FEED YOUR IMAGINATION

A television commercial for Jiff Peanut Butter serves as the inspiration for this article.  A young boy asks his mother for a peanut butter sandwich and one for his friend, Charlie.   (Turns out Charlie is his imaginary friend.)  When the mother puts the sandwiches on the table, a bite has been taken out of Charlie’s.  The young child excitedly says, “Look, mom, Charlie took a bite!”  (The camera pans to the mother who is chewing something…)  The tag line for the commercial is “Feed your imagination.”

Imagination is the action or ability to create new ideas or to have concepts of objects that are not present in real life.  When we use our imagination, we challenge our brain to be creative, innovative, resourceful, and ingenious.  And, when we are creative, innovative, resourceful, or ingenious we are able to better deal with challenging situations, issues, problems – anything in which we find ourselves in need of coming up with something different to resolve a dilemma we may be having.  (And, don’t we feel that unwanted or unexpected change often presents us with dilemmas we need to resolve and for which our usual problem solving methods may not work?)

 Often when we are in the midst of an unwanted or unexpected change we may also be sad, angry, depressed, or frustrated and the last thing we want to be is creative or imaginative.  So, what are some things we can do to feed our imagination that will help us move beyond our emotional response to what is going on and move to a positive resolution of what we are facing?

Spend time with creative people. Have a friend who is creative?  Spend some time talking and brainstorming possibilities.  Visit a craft fair.  During a recent visit to a craft fair, I found myself talking with many of the artisans about their creativity.  One in particular, who turned old pot lids into snowman faces, was a wealth of information on how to get the creative juices flowing.  Play with a child.  Children are naturally unconventional thinkers and can come up with some pretty wild and imaginative takes on things.

Be curious about stuff.  Children are not only unconventional thinkers but they are very imaginative because of their curiosity.  Activate your inquisitive side and seek to know more about something.  Learn and experience new and different things.  Ask questions.  Wonder more.

 

Read. Watch. Listen.  Read books and began to wonder or imagine what is going on, what will happen next or what would have happened if only…    Watch movies especially the special effects in some action films.  Your imagination may just take hold as you try to figure how they came up with the idea for certain effects.   Watching a movie in black and white can trigger the mind to wonder about colors, symbolism, and hidden meanings.  Listen to music (classical music is a great means to feed the imagination), an inspirational speaker, a speech (TED talks are great for this).

Experience the arts.  Create art or visit a gallery or an exhibit.  Play an instrument or attend a concert.   Dance or take dance lessons.  Act or attend a play. Sing or attend a concert.

Participate in a workshop, conference, seminar, or other educational event.  Anytime you can feed your brain new and different ideas or thoughts, the likelihood of your imagination getting fired up is pretty good.

 

Daydream. Daydreaming is meditation for the creative side of our brain.  When we daydream, we create a series of pleasant thoughts that distract our attention from what is currently going on.  Daydreaming is the wishful creation of our imagination.

Relax.  Rest yourself and your mind.  A body and mind that is stress free and rested is better able to learn and more likely to be creative.

Experience something new and different.  When we do or learn something new, we develop connections in our brain and these connections help grow both our intellectual and our creative sides.  So, meet new people, travel to a new place, listen to a different genre of music or read a book by an author new to you.  Eat a new food.  Be adventuresome.

Practice seeing things differently.  Look at common things with a new perspective.  (Think of the crafter who created snowman faces with pot lids.)   That different perspective may trigger different ideas which may feed your imagination.

When we are dealing with unexpected or unwanted change and we are having trouble moving forward, imagine where you want to be or what you want to be in the changed environment.  If we use our imagination (and feed it when it needs fueled) then the possibilities of our world become limitless.  As the Anglo-Irish playwright and 1925 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature George Bernard Shaw said, “Imagination is the beginning of creation.  You imagine what you desire. You will what you imagine.  And at last you create what you will.”

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FINDING BALANCE

We are one week into the New Year of 2018.  Are you trying to catch up after a few weeks busy with events, parties, performances, shopping, and time with friends and families?  Did all the coming and going make you feel off balance?  Changes to one’s regular routine can do that. In fact, any change can make us feel out of sync.  Anything can throw us off balance – a change in someone’s schedule, an illness in the family, an appliance breaking down, a flat tire.  Daily life occurrences can create slight shifts for us.  So, just think what may happen when the “floor falls out from under us” if a major or seismic change should enter our lives.  Being off balance in some areas of our lives might be an understatement at that point.  If all our energy is focused on dealing with the change, it’s easy to find ourselves out of sync or off balance and pulled away from the important aspects of our life. This can lead to frustration and stress.

Balance relates to having stability in one’s life; of equalizing who we are and what we do; of aligning what we must do with what we want to do or enjoy doing.  When our lives are balanced then all the various elements of our life are in the right amount and proportion.  We are more likely to be calm, relaxed, have peace of mind, take things in stride, and feel happy.  The late American writer and theologian Thomas Merton said, “Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.”

To help you regain balance in your life so your 2018 can be calmer, more relaxed, and less stressed, try incorporating a few of these tips into your life:

Set priorities.  Align what you do with your values then prioritize what you do in line with those values. This is especially important in times of change when things can be topsy turvy.  Establish boundaries and limits.  These define how you take charge of your time and space, and help keep you aligned with your values.  It is okay to let go of some things, especially those not totally in line with your values.

Renew or reroute your purpose in life.  Ask yourself whether the change has affected who you are or where you are going.  Take some time to re-examine what truly matters to you.  If your purpose in life hasn’t really been altered by the change, give yourself time to accept the change then continue to move forward with your life.  If you feel the change has changed your life’s purpose or direction, then use the changed environment as a springboard to reroute your direction.

Be flexible.  Adopt the philosophy that anything can happen at any time.  If this is your mindset, when the unexpected happens, it is less likely to throw you way off balance.  Maintain perspective. When stuff happens, roll with it.  There are some things over which you have no control.  You can only control your response to stuff.

Empower yourself to think positive.  A positive attitude helps you to cope more easily with the daily affairs of life. It brings optimism into your life, and makes it easier to avoid worry and negative thinking. With a positive attitude, you see the bright side of life, become optimistic and expect the best to happen.  And, that positive attitude will help bring balance back into your life.

Put your “touchstones” to use.  Your friends – your touchstones – can be invaluable in helping you regain balance.  Ask them for help and allow yourself to be helped.  Allow them to challenge as well as celebrate you.

Simplify your life.  Drop activities that sap your time or energy.  Minimize the amount of time you spend on activities that you don’t really like, that don’t really bring you happiness or satisfaction, or that you do just because others around you are doing.

Take care of yourself.  You are no good to anyone, especially yourself, if you are unhealthy.  Get sufficient rest, exercise, and eat properly.  Apply healthy habits to your daily life; create daily routines.  Find ways to relax, minimize bad stress, and relieve tension.  Make sure to carve out some “me time” each day.

Take it one day at a time.   Don’t impose a time limit on yourself and feel that your balance needs to be “back” right away.  Give yourself time.  While the change may have happened in an instant, the recovery from it may take time.  Give yourself whatever time is needed. As long as you are continuing to move forward (and don’t let the change get you stuck), it doesn’t matter if you take 10 steps forward and three steps back. The net result is still forward movement.  So, take things one day at a time.  Before too long, the scales of your life will be back in balance.

A balanced life means the various elements of your life are in the right amount and proportion.  Living a balanced life means making choices.  Those choices should be based on your values and what is truly important to you.  Jennifer Pastiloff, writer and yoga teacher, said:  “Life is a balance between what we can control and what we can’t.”  No matter what throws us off balance – our choice to have too many activities in a day or something out of our control, like a major or seismic change – we all can choose to restore balance to our lives.  While there is no single formula for maintaining balance in our lives, just deciding to do so and implementing some of the tips offered here will most certainly go a long way in restoring the balance in your life.

SELF-RENEWAL IN THE NEW YEAR

As I write this article, we are seven days away from 2018 and a new year.  Each new year brings with it a time for renewal.  Renewal is rejuvenation, revitalization, an awakening, or a recharging.  In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People author Stephen Covey lists “principles of balanced self-renewal” as the seventh habit.  Balanced self-renewal involves attention to all four dimensions of our being: physical, spiritual, social/emotional, and mental.

According to Covey, the physical dimension involves caring for our physical body – eating the right foods, getting enough rest and relaxation, and exercising on a regular basis.  The spiritual dimension encompasses our center and our commitment to our value system.  The social/emotional dimension includes our feelings about self and others as well as our interactions and relationships with others.  And, the mental dimension involves keeping our mind sharp by reading, writing, organizing, planning and thinking.

 In this post, I would like to concentrate on the thinking aspect of our mental dimension and on the need to develop new attitudes for self-renewal.   As mental health counselor and author Deborah Day says, “Renewal requires opening yourself up to new ways of thinking and feeling.”  Think about it.  We often create a list of resolutions for a new year – things we want to do differently or things we want to accomplish in the new year.  Achieving those resolutions must first start with thinking differently.  As Albert Einstein (German born American physicist who developed the special and general theories of relativity and Nobel Prize winner for Physics in 1921) said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

For self-renewal to be successful, we need to open ourselves to new ways of thinking.  But, how do we do this?

We have to work on overcoming self-limiting thoughts.  These consist of the chatter in our heads that tells us that we can’t or we won’t or we shouldn’t.  The more the chatter revolves around these thoughts, the more we believe them and before we know it, those thoughts become our mindset.  Our mindset consists of beliefs and beliefs are thoughts that are repeated over and over for a period of time that determine how we respond to situations.   And the longer we think that something can or can’t happen, the more we believe that thought and the more we act accordingly.  So, our mindset is very powerful.  It can control us.  And, if our mindset is full of self-limiting thoughts, it can limit us from new ways of thinking.

We need to challenge the mindset that may be preventing us from thinking in new ways.  If negative thoughts (I could never do…, I don’t think I can do this…, I’m not as good as….) dominate our mindset, we need to look at what action can be taken to eliminate the negative?  Can we try to focus on the positive?  Is the negative a learned, an ingrained behavior?  If so, we can unlearn it.  Change the ‘I could never and the ‘I don’t think’ to words of encouragement.  Don’t feed the cycle of negativity.

Being open to brainstorming  (when ideas are spontaneously generated in response to a problem, issue, or situation) will also help us develop new ways of thinking.  Brainstorming helps us think beyond our same old thought patterns.  Productive brainstorming will generate a lot of different ideas especially off-the-wall or out-of-left-field ideas.   Don’t even think about whether the idea will work or solve the issue – just get any ideas and thoughts out. After the ‘mind dump’ of ideas, sort and categorize them and then begin to look for ones that will work what you facing

One of my favorite ways to develop a new way of thinking or looking at something is through  kaleidoscopic thinking. Take all the pieces for the situation (write out the pieces on index cards) and play with arranging them in different configurations.  Rosabeth Moss Kanter (Ernest L. Arbuckle professor of business at Harvard Business School and director and chair of the Harvard University Advanced Leadership Initiative)  says, “Creativity is a lot like looking at the world through a kaleidoscope. You look at a set of elements, the same ones everyone else sees, but then reassemble those floating bits and pieces into an enticing new possibility.” The notion of forming new patterns from existing information or resources is so simple, yet something we might not normally consider doing.   Remember, if we want the end result to be different, our actions and decisions must also be different. However, the difference may come about by doing something as simple as tweaking what we already have.

 

Putting on a critical thinking cap will also help us look at things differently and begin to think differently about what we are seeing or facing. When one thinks critically, the situation is analytically evaluated.  This helps with bringing out different points of view related to the situation.  Challenge and analyze what the motivation for doing something is, what thought processes are being used in the decision making, and what conclusions are being derived.  Use reflection throughout the analysis.  Ask: Could I be wrong? What assumptions am I making?  Are the assumptions correct? Are there other explanations?  Other perspectives? Other viewpoints? Seek out evidence to support ideas, beliefs, and conclusions.

Sometimes something as simple as gaining a fresh perspective helps us think differently about something.  Visit someone or someplace to experience something different from the norm. This may provide new ideas or a way of taking the ‘kaleidoscopic piece’ of one’s life and helping with the rearrangement. Talk to someone who has a totally different point of view on the issue or situation. (Think of the story of the blind men and the elephant. Depending on what part of the elephant was touched, the perspective on what the elephant was like, differed. Look at the pieces of the situation in this manner to help gain other perspectives.)  Don’t overlook asking a child for his/her perspective on something.  Children are naturally unconventional thinkers. When trying to think differently, a young child’s take on an issue (presented to them in a way they would understand) might provide a spark of creativity that provides just what is needed for us to think in a new way.

Self-renewal is important for us to stay on top of our game, to be highly effective in all we do, and to achieve any resolutions we may have for the New Year.  As we begin this new year, do practice balanced self-renewal.  Pay attention to all four dimensions of being: physical, spiritual, social/emotional, and mental.  And, in particular, pay attention to the mental dimension and be open to new ways of thinking.  Only by doing so will be able to do things differently and give ourselves the potential to achieve our goals and dreams.  HAPPY NEW YEAR!

THE TEARS OF CHANGE

Wednesday evening, December 20, 2017 tears rolled down my face as I watched my godson’s 15-month-old twins open Christmas presents.  I wasn’t in the room when they did so, but rather miles and miles away yet through the ‘magic’ of technology, I was able to participate in this happy moment through a video phone call.  Those were tears of joy.

Thursday night, December 21, 2017, I was again on the phone and again tears rolled down my face as I listened to my cousin relay news that his 26-year-old nephew (my second cousin) had died unexpectedly earlier that day.  Those were tears of sadness and profound grief.

I have shed many tears in my lifetime.  Tear of joy.  Tears of sadness.  Tears of compassion.  Tears of relief.   If I am honest with myself, all of my tears have an underlying cause in some type of change.  The twins are blossoming from infants into happy, active toddlers whose antics thrill and delight, bringing on the happiness waterworks.

The tears for Cousin Adam were sparked by the sudden and totally unexpected change in his life journey which has affected all family members and friends.  Life was full of promise for Adam.  His upcoming June 2018 wedding has been but one topic of excitement when we talked of him.  Adam’s loss from our lives is a change totally out of our control and one that just leaves us with red, swollen eyes; tear-stained faces; broken hearts; and, heads shaking in shock and dismay.  The first round of those tears of change were followed by tears filled with memories of the happy times:  Adam in his college football uniform, in his professional football uniform, in his suit and tie, in his casual clothes enjoying a summer day.

 

None of us can control change – not the change that brings us happiness, satisfaction, and joy, nor the change that brings us sadness, anger, and frustration.  When a change occurs that seems unfair, unreasonable, or just plain wrong, we need to go ahead and vent – yell, scream, wail.  Go ahead and shed tears, lots and lots of tears.  Go ahead and call someone and share feelings, memories, thoughts.  Go ahead and reflect.  Go ahead and smile when remembering the happy times.  Go ahead shake your head.  Go ahead and spend time with loved ones; get comfort from their embraces. Go ahead and do whatever it takes to help productively ease the pain and the sorrow.  For only in consoling ourselves, in easing the sting of the change, in giving ourselves time to adjust to the change can we prepare to move forth in the wake of the change.

And move on we must.  No matter how difficult.  No matter how much we just want to give up or give in.  No matter how much we want to turn back the hands of time.  We mourn what was and yes, we often have a tough time envisioning what will be.  But, we move on because our life journey continues to move on.  The path of that journey has undoubtedly changed and where it will now lead, we don’t know (but then again, we really didn’t know before the change occurred, did we?).  We can be sure that there will be more changes along the way.  More tears of joy.  More tears of sadness.  But, beyond the tears of sadness there is a rainbow waiting.  I have no idea how long it will take any of us to see or find that rainbow for we all experience change and especially the losses associated with it in a different way.

American novelist and nonfiction writer Katharine Weber has an interesting take on our life journey:   “Life seems sometimes like nothing more than a series of losses, from beginning to end.  That’s the given.  How you respond to those losses, what you make of what’s left, that’s the part you have to make up as you go.”    Indeed, how we respond to the losses in our life and what we make of what’s left is a challenge for all of us.

 In my continued journey, my Cousin Adam’s spirit will always be with me.   Nothing can change the memories I have of him.  It is those memories that will keep me moving forward.  Within those memories, I will continue to experience tears of sadness and tears of joy.  Eventually all of my tears will eventually help heal the heartache that pervades (especially during times of unexpected and unwanted change) and beyond the heartache, the changed journey will continue leading me, as it does all of us, to that rainbow and a new beginning.  And, in my new beginning, I will be able to celebrate Adam and all the joy and happiness he brought in his short time with us.  In my new beginning, my tears of joy for Adam will help build my rainbow.

FOCUS ON WHERE WE ARE HEADED

 The quote in the above picture is one that offers some sound advice for life.  Indeed, what is in front of us is more important that what is behind us.  We have to life live forward and to do that we must let go of the past or whatever is keeping us from moving forward.  To move forward is to advance or make progress with something.  Moving forward is moving ahead and moving on.  The ability to move forward is so important especially when dealing with change because oftentimes it seems easier to just quit and give up when the challenges associated with change are upon us.  It is easier to stay rooted in our comfort zone than to move out of it and deal with the change at hand. However, staying rooted does nothing to help us navigate the “changing environment.”

 

Now, moving forward doesn’t mean we forget what is behind us (the past).  Instead, we learn from it and gain perspective from it using the lessons to guide us as we move forward with our lives.  It is important to look at where we’ve been and what we’ve experienced in order to continue to do what works or to avoid what doesn’t (avoid the same mistakes or pitfalls; prevent the recurrence of a painful experience).  Someone said, “Moving on is not about never looking back.  It’s about taking a glance at yesterday and noticing how much you’ve grown since then.”

 

 

Growing and moving forward is what life is all about.  Now, when unwanted or unexpected change enters our life journey, it is understandable that we might want to cocoon ourselves in the comfort of the old, of the past.   While that may feel good for a while, staying there doesn’t help us live life.  So, what can we do to focus on where we are headed?

Deal with emotions that may be making it difficult to let go.  Our emotions underlie the difficulty of letting go and moving on.  We often get stuck and wallow in our sadness, regret, panic, disappointment, or other emotional response.  However, it is vital that we not let the emotional response control us.  Create situations for positive emotions and feelings to sprout and grow.

Know what we want.  This isn’t about the how, only the what. In order to move forward in life, we need a firm foundation from which to step. Understanding what and where we want to go in life will provide our vision and spirit – our foundation. The how will figure itself out when we know we want to keep moving forward.

Believe we are worthy.  Think like a winner.  Whatever our goal, our dream, or our desire, we are worthy of achieving it. The closer we get to it is when the enemy of our soul will begin putting doubt in our mind by playing the self-limiting tapes that say we are not worthy. Replace these old tapes with a newer one that contains the truth – we are worthy to have our heart’s true desire and to keep moving forward.

Learn from failure.   Tim Storey, an American life coach, self-help author, motivational speaker, and entrepreneur, in an interview on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday stated, “Don’t waste your failures…fail forward.”  Look back at a circumstance and figure out what went wrong.  This gives us some very important information. This review allows us to evaluate what worked and what didn’t and more importantly, why. Often when we are removed from a situation, we can look at it more objectively which will allow us to make better choices to keep moving forward.

Forget regret.  Leave mistakes and regret in the past. They don’t define our value, then or now. When we stay in the past we become stuck and unable to move forward. We all have made mistakes with our job choices, friends, and relationships. The consequences can hit us pretty hard. However, to begin learning how to put these experiences behind us – by letting them go, we can begin to live in the here and now. We need to give ourselves the gift of forgiveness and keep moving forward.

Ask for help.  We are not alone. It may feel that way sometimes, but there are many people who would extend their hand and lift us up if asked. All we have to do is ask. Consider co-workers, neighbors, or the church. Often times we are afraid to ask because we don’t believe we are worthy to receive the help. Think about this: we are surrounded by millions and millions of people by design – for a purpose. A hand to grasp, a shoulder to cling to, and a face to radiate hope can help us keep moving forward.

Pack the baggage.  Author Wayne L. Misner advises, “Keeping baggage from the past will leave no room for happiness in the future.”  Write down the “baggage;” the things that happened that seem to be in the way of you moving forward.  Then crumple the paper and “pack” it in the garbage.  Walk away from it and move on.  Move on with any lessons from the past, but leave the baggage behind (or in the trash).

Declutter.  After packing the baggage, if there is any residue stuff still around, work on decluttering it. Get rid of distractions (especially stuff from that past that is trying to weigh us down).  Get rid of the “should have dones” and concentrate on “what we are meant to do.”

Focus on what to do next.  Denis Waitley (an American motivational speaker, writer and consultant) tells us, “Don’t dwell on what went wrong. Instead, focus on what to do next.  Spend your energies on moving forward toward finding the answer.”  Figure out what went wrong.  Evaluate what worked and what didn’t and why.  Learn from the situation so that we can make better choices as we move on.

 

Develop a mantra that will help us focus on moving forward.  For example, when we wake up each morning, tell ourselves that Today, we will move forward one little step at a time.  Or, we will stop focusing on what happened and start focusing on what’s going to move us forward. Or, every moment wasted looking back keeps us from moving forward. Or, if we don’t step forward, we will always be in the same place.  Or, we won’t get rid of yesterday by talking about it all of the time.  We can get rid of its effect on us by MOVING FORWARD!

As we get ready to bring another year to an end, it is a good time to reflect on the importance of letting go so that we can move forward.   The present has so much to offer, but if we continually focus on what was, we will never be able to see what is.  And if we can’t see what is, it will be difficult for us to move on with our lives in a productive, satisfying way.  Psychologist Carl Jung said, “I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”   As we approach 2018, “choosing to become” may just mean letting go of some of what was. What was is just that. What was becomes but one part of us; it doesn’t define us; it is not the whole picture.  In this coming New Year, let’s all resolve to let go of those things that are holding us back from a happy, productive, satisfying life.   Let go so we can focus on where we are headed.

OPTIMISM’S CHAIN REACTION

Ever since I was a small child, the days leading up to the Christian holiday of Christmas have always been ones of wonder, delight, and joy. The decorations, the sparkling and twinkling lights, the festive spirit, the music, the care and the compassion for others that is shown – there just seems to be a vibrancy in the air.  People seem to smile more, seem happier, and seem  optimistic about things to come.

The specialness I feel during this season, especially the optimism, is all an attitude and it is one I like to carry and project every day of the year.  The attitude of optimism which is one of hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something can be very beneficial to us especially during challenging times.  And, certainly, some of the most challenging times we face are when we are dealing with change especially unexpected, sudden, or unwanted change.

Just how does optimism help us deal with change?  In the chart below, we see that optimism leads to hope which leads to perseverance which leads to success which leads to optimism.  Optimism leads to a chain reaction of positive actions, all of which help us navigate and thrive in a changed environment.

CHAIN REACTION OF OPTIMISM

Let’s look closer at each part of the chain reaction:

OPTIMISM sets the stage for the approach we take when dealing with life and especially when dealing with change.  If we go into a situation expecting the best possible outcome, we are more likely to have a positive result.  When we have an optimistic outlook we think in a positive way and act with positive energy.  The research of Martin Seligman (American psychologist, educator, and author of self-help books) and others shows that an optimistic approach can make us happier, healthier, and better able to handle stress.

Some ways for us to set the stage for us to think like optimists include:

 

Emphasize the good.  Look for the good, the positive in everything.  It’s there.  Take a close look.

Have an attitude of gratitude. Be thankful for what we do have.

Ditch the complaining.  If something bad or negative happens, avoid complaining.  Take it in stride or put a positive spin on it.

 

Stay in control.  When we are in the driver’s seat, we tend to approach things more calmly and positively.

Smile.  Smiling can help us move past feelings of sadness, fearfulness, hurt, anxiety, etc.  It can also increase our ability to rebound more quickly from the suddenness of a change.  Our ability to be hopeful, persistent, and focus on the positive are enhanced when we feel and think in a positive way.  And, smiling helps lead us to more positive feelings.   When we focus more on positive feelings, we tend to see the good in things,  be more grateful for what we do have, complain less often, work harder to reach our goals, and seek out the opportunities in what we do have.

HOPE is when we believe tomorrow will be better.  It is the expectation of something beneficial in the future; it is a feeling of expectation and desire.  Hope is a motivator.  Hope helps us to keep going when times are hard.   Hope lets us know that no matter how bad things seem at the moment, no matter how dark, there will be something better and brighter around the corner.  Hope is like fuel.  It provides the ‘get up and go’ needed to get where we need to go and to reach what we are trying to reach.

PERSEVERANCE is when we keep on going, no matter how tough things get.  We are less likely to give up or give in to challenges.  We turn challenges into learning opportunities, ones that fuel our determination and drive.  We are more likely to resort to problem solving (and a willingness to think outside the box) when faced with challenges.  With perseverance we are also more likely to accept the reality of what is going on while coming up with ways to move forward.

SUCCESS means we have achieved our goal.  This leads to an increased belief in us and our abilities to overcome adversity.  We gain a self-assurance that we CAN handle anything that comes our way.  And, if ‘bad’ stress tries to enter our realm, we are more proactive with stress management.

The chain reaction of optimism can lead to wonderful results.  And, we all have that capability of being optimistic; of being upbeat and positive.  We all have the capability to be joyful, cheerful, and hopeful. Our optimistic spirit can be the “fire” that lights us up and keeps us moving forward in the face of difficulties. It can lift us up when the situation looks dark, and it can energize us when we are tired.  If we substitute the word ‘optimism’ for the word joy in the following Jonathan Lockwood Huie (author and “philosopher of happiness”) quote we will have sound advice to help us keep our optimistic spirit front and center:   “Today, I choose to create joy in my life.  Whatever my external circumstances, I choose to see all of life through joyful eyes.”  Whether dealing with change or just with life in general, choose to create optimism; choose to be optimistic; choose to see life through optimistic eyes.

THE POWER OF A SMILE

On November 18, 2017, my friend Jimmy Pickett posted the following on his blog site:  “It is a cool, fall morning here in Wheeling, WV – just cool enough for the air to tickle one’s skin causing it to spread into smiles throughout my body.   I arrive at the gym at the same time as F and J.  They also have wide smiles as does the woman at the desk. J remarks how much she likes and appreciates the cheerful hello of this woman.

In the locker room I see a man I had not seen for some time – a man I used to see often at the gym we both visited until it closed down some months ago.  We share smiles and hugs.  Later I see others and collect yet more smiles.   As I return to the locker room I see a man I have never met, but with whom I frequently share a smile.  He has a tall, clearly rooted runner’s body held proudly erect but not as if he is standing over one.  From his strong center his body smiles all the way to his lips.

I have now collected nearly a dozen smiles while I incidentally tended to the physical workout which I am grateful to be able to do.  I pay the smile forward as I stop at the post office before arriving home. Soon I will share the supply of smiles with all I see today in the office and at the green grocers.  The smile will even get transmitted to those I am touching via voice, email or text.

One might wonder just how many smiles one must collect to keep from getting sucked into the abyss of hopelessness.  Today I seem to have an ample supply but will collect more throughout the day just in case!

Just smiles and yet ….”

Ah, a smile – that facial expression in which the eyes brighten, the corners of the mouth curve slightly upward, and the vibe we give off is one of pleasure, approval, amusement  – usually something positive.

That seemingly small expression is very powerful.   There is a lot of research out there that describes the benefits a smile can bring to one’s overall wellbeing.    In fact, smiling is second on the list of the 43 Habits of Absolutely Happy People.  And, the research also supports that when we are happy and in a positive frame of mind, we often carry ourselves with an air of confidence and a sense that we can handle anything.  What a perfect state to be in when dealing with any kind of change in our lives, especially change that is unexpected, unwanted, or just plain hard to take.

When we deal with a change that we didn’t want or expect, feelings of unhappiness are almost certain to visit us.  If we remain in the unhappy realm for any length of time we in no way have the energy to move ourselves forward in the changed environment – the new normal.   The state of unhappiness is one that has us living ‘in the dark.’   Something as simple as a smile can help us move into a state of happiness where the light is much brighter and we can better ‘see’ what we are facing; what we need to do to keep moving forward.  Jonathon Lockwood Huie  (author and “philosopher of Happiness”) shares, “I shine my light of happiness into the darkness of negativity.”

If our “light of happiness” has been dimmed by unwanted or unexpected change, we might be able to regain it and our focus just by looking at smiling people.  Smiles are contagious.   How can you not help but smile when you see a picture of a smiling child?    Or any smiling face for that matter? 

Yes, smiles can help us move past feelings of sadness, fearfulness, hurt, anxiety, etc.

 

Smiles can also increase our ability to rebound more quickly from the suddenness of a change.  Our ability to be hopeful, persistent, and focus on the positive are enhanced when we feel and think in a positive way.  And, smiles help lead us to more positive feelings.   When we focus more on positive feelings, we tend to see the good in things,  be more grateful for what we do have, complain less often, work harder to reach our goals, and seek out the opportunities in what we do have.

The next time your world is turned upside down, remember you have the power of a smile to help you right side it.  As my friend Jimmy says, “One might wonder just how many smiles one must collect to keep from getting sucked into the abyss of hopelessness.  Today I seem to have an ample supply but will collect more throughout the day just in case!   Just smiles and yet ….”  There is no pre-determined number of smiles we each need to right side our world after something seismic happens.  We will each know when our ‘smile tank’ is full; we will feel the energy.  We will notice the smile on our own face.  We will notice others smiling back at us.   We will be ready to face the aftermath of the change.  And, we will ready to move forward.  Smile and smile often!  Bring light into your world and spread it to those around you!

OPTIMAL ANXIETY AND ITS BENEFITS IN HELPING US DEAL WITH CHANGE

November 1-4, 2017 I participated in the College Reading and Learning Association’s (CRLA) 50th anniversary conference.  Working the registration table I got to meet many attendees for whom this was their first CRLA conference.  And among that group there were a few who were presenting for their first time at a professional event.  One in particular was very nervous.  I told her nervous was good as long as she stayed in charge and didn’t let those nerves get the best of her.  I further explained that the anxiety she was feeling could actually work to her benefit.  She looked at me quizzically.

I shared that when our stress levels are slightly elevated we move out of our comfort zone – that place or state of mind where we feel at ease, in control; things come easily; things feel/seem familiar.  But, when we move out of comfort zone our performance levels are actually enhanced.  Psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson (way back in 1908) said that we need a time of “optimal anxiety,” a time when our stress levels are slightly elevated so that our performance levels can increase, getting better.  They further explained that when in our comfort zone, we move along at a safe, comfortable pace.

There is nothing wrong with this.  We all need that pace in our lives.  But, to get to the next level with something we do need to move beyond our comfort zone.  And, like it or not, when things change, we often need to get to the next level to survive, to thrive, or to stay sane and positive amid the change.  That state of optimal anxiety can motivate us to do what is necessary to survive, to thrive, or to maintain our sanity in the changed environment.

Using that state of optimal anxiety when beyond our comfort zone helps us deal with change by:

MOVING US BEYOND OUR FEARS.   Tim Ferris (American science writer and the best-selling author) said, “What we fear doing most, is usually what we most need to do.”  What we fear outside the comfort zone is only there because the “survival portion” of our brain is trying to protect us.  When in a state of optimal anxiety, we are motivated to do well, motivated to thrive.  This motivation often helps us put our fears into perspective and see that the worst that might happen may not be all that bad.  When things are put in perspective the scariness of the situation really isn’t so foreboding.

OPENING OUR EYES TO POSSIBILITIES.   The area right outside the comfort zone is where creativity, imagination, and curiosity take hold, blossom, and grow.  We will never know what is possible or what we are capable of achieving unless we leave the confines of what is comfortable and known.  How can we move forward unless we are willing to open new doors and try new things?  Anthony Robbins (self-help author) reminds us that, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”

INCREASING OUR LEARNING CURVE.   The shift outside our comfort zone forces us to try new things.  The shift outside our comfort zone gives us an opportunity to learn things about ourselves and to see ourselves in a different light.  As motivational speaker and self-development author Brian Tracy reminds us, “You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.”

INSPIRING US TO SEE MISTAKES AS LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES.   Oftentimes, what is scary about life outside the comfort zone is the fear of failing and/or the fear of making mistakes.   Both mistakes and failures are prerequisites for success.  Thomas Edison (an American inventor and businessman) said, “I haven’t failed.  I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”  Edison was inspired by his mistakes; they encouraged him to work harder to find solutions for his work. And, so it is with us outside the comfort zone.  We need to be willing to make mistakes and then be willing to learn from them.  The most successful people in the world are those that make decisions, make mistakes, learn from, adjust accordingly, and move on.

MOTIVATING US TO GO AFTER OUR DREAMS.    The only way our dreams and goals are attainable is if we become discontent with our current comfort zone and are willing to move beyond it to turn the dream or goal into reality.  When we picture ourselves living out our dream, we will find ways to make it happen. Often those ways take us well beyond the confines of our current comfort zone.  As American self-help author Napoleon Hill said, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe it can achieve.”  But, that achievement will only take place outside of our comfort zone.

Chauncey Depew (an attorney and a United States Senator from New York from 1899 to 1911) said, “The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.”  Not staying where you are means using the state of optimal anxiety to move you beyond your comfort zone into the realm of possibilities, productivity, and potential.  The benefits will bring much satisfaction and will stay with you for a long time.

DEVELOP AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE TO HELP DEAL WITH CHANGE

In the United States of America (USA), the fourth Thursday of every November is a national holiday, Thanksgiving Day.  The holiday commemorates a harvest festival celebrated by the Pilgrims (early European settlers of the Plymouth Colony in present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA) in 1621.  (Similarly named festivals take place in other countries around the world.)

The word thanksgiving is an expression of gratitude for the people and things that have graced one’s life. Simply put, gratitude is being thankful for the good things in our life and being ready to show appreciation for the kindness that we have experienced.    When we are grateful, we count our blessings.

As my thoughts focus on how my family will celebrate Thanksgiving Day and on all the things about which I have to be grateful, I also reflect on all the changes that have taken place in my life since Thanksgiving Day 2016 and how having an attitude of gratitude has helped me deal with some of the more seismic changes.

Focusing on all the positive and good things going on in my life helps take away any “woe is me” thoughts that might try to invade my mind when dealing with a change I didn’t want or one that blindsided me.  Instead of focusing on what is wrong or what is lacking, I find that I can be grateful for what I do have in the moment.

Gratitude has a way of reducing negative thoughts and emotions (especially disappointment, frustration, anger, resentment).  Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. (a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology, and a leading researcher and scientific expert on gratitude) has found that gratitude effectively reduces feeling down over what has happened while it increases feelings of well-being and happiness.

Anytime we can feel better about ourselves and happier about what is going on, the better we will be able to face unwanted or unexpected or seismic change and face it in a positive, productive way.   Having an attitude of gratitude also helps us deal with change by:

Increasing our ability to be resilient.  When we can be thankful for what we have even when we are struggling with something, we seem to be better able to bounce back and recover from any difficulties we may be facing.

Giving us a more optimistic outlook on things.  Optimism changes our perspective on things and allows us to feel happy. When we are happier we tend to be more positive about all aspects of who we are and what we do.  It seems that we get what we focus our attention on.  If we think positive and good, more of that may become a part of our life.  Conversely, if we think negative and bad, we may invite more of that into our life.

Finding inner peace.   Focusing on the good that we have in the present moment helps bring a feeling of contentment to us.  When we can be mindful of all that we do have rather than what we don’t have, we seem to garner strength to actually handle what we may be facing.

Boosting our self-confidence.   When we recognize all that we truly do have and accept the positive in what we do have, trusting in our abilities and judgments in dealing with the changed environment is enhanced.  This self-assurance gives us the power to face the change in a more productive and constructive manner.

Connecting us with our more creative self.  Gratitude creates a synergistic wave within us.  We are happier and more content; we focus on the positive; we just feel good about things; we are confident.  All of this creates a ‘perfect storm’ for our creative self to emerge and come up with new and different ways and ideas about how to deal with what changed and what we now face.

Melody Beattie, an American author of self-help books on codependent relationships, tells us, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”  What sound advice for life in general but especially when dealing with the aftermath of “Hurricane Change.”

“Hurricane Change” certainly brought what many would say was catastrophic to a young child in upstate New York.  This young lady, now fourteen, was struck with infantile paralysis when she was six.  Some of her reflections are shared in the 2017 October/November edition of the Guideposts publication, PLUS.  She shares, “…remember all the happy moments of yesterday and dream of the possibilities of tomorrow. … if I regret mistakes I made today, there is always the gift of another tomorrow, a new beginning. … The important thing is not what happens to you, but what you do with what happens to you.”

Indeed.  It isn’t what happens to us in the aftermath of “Hurricane Change,” but rather what we do with happens to us.  Choosing to approach things with an attitude of gratitude is one choice that can make a world of difference in our lives.  So at this time of year when many of our thoughts turn to the people and things that have graced our life, let’s extend those thoughts beyond the day or the week or the month when giving thanks is celebrated.  Let’s make being grateful a part of our daily lives so that we are ready to deal with change no matter when it chooses to visit.

“WAKE UP LAUGHING”

A good friend recently gave me Rachel St. John-Gilbert’s book Wake Up Laughing.  Karol Ladd, in the book’s foreword says, “Every morning as we slip out of bed and slide our feet into our warm fluffy slippers, we have a choice.  Will we face the circumstances and people in our life with grumbling and negativity – or will we face them with gratitude?  The choice is ours!  The attitude we choose will color our day.”  (p. 13)

Indeed the choice is ours as to whether we approach each day optimistic and grateful or pessimistic and full of despair.  While this seems like it would be an easy choice, in reality, it is anything but.  It seems when things are going well and good for us, it would be easy to choose to start each day with laughter.  However, when we are struggling with something or when a ‘cloud of darkness’ is hanging over us the last thing we want to do is to be cheery, upbeat, and grateful or to laugh about anything.  Choosing to do any of those, especially laugh, would probably be the furthest thing from our mind.  But, it is when we are struggling or at our lowest that laughter may be just what we need.

Laughter helps counteract the effects stress and tension have on our bodies.  According to staff at the Mayo Clinic, in addition to making life more enjoyable in general, laugher has been proven to be beneficial for one’s physical health.  For example, laughter enhances the intake of oxygen-rich air which stimulates one’s heart, lungs, and muscles. In addition, it increases the endorphins that are released by the brain.  Endorphins produce a good, relaxed feeling in the body by relieving one’s stress response.

 

Laughter also has mental health, social, and cognitive benefits.  It gives us the courage and strength to find sources of meaning and hope within whatever we are struggling with or whatever brought on the ‘cloud of darkness.’  Feelings of anxiety, anger, and sadness aren’t making appearances when we are laughing.  As a result, we are able to stay more focused on dealing with the situation or issue and perhaps view what is going on realistically.  Optimism, energy, and vigor increase.  Our overall mood and feelings of well-being improve.  Joy and zest become more a part of our lives.

Laughing can also make it easier to cope with whatever brought about the ‘cloud of darkness.’  It has a way of connecting people, of bringing people together.  It can strengthen relationships, increase friendliness, and help diffuse conflict.  Laughter helps bring out the creativity in us by breaking the tension we feel when dealing with the tough situations and it stimulates both sides of the brain which helps create a frame of mind that may generate new and good ideas.

Laughter is a sign that we haven’t lost our sense of humor.  Our sense of humor highlights the need to laugh a lot, laugh often, and to lighten the day with levity by appreciating the humorous.  Maintaining our sense of humor also means that we are able to see the humor in the craziness of life.

Sometimes when we struggle with something and almost always when the ‘cloud of darkness’ is hovering, we may feel as if we have no control; that our power has been taken away from us.  But, if we can look for and find the humor in what is going on around us, instead of shaking our heads in despair, we can then smile, chuckle, or laugh which may help dispel some of the tension and relieve some of the stress and just may move us toward regaining control over the situation or issue.  Being able to laugh at the absurdity of some things can help us develop peace of mind, hopefulness, joy, cheerfulness, resilience, an uplifted spirit, and a good sense of life.

Humor and laughter help us diffuse fear and help provide emotional balance and perspective.  If we remember that we aren’t the only ones dealing with tough stuff, seeing the humor in life’s difficulties and laughing help bring a measure of “normalcy” to what we are experiencing.  Whatever we may be dealing with may not seem so overwhelming or frightening.  We all need to remember that if we truly want to improve our lives, we need to laugh at least once more today than yesterday.  Ways to help us do so include:

  • seeing the funny, the humor in what is around us
  • regaining our smile
  • attempting to laugh at situations rather than bemoaning them
  • surrounding ourselves with reminders to lighten up
  • keeping things in perspective
  • recapturing the childlike quality of play by inviting our inner child to help us be giggle boxes and see the lighter side of things; do silly things; make time for fun activities
  • recalling several of the most embarrassing moments from our lives then finding the humor in them
  • turning annoying and frustrating situations on their head and finding the humor in them
  • reading books, watching shows, or visiting websites that take normal events many would find annoying, frustrating, upsetting, or overwhelming and showing how silly the situation or the reaction to the situation is
  • avoiding energy empires
  • laughing at ourselves

Our lives will be greatly enhanced and enriched if we can wake up laughing.  Choose to approach each day with optimism, positive energy, gratitude, and confidence.  Doing so will help us deal more productively with whatever issues or challenges we are facing and may just give us the energy to get out from under the ‘cloud of darkness.’   Color your day with chuckles, giggles, smiles and much laughter!