Resolve to be Curious

It’s that time again. You know what I’m talking about – New Year’s Resolution season! We’re drawn, quite naturally (and historically, if Wikipedia is to be trusted), to the idea that the New Year is a perfect time to make a change, to shake things up – to be better! I couldn’t agree more.

But, most research reveals that very few people – something around 20% – actually achieve the goals they set at the New Year. There are thousands of articles and blog posts that claim to know why this is. I’m not really going to venture to guess. It seems quite simple to me – what works for one person would drive another individual to give up after Day One. We’re all different and your guess is as good as mine as to why some people find the New Year’s Resolution system to be inspirational and others find it to be a giant, looming, impossible invitation to failure.

I wouldn’t be one to say, “Don’t waste your time.” There’s certainly something to be said for setting goals. And, creating a framework for achieving those goals really works for some, maybe even most, people. If you know it works for you – then go for it.

But, if you’ve tried to set New Year’s Resolutions in the past and failed (repeatedly) – you’re not alone. Maybe it’s time to try something different. Here’s a list of questions that might point you in the right direction. They’re in no particular order and I don’t claim to know what you’ll find on the other side. Nor will I make recommendations for what you do with the answers you find. But what I can say is this – regardless of what you resolve to do – no one fails at reflection, exploration or contemplation. So if you must resolve – maybe just resolve to be…curious.

20 Questions to Ask Yourself in Lieu of New Year’s Resolutions

1. What do I really, really, really, really want?

2. Of all the things I do, what do I enjoy doing most?

3. What am I afraid of?

4. What part of my self am I working hardest to hide from others?

5. What am I both good at and enjoy doing?

6. What am I good at, but don’t enjoy doing?

7. Who are the 5 people in my life that most inspire me? Why?

8. What are 3 times in my life when I was faced with a decision and I made the right choice for me at that time?

9. Who am I judging? What does it say about me that I’m holding that judgment?

10. What aspect of my life gives me the greatest sense of purpose?

11. Who are the people in my life with whom I feel the most me?

12. What are 3 things in my life that I am tolerating?

13. Where do I want to go that I’ve never been before?

14. What do I want to say that I’ve never said?

15. Who in my life loves me most of all?

16. What emotions or feelings freak me out?

17. What would I prefer to do less of?

18. What would I prefer to do more of?

19. When do I feel closest to God? (God, as you define it – whatever draws you closer to your spiritual center)

20. If tomorrow were my last day, what would I let go of?

 

 

 

Making the Holidays All Your Own

For those of us that celebrate Christmas, doing so abroad – away from friends and family – can be especially difficult. Christmas is a time where we crave the familiar, we resort to tradition and we strive to make the day as special as possible. We build it up. Often the day is just perfect. But, sometimes it’s not.

As I write this, I realize this is true for any special day – birthdays, anniversaries, and cultural and religious holidays. You don’t have to celebrate Christmas to recognize that any tradition you hold dear can be difficult to manage when you’re outside your home culture. You want, you need, everything to be just so…and yet, you know very well you won’t be able to have each and every last thing fit perfectly into your pre-reasoned plan.

So as an expat, trying to fit a bit of your own tradition into a place that you only temporarily call home, what can you do?

The Internet is full of great ideas. Not to get too sidetracked here, but I think it’s one of the great blessings of the modern age. Wanna’ know how to beat holiday stress? Google it! The answers are endless. In fact, here’s one I posted on the World Tree Coaching Facebook page just yesterday.

But, it’s up to each of us to look at what might work and try things out. We all know it’s a never-ending battle to force a tradition to be “perfect.” Things change and so do we; yet it’s common (and natural) to try to hold on to making these moments really count. So don’t be shy about figuring out new (and healthier) ways to handle the holidays (whichever ones you celebrate). If you’re feeling stuck – here are a couple of my favorite holiday survival techniques. I’m writing from the Christmas perspective below, but seriously – feel free to sub any special day (from Valentine’s Day to wedding anniversaries).

1) Harness the power of definition. You, not your parents, your friends back home (with their cozy knit hats, Starbuck’s, snow flurries and twinkly lights) or the media, can tell you what your holiday should be like. Sit down and decide to redefine your traditions so that they fit your mobile lifestyle. Passionately keep the things that work, but get rid of the things that stress you out, cause you un-needed mental clutter or make you feel guilty.

2) If you don’t have family with you – consider redefining your definition of family. This might seem pretty bold, but as an expat, I bet you do it already. Find the people you most love, the ones you most enjoy and the individuals who share your values. Make them a part of your family away from family. Unburden yourself from the label of mother, daughter, and sister and accept “friend” as being just as wonderful.

3) Give up on gifts for your spouse or partner. Gasp! I know – this sounds crazy, but I swear this is a good one. If you treat everyday as a potential day for a gift – “I saw this and thought of you,” “I knew you’d love this, I couldn’t resist,” “I hope you don’t mind, but I picked this up for you.” – you take off a lot of holiday pressure. You might even find that you enjoy moments with your spouse or partner more when you’re not stressed over finding the perfect thing or anxious over what’s hiding behind box number three. What you will surely realize is that when (or if) you do splurge on something special, it means so much more. Don’t go rogue on this one though – it requires careful planning and consideration with your significant other.

After years of trial and error, these are just a few that have worked for me. I’d love to hear your tricks for making the holidays fit your lifestyle (whether you’re an expat or firmly planted in your hometown). How do you make your special days special without leaving yourself drained, lonely, homesick or worse? Add your thoughts to the comments section – I’d love to build a nice long list!

And, for those of you celebrating – Happy Holidays!

Negotiating the Yes Game

I used to say yes a lot. Flat-out, no-questions-asked, I-can-do-it, YES! Big surprise, this type of yes often left me resentful and annoyed at feeling compelled to do things I didn’t really enjoy. It also took away all the opportunities I may have had to do the really nice things that I do like to do. And, not just the things that I wanted to do for myself or my immediate family, but the things I wanted to do for other people in my life…even strangers. Saying yes in this way left me in the position of racing from one over-scheduled moment to another so there was no chance I’d stop and notice the things in life that really needed noticing. It also took away the fun of saying yes to the things I really, really wanted to say yes to – like coffee with a friend, a last-minute play-date for the kids or an early bedtime with a good book.

We hear a lot about the importance of learning to say no. Saying no is important, but the other side of saying no for most of us is looking at when, where and how we want to say yes. What I realized about myself is that I’m kind of a yes person…I just needed to get better at my yesses.

During university, I was part of a life-changing theater program. We often warmed-up with a game called “The Yes Game.” The game is about living in the moment. When one of your fellow performers makes a suggestion everyone chimes in “yes!” no matter how silly, exhilarating or strange. In that moment, you give in to fun, to experimentation, to something new. I like that game. It inspired me in my process of figuring out how to better say yes.

For me, the journey from unproductive, unhappy-yes to all-the-right-yesses has not been about flat-out-nos so much as better yesses. I like to get excited about things. I enjoy saying yes to something that inspires me, motivates me or brings me joy. So better understanding my yesses has been about examining my values and making my yesses really count. And, it’s been an experience of trial and error. Today’s energetic yes could become next week’s never-ever-again and, trust me, I’ll let you know. As much as possible, I give in to the outcomes of this trial and error. Sometimes I might feel over-scheduled, but with each yes failure I know a bit more about improving my yesses.

How do you sort your yesses from your nos? How do you know when you’re off track? What helps you get back where you want to be? Which yesses excite you and which ones make you groan?

Perhaps Shel Silverstein said it best:

The Yesees said yes to anything
That anyone suggested.
The Noees said no to everything
Unless it was proven and tested.
So the Yesees all died of much too much
And the Noees all died of fright,
But somehow I think the Thinkforyourselfees
All came out all right.

Learning from the Everyday

This weekend my family and I took a nice trip out of town. It wasn’t anything overly spectacular – just an enjoyable and relaxing time outside the city. There were opportunities for hiking, exploring and seeing local wildlife. We did a bit of that – there’s really no missing the wildlife, as this spot happens to be one of the most popular tourist destinations for getting up close and personal with lemurs. But, most of the time we watched the kids run up and down a hill, throw rocks in a stream and sword fight with sticks of bamboo.

While my husband and I were really interested in taking in some nice long walks, the kids just weren’t enthusiastic about it. What they were enthusiastic about was that hill, those rocks, that stream and the endless possibilities drawn from a stick of bamboo. In the end, it was more enjoyable to sit and watch them explore the world around them on their own terms, than to try to force them into our prepared plan. The value of just being together outweighed the need to do something “special” together. And, anyway, what we did end up doing was absolutely special enough.

We’re not the first or only family to have had a similar experience. That is, after all, what families do all the time – they adjust, they re-evaluate, they listen to each other’s needs and wants, they change and they grow.

What I wonder is, how often do we let these everyday experiences (these moments of potential growth and change) go by without really taking the time to notice them? Do we give them the weight that they deserve? If we took more time to ask ourselves what we learn from a given adventure, would we be poised to learn even more? And I’m not just talking about the big stuff – the times when you think “Whoa! We’ll never do that again!” I’m talking about the small stuff too. The little adjustments, the tiny shifts in plan. If we paid better attention, could we save ourselves from undue hassle, heartache, frustration or anger?

My thought is – probably. It can’t hurt. It’s at least worth a try.

So, next time you find yourself reflecting on a particularly awesome day or an especially crummy one, consider taking time to slow down and be curious about what’s working or not working.  What made this day different from any other? Are any aspects of this day worth repeating? Did your actions or the actions of someone else add joy to the day? Are small adjustments in attitude, outlook, or point-of-view all it takes to make a bad day better? Or, is there something bigger at work? The possible questions are endless. You decide which ones work for you. Whatever you do, give yourself the gift of noticing the everyday. You never know what you’ll find by looking more closely at the things that typically pass you by.

 

 

Your Life Story

This is a nice article on the power of personal narrative. It gets me thinking about how life coaches help clients access their stories.

Life coaching is very forward focused, but that doesn’t mean that life coaches don’t acknowledge or think about the past – or that they encourage their clients to forget the past. In fact, the past (and what we tell ourselves about our history) is essential to looking forward. From birth through old age, we’re constantly assimilating past experiences to help us better understand what’s next.

I ask my clients to complete a “My Life Story” exercise. While this helps me get to know the people I’m working with better, I also believe it’s important for creating the next steps in a path towards reaching one’s dreams. It can help you develop closure, recognize that it’s time to move on, remind you of the dreams you left behind or enable you to take the first steps towards change.

Are you finding your visions for the future a bit nebulous? If so, try writing down your life story. You don’t have to be the next Shakespeare. It’s not even essential that anyone else ever see it. And I’m not talking autobiography, just a page or two of the highlights. But, it should be your voice, your take on the way things have been.

Then read what you’ve written. What feelings come up about the past? What language do you use to describe your life? Do the changes you might want to make get clearer? Do things look completely different on paper? Do you see patterns that you want to repeat in order to reach your dreams? Or, do you see habits you might want to get rid of?

It could be you see your needs, your wants or your values where before you simply saw a series of events. Maybe you see your blessings. Perhaps your strengths become more apparent. Or, it could be simply a nice reminder of where you’ve come from. And it might be there’s no better place to start when you’re thinking about where you want to go.

Should We Really Be So Busy?

A Facebook friend recently posted this article from the New York Times and I’d like to offer it up as food for thought. The piece is over a year old, but the idea of the “busy trap” is nothing new.

It’s easy to read the article and think, “Of course this guy doesn’t have to be busy. He’s a professional writer. He works for himself. He has the freedom (and probably the funds) to set his own schedule!”

But, the truth is, whether we’re rich or poor, cramming in 60 hours a week at the office or sauntering into Starbuck’s at 10:00 AM to sit down to our laptop for a few hours of work, we’re probably much more in control of our level of busy then we care to admit. We don’t really fall into the busy trap so much as jump…with our eyes closed…and without a parachute.

So next time you feel yourself being pulled into something you really, really don’t want to do, ask yourself, “Is this really necessary?” Maybe your answer will be a resounding, “Yes. This is important to me because ____________.” But on the other hand, maybe you’ll find yourself deciding to skip out on yet another pointless meeting. And, if you do, maybe then you’ll find yourself, quite pleasantly, doing nothing at all.