Find the Sunshine in Your Life

Osteospernum: Two little stars emerge in the s...
Image by Mukumbura via Flickr

As I sit down to write this post, I find myself wanting to give you sunshine. Looking though my notebook of writing ideas the topics feel heavy to me – advice on how to survive, how to make do, how to become comfortable in uncomfortable times. But maybe what we need is simpler than that. Maybe we just need to reconnect to the little pleasures in our lives, those special people, things and events that already surround us.

As children it was easy to become absorbed in small pleasures. I remember spending entire afternoons in the hills near my home, exploring, playing, and finding new things. Fun was any place I could pretend was a house – I’d flatten tall grass, find a crook in our grapefruit tree, or sit in a hollow bush – anything to provide walls for my little tea parties.

It’s easy to get disconnected from the small delights in our lives, especially when we hear what sounds like dire news every day. Finding and enjoying these pleasures can provide warmth and texture to these precarious times.

Below is my “Sunshine List” for today – just a sample of what brings sunshine into my life:

  1. My breakfast, every day.
  2. A sunny walk at lunchtime with my daughter.
  3. Watching reality shows with my best friend.
  4. Taking a hot bath on a cold day.
  5. A coaching session where my client has an “ah ha!” moment.
  6. Elastic waistbands.
  7. Goofing around with my business partner when we’re supposed to be working.
  8. My house, especially when it’s clean.
  9. Finishing an article that I believe really captures what I want to communicate.
  10. Seeing my cat roll around in ecstasy just because I walked in my front door.

 

What puts the sunshine into your life?

Take a moment, put your feet up, and grab a pencil and paper and create your own Sunshine List.   Once you’ve created your list, what can you do with it?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Post it where you’ll see it every day and make sure you do at least one thing on your list daily
  • Each day add a new item to your list
  • Create a whole new list of 10 items every day for a week
  • If your list includes loved ones like mine does, share your list with them and suggest they write one of their own
  • Even if you don’t do another thing with your list, be aware of the things that add pleasure to your day and add them to your mental Sunshine List

It’s important not to get lost in the tension of everyday life. Staying connected with the small things that make us happy builds a storehouse of pleasure that can provide balance when troubles or worries strike. Take a look at your list – how many things on it are available to you every day? How many items on your list not only give you pleasure, but also give joy to someone else?  Our lists are filled with rich pleasures that increase the quality of our lives and of those around us.

Listening With Curiosity

I’ll be honest – until a few years ago I thought I was right most of the time. And not just about my life, but also about what was best for others. I was humbled when I finally I stepped back and really listened to other people’s ideas – I realized that while my conclusions and solutions might be right for me, they often weren’t right for them.

When I was training to be a life coach in my first coaching class we were taught to “stay in curiosity”; to simply ask questions without drawing conclusions or trying to guide others to “see it our way”. This was a rude awakening for many of the students in the class – we’d come to coaching because we felt we had wisdom to share. What I learned was that people’s thoughts, perceptions and conclusions often had no resemblance to my own, and what I thought was right for them was often flat out wrong.

Staying in curiosity isn’t just for coaches. Staying in curiosity will help you be a better partner, parent, boss, co-worker or team member. Learning to stay open with others is powerful for both you and them – you have the benefit of learning about others, and they have the treat of being really listened to with respect and openness.

Try these 5 tips for staying in curiosity:

#1. Don’t assume that you know what the other person is thinking or feeling
It’s true that when you’ve known someone a long time you might have a good idea about what’s going on with them. But what’s key here is that you might not. You might have been making incorrect assumptions about them for years! And we all change, what was true about someone yesterday might not be true today.

#2. Listen
So often when someone is talking to us we are mentally crafting our replies, evaluating what they are saying, or, sometimes, we might even be off composing our grocery list.
To really listen:

  • Keep your mind clear of opinions, answers and conclusions. Seek to discover what information the speaker is providing.
  • Stay neutral, don’t shift your focus to your emotional response or start trying to figure out solutions.
  • Let the other person finish, don’t interrupt or jump in with your thoughts.

#3. Don’t provide solutions or give advice
Ouch! We all love to provide our insights to others, especially when we think we can help. And we may even be right some of the time! However, the fact is that all of us are much more inspired by solutions we design ourselves than those provided by someone else. There’s a great deal of value to be gained by going through the process of figuring out what to do – we learn more about ourselves, the situation we are in, and how to succeed when we seek our own solutions.

#4. Avoid soothing
It can be uncomfortable to listen to other people’s hurts and problems; we want to make their sorrow go away. Sometimes we try to sooth them with statements like “Everything will be ok.” Or we inadvertently invalidate their feelings with comments like “I know you’re sad your best friend moved away, but you’ll find other friends.” As hard as it is, it’s a wonderful gift to someone to just be there for them when they’re in pain, and listen to them work though it without trying to fix things or make the hurt go away.

#5. Stay curious
As people talk to you, get curious about what they are experiencing. The best curious questions are short and simple and are directed at the speaker’s current experience and feelings. Some examples of curious questions – “How do you feel about what she said?”, “What’s the most stressful aspect of this situation?” or “What’s your biggest concern?” Notice that none of the questions attempt to lead the speaker to a solution, they just allow space for them to process their experience.

Staying open when listening to others isn’t easy. I still find myself dishing out unasked for advice, or cutting people off when I think I know what they are going to say. But really being curious is a lovely gift to give to the people around us, and you’ll be surprised what you can learn when you aren’t stuck in your own preconceptions.

Test your knowledge of curious questions below. Identify whether each question or comment is:
A) Disguised advice B) Curious C) Soothing

1. Are you sure you don’t want to do it this way?__________________

2. I know it was bad, but it will be better tomorrow!_____________________

3. How did you react when he said that to you?____________________

4. Oh don’t say that – you know it isn’t true!_____________________

5. What is important about this?_________________

6. Do you think you should tell your manager?________________

Answers: 1 A, 2 C, 3 B, 4 C, 5 B, 6 A

Networking for Introverts – Mixers & Meetings

I am an introvert. And, until I started my own business, I usually avoided groups of people I didn’t know. That changed, however, when I realized that the best place to make new contacts is networking meetings and mixers. I found that all it took was a shift in my perspective to make networking events not only easy but fun (yes, fun!).

To make the most of networking events:

#1    Relax
Most people are at networking meetings and mixers for the same reason you are – to make new contacts and build their business. Unlike parties, where people often cluster in groups that can be intimidating to break into, at networking functions people tend to mix and chat in smaller groups. Still, walking into a room of strangers can be intimidating.

Some key things to remember :

  • Keep things in perspective – you have nothing to lose. At worst you’ll waste a couple of hours, but you could end up meeting someone who’ll contribute to your success.
  • No one is focused on you, and no one will notice if you stand alone for a few minutes. And if you do stand alone and look pleasant, it’s very likely that someone will come up and talk to you.
  • It doesn’t really matter if there’s someone you don’t click with. We sometimes worry that others won’t like us, but if they don’t, so what? Just move on and find someone you have more in common with.
  • And, finally, remember, you can leave any time you want!

#2  Focus on connecting with people rather than selling them
I’ve met people at networking functions who instantly launched into an obviously memorized long-winded sales pitch for their product or service. Not only was I turned off, but I also didn’t want to recommend them to anyone else and subject others to their pitch.The best use of networking meetings is to connect with other business people who can refer potential clients to you. I’m not saying that you can’t gain clients from these functions, but I am saying that you’ll only get clients if people feel a connection to you, and for that to happen they have to get to know you a bit, and not just hear about your product. Plus, it’s a lot more fun!

#3  Be prepared
Create a short (2-3 sentence) introduction that summarizes the benefits of your service and practice it until it’s easy to remember. At informal events you can use your introduction to describe your business as you meet people. At more structured groups you may be expected to stand up and introduce yourself – if you’re prepared it’s quick and painless. It’s also helpful to write up a list of the benefits of your product and practice saying them before the meeting.

#4  Avoid overwhelm
At the first few networking meetings I went to I felt that every two minutes I was getting information I needed to act on or invitations to participate in other events, classes, or groups. I would get so overwhelmed that I was exhausted by the end of the event, and my automatic answer for all invitations became “No”.

To head off overwhelm, plan to “unpack” the event in a day or two when you have more time. At the event simply tuck business cards and brochures into your bag or folder and make notes about items you want to follow up on. This takes the immediate pressure off and gives you time to recover before trying to process everything.  I also make it a rule to never accept or refuse an invitation at a networking event. I simply respond with a pleasant “May I get back to you in the next couple of days?”   This gives me time to consider the invitation outside of the pressure of the meeting.

Networking events are great place to practice extroverting, and the more I attended the easier and more enjoyable they got.  The trick is to take the pressure off yourself and don’t worry about impressing or selling, just connect with others and enjoy yourself.

Ouch, My “F”ing Heart

Heart

One of the best things about being an F is how tender-hearted we are.  And one of the hardest things about being an F is how tender-hearted we are!

Like all F’s I seek harmony.  And when one of my co-workers or loved ones is in a bad mood it’s really difficult not take it personally. My natural tendency is to make it about myself  –  “What did I do?” or “Why is he being so mean to me?”  But this is a form of self-absorption, we’re focused on our reaction, on how we feel, rather than what’s happening with the other person.  We need to shift the question from “Why is he picking on me?” to “What’s going on with him that’s upset him so much?”

Some tips for dealing with others’ upsets:

  • Shift your attention from how you feel about the situation by getting curious about what’s happening with the other person.
  • Don’t take their moods personally, even if they lash out at you or blame you – it’s not about you, it’s about them.
  • Don’t take on their pain. Your compassion helps, your hurting along with them doesn’t.
  • Don’t try to fix or soothe them – you can’t.  Telling someone the “look at the bright side”  or to “feel better” doesn’t do anything except minimize their emotions.
  • It can be really draining to spend time with someone who is dealing with a prolonged issue, so be sure to take care of yourself.  Give yourself a break and schedule fun time with friends or other family members to help you not get sucked in to the negativity.

I know, all this is easier said than done.  But it benefits everyone when you can provide a supportive, calm and grounded environment when someone close to you is upset – I like to think of it as giving the gift of being strong when they’re at their weakest.

So all you F’s out there, protect that tender heart by keeping it full of love, compassion and the kindness that comes so naturally to you.

Don’t Be a Victim

“It’s not fair!”  Don’t you hate those whiny victims – always complaining about the problems in their lives?  Why don’t they just get it together and do something about it!  Right?

Don’t look now, but chances are that on occasion you are that whiny victim, too.  The good (and bad) news is that, at times, we all are.

A toddler girl crying
Image via Wikipedia

People feel victimized when circumstances feel out of their control, when the unfairness of life impacts getting what they want, or being treated the way they feel they should be treated. And, feeling helpless, they retreat emotionally to when they were truly helpless, back into childhood, when they really didn’t have much control over their lives.  Ever notice the childish tone a person in victim mode can take?  They’re awash in the feelings they had years ago when Mommy took the candy away.

When it’s our life, when it’s happening to us, our frustration kicks in, and once that emotion takes over it’s easy to fall back into the childhood feeling of “It’s not fair!”   We become blind to the fact that we’ve fallen into helplessness.  We lose touch with the fact that we have adult powers that can help us deal with whatever is going on.  And, much of the time, we don’t even realize that we’ve made ourselves a victim.

How can we avoid becoming a victim?  We can’t.  Its human nature to feel sorry for ourselves occasionally.  The trick is recognizing when we’ve slid into helplessness and pulling ourselves out of it.

How can we tell when we’re falling into victim mode?  It’s easy – we’ve stepped into a victim role when we hear ourselves complaining without including possible resolutions.  For example, “He’s so unfair! Why is he treating me like this?” is victim language, while “He’s so unfair, and I’m talking to him about it as soon as I cool down.” is not.

How can we pull ourselves out of victim mode?  In the two statements above, feel the hopelessness of the first statement.  And the power in the second.  When we simply complain, we imply that there’s nothing we can do about the problem.  However, by identifying an action to be taken we step out of victimhood and into our personal power.

What if there’s nothing we can do about the problem?  Sometimes there are no solutions, something difficult to deal with has happened and there are no actions we can take.  In situations like these even though we can’t change the outcomes we can change how we deal with them.  By focusing on the future, on what we can impact, we can avoid hopelessness and stay connected to what’s still possible.

People who don’t make an effort to identify and correct when they’ve fallen into victim mode often end up in a destructive vicious cycle of helplessness and bitterness. We’ve all met people who are locked into the past, whose potential is derailed by events they never got over.

By making it a habit to notice when we’ve gotten stuck on our grievances and moving ourselves into action, we can stay on the track to success and growth.  We become better able to cope with the current reality and more prepared for the next “unsolvable” problem that is sure to come.

Converstation Made Easy

Yeah, an extrovert would have a good chuckle at the title of this post – what’s hard about conversations?  But most introverts have struggled through the leaden “thunk” of a conversation dropping into uncomfortable silence.

My favorite is when I find myself in casual conversation with another introvert  – that pause as we both realize that the other is an introvert and neither of us is going to pick up the reins of the conversation.

But conversations don’t have to be difficult.  The trick is to let them happen naturally.  Here’s how:

#1  Relax
Most of the time casual conversations aren’t important.  You don’t have to make the other person like you, you don’t have to be amazingly witty or charming.  You just have to talk a little. That’s all.

#2  Focus on being interested rather than being interesting
No this isn’t another version of “get him to talk about himself.”  It’s just it’s more fun when we shift focus from “Oh no, I have to say something” to “Hmmm…look at that job title on his name tag.”  Putting our attention on the other person often opens the door to a world of topics.

#3  Broaden your focus
What’s going on around you? Our surroundings always offer a topic of conversation.  At a cocktail party? Talk about how you know the hosts.  At a conference?  Talk about the workshop you attend or ask for recommendations on booths to visit. This is especially useful if you find you don’t have much in common with your conversational partner.

#4  Choose to say nothing
If you don’t have anything to say, or don’t feel like talking, don’t force yourself into conversations. It’s perfectly fine to sit and observe the activity or excuse yourself and move on.   We sometimes think that if it’s uncomfortable we have to force our way through it, but, unless it’s important that we hang in there, its ok to just let it go.

What’s most important is that we stick with what’s most comfortable.  Rather than trying to copy the conversational style of an extrovert, we need to figure out what feels most natural for us.

Finally, remember this simple rule – you are always your most charming when you are being yourself.

Friending Facebook

I love Facebook and its vast accumulation of in-the-moment thoughts and emotion.  As my friend Jenny puts it, Facebook is “the world’s conversation.”  News, gossip, events, from the significant to the trivial, flow full force like water from a fire hose.  However, as fun as all that activity is, it’s also easy to get lost in that flood of information.  Our little voice is one of thousands, and we can end up with hurt feelings if we don’t adjust our expectations.

I’ve found Facebook to be a great place to practice the art of not overreacting.  One thing that pushes my buttons is being ignored, and on Facebook being ignored is an everyday occurrence. Our posts get lost in our friends’ rapidly moving news feeds, and, even worse, people we reach out to can literally ignore our requests to connect.  I must have sent three friend requests to one poor guy I knew in high school before I realized that every time he received one he was clicking his “Ignore” button.  Whoops.

In order to enjoy Facebook we need to let go of expectations and accept our tiny place in the gigantic flow.  We’ve got to get comfortable with the fact that we’ll often be invisible, that our posts may not be acknowledged, that our voice will blend into the group’s.  We’ve got to learn to accept rejection with grace or at least neutrality, and not make up stories about why someone doesn’t answer us or why they don’t want us in their circle of friends.

Because Facebook can truly be a delight.  With Facebook I know I can stay connected with my childhood friend Donna no matter how far away she is.  I can watch the blossoming of my second cousin’s three daughters even though I’ve never met them.  I can hear what Tim Gunn has to say about Project Runway, and I can see a picture of my daughter’s driveway, covered with snow, a minute after she snaps the photo.

And I get the opportunity to make my own contribution, however small, to the world’s conversation.

Copyright © 2010    From The Easy Place