Writing down your ideas can bring freedom

Write it down!

Sometimes I feel like I have lots of ideas but I don’t take action. Recently, I was talking to the owner of a wellness clinic about this problem and she suggested that I write down all of my ideas without necessarily committing to action.  She said I may just decide to take action one day and on that day I will have lots to choose from.

Her idea is similar to the “universal capture” idea in Getting Things Done by David Allen and also Gretchen Rubin’s “Save the Strength“.

Most of my ideas are overwhelmingly large such as “write an e-book” (even though I have no material) or “create a meditation club” (even though I don’t currently meditate on a regular basis). It’s also different from writing down “to dos” because these ideas are often large projects that would make up a series of “to dos”.

By writing my ideas down I found it not only gave me a sense of purpose but it also gave me a sense of freedom. I have realized that it’s almost as though my ideas can get trapped in my mind and by writing them down it not only releases me from them but also makes me feel as though I just might just get to them someday.

Do you write down your ideas? Does it give you a sense of purpose, freedom or accomplishment? How do you choose what to do next?

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below or by joining the self improvers community.

How have you been creative this week?

How do you plug in to your creative outlet?
What helps you plug in? Photo by Mark Sebastian

In my first improv class my teacher sat ten of us down in a circle and asked what we had done creatively during the last week. The other class members, seemed to have lists of items to share; however, I was coming up blank.  The next week she asked again. Uh-oh. It was clear that I was going to be held accountable for being creative…definitely a new concept for me.

It’s often been hard for me to prioritize creative projects but this question gave me permission to plug in to my creativity without feeling guilty about it. One week I created a slide set to tell the “search for my wedding dress” story to my mom who was in Florida at the time. I would not have made the time to do this without knowing that I could share this as my creative act for the week.

The impending question also encouraged me to think about what I was already doing  differently;  was there anything that I did this week creatively but I didn’t really think about it that way? Maybe I used a unique approach at a meeting or for a project at work. I was surprised by how much I could come up with that was creative in a non-traditional sense.

For some this is probably a non-issue but since this question was so useful to me – I though I would ask you ….How have you been creative this week? Do you have a group that you are creatively accountable to? How else might we use this concept to make time for activities that we love but maybe feel guilty doing?

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below or in the self improvers community.

What’s your motivating factor?

What is your motivating factor?
Maggie playing airplane

I have had several moments when I having been feeling down since I have gone back to work and been spending less time with my daughter. Something that’s really helped me turn this around is that I have realized how Maggie is the ultimate motivator for getting anything done and for getting my own life sorted out. Knowing that I am a model for her and that my feelings and attitudes affect her is the ultimate motivation to make changes and get things done.

Now that I have identified this motivating factor I feel as though I can take on just about anything….the question is what’s next?

What’s your motivating factor?

How can we make better choices in our daily routines?

How do you make a good choices on a daily basis and avoid getting stuck in a rut
Photo by Billie Ward

Lately I have been trying to make some changes in how I spend my time at home. I was getting down in the dumps about having so little time with my daughter during the week and having the evenings after putting Maggie to bed seemingly get sucked up with a bit of TV, cleaning up and getting ready for the next day.

I am sure others have this problem too. My energy was so low at home and I was finding that the time I did have was spent watching TV or surfing the internet and then feeling gross afterwards.

I was motivated to change but I was still having a hard time choosing better activities. I needed a frame of mind to snap me out of the regular routines.

I started to compare my options of activities instead of just falling into watching TV or surfing. I tried asking myself: when I am finished, what is going to make me feel better…watching TV for another hour or creating space on my phone so that I can take more video of my daughter? Surfing the internet or learning a new song on my guitar?

By presenting the options the choice becomes clear and it motivates me to do the activity that I really want to do.

What are your strategies for making better choices in your daily routines?

Let go of a crutch and get liberated

credit Jason WilsonI gave my fifth toastmasters speech last week and it was my first speech that I executed without any notes. I was excited and nervous. My speech was meant to be entertaining and informative on a simple topic (the power of mm-hmm). With my crutch removed, I felt liberated but I felt like I was toddling and not walking, let alone hula hooping.  I followed the general structure I had pre-determined but I missed many of my favourite lines. I felt as though I had totally flubbed it.

Of course, we are our own worse critic. When I listened to my evaluation and talked to my peers afterwards it turned out that they thought the speech was a success. They pointed out that I had engaged the audience, especially with laughter, and that the audience could answer most of the specific questions about my speech during the quiz which meant they were listening.

It made me realize that sometimes we are the only one that knows we have made a mistake. By letting go of the notes I was liberated from the ability to be perfect. I was forced to just trust myself and my preparation and go for it. It turned out that the speech did not have to be perfect to be a success, as long as it was organized, entertaining and informative.

Have you let go of a crutch and felt the weightlessness of freedom that it brings? Were you scared or invigorated or both ?!

Do you feel like something has to be perfect to be a success? Do you have a crutch you would like to let go of and hula hoop instead? 

Should we tell a white lie to save face and protect those around us?

Pinnochio’s nose is a symbol of our conscience. Wouldn’t it be easier if we had a physical cue to remind us of the right thing to do?
Pinnochio’s nose is a symbol of our conscience. Wouldn’t it be easier if we had a physical cue to remind us of the right thing to do?

On Monday morning I woke up to the jarring realization that I had completely forgotten my friend’s baby shower on Saturday. It completely slipped my mind. Thankfully, this sort of thing does not happen to me very often because I am usually working very hard to avoid the feelings of guilt and shame that began to wash over me.

When I am ashamed and I am concerned about hurting my friend’s feelings, I often have an inner conversation where I consider telling a small white lie. I could tell her that I forgot to let her hosts know that I was going to be out of town or that something came up that I had to attend to, but the truth was I failed to write it in the calendar and I forgot. By telling a white lie, it would both save face for me and also protect my friend’s feelings.

When I was a kid, my parents told me, If I always told the truth, I would never get in trouble. They held true to this promise (even when I was riding my sister’s too-big-for-me bike and and I rode it into the taillight of the car). Now, on these occasions when I am considering the white lie, I can hear a voice in my head repeating this phrase while I gather up the courage to tell the truth. It turns out my parent’s had found a way to nurture and develop my conscience.

By telling the truth we not only give our conscience a break but we also build up the bank of trust with those around us. If you tell someone the truth about something that you are ashamed of, it builds their trust in you that you are going to tell them the truth no matter what happens. And, by giving them an opportunity to forgive you, you are also building your trust in them that you can tell them anything and your friendship will survive it.

It was tough to call my friend to apologize not only for not being there, even worse that I had completely forgotten about it. I am thankful for her friendship and that she could forgive me. In this small way we have both given our friendship an opportunity to grow. It can be tough to make the decision to tell the truth, and sometimes we may choose not to, but the true benefits of building trust certainly outweigh the false benefits of saving face.

Have you ever been tempted to tell a white lie? Did you tell it? Why or why not? 

Sometimes you just gotta muscle through it

hanging pictures
Surprisingly these pictures took some muscle to hang. I forced the wires on the backs to adjust the heights.

Around the house I am often asking Dave for help with something that I cannot quite fix. I sometimes hesitate out of concern that I am going to break it (with my brute strength apparently) and I do not force objects where they do not seem to want to go. When I call on Dave, he  comes over and  bangs, pushes, or turns until it works. This was driving me crazy because I thought  – well, why didn’t I do that?

Now, when I think to ask Dave for help, first I ask myself: what would Dave do? I try a little harder to open the jar. Or, I pull harder on the nail to get it out. Usually it involves doing something a little rougher than I normally would. Usually, it works.

This has helped me to learn that sometimes taking action is better than overthinking which precise and specific action would be best. It’s also pretty unlikely that I am going to break something if I try to use my strength and if I do break it, well, it’s probably replaceable. No big whoop.

I am sure there is a metaphor for life in here somewhere. When times get a little tougher, we need to get a little tougher too. Dave says, Oh no – his secret is out! Sometimes you gotta just muscle through it.

What’s your strategy when you come up against an obstacle? Do you muscle your way through it? 

Why is it hard to kick a habit that we know is hurting us?

Making coffee a weekend treat kicked my crazies to the curb.
Making coffee a weekend treat kicked my crazies to the curb.

When I hit 30 my PMS began to become an out of body experience. I would hear myself muttering discontents and wonder who was this person who had taken over my body for 12 hours? I started to wonder: Why can’t this happen while I am sleeping?

PMS is certainly not an excuse for behaving badly. But dang, is it ever a challenge to keep my words and behaviour under control. I find the most important thing is to be aware of it. If I feel myself becoming irritable, I say to Dave “Apparently taking the garbage out of this can is making me way more angry than it should. It’s possible that I am going to say something that I do not really mean between now and bedtime.” In others words, please cut me some slack where required.

I know this sounds so cheesy, but this primes Dave for what’s coming and let’s him know that no matter what I say I am trying my best to control my behaviour but that the challenge has been upped considerably.

About 2 months ago, the crazies hit an all time high. I felt like I was on a wild roller coaster ride, strapped in and not allowed to get off. I was talking myself down and out of different situations that would normally roll off my back all day. It was exhausting.

What was different that day? I had had 3 cups of coffee, which was unusual for me. Apparently, it was an unwelcome collision of molecules in my body. I decided that I needed to make sure it would not happen again.

I know that – for me – it’s way easier to quit cold turkey than to have something in between*. I respond to rules. But I just could not imagine never having the delicious brown elixir of the gods again. And, coffee is not just a beverage, it’s a ritual. How could I ever replace it? Plus, I was sure my receptors were addicted to it and there would be headaches in revolt, which I have little tolerance for.

Instead of going cold turkey, I decided to come up with some rules*. I would only drink coffee on weekends, if I really “needed” a coffee on a weekday I would allow it and I would replace my coffee in the morning with a cup of orange pekoe tea, which still has caffeine (weaning) and also has a small place in my heart as a ritual.

I was completely skeptical that this would work but I have stuck to the rules for 10 weeks now, with one blip. One morning, I felt like I really needed a coffee. I was expecting it to be a magical. It fell flat, of course. Poor coffee. It was unfair to put so much pressure on you.

As a result, I developed a key question to ask as I walk up to the Starbucks Barista – what is going to make you feel better in a Real way: drinking the coffee or choosing an alternative? Hands down, when I use choose an alternative I know I will feel better about myself.

Oh and by the way, the crazies have all but disappeared, which I also find astonishing. Those molecules mixing together. We are just like one big chemistry set.

What’s your strategy for kicking a habit? 

*A shout out to my sister-in-law because when I mentioned this to her she came up with the brilliant idea of changing ”not having any” rule to another rule that I would have to follow.

*update – Gretchen Rubin’s 4 personality types describes abstainers vs. moderators … can you move through the spectrum or do you find one works better for you?

Does following our purpose help to ground us?

Dogs like Silver have it figured out. She doesn’t rest until we are all gathered together.

This winter I was feeling like my writing in the morning was frivolous. It was a morning ritual that I had developed after reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way at Work more than six years ago: sit, drink my coffee, write. Dave had started to get up early and go to the gym every day; this seemed much more productive. I was questioning my writing habit: What was I producing? What was the point? Is this the best use of my time?

I started to skip writing, crawl out of bed, throw on my gym clothes and Canadian Goose Parka and stumble over to the gym. I felt great while I was at the gym and I was gaining confidence in myself for holding my commitment but after a few weeks I began to notice that I was feeling a little “off”. I was sure this was just an excuse to not go to the gym and I ignored it.

When I told this story to my massage therapist Alfie** (I swear he also doubles as my psychotherapist), he paused and asked me: Have you ever heard of the TV show the Dog Whisperer? The host often helps owners recognize that their dogs are misbehaving because they are not fulfilling their purpose. If they are shepherds, they need to shepherd. Maybe writing is like that for you.

I quickly got over being the dog in this analogy because Alfie made a great point. We all have something that we were meant to do that is somehow programmed in. The key is to recognize it and stick to it.

Now I am back to writing every weekday and feeling grounded (and feeling guilty about not going to the gym, but that’s okay). Alfie’s story led me to realize it actually didn’t matter whether my writing produced something concrete, what it was producing was a clear, contented mind. What could be a more important productive outcome?

What’s programmed in for you? What keeps you grounded? 

* I have been watching Parks and Recreation and “literally” keeps popping into my phrasing. I seem to be channelling  ChrisTraeger.

How to turn advice-seeking into self-propelled solution finding

Try listening first when asked for advice
Photo by Nathan Rupert

Have you ever noticed how when a friend comes to you for advice it seems like they are not open to it? They start to tell you their story and when you offer suggestions they respond with “No, that won’t work…” or “Well, I thought of that but…” This can be frustrating because you feel like they are coming to you for help but they are not willing to listen to your ideas.

When this happens, first I tell my ego to sit down and then I remind myself that they may actually just need someone to listen to them and that, ideally, they want to come up with the solution on their own.

Here’s how you can use a simple 3-step process to help others get to solutions faster*.

1. Listen to their story. When someone starts their story, I remind myself they need to be heard to be ready to find solutions. Until they feel as though they have been heard, they may be blocked from solutions. You play a crucial role at this stage because they just need someone to listen to them. Also, if you have not really heard the whole story, they may notice that you do not understand them fully and spend time on explaining themselves before they can begin to work on a solution*

2. Wait for them to ask you: Well, What do you think? I have found that a key indicator that a person is ready to work towards a solution is when they ask you: What do you think? When they are complete in telling their story they will come back to why they sought you out in the first place and ask you for your advice.

3. Ask them: What do you think your options are? It is much more powerful for someone to come up with a solution on their own. The goal is for them to feel good about their decision and have ownership of it. Often times once they lay out the options, the evaluation of the options naturally follows and they can make a decision on what to do. It may help to ask them what kind of criteria would help them to evaluate the options. If they still ask you for directly for advice, you may say something like: You are the best person to make this decision because you know the situation most intimately. What’s holding you back?

This process may take 2 minutes or it may take more than an hour. By listening until they ask you what you think and helping them understand what their options are you can help others come to a solution on their own that is more meaningful than any advice that you could ever give.

How do you handle it when friends ask you for advice?

* These ideas are a culmination of my own coaching experience in personal and work life and being guided by Stephen Covey – 7 Habits (Listen first) and Cognitive Coaching by Arthur Costa and Rober Garmston.

Sidenote: I also use this method to coach myself: I write out my story and then ask myself, what are my options? I might use a mind map to come up with ideas and then evaluate them and make a decision.