Four Must Ask Questions Before You Plan Your Year

We develop a commitment to what we spend time on, the more time invested the deeper the commitment.  Defining what you really want is crucial. I mean this needs to be crystal clear, in order to set resolutions that are realized.  What would make your life, or your work, or go big both, deeply meaningful to you? If you are not clear about the big picture of what you want, you’ll get bogged down by all that could be, tripped up by details, lose your place or worse decide to toss all your efforts out the window.  There is no single best definition of a meaningful life or meaningful work. What shows up in yours should be a reflection of what you value most and what calls to you most ardently.

“Everyone should carefully observe

which way his heart draws him,

and then choose that way

with all his strength.”

                                                  ~ Hasidic Saying

The more deeply anchored in who you are at your core and what brings the real meaning to your life, the more energy you have to push forward. So what is it you desire to be of lasting impact that has significance to you?  We all make a significant lasting impact, or can choose to, in the sphere of our influence. Sometimes we make a lasting impact that was not intended, might as well go for what we intend.

You can put your best work forth and make a lasting impact by using your signature strengths, your unique attributes, and most deeply held values in service of your big picture.  Whether your work is as a solo business owner, in the c-suite, as an employee or at home. You get the outcomes you want when you take specific actions that build from your strengths, are supported by your attitude and are rooted in the callings of your heart. Getting to really big outcomes takes moxie. Moxie comes from being clear and unwavering about the callings of your heart.

Four Questions to Plan An Extraordinary Year

I use these four questions to plan my year, usually in December because I want to be focused, ready to embrace the possibilities of a New Year on January 1. (Well maybe January 2).  The answers I come up result in a plan for making the New Year extraordinary.

  1. What am I longing for in my life? Not what you need to do, but what you are yearning for from the marrow of your bones. What is it you would most like to experience or feel in 2012? Your answer is the motivating force for the choices you make, and subsequent outcomes you get.  Your answer points to a course of action whether you want travel to Europe, increase the impact of your business, let go of the mental baggage you have been carrying around or get into the shape of you life.  When you are clear about the deeper reason behind your intent, the more powerful your actions will be on the practical level.
  2. What can I reach for that will meet that longing? Not what is the pie in the sky I can’t possibly ever get there reach. Rather the stretch that if you made, to the best of your abilities would indeed meet this yen of yours. Is it to be the best provider possible for your family, customers or employees? Maybe it is to step into a new role professionally? Could it be to preserve time for your own creative work?
  3. What would need to be true for me to meet that longing? Your answer might encompass any number of things. You might need to acquire new skills, or strengthen existing ones. You might need to let go of patterns of thinking that no long serve you well. You might just find that you have everything in place, but need to make use of the resources available to you. Maybe you need to stop being scared of you.
  4. What will give me the courage to reach for more? This is not about bragging or smugness. It is about standing firm in your intent and the sense of your own value. It is what will help you find your mojo, your chutzpah, so you remain unwavering in even moments of doubt or challenge. Maybe you are tired of being afraid of what people might thing of the whole, real you?  Maybe it is just the time to start now untangling the knots in your life.

This year I want to help you have an extraordinary year, so I am offering a limited number of complementary “My Extraordinary Year” discovery sessions.  If you are:

  • Ready to stop chasing balance and start finding fulfillment
  • Ready to get of a rut
  • Want the courage to claim time for yourself
  • Longing to get in sync with what calls most deeply from your heart

Take me up on the offer for a complementary  “My Extraordinary Year” discovery session. These are first come first serve. There are only 20 available.

During the 30-minute session we will do three things. First create a clear vision about what you really want. Then we will explore obstacles that are getting in your way. Finally we will outline the next steps you can take to move forward. These will be scheduled between January 4 and January 20, 2012.

Make 2012 the year to reconnect to the light inside you and live by your most deeply held truths.  One of my clients said it best, “I am beyond thrilled to be realistically, authentically in touch with who I am. I have tools to understand my own person and the gifts that are uniquely mine. I am not fearful of myself any more.”– Banking VP, November 2011. Now that is a great foundation for her 2012.

I invite you to book your “My Extraordinary Year” discovery session now.

Roar and break the evil grip of fear

The grip of our fears can be strong.  Napoleon Hill named six basic fears: fear of poverty, fear of criticism, fear of old age, fear of dying, fear of illness and fear of losing love. They need to be faced head on in order to release the grip they have on you.

Accept yourself on faith, that you are enough, capable and deserving. You can address your fears head on. You will stop avoid doing the things that will give the most back.  You will not get stuck in “I can’t” or “as soon as” states.  You can stop dulling yourself with too much ease, or letting yourself off the hook by making excuses. If you are prone to working three times as hard as everyone else to prove yourself, you’ll stop. If you fill your life with symbols of success that leave you still feeling hollow, you lose that need.  Why is this important?  Trying to live only one side of the coin of life, too much achievement or too much enjoyment does not work.  You need both achievement and enjoyment to be truly successful.

The impulse to protect ourselves from pain sets up arbitrary boundaries. Limiting thoughts and beliefs creep up and become habitual with our fears. To complicate matters we’ll believe those limitations as gospel truth even when presented with overwhelming evidence that shatters the illusion of limitations. We stay small and like the Cowardly Lion forget we have heart. We have courage, which is acting in the face of the unknown.

This keeps you from living and working in alignment with your core spirit. Your signature strengths, your natural assets and your most sacredly held values can be at the worst squandered and at the least underused.

Go roar today.

It is time to rekindle your hope, your mojo, especially when you are in the middle of chaos. Time to stop being blocked by fears. Fears like someone will take all your secrets. Fear of not being capable, or worthy. Not being able to pay the bills. Of growing old or infirm.  Fear of criticism.  That you will not know all of the answers. Criticism is often a projection of what others think of themselves. Your bravery to act in the face of your fears stirs up failure in others.

Once you name your basic fear you can claim both your passion and your power to act.  Better yet, you feel compassion for others’ anger, as well as for yourself. You are less critical of yourself and others. You clearly see the difference between healthy fear that warns of real dangers and fears that limit you with artificial boundaries. You ask for what you need, do what needs to be done and get to where you want to be. You forgive yourself and others.

A truly passionate, fulfilled deeply satisfied hopeful person feels remorse and sorrow for her transgressions. She is unafraid to confront them and then forgive. When you forgive, you are the greatest beneficiary, you are free to move into the future.  Emotional pain may linger but eventually you’ll feel all you need to feel (All cried out) about the past. Because you accept it for what it was and choose to move forward. If not you remain stuck, unable to commit to what you want versus what you are stuck with and don’t want.

Once you name that deep dark fear it loosens it’s grip on your mind. You use both sides of your mind to weigh matters and make decisions. Mindfully cultivating both the right side (creative, innovating, non-linear, feeling) and left side (practical, linear, analytic) of your brain opens up your ability to quickly act on your hunches and focus on practical possibilities. Your decisions become easier to make, even the difficult ones. Your actions are more powerful on a  practical level. But to get the most from you right side of the brain, which for most of us, does not get as much use as the left side, you have to experiment with it without judging your feelings or ideas. Both sides of your brain are needed to make wise decisions.

The right side of your brain is the source of your dreams, inspirations and insights. The left side is the process center for these and can either accept or reject them.  When you focus on what interests you then your mind and your feelings work best together – there is a real synergy. Really what could be more wonderful than making the most of your divinely given attributes, your signature strengths as well as what calls some strongly from your heart?

Time to have the talk. . . about longings

What are you longing for in your life? Not what you need to do, but what you are longing for from the marrow of your bones. Know that and you know the reason behind why you do what you do.  Know this and you can make the best use of your time money and resources.  The more clear you are about the deeper reason why you do what you do, the more powerful your actions will be on the practical level.

Women and men craft lives that are wholly fulfilling because what is most import to them, those callings of the heart that other people just don’t seem to get around to, are front and center. They dwell in hope and mine for possibilities. These women and men are amazing ordinary people living extra ordinary lives, because of the choices they make.  They aim for and settle for nothing less than a fulfilling flourishing life.

The point is to keep fulfilling, keep attending to your priorities what calls most strongly from your soul, each day.  Pay attention to the re-occurring themes in your life. Those things you have always been good at and interested in.  What is the world asking me to do? Maybe you have just been asked to step into a new role that stretches you. It’s exciting and a little scary too. Ask yourself, what would it take for me to make that calling a truth? What resources, strengths supports can I bring to bear? What  do I need to let go of and what will that take? What can I gain from this shift

 The callings of your heart are the REAL material of your life. Not what is on your schedule this week, in your job description, the roles you have been pushed into, or even what other well-intended people wish for you. Following the path of what you know is right in the marrow of your bones, even when powerful outside forces suggest or demand otherwise takes moxie. Do it anyway. In the end you are responsible for the actions you take and elect not to take, even when there are powerful outside forces.

My great joy in my work is guiding people to do this in their own lives.  Helping people with busy complex lives to connect to reconnect to the light inside them and have the nerve to live and work by their most deeply held truths. They take actions they otherwise would not, that make the most of their time, especially in chaotic challenging circumstances. They embrace their signature strengths and accept all parts of their beings.  The reward is this: careers they love and sustaining, rewarding relationships. The callings of their hearts show up, not just their to do lists, each and every day. So too can yours.

“You do not sing because you are happy, you are happy because you sing. “- William James

When you act as is if something will happen it will because experience is based on how you think and what you do in each moment.

Quit griping. We all need a “wife” these days.

How many times have you said it?

“Today I am supposed to be three places at once.” “There is NO time for me.” ““There is too much to do.” “I need a wife.” You are not alone. In fact you’d have so much company that if you invited everyone over for cookies or cocktails (whatever floats your boat this holiday season) you’d need room for 89% of Americans.

I get it. I have been there too.  You might feel you can’t say no, delegate, or let something go. That same driving entrepreneurial, creative spirit that got you where you are as busy person with executive level responsibilities (at home, at work or at both) can get in the way. It prevents you from stopping.  Did I say stop?

Yep, I sure did. Here is why. All the push-pull action can throw you off-balance. It drains your energy. It can lead you astray from what calls to you most, from way deep down in your bones. Maybe you feel resentful, unfulfilled or the specter of hopelessness is looming?

So you aim for balance. You work hard for balance, putting your phenomenal abilities towards achieving it. So why can’t you get balanced? Or stay that way once you feel like you get a hold of a schedule that works?

Simple, you are not a scale. Balance works wonderfully if you are a scale. You are a vibrant, dynamic person, with executive level responsibilities and an entrepreneurial, creative spirit, who is feeling squished, pressed or constrained.  To date I have yet to meet the person who can spend the precise same number of hours and resources on family, at work, as well as on herself. That scenario would be the equivalent of balance. It is not realistic or practical.

Most people pursue one of two solutions to this dilemma.

1.Focus exclusively on one part of your life, at the expense of all other parts.  This may not be the best option.  Frankly it is impossible to completely avoid some areas of your life, they all show up, for better or worse.  Plus this route is likely to increase fear and anxiety precisely because you are not attending to some things you really need too and they sneak up on you at inopportune times.

2. Try to live a meaningful life while trying to do everything and control all of your thoughts and feelings.  Unfortunately this too is not practical or realistic.  We, all of us, would rather not feel the pain of the past that choices have caused. So we try to control everything we do. We tie up all of our energy trying so hard. We don’t relax into ourselves. We forget to be spontaneous and just enjoy the moment. We keep all the negative thoughts away.  Those will not get us anywhere right?  Your life becomes narrow, very narrow. The breadth of life is not let in- no way, because that means pain might seep in along with joy.

This pain serves as a reminder of what will happen if we make the same choice again. That’s okay. Adversity brings rewards in growth and understanding that are exponential and lasting. You are not doomed to repeating past mistakes.

There is a third solution to this dilemma. Be willing to experience the thoughts and feelings that come up along the way.  All of them. Even the painful ones you’d rather skip.  Even the joyful ones you are not sure you deserve. Change your focus from controlling thoughts and feelings to controlling what you do. Do this and your life is a flourishing expression of fulfillment and of profound satisfaction as a whole. You’ll gripe a whole lot less and enjoy your work, your family, and your life a whole lot more.

Strung Out Like Holiday Lights: 12 Tips to Stop Stressing and Start Enjoying the Holidays

The holiday season is full swing now, the office parties are being booked, the holiday cards written and the lights are strung. Feeling more burnt out than last year’s mini-lights?  Balancing your personal needs and professional responsibilities all while meeting family demands challenges the most focused, calm and organized person. For most people the holidays includes too much time fighting traffic, spending way too much on our credit cards, entertaining relatives and clients and pretending to be thrilled when we receive yet another “unfortunate holiday sweater”.  For those who do not ordinarily feel stressed under the pressure of events or deadlines, the holidays can still play havoc with our lives.  Good cheer can quickly turn into too much do and feel more like a time of obligation than a time of celebration. So what can we do? The good news is you don’t have to let stress or outside pressures ruin your holidays. Plan for stress just like you plan ahead for any calamity you want to avoid.

Try to pinpoint what you are anxious about, what gets under your skin. Are you feeling stressed because you’re not going to be able to fulfill your children’s gift requests? Are you chaffing over the weight gain that seems to be a part of the season? Are you and your spouse wrangling over holiday expenses? Are you feeling left out because your friends are enjoying the season and you’re not?  Are you responding to invitations from a place of joy or from duty?  Are you wondering how to keep your boundaries and mind intact, when you cannot avoid someone who pushes your buttons?

Use these 12 tips to make a plan stop stressing (or griping about) the holidays and start enjoying them. These tied and true tips for will help keep your spirits up and your blood pressure down amid all the hullaballoo and stress.

  1.  Magical realism, use it wisely. Carefully examine your thoughts and expectations for the holiday season. Try not to drive yourself crazy planning the “perfect party “ or finding “the perfect gift”. There is no perfect holiday, but there are magical memories and magical moment yet to be shared.   Those lovely fantasies that play out in, books the movies, and on TV are just that fantasies. Go ahead and make your holiday as beautiful as you want, but remember at the core of each of those fantasies is a theme of sharing, fellowship and connection that transcends any decorating triumph.
  2.  Be gentle with yourself and others. There is no perfection in when family dynamics are involved.  Families have many configurations these days and it can be confusing. For separated families, the question is” Which parent or grandparents will we be with for Christmas, for New Years?” Another common issue is when a gathering becomes an arena for sibling rivalry, along with a desire for long-standing recognition and approval. And if you find that you cannot resist trying to change the attitude and behavior of the parent (sibling or child) that “makes you crazy,” patterns which have resisted influence attempts for decades…you might just want to leave. Family is complicated, and messy and wonderful. The holidays’ heighten each of these things. The best strategy is often to be as realistic and compassionate with yourself and others.
  3.  Say No. Prioritize the social, business and other events on your calendar. There is no hard and fast rule that all the celebrating and well wishing must be done before Dec. 31. You can bring over into the New Year if you wish. My husband and I have our personal Christmas celebration at the New Year, after all the traveling to visit family is done, the cookies made, and the New year’s ball drops we save a little of the magic of the season for us.
  4.  Gratitude and giving back. Doing something for someone else, like collecting coats for people in need, volunteering your time and talents at a nursing facility can help keep things in perspective. That can be just thing when the holidays start to rub you the wrong way and heck might just set the tone for how you operate in the year to come.
  5.  Take a time out. If your buttons are pushed, step away, firmly, politely. You can say something along the lines of: “I am not able to continue this conversation right now, so I am going to excuse myself.” If you have never done this before, it becomes easier after the first time.
  6.  Hydrate, and not just with adult beverages.  A stiff glass of eggnog can be a good way to toast the holiday, but don’t go overboard. Too much alcohol will only add to your stress.  Plus, the change in weather and the drier indoor air impact hydration so to does the amount of sugar we eat.  Dehydration can make you cranky and frankly ill. So drink your fill of water each and every. Try adding one more glass to your normal intake.
  7.  Timing. Decide ahead of time how long you will spend at an event. It is much easier to maintain boundaries after you have set them.
  8.  Be impeccable with your word, meaning take the time to think before your speak. Taken from Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, this can be a real lifesaver. Speak with integrity.  Will you regret what you say later? Use the power of your words in the direction of affections, truth and respect.
  9.  Simplify. Easier said than done, I know, but try. Cut down on the number of gifts exchanged and instead try to create some experiences and memories. When it comes to kids and families this can be a bit challenging, but one of best gifts my sister and her family received was a “game night”: a board game and two types of popcorn.
  10.  Quality over quantity. The delights of the holiday food are tempting. The cakes! The cookies! The Hot Toddies! Deciding to enjoy the bounty of the season is fine, you can also decide ahead of time how much to indulge and stick too it, making the indulgence even more delicious.
  11.  Remember you are only responsible for yourself, your actions and reactions. You are not responsible someone else’s actions or reactions.
  12.  Frolic and play. Exercise is a great stress reliever.  Instead of watching Elf or It’s a Wonderful Life, for the 57th time, grab your kids, favorite cousins, or neighbors and go for a brisk walk. Walking will burn off calories and it is good for your heart. And heart is what this season is about at its core.

Deirdre M. Danahar, MSW, MPH, LCSW, is a personal coach and consultant for people with executive level responsibilities and entrepreneurial spirits.  She owns InMotion Consulting and Coaching, LLC, based in Jackson, MS.

An Extraordinary Life for Everyone

Self-acceptance begins with a clear understanding of what it takes for you to feel good about you. You must have a genuine appreciation of your individuality in order to be successful and live meaningfully.

Comparing yourself to someone can be useful if you ask, how can this serve me? A comparison cannot reflect all of your strengths or the uniqueness of your personality. It can have the ability to limit your choices and development or could serve as an inspiration.

You must also acknowledge resentments, injuries or anger that keeps you from living in the present. Make amends with people you hurt.  Forgive the past transgressions of others, you don not have to approve of them to forgive them. Then move forward, letting go of the past.

To lead an extraordinary life requires you know in real terms what is happiness or fulfillment for you. Not someone else, you. Define what you mean by happiness/fulfillment, including spiritual and emotional rewards as well as material rewards. Make a list of people you are happy. Can you see a common thread? Co they accept themselves as they are? Do the do what they love? Are they excited by what they do?

Do you believe you have the power to lead an extraordinary life? Power is the ability to take action.

When you are honest and act in alignment with the callings of your heart, your signature strengths and values your life becomes extraordinary.

Look at your life. Discover what action you need to take. Then take it. You will feel powerful.