A LESSON FROM SUMMER

June 21st, 2017 No comments

I love all the seasons, but being a bit of a speed freak, summer is a good season for me as it slows me down. I’m content to sit outside and enjoy the warmth, listen to the birds, mess about in the garden. It’s exciting to harvest the first vegetables, and this year, thanks to a lot of rain, my roses are amazing. Summer is also a nostalgic time for me as I remember my childhood summers:  long days of swimming, playing with my cousins and brother and sister, eating outside, going barefoot, hanging my legs over the side of my father’s boat as we explored the Connecticut River.

One of the lessons I’ve learned from summer is that slowing down doesn’t mean dropping out. In fact, taking time can allow the things that are most important to surface. For example, yesterday I had an endless of list of things to do to continue promoting my book, but because I wasn’t in a rush, because I sat outside and thought about what really matters to me, I decided that those things could wait. And instead I worked on a new book–one for children–called “Bella and the Cat Who Thought He Was A Dog.” And this story, came from an amazing thing my childhood cat did when one of our dogs was attacked my a neighbor’s dog. He rushed into the fray, scratching and biting the other dog, until he fled howling.

Where it goes is anyone’s guess, but it felt good to complete it and submit it to my publisher. As I told a classroom of high school seniors a few months back, there are many ways to give yourself the gift of time. One habit I’ve taught myself, is to arrive for appointments about ten minutes early. I know, I can already hear you thinking to yourselves–That’s crazy. I can barely make it on time! The challenge I gave the seniors was to do it for a week–get to school ten minutes early. And then notice how the day goes. Notice how your relationships change. Be aware how kindness blossoms when you’re not in a rush. It’s summer. Take a deep breath and enjoy it.

 

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WHY NOT A LITTLE CHAOS?

June 6th, 2017 2 comments

I don’t know about you, but in my world, “chaos” is a bad word. It’s something I try really hard to avoid with my spreadsheets, calendars, lists (yes I know I wrote about this in my last post). I even plan our menus for the week so that I don’t have to run to the store at the last minute.

But last week, my husband, who volunteers at a local animal shelter, fell in love. There was something about this puppy that got to him. The next day, we brought Bella, our ten-year-old therapy dog to meet the puppy. She basically ignored him so we thought, “Oh, this will be easy.”

It’s not. Last Thursday Rudy came home. He was so frightened in the car that he threw up and pooped. Once we got him cleaned up, we walked both dogs so that they could meet again on neutral territory. Bella was puzzled but okay. But once Rudy came into the house (and he’s only allowed in the mud room and kitchen until he’s house trained), Bella snarled at him through the gate. She wasn’t any friendlier outside, but now, day six, we see small signs of detente. We had them both loose in the back yard and there was some avoidance, but no snarling. The ice might be melting. Our cat, Henry is stunned but won’t defend himself when Rudy knocks him over. Yes, we’ve got chaos. But it’s strangely okay.

I’m trying to take a kind of Zen approach to it all, to see what happens and to untangle myself from my normal expectations. Okay, not much work gets done. So what if the kitchen floor is dirty? He’s sweet. He likes to fall asleep in my arms. Maybe charm really is stronger than chaos. One day I hope he’ll be a therapy dog like Bella. I hope he’ll be able to comfort people who are hurting. Yesterday, when Bella and I were at our local hospital, we visited a boy in the emergency psych ward. He was only 11 and was in a room by himself. I asked him if Bella could get up on his bed and he nodded. She curled up next to him. He touched her velvety ears and for those few seconds, I thought he looked less alone and unafraid. After several minutes, we said goodbye, and as we walked past the armed guard outside his door, I knew we would make it through the chaos.

 

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DITCH THE LISTS!

May 17th, 2017 2 comments

harbor

Okay, why is there a photo of beautiful Stonington harbor in a blog about not letting lists run our lives? Because this is where I live, and when I free myself from the “must’s”, “should’s”, and “gotta’s”, I can sit quietly and look as the harbor fills with boats.

A little background. Come late fall, most of the boats are gone. By December it’s empty as the cold winds sweep through. But here we are in May, and the boaters are a hopeful bunch and are busy getting ready for the summer season. It’s like a migration and the tall masts are back, swaying in the spring breeze.

We talk a lot about mindfulness and how important it is to be present. And those of you who have attended my “Stop Burnout!” talks, know it’s a powerful stress buster. But here’s the catch for me. I’m a doer, a list maker, and I love the satisfaction of checking things off my list. And the things I don’t get done are like mosquitoes–they follow me around, they buzz in my ear, they demand attention. But yesterday as I walked my dog, Bella, I made a conscious decision to ditch the lists, to stop and smell the lilies of the valley that are growing at the side of the road, and when we got to a huge boulder, we climbed up it and sat in the sun. We stopped. We weren’t in a hurry.

I gave a talk to a group of high school seniors on Monday, and I asked them how many of them either rush into school just as the bell is ringing or are late? All the hands went up. I then challenged them to get to school ten minutes early for a week. To do it and pay attention to how they feel. How does that relaxed time change the whole day? How does not being in a rush foster kindness?

Yeah, I know, most of them won’t try, but maybe you will. Maybe, like me, you’ll find some special moments where the lists are in the background, out of the way. Give it a try!

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IT FINALLY HAPPENED!

April 19th, 2017 No comments

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Look what the tree in my side yard decided to do. It’s a miracle after a long winter. As a speaker who helps groups stop burnout and who shares stories of my therapy dog, Bella, and her amazing work, I was thinking who needs words when there is something like this tree bursting into pink blossoms? Take a moment today to notice what this new season has to offer.

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STRESS? ME? JOIN THE SPRING CHALLENGE

April 6th, 2017 No comments

I was reading an article by Paula Davis Laack–a leader in the stop burnout world–and she suggested a number of quick ways to work on managing stress while at work–while under pressure. So instead of telling you her ideas or mine, (but here’s the link if you want to read them for yourself:  https://www.pauladavislaack.com/ and click on “Get Strong Now”), I thought it would be fun to see what ideas you have.

What you can do today no matter what you’re juggling? Can you take ten deep breaths on the way to the rest room? Can you close your eyes and quiet your mind before you eat lunch? What works for you? For those of you who have attended my stop burnout talk, remember the power of gratitude. Is there a problem you’re struggling with that you can look at differently, realizing that it’s also an opportunity?

Lastly, remember that stress is a motivator. It’s also a good part of being alive, often bringing out our best efforts. So watch what you tell yourself. Instead of repeating, “Oh, I ‘m so stressed out,” try replacing that with “I’ve got some challenges that are taking me to interesting places.” Is that too corny? Tulips

Yes, I know it’s really fun to complain, so you can give yourself some of that too, just don’t let it become a habit. Please share your ideas. I know they’ll be a gift to others.

P.S. It’s gray and rainy here in the Northeast so I’m thinking tulips!

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HOW TO GIVE WINTER A PROPER GOODBYE

February 28th, 2017 2 comments

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Here are snow drops, bravely blooming on this last day of February in Connecticut. My mother always looked for them and for skunk cabbage in the marshes just when winter seemed to be lasting forever. They were a sure sign that spring was on its way, even though there might still be snow on the ground.

This got me thinking about change, and what winter things I might want to do before the real spring arrives. So instead of just waiting for spring, I thought it would be interesting to see how to say goodbye to winter. Let’s look at two categories:

Girl stuff:  girls like to clean out closets, reorganize drawers, get junk out of the basement, have a clear inventory of what they have, and in small ways and large, create order out of chaos. Time Magazine, in the February 27th/March 6th issue, has a wonderful article by Scott Sonenshein on “How to create more from what you already have.” As he writes:  “the science of stretching offers an effective, more fulfilling alternative that invigorates us to do more without needing more.” And he adds at the end of the article:  “You already have everything you need to succeed. Just stretch.”

That is exciting. It’s like yoga for the mind. It taps into our creativity, and the fun of improvising. Okay, now on to the boy stuff:  boys often like to build things, fix things, figure out how things work, split wood, make noise, make a mess, be outdoors. And of course many girls like these things too, just as many boys may be really good at cooking, cleaning, organizing.

Think of one thing you can do today that helps you say goodbye to winter. It might be doing something that you won’t want to do once the weather is nice outside. It could be giving yourself time to look at the seed catalogs and start planning your garden. Or it might be seeing what kind of soup you can make with what you already have in your kitchen. Just like the brave snowdrops that make me smile every time I see them, find something that gives you the same kind of lift as a warm, spring day.

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HOW TO SPEND A SNOW DAY

February 10th, 2017 No comments

Henry (our cat) and Bella (our dog) know how to enjoy the perfect day when outside winds are howling and the snow is drifting against the house. A good lesson, don’t you think? No stress or burnout!

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WHAT’S BETTER THAN VALENTINE’S DAY?

February 8th, 2017 1 comment

Well,  maybe nothing, but here’s a fun idea for mid-February. Join the Random Acts of Kindness Campaign:  https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/rakweekpartners. Take a look at this video and sign up.

Oh, and what does this have to do with my usual topic, how to stop burnout? Give this a try and you’ll find the answer.

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A CURE FOR THE WINTER BLUES

February 2nd, 2017 No comments

IMG_0803Many years ago, my mother gave me a wonderful book:  “The Artist’s Way:  A Spiritual Path of Higher Creativity,” by Julia Cameron. Or, if I were writing the subtitle:  “A way to find your best self.” It’s a workbook, filled with quotes, exercises, case studies and really good advice on nurturing our creative and true selves. Here’s something from the book that I forgot about, but am going to do today:

Go on “an artist’s date.” This means treat yourself to something you really would like to do, whether that’s quiet time at Starbucks or a walk in the park after work, or whatever calls to you. I’m going to my local bookstore. There’s a really comfortable couch there and I’m going to take off my jacket, look at books, pick up a pile that look interesting, and then sit on the couch and give myself time to browse through them. Just that.

I’m not going to rush. I have no “to do” list. I’m not doing research for a project. I might look at children’s books. Or novels. It doesn’t matter. Why are these dates important? And how might they cure our winter blues?

  • We give ourselves credit for getting things done, but see if you can detach from that as these dates feed us, balance that activity with things that restore our energy
  • We need solitude and time–quiet, uninterrupted time that is just for ourselves
  • Julia writes about how we try to wiggle out of these dates–something is always more important–but her point, as I understand it is, build this habit and your life will be rewarding
  • Get over the guilt of being nice to yourself and treat yourself as you’d treat a good friend
  • Anytime we invest in ourselves, we feel better, stronger, see things in a more positive light

Here in New England there’s snow on the ground, but the days are getting longer. The sun feels a bit brighter. What could you do for yourself today that would be gift to yourself? I’ll be at the book store.

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COULD BURNOUT BE YOUR FRIEND?

January 23rd, 2017 No comments

I know it’s a strange idea to think of the thing we try so hard to avoid, as a force that might help us. But over and over, in my work helping groups stop burnout and get re-energized, I’ve seen how burnout has helped people. It’s made them change. It’s clarified what’s important to them. It’s set them on a new course.

My past year has been full of activities surrounding the publication of my third book:  “Joy Unleashed:  The Story of Bella, the Unlikely Therapy Dog.” In fact, I’m speaking more now about the book than I am about burnout. At first I felt upset that my work had shifted. But now I see that my dog’s wonderful work comforting others, has deepened my understanding of why it’s so important to not let burnout eclipse our gifts. So, yes, burnout can be a friend, as long as it’s a friend you  pay attention to. As long as you don’t get stuck.

Here are the key lessons I’ve learned about self-care from my energetic (that’s the nice word for “crazy”) working dog:

  • Surprise yourself. Sit when you’d stand, stop when you’d go. Mix it up.
  • Ask questions and the answers will come
  • Small shifts lead to big changes
  • Help comes from surprising places:  a child, a dog, a stranger
  • Pay attention
  • Give thanks even when you don’t feel like it
  • Grow in curiosity and giving back
  • Travel light–see what you can get rid of and see how that makes you feel
  • Cast off resentment–it just gets in the way
  • Don’t be afraid of uncertainty or emptiness:  wait, sing, a path will open.

Not bad lessons from a dog! Be brave and share your thoughts. That will help all of us have the best year ever.

Front Cover Revised 7-28

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