there was to life—this constant uphill battle that left me drained and aching for something more gratifying.
Now, my world is amazing and I feel I wear rose-colored glasses all the time! Okay, that’s not completely true. I still get discouraged and even downright grumpy sometimes. (I still have hormones.) But when I do, I can fall back on those aforementioned practices. Little habits that keep me from “giving up” on myself and my dreams. Now that I’ve experienced this crazy, fun, inspiring, challenging, crazy, (did I already say that?) world, I’m determined to never go back to a soul-sucking J-O-B!
Gosh, I digress. But I truly am grateful for the contrast that allows me to appreciate how much more AWESOME life is now that I’ve seized control. In fact, this lens of gratitude is part of the magic. There’s nothing new here; you’ve probably heard most of my strategies. They work. If you’re committed, they really work. Start with one or two and add more as you get them down. Here's a sample of the habits that keep me happy:
I started with a gratitude journal. I'm a little embarrassed to admit it took me several years to make it a daily commitment to write 3 things every night. Once I made it a habit, it truly did change the way I view my world. I now move through my day with an immense sense of gratitude! I’m even incredibly grateful how intolerable my former job was because it inspired me to take action and change my environment! It’s much easier now to rattle off things I’m thankful for at any given moment—I no longer wait until evening to express my gratitude. This one minor change in the way you view your world can have enormously positive consequences. It’s truly transformative!
Play, Mindfulness, and Spontaneity (they overlap)
Find the fun in everything—or make it fun. Work and play should not be two separate activities! Turn things into a game. Research shows that when you do, you’re more likely to go after what you want with more courage and determination and to not give up when things are challenging.
I also take time to play with my children in a mindful way. My two kids used to call me on my wandering mind when I was with them--truly heartbreaking! It's taken practice, but I've become much better at staying present and enjoying the time I make to play with my children. We spontaneously do things we didn’t have time to do before: blast music and dance, walk to the park and play on the equipment, go on exploratory journeys on our bicycles, be goofy with each other, make up games, endless possibilities here!
Honestly, I could work on my business 24/7 and in fact, it’s pushing midnight right now as I write this, but creating the time to be present in the moment when I’m with people I love and to make that time active and FUN does wonders for boosting my mood! This time also strengthens the social bonds that are known to improve vitality and increase life span. In fact, Dr. Jane McGonigal would say that I’m increasing both my social and my physical resilience through these activities.
Doing kind things for others without expecting anything in return is a powerful way to turn a day around! Especially because this is often the last thing you want to do when you're in "a mood!" It definitely takes more effort, but when you make someone else's day just by performing a simple act of kindness, it's nearly impossible to wallow in your own misery.
Seek Positive Messages
My teaching partner gave me one of those calendars with inspirational quotes last year for Christmas. She was pretty sure I was bordering on depression, and she was right. I ended up with pages from that calendar pinned up in my classroom; I used to give them to students when the message fit. I still have pages from that calendar scattered in strategic places all over my house. My kids do too! That cheesy calendar was instrumental in my shift. I clung to those messages and saved ones I needed to see most often. I could refer to them when I needed to be reminded of the message on the page. I’ve even become one of those Facebook fanatics that are constantly posting positive quotes. Sometimes they’re just the shift I need!
When I’m feeling especially challenged or grumpy about something, I think of what I need to hear most and I find a TED talk that will give it to me. I’m going to share some of my favorites, because they always remind me that we are ALL human with the same capacity for dreaming and for vulnerability. They remind me to believe in myself, and to never give up on what I’m passionate about.
Fun TED talks to give you a boost (There are many more; these are just a few of my faves!):
The Happy Secret to Better Work | Shawn Achor
The Game that Can Give You 10 Extra Years of Life | Jane McGonigal
Massively Multi-Player...Thumb Wrestling? | Jane McGonigal
My 38 Random Acts of Kindness | Botlhale Tshetlo
Uh oh, I feel the need to quote coming on...
In part two of Her Element, I talked about the second reason every woman needs to find what she loves to do and DO IT! I discuss the way you affect your environment and relationships with your energy. I’ve been interviewing women who feel they’ve discovered and are pursuing their purpose. One of my interview questions is, “Do you feel like you’ve found what you’re meant to do?” and I follow it with “How do you know?” I want to share some of the responses:
“I’m excited to go to work every day!”
“I’m excited to do the things I do and meet with the people I meet with.”
“I’m working more hours and longer days…than I have in years and I don’t care—I love it!”
“I enjoy the women that I get to work with. I enjoy the work that I’m doing. I feel that it is meaningful for them and satisfying and meaningful to me and to my family.”
“How do I know? Because it doesn’t feel like I’m working. I’m passionate about it…I can do it on my own terms and my own time.”
“Nothing has ever felt so true or real in my life…It’s absolutely something I would do for free, all the time.”
Is this how you feel about your work? Imagine a world where more women felt this way about how they spent their working hours! How differently would they interact with those around them? How would those people they’re interacting with respond and carry forward that same sense of well-being and satisfaction? What would our children choose to do with their lives if these were the types of models they observed on a daily basis? I imagine it would be a very different world indeed. Which brings me to the final reason it is crucial we find that work we’re passionate about and driven to do!
The world NEEDS YOU! Not the you that is no longer connected to your intuition and creativity, but the YOU you were meant to become! When you were born, you came with a certain energy and gifts that need to be developed and shared with this planet. A planet that is now in crisis! Humans are naturally creative beings, and the world needs innovative thinkers to help us find solutions to the very real threats to our species.
Think about the economic structure in this country and many others around the world. It begins in childhood with our schools and the outdated systems we use that teach our children that conformity is how you become successful. We teach them to stop being who they are. We teach them that play and work are two separate and distinct things, you don’t mix the two, and work is more important than play and creativity. We step in and solve their problems for them instead of letting them learn through trial and error—so crucial to developing resiliency and critical thinking skills! And we use rewards and punishments to reprogram their motivation from an internal locus of control to external. In short, we create employees. Citizens programmed to go to work for the visions of others—those “rare” people who do survive this programming and realize they may be cut out to do more than just help build someone else’s dream.
“The world is changing faster than ever in our history. Our best hope for the future is to develop a new paradigm of human capacity to meet a new era of human existence. We need to evolve a new appreciation of the importance of nurturing human talent along with an understanding of how talent expresses itself differently in every individual. We need to create environments…where every person is inspired to grow creatively. We need to make sure that all people have the chance to do what they should be doing to discover the Element in themselves and in their own way.” ~Ken Robinson, The Element. Sir Ken describes in the introduction of this book a world desperate for all of us to find our Element, that place where the things we love to do and the things we are good at come together. He boldly states that “the very future of our communities and institutions will depend on it.”
I agree with this statement, and find it very exciting to read Jenn Aubert assert in her book, Female Entrepreneur Revolution, that “The revolution is here. There is no doubt that women are leaping into entrepreneurism…like never before. This is an exciting time full of new opportunities, self-growth, abundance and freedom. Technology has opened the doors for new opportunities that were not previously available…”
If your gut is telling you it’s time to do something different, there’s plenty of research to show that you should be listening. The world is calling you to YOUR calling! What is your soul’s calling? It’s time to find out. It’s time to do what you are meant to do, be who you are meant to be, and take your place among the women who are changing the world, one life at a time!
So in my last blog post, I described the first of three reasons why every woman should figure out what it is she LOVES to do and do it! That reason is YOU. I talked about some of the mental, emotional, and physical effects of not pursuing something you’re passionate about, but now I want to illustrate these effects through a story of one of my clients. I met with her early last week for our first session and asked how her weekend had gone. She told me a frightening story about how she woke up on Saturday with crippling vertigo. It was so bad that she postponed her desperate need to go to the bathroom—you know that need we ALL have in the morning—for several hours fearing that if she moved, she’d vomit, or worse, pass out. She ended up having to call her son who came and assisted her, then the two of them prayed and contacted everyone they could to have them pray for her to recover so she could go teach a class later that day. Now this client doesn’t need to figure out what she’s passionate about. She already knows what she’s driven to do, she knows she’s good at it, and she has a vision for what her business will look like. But it wasn’t happening. For various reasons, she was feeling stuck, not moving forward in her business, and feeling pressure to accept a job offer to help her put food on the table but that would further distract her from her vision. Even her sons had encouraged her not to take the job, they don’t want her to “sell out” because they know she’s capable of so much more. This client admitted to me she believes her incident was related to her (perceived) inability to move forward on her entrepreneurial path.
Her story reminded me of many such stories I’ve heard recently about people suppressing their intuition--that nagging feeling that they’re called to do something other than fitting nicely into the current economic structure by holding a J-O-B. For additional persuasive information about this topic, I recommend reading this article: Surprising Science: Medical Proof that Doing Work You Love Could Save Your Life.
And now reason TWO for figuring out what brings out your passion and pursuing it with commitment: your loved ones—especially those you live with. How are your relationships? Are you who you want to be in them?
As an educator in a traditional classroom, I worked ridiculously long hours trying (and never feeling I succeeded) to fulfill my responsibilities to our country’s young minds. I was perpetually trying to make my J-O-B my identity and force my energy to match what I was doing. I spent 7 years in this disharmony, conditioned by our society to believe that I was doing important work. But it never felt right. Oh, I was often told that I was an excellent teacher; families appreciated my commitment to making sure all children felt seen and appreciated for who they were—which, by the way, is not the best approach to get good academic results, and I was constantly beating myself up about this aspect of the classroom. I now realize the public education system is a dated one that does not honor our children and inspire the innovative thinking that we need of our next generation, but I digress with all this…
I retell my story to emphasize the long, stressful hours that I put into this disempowering career. I came home from work nearly every day feeling defeated and consistently exhausted, never spending time nourishing my needs.
And this existence was taking its toll on my relationships. Of course, my sex drive suffered. My partner would have to ask me for affection—even a hug, because it would just not enter my fatigued mind. While I would express my love for him when he reminded me, you can imagine how difficult that was for him. His role became one of providing continuous consolation and encouragement to keep me from falling into complete depression. I didn’t reciprocate this emotional support, and in direct contrast, was often snappy and impatient because I didn’t have anything left to give at the end of the day. I couldn’t have faulted him if he’d decided to give up on me. I’m so grateful that he didn’t!
And my poor children! Even as I was hyper aware that I had no patience left for them at the end of the day, I seemed to have no control over my actions. I always told myself it was temporary and I’d give them the love and support they needed another day. I made it a priority to spend time with them before bed in the evenings (when I was home in time,) but I was never “present” during this time with them. Even at the ages of 6 (my son) and 9 (my daughter), they would call me out on being distant during our conversations. After they told me a story about their day, it would become obvious through my inability to interact about the story that I hadn’t really been listening. It was always heartbreaking when they’d end our conversations with “Never mind.”
Simon Sinek, leadership expert and author of Start with Why and Why Leaders Eat Last , and another proponent of loving your work, claims there’s research out there that says coming home late after long hours of work that is meaningful and honors you has no negative impacts on your children. BUT, if you come home from a long day at a job you dislike, your children are far more likely to become bullies. Bullies! Are they learning this behavior from parents unhappy in their jobs, just trying to do the best they can?!
Can you imagine doing work that energizes you and leaves you overflowing with the joy and clarity needed to parent in a mindful way that is always caring and inspiring?
And who wants to model for their children that this is what the world is all about: your purpose here is to receive an education that prepares you to find your place in an economic structure that is designed to keep you in that place, never learning to explore your own creativity, to develop those aspects of your life that bring you joy, to define your own purpose here and pursue it?
I want my children and my husband to live extraordinary lives that involve work that honors them and fills them with joy. The best way to support this is to live in an extraordinary way myself that models what such a life can be!
My client recovered from her vertigo that day in time to make it to her class. She and I had a great session from which she left with specific, achievable steps to start filling her classes and provide her with income while doing what she’s passionate about. She’s taken action on those steps and can rest assured that she’s moving forward on her path. She’s also modeling for her sons (her biggest cheerleaders) an extraordinary life where a person CAN CHOOSE to do work they love.
So here’s another recent story that I seem to be telling frequently. The day before I was to head out of town for June’s Retreat, I was leaving the printers with a box containing the workbooks for my new workshop and the programs I had designed for the Retreat. As I got into my car, the now familiar flood of giddiness washed over me as I thought of what I had created and was creating. A moment of utter joy…and then I burst into sobbing tears. I cried the entire 20-minute drive home. I cried because I was absolutely in love with what I was doing. I cried because I used to think that I wasn’t creative. I cried because less than six months ago, I felt trapped in a career that was not honoring me, that left me continuously drained, and often feeling dis-empowered. I cried because I was proud of having the courage to change my life. The stark contrast between how I felt in the past when completing the tasks required for my former job and how I feel in the present, creating these things that support my personal vision of success cannot be overstated! I cried because I knew I could never go back. And I cried for the women who still feel trapped. Who don’t recognize their own gifts, or if they do, do not feel empowered to embrace them and share them with the world. This blog post is going to be part one of three. This series of posts will describe the three reasons I feel it’s crucial that every woman find her “Element”, according to Sir Ken Robinson, “that place where what you love to do meets what you’re good at doing.”
Reason Number One for you to find the work you love to do and do it:
YOU. Your health, your happiness, your wellness depend on you figuring out what brings out your passion and then making it your work to pursue it. Don’t misunderstand me. Many think I believe that all women should be entrepreneurs with a completely unique and creative business. But I don’t think this. What I do believe is that it’s possible for you (and every woman determined to do so) to discover and pursue your element—work that makes your heart sing—and until you do, you’ll feel like something is missing from your life. You’ll feel trapped—in your job, your family, your life… No matter how many ways you’ve found to create small moments or even long periods of happiness, you’ll still feel a longing for something elusive—that thing you’re called to do because it’s what puts you in the flow. Flow being that state of mind where you lose all sense of time and are completely engrossed in what you’re creating. According to Daniel Pink, author of Drive, humans are naturally inclined to create and innovate and are intrinsically motivated to do so when they’re allowed to explore their own creativity without the constraints of a job description.
In addition to feeding your mind and soul by allowing your natural creativity to flow, your physical health and wellness depend on you finding work that honors you. When you go to a job you dislike, you are literally killing yourself. Not only are you killing your spirit and your quality of life, but you’re physically killing yourself. While at work, and likely even after you come home from a stressful job that has no meaning for you, your body is constantly dripping cortisol into your bloodstream. Cortisol is the stress hormone your body releases during times known as fight or flight. It’s not meant to be released continuously, but reserved only for those times when your response to the rush of cortisol is necessary to prepare you mentally and physically for extreme situations. This incessant cortisol drip has a multitude of negative implications for your health and wellness as it increases your risk for heart attack and also many degenerative diseases.
Some surprising information in new studies, however, show the body’s response to stress when you are tackling your own fears to do something outside your comfort zone--as long as you recognize that it is preparing you for the task at hand—can actually be beneficial to your health! Doing things that scare you—that require courage—while still delivering a rush of cortisol, also releases oxytocin, the neuro-hormone that encourages you to seek comfort from others and also strengthens your heart. Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist that is well-versed in the body’s response to stress, says when you go after what creates meaning in your life, stress can actually be good for you!
Back to Ken Robinson, who says, “Fear is perhaps the most common obstacle to finding your Element.” He says these fears include, “fear of failure, the fear of not being good enough, the fear of being found wanting, the fear of disapproval, the fear of poverty, and the fear of the unknown.” Face these fears! Not only will finding the courage to do the self-discovery necessary to identify your Element make your life more fulfilling and eliminate that sense of longing, but as long as you recognize the stress associated with it can be beneficial, it’s good for your physical health as well! So what’s stopping you now?
My Monday blogs will resume in August. Parts 2 and 3 of Her Element will have to wait. Mwaahaahaa! I’m jetting off at the end of the week on a beach vacation with my family, starting in Hawaii then SoCal. Woo hoo!! See you in August!
Pursuing bliss through self-discovery, doing work I'm passionate about, and embracing the self-nurturing practices that ensure the highest quality of life!
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