Striking gold

Ellen_webAdvice from an Olympic gold medalist

The first gold medal of the 2016 Olympics went to 19-year old Ginny Thrasher from West Virginia.

Ginny only took up her sport 5 years ago.

She wasn’t a favorite to win.

What’s the secret to her success?

Here’s what she said.

Have the right mindset. Be determined. Show up and do your best.

True in Olympic competition. True in the game of life.

Is your mindset fueling your determination to show up and do your best?

Your thoughts are powerful.

You get to choose them.

No matter what you decide your “main event,” purpose or calling is, choose the thoughts that empower you to deliver your gold medal performance.

Yea or nay?

Deciding when to say yes and when to say no

New Adventures_4“I’m just a girl who can’t say no!” goes the song from the old musical, Oklahoma.

That was me for many years. I could be counted on to say yes to just about any request that would help someone – and do it with a smile on my face. Even when I knew I wasn’t honoring my personal limits.

  • Work from home after a 10 hour day? Routinely.
  • Run the entire fundraising gala? On it.
  • Agree to an unreasonable deadline? Been there.
  • Cancel social plans to do more work? Yup.
  • Regularly deliver project extras at no charge? Done that, too.

Somehow, I didn’t seem to have the vocabulary or, if I’m honest, the courage to say no. I said yes even when I knew it would mean saying no to getting enough sleep, finding time for exercise and having the energy to really be present for my family and friends.

It took years and some hard lessons (being exhausted, stressed out, out of shape and unhappy) before I finally started setting and keeping healthy boundaries.

Now I say no when a request or behavior doesn’t align with my values. And when it would prevent me from saying yes to myself, the person I want to be and the life I choose to live.

When it comes to saying yes, I ask myself:

  • Does it feel energizing and exciting?
  • Will it lead to growth even if it scares me?
  • Years from now, will I regret not saying yes?

There’s a rule-of-thumb in improv that encourages a performer to agree to the basic storyline another character sets-up. By giving the response, “Yes, and…..” possibilities are expanded and the plot line can take fascinating twists and turns.

Here’s a challenge: try saying “Yes, and….” the next time you’re hesitating to go after something you want because butterflies start swirling in your stomach or whispers of self-doubt pop into your mind.

My experience?

Being brave enough to try, no matter what the outcome, can be a game-changer.

What are you doing that’s significant?

Your most important work

Dont worry re success_FB_2Maria Shriver is a woman who can claim many titles: journalist, activist, author of six best-selling books, former First Lady of California, correspondent for NBC News, philanthropist, Emmy Award winner, mother of four (and that’s not even the complete list).

She also hosts Architects of Change, a forum where she engages in important conversations with “the world’s most insightful minds and inspiring hearts.” I recently listened to her speaking with Martha Beck.

At one point during the conversation, Maria talked about how we often use titles to define ourselves so we appear worthy to others. She went on to share a story about a meeting she had with a Former Justice of the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor, who was about to honor Maria with a lifetime achievement award.

Justice O’Connor asked Maria, “What are you doing these days that’s significant?”

Maria talked about her work on Alzheimers (O’Connor gave her one year to solve it!), gender based research, Architects of Change, her blog, NBC News, her mothering. And after each response, O’Connor kept asking, “What else are you doing? What else? You’re not doing anything significant.” (At which point, Maria quipped to the audience, “I felt like my mother had come back from the grave!”)

After a few minutes of this cross examination, Maria found herself struggling to come up with ever more worthwhile endeavors. Finally, she looked O’Connor dead in the eye and replied:

Maria: You know what I’m really doing?

Sandra: No, what?

Maria: I’m working on myself from the inside out. I’m trying to make myself strong.

Sandra: Hmm…. that’s interesting. (And she squeezed Maria’s hand).

Maria: That’s actually the most significant thing I’m doing.

Bravo, Maria!

I think she got it right. Our titles don’t make us significant. It’s doing the inner work to become the strongest version of ourselves that empowers us to make our highest contribution to the world.

Hear Maria share her story with humor and grace. It’s worth a listen: (story begins at 26:48).

I am….

How do you fill in the blank?

At end of the day_4Yesterday, I listened to a guided meditation. The suggested mantra was “So Hum” which translates to “I Am.” The meditation then asked me to repeat: I am healthy. I am strong. Though I was trying to be in the moment with the meditation, my busy brain started to wander – and wonder. How else do I fill in the blank after “I am”?

When things are going well, I tend to be kind and encouraging to myself.

“I am brave. I am powerful. I am wise. I am so much more!”

This positive feedback fires me up, makes me feel confident and ready to take on the world.

But when things get off course (which they inevitably do), I can be pretty hard on myself. Echoes of past critical comments and harsh judgments (from others and myself) can easily float into my mind.

“I am unqualified. I am afraid. I am too old. I am overwhelmed.”

These negative thoughts used to stop me in my tracks. Erode my confidence. Make me second-guess myself. And worst of all, keep me from pursuing what I really wanted. Ever been down this rabbit hole?

Now, when self-sabotaging thoughts show up, I’ve got a game plan that helps me start turning them into empowering ones.

  • Acknowledge the thought. Trying to push it away or ignore it, usually makes it stronger and more persistent. It often keeps returning until you pay attention to it.
  • Question the thought. Byron Katie’s 4 question framework is a powerful way to do this. She asks:
    • Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
    • Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
    • How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
    • Who would you be without the thought?
  • Turn the thought around. Try stating the opposite of an “I am” that undermines you. Then look for specific examples of when the opposite (positive) “I am” is true for you.

What you say about yourself (even in the privacy of your own mind), creates the beliefs that determine your feelings, behaviors and results. You get to choose how you fill in the blank – in a way that empowers you or sabotages you.

So, what’s your “I am….?”

For me, Brene Brown said it best:“….at the end of the day, I AM ENOUGH.”

To tell the truth….

Three questions to help the real you stand up

Your truth_3_FBRemember the old TV show, To Tell the Truth? It’s back! If you aren’t familiar with the show, three individuals all claim to be the same person. Celebrity contestants then ask questions and try to discover who’s telling the truth and who the imposters are.

The world’s fastest texter, a pole dance champion and Taylor Swift’s prom date were featured last week. I played along at home – and I got them all wrong!

Maybe it isn’t always so easy to recognize the genuine article….

I realize, I’ve played my own version of this game for years. I’ve been corporate Jean: dressed in suits, working too many hours, diligently over-extending and over-delivering. PTA Jean: sporting preppy outfits, running fundraisers and baking cupcakes – homemade, of course! Social Jean: saying yes to invitations (even when I wanted to say no), taking on yet another volunteer job (with a smile) despite being over-committed and caring a little too much about what other people thought.

Like the imposters on the TV show, I didn’t always reveal the true me. I was something of a chameleon, able to adapt to any situation and find the “right” things to do and say. And frankly, it got exhausting!

But eventually, I learned an important lesson:

If you’re not true to yourself, it doesn’t matter how much success you have. You’ll never achieve the fulfillment and happiness you’re chasing.

Don’t get me wrong – those different versions of me are still me. And there’s a lot to like! Caring about others. Striving to make a difference. Bringing my A-game. But looking back, I can see that I didn’t always do things for the right reasons. I didn’t always engage in difficult, but important conversations or make the brave choices that, deep down, felt right to me.

It takes courage to let the real you standup. I’m still challenged to do it consistently every day. Here are three questions that help me stay grounded when things start feeling out of balance.

  • do my actions and choices reflect my values?
  • am I speaking my truth (with compassion) and standing up for what I believe?
  • am I showing up as my authentic self and living my purpose?

I won’t lie. This is hard work.

But there’s nothing like the sense of empowerment, freedom and rightness that comes from making peace with yourself and living the life you’re meant to live.

Feel like you’re drifting off course?

3 ways to get your life back on track

Alignment FBHave you ever driven a car that’s out of alignment? It’s one of those things that can sneak up on you without you realizing it. Then one day, you notice that the car is pulling right or left and you’re straining to keep it driving smoothly down the road you’re following.

Sometimes, life can feel that way too. You’re cruising along and then things start to feel off. But it’s hard to figure out exactly what’s causing the problem.

When this happens, it’s time to check your alignment. (No, not your car’s!) I’m talking about the alignment between your behavior and your values. Are you acting in a way that is consistent with what’s most important to you?

There have definitely been times in my life when I’ve gotten off course.

In my early 20’s, I worked at an advertising agency in New York City. It was a little after the Mad Men era, but I was thrilled to have a job in such a glamorous business. A few months after I started, my boss told me I was going to work on one of the agencies biggest accounts. How exciting!

But that initial spark of excitement soon started to fade. My new assignment was on a tobacco account. I’d never smoked and believed it was unhealthy. A fact that was reinforced every day as I sat in smoked filled rooms (yes, people could smoke in meetings back then) strategizing on how to increase sales. Work wasn’t so much fun anymore. I was losing my enthusiasm. The truth was, I felt conflicted. I wanted this job, but selling cigarettes went against my values.

It was a scary decision. I thought I might get fired. But I went to my boss and asked to be put on a different account. Within a few weeks, I was. It might have been a smaller one, but I didn’t care. I could sleep at night again.

Are there areas where your values and behaviors are out of alignment?

Self-care is important to you, but you take care of everyone else first, neglecting your own needs. You value respect, but you’re hard on yourself and focus on your short comings. You want adventure, but you stay safely in your comfort zone. These inconsistencies create tension because you aren’t being true to yourself.

Here are three steps to help you get your actions and values in sync so you’re driving towards your best life:

Step one: Revisit your values. You can’t align your values if you aren’t clear on what they are. And they sometimes change as you do. Family time may be less of a daily priority for you now if you’re an empty nester. Brainstorm a list of your values.

Step two: Identify your top tier. Think about the values on your list. Which are most important to you? Highlight your top 6-8 values.

Step three: Check your alignment. Take a look at your behaviors and your values. How do they match up? Notice where things are inconsistent. Decide how you can start to narrow the gap, then take baby steps to change things.

The next time you start to swerve in a new direction, you’ll do it purposefully, not by accident.

Are you ready to soar?

3 steps to making a leap towards what you love

Ready to soar_FB_2A few years ago, I traveled to a place I never expected to visit: Mendoza, Argentina. I was visiting my adventurous son Nick who was doing a semester abroad there. We did the usual tourist things – visited museums, took the vineyard tour and watched a flamenco show.

We also took a flying leap (with parachutes) off a mountain in the Andes!

It’s hard to capture in words the feeling of making that jump. Emotions swirled as I waited my turn to jump, glad for the trained instructor who would do the tandem jump with me. Excitement mixed with fear (was I really going to do this?) as I looked out over the edge of the cliff at the ground far below.

The instructor said: “Run as fast as you can. Make a big jump so the wind doesn’t blow you back into the mountain. Don’t stop until you can’t feel the ground under your feet anymore.”

Well, that sounded pretty terrifying!

But I’d come this far and wanted the experience of soaring through the air. I took a deep breath and started running. No turning back now. Leapt. Floated. Felt an amazing rush of exhilaration (combined with a touch of relief that the chute opened).

You may not want to physically jump off a cliff – I totally get that. But my hunch is that there are things you’d like to be different in your life that mean making some changes.

Here are 3 steps to get you off the precipice of thinking about making a leap and into motion.

Step one: Clarify what you want. Maybe it’s finding a new job. Starting your own business. Or relocating to a warmer climate. What would bring you greater happiness?

Step two: Imagine how you’ll feel when you get it. Picture yourself achieving your goal. How is your life different? What feelings are you experiencing now that you have what you want?

Step three: Determine your first step. (It doesn’t have to be a big one!) The truth is, taking a leap isn’t about making a huge change in your life on a sudden impulse. It’s the result of a series of smaller actions over time that lead you to your goal. For example, if you’re thinking about looking for a new job, you could start by updating your resume, then scheduling a networking conversation.

Some leaps end with bumpy landings. I’ve had my share of those. A new job that didn’t work out. A partnership that fizzled. But I learned valuable lessons from trying and developed the resilience to get back up again.

I may have gotten a few bruises along the way, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay. Because nothing is sweeter than the moment you finally nail that landing.

My bigger regret would have been staying frozen in place, afraid to follow my dreams and never giving myself the chance to fly.

Are you having enough fun?

Step into more fun_FacebookI wasn’t (and she called me on it!)

“It doesn’t sound like you are having any fun. This week, try doing something that is fun for you.”

What? Did I hear that right?

I had just started working with a life coach. It was my first experience with coaching, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. But it wasn’t that! I wanted help finding my purpose, figuring out my next career move and changing my life. Big, important stuff like that. And she was telling me to go have fun?

Turns out, she was very wise. I hadn’t realized how serious and stressed out I had become in my quest to get the answers to life’s big questions while juggling all my current responsibilities. I was taking myself (and everything else) way too seriously!

I was a bit skeptical at first about how upping my fun factor would help me reach my goals. After all, I was so busy, how would I find time to add one more thing to my schedule? But I slowly started planning some fun activities. A picnic dinner at the beach. A paddle-boarding lesson. A day in the city. A silly chick-flick.

Guess what? Having fun gave me the chance to relax, laugh and look at the world from a brighter perspective. It didn’t happen overnight, but I started feeling happier and more optimistic. I had more focus and the confidence to test new ideas and take risks with less worry. Most importantly, I even started to enjoy the process of finding my answers!

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Research shows that having fun reduces stress, boosts energy and concentration and improves your sleep. One study even said happy, optimistic people live 7.5 years longer than their grumpier counterparts!

How could you add more fun to your day?

Here are 10 ideas to get you aboard the fun train. But I know you can come up with a lot more!

  • call the funniest person you know and have a few laughs
  • watch a funny movie or TV show (Jimmy Fallon tops my list)
  • sing-along to songs that make you feel happy
  • trying something new (got silly doing improv recently)
  • meet a friend for lunch, especially if you often eat at your desk
  • go outside to play in a place you love – beach, park, back yard
  • check out funny animal videos on YouTube
  • read a humorous book or even the comics
  • spend time with kids, other playful people or your pet

One more benefit I didn’t realize until right now? Just thinking (and writing) about how to have more fun lifted my spirits!  

Here’s to adding more fun to your day!

Are you spending your time on the right things?

Because time is the most important thing you have.

Give yourself permission to dream_FacebookAs a coach, I talk with a lot of people about what is most challenging for them in their lives. One of the top answers I get? Time.

“Seems like I’m running out of time from the moment I wake up until I fall into bed at night – exhausted.”

“I have so much on my plate, there’s no time for me.”

“I want to change my situation, but I’m so busy I don’t have time to think about what I really want to do.”

I get it. I’ve said these things myself!

And eventually, this thinking and behavior made me feel stressed out and powerless. Like some outside force was controlling my every move. Making me plow through endless to-do lists, race to meet deadlines and take on more and more work.

It took me awhile to realize the truth: I actually have the power to choose how I spend my time. So do you.

Now I’ve made some choices. To follow my dreams. Make a difference for others. And live with joy.

Big goals. Am I successful in doing them all the time? Hell, no! I still get caught up in the crazy – busy trap of “have to,””should,” and “must,” spending my time on things that really aren’t that important in the full scheme of life.

The other night I got myself all wound up thinking about things I “have” to do. Decide about a possible relocation. Make changes to my business plan. Hire an assistant. It’s no surprise that I had trouble falling asleepmy mind was set on spin cycle and was churning away.

As often happens, the universe stepped in the next day to get me back on course. Stopped me in my tracks and quickly made me realize how I was spending my time – worrying, stressing and complaining. Not focused on what matters.

Here’s what happened. While searching for a clip on YouTube, I came across the recording of The Last Lecture by Dr. Randy Pausch. Randy, a professor at Carnegie Mellon, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just before his 46th birthday. He died less than 2 years later, leaving behind a wife and three young children.

His last lecture, delivered with courage, humor and grace, focused on living. Following your dreams. Enabling the dreams of others. Valuing people over things. And having fun.

What a powerful reminder to spend your time on what really matters.

Take a listen to Randy:

CLICK HERE for a 3 minute clip.

CLICK HERE for a 45 minute clip of his Last Lecture (inspiring and funny, but I got teary).

Here’s to living your dreams!

Eeyore or Tigger?

Your Mindset Matters: Take the Eeyore-Tigger Challenge

Get your bounce on pic_rev_FBI recently attended a weekend retreat for women speakers – what a talented, diverse and passionate group! I was honored to be there. Each of us brought a different story and unique personal goals. But all of us shared a desire to make a positive difference in the world and to do it in a bigger way.

This means change – growing beyond where we are right now. Stretching in ways that, to be honest, can feel downright uncomfortable. As I thought of the work it would take to reach my goals, the fear and “what ifs” started to kick in.

Why is it when you fill in the blank after “what if….” the next words typically focus on something negative that might happen? Like Eeyore in the Winnie the Pooh stories, my brain started down a gloomy path.

What if….

  • I create a new workshop and it isn’t well received?
  • I share a personal story and the audience judges me?
  • The process of taking my work to the next level is too hard?

Buying into this thinking quickly began to drain my enthusiasm and had me sinking into self-doubt. I’m grateful to the retreat leader who helped me turn my thinking around by asking: why do you care so much about the work you do? What is the positive impact you want to have? I thought of the amazing talented women at mid-life and beyond who I work with to help them find their spark so their dreams catch fire. Thinking of them helped me shift my mindset.

Looking at the changes I need to make and the challenges they’ll inevitably bring from a place of purpose and optimism helped me reframe my “what ifs”. Now I’m channeling my inner Tigger and getting my bounce on!

What if….

  • A workshop participant gets an ah-ha that makes her life better?
  • My story resonates with another woman and gives her hope?
  • The challenges I work through lead to really constructive personal growth?

Take the Eeyore-Tigger Challenge

Is there something in your life that you want to be different? Maybe it’s your career, lifestyle, health or a desire for more personal time and balance. When you think about changing things up, how do you fill in the blanks after “what if”?

If Eeyore takes over, that’s okay (and pretty normal!). Write those thoughts down. Then give Tigger the wheel and write down the opposite thoughts.

How does each set of thoughts make you feel? Motivated and inspired to action or discouraged and stuck in place?

Here’s the good news: You have the power to choose which thoughts you believe!