Good Times: Are you prepared for the best to happen?

From Stephen King to Maya Angelou, numerous cultural icons have been quoted on the concept of hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. Many organizations certainly operate with that mindset, creating contingency plans galore for handling crisis situations. But if everything goes right, how well-equipped are you to accept the good times? It takes a different mentality to handle better than expected outcomes. Just ask my friend Jini Thornton, whose quest to find her biological parents exceeded her wildest dreams.

Adopted at birth by a fierce, loving single mother who passed away 17 years ago, Jini has created a great life for herself. She built a successful business management firm that represents major entertainers and thrived personally with a happy marriage, raising two now adult sons. Then last year, Jini’s curiosity about her birth family prompted an exploration of Ancestry.com. She steeled herself for disappointment and possible rejection.  This past Good Friday, the website presented a DNA match with a man who ultimately proved to be an uncle by birth. Next came meeting her birth mother, who was forced to give Jini up for adoption as a pregnant teenager.  Initially cautious in their interactions, Jini and her birth mother, who serves as an administrator at an Ivy League university, have maintained near daily contact since.

Connections were formed with dozens of friendly cousins and extended family members along the way.  Just a few weeks ago, she met her 95-year-old maternal grandmother at a heartwarming, emotional family reunion. One of the most special moments was meeting her birth father at that same event. He had no idea Jini existed until she contacted him. A recovering addict who has been clean for over a decade, he has welcomed her with open arms. “I hear from my father almost daily and he calls me sunshine,” says Jini.

Sounds like the ideal ending to a Hallmark Channel movie, right? In many ways, it is. But welcoming good times still takes a lot of energy. Here are three tips to help you make the most of good times:

  1. Prepare for the best. All too often we approach situations with the inevitable veil of failure. You know, defeatist self-talk like “I’m going to ask for a raise but of course it won’t happen” or “submitted my application for the new job but they probably won’t call.” Instead, visualize yourself achieving good times and the very best outcome…accepting a huge raise, nailing the important presentation, winning a big client and more. Then map out the steps associated with success. For example, getting a raise would involve how you plan to celebrate, allocate the extra income, share the good news with others and more.
  1. Focus on self-care. Change – good times and bad – can be stressful and requires a certain amount of energy. That’s why it is so important to focus on taking great care of yourself. For starters, get enough sleep. Benefits include better handling of stress, mental acuity, increased creativity and more which support welcoming great outcomes into your life. Incorporate daily practices that keep you centered, happy and motivated. I’m inspired by my personal trainer, Jenna Minecci, who is fueling her mission to spread awareness about ACL Injury Prevention in female athletes though daily meditations and working on a book about her experiences with multiple surgeries. As for my happy place? Well, that’s achieved by early morning exercise sessions involving killer music before heading into the office.
  1. Create healthy boundaries. If you’ve heard of the concept of Positive Intelligence, it is all about unlocking your potential by mastering your mind. Good stuff, right? Check out the complimentary inner saboteur assessment on the site. My top inner saboteur trait is the pleaser, which is known for trying to make everyone else happy at the expense of oneself. I said yes to just about everything, not wanting to miss out on fun opportunities or disappoint others. This Giving Tree-type behavior ultimately lead to a boatload of exhaustion and  So now, I try to focus on just a few “extra-curricular” activities and do them well, rather than trying to be everything to everyone.  Even when faced with numerous exciting possibilities, having those boundaries in place makes the ones I choose more enjoyable and meaningful.

How do you prepare for great outcomes? Have a story to share about hoping for the best and receiving something even better in return?

Want a healthier, happier life? Then sleep on it!

Sweet dreamsWhen it comes to wellness, good nutrition and regular exercise tend to be the rock stars. It’s no wonder with benefits like increased energy, better fitting clothes, bolstered self-esteem and so much more becoming apparent within a relatively short period of time. But did you know that getting enough sleep is just as important if you want a truly healthier, happier life?

Until recently, it felt like sleep was the red-headed stepchild of wellness – a necessary practice but one that often got overlooked in our 24/7 super-charged lives. I often had insomnia from my teenage years throughout my thirties, rarely grabbing more than five or six hours of shut-eye a night during the week. Sadly enough, I thought this as a good thing, giving me extra time to read, be social or work when others were still ensconced in their beds.  That changed when I hit my forties and suddenly my body started craving more sleep. At first I was annoyed.  Until I realized that my mood and concentration levels tended to be better when I caught seven hours of slumber.  Started doing research and found some really compelling reasons for getting enough sleep for optimum wellness:

1) Sleeping more can help you eat less. According to this 2012 Time Magazine story, sleep deprivation can lead to overeating. In fact, a report presented by the American Heart Association’s annual Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism conference found that study participants who were sleep deprived ate more than 500 additional calories daily. It doesn’t take a math whiz to realize that amount of calories can quickly add up into unwelcome extra pounds.

“From a physiologic perspective, we know that sleep is a very important time for the release of many physiologic hormones,” says Virend Somers in the article, lead author of the study and a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic.  “It’s a time when the body repairs itself, the brain consolidates memories, and growth hormone is released. All of these important functions are impacted by less sleep time.” And that includes levels of hormones involved in appetite. Regardless of why sleep loss contributes to weight gain, Somers says in the article it’s important for people to start appreciating that the two are intertwined.

2) Sleep makes you more creative. Ever heard that when faced with an issue or question, sometimes it is best to sleep on it? In this intriguing article from BBC, researchers found that sleep helps make people more creative by building remote associations. Making the links between pieces of information that our awake minds see as separate seems to be easiest when we’re catching some shut-eye.  I’m a big believer of this practice. When I’m stuck on my writing or branding work, I will sometimes ask myself to think about the issue or challenge right before dosing off and usually wake up with great insights.

3) Lack of sleep can leave lasting damage. Feeling sluggish and looking tired aren’t the only negative physical side effects of substandard levels of sleep. In this recent article, researchers found that inconsistent sleep patterns can hurt your brain. The problem is the potential loss of neurons that impact alertness and cognitive function. Think you can catch up on sleep deprivation on the weekends and this will all remedy itself? Actually, researchers say not so much. Getting enough sleep most nights is the key to better health and wellness.

I hope this information doesn’t keep you up at night and instead, puts you to sleep (never thought I’d say those words about anything I’ve written). What are your sleep habits like? Is catching enough slumber part of your wellness strategy or a goal you are working towards in the future?

Want real change? Ditch the New Year’s Resolutions and focus on supported goals instead

Ditch the New Year's Resolutions According to a recent Marist Poll, 44% of Americans are planning to make a change in the New Year. Many of the survey respondents are making New Year’s resolutions for better health or a happier life, with the largest amount aiming to lose pounds, exercise more or eat better. However – no surprise here – only 8% of people actually keep those resolutions according to a University of Scranton study.  Bummer, right? But it doesn’t have to be that way anymore. Here are a few steps you can take to create real, positive change in 2014:

  • Set realistic, clear goals. Let’s say that you vow to be happier in 2014. What does that actually mean? Do you crave more alone time, want less stress, desire a new job or a better relationship? Break down that big desire into a clear goal in order to make it actionable and obtainable. For example. if decreasing stress is your objective, then your action steps could include installing a smart phone app that takes you through a guided meditation three times a week and stop checking emails at least two hours before bedtime to give your mind time to rest.
  • Plan ahead. Haven’t tried to exercise since George W was in the White House but now understand that moving more will give you more energy? Awesome goal. But don’t just try to jog on the treadmill wearing flip-flops and street clothes (no lie, saw a dude in just that garb at our hotel gym in the Bahamas last week). Do some research and create your fitness plans in advance to ensure better results and minimize injuries. Many gyms offer a complimentary session with a personal trainer who can teach you the most effective ways to exercise. Search online for “how to” videos and content on running, Yoga, swimming better or just about any other activity. Tell the  Zumba instructor this is your first time in class so he/she can give you pointers and keep an eye out for you. And dress for exercise success to maximize your performance and comfort.
  • Make it real. The more you can bring a goal to life increases your chances of long-term success.  One of my big goals for 2014 is to finish writing and publish my book, which focuses on helping people get unstuck and have the life of their dreams.  I’m visual, so making this goal a reality for me includes journaling about it, having it become one of the cornerstones of the vision board I’m creating this weekend with friends, posting positive messages about it on the edge of my computer screen and more. Pick one of your goals for a moment and think about how you can bring it to life. Since weight loss tops the list of so many people, could it be motivating to take photos of your progress each month to share via social media, pick out clothes you plan to buy in advance when certain milestones are met, put a photo of yourself at your hottest on the front of the fridge as a motivator to make healthier food selections?
  • Get support. Sharing a goal with like-minded, positive souls can increase your chances of success. My husband, who is already fit as an Ironman triathlete, is about to start a 30-day Paleo eating program to clean up his nutrition. His triathlon coach is doing the same, which creates a direct connection of support, while I’m reinforcing my own clean eating habits by ensuring we won’t have any processed foods, sweets, items with gluten or dairy around that don’t meet his goals or mine either. Even this little circle of support will help us all succeed in our healthier eating objectives. Whatever you are focusing on, talking about your goals and sharing milestones, challenges and tips with others can really make a difference.

What are some of your goals for 2014? Do you set New Year’s Resolutions and if so, what makes or breaks them?

Three Lessons Holiday Movies Can Teach Us About Real Life Happiness

Movie stubs and popcornYou don’t have to look at a calendar to know the throes of the holiday season are here; over-packed shopping mall parking lots, reports of airport travel delays and incessant TV reruns of seasonal movies are always a dead giveaway. But just because your eyes might glaze over after the eighth broadcast of A Christmas Story within 24 hours, don’t write these sentimental tales off as just mindless entertainment. Here are three lessons holiday movies can teach us about real life happiness:

  1. Be true to yourself. My favorite holiday season movie is Love Actually. No matter what is going on with the nine intersecting stories, the theme of embracing and accepting who you really are rings true. From Hugh Grant’s adorable Prime Minister endearingly declaring his romantic interest on stage during a child’s Christmas pageant to Andrew Lincoln’s character admitting his unrequited love for a friend’s bride in order to move on, being true to yourself and expressing it to others frees you up for greater happiness.
  2. You get to carve your own path. Feel like others have permanently pegged you as the family’s “Debbie Downer” or as a chronic underachiever? It is not too late to change your ways if the desire is authentic and comes from within. When the Grinch abandoned his plans to steal Christmas, he transformed himself from a foe to a friend of Whoville. The appearance of three very persuasive ghosts helped  Ebenezer Scrooge discover a newfound sense of generosity. At whatever stage you may be in life, you can always take steps that lead to a happier life.
  3. Believe in something bigger. In Miracle on 34th Street, a young girl’s belief in Santa brings joy to all around her while in The Santa Clause, Tim Allen’s character becomes closer to his young son and saves the legacy of the big man in red’s worldwide gift dispersal by finally accepting that he can be Santa. Whatever your spiritual inclinations are, believing in something bigger creates hope, possibilities and a sense of community – all of which can increase your happiness.

BTW, I tried to find a Hanukkah movie to reference but the only one that came up was Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights cartoon, which was vastly inferior to his Hanukkah song in my humble opinion as a nice Jewish girl. :)

What are some of your favorite holiday-themed movies?  What are you doing this season to embrace more happiness?

Three Ways to Identify Your Life’s Purpose

iStock_000028679544SmallFrom David Bowie to Taylor Swift, change has always been a popular song theme.  The topic has sure been on my mind lately, as I’m building on my nearly 13-year-old Branding & PR consultancy to also become a certified life coach and continue to make great progress with my book project on helping people get unstuck. A huge catalyst recently was getting focused on my purpose/mission, and now I wanted to share three tips to help you identify your life’s purpose as well:

1)      Recognize your passions.  Make a list of all of the activities and experiences that truly floats your boat.  There’s no limit here…it could be just a few items or a list that covers several pages. Whether you love zumba classes, gardening, international travel or writing “50 Shades of Grey” fan fiction (hey, I don’t judge), take note of what lights you up at this moment in your life. Now circle the three items that resonate with you most strongly. Are you seeing any patterns or themes here? 

2)      Fill in the blanks. Here’s a handy tool, courtesy of the Coaches Training Institute, the extensive program I’m currently enrolled in to become a professional life coach.

I am the (fill in the blank – metaphors are great here) that (describe your impact).

For example, I’m a rabid pop culture geek, so naturally images of super heroes come to my mind.  A couple of years ago at a dinner party, I was asked to name my super power/hero name and the first thing that popped into my mind was “The Illuminator,” based on inspiring others to maximize their potential. Okay, it doesn’t involve laser beams or sick martial arts skills, so I’m definitely not getting a part in the next “Avengers” movie. But it felt right and has been at the back of my mind ever since.  Lately it dawned on me that what all of my interests have in common is possibilities…I help create them for companies and while providing individuals the chance to recognize and claim their greatness.  Take all of that together, and here’s the life purpose statement I just finalized last weekend:

I am the Illuminator, helping people see and step fully into possibilities.

3)      Take ownership. For me, the first step has been writing this blog post and bolding the above statement. Next I’m working on how to bring all parts of me together – this blog and my current business website, into one place that encompasses what brings me joy and honors that purpose. Once you’ve identified what your purpose is, give it life. Write about it in your journal or blog, tell friends, create a vision board about it, etc. When you focus attention and love on it, great things will happen.

Have you identified your life purpose? If so, what is it? What are you most passionate about these days?

Embracing Backslides, Relapses and Bitch Slaps on the Quest for Happiness

Doh!If necessity is the Mother of Invention, then I consider the quest for more happiness to be the Catalyst of Good Intentions. Think about all of the times a desire to feel better or alleviate a source of pain has prompted you to eat cleaner, start exercising more, tackle that mound of credit card debt or begin looking for a job you truly love.  Even with strong momentum and support though, the best intentions can be derailed. That’s why I wanted to share how embracing backslides, relapses and proverbial bitch slaps can ultimately help achieve your goals and claim a happier life.

1)      Understand that change can be hard. Even if you are the “little engine that could” surging forward against the odds, sometimes you may take a step backward before regaining your momentum.  Being aware of that fact can help keep deal with relapses.

“Change isn’t a one-off decision, it’s a commitment to a long-term process, warts and all,” says Psychologist Jenna Mayhew, cofounder and therapist of Write As Rain: Written Word Therapy www.write-as-rain.co.uk, an online therapy service for women that celebrates the benefits of writing. “It takes a lot of attempts and ongoing commitment to maintaining the change. However if you aren’t psychologically prepared for periods of relapse, any ‘mistakes’ can be experienced as failures, leading to decreased motivation and confidence, and in some cases, giving up.”

2)      Be prepared. More than just the lyrics from a popular Lion King song or the motto of the Boy Scouts, trying to be prepared for backslides or bitch slaps can help you minimize their damage.  Mayhew advises that relapses should be embraced by planning ahead for them. Her tips include:

  • Take note of times when you think you may be vulnerable to relapsing. Proactively build in strategies that outline how you will stay consistent and committed during these times.
  • If you do backslide, plan how you will deal with this. For example, after you inhale a dozen chocolate truffles at a dinner party after diligently eating clean for the past week, take a journal and write about it. Indentify what happened, the context, influencing factors and how you can prevent this from happening again.

“Willpower is like a muscle that needs to be strengthened over time,” she adds. “Expect backslides, plan, reflect, keep trying, and you’ll eventually master your change.” 

3)      Learn from the experience. Rather than being a linear path, life is often like a game of Candy Land (which I used to play frequently with my niece when she was five years old). The draw of a card can jump you forward towards Candy Castle or set you back into the midst of Lollipop Woods eating the dust of your opponent.  What matters is how you learn from challenges or backslides. Last year, a five year client of my PR/Branding consulting practice decided to take their communications in-house. At first, I was surprised and a little hurt. But stepping back, I realized that their decision made absolute sense, stopped taking it personally and began thinking more about the kind of business I actually wanted to focus on. That’s when I started honing in on clients that made the world happier, healthier or more livable, which was more strongly aligned with my personal interests. Soon enough, new business replaced the departed company that resonated stronger with my passions and now I carefully screen prospective clients to ensure a better fit.

 

Have you ever experienced backslides, relapses or even bitch-slaps from life? How did you handle the situation, and what did you learn from the experience?

Why seeking out new challenges can give you a bigger dose of happiness

On top of a mountain during a two-hour morning hike at the Miraval Resort.

On top of a mountain during a two-hour morning hike at the Miraval Resort.

If you want a bigger dose of happiness, try seeking out new challenges and experiences. Whether it involves taking on an unexpected role (my hilarious friend and notable smart-ass Leslie at The Bearded Iris is loving leading her son’s scout troop) or pushing yourself for a huge physical accomplishment, as my husband did in going from no running and swimming at all to completing several Half Ironman triathlons in less than a year, striving to experience something new can go a long way to creating a more fulfilling life. I saw that first-hand during my vacation to the Miraval Spa in Tucson last week.

Growing up, I organized the middle school sleep-over parties and being a Resident Advisor was one of my favorite college experiences – so pulling together a trip for 15 wonderful women to Miraval was second nature. I arrived thinking much of my time would be spent taking fitness classes and working on my book in-between spa services and wellness sessions. Yeah, right. With limited gym offerings available, I found myself instead taking a two-hour guided hike in the Catalina Desert Mountains three mornings in a row…something wonderful I would never have a chance to experience in my suburban Atlanta lifestyle. And instead of writing furiously, I spent more time thinking about the book and life coach practice I’m creating to focus on personal transformations…and gained a whole lot of valuable insights instead.  Those different experiences – one covering physical challenge and the other emotional wellness – really fed my soul.

Many of my buddies stepped outside of their comfort zone, like Nancy Mullin. Her first big challenge was Swing and a Prayer, which involves climbing a ladder and being lifted 35 feet in the air above the desert floor using a rope and pulley system guided by four strangers you just met moments ago.  When you let go of that rope, it is also about releasing your emotional restraints as well. The Equine Experience proved to be just as remarkable for her, where your own attitude, approach and communication skills are enhanced by working with horses.

The impact on Nancy has been profound. “There is not just one word which can truly describe my experience at Miraval,” she says. “Words like unforgettable, once in a lifetime, going outside your comfort zone, memorable and testing your boundaries don’t seem to do it justice. Miraval is a distinct mixture of emotional and physical challenges designed to give you life altering experiences which are 100% usable in your daily life.”

If you are interested in seeking out new challenges for greater personal fulfillment, here are a few steps to get started:

  1. Acknowledge what thrills you. Let’s say you always wanted to be a ballerina and still love watching dance performances on stage and television. Maybe it’s time to  get in on the fun by taking a dance class yourself. Have a lifelong dream of being a rock star? Start jamming with some friends in your garage or check out rock and roll fantasy camp where you get to interact with professional musicians.
  2. Give yourself permission to feel awkward.  Want to do something big and bold, but are scared of looking like a dork? Just let go of feeling like you’ve always got to be smooth and coordinated (heck, I never am either of those things) and jump in. If public speaking scares the bejesus out of you but it would really help your career, try Toastmasters or volunteer to lead tours at the local museum to practice that skill. Want to try skydiving? Sign up for a dive at a locally accredited facility and jump tandem with an experienced instructor.
  3. Create more opportunities for challenge. How many times have you said, “if I only had more time in the day…” Well, let’s call B.S. on that. We are all busy with work and families and commitments and having to watch NBC’s The Voice live so you can vote 27 times for your favorite competitor. Schedule time for new challenges just as you would for a conference call, your kid’s soccer game or a pedicure. Doing so reinforces how much you love and value yourself.
Nancy Mullin experiencing a Swing and a Prayer at Miraval

Nancy Mullin experiencing a Swing and a Prayer at Miraval

When is the last time you embraced a new challenge? What impact did it make on your happiness and sense of fulfillment?