Do You Suffer From “Happiness Destination Syndrome”?

Happiness Destination Syndrome

OK. So before we begin, as a licensed therapist I must tell you that there is technically no such thing as “Happiness Destination Syndrome” or HDS.  It is not listed in any diagnostic manual. I made it up to describe a pattern of behaviors and thought patterns that is pretty common among many many people.

And as a person recovering from HDS, I can tell you that it is very real and its symptoms are profound. Here are some examples of statements that usually come from people plagued by HDS:

  • “After I find a new job, then I can make more money and be happy.”
  • “When I find someone to truly love me and start a relationship with, then I can be happy.”
  • “Once I have kids, then I’ll be happy.”
  • When I retire and my kids are grown, then I can finally have time to myself then I can be happy.”

See where this is going?

HDS is constantly thinking that happiness is always somewhere “out there” over the next hill. HDS is feeling like the current moment or set of circumstances is never enough to feel “happy.” People who live with HDS feel like there is always the need for “more,” or “better.” It is simply a never-ending treadmill.

Now let me say here that there is nothing wrong with wanting to improve the quality of your life. There is nothing wrong with setting and achieving goals. And sometimes the feeling of dissatisfaction can actually be a powerful motivator to change things that you dislike. But thinking that  you are not enough and can absolutely never be happy until the next great thing happens will only result in you feeling empty and dissatisfied even after you have achieved the goal.

Because the underlying thought behind HDS is that you need to DO more and ACHIEVE more in order to BE more. And that simply isn’t true.

I can attest to spending the first chunk of my young adulthood with HDS. Thinking that the next relationship, or job, or degree was going to make my life magically better. I thought that I just needed to attain the next and best shiny thing in order to feel better about myself and my life. But what I would routinely discover is that once I would reach that next destination, I would feel good for a short while, but then eventually go back to thinking something was missing. I was looking for something to fill the void.

But happiness is not a specific destination. Happiness just is. And it exists everywhere. It is all around us and within us.

So here are my 3 tips to cure any Happiness Destination Syndrome outbreaks:

Stop Magical Thinking

Nothing is a magical cure all. There is nothing  and nobody that will make all your problems go away. Stop thinking that. No job, relationship, education, or amount of money will make all your problems go away. No matter where you are and what you have, there will always be both joys to experience and challenges to overcome. Without exception. Moving into different circumstances simply means that there will be new joys as well as new challenges. And sometimes moving into new circumstances exacerbate your current challenges. I think lottery winners are a good example of this. You can read some of these sad stories here or here. These examples show that money wasn’t a magic cure-all. Even after winning millions of dollars, these people still struggled with addiction, unsupportive relationships with people who did not mean them well, and unfortunate judgment. The new set of circumstances merely exaggerated what was already there. That’s why jumping into new external circumstances as an escape never has the effect we think it will.

Flip the Script

Sometimes we don’t even realize the complicated  conditional statements we impose on our happiness. When you make your happiness conditional, you have created specific paradigms and bought into certain belief systems that simply are not true. A paradigm is an operating belief system. Let’s take the common thought “I won’t be really happy unless I’m in a romantic relationship. ”  Another way to say that statement is “The only way for me to be happy is if I’m in a romantic relationship.” When you express the statement this way, it sounds truer to the point and more in line with your operating paradigms. And I urge you to think more about why you think that is true for you.  Who told you that this is true? Why do you think you are only worthy of happiness in a romantic relationship? All real change comes through internal paradigm shifts.

But in the meantime, one way to disrupt your unhelpful operating paradigms is to ask yourself: How can I experience more joy today in my current set of circumstances? Ask yourself this every single day until you have some answers and then actually start to enact it.
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This plaque hangs over my sink as my daily reminder.

Remember Your Life is Happening NOW

This is your life and it is happening right now. This is the core message in all the work that I do.  Every single moment of your life is an absolute gift. Do not wish your current life away. That is wasteful. And you deserve so much better. The past is gone and the future is not promised. The current moment is the most important. You will never have the chance to re-live anything.  And your life does not stop while you are in pursuit of your goals.  This means that it is up to you to decide to find happy experiences in every single day.

Life is not solely a picnic. Serious and grave things happen. But life is not all a drag either. Beautiful and wondrous things happen too,  all the time in fact. And because the serious and grave things happen, the joyous things are even more meaningful and precious. Your job is to savor these daily moments of joy. They exist. You just have to make the effort to train yourself to identify them and appreciate them. Again ask yourself, “How can I experience more joy today in my current set of circumstances?”

Now I’d love to hear from you. In the comments below, please share something that you thought would bring you “happiness” but when you got it, it didn’t.

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Why I Became a Therapist Part 1: My Personal Self-Love Journey

After I have worked with a client for awhile, I usually get asked one question sooner or later: Have you always had such a positive disposition?

The answer to that question is a resounding NO!

I developed coping skills to deal with life’s challenges as I became an adult. Coping mechanisms that I still use to this day.

In this series of posts, I will share the life experiences that forced me to develop these skills and how I went about building them for myself.

Here’s the first part of my story:

Around the way girl in Harlem

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I went to pre-school with a group of kids from my neighborhood. Most of whom later went to the same Catholic school which was 5 blocks away from my house. Or the public school which was only 2 blocks away. I went to the Catholic school from 1st through 8th grade. My friends usually had an older sibling or two who was friends with my older brother. Similarly, their younger siblings were friends with my younger sister. I also went to an all-girls Catholic high school in the Bronx with some of the same girls.

So if you’re paying attention there are some people with whom I was schoolmates from the time I was 2 years old through 18 years old. And our families knew each other. We all went to church together. Teachers knew me before I even got to their classrooms because they had worked with my brother and he was terribly smart, so they assumed I was smart too. And thankfully, I lived up to those expectations. On top of that, I joined the choir and was really fortunate to belong to community organizations in which I got even more friends and excelled. Even though I had ups and downs just like everyone does, my over all childhood and adolescence experience was overwhelmingly positive.

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I’m telling you all of this because I want you to get a  picture of all the support in my childhood and adolescence. I was a well adjusted kid who was smarter than average in my community. I succeeded without even trying. I had friends. I had boyfriends. Adults put me in charge of things. My peers respected me. It was kind of plush. And I had no reason to suspect that my life would not just keep getting better. By this time, my brother had already gone off to college and he was having the time of his life. To this day, we tease him about how great his time in school was.

So when it was my turn, I was super excited because I knew there was no where to go but up.

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So I went off to school…

College Bound

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But college was really really hard.

Hard emotionally. Hard academically. And hard socially. And I floundered in all those areas. Some more than others.

Like many young people who grew up in somewhat sheltered communities, I was largely unprepared for the world when I went out on my own. I know that sounds funny given the fact that I grew up in the South Bronx and Harlem in the 1980s. In some ways I had a lot of worldly experience. I learned important street smarts like  how to assess danger in people and situations really quickly and how to get myself out of a sticky situation.

But in some other important ways I was in entirely new territory. I was very similar to almost everyone whom I had ever known.

I went to a huge school (Go Orange!) And now instead of the close knit community that I came from, there were literally thousands upon thousands of other smart and talented young people. Young people who had their own belief systems and who came from all over the country.  It was a very isolating experience for me with many low points.

  • like that time my roommate just stopped talking to me out of nowhere and never spoke to me again
  • or that time a football jock, who later went on to play in the NFL, called me ugly when he didn’t think I overheard him while I was minding my business in class.
  • or when I got two D’s my very first semester even though I had never gotten anything but A’s in high school

And these were just some of the many occurrences during my very first semester. It shook my confidence. At that point I had formed an identity solely based on being successful and liked by others. But when the environment changed  and I didn’t get the feedback that I had always gotten all my life, I felt like shit. Who was I if I wasn’t  excelling and well-liked? What could I possibly have to offer?

And in hindsight, each of these experiences was clearly not the end of the world. By any means.

They simply bruised my ego. And I didn’t have the coping skills to deal with them. These experiences made me doubt who I was. I had no frame of reference. I felt like a loser and I was deeply ashamed. I honestly felt like I had nothing to offer the world.

And even worse, I felt like I didn’t have anyone who I could talk to about it. The people back home were rooting for me. They were excited that I had a chance that many would never have and they were deeply vested in my success. Not only could I not let them down, I couldn’t even let them know I was struggling. Or at least that’s what I told myself.

My  mom was very supportive in her own way. But she didn’t really have a frame of reference either. And we didn’t have a language to communicate with each other about it. I didn’t know how to be vulnerable enough to share just how emotionally hard the experience was for me. And  my mom was real old school. She came from the “just suck it up” school. In other words, “You got problems? Well so what. So do I and everybody else. You got food, a place to live, and family. So whatever you’re going through can’t be that bad. Get over it.”

To be fair, my mom was trying to teach me resilience. A very valuable skill. A tool I also use to this day.

But in that moment I needed a little bit more. I could get it together enough to go through the motions, but I couldn’t stop feeling  like shit. I felt so bad about myself every single day. And it was painful.

So since I couldn’t talk to anyone, as a very last resort, I decided to go  to the student counseling center and the experience was absolutely awful.

Stay tuned for part 2 where I talk about why I didn’t go back to counseling for 15 years later and how I finally got through this tough time.

How to Move Past Fear and Get Busy Doing What You Want to Do

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A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about my thoughts on the new Shonda Rhimes book,  Year of Yes.

Her book inspired me to think about the way I could take action and improve various areas of my own life.

But what was really remarkable for me was her realization that she had slowly made herself miserable by denying herself some really awesome experiences because of fear.  Fear. Even though hard work had allowed her to reach amazing and historical professional highs, fear kept her from enjoying it.

And her story completely resonated with me. Because I know exactly what that feels like–being trapped by my very own thoughts telling me that I am not good enough. Telling me that it is not “realistic” to go after the things that I truly desire. That was my way of life for years. And I too was miserable.

Fear sucks. It has the power to paralyze. Fear has the potential to make each of us shrink. Fear has the power to imprison.

But we were born to be free.  And the worse part about the prison that fear creates is that it can make you  think that you are simply being”realistic” by not living.  “Realistic” is what you want it to be. Staying in place out of fear is not “being realistic.” It’s being trapped and miserable.

The essence of life is growth and movement and change. Don’t let fear stop you from living.

In order to truly live a life of abundance, we simply cannot be ruled solely by fear.

Here are some tactics to help keep fear in its place so you can be free to go after what you really want:

1. Feel the fear, and do it anyway

You might think that there are some among us who are braver than most. And this might very well be true. But when we look at the word brave, it doesn’t mean that absence of fear. The definition of bravery is more along the lines of feeling the fear and doing it anyway. I’ve heard some of my favorite actors/comedians say that they still s get the bubble guts right before a performance. They feel the fear and do it anyway. They push through it. They don’t let fear stop them in their tracks.

Sometimes we simply have to go through an obstacle in order to get to the other side.  Don’t stop. Go through it.

2. Assess the risk and make a plan

Whenever you are afraid of something, ask yourself what is the absolute worst that could happen.  90% of the time, the answer to the question is embarrassment.  Or judgment from other people. So essentially, what that means is that you value other people’s opinion more than your own. And you’re willing to be a slave to other people’s opinion.

Well, that really does not sound fair to you at all. Love and believe in yourself enough to know that you are worth more than living a life in a cage because you give other people’s opinion so much power.

And sometimes the worst that could happen is far worse than embarrassment. Sometimes there are really dire consequences that can happen if you try something new and things don’t work out the way you hope they will. And honestly, I can’t tell you whether it’s worth it or not. You’re the only one who can decide that. But I do want you to consider what is it costing you not to do it in your decision making process. What will happen if you don’t try it?

Either way, make a plan for the worst case scenario. If you can do that and you are OK with the consequences, move forward. Due your research. What happens to other people when they do it? Figure it all out.

By the way, the worst case scenario very rarely happens.

3. Practice visualizing success

One thing that really successful people do is practice visualization. If you don’t do this already, cultivate a habit of imagining your success in your head. Here’s how to do it. Pick something you are very afraid of– public speaking, starting a business, accepting an invitation, etc. Now visualize yourself being successful in that endeavor– you deliver a speech with no problems and the audience is giving you a standing ovation; your bank account balance is overflowing from income made in your business; you are enjoying yourself with at the event. Within the visualization, concentrate on your mannerisms and your stance. Concentrate on your breathing. Do this daily as a habit. Set a deadline and do it. That’s it. You have to do it.

4. Build a Fear Response Team

A support team is on every single list that I give. Because I think it is that important. We are inherently social beings and we need other like-minded supportive to help us. Keep people in your circle who simply will not allow you to succumb to unreasonable fear. This may be really difficult to do because unfortunately, there are many people who will simply endorse the fear that keeps you small and trapped. But you can find like-minded folks who will encourage you to grow and expand while providing support.

5. Inch by Inch

You don’t have to face your deepest and darkest fear right away all at once (though many have used this tactic successfully) in order to conquer your fear. You could also tackle it inch by inch. Break down the fear into smaller pieces and set deadlines on when to accomplish them.

OK. So these are my tips for fighting fear.

Now I’d like to hear from you. What is a fear of yours that you would finally like to conquer and move on?

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How to Invite New Energy Into Your Life: A Review of Shonda Rhimes’ “A Year of Yes”

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Anybody know what it feels like to get stuck in a rut?

I certainly do. I remember a time in which I was stuck in a rut for a very long time. Years in fact. During this time, my days looked a little bit like this: Work. School. Sleep. Repeat. Work. School. Sleep. Repeat. And so on and so on.

After so many days like that my mind started to scream to break free.  I woke up one day and felt trapped and thought to myself, “How in the world did I get here?!” And I can tell you it does not feel good.

Well Ms. Shonda Rhimes had the same issue. Yes, that Shonda Rhimes. The same woman who is single-handedly responsible for Thursday night prime-time television.  The woman who created  Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and my personal favorite, How To Get Away with Murder, was a self-proclaimed introverted workaholic who suffered from severe panic attacks. The woman that brings unsterotypical powerful, charismatic black woman characters to life, was herself afraid of life and felt paralyzingly inadequate.

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Shonda Rhimes after her year of yes

During her working hours she rubbed elbows with Kerri Washington and Viola Davis, but after work she went home alone and compulsively ate in her bed. She had created a habit over the years of saying”no” to all the exciting invitations she received because she was frightened and felt inadequate.  She woke up one day and realized that she was “miserable and deeply unhappy.”

One Thanksgiving, she had an epiphany when her sister told her that she always says “No” to everything. She realized that in saying “no” to invitations, she was also saying “no” to life.

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After coming to this realization, Shonda decided that since saying “no” to everything had gotten her to a place of extreme social withdrawal and unhappiness, saying “yes” might help her get out of her rut.

So she committed to a year of “yes” in which she would say yes to all the things that scared her for an entire year.

  • She said yes to giving speeches in front of thousands of people.
  • She said yes to being healthier.
  • She said yes to standing up for herself.
  • She said yes to having difficult but necessary conversations.
  • She said yes to playing with her children every time they asked.

And what was the result of her “year of yes”?

  • She lost more than 130lbs.
  • She was able to get over her deepest life-long fears.
  • She lost some people that she thought were her friends.
  • She began to feel better about herself.
  • She respected her own feelings and life choices.

In short, her life was absolutely transformed.

How incredibly inspiring!?

And all she did differently was say “YES”.

Now you know how much I hate one size fits all formulas, so I am not at all suggesting that we all follow Shondra’s plan verbatim. But what I am suggesting is that there is something really transformative about inviting new energy into your life. Magic can happen when we stop doing the things the we’ve always done. Great things an happen when we decide to shake things up a bit. This is what it means to invite new energy into our lives. It keeps us from being stagnant and promotes our personal, emotional and spiritual growth.

“New” and “different” don’t have to be synonymous with “scary” and “bad.”  New routines bring new experiences and give us new things to think about.

How could all of our lives be changed if we invited new energy into our spaces? So my question to you is this:

What if you made a decision to do one thing different? What would it be? What might change for the better?

Leave a comment below about one thing you can do to invite new energy into your life.

What lessons did you learn in 2015?

Ok, so it’s that time of year when everyone is making all sorts of goals and promises for 2016. People see the New Year as a fresh new start. A blank slate.

And I’m all for new beginnings. Any time you can give yourself a mental restart means you’re one step closer to moving on from the weight of the past that can hold you back.

I think a good place to start when setting new goals for the upcoming year is to recap the past year and figure out the lessons you’ve learned along the way. I’m sitting in a coffee shop right now reviewing my 2015.  I’m sharing the major lessons I’ve learned or revisited in 2015. I invite you think back on your year and do the same.

January

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The year started off really nicely. I spent most of January in New York City with my extended family. We’re planning a family reunion and when your family is as large as mine, it takes several people and several planning meetings to make it happen. It was a great way to hang out with everyone and I’m looking forward to the family reunion in July 2016. Did I mention its gonna be in the Caribbean?? Can’t wait. I have so many beautiful pictures and memories from January and I will create so many more during the upcoming family reunion.

January’s Lesson: Doing activities with loved ones is affirming and strengthens my relationships.

February

februarysnowI ‘ve always wanted to try stained glass making, so this winter while the weather looked like this,  I found a class led by the awesome Fred and decided to give it a try. You can read more about this here. I ended up making something really beautiful. I talk and think for a living, so I don’t get much experience taking separate objects and “making” something new with them with my own hands. It was more difficult than I thought it would be and the finished product was far from perfect, but it’s beautiful to me and I hang it proudly in my home office.

Various stages of the glass cutting process and tools

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February’s Lesson: Trying new experiences is a great way to think new thoughts and bring new energy into your life.

March

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Completing my dissertation has definitely been a journey and unfortunately my motivation to do so sometimes ebbs much more than it flows. In an effort to get the ball moving I went on a writing retreat with 5 other participants led by the brilliant and very helpful writing coach Michelle Boyd of Inkwell Retreats.  The retreat was held at the beautiful Goldberry Woods, a bed and breakfast and micro-farm in northwest Michigan. It was a wonderful experience.  The scenery was gorgeous and provided a nice backdrop to the intense writing. I got more work done on my dissertation in that one week during the retreat than I had in the previous 3 months all together.

March’s Lesson: Working toward a huge goal does not have to only be grueling. There can be pleasurable and peaceful moments along the way.

April

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I spent spring break in the Dominican Republic. And it was a blast! It was the perfect mix of relaxation and fun.  I spent my days sitting in the sun on the beach, drinking frozen drinks, and swimming. During that beach time I did a great deal of thinking and soul searching. I finally got the chance to listen to all the little voices inside me that I had to silence during every day life because I was too busy getting things done.  One of those decisions I came to was to bring a small group of ladies back to this destination so that they too could get away and have the opportunity and space to think new thoughts and do some introspection.  I decided I wanted to lead destination retreats. And in fact, I led my first one a few months later in that very same place.

April’s Lesson: Sometimes its good to take a break. Moments of inspiration can come when my mind is not singularly focused on a problem.

May

My beautiful little niece walking around my mom's garden.

This was my first mother’s day after my mom passed. You can read more about that here. I had to take a break from social media and all the constant reminders that other people were spending the day with their mothers or at least got to talk to them. But my brother sent me a pic of my niece in my mom’s blooming spring garden. It is a nice reminder that life goes on. This pic connects my mom’s life to present and the future. Both my niece and those beautiful flowers growing on their own were evidence that my mom cared for and nurtured things while she was here.

May’s Lesson: Life goes on. And even though people are no longer with us, the things they nurtured still continue to flourish.

June

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Some time in 2014, a client told me about the old toboggan stairs at Swallow Cliff in Palos Hills, IL and what a great workout climbing the stairs is. Ever since then I had been meaning to tackle them. I finally did in June of this year.  I didn’t take any pics. I was too busy remembering to breathe! The above pic is a pic I stole from google, just so that you get a general idea of what they look like.  I climbed up and down them 3 times. If I wasn’t so dogged tired I would have done the “Rocky” dance at the top of the stairs. It was not pretty and my legs and backside hurt for days. But I felt really good for finally crossing it off my “to-do” list.

June’s Lesson: Crossing things off my mental “to-do” list makes me feel triumphant.

July

July was the first anniversary of my mom’s passing. So my siblings and I decided to spend that week together. We had barbecues, went swimming and supported each other. It was nice. I won’t lie and say there weren’t some really really low moments. For instance, my 12 year old nephew found me on the side of the house sobbing once, but it was nice to go through that with people who understood exactly what I was going through. We also took the opportunity to plant a flower bush on the actual date of her passing. She would be tickled pink by that. You can read more about my grief process here.

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July’s Lesson: I don’t have to be deal with my grief alone when there are people around me ready to be supportive. I just have to ask for help.

August

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August was all about the outdoors. Summer in Chicago is a beautiful thing. And I forget how glorious summer can feel during Chicago January and February. So every day I wasn’t in the office in August, I was spending long days at Lake Michigan. I also got a chance to visit the fruit orchards at Pick Farms. You can read more about this trip in a previous blog post.

August Lesson: Stop and enjoy the moment.

September

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I spent more time traveling and spending time with family this year than I had in the previous 6 years combined. It was  a commitment I made to myself following my mom’s passing. Because of this, I realized that in some important ways having a physical office no longer suited me. So when it was time to renew the lease, I decided that it was simply not worth it to be bound to a physical office for another year.  I decided not to renew. But as much as I knew this was the right decision, I still struggled with it. Thank goodness for Synoria, who arranged the movers and organized the packing because I was a mess. Be on the lookout for a whole separate post on this topic.

September’s Lesson: Sometimes life forces you to make tough decisions. Staying committed to your values helps make those tough decisions easier.

October

October, which is my absolute favorite month, was all about  business growth and development. It was definitely a highlight of the year. I led Abundant Life Practice’s very first retreat. I took 3 beautiful ladies with me back to the Dominican Republic and it was really amazing. (Be on the lookout for a separate blog post about the retreat really soon.) In the mean time, this is the villa where the retreat was held.

I left the Abundant Life Practice retreat and headed straight to The Happy Black Woman Blogging School Live 3-day event in Washington D.C.  I connected with so many entrepreneurial minded and inspiring ladies, including Ms. Rosetta herself. I also got to visit Washington D.C. for the very first time and it was a blast!

October’s Lesson: Sometimes you have to put yourself “out there” and connect with people in order to see yourself grow and reach goals.

November

November was more family time. My brother bought us tickets to see Stevie Wonder down where he lives.  I am a die-hard Stevie fan and so is my brother. This is the fourth time I’ve seen Stevie live in concert and hopefully it won’t be the last. And each time I am amazed that people of all ages fill huge sports arenas (I’ve seen him in both the United Center and Madison Square Garden) to hear songs written before I was even born. It is pure inspiration watching someone live in their purpose. That’s what watching Stevie is like. Here’s a clip from the concert:

stevie wonder nov. 2015 from jennifer hall on Vimeo.

November’s Lesson: When you create something and share it with the world, you have no idea of the impact it will have and how greatly it can affect people’s lives for the better or for how long.

December

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This month has been very low key. After the heavy traveling and being away from home for the past 2 months straight, I decided to spend this month resting and planning. Aside from enjoying the holidays and seeing clients online, I’ve been doing a great deal of writing and planning out the schedule for 2016.

December’s Lesson: It’s ok to rest after a long period of busy-ness.

Whew! So that was my 2015 in a nutshell. I’m looking forward to putting all this wisdom into practice in the upcoming year.

Now I’d like to hear from you. What was one major lesson you learned over the course of the past year?

And as always, if you liked this post, please join our mailing list.

What do the Lonely Do at Christmas?: 5 ways to keep your spirits up during the holiday season

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Am I the only one who loves that Emotions song, “What do the Lonely do at Christmas?”

I was listening to it earlier today and it got me to thinking, what exactly do the lonely do?

The Christmas season can pose special problems for people who spend it alone. If you are single or don’t have many friends or family, Christmas is just one of those holidays that can make you feel especially lonely and like you’re missing out. If this holiday season finds you alone and/or feeling lonely, here are 5 tips to help you get through the season:

1. Get into it!

Christmas only comes around once a year. In a few weeks, this Christmas season will be over and done with.  So enjoy it while it’s here upon us.  Just because you don’t have anyone to spend it with, doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate the season.

Here are some ideas to get in on the Christmas spirit:

  • Send Christmas cards to everybody in your address book.
  • Go see The Nutcracker live.
  • Watch your favorite Christmas movie (Mine is Trading Places except for Dan Akroyd’s 5 minutes in blackface. Ugh!)
  • Relive your days as a child and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas or that cute but kind of weird clay Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
  • Make a Christmas song playlist and play on repeat.
  • Make a Christmas movie playlist and play on repeat.
  • Decorate your house and buy a tree.
  • Make hot chocolate and sugar cookies.
  • Go to your local Christmas festivities.
  • Cook a holiday dinner and bring leftovers to work to share with co-workers.

The holiday spirit and a festive mood are not solely reserved for people with significant others and children. This is your Christmas season too. Your life does not begin after there are others around you. It’s happening now, so live it. Get in on the fun.

2. Do something for others

Each of us has so many gifts.  And since Christmas is the season for giving, use the season as an opportunity to spread your gifts. Spending some time thinking about how you can connect to others by sharing your gifts might also help you feel less lonely. If you’re stuck on how you can do this, you can start by donating your time to a charitable organization that might need extra hands during the Christmas season.

If you are a member of a church, you can find ways to get more involved with different service groups or ministries. You could go to a homeless shelter and ask how you can help.  You can also help out closer to home by asking an elderly neighbor if there is anyway you might be of service. Doing things for other people just feels good, and who knows you might have some fun and get the chance to meet new people.

3.  Go on an Adventure

If you can and are up for it, go on an adventure this season. Who says you have to be at home on Christmas? Since you are alone, you get to define what this season means for you. Maybe it means it’s the season for your next adventure. And it doesn’t have to be elaborate. Just try to do something you’ve never done before.

Adventures remind you that there are always new experiences and new opportunities to be had. So harness the power of the unknown and go on an adventure in order to invite new energy into your life.  Take a drive or hop on a bus and explore a nearby city. Perhaps you can take advantage of the day off from work and spend the night in a hotel in your city’s downtown. Ooohh or even a spa trip! Sounds like fun to me.

4. Do something really nice for yourself (I mean REALLY nice)

Sorry, I just couldn't resist...
Sorry, I just couldn’t resist…

Take this opportunity to give yourself a gift. The point here is to treat yourself. It can be a material item like that pair of shoes (or car) you’ve been wanting to buy. Maybe get a mani/pedi. Or you can finally forgive yourself for something that happened in the past. Whatever it is, be sure to treat yourself nicely during this season. Take care of your lovely self.

5. Do not isolate yourself

Now is not the time to isolate yourself. Make sure you attend that office holiday party or that dinner party that your neighbor invited you to. Be sure to send well wishes to the people who are actually in your life even if they aren’t loved ones. Send out all those “Merry Christmas” text messages  and respond to those that send them to you.  Place those Happy Holidays phone calls (Do people even make phone calls anymore?)

I know that even if you do all these things and more, sometimes feeling lonely can be too much. If the feelings of loneliness seem unbearable or too much for you to deal with, please make sure to contact a counselor or therapist to speak with who can help you manage these feelings. Remember that you do not have to soldier on alone, there are people who can help you. So be sure to reach out to them.

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You are free, so BE free!

Freedom

I recently spent a few hours in a courtroom and watched  a judge hand down a guilty verdict.

The crime committed was severe and the defendants will be going to prison for many many years.

I’ve known one of these men for years as a close family friend. So when the sentence was handed down,  I was overcome with emotion. I thought “What a waste of a life. He has so much potential.” Now he will be in prison for longer than he has been alive.

He will sit in a cold, hard prison cell  isolated from the world, which will go on without him. His 5 children will grow up and become adults, all while their father sits behind bars in a prison hundreds of miles away from them.  In prison, this full grown adult man will be told when he can eat, shower, exercise and sleep. He will be told when and if he can speak to loved ones on the outside.

Humanizing experiences like tenderness and empathy will be rare and maybe even non-existent for him.

In short, my friend will no longer have the precious gift of freedom.  Unfortunately and very sadly, he squandered it.

Prison

And I’m sure that I don’t have to tell you that this is true for many many other people.

Aside from the difficult emotions I feel about a good friend going through a tremendous ordeal, this whole incident makes me very thankful and mindful about my own freedom. But it also made me question the ways in which I too am squandering my gift.

  • Whenever I impose limitations on myself and my possibilities, I am wasting my freedom.
  • Whenever I let fear alone run my life and decision making, I am squandering my freedom.
  • Whenever I allow negative thinking to control my actions, I squander my freedom.
  • Whenever I allow the opinions and beliefs of others define my opinions and beliefs, I waste my freedom.

Freedom is usually one of those things that many people don’t appreciate until it is gone. And I made a commitment at that moment to make sure I am always aware of my freedom and its power.

Freedom is a powerful thing. It is transforming. Freedom, and specifically, an “ethical” freedom allows you to literally do whatever you want as long as you are not harming yourself or others.

You too are free, Lovebug, and that is a wonderful thing!

But here’s my question to you: What are you doing with your freedom?

What does freedom mean to you?

Think about things you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t. Why haven’t you done them?

I hear from so many women who are waiting to do things because for some reason or another “now” is not the right time. They say “I can’t do such and such because….” or “I could never because….”

Maybe all of those thoughts are true…. Everybody knows their own situation best.

But maybe, just maybe, when you begin to acknowledge the freedom that you have, you begin to realize that some if not all of these types of thoughts are self-imposed limiting thoughts. And you begin to realize that you, in fact, can do anything you set your mind to. You might need support. You might need guidance. And you might need additional resources, but you are not a slave and your situation is not hopeless.

Freedom means there are always possibilities.

Your life is too short and too precious to put yourself in a box. When you do that, you might as well live in prison.

Let yourself out and be free!

free

In the comments below, tell me how you plan to honor your freedom?

The Complete Guide to Having a Successful Meltdown

frustratedwomanstock

Ever been somewhere where you had to sit for a long period of time– like the DMV or an airplane –and there was a toddler having a full out temper tantrum? In those situations, I always feel such empathy for the parent who has to manage the tantrum while dozens of angry and annoyed faces look on.

I recently took a 4 hour flight. I remember settling into the flight sitting across the aisle from a woman with 2 small children, both under the age of six. I watched the small family throughout the flight and mom came prepared! She had interesting little games to entertain them- toys, crayons, blocks. She had an Ipad queued up with their favorite videos and nursery rhymes. She had their favorite snacks ready. When she could tell that they were getting a little too restless, she took them both for a slow walk down the aisle and back. There was one moment where the younger of the 2 children cried, but mom was able to console her instantly and the whole incident last about 2 minutes.

This mom had a toolkit already arranged that prepared her for any emotional meltdown her kids may have had.

There are a few certainties in life, one of which is that everyday won’t be a good day.

In fact, some days will be downright terrible. We’ve all had days that make us wish that we can either curl up in a ball and stay in bed all day in sadness or flip over tables in anger or frustration.

And as adults, on our worst emotional days, we become both the toddler and parent rolled up in one. We experience the extreme distress of the toddler, but are also responsible for calming ourselves down while those around us might look on in annoyance or bewilderment and worry. But we can take a cue from the prepared mom from the plane and do some groundwork beforehand so that we minimize the intensity and length of your next meltdown.

Here are some tips for building your own effective coping toolkit:

1.Soothe your senses

As humans we are sensual creatures by design. Think of the things we do to soothe a crying baby– We sing to them, we rock them, we feed them, we hold them.  We change them. We put mobiles over their cribs. Basically, we involve all of their senses. And an ideal and effective coping tool kit for you will also have something to soothe each of your senses.

Sight— Pick out some movies, or TV shows, or books that can captivate your sight. For me, I will totally binge watch a whole season of Golden Girls when I’m feeling down. That ALWAYS puts me in a better mood. Perhaps you like the calming or energizing effect of art landscapes or your favorite movie, or the stand up of your favorite comedian. Seems like everyone loves funny cat Youtube videos. Whatever it is, pick something interesting for your eyes to delve into.

Hear— Have some relaxing music readily available for angry situations. And stimulating, upbeat music for when you’re down. There are some people who want to hear sad music when they are sad because they feel comforted that other people have experienced the same things they have. Whatever works for you. Just find something that doesn’t worsen your mood.  You might also find nature sounds to be helpful or even funny or inspiring speeches. Whatever you choose, make sure you have a variety of selections so that you have multiple options when you need it most.

Taste— They call it comfort food for a reason. There is something very soothing about eating the food that you grew up with in times of distress. And it doesn’t need to be excessively unhealthy to be comforting. Something as simple as a pudding cup or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, tomato soup, or roast chicken can trigger mood soothing pleasant childhood memories that help you evoke the feeling of being safe. Or maybe its a soothing cup of hot tea or cocoa. Involved your taste buds in some way to help soothe yourself.

Touch— Find activities that involve touching to help soothe you as well. You can wrap yourself up in a thick blanket, get a massage, hug someone, squeeze stress balls, or even rub a scarf across your skin. Take a long soothing bath, extra points if the tub has jets.  Get a foot rub or a manicure/pedicure.

Smell–Aromatherapy! Ok. I get kind of serious about this one. Essential oils are kind of a passion of mine. Do some research and discover some essential oils that are pleasing to you.  Some of my favorites- lemon oil, bergamot, jasmine, sandalwood. Place a few drops on a light bulb. The heat from the light will warm the oil, releasing its scent. Or if you’re not into essential oils, you can simply boil a small pot of water with a few cinnamon sticks to fill your home with an uplifting scent.

african-american-woman-smelling-a-sunflower

2. Identify your triggers

Everybody has a button. Probably multiple buttons. In other words, everyone has an issue that touches on some sort of emotion and will set us off. Your job is to identify what those issues are for you and come up with a diffusion plan beforehand.

For the longest time, for example,  the word “gentrification” would send me into an angry tirade and get me all riled up because it evoked all of my hot button issues- racism, privilege, poverty, injustice– all in one word. And all of these issues felt very personal to me. It took me awhile to realize that I had to prepare myself to engage in any discussion about the issue and I could only do so in certain circumstances. I was eventually able to move past this on my own self-growth journey. But knowing that this was a trigger for me, allowed me to better care for myself.

What are your triggers? What are the issues that send you into a tailspin? If you don’t already know them, spend some time thinking about them. Then think of ways you can handle when someone brings it up.

3. Feel the feelings

It’s ok to have intense emotions. Don’t avoid the feeling. It’s part of being human. Because strong emotions can be very unpleasant, we sometimes go out of our way to try not to not feel them. We try to numb ourselves through drugs, sex, food, and  other people so that we can distract ourselves. I’m sure you already know how counterproductive these numbing strategies are.

But part of a healthier mental health plan is to feel the emotions as they come. Think of bad days as weather. Rainy and grey days are natural and expected. And on rainy days, we simply observe the rain until we weather the storm. We don’t pretend it’s not raining, we do things to accommodate it. We stay inside more. We dress appropriately. We drive more carefully.  And when its over we simply go on. The same can be  true for how we deal with our feelings. We can acknowledge, observe, and feel them. Observe their patterns, adjust accordingly, and move on when the storm passes.

4. Write it out

journals
I’ve been writing in these journals for years.

I am a great big ole advocate of journaling. I have been keeping at least one journal since I was about 11 years old. And it’s soooo helpful in keeping me grounded. I write about everything. And I keep more than one journal at a time. In one journal, I write about my goals and hopes for the future.  In another, I write about my anxieties and fears and create plans on how to work through them. And I keep yet another journal filled with things I’m grateful for, and when wonderful things when they happen to me. This system works for me. Find a system that works for you. Journaling can be a powerful tool to gain insight on thought patterns and behaviors.

5. Develop and Cultivate a Support Circle

You must have a support system. No one can do everything alone. Having people to talk to helps you tremendously. What that means is that you are responsible for cultivating honest authentic relationships with people so that they can support you when you need it most. Now, nobody likes being your personal venting soundboard 100% of the time. They will end up resenting you.  But reciprocal relationships that include other activities besides hosting pity parties, are ideal. If you do not currently have anyone in your support circle, work on building one organically. Join a group. Get involved in activities. Start talking to people at work. It may also be beneficial to seek out a therapist or counselor you can talk to and get supportive constructive feedback.

6. Release steam regularly

Most explosions and eruptions happen when pent up energy builds over time. This is another good reason why you shouldn’t ignore your feelings. Honor them and release them. Physical activity helps. Punch pillows.  Run. Do Yoga.  Get a hobby. Play an instrument. Choose activities that you can do on a regular basis that can use the pent up energy inside you and release it in safe, productive and effective ways.

OK! Now your coping toolkit is in place, you are fully equipped and prepared to have your next meltdown.

In the comments below, I’d love to hear your favorite strategies for calming yourself down when life hands you a bad day.

Everyday Abundance: Summer Edition

orchards

Now that Labor Day is behind us and the kids are back in school, summer has unofficially ended.

So, how did you spend your summer? Did you get a chance to celebrate the sun and heat that summer brings?

Part of living an abundant life is appreciating and making the most of the small joys we experience everyday. These small things make up our lives, so we might as well revel in them.

Each day is a gift and a reason in and of itself to celebrate. You are alive. That’s plenty to be happy about.

For some reason, we get so preoccupied with waiting for the big things. We wait for huge monumental things to happen in order to give ourselves permission to celebrate. We wait for big things because we think they are what make our life worth living.

But honestly that’s not very fun and furthermore, when we recognize and celebrate the small pleasures, we train ourselves to look for joy everyday. In short, we tap into our Everyday Abundance.

Here’s a snapshot of the abundance I experienced this summer:

1. Fruit Orchards

usfruitorchard
Having fun in the fruit orchards.

I am definitely a bonafide city girl, born and raised in New York City. But if I could split myself in two and have one part of me live in the city, while the other part lives in the country, I would jump at the chance. I love the country and wish I had the chance to go out in nature more often. This summer, my bestie and I headed out to Pick Farms to do some fruit picking one bright, hot and clear August day.  I have been to some gigantic and sprawling orchards in the past, but this small quaint one was really nice too. Aside from the occasional fellow picker we ran into, we pretty much had the orchard all to ourselves.

Along with pear trees and blueberry bushes, this farm had

Chickens:

chickencoop

And raspberries:

raspberries

And apples:

apples

But the true stars of the show, were these orange fuzzy PEACHES:

peachtree

 

peaches

I absolutely love peaches and they were everywhere. All ripe and big and beautiful.  We must have picked about 50 of them, as much as we could carry.

And what did I do with all those fresh juicy peaches?

You guessed it!

peachpie
An ooey gooey sweet peach pie. I can still smell and taste it. My kitchen smelled so delicious!

2.  Summer senses

One of the things I love best about the summer is that every single living thing seems to be out on display.

In the summer, everything in nature wants to be seen and noticed. So they whip out their most vibrant colors, loudest sounds, and most fragrant perfumes and put on shows for the world to see.

And for some reason, we seem more primed to notice them. Our senses become captivated. From the smell of cut grass to the feel of mosquitoes as they land on our skin, to the sounds of bees buzzing, we know the sights, sounds, smells and feels of summer.

And everything is so darn beautiful without even really trying.

purplealleyflowers
These beautiful delicate lilac wildflowers grow on their own in the alley behind my house.

 

sunflowers
The tops of some very tall and unruly sunflowers that grow in my neighbor’s backyard.

Summer also has a sound all of its own. I spent countless afternoons listening to the cicadas in the trees right outside my living room window while working and reading. It’s such a peaceful sound. I have fallen asleep on my couch on many hot afternoons while the cicadas sang me to sleep. Here, listen:

 

3.  Spending time with family

Summertime is when we all relax a bit from our hectic rhythms that we adopt during the other seasons. In the summer, we tend to slow down and take time. In the summer, we have barbecues, and picnics with friends and family.

This July I went down to North Carolina to spend a few weeks  with my brother, sister, nieces, and nephews. And as always, I had such a good time.

I enjoyed my nature walks with my hilarious and beautiful niece. Good times!

 

These were a few ways that I appreciated the abundance that summer brought me. And I’m waiting blissfully as Autumn approaches. Autumn is my absolute favorite season, so I will be celebrating BIG TIME.

What about you? In what ways was your summer abundant? How did you celebrate the summer?

Anything is Possible: How You Can Stop Self-Limiting Beliefs and Behaviors

nothingisimpossible
“Nothing is Impossible”

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Take a few minutes to really think about it. What did you want to do for a living? Where did you want to live? What kind of people did you imagine yourself to be around?

I can answer these questions really easily. Up until about the 6th grade, I wanted to be an archaeologist. I was a really nerdy kid and I loved history. I could easily spend a whole day uninterrupted in my room studying ancient civilizations all around the world. I had even managed to teach myself Egyptian hieroglyphics because I wanted to figure out the engraved writings in the textbooks meant.  I wanted to travel the world and meet exciting people, doing fascinating work, and having plenty of adventures. I was really excited about the possibilities.

Some time during the 6th grade, my teacher, Ms. Jones, asked us each what we wanted to be when we grew up.  I remember when my turn came, I stood up and said, “I want to be an archaeologist and study ancient civilizations around the world.” I had never shared that with anyone else before and was very proud of my answer. But Ms. Jones’ reaction was not all what I expected. She looked at me, tilted her head to the side and gave me a belittling a smirk.

“An archaeologist?,” she said mockingly, “Do you know anyone who does that?”

There were a few snickers throughout the classroom. Then she moved on to the next person.

I was instantly embarrassed and felt really silly. The message that Ms. Jones sent to me was: “Who do you think you are? How dare you think that you could do something that nobody around you has?”

And I received the message loud and clear.

I thought to myself, “Why did I think I could do something so far fetched?”

This is the first time that I remember having a self-limiting thought.

And since then I’ve had thousands of limiting thoughts.

We all do.

And self-limiting thoughts turn into self-limiting behaviors.

Not too long after this brief interaction with Ms. Jones, my dream of becoming an archaeologist fizzled. Those colorful ancient civilization history books weren’t as interesting as they once were, and I became interested in other things. Now, I ‘m not saying this was Ms. Jones’ fault. Perhaps, my interest would have changed anyway. But what I do think is a direct result of that conversation with Ms. Jones is that I developed the thought that my dream was unrealistic and therefore unattainable.

And I stopped actively pursuing it.

Whether because of fear, or deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy, or because of the opinions of other people, we all have had moments in which we question what we can accomplish and obtain.  Moments in which we tell ourselves that we shouldn’t want what we want because it is “unrealistic.” Moments in which we will not allow ourselves to go after the things we really want because it is simply easier to do what we have always done. Moments in which we reign in our deepest desires.

But here’s the twist:

You can do whatever you want to do. Honestly.

Everything is possible. Any and everything.

Stop reigning in yourself. Stop chaining yourself to the ground. Stop holding yourself captive in a cage to which only you have the key.

Your only limitation should be that you are not causing harm to yourself or others. Other than this caveat, the world is your oyster.

We are spirit beings with untapped, unimaginable potential. This potential is laying dormant and  is waiting for us to dream big, create beauty, innovation and love.  These manifestations of our deepest desires makes everyone’s life richer.

Think of all the things in this world that started off as improbabilities, that are now so mundane we don’t even think about them–computers, airplanes, the meteoric success of Oprah Winfrey, space exploration, the presidency of Barack Obama, the internet, medical breakthroughs, the 80 year old who runs a marathon.  They all came about because at one point someone had to believe that they could achieve unlikely things that no one else had ever accomplished. And what if they hadn’t? All of our lives would be affected negatively.

None of us knows how long we have on this beautiful earth. So why spend your precious time and energy ignoring the things and experiences you really want to have? Dream and pursue your dreams.

In other words, when you stop yourself from achieving  what you can do, you don’t just limit yourself, you limit everyone around you who could benefit greatly from your freedom, your inspiration, and your light.

 Here are 3 tips you can use to stop limiting thoughts and behaviors, so that you can give yourself permission to do the things you want:

1. Become aware of the limiting thoughts you have on a regular basis.

You might be surprised by how many you have. Does any of this sound familiar?

  • I can’t, because I’m too old/young.
  • I can’t, because I don’t have enough money.
  • I can’t, because that’s just not for me.
  • I can’t, because I don’t have any friends.
  • I can’t, because I don’t have enough experience and/or limitation.
  • I can’t, because I tried before and I failed.
  • I can’t, because it probably won’t work out.
  • I can’t, because I’m not good enough.

These are all self-limiting thoughts. These are all impositions that you have placed on yourself or have allowed others to place on you. These are all cages that you have decided to live in.

These thoughts are so ingrained in our thinking patterns, that many of us don’t realize that these thoughts are not the truth, but rather something we are telling ourselves. They are myths and they have no place in your path to abundance.

For the next week, I’d like you to reflect on your own limiting thoughts and behaviors and write them down. How often do you tell yourself “no”? And what is it costing you?

2.  Actively question your limiting thoughts

Once you become aware of the frequency and the type of limiting thoughts that you have, begin to question the thoughts.

Unfortunately at the time, I did not have the presence of mind to question Ms. Jones. If I had, I might have said to Ms. Jones or to myself, “What does it mean that no one I know has done this? Why does this mean that I can’t do it?” This would have been followed up by, “What would it take to achieve something so out of the ordinary?” Followed by more and more questions. In other words, I would have targeted my brain power into figuring out how to achieve the improbable. I would have talked to people who had achieved it, and found support and advice.

The act of questioning the limiting beliefs lead to proactive behaviors.

Proactive behaviors lead to different results.

3.  Ask yourself, what you really want

The answers might really shock you. Maybe all those desires that you stuffed away years ago might start to flood back.

  • A family?
  • A fulfilling relationship?
  • To make enough money so that you don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck?
  • To travel the world?
  • To run your own business?
  • To pursue a different career?

Or maybe some other things that I haven’t mentioned. But the follow up question remains the same: Why have you stopped pursuing these things? Why have you told yourself that you could not have them?

Was it worth it? Are you still dissatisfied with your life? Do you still wonder “what it”?

If limiting beliefs and behaviors are what’s holding you back from pursuing it, perhaps it’s time to stop the limiting behaviors and go after it.

This is your life and you are solely responsible for going after what you want. No one else is coming to make your dreams come true

In the comments below, I’d love to hear about your limiting thoughts. Whether current ones or ones that you had in the past? How are you stopping them? And what are you doing in spite of them?