My December List

There are so many extra “to dos” during December, and I realize sometimes a regular routine can get lost in the flurry, at least mine can!

So here’s my personal simple reminder list of eleven self-care BASICS to keep me balanced anytime I’m going through an extra busy time. Holiday time is a really good time to make sure none of these slip through the cracks!

I hope my list helps you too:

  • Eat a minimum of one raw fruit and one raw vegetable each day
  • Drink plenty of water (with extra treats you may need more than you think)
  • Get enough sleep -listen to your body when it needs rest
  • Stick to your exercise routine, even if time-wise you need to shorten it some days
  • Be still for at least 5 min each day -breathe deeply to connect your body, mind, and spirit
  • Don’t neglect writing daily in your gratitude journal, it only takes a minute and yields great rewards
  • Practice staying in the moment- wherever you are, tell yourself “Be here now” and whether you are in traffic, or standing in a long check out line, or anywhere else, find the beauty in it
  • See the humor in situations and share the laughter with others (this always lightens me up!)
  • Take time for TEA. I’m referring to MiracleTea® – for me it helps with brain fog, better sleep, cleans up toxins if I sneak in a soda pop!
  • Each day do at least one act of service for someone else (even small things count!)
  • Do Less Better – this has been my mantra for a few months and has helped me tremendously! I’ll write an article about how it’s helped me and can help you too, in an upcoming newsletter.

The Call to Create

creative

The sound may be faint as the stirring of a soft breeze through the trees or as loud as a brass band in a parade. Or you may not hear a sound at all, but feel an urging, an inner pull, a sense of excitement and longing that resonates from within. This is the call to create, and it is universal, bidding each of us to bring something new into being.

“Creativity is the Self searching for itself,” said George Gamez, Ph.D., author of How to Catch Lightning in a Bottle. We create in order to express our unique visions and perceptions. We create to communicate and to form a bond with our fellow human beings. Creative expression helps us feel connected to the world and builds bridges of understanding. It nourishes us and helps us grow, provides insights and deeper understandings. Creativity is fun, exciting and playful. It relieves stress and releases tension. It provides a way of communication when normal channels may be blocked or are insufficient—when we must speak in colors and textures and shimmering visions and music.

Creativity is love expressing itself; it heals and renews. Our creations are mirrors in which others may see themselves and the signature of our lives that says, “This is how I saw it.”

Everyone is Creative

No matter what you may have been told, every one of us is creative. It is as much a part of us as our voice and breath and fingerprints. Creativity isn’t just about making “art.” Cooking, gardening, handiwork and crafts, keeping a journal are all creative acts. Arranging flowers or rearranging furniture, painting a picture or painting a room, singing on stage or singing in the shower—these are responses to the call.

Creativity is a way of living. It is being spontaneous and playful, exercising the imagination, finding solutions, and embracing possibilities and doing it all with passion.

Yet for all the joy and fulfillment it brings, some resist the call to be creative. In our culture the ideas that “Time is money” and “Art is frivolous” are common, and old messages such as, “Stay inside the lines” or “You can do better than that” have remarkable staying power. It takes courage to look beneath the surface of what we’ve been told in order to find our heart’s desire.

Creativity requires risk-taking. It asks us to surrender, to let go and to trust. “Committing to our creativity is an act of faith,” wrote Jan Phillips, in Marry Your Muse. “A promise to believe in ourselves.”

Honoring the creative Self means finding time, making space, being patient and taking the chance of looking foolish. You cannot care too much what others think or say. You must be willing to start over and stay with it; creativity takes stamina. There are no magical secrets or absolute rules. Creativity can’t be taught. You just do it.

Like the body’s natural urge for motion and the human need for connection and community, the spirit longs to express itself. So when you hear the call to create, answer, “Yes.” It is your self searching for your Self, a movement toward being whole.

Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications

Listening to Our Bodies: They Know More than We Do!

listen-to-your-bodyThe body holds much of the information we need to function at our best, but too often we ignore its messages and plow ahead with what our minds tell us.
Perhaps because we’re not taught from early on to pay attention to internal messages as well as external demands, we frequently ignore our body’s communications.
So we take another extra-strength aspirin rather than investigating what’s causing our head to ache. We use more caffeine or sugar to give us a lift when we feel tired, rather than hearing our body’s message about needing rest or recognizing our fatigue as an early symptom of burnout we’d do well to heed. A look at our pets may be all the message we need about the value of naps.
We fail to take into account the thousand little messages communicated to us by how we’re holding ourselves: the mouth that’s pinched and tight rather than relaxed. The fact that our shoulders are up around our ears, the knot of tension in our stomach as we promise to do something when closer consideration might tell us we are already over-extended.
These days we’re notorious for putting deadlines ahead of the protests of aching bones or inadequately nourished bellies. (Is there hidden wisdom in calling a due date a deadline in the first place?) Instead of asking our body what it wants, we go for the quick fill-up or the comfort food that may be the last thing we really need.
So what to do to give your body an equal say in how you use it?
Start with the breath. Breathing consciously is a major part of body awareness. Turn off thoughts and just let yourself experience the inflow and outflow of breath. Label them, “In. Out. In. Out.” Note how and where you are breathing or failing to, a clear sign something important is going on.
Allow yourself quiet time. Sit for ten minutes just observing yourself, even (especially!) in the middle of a busy day. Meditate. Take a walk or a nap. Allow time to do nothing. Soak in a hot tub rather than taking a quick shower.
Get a massage. It’s not self-indulgence to be massaged; it wakes up the whole nervous system and helps you tune in.
Use your journal to dialogue with your body. Ask your body how it’s feeling, what it wants, what’s going on. Give that sore wrist or stiff lower back a voice and let it tell you what its message is.
Eat when hungry, sleep when tired. Take a week and really pay attention to your body’s most basic needs. Do your real rhythms for eating and sleeping conform to the habits you’ve established? If they don’t, change them!
Do a body inventory to relax. Start with your toes and work upwards. Scan your body from the inside. Or try tensing each part slightly, then relaxing it to release residual tension.
Practice mindfulness. Get used to tuning in to your physical self, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing.
If your body suggests rolling down a grassy hillside, taking flight on a playground swing, or skipping down a winding path – why resist? Its impulses hold the key to our well-being!
Practice these steps for a few days/weeks and share with us your experiences below. Or if you already follow these guidelines, what are some tips you have for others?
And, if you think you can’t seem to get over the “mental hump” that is keeping you from listening to your body, please join me in August for my next Group Call on Healthy Body!

Listening Tips and Traps: How do you rate?

big earsHave you ever noticed how GOOD it feels to be really listened to? It’s impactful, particularly when the listening goes beyond just the words you’re speaking. That kind of artful listening conveys respect and value to the speaker, and promotes positive relationships of all kinds.

And, like any art, it takes practice.

According to widely referenced statistics by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, known for his pioneering work in nonverbal communication, only 7% of communication happens through a person’s actual words (38% through tone and 55% through body language). That’s why it’s important to hone our skills to listen at deeper levels.

A good place to start is by understanding the three listening levels described in the book Co-Active Coaching, by Laura Whitworth, Henry Kimsey-House and Phil Sandahl.

Listening Levels
Level 1Internal: We hear the other person’s words, but our focus is on what it means to us—our thoughts, feelings, judgments and conclusions. We may also be concerned with what the other person thinks of us. This level is useful for checking in with our feelings or to make decisions.

Level 2Laser-Focused: Our attention is focused like a laser beam on the other person, with little awareness of anything else. With such strong focus, we are curious, open and have little time to pay attention to our own feelings or worry about how we are being received. Mind chatter disappears with such a sharp focus.

Level 3Global: Our attention is spread out like an antenna with a 360-degree range. It allows us to pick up emotions, energy, body language and the environment itself. Intuition heightens as we tune into the deeper layers of what is going on around us.

All three levels are necessary. However, when we spend too much time in self-focused Level 1 listening, our communication can seriously suffer. Engaging all three levels at once, with more emphasis on Levels 2 and 3, can improve how we listen—and the impact of how we are received.

Listening Blocks
Having spent more than 20 years training business people in listening skills, Richard Anstruther and his team of communication experts at HighGain, Inc., have identified five main listening blocks:

Tune Out—Listeners are not paying attention to the speaker due to disinterest in the speaker or subject, thinking about other things or multitasking.

Detach—Listeners are emotionally detached from the speaker, concerned with content only, not the feelings behind it. They may be only half listening, not really interacting, and miss the message’s underlying meaning.

Rehearse—Listeners are concentrating on what to say or do next, rather than focusing on the speaker’s message.

Judge—Listeners have a different opinion that causes them to block out new ideas and information or lose track of the conversation. They analyze and interpret the speaker’s delivery or message, missing the point. They criticize, give advice and make assumptions.
 
Control—Listeners don’t allow the speaker to talk at his or her own pace. They constantly interrupt with comments or questions, and don’t allow the speaker to finish a point.

Try This!
Below are a few suggestions for honing your listening skills. Enjoy!

1. Experiment with Levels 1, 2 and 3 listening, one at a time, to fully understand the dynamics at each level. Try this in everyday conversation, or practice with someone. Take turns telling a story and listening. The results may surprise you!

2. Spend some time noticing how often you fall into tuning out, detaching, rehearsing, judging or controlling. What can you do to keep from falling into these common traps?

3. In your everyday conversations, or in an intentional practice session with a partner, explore each listening block, one at a time. Notice how you feel and the impact on the person with whom you are communicating.

The first step to developing artful listening is to choose to truly listen. As you continue to develop your listening skills, your communications and your relationships are likely to become increasingly satisfying and rich!

Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications
 

Procrastination—Everyone Talks About It, but Nobody Does Anything

procrastinationImagine the space this article fills as blank.
Imagine the time and energy it might have taken someone who procrastinates to: 1) think about doing the article, 2) put it on a list of “to dos,” 3) talk about doing it, 4) promise himself he will start it tomorrow, 5) promise himself he will definitely start it tomorrow, 6) promise…well, you get the point.
As the deadline for the article draws near (it’s midnight the night before the article is due), imagine the stress the writer must feel as he brews a pot of coffee and sets himself up for a couple of hours to research the topic, organize the information, create an outline, come up with a dynamite opening line, write the article, rewrite the article, rewrite it again, print it out and rewrite it one more time. And, of course, the whole time he’s beating himself up for waiting so long to start and telling himself he’s no good at this job anyway and the article will be a bust.
This is procrastination in full, weedy flower. Delay. Broken promises and unfulfilled expectations. Feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. Worry. Fear. Stress. Overwork and probably not as good an end product as the writer would have produced if he’d tackled the job in a timely, reasonable, professional manner.
Procrastination isn’t good for anyone, anytime. So why do so many do it? Not just around such matters as filing income tax and completing holiday shopping, but with everyday tasks such as cleaning off the desk or straightening up the garage or starting a project at work.
The more difficult, inconvenient or scary the task is perceived to be, the more procrastinators procrastinate. They come up with semi-convincing self-talk that makes the delay appear reasonable, but in the end it’s a self-defeating behavior that causes all sorts of problems, not the least of which is stress.
Following are a few remedies to overcome procrastination:
 
1. Set goals. Decide what you want and what needs to happen to get it. Be specific. Create a realistic timetable.
 
2. Commit. Make a contract with yourself. Tell a friend or co-worker or family member your plan. Ask for help when you need it.
 
3. Set priorities. Make a list of things that need to be done in order of their importance.
 
4. Get organized. Have the right tools and equipment to do the job. Make lists. Keep a schedule.
 
5. Think small. Don’t let the whole of the project overwhelm you. Stay in the present and do what you are doing.
 
6. Break tasks into parts. The “Swiss cheese” approach to getting any major project completed is to break it apart and work on one piece at a time. Reward yourself when you complete one step.
 
7. Use positive self-talk.
 
8. Replace excuses with rational, realistic thinking.
 
9. Realize there is no such thing as perfection. Begin the thing knowing it can never be done perfectly. You’ll do your best. You always do.
 
10. Reward yourself. Often and generously for accomplishing the smallest of tasks. Celebrate. Pat yourself on the back. Enjoy your accomplishment.
Like many other self-defeating behaviors, procrastination can be overcome. The place to begin is where you are.
The time to start is now.
Author’s content used  under license, © 2008 Claire Communications

Play to Your Strengths

strengthHow often have you invested in a personal growth training to try to improve something you felt you were not good at? Perhaps it was writing, marketing, trusting your intuition or public speaking. For most of us, trying to improve our weak areas in operating a business or improving people skills comes with the territory. Whatever the area, we feel as if we are required to do battle with what we don’t do well.
As it turns out, the majority of people around the world feel this way. In their groundbreaking book Now, Discover Your Strengths, authors Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton say that across all ages and cultures, people are more concerned about their weaknesses than their strengths. We believe that our weaknesses matter more in holding us back than our strengths matter in advancing us.
That’s nonsense, say the authors—widely held nonsense, but nonsense nonetheless. In their provocative theory, they suggest that the better strategy is to play to your strengths, building upon your core talents, and work around your weaknesses. You can work to add skills and knowledge to increase your performance in any area, but unless you are building upon one of your innate talents, your efforts won’t produce exceptional results—some results, yes, but not dramatic improvement.
“Unless you have the necessary talent, your improvements will be modest,” write Buckingham and Clifton. “You will be diverting most of your energy toward damage control and very little toward real development.”

The expression “damage control” is their term for trying to minimize your weaknesses—the areas where your lack of talent actually get in the way of your performance.

“Managing Around” a Weakness

Instead of trying to overcome your weaknesses by brute force—and at the expense of putting the same energy into growing your strengths—they offer five strategies for what they call “managing around” a weakness: (Note: most of these strategies are written in business terms, but for those of you not in a business-setting, they are still great, as they can easily be applied to all areas of life)

Get a little better at it. In some cases, your weakness is only moderately impeding your peak performance in other areas. If so, then maybe damage control is the right solution.

Develop a support system. This is the proverbial string tied around the finger to remind you of something. Whether it is time management systems for those with a talent for adaptability but not discipline, or a scheduled walk in the park for disciplined folks who neglect self-care, you can often blunt the effects of your weaknesses through such structured inputs.

Study your prospects. In business, if your skills tend toward the analytical and away from such talents as wooing clients or dealing directly with confrontation, then you probably ought not be spending a lot of time in sales. But when you do have to sell something—such as one of your ideas—approach the problem analytically. Rather than agonize over your lack of salesmanship, study your prospects, dig into what makes them tick and what ideas they’ve accepted in the past, and let your enthusiasm for your ideas do the talking.

Find a partner. This may be the best approach for small business people and “solo” practitioners. Go into partnership discussions with a clear-eyed understanding of the strengths you bring, and the strengths you need from your partner. Don’t be shy about your strengths—the whole point of this is to create a world in which you get to do what you are really good at. And be open-minded about what a partnership looks like. For some solo practitioners, an administrative assistant or a marketing consultant could be all the partnering you need.

Just (Don’t) Do It. The last option, say Buckingham and Clifton, is just don’t do the things you are weak at. In a corporate setting you might get away with this, particularly if you are a high-performer in the areas of your strengths. If you’re a small business owner and your organizational chart tends to have “me” written in most every box, not doing something may not seem like much of a choice. But keep it as a goal and continue to work toward the day when you can contribute to your business exclusively from the place of your highest strengths.

Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications

Raising Compassionate Kids

compassionate kidsHow to raise kids who are kind and considerate is a hot topic these days. With so much bullying happening in the world, both in schools and via the Internet, it seems more important than ever to raise kids who can be thoughtful and empathetic towards other people.

Children have an inborn capacity for compassion. Although you can take steps to raise a compassionate child who is kind to others yet strong enough to stand up to hurtful words and actions when necessary, the most important thing to remember is that children may listen to what we say, but they model themselves on how we behave. This means that if you practice and demonstrate compassion (with yourself, your child and the other people in your world), your child is very likely to emulate that behavior.

Here are some ideas to help you integrate compassion into your everyday life in ways that you can share with your child:

Volunteer. Show your child that all people deserve kindness by serving together at a soup kitchen or volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. Let your child choose a volunteer activity that builds on interests they already have (for instance, the Humane Society if they love animals or reading aloud to the blind if they love to read).

Get a pet or a small plot of dirt to cultivate. When a child is invested in the care of another living thing, they learn about nurturing themselves and others and are less likely to engage in bullying. And most pets and plants require time outdoors, so you’ll both get a good dose of fresh air!

Practice listening. Darcia Narvaez, a writer for Psychology Today, says: “…if you are treated with empathy, you will treat others the same way.” When your child is hurting, instead of responses like “keep your chin up” or “boys don’t cry,” invite your child to share his or her feelings. Particularly with younger children, hug them to provide soothing reassurance that it’s okay to experience and express feelings of distress. When they feel loved and fully heard, it will be easier for them to listen to others with an open and compassionate heart.

Limit time with violent video games and television shows. Numerous studies have shown that media violence promotes aggression and desensitizes kids to the consequences of violent behavior.

Travel to a foreign country or a neighborhood very different from your own. Traveling to a place where people have a different culture, language and music shows a child that differences can be both interesting and fun!

Activities that promote compassion mean you’ll be bonding with your child in ways you can both feel good about. In addition, activities like volunteering or growing a garden serve another purpose—they remind both of you that you have something valuable to offer the world. Your child’s growing self-respect can help turn the tide of bullying and the devastating effect that this has on children’s lives.

Think it’s too late for teens and young adults? Think again. It may not be as easy to get their attention away from the things going on in their busy lives, but keep trying. Maybe start with yourself and set the example. When they see how much fun and joy you are getting from it, they may just decide to join you!


And of course, if you are a grandparent, you have eager and willing participants in your grandchildren.

 

It’s never too late to be a positive influence in the lives of your children (and grandchildren).

 
Author’s content used  under license, © 2008 Claire Communications

Give Your Relationship a Tune-Up

car loveBuy a car and you get a wonderful machine, ready to go for thousands of miles and, likely, many years. You also get a hefty owner’s manual with operating instructions and lots of written reminders for yearly check-ups and tune-ups. Chances are you’ll have several years of warranty, and of course, if something is seriously wrong, you can take it back.

Find a partner—and you’re on your own. There is no owner’s manual. No operating instructions, warranty or guarantees for the road ahead.

“Think about it: the requirements for a driver’s license are tenfold the requirements for a marriage license,” writes Phil McGraw, Ph.D., in his book Relationship Rescue. He adds, “The very society that has taught you that it is good and right and natural to share your life with another person…never bothered to teach you how to do that.”

Most of us can do without a car if need be, but few of us want to do without love. Within most of us there is a basic human longing for connection and relationships with others. For many, the backdrop of a loving, committed relationship gives us the space to learn about ourselves and grow deeper as we age.

Like cars, relationships need maintaining and regular tune-ups. But because they don’t come with operating instructions, below is a simple maintenance guide to help you keep your love relationship strong, healthy and on the road for years.

Know What Kind of Driver You Are

Recent research has shown several things strengthen a marriage and other long-term partnerships: communication, honesty and spending time together. Just as important is knowing yourself and what you bring to a relationship. When you connect with yourself, and work on those challenging parts of yourself, you create a stronger and better partner for someone else. That isn’t just true in the first flush of falling in love, it’s true for the many years that follow. “Being intimate with ourselves is the necessary foundation for being intimate with others,” writes John Amodeo in Being Intimate: A Guide to Successful Relationships.

It’s Not Always the Other Driver’s Fault

Taking responsibility for your feelings and actions is one of the greatest gifts you can bring to a relationship. You know that “other guy” who’s the worst driver on the road? That just might be you. Own up to what’s yours, and be clear with your partner about what you’re feeling or needing. Try not to make your problems their fault.

Watch the Warning Lights

Cars give us little signs that something is wrong—perhaps the wheels are out of alignment or the oil light goes on. Our partners or spouses also send little warning signs that something is not quite right, and it’s better to deal with the problems in the early stages, so that everything is in good working order when real crisis hits. After all, when another car pulls out in front of you, that’s not the time to wonder if you had the brakes checked.

A Wash and Wax Doesn’t Hurt

Are you a road hog? An impatient and irritable driver? Do you refuse to let someone into line during traffic or lean too heavily on your horn? Try a little tenderness. Sometimes we treat people we don’t know a lot better than the ones we’ve lived with for years, and we forget simple courtesies: a loving tone, a touch, a word of appreciation.

Accept the Little Dents and Scratches

Even the “perfect” car turns out to have quirks and challenges. So do our partners—those “perfect” people we fell in love with once upon a time. Before you get angry, decide which issues are worth pursuing, and let the rest go.

Bless This Car

How many of us are grateful for this metal conglomeration of thousands of parts that somehow work together to take us to where we want to go? The same goes for our love relationships. Stop, turn off the ignition and take a moment to be grateful for your spouse or partner and the love you both share.

Get Help Before the Engine Fails

Like a car, you can fix many of the small problems in a relationship by yourself. But sometimes that ominous clanking under the hood is a signal that something is seriously wrong and a quick fix won’t work. That’s when it’s time to find a “relationship mechanic”—that is, a counselor or therapist—who will help you diagnose what’s wrong, and guide you on getting your relationship back on the road.

A relationship with another human being is so much more complex than owning a car. So, too, is the work required to keep a long-term relationship vibrant, passionate and strong. In the end, maintaining something that enriches us is surely worth the investment.

I’d love to hear ways that you have kept your relationship “engine” running. Share your thoughts with me below!

 

Author’s content used  under license, © 2008 Claire Communications