Once upon a time, I had the worst year of my entire life professionally and personally. That story is too long for today, but suffice it to say that I came to the conclusion that almost nothing was working for me in the way I was approaching my life. 

Whoa! That’s kind of a big, complex problem, huh? 

It’s definitely not the sort of thing you can fix in a single day (or even a single year, but I made, and continue to make, progress!). What’s the solution? I had to get Targeted in my action. I couldn’t fix everything all at once. I needed to focus on the most important thing.

Here’s a simple example. One of my favorite things to do for the new year… *drumroll please!* …is to clean out my closets! I know, I know. It’s a wild and crazy life I lead. Here’s the thing: It gives me a chance to clean spaces that don’t get cleaned very frequently, but more importantly, I can assess the stuff I own and ask questions about it. Does this fit AND flatter? Or Does this align with the current life I lead? Or Have I used this enough to warrant expending my time and space to keep it here? I’m sure this process is starting to sound a lot more fun now!!!

My inner Clutter Conqueror would love to go through the entire house like that. Asking questions, cleaning out all the rooms from top to bottom and ending with a space that even Marie Kondo would be jealous of. But my real life doesn’t afford me the time or energy to do all that. Not to mention the fact that with a family of four, this zen-like space I’m imagining would be back to a mess in 5 minutes flat. 

One choice I could make is to say, “Well, it’s pointless. I might as well do nothing.” Another choice I can (and do!) make is to say, “What is a Targeted approach where I could achieve that aspiration on a smaller scale?” This was how my tradition for cleaning out my closets for the new year was born! 

I focus my attention on one area, knowing that there are lots of other things that could use my attention, energy, and effort too. But I prioritize this activity because of several reasons. 

First, it’s small, which means I can accomplish it in a short amount of time. I love to see progress quickly! Next, it helps me let go of all that other stuff I could/should/wish I had time to work on. Freedom from guilt! Finally, as a recovering perfectionist, it gives me great joy to have a few small spaces of order in the chaos that is my daily life. If you’ve never spent a minute or two gazing upon a well-organized space, you absolutely must try it! Talk about relaxation!! 

Hang on, I think I’m getting slightly off topic. I must be more Targeted!

As I’ve mentioned, resolutions aren’t for me. I love change! I just happen to take a different approach to getting there. One of those different approaches is to select a word of the year. 

I’ve been doing a word of the year for five years now. My previous words include: Grateful, Listen, Release, and Enough 

If you are looking to go deeper on a word of the year, I got the idea from Jon Gordon, but there are lots of others who advocate this approach as well.

What I love about a word of the year is it’s Targeted. It gives me an opportunity to keep my focus on one thing for the entire year. I thought it would be hard to spend a year with a single word, but I have been pleasantly surprised every year by how the word continues to take on new, different, bigger meaning in my life. The fact that it’s Targeted is what makes it so effective.

When you’re thinking about taking positive action, you want your action to be targeted. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you think of all the things you’d like to change or do or be. By making a choice to focus your time, energy, and attention on one thing, it becomes possible to make incredible progress!

#PositiveAction Identify the one thing that is most important for you this year. The Targeted attention will be transformational!

Targeted is the third element of ACTION, part of a series focused on positive action. If you’re new here, welcome! You may want to start at the very beginning with positive action

 

 

 

Image from Pixabay

A long time ago, in a galaxy that didn’t have streaming video (or even DVDs yet), I had a workout video where the host would say, “Consistency is the key to results. See you tomorrow.” I still think about that video now whenever I hear the word consistent! Also, I am thrilled to discover that said workout video is actually still available for sale! It’s worth a watch simply for the hilarious wardrobe choices for everyone involved. Moving on… 

We tend to dismiss the importance of consistency, but if I learned anything from that ancient workout VHS tape, consistency really is the key to results. Isn’t that disappointing? We can’t do something once and expect to see major change. I know I consistently (see what I did there?) struggle with that very real fact. I can’t eat one salad and be considered healthy. I have to consistently choose the salad over the french fries with a side of mayo (try it before you judge!).

If you’re trying to grow a business, you can’t sporadically work harder at it. You need to consistently work toward that growth. It’s the same if you’re trying to change the direction of your career. Sure there are easy things you can do in 5 minutes or less, but you also need to consistently (aka regularly) work toward the change that is your aspiration

Here’s something to consider. Consistency is also a promise to yourself. Once you’ve got your aspiration, that dream worth chasing, you’re making a promise to yourself that you are willing to make the dream happen. It means you show up and do what you need to do. It means that you schedule the timeline to “30 days from now” (not “someday”) and stick with it. 

Unfortunately for many of us, we deprioritize what’s important to us in favor of doing something that is important to someone else. Sometimes that’s generous, but more often, we’re afraid of doing what we need to do and use busy-ness as an excuse to never get around to our own aspirations. If you’re struggling with this, you may want to get the help of an accountability partner to move forward! 

#PositiveAction What promise do you need to make to yourself to bring some consistency to your dreams and resolutions? It’s time to regularly work toward what you want!

Consistent is the second element of ACTION, part of a series focused on positive action. If you’re new here, welcome! You may want to start at the very beginning with positive action

 

 

 

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Aspiration is another word for dream (official definition: a hope or ambition to achieve something… sure sounds like a dream to me!) and we’ve talked before about dreaming. Actually, several times, like here, here, and here because I believe it’s one of life’s greatest joys to have a dream you’re working on bringing to life. Of course, a dream doesn’t get you where you want to go without positive action!

I have a chair (shown above) that is my dreaming chair. It’s a 15-year-old recliner that my two cats absolutely adore. It’s the place I go when I want to guarantee some snuggle time with them. It’s also the place I go to slow down and let my mind wander.

As humans, we need both time and space to dream. Creating the physical blocks of time in your daily schedule (yes, daily!) is critical. So is the white space that is created when you have no other distractions, obligations, or activities during that moment of time. In our over-scheduled, always-on world, one of the most productive things you can do is nothing, even if it’s only for 5 minutes. Use this post as the permission you’ve been waiting for to kick back and let your mind wander for a few minutes!!

My creativity has been significantly higher this year, partly because I’ve deliberately given myself the time and space for dreaming. Sometimes I hop in my dreaming chair and nothing much happens, other than sitting there. Sometimes I get an idea to solve a problem whether for my business, a client, or my family. Sometimes, I get the inspiration for my next big project! I never know what the outcome is going to be and I don’t have any expectation for it. What I can say with certainty is that I feel renewed and ready to tackle the next task on my list after I’m finished.

You might be wondering how to do this in your daily life. It’s 3 simple steps.

  1. Schedule the time, whether 5 minutes or a whole day off from work, it’s up to you. 
  2. Actually use the time you scheduled. Jerry Seinfeld said it best, “See, you know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to hold the reservation and that’s really the most important part of the reservation, the holding. Anybody can just take them.” So make sure you hold the time you scheduled!
  3. Turn off electronic devices and distractions. I promise, all the work and demands and notifications of the world will manage to wait for a few minutes while you do this. Be careful, you might find you actually enjoy uninterrupted time!

When you follow these steps, you’ll start to dream more. You’ll come up with amazing aspirations! Sometimes, it’ll be change-the-world aspirations, like impacting a million or more people in a specific way. Sometimes, it’ll be a simple, change-the-moment thing, like eating healthy food for the rest of the day. The dreams can be all shapes and sizes. The only rule to the dream is that it HAS to be authentically yours. 

In the context of positive action, your actions should be focused on leading you toward your aspirations. Keep asking yourself, what’s one small step I can take today toward my aspiration? You may feel like you have almost no time to devote to it, but there’s still something small you can do each day. If you do that consistently for a month, you’ll be surprised to see how those 30 actions got you further than you imagined possible!

#PositiveAction Spend 5 minutes doing nothing and see where your mind wanders. What aspiration is waiting for your action to bring it to life? 

Aspiration is the first element of ACTION, part of a series focused on positive action. If you’re new here, welcome! You may want to start at the very beginning with positive action

 

 

Photo by me, with cuteness added by my two fuzzy buddies!

We’re coming up on one of my favorite times of the year. No, it’s not any of the traditional holidays you think of in December. I love the planning and preparing for a new year. It’s not the glitz and glamour and champagne of New Year’s Eve that I love. It’s the clean slate. A fresh start. A socially acceptable time to try something completely new and different than you’ve ever done before! 

As a person who is frequently trying something new and different, I can safely say that people are much more open to that sort of thing for New Year’s. It’s a chance to dare and dream bigger and people are less likely to question your sanity. Of course, naysayers gonna nay (no idea how that phrase didn’t end up in Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”!), but for a short time around the first of the year, it’s a little less.

For all my joy surrounding this special time of year, I’ve never been big on resolutions. In fact, I don’t make them. Ever! It strikes me as odd that if a person discovers a big change they want to make in July, that they would then wait until January to follow through on it. I’m a big believer that when you find something you want to improve, you should take positive action immediately! 

On the other side of the resolutions-spectrum, maybe there’s no major change you feel like you need to make right now. So why would you expend the energy trying to come up with some resolution to do (that you’re likely not fully committed to!) just to appease those who want to know what your resolutions are? There’s nothing worse than trying to accomplish something you think you “should” do instead of something that you truly desire for your authentic self. It’s a recipe for a failed resolution.

All that said, this is THE time of year for making resolutions and for some people, it’s the only time of year they are willing to consider doing something differently. So this seems like the perfect opportunity to spend some time talking about what positive action looks like… well… in action!

First, let’s talk positive. On any given day, there are lots of actions that you can take to achieve any number of results. Not all of those actions are positive.

Here are two definitions of positive that I love:

  • Constructive, optimistic, or confident
  • With no possibility of doubt; clear and definite

Here’s an example of how to work positive into your action. Last week, my car broke down unexpectedly as I was driving my two kids to an appointment. I’m grateful I was able to maneuver safely to the shoulder of the road, getting out of the way of the rush hour traffic. It was frustrating and inconvenient to be stuck. Both the tow truck and my improvised ride home (my wonderful spouse!) were more than 30 minutes away. It would have been easy to fall into a whole bunch of not-so-positive actions (complaining, getting out of the car to kick the tires like they do on tv, etc.). In the moment, I had a choice: I had to ask myself what positive action I could take instead.

I should point out that I am not mechanically inclined, so opening up the hood (however you do that!) and working on the car wasn’t a positive action available to me. Given the volume of traffic whizzing by us, walking elsewhere was also not viable. 

I decided that the three of us would use this quiet time in the car to build the ultimate Christmas music playlist. We had a blast taking turns picking favorite holiday tunes and singing along as we added each one to the ultimate playlist. It was a fun way to spend close to an hour and we may have a new holiday tradition now! 

Singing didn’t get us out of our trouble any faster (contrary to what musical theater would have you believe!), but it did make our time spent a lot more enjoyable. It’s only one example of the myriad ways you can incorporate positivity into whatever action you’re doing every day.

By contrast, the following evening after a series of stressful events, I made a less positive choice in a conversation with that same wonderful spouse who had willingly agreed to come pick me up less than 24 hours before. I had to reset (after I apologized!) and move forward. The point is, it’s a journey, and our default reaction may not always be the most positive action.

#PositiveAction Find one action today that could benefit from positivity and make the intentional choice to engage in positive action. If you aren’t sure where to start, ask yourself the question: How can I make this activity more fun? Or How can I use this to bring me one step closer to a dream I have?

Now that we’ve got positive covered, we’ll prepare for the new year by spending the next six weeks taking a deep dive into the elements of ACTION.

 

 

Image by jwvein from Pixabay

One of the classic holiday tales (and song and TV special) is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. In the extremely unlikely case that you’re unfamiliar with it, Rudolph is a reindeer that is different than all the other reindeer. He has a bright red nose that lights up. Unfortunately for Rudolph, no one appreciates his distinctive strength (the thing he’s good at that no one else can do) and instead, he’s teased and excluded.

Think back to when you were a child. Did you have something that made you weird, like Rudolph? I definitely did! The key is to try to harness that weirdness as a strength. I was a “bookworm” and read all the time. I mean All. The. Time. It was definitely a source for being teased and excluded. On the other hand, it also gave me a distinct advantage when it came to schoolwork – I loved to read and do the assignments!

Being a bookworm also come in handy throughout my adult life. I have a wider breadth of knowledge on topics from all those books. I can make connections among seemingly unrelated topics because of that background. I love diving into research and reading to help me solve a problem. I can use all the books I’ve read to carry on meaningful conversations with people who have all sorts of different interests and hobbies. Basically, that thing that I got teased about as a kid is a huge asset to me. Just like Rudolph. 

What’s interesting about Rudolph’s story is that it took the keen eye of his boss (aka Santa), coupled with a new challenge they’d never had to solve for (some unusual weather conditions!) in order to recognize and value Rudolph’s distinctive strength. And once the boss shared how much he appreciated that strength, Rudolph was finally able to see it as a strength too. Then all the reindeer loved him and shouted with glee and whatnot!

Sometimes people recognize their own distinctive strengths. More often though, we end up feeling like Rudolph on the Island of Misfit Toys and we need some help (and maybe an annoyingly catchy song!) to figure it out. 

#PositiveAction Think back to a time when you were like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and find a way to leverage it as a distinctive strength! 

 

 

Inspiration for this post came from one of the most amazing, thoughtful, uniquely talented people I know. Thank you!

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

One of my favorite holiday movies, Elf, stars Will Farrell as Buddy the Elf. Buddy is adopted as a baby and raised by an elf at the North Pole. Through a series of events focused on identifying people’s strengths (which as a career coach, I love!), he is shocked to discover that he’s actually a human, rather than an elf, and sets out to find his birth father in New York City.

There are lots of delightful scenes and quotable lines in this movie, but the one I want to talk about today happens when Buddy is at work for the first time with his birth father. The office phone rings and Buddy dives over his father to answer it by saying, “Buddy the Elf. What’s your favorite color?” The business person on the other end of the phone line immediately hangs up, maybe because it seems like such a ridiculous question.

Watching the movie this year, it occurred to me that “What’s your favorite color?” isn’t a silly, unimportant question. It’s actually a critical way to get to know someone on a deeper level and it’s a question that my children ask almost everyone they meet. 

“What’s your favorite color?” is way to understand something that is important to another person. My kids use it to inform the art that they make when they create a drawing or a card for someone else. They use it when they are selecting a gift for a friend or family member. The favorite color becomes a way for them to show they care about something that is important to someone else.

When’s the last time you asked a meaningful question to someone at work? Are you using that information to show them that you care about whatever it is that’s important to them? One of the 12 questions in the Gallup survey used to assess global employee engagement is “Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?” If you’re not confident that your co-workers would respond yes, maybe you need to find out what their favorite color is!

In case you’re not sure where to start, here’s 25 questions to get the ball rolling. Not enough? Here’s 70 more questions! And you are welcome to read what engaged employees do differently and how you can help (spoiler alert, it’s asking good questions!).

#PositiveAction Ask a co-worker a meaningful question to get to know them better, listen to the answer, and then find a way to demonstrate you heard them. This type of small, kind gesture can be transformational in the workplace!

 

Image by Bruce Emmerling from Pixabay

If only our dreams introduced themselves to us so neatly!

For a long time, I had a dream to “help the environment someday”. A very nebulous, though perhaps noble, goal. Unfortunately, there were always things that seemed to get in the way. I recognize them now as mostly excuses and fears, but at the time, they seemed like legitimate concerns.

I’m too busy. It’s very inconvenient. My kids are small and need all my attention right now. The list goes on (and on and on!). 

So I did what most of us do when confronted with all the reasons not to pursue my dream. I waited. I waited for the perfect timing (it never came!). I waited to be less busy (I never was!). I waited for the right conditions (you guessed it, never happened!). I waited for a sign (still waiting!). And a decade went by. 

You might be wondering to yourself how a person like me, known to many as a great accountability partner, could let this happen. Where was the accountability on my own dream? So glad you asked!

The first obstacle for me was that I didn’t acknowledge the fact that this was a dream. I had been treating it as a nice-to-have-someday sort of wish, rather than a dream I wanted to work to fulfill. We’ve talked before about the importance of dreaming big. I had failed to do that in this regard.

Another way I let myself off the hook was through inaction. I was paralyzed by trying to decide the best way to help the environment someday. Every time I would think about it, I’d feel stuck or overwhelmed, so I’d stop. I’ve shared before that hope isn’t a plan and sometimes the best plan is to stop planning and start taking action!

Interestingly, we all end up in this scenario at some point over the course of our careers. Sometimes, it’s the role we’re afraid to say out loud that we’d really love to have. It can be the new technology you’d like to take a class to learn more about, but are afraid of being the oldest (or youngest!) person there. Maybe you’d like to do a full career pivot, but don’t have the slightest idea what you’d pivot to. 

The writer Sarah Ban Breathnach reminds us, “It’s never too late to reclaim your individual gifts, resuscitate a dream, create an authentic life.” That’s some great encouragement! Especially for those of us with dreams that have been on the backburner for a decade or more!!

Where to start? How about with the same two principles that helped me finally move forward. Acknowledge your dream and put some clarity around it. Then, try doing one small thing to get some momentum. 

For me, it started with reading a few books and watching some documentaries. Then I decided to apply for a leadership training. After the panic wore off from getting accepted to the training, I found ways to make the training as meaningful as possible, including building connections with people. That led to forming a group in the Milwaukee area to support each other and continue to take action. 

I couldn’t plan out all these steps in advance because I didn’t know where each action would lead me. That’s the interesting thing about action. It often will surprise you with where you end up because you’re learning and adjusting as you go.

#PositiveAction Do you have something that you’ve been putting off for someday? It’s time to acknowledge that dream and turn it into action, one small step at a time!

 

 

 

Image from Pixabay

thank you note

As I’ve mentioned previously, I have had a word of the year for the past several years. One year, it was the word grateful. As is often the case (or always, so far in my limited experience!), the word starts the year out with one intent, but finishes the year different and more robust than I can imagine.

As one of the ways to steep myself in gratitude, I found the book, Living in Gratitude by Angeles Arrien which is a delightful month-by-month guide to exploring gratitude. The book has interesting tidbits from all sorts of history and traditions along with the seasons and what is happening in nature each month of the year. 

It helped to open my eyes not just to the obvious things I have to be grateful for (food, clothing, shelter, family, friends, etc.) but also connected me to the tradition of gratitude across time and cultures. It made my feeling of gratitude much more expansive as a result.

Gratitude can be especially powerful if you’re not completely happy with your current work situation, regardless of whether it’s the specific job, team, or company. Focusing on the things you’re grateful for at work can infuse you with some much needed joy and energy to forge ahead with your less enjoyable tasks. 

It can be as simple as remembering the special bond you have with one person at work. You know, the one person you tell everything! You’re lucky to have someone like that. Maybe it’s the great food in the cafeteria. More likely, it’s the fact that your company is located nearby to that amazing Mexican food place! It could be that you get to dress however you want. Or maybe the supply closet always has a stash of your favorite type of pen. These sound silly, but appreciating the little things truly makes bad days better and good days great.

If you’re located in the U.S., this is the week that we celebrate Thanksgiving. Some people prefer to breeze through Thanksgiving on their way to Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday. Instead, I would encourage you to pause and reflect and savor a few of those things that fill you with gratitude. 

As for me, I’ll be spending the week expressing gratitude and sending notes to people letting them know what I appreciate about them. 

#PositiveAction Write a list of 5 things you’re grateful for at work. Bonus points for telling someone else what you appreciate in them!

 

 

Image by June Laves from Pixabay

Last summer I had the opportunity to travel to Yellowstone National Park as part of an epic family road trip. *Side note: if you’re heading there anytime soon, check out this awesome guide! Yes, I also have a 3-ring binder filled with travel details if you want to know more. Are you at all surprised?!? End side note!*

Yellowstone is a huge swath of wilderness known for its unusual geothermal activity. The picture above is of a mudpot – a place where the ground is literally bubbling due to the hot water just under the surface. Not particularly exciting or aesthetically pleasing in photo format, but very cool to see in person.

I was going through my pictures of that trip recently and when I saw the mudpots, my brain immediately went to how similar mudpots are to humans. Not in a Creature From the Black Lagoon or Scooby Doo mud monster kind of way. Rather in how we all have things (good and bad usually) bubbling just below the surface. Unlike the mudpots where you can see the mud bubbling in real time, we try to keep those thoughts, ideas, and feelings hidden.

The mud is hidden, but it’s there. At Yellowstone, they put up boardwalks and railings to keep us a safe distance from the boiling mud. Too bad people don’t come with those!

Right now, I have several big projects coming to critical points at the same time, so although it’s good mud that’s bubbling within me, I need to find a way to bring it back down from a boil to a simmer so it doesn’t steal my focus from the people, discussions, and projects that are important to me. 

One of the ways I do that is to write down the muddy ideas. When I get them out of my head and onto paper, my brain stops churning on them. Another way is to keep reminding myself how it all aligns to my purpose, which smooths out the mud and serves to calm me down.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is recognize when someone else is experiencing a fit of bubbling mud. At work, we can get so focused on our daily tasks that we forget to check in with people on how they’re feeling. You’d be surprised what a difference it will make in a co-worker’s day if you make time to ask them how they’re feeling and really listen to the answer.

#PositiveAction What thoughts, ideas, and feelings are bubbling up right now? Do one thing to help yourself or better yet, someone else, smooth out the mud!

 

 

 

Photo by me, in Yellowstone National Park.

This post is an excerpt from my soon-to-be-published book. If you’d like to be one of the first to know when it’s available, jump the line and sign up for my newsletter!

There are times in everyone’s life where we need someone to coach us through small (and sometimes big!) moments. Here’s an example. I’ve struggled for most of my adult life with consistently flossing my teeth. I was a sometimes-flosser, not a daily-flosser. *Gasp!* I know. I was familiar with the lecture from the dental folks that I only had to see twice a year on how it’s important and healthy and blah-blah-blah. I knew the right thing to do. I was lacking in the action department.

When you see dental floss commercials, they always show someone flossing as they get ready for bed. Same on TV sitcoms. I naturally assumed that the only time of day to floss was right before bedtime, since that’s what I’d seen. Here’s the issue. I’m a morning person. I do my best work and have my highest energy in the morning. At night I’m tired (and sometimes grumpy!) and have no interest in expending effort on… well, anything… but especially flossing!

Enter the dental hygienist who successfully coached me through the issue. I shared with her that I was a morning person and was too tired at night to floss every night (a lame, but very true excuse). Instead of telling me I should try harder or that it’s important and healthy, she gave me an easy positive action to take. Floss at the time of day that works best for me. 

Wait. What? Do it when it’s convenient for me? Like pretty much everyone else in the world, I LOVE things that are convenient for me! How has this idea never been mentioned before?!?!

Pretty simple (and obvious) right? But it had never occurred to me because I believed flossing was part of a bedtime routine. That simple insight to get me unstuck completely changed when and how often I floss.

Unless you’re in the tooth cleaning industry, this probably sounds insignificant. It’s just a little more minty freshness in the world. No big deal. But it was the exact insight I needed to finally take positive action to do something different to get a different result.

The same is true for a coach in any other aspect of your life. They will ask the hard questions and point out the sometimes obvious insights to help you get unstuck. It’s one of my favorite parts of working with clients when I can help them move past an issue that’s been holding them back. Remember, coaches come in all different forms, sometimes with an official title, but more often in the form of a friend or co-worker or dental hygienist willing to point out an alternative course of action for you to try.

#PositiveAction What’s that small thing you’ve avoided changing, even though you probably know what to do? Find a way to reframe by asking a friend for ideas to get unstuck.  

 

 Image by 2396521 from Pixabay