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Friday, December 31, 2010

Why the Mountain in Front of You Isn't a Problem

Happy New Year's Eve! Have you set a resolution? Generally, people assume that they won't fulfill their resolution because of the mountain of challenges that lie ahead. Well, I went to an actual mountain to check this out, and I found a simple solution to getting around a mountain of challenges. (If you have trouble viewing this video, you can also see it at http://bit.ly/d1wSlS).
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Contact Dawn to get your FREE 25-minute phone coaching session to set your resolutions, or give your resolutions a complete kick-start. Get the details.
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Monday, December 27, 2010

The #1 thing missing from the most guest rooms in America

No wastebasket here.   
Any guesses on what's missing from more guest rooms than any other single item?

A wastebasket. So easy, yet so often overlooked. I say this not as one who feel entitled to even more than what has been given to me by generous hosts over the years, but as a public service announcement to those who desire to be an excellent host: Get a wastebasket for the guest room.

I read once that to be a good host you should stay in your own guestroom for a night or two just to experience what your guests experience. Then, do what you can to make their stay even better. At the very least, it could be a fun adventure without ever leaving home.

To live a life of purpose and passion, it sometimes requires the careful consideration of big, lofty ideas. Other times, it requires something as easy as stocking a wastebasket in every room of your home.

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Why I Love Boundaries and Why You Should Too

While I am an avid scrapbooker of my own life, I am generally months or even years behind as I happily work on it in small doses. I revel in looking at all of the interesting papers, stickers and other scrapbook tools to find a perfect combination. That takes time. Serious time.

Last month, I was inspired to make a scrapbook as a gift. This scrapbook project had an obvious deadline. I had to make choices and start working right away. Suddenly, the rows and rows of interesting papers were too much. It was overwhelming. How could I finish and make it all look good when there was so much to consider? So I set a color scheme. I would only look at supplies within the color scheme. As soon as I set the color scheme, it was a boundary that made everything else fall into place. The boundary freed me to be more creative. The scrapbook turned out great.

As Barry Schwartz talks about in The Paradox of Choice, too many options actually create problems. (View his talk about it at the TED conference here.) Putting boundaries around your choices can actually make things smoother. To what do you need to add boundaries (a color scheme, a time line, or another boundary)?
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Want to set some helpful boundaries? Contact Dawn to set up a coaching appointment.
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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Fully Engage in Your Surroundings

I walked past a kiosk at the mall last weekend. The kiosk sold CDs of Christmas music. The employee talked to shoppers as they walked by. He played the music louder than the mall's ambient music. He asked people questions, offered samples, and laughed often. He made the best of what could be a stressful or boring holiday job by choosing to be fully engaged. He also sold a lot of CDs.

Tuesday evening I walked past the same kiosk. A female employee sat there texting. The music played quietly. She did not notice anyone who walked by. She was fully engaged in her texting conversation, but she was slumped over and appeared bored. I did not see her sell any CDs. She was there in body but not in mind or spirit.

This is not a blog post about the evils of texting. I find texting extremely useful and often entertaining, but not when it takes me out of my surroundings. Extended text conversations don't allow me to fully engage.There are many other activities that also prevent me from fully engaging, and I try to avoid them. What habits or activities do you use as a distraction? What prevents you from fully engaging?

No matter what you are doing this holiday season, whether selling CDs at the mall or attending a family gathering, fully engage. It's more productive, it's more fun, and it allows you to be fully present in body, mind and spirit.

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Not sure how to fully engage? Contact Dawn to set up a coaching appointment.
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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Lessons in Confidence from Maria Von Trapp

Julie Andrews as Maria in the 20th Century Fox movie
I am generally a fan of live stage versions of musicals over film versions. However, in the case of The Sound of Music, I love one of the songs that was added for the film version: "I Have Confidence." Maria has left the safety of the abbey to become the governess for seven children of a widowed captain. I think we all know how it ends - they sing, they fall in love, they escape from the Nazi's. It's all very exciting, but we often overlook that first step that Maria had to take in order for her to connect with her purpose and passion. She had to build up her confidence. Although the Mother Superior had sent her on this assignment, she was all alone as she approached the captain's estate. She has wanted an adventure outside the abbey, but when the adventure is about to start, her fear almost makes her turn back. Then she realizes that it's just seven children. She can handle it. And she sings herself out of her fear.

How often has fear stopped you from taking the step that will lead to greatness? What do you need to do to face that fear? (I recommend show tunes. Works every time.) How will you build your confidence in order to take the next step?
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Would you like some support as you build your confidence? Contact Dawn to set up a coaching session.
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Friday, December 17, 2010

Time for some Thoughts on Time

When I stopped at a mall the other day, they were hosting a Salvador Dali exhibition. Among Dali's most famous works are those involving clocks melting, like the one in the picture that I took. You may have your own interpretation of his work, and if so, I'd love to hear it. To me, the melting clock represents how difficult it is to measure time. Science tells us that every day is 24 hours, and every hour is 60 minutes, and every minute is 60 seconds, but everyone knows that our experience of the time is not equal and scientific. If we enjoy a thrilling event, time passes in an instant. If we are not engaged in our pursuits, time crawls along with maddening delays.  If we are asleep, hours pass without our knowledge.

What happens when your clock "melts"? What activities are so engaging that you lose track of time? Where do you lose time that you really need to apply to other, more productive activities? Is it "time" to make a change?

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Want to talk more about how to use your time more wisely? Contact Dawn to set up a telephone coaching session.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

What do your belongings say about you?

Being an Urban Nomad means living with less things, but better things. And I like it. My world is not cluttered with belongings that I don't want, need or use anymore. Because I can't accommodate many  items, I shop more carefully. I get things I love, that I know I'll use, and that save me time, space, or weight in my bag. My things (in my opinion) are meaningful, high quality, low maintenance and indestructible.

I am not the first nomad to subscribe to this line of thinking. One random example: medieval triptychs. I loved them when I was studying European Art History during my semester abroad at Cambridge University. It's travel-sized art! These three-part religious paintings fold closed to keep the art safe while it travels from one place to the next. Meaningful, high-quality, low maintenance and indestructible.

What is your relationship to your things? What few words describe your things? What do they say about you? Do you acquire things without careful consideration? Do you have clutter or disorganization? Let's talk about it. Contact me to set up a coaching session by phone.

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

The keys to Success as an Urban Nomad are, well, keys

For someone who owns neither a house or a car, I carry around a lot of keys. Of course I generally have keys to where I am staying, but I also have other keys. Emergency keys. The emergency keys are not just for my own emergencies, they are for emergencies of my friends.

For an Urban Nomad, there is always the slight possibility of having nowhere to go on a given night. One time I subletted an apartment and they mailed the keys to my mail receiving service, but the day that I needed them, the mail receiving service closed for a snow day. No keys, no access to the apartment. I stayed that night with a friend and moved into the sublet the next day. It was no problem. She didn't have to rush home to let me in. I already had her keys.

The emergency keys also allow me to help various friends because they know I have access to their place. Need someone to meet the cable guy? Sure, it's no problem. I have the keys.

I also carry the keys to my storage at all times, even when I don't think I'm going there. How often have I been out and then been invited to an event for which I am not wearing appropriate clothing? No problem, I just get something else out of my storage.

You might say that the keys themselves are a "key" to my success as an Urban Nomad. What do you need to do to be prepared? What are the keys to your success? When you're ready to prepare for success, contact me to set up a coaching session.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What is your Plan?

I volunteered to help with a political campaign. My job was to call people the night before election day and simply ask if they had a plan for voting. We did not ask "do you plan to vote?" but "what is your plan for voting tomorrow?" Totally different questions. We asked things like, "Do you know where your polling place is?" and "Are you going to vote before work or after work?" Why did we do this? Someone who has a plan is much more likely to follow through and execute the plan. Through the conversation, voting went from an abstract idea to a concrete activity. The potential voters took time to picture themselves voting and made the necessary arrangements to make sure it happened.

We all do this. We carry around an abstract idea of something we should do, but we don't make a plan, so it never happens. What do you need to do? Make a plan. Where will you execute your plan? Are you going to take the first step before work or after work?

For help in making your plan, check out my New Year's Resolution Kick-Start. Get one for yourself and one as a holiday gift. Now is the time to take action.

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Waiting

I flew on the tail end of a blizzard. Bad weather leads to delays. Delays lead to long waits.

What do you do when you wait? Do you distract yourself from the situation by reading or doing puzzles? Do you disengage from the people around you by communicating with your social networks online or via phone? Do you get angry at the people in charge who may or may not be able to do anything about the wait?
 
As Americans, we don't have to wait for much. We can have almost everything almost instantly. My observation is that this leads to people having less and less skills for waiting itself. On some level, we don't even wait for Christmas, we half-celebrate it for weeks before the actual day arrives.

And yet waiting can be a spiritual practice.  In the church world, we are in a season of waiting called Advent. In a world of non-stop activity and instant information and cross country travel, waiting asks us for an entirely different set of skills. It asks us not to do, but to be. It allows space for quiet time, reflection and preparation.

This December, wait. Not in an impatient way, but in a meaningful way. How do you do that? The same way I did in the airport. I set up camp in a quiet corner. I ate lunch, finished some work, practiced some yoga (yes, I'm that crazy person doing yoga in the corner of the airport). Then I simply waited. I stopped "doing" and started "being."

Start being. Find meaning through quiet time, reflection and preparation. Not sure how? Contact me to set up a coaching appointment.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Discombobulated

Going through airport security has become a three act play. I have my system down, but by the end of it everyone is generally discombobulated.

At the Milwaukee airport, they realize that you are discombobulated. In fact, they have an area right after security called the "recombobulation area."

I love what this means in terms of customer service. Someone at the Milwaukee airport said, "yes, we need to take security procedures as seriously as possible, but let's acknowledge what that's like for the 99.9% of people who follow the rules and don't cause any trouble. Let's respect them and help them put themselves back together. And let's name it something that really captures the essence of what it is: a recombobulation area."

Customer service is simply a process of seeing things from the other person's point of view. And customer service matters even if you aren't working in customer service. You still have opportunities to see things from the other person's point of view and go to the trouble of making it easier for the other person.

So do that today. Make something easier for the other person.

As for me, I'll be in the Milwaukee recombobulation area today.

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Recombobulate your life. Contact me to set up a life coaching session.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Un-Distressed

On a recent layover, I volunteered to give up my seat on the second flight. It meant that I spent an entire extra day in Milwaukee. The airline gave me a voucher for a free flight, three meal tickets and a night in a hotel. When I called the hotel to arrange for their shuttle to pick me up, the front desk manager asked, "Do you have a reservation or are you distressed?"

Well, neither, really.

Apparently when a passenger has to be housed overnight they are called a distressed passenger. As an experienced Urban Nomad, I was anything but distressed. I had all of my things because I rarely check luggage. I was able to do all of my work from the hotel, catch a flight at the end of the day and still make it to dinner with a friend in my destination city. I bonded with the gate agent, who I look forward to seeing on my next layover. I even made a short video, which you can see here.

I realize that had I not volunteered, someone else may not have been able to board who desperately needed to get somewhere. He or she may have been distressed. I find it curious, though, that the default name of a displaced passenger is "distressed." Everyone from the gate agent to the shuttle driver to the hotel staff commented on how I seemed to have such a good attitude for being distressed. Apparently it is so rare that they do not expect it. Even those who volunteer to give up their seat are not necessarily pleasant, according to the service staff. Volunteers are caught in some in-between limbo and may not enjoy the reality of it.


Learn to be OK in the in-between times. Life goes so much more smoothly. Step one: prepare for the unexpected.

To learn to be OK in the in-between times, contact me to set up a life coaching session.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

These are the the bags that I generally carry as I circulate around New York City from one apartment to another. I find it easier to have a series of small bags than to have one big, heavy bag. However, on a recent transfer between apartments I realized how unwieldy one of the bags was. Nothing impossible, but nothing that would make it easy to transfer between subways at 42nd Street during rush hour. I would be moving at a snail's pace while everyone rushed around me. A few stops before 42nd Street I began strategizing how best to make the transfer. I was not coming up with any excellent ideas. Just then, someone I know got onto the subway car. Out of all the trains and all the cars on my train, she got on mine. This was someone I met at a one-day event over a year ago and have only seen once since that day. Yet she immediately said hello. And we chatted. She'd left work earlier than usual to make it to a show that night. And she was making the same transfer at 42nd Street. I told her to go ahead because I'd have to move slow. She said she'd carry half the bags. And she did.

God often works in mysterious ways, but that day God's work was abundantly clear to me.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Signs of Life

Walk.
Don't walk.
One way this way.
One way that way.

Usually traffic signs are clear about what to do. They keep us on track. They keep us safe.

But there are times that you get conflicting messages. That's when you have to look around at the potential hazards and make a decision. You draw upon what you have learned in the past. You consider where you need to be in the immediate future.

Is it best to stop? Is it best to go? This way or that way? What will keep me on track? What will keep me safe?

Don't just stand on the street corner waiting for one sign or another. Sometimes it won't be clear no matter how long you wait. Assess the situation. Go or don't go. This way or that way. Make a decision. And then, whether it was right or wrong, learn from it and make an even better decision next time.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pleasant Views

I visited a planned community in Texas that was deliberately built with no straight roads and no distinctive buildings along the main roads. None. It was a planned community, so they could do that. Driving through the area, all you saw were trees ahead as the road curved away. The buildings and homes were all tucked away on side streets, hidden among the trees. As a visitor trying to find my way around, this became frustrating. Apparently the developer thought it was more pleasant to look ahead and see trees. If the road always curves you always see trees straight ahead. If there are no buildings along main roads, you always see trees. So many trees! Where is the church? Where is the school? Where is the house where I am invited to dinner? Somewhere behind the tress. 

Pleasant views are great if you know where you are going. I didn’t. And all I saw were trees.

I understand the appeal of creating a world made up almost entirely of pleasant and consistent views, but sometimes pleasant views shield us from finding our next destination. To find a new place, you have to slow down and look among the trees. How often do we commit to pleasant views at the expense of missing important destinations that are hidden among the trees?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Mash-up

All Halloween parties are not created equal. Last night a friend and I were invited to a Halloween mash-up party in Brooklyn. When we arrived, the three story brownstone was filled with interesting people who were each dressed as two things. We met Salvadore Dali Parton, Darth Mal Cop, Steamboat Willie Nelson, Mad Men in Tights, Chilean Coal Miner's Daughter, Hill-Billy Eliot and dozens of others. Here are some of our favorites.
Olive Oyl Spill and Gluten Free Tibet
Safety Pin-up Girl and Lady Ga-Gandi
Marie Antoi-Netti Pot and the Wicked Witch of the West Side Story                   

Friday, October 29, 2010

Missouri Photo Workshop

During my second week in Macon, MO, population 5538, the town hosted the Missouri Photo Workshop. 60-70 documentary photojournalists from around the world descended upon this tiny community for one week. This is a highly regarded event that has been going on for over 60 years, each year in a different Missouri town. The mentors were from top publications that we all read, and the students were working professionals or promising university students. Each participant had to identify one subject or person, gain their trust and follow them for a couple days to capture their world. They called it "finding their story."

Everyone wanted to be a story. People in town looked forward to having professionals document daily life in their community. Others were suspect of the outsiders. One photographer from Italy borrowed a bicycle and was traveling from one farm to the next, looking for his story. Soon there was a rumor that he was a spy from PETA. Why else would a foreigner with a camera be riding a bicycle through their community?

Those of us working at the theater thought we would be a story. In fact, we lobbied for it. It is unique to have a professional theater in such a small community. No less than three photographers pitched our story, but their mentors did not approve their stories, just like editors at a publication may not approve a photojournalist's story and they are forced to go back out and find something else.

At the end of the week, the photos were displayed at the local Expo Center. The whole town arrived eager to see a photographic overview of their community. The photos were excellent, compelling ... and didn't represent the town well. The photojournalists had been pushed by their mentors to seek out the outliers, the people who would make a great story but were not necessarily indicative of the town. There were six teen parents in town, and four or five of them were documented at the exclusion of almost every other teen in town. The community includes multiple home school families, but the one that was documented looked somehow out of the mainstream, with little girls wearing aprons.

It turned out that the workshop was preparing photojournalists to document disasters, so they had to learn to gain trust and find the most compelling photo that would sell more copies or lead to more clicks at their publication. They never claimed to do an accurate overview of the community.

Consumers, voters and citizens of the world assume that photojournalists capture the overall spirit of a time or place. We assume that we understand what is going on based upon their reporting yet there is always more to the story. Photojournalists provide a brave and vital service when they capture images of places that most people cannot be. But we as responsible consumers also can't assume that we know everything based upon those photos. Many photos are published with the intention of telling the most dramatic story. To get the whole story, we need to talk to more locals or visit the place. Maybe we need to do a bit more of our own research or admit that we don't know.

For now, the town of Macon is forever captured in photos on the website of the Missouri Photo Workshop, but don't just assume that you know Macon by seeing the photos. You really need to go there to understand its true spirit.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Connections

I have just returned from four weeks performing in the show "Church Basement Ladies" at a small theater in Macon, Missouri. I had never heard of the theater or the town before I went there. Instead, the show found me. When casting the show, the artistic director called other directors for recommendations of people he might cast. He asked a director in Illinois that I worked with three years ago if she knew any comedic singers who could pass for a Minnesota Lutheran. She said that she actually knew a Minnesota Lutheran. After a short conversation and submitting my reel, I was offered the role.

I got the job through connections, but the connections did not stop there. I had multiple connections with other actors in the show, one of whom had been doing the show for two years at various theaters. I had connections to the Minnesota Lutheran culture of the show, and connections with the Lutherans who came to see the show. At each performance, we could gauge how many Lutherans were in the audience by the amount of laughter we got as we all said, emphatically, "This is most certainly true" (an important phrase for Martin Luther). If we got a big laugh, we knew we had a connection. If not, people still enjoyed the show, but on a different level.

I even had connections to the props. The show has so many props that the company that created the show rents out the props. We received 10 big bins of shellacked krumkake, lefse, bars and jello molds, among other things. We also received recipe boxes that reflected the personality of each character. An actor friend from a previous production emailed to ask if I'd found her recipe in her recipe box. As it turns out, many of the people who do the show write a recipe for the recipe box, and those recipes continue to travel around to future productions of the show. I wrote my recipe for red jello with bananas floating in it (the secret: refrigerate for about an hour before adding the fruit so that it doesn't all sink to the bottom). In that small way, I will remain connected to the show as the props travel to the next theater.

This is Most Certainly True.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wooly Mammouths and Other News

Have you ever noticed how much energy people spend lamenting about what is wrong? Sometimes conditions are truly difficult, but more often people seek out something to complain about. I'm not talking about a death in the family or a major disaster, I'm talking about getting a teacher they don't like or encountering a long line at the checkout. I actually read a bit about it from the neuro-linguistic folks (you know, the ones who study brains). It turns out we are programmed for two things:

  1. to focus on short term conditions and
  2. to scan our environment for possible threats.
Apparently these instincts are both left over from our hunter-gatherer days. It also seems that these are not so helpful to people who might be receiving an e-mail newsletter in 2010. (Of course, if a woolly mammoth comes charging at me, I am certainly glad that my brain will know just what to do). On days that we are not attacked by prehistoric animals, however, our brains still default to the short term instead of the long term, and the negative instead of the positive. We are programmed to survive, not thrive. This explains why urgent tasks take precedent over important tasks, why short term pleasure overrides long term happiness, and why we cannot possibly reflect on our goals and dreams when we have deadlines and media and other things that demand our attention.

If this is not the way you want to live, overcome these instincts by developing habits for long-term success.
  • Establish a regular practice of quiet reflection
  • Notice the patterns you repeat through life and learn from them
  • Set long-term goals that tap into your purpose and passion
  • Leverage your natural instincts to create new habits
If you can do that on your own, great. Most people do better with a coach. That's where I come in: people who commit to coaching sessions set aside time to make a  change for the better. It takes more than a passing thought, it takes focus and motivation. Overcome your prehistoric brain and align with your long-term goals through coaching.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Cinderella's Life Coach

This summer I was in Ohio working in a dinner theater production of Cinderella. One of the most intriguing scenes that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote is right before Cinderella goes to the ball. Her fairy godmother has given her a dress, a coach shaped like a pumpkin, white horses, a coachman and a footman. So many gifts. Everything seems perfect, so the fairy godmother says goodbye.

Cinderella: Aren't you coming with me?
Godmother: Heavens, no. I've been to so many of these things I couldn't stand another. Furthermore, all I can do is give you your wish. How it turns out from here is up to you.
Cinderella: But I'm afraid to go in there all by myself.

Cinderella moves past her fear, goes to the ball, and the fairy tale unfolds.

In Rodger's and Hammerstein's version, Cinderella's godmother can give her all the trappings of a fairy tale, but she must take action in order to achieve her fairy tale ending. Although we don't all have a fairy godmother, how many times are we faced with the resources to fulfill our dreams, but our fear gets in the way? Learn to recognize when opportunities arise, and learn how to move past your fear. Take a risk. Walk into the ballroom alone. Claim your fairy tale ending.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What's Inside: Part 2

I began eating organic food a few years ago because my body does not respond well to the pesticides and hormones in conventional food. At that time, I learned about one of the major differences between conventional and organic vegetables: conventional vegetables are grown for looks (size, color, perfection) and organic vegetables are grown for nutritional content, even if that means they don't look as good. However, I didn't know the magnitude of the difference until I read an article on MSNBC that quantified the significant drop in the nutritional content of conventional veggies in recent decades. "Broccoli, for example, had 130 mg of calcium in 1950. Today, that number is only 48 mg.... The very things that speed growth — selective breeding and synthetic fertilizers — decrease produce's ability to synthesize nutrients or absorb them from the soil." The article said that the opposite is happening with organic vegetables: nutritional content is going up in organic food.

We often favor the big, beautiful conventional tomato with half of the nutritional value of the smaller, flawed organic tomato. We often value the cheaper, conventional food but pay the price in higher medical bills, extra beauty products, or feeling less than our best.

What's inside eventually manifests into what's outside.

It's what's inside that matters

I stayed with a friend for a few days before leaving New York City. While out one night, he sent me a text message that asked if I would buy toilet paper on my way back to his place. I stopped at a bodega and chose the cheaper of two unfamiliar brands. Toilet paper is toilet paper when you don't have many choices, and both rolls seemed to be the same size. When I got to his apartment and unwrapped the toilet paper, I found out why this toilet paper was so cheap: it had a core that was nearly twice the size of a normal roll. There just wasn't as much there as I was lead to expect from the outside.

Many things look the same from the outside, but eventually you unwrap them and look inside. If there's not as much there as you expect, it's always a disappointment.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The bank

I belong to one of those banks that was bought by another bank during our last economic downturn. I've been using that branch of that bank since I first moved to New York almost seven years ago. The old bank was friendly, and that's why I chose it. The tellers stood behind small podiums with hardly any physical separation between them and I. Over the years, we chatted and I got to know them.

Then the bank was bought. The new owners of the bank took out the podiums and made one big sturdy desk with bulletproof glass continuing to the ceiling. All the tellers were now behind the desk, behind the glass. The tellers who had chatted with me for six years have not looked me in the eye or talked directly to me since the wall of glass went up. These are the exact same people doing essentially the same job but in a new environment. 

Environment directs behavior, if you let it. How is your environment affecting you?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Now Boarding on Track 4

One of the realities of living in different places all the time is that I take different routes "home" all the time. Last week I had lunch with a friend by the World Trade Center, and then took the train out to Hoboken, NJ. Since I've never done this before, I read every sign to make sure that I got on the right train. There was a sign near the track, a sign on the front of the train, and a sign over each door to the train. They all said Hoboken. I got on. Business people filled the train, headed home from work. You can tell when people are on their usual route because they don't read the signs and pay very little attention to their surroundings. They know where to go. They are on autopilot.

It turns out, they should have read the signs. Just as the doors were closing, the conductor announced "this is the train to Hoboken" and there was a general rush to get off the train. Apparently that track usually has the train to Newark. They assumed that this train would go to Newark. They did not read the signs.

Sometimes autopilot is helpful. In this case, it wasn't. If things in your environment change but you are on autopilot, doing what you always did, you end up in Hoboken when you wanted to go to Newark. They could have stayed on the train, insisting that track four always has the train to Newark, but they would have ended up in Hoboken, still wondering why they weren't in Newark. We all know people like that. We've all been that person, whether or not we've ever ridden a train. Be honest, what part of your life needs to be taken off autopilot because the behavior you've always done just isn't getting you where you need to go?

Friday, June 4, 2010

You can change the channel

Sometimes when I enter a shared space where a person is watching television, they tell me I can change the channel. They say it as an aside as they appear to be engrossed in something else. Even though they aren't watching, I find that they don't mean that I can turn the television off. I've actually tried it a few times. It plays out like a British comedy.

"Why is the TV off?"
"You said that I could change the channel."
"But I didn't think you'd turn it off."
"Oh, sorry, were you watching it?"
"No.That's why I said you could change the channel."
"So I can change the channel but not turn it off?"
"Right."
"So you weren't watching it, but you want it on?"
"I just need it on."
"You're willing to have it on any programme that I could possibly choose out of 500 channels, but you're not willing to have it off?"
"Right. Could you please turn it back on?"
"I don't know how, there are too many remotes."

I'm not saying that all television is bad. I watch a couple shows online. I also don't go around turning off other peoples' televisions uninvited. I just don't understand why it's on when no one is watching it. Television is designed to attract your attention, even if you're "not watching it." How do you have a sustained set of thoughts when the television pulls away your focus every few minutes? How do you create your own reality when you are so involved in the "reality" of the characters on television? How do you hear the still small voice of God over the laugh track?

Perhaps it is time for you to "change the channel" on your television habit.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Between Goodbye and Hello

I seem to have something in common with Mary Poppins. Of course I insist upon good manners and live out of a bottomless suitcase, but there's more. Let me explain.

I recently choreographed Hello Dolly at a Lutheran High School in Queens. I had no previous connection with the school except that  the choir director went to college with me. When their first choreographer resigned due to a death in the family, she contacted me to choreograph the whole thing in less than three weeks. So I did. In the process of teaching teenagers from Queens how to waltz, I had the privilege of being a small part of their community. What I saw was everything a high school musical should be - committed adults encouraging teenagers to take a risk and explore their talent.

As I walked away from the school after the opening night ice cream party, I realized how often I join a community, invest in it with passion and purpose, and then leave. Just like Mary Poppins. I challenge young people to work hard and pursue excellence while they sing and dance. Just like Mary Poppins. I hope that the people whose lives I touched continue to bond together, even after I have gone on to the next adventure. Just like Mary Poppins.

A life of adventure is full of excitement: new people, new places, and new experiences. It is also a litany of saying hello and saying goodbye. Between the hello and the goodbye, Mary Poppins and I truly enjoy the people we meet and do our best to have a positive impact. Between the goodbye and the next hello is when Mary most needs Bert, that consistent friend who is connected to her throughout life's journey. I am thankful for my "Berts". Without you, this would not be possible.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

You, Learn Something New Every Day

"You learn something new every day."

Usually the expression is used right after someone has been proven wrong or exposed to truly unbelievable information. It conveys either surrender, surprise or a combination of the two.

I put a comma into the phrase and take it as a direct command. "You, learn something new every day."

OK, I will.

I check books out of the library and read them during my commute, stop to read historical markers on old buildings, arrange long conversations with interesting people, figure out a new route between here and there, eat an unfamiliar food, attend an art gallery opening on the spur of the moment.

And now I pass along the advice: "You, learn something new every day."

Friday, May 14, 2010

America's Leading Expert House Guest

I would like to respectfully submit that I am one of America's foremost experts at being a house guest. I calculate that I have spent nearly two non-consecutive years staying in the private homes of other people all over the world, but primarily in the United States. This does not include times that I house sit or sublet and the owners are not there, which would add another year. I am talking only about staying in the guest room of gracious people who open their home to me.

In the absence of well-circulated ettiquette books on the subject, I shall now endeavor to impart my wisdom on the art of being a house guest.

A quality house guest is keenly aware of her impact on the rhythms of the household and strikes a delicate balance between staying out of the way and adding value. For example, one should offer to help with meal preparation, but step aside graciously if the host prefers to present the meal without your involvement. On the other hand, pay attention to the chores that need to be done, and pitch in without being asked.

Throughout your time together, offer witty and interesting stories but make it your primary goal to hear the host's story and see the world from their point of view. While you are in their home, you may have a lively debate but you do not need to convince them to join another political party or religion.

Do not expect the host to entertain you at all times or fulfill your every wish. They will need to check in on their real lives, which is a cue for you to go away and entertain yourself for awhile. This is why I bring a good book, a Diet Coke, a small snack, and a warm sweater for cold bedrooms.

Before you part ways for the night, be sure to ask how to turn off the lights and how the shower works. I have spent many a late night trying to find a light switch in a rewired basement. I have also found that every shower has a story: pull this handle, open this drain, don't let the water leak out here, the fan switch is in this remote corner by the window, and don't use this towel because we dry the family dog with it.

A true test of house guest etiquette is in the use of the bathroom. Always ask when you may dominate the bathroom at a time that it does not inconvenience others. Even if you have your own guest bathroom, the water heater may not be able to handle two people taking a shower at the same time.

Please contact me if you have further questions. Alternatively, invite me over and I'll show you how it's done!

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Bookshelf

When I arrive to stay at someone's home, there is usually either a note or a person there to give me a small orientation. At the end of it, they often say "make yourself at home." I think they probably mean that it is OK to use their pots and pans. I take it to mean that it is OK to read their books.

I love to look at people's bookshelves. Even if I brought a book with me, I can't resist looking through the books in the space where I am living. Back in the days that I was subletting my apartment to other people, I often received comments from subletters about my great collection of books, so I know that I am not the only one who does this. By looking through a bookshelf, I learn more about the person who lives there and his or her interests. It is almost as if that person introduces me to their favorite ideas and authors without even being in the room. While in other peoples' homes I have read everything from The Lovely Bones to Zen Buddhism for Dummies to The Biography of Ben Franklin. I could probably read the entire Harry Potter series without ever carrying around a book since everyone seems to have it. I even associate certain places that I have lived with the books that I read while I was there. In my mind, the place takes on the character or mood of the book. There is also the delightful pressure of having to finish it before I leave. Even though some of my hosts would probably let me borrow a book after I am no longer staying in their place, there is no need to do so. There will be more great books in the next location.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

New Life

Easter Sunday is my last full day in Greenwich Village. The weather definitely matches the spirit of the day. As if on cue, the whole neighborhood came alive this weekend. Days like this inspire me to stage a small photo shoot. As I took the photos, I realized that the elements of a stunning photo have a variety of applications in life:
  • Framing: Once you decide what's important and crop off all the other junk, real beauty emerges.
  • Point of view: If something is not working, look at the subject from a different angle.
  • Focus: Enough said.
  • Patience: Spend the extra time to get it right.
  • Observation: Some of the best opportunities are on your way somewhere else. Pay attention.
  • Trial and Error: Look at what you did, learn from it, and try again.
  • Juxtaposition: Mixing together unexpected elements creates the most interesting results.
  • The Light: Without it, there is nothing.
Below are the fruits of my labor. I hope you enjoy the results.



Saturday, April 3, 2010

Life Coach Video

People often ask, what is a life coach? How are you different than other life coaches? Well, here it is, folks. A three minute answer in the form of a video. It was so much fun to make the video, and was also a great exercise in defining what I do best as a coach. I hope that you find it enjoyable and interesting!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Closet

Where I come from, cleanliness is next to Godliness, and organization is a close second. I must admit that I do not always organize my physical space, but when I do I love it. While I've been in the West Village for the past six weeks, I've had full use of a closet, a rare gift for an Urban Nomad.  Inspired by this closet and the level of organization that I have achieved, I have a few tips, tricks and insights to share:
  • Organize items by type: Starting from the left side, I hung coat, dresses, sweaters, skirts, and pants. I have always done this since childhood. Not only is it practical in terms of having space for the longer garments to hang, it is helpful when choosing what to wear. Everything of the same type is near each other. 
  • Adopt a color scheme: When I travel, which is pretty much all the time, I coordinate everything. It gives me options to mix and match. It also reduces the number of accessories that I need, since all of these clothes match my gray handbag and coordinate with my gray, magenta or purple shoes. 
  • Don't be bland: Just because everything matches doesn't mean that it's boring. What's boring about magenta shoes? I also have interesting jewelry which is small enough and strong enough to travel well and allows me to change my overall look.
  • Go for quality, not quantity: I have never had as many clothes as some of my friends, but the clothes I have are quality. They feel good and they last a long time. When I unpacked at a previous stop on my Urban Nomad journey, a friend joked that I am a homeless person walking around with six cashmere sweaters. Fairly accurate. 
  • Have a catch-all: The larger cloth basket is a laundry basket that was here when I came. The smaller one on the right is my own basket. It folds flat into the bottom of my suitcase. I use it to contain all of the little things that would start to clutter up my physical space if they were just sitting around.
I will be sad to leave this closet, but I know that there will be new delights at the next stop on my journey. That's the best part: I get to apply my organizational creativity to a new set of circumstance. The skills go with me as I constantly change my physical location.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Audition Season

March means many things to many people: Spring Break, Lent, Passover, St. Patrick's Day, "in like a lion out like a lamb". For actors in New York City, it means Audition Season. While there are auditions in New York year round for shows throughout the United States, many regional theaters cast their summer season in March. For three intense weeks, there are more auditions than one person could possible attend. Last year, I missed audition season because I was away in Kansas doing "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers". (Ironic, isn't it? Because I was in a show I was unable to audition for other shows.) This year, I submitted my resume and was granted audition appointments at a few of the theaters. Some theaters do not give appointments, so you must go early in the morning and sign up on a list, which often grows to over 500 people before 10:00 am when the auditions begin. If the list has more people than can audition in one day, the theater "types" by collecting resumes, looking quickly at each person, and then announcing who they will allow to audition, based on whether you are the "type" of person they need in the cast.

Audition season means getting up very early, rushing around from one midtown building to the next, strategizing with friends about signing each other into various auditions, and remembering your number on the list at each audition because you must go in order. It means carrying a water bottle, a snack, a dress, makeup, dance clothes, four pairs of shoes, a book of audition music, headshots and resumes everywhere you go. It means warming up in hallways and subways and fitting in a dance class whenever possible. It means waiting hours to sing for 30 seconds, or learning a dance on the spot and then performing it for the choreographer minutes later or acting out a scene for the director opposite someone you've never met before. It also means spending each day surrounded by people who are passionate about the arts and wondering what it would be like to live for the summer in the town where the theater is located, performing whatever show they are doing. The possibilities are endless. And that's why I love it.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Community Preparation

I was in North Carolina last month when it snowed an inch. Everything was shut down for days. I have been in Minnesota many times for an inch of snow. It is a non-event.

When northerners are in the south during cold weather, they love to say, "This is nothing. Why did you shut down for this?" What they fail to take into account is the way in which communities are not prepared, making it very difficult to be out in the snow. In the south, they don't have enough snowplows and people don't know how to drive in it and buildings and roads are not built to accommodate snow. Plus, their economy and their school system can withstand closing for a couple days since it is not likely to happen very often.

When southerners are in the north during bad weather they love to say, "Why would all y'all live in this weather?" They fail to consider the ways in which communities are prepared, making it easier to be in the snow. While it is much colder for much longer, snow is expected, so towns have snowplows and people have sturdy cars and know how to drive them in the snow and roads are built with wide shoulders to accommodate the snow that has been cleared away. It is actually easier to withstand a blizzard in the north because the community is so prepared. No one is surprised when the snow arrives, they just get out their down coats, use their remote starters to warm up their cars, and leave a little earlier for work.

I guess you might say that the snow is always icier on the other side of the fence.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Personal Preparation

A couple years ago, my friend Travis and I climbed a glacier in New Zealand. One does not just drive right up to the side of a glacier, get out of the car and start climbing. The glacier continually moves, so they can't build a parking lot right beside it. In addition, this glacier was surrounded by a beautiful rain forest that should not be disturbed by traffic. Thus, we had to follow a steep trail through the rain forest to arrive at the edge of the glacier. After about an hour of hiking into the rain forest, we paused for water. I was winded. Travis was fine. I attributed this difference to the fact that Travis runs on a regular basis, so his cardiovascular health is much better than mine. Because of his exercise habits, Travis was more prepared for the hike than I was. The difference was vast enough that I was not having any fun, and Travis was happily snapping pictures of the rain forest as we hiked. Later, once we got up onto the glacier, our skills were more matched and we had a truly memorable day.

Preparation has a significant effect on your experience of an event. Travis and I were both hiking on the same trail, but his preparation made the experience much more pleasant for him than for me. Travis did not train specifically for the glacier, but his life habits had the accidental effect of of preparing him.

Sometimes we actively prepare for something we know will happen, and sometimes we end up being prepared simply because of our previous life experiences.

What challenges are approaching for which you should actively prepare? What recent challenges have you been more prepared for than you at first expected?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Bored

Whenever anyone over the age of 12 says that they are bored, I answer, "I don't believe in bored". I find that this confuses most people and leads to a discussion. At first, the person defends themselves, pointing out the ways in which the present situation is not stimulating enough. I affirm that the person is experiencing some lack of stimulation, I just don't understand why they choose to be in that state. The person usually repeats how "boring" the situation is, and the reasons that he or she cannot escape the boring situation. They generally don't understand that they have the option to either figure out something to do or figure out how to just be. To say that you are bored is to say that the world around you is supposed to entertain you at all times, and that currently the world is not doing its job. I point out to the bored person that I am in the same situation with them, but I am not bored. Thus, it's not the situation itself, it's the person's perception of the situation. I have never really "won" this discussion with a bored person, but I have in effect taken them out of their boredom for the few minutes that we are talking about it.

Boredom is presented as almost the opposite of the state of "flow" in the famous chart by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. Here, boredom happens when you are engaged in a task that does not have a great deal of challenge or use your skills. I realize the improbability of always living in a state of flow, in which your skill level matches your challenge level and you enter a highly productive and creative state. However, I believe that it is your responsibility to entertain yourself.

Perhaps sometime when you think you might be getting bored you could let me know what you think about all of this.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Neighborhood Bakeries

I am in my second of seven weeks in Greenwich Village. Although I will always love Union Square, where I lived for six years, this neighborhood definitely ranks as one of my favorites in Manhattan. It has a true "old New York" feeling about it, with narrow streets, interesting front stoops and beautiful old brick buildings. Over the years I have often brought out of town visitors to the Village to visit the interesting shops and to have a cupcake at Magnolia Bakery. Magnolia is the only bakery I have ever been to that always has a line around the corner and requires a doorman to direct the foot traffic in and out of the busy establishment.

It's a good thing that I like The Village so much since it will be the place that I have stayed the longest in almost a year. The last time I lived somewhere for more than seven weeks was when I was in Wichita, KS for ten weeks to perform in the musical "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" last spring (and even that was broken up with trips to Minneapolis and to Oklahoma City). Kansas was a wonderful place to be for ten weeks. While Wichita was no Greenwich Village, it had a surprising number of interesting shops and restaurants. My favorite was The Donut Whole, which has plenty of seating, free wifi, live music, and a wide variety of donuts. If you ever go there, try their Pumpkin Spice Donut.

Apparently one of my requirements for a great neighborhood is a great bakery. I will have to keep that in mind as I consider where to go next.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Busiest Day of the Year

It's the busiest day of the year. Even though it's a special occasion, no one on the staff gets the day off. Special arrangements are made for record crowds. Although extra hours of operation have been added for the special occasion, it seems that everyone wants to attend at the same particular time. People arrive in their best clothes, accompanied by the people they love. Not enough seats are available so an extra section is opened up to make room for more people. Thematic decorations adorn every possible fixture. Special music is played for the occasion. The staff is provided with a catered meal for working on such an intense day.

All of these statements are true of working in a large church on Christmas Eve and working in a chocolate restaurant on Valentine's Day. And now I have done both.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fully Committed

I just returned from the ELCA Youth Workers' Convention in Charlotte, NC. This is an annual event for Lutheran youth workers with which I have been involved almost since its inception thirteen years ago. We meet in various cities to "renew, educate and connect" as they say in the mission statement. There is a definite community that has been built around this event so it always feels like a reunion and also a place to meet more like-minded people.

I am currently on the team that plans and executes the event. It is the most functional team that I work on. We are sixteen people who love to work and play together. We are based all over the United States and gather only twice a year, once to plan and once at the event itself. The rest of the year, we connect online and by phone and trust one another to do the work. It astounds me the number of details that come together into something that is greater than the sum of its parts. As an Urban Nomad, it works well for me to be on a strong team that is not tied to geography. I feel very connected to the team and communicate with some of them more often than some of my friends in the same city as me. Everyone is "fully committed." That term, "fully committed" took on another meaning when we arrived at the Westin a couple days before our event. Apparently "fully committed" is hotel-speak for "no more room at the inn." That means that if we needed extra rooms or meeting space, there was none to be had. At first, "fully committed" was a road block. Then we latched on to the term and became "fully committed" to making things work. And we did.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ukuleles and the L Train

All subway platforms are not created equal. Some are busier, some are trashier, and some are not even subterranean, they are above ground. However, I have found that the L train platform at Union Square is consistently the happiest. For the uninitiated, the L train runs from 8th Avenue and 14th Street in Manhattan through Union Square, across to the east side and into Brooklyn. The first time I remember being on it was a Saturday night about three years ago. A friend and I were headed to Brooklyn to hear a mutual friend's debut singing Gilbert & Sullivan tunes accompanied by a ukulele quartet. This is the type of performance event for which one must go to Brooklyn, as nothing like that seems to happen in Manhattan. As we headed to the L train, we ran into Lauren Graham (Lorelai Gilmore) on the street. We chatted a bit and then went our separate ways. Apparently Lauren Graham does not take the L train, but Lorelai Gilmore would have fit right in. Everyone was chatting, sometimes even with strangers. People were especially animated given that on all of the other subway lines people generally try to keep to themselves.

This past Saturday night I was back on the L Train platform at Union Square, trying to stay warm by taking the train instead of walking a few blocks like I normally would. On the platform, a guitarist was playing hits of the 70s and 80s for tips. Instead of pretending to ignore said musician, people applauded at the end of each song. This is not normal subway behavior. No one applauds for subway performers, except for the occasional Michael Jackson impersonator.

Late on Saturday night, the L train only comes about every 20 minutes, so there is time for a small concert as people wait. A middle aged woman walked up to the musician and pulled a ukulele out of her full length fur coat and started to play along. I started to wonder why so many people play ukulele in Brooklyn. Two other people had guitars with them, and just as it seemed like a small band might form, the train pulled up and the moment was lost.

The subway platform is often just a holding area where a semi-lifeless mass of humanity waits until they can continue toward their destination. L Train people embrace the journey, at least on Saturday nights.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Beware: Practice Makes Perfect

The thing about resolutions is that you have to remember to do them. One of the benefits of Leveraging Consistency is that over time the resolutions become habits. And after they become habits you start a journey toward excellence in that area, as I mentioned in my last post. But what about the habits that you just fell into, and didn't make a conscious choice to incorporate into your life? The consistency could actually be harming you. One example is my daily bottle of Diet Coke. I am honestly not sure when it became daily, but it is now. I no longer consider whether I need it or whether it is good for me, I just drink it. Although I know that it is not a true necessity, I treat it as such, always buying it the night before so that I have it ready for the next day. I'm sure that the fine folks at the Coca-Cola Company are thrilled about this habit of mine, shared by millions of people, but it really can't be good for any of us.

As with good habits, bad habits become intuitive. They become a part of us. We perform these habits on autopilot. It's time to become truly aware of negative habits and start to make conscious choices again. Some of the habits might be observable actions, but some might be internal. I coached someone recently who realized that every time someone didn't do what he wanted, he withdrew from the situation and became angry. He is ready to start trying other strategies, like talking to the other person or writing in a journal or trying to see it coming before he is angry and make a different choice. Those are the habits that are harder to break, but they are also the ones that make a lasting impact.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Practice Makes Perfect

As I mentioned in my last post, I prefer to do projects in one big creative session rather than doing a little bit each day. However, this is my year of Leveraging Consistency. Practice makes perfect. I've heard it before, but don't always heed that advice. When my commitments cause me to do the same thing every day (such as during the run of a show when I sing or dance six days a week), I get noticeably better. Things are different when I am doing something on my own. Once I've done it "right" a few times, I am ready to move on to something else. Insatiable curiosity is great, but to be truly excellent we must practice. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, says that to be truly genius at anything, we must practice 10,000 hours. I don't know that I have done anything for 10,000 hours, but I have seen the early fruits of such labor. When we truly master something, we intuitively know how to do it well. It is deep within our bones. It is part of our DNA. What a powerful concept to know that if we just spend the time, we really can be great at any number of things for which we have a natural aptitude.

Now it's just a matter of choosing which things are worthy of seeking true greatness.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Creative Inspiration

I almost didn't write a blog post today. Today was my self-imposed deadline, but I just haven't felt inspired. I considered waiting to see if I felt more inspired tomorrow. Then I ran across this quote.

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” - Pablo Picasso

The quote itself is a bit inspiring, isn't it? I am one of those people that can fulfill my obligations to others on a daily schedule, but when it comes to creativity I wait for bursts of inspiration. The bursts of creative energy are fun and I get a lot done when they happen. However, sometimes those bursts don't happen at opportune times, like when I stayed up until 5 in the morning to edit a video or when I made my whole website in three days while I still had a full time job. This method of creativity also does not work out so well when the task at hand is larger than one burst of creative energy. I can wait for another burst, but when I have a deadline for a creative project I have to just do it.

I have been thinking a lot about how to wrangle in my creativity in order to do a number of projects this year. Maybe all it takes is just doing the work. Picasso was right. Once I start working the creativity comes from somewhere. Thanks, Pablo Picasso.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Home

Now that I am back in New York, people are asking, "How were your holidays? Did you get to go home?" The short answer is yes, even though I did not go to any particular house in which I have ever lived. I went "home" because I saw the people who represent home to me.

At the end of my national tour, the show flew me to Denver, where my brother and his family live. My brother and his wife have bought a beautiful house since I was last in Denver, so I spent my time there in a place that was all new to me. My parents were there as well, and we continued all of our Christmas traditions (including the Christmas theme discussed in an earlier post). Gathered with these people doing these things, I was "home".

I have spent the last 8 or 9 New Year's Eves with two close friends from Minnesota. One of those friends was in Denver this year. And so were the cousins of the other friend. And they brought their boyfriends and husbands, one of whom I went to seminary with. And one of the cousins knew a friend of mine from New York who was also in Denver visiting his family. When it was all said and done, I arrived at a New Year's Eve party in downtown Denver at which the only person that I did not know was the person whose condo the party was being held. So I made friends with him. There is always room for another person at home.

Monday, January 4, 2010

With Great Resolve

'Tis the season for New Year's Resolutions. It is the time of year to assess what is missing from our daily lives and publicize to our friends what we intend to do about it. A resolution is embedded with possibility and hope. People imagine better lives when they make resolutions. They also communicate a certain baseline security with their current situation. After all, if you didn't even have food to eat or a roof over your head, you would hardly be resolving to watch the last 50 episodes of General Hospital (as one of my Facebook friends put into her status).

With new-found enthusiasm, we charge forward toward our goal, yet so few of us actually reach the goal. Why the low success rate? It doesn't seem to be for lack of necessary information. Any number of magazines and websites will tell you how to lower your weight, train for a marathon, or organize your home. It also doesn't seem to be for lack of desire. People appear sincere when sharing their resolutions. So what is it? Most people have not assessed their environment. They want to make a change, but Monday morning rolls around, vacation is over, and all of the same influences are upon them that caused them to not start that great new habit in the first place. When resolving to do something, consider the ways in which the people and places around you are supporting the old action (or inaction). Then, decide how you are going to deal with it. That's right, the world around you is not going to suddenly shift into place to create the ideal set of circumstances for you to train for a marathon, quit smoking, lose weight or watch 50 episodes of General Hospital. You need to make an internal change that allows you to be in the same world you've been in, with the added element of progress toward your resolution. Not sure how to do it? That's what a life coach is for. I'd love to help. www.DawnTrautman.com.
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