Getting Out of Analysis Paralysis

Image courtesy of Eileen Rackus

Like me, I’m sure many of you have experienced getting stuck when you have an important decision to make. You want to make the best possible choice and agonize over the options. When you find yourself unable to move forward because you are going over the pros and cons again and again, you’re in analysis paralysis. It’s a terrible place to be. It’s frustrating and dreadful to not know what to do and to be afraid that you could choose wrongly. But you can get unstuck. First, remember how good it feels to act. Second, select a course of action. Any action you take will provide relief. Following are some suggestions to get you moving again and help you to reach a decision.

Move Your Body
Exercise and house cleaning may take your mind off the problem and allow your heart, your intuition, your gut, or even your subconscious to weigh in. Moving our bodies gets our brains moving again and this will help us make a choice.

Quieting your mind and stilling your body in meditation may allow you to discover your true feelings on the matter. Preparing a quiet space inside allows answers to rise up above all the same thoughts that have been churning around in your brain.

Think About Something Else
Focus all your attention on something other than the problem you face. Read a book. Watch a movie or an episode of a show. Listen to a friend’s dilemma and try to help them. Another part of your brain will continue to mull over the problem while you are thinking about something else.

Do More Research
I have often found that this yields new information that I had not previously discovered. Maybe I used different search terms. Perhaps a blog post or article has been published since I first researched my options. Possibly some site has improved their SEO and moved up in the search results. Regardless of the reason, there is now additional information to review that may lead to a decision.

Talk to a Trusted Friend or Mentor
They may have additional information or a fresh perspective that will help you decide. Just talking about a problem can feel like taking action. And sometimes we realize the right solution when we hear it out loud.

Use Your Imagination
Pretend a year or more has passed since you made your decision. Think about what your life is like. Start in the morning when you wake and describe the whole day. Don’t leave anything out. Be as vivid as possible using all your senses. What colors do you see? Is the sun bright in a blue sky or does it look like rain? What do you smell? Where are you? Are you living in the same place or somewhere new? What’s it like where you are? Who is with you? Where/what do you eat? Where do you go? Who do you meet? What do you do? How do you feel? Write or type everything out and wait a day or 2 and repeat the process with all other possibilities you are facing. Then you can pick the choice that rendered the best day. The day that was most meaningful or pleasant or more aligned with the outcomes you are trying to create.

Pick One Option and Take Baby Steps in That Direction
Just like you would drive a car before you buy it, test drive one of your options and see if it feels right. Take small, reversible steps that are still big enough to get a feel for how your life could be. When considering a move to a new area, I go to the neighborhood at different times of day and walk around. Are the people friendly? Do I feel safe? What kind of vibe do I get? Once, when I was interviewing for a position at a university, I ate lunch with a group of students to get a better feel for the school and students served. It’s possible that you don’t know how you’ll feel about something until you try it out. I may like all the ingredients in a recipe but find them distasteful when they’re all mixed together. If you’re still not sure after you have tested the water a bit, try another activity listed here.

No matter which recommendation(s) you try to get out of analysis paralysis, it is always a good idea to practice self-compassion and adaptability. We all make mistakes and occasionally have to make decisions without enough information. At any given time, we can only do our best. Let that be good enough.

Life is change. And while we are making changes, the unexpected can still happen. Being flexible will allow us to keep moving forward in life. Nothing in life is permanent. Situations and people come and go with or without our intervention. We get stuck sometimes – mentally, emotionally, in a job, or in relationship – the trick is to get unstuck so we can move on to bigger and better options. Self-compassion and adaptability will help.

What do you do when you get stuck in analysis paralysis?

Challenging Thoughts – Part II

Your greatest self has been waiting your whole life;  don’t make it wait any longer. Steve Maraboli

Changing Thoughts and Beliefs
Knowing where thoughts and beliefs come from can facilitate the process of change, but it isn’t necessary. Sometimes, the need to know can hamper the change process. However, if you want to do some exploring try the following.

  1. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.
  2. Center yourself by taking slow, deep breaths until you feel yourself slowing down. As you breathe out, it might be helpful to think “I release all tension” or “I release any cares” or “I am relaxed.”
  3. For those who are more analytical, pick one or more of the following questions that resonate with you and just see what comes up when you ask.
    • When have I thought this same thought before?
    • Where does this thought come from?
    • How has this thought helped me in the past?
    • In what ways does this thought hinder me now?
  4. For those who are more creative and empathetic, try the following questions.
    • Where do I feel this thought in my body?
    • What does it feel like?
    • What images or feelings come with it?
    • What does it remind me of?

Whatever answers you find, it is important to remember that these thoughts and beliefs have served you in some way in the past. Acknowledge that you did the best you could at the time and move on. Know, too, that one of the functions of our brain is to categorize and process information as soon as possible. It is very good and quick at this job, like a computer. It’s a complicated process that involves accessing memory and processing related sensory input. This makes information processing a very subjective process and unique to each individual. It also happens largely outside our awareness. Don’t judge yourself for how you’ve reacted to life in the past. Your brain was just doing its job.  

While it may be normal, this type of thinking about, and reacting to, people and situations doesn’t always serve us. The great news is we can change it! We can make a choice about how we respond to the world, rather than reacting automatically. We will feel better about ourselves and how we engage with others and life when we learn this two-step process. It’s simple, but not easy.  Focus, engagement, and determination are necessary. You’re replacing one habit that no longer supports you with another that serves you better.

The first step is becoming aware of when we make assumptions, interpretations, and judgments based on limiting beliefs or hold back due to our inner critic. Write in a journal about situations that don’t go the way you would have liked. Describe what happened and the thought that triggered it. Don’t beat yourself up over it.  You’re trying to change. Give yourself a pat on the back for that. After just one week, it should be pretty clear how your thoughts are creating experiences that may not be what you want.

Once you notice how your thoughts and beliefs are creating your day to day to life, you can create a new reality! We choose what we believe, what we create and, in the moment, how we respond to life. Consider how you would rather think when those limiting beliefs, assumptions, interpretations, and the inner critic surface in your life. Write it down in your journal. Rather than the generalization that all women are bad drivers, how could those adults in my childhood have believed instead? What would have been less judgmental and less limiting to women? Some women are bad drivers? Some people are bad drivers? What would you like to believe instead of your assumptions and limiting beliefs? What are some other ways of looking at events and interactions rather than interpreting them under the same light that has not served you in the past? How will you respond to your inner critic when it berates you for some thought or action?

A helpful additional step could be to talk to someone you trust. Someone who will be objective and hold your agenda rather than their own. It can be tricky talking to family and friends because even though they love you, support you, and want the best for you, sometimes their idea of what is best for you is not the same as yours. A coach, mentor or therapist will help you see different perspectives and possibilities but won’t tell you what it means to you or what you should do about it. Those answers can only come from inside of you.

What would your reality be like if you could think about life in a new way, a way that opened up possibility instead of limited you? Because you can. Our thoughts create our reality. If you don’t like how you interact with others, if you don’t like the similar situations you seem to find yourself in, create something different. Create the life you want. It’s not easy, but it’s simple (and it will become easier with practice). Just apply the two step process diligently and you will see a difference!


  1. Notice when your thoughts about people, situations and life limit you (and the other person) in some way. The different types of automatic thoughts:
    • Interpretations: how we perceive people or events through the lens of past experience 
    • Assumptions: if it happened once, it will again
    • Limiting Beliefs: generalizations about a group of people that are not true of everyone in the group
    • Inner Critic: the voice that stops you from doing things that cause you to step outside your comfort zone
  2. Replace the limiting thoughts with new ideas and possibilities that you determine will create the life you want.
    • Interpretations: what is a different way to look at this situation, or to think about this person, that is more beneficial? 
    • Assumptions: what are some of the different outcomes possible?
    • Limiting Beliefs: how accurate is this belief? What might be more true?
    • Inner Critic: how much do I want this? How much do I deserve this? What are some things I can do to move forward? How can I respond to my inner critic when it gets in my way?

This, like life, is a process. If you’re not getting the results you want, try some new thoughts and beliefs. Make adjustments. Don’t be afraid to play around with this. Have fun. Be creative. Be imaginative. Experiment. This is your life – your reality – you are creating. Don’t settle for adequate when you can have greatness. You deserve to be happy and realize your full potential!

How do you manage your challenging thoughts? What did you learn from the exercise above?

Challenging Thoughts – Part I

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new. Dan Millman

As a professor, I was always trying to impress upon my students how our own life experiences frame our understanding of a work of literature. This became clear in our discussions about the literary works we read in class. There can be as many different opinions about the meaning of a literary work as there are students in the class. The same can be said of how we give meaning to all of life’s experiences. Events or situations occur and we understand them based on our interpretations, limiting beliefs, and assumptions.

Just as with literature, sometimes we have a strong emotional reaction to life. Sometimes we act out of fear or anger without even realizing it at the time. Other times, our instinct is to hold back, to hide. This is because of our inner critic. Our thoughts, limiting beliefs, assumptions and inner critic limit us. Because of these automatic ways of thinking and feeling, we react to life without forethought. This creates the patterns we see in our lives – the recurring situations, the particular type of people we seem to attract – because we create our reality with our thoughts. And we can change our thoughts!

In my coaching practice, I frequently work with clients on challenging thoughts even when they come to coaching for another reason. In this post you will learn about different types of thoughts and beliefs. I’ll illustrate these concepts with examples. Then, in the next post, I’ll explain how to change them.

Interpretations, Assumptions, and Limiting Beliefs
We often react to life through that lens of past experience without ever stopping to think whether our experience is really what is happening in this moment. We ascribe meaning to events and other people’s behavior based on our beliefs and values. Our understanding of these things may have nothing to do with reality. This is an interpretation. Other people experiencing the same event with us, or people whose behavior we have observed, may have a completely different understanding of the situation and their behavior. In my literature class, one of the poems we studied was “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke. The poem is about a brief experience between a father and son who dance around the kitchen disturbing the pots and pans. Some students interpret the poem as being about an abusive relationship between a boy and his alcoholic father. The opening lines identify that the father had been drinking. Other lines describe the boy being scratched when his father stumbled and the father keeping time on the boy’s head. Others interpret the poem differently. They find a happy memory about an evening’s romp. Just like students interpreting literature, we interpret everything we see and experience. There will be as many interpretations about an experience as there are people involved. Interpretations are unique to us in the main. Others may interpret things similarly, but the experiences behind our interpretations are our own.

In contrast to the interpretation that is our own, a limiting belief is an idea that is believed by many people but that really has no basis in reality. We all have them. We learn them from our parents and other adults in our lives. Growing up, I heard people (mostly men, but even some women) say that women are not good drivers. As a result, I was afraid to learn to drive. My instructor said he had never met anyone as nervous behind the wheel as I was. I eventually outgrew my fear but these types of generalizations about specific groups of people are judgments that are false and don’t serve the people believing them or the group they are targeted at.

Unlike a limiting belief that is shared by the majority, an assumption is unique to our experience. When we believe that something that happened before will happen again, that is an assumption. Just because something occurred in the past doesn’t mean the same thing will necessarily happen again or happen in the same way with the same outcomes. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. If we had a frustrating or undesirable experience with one person of a particular gender, ethnicity, in a position of authority, or in a particular job, it doesn’t mean that all people who are of the same sex, race, authority or career will cause us the same upset. Just because one police officer gave you a lecture before citing you, it doesn’t mean another one won’t cut you a break. No two people are exactly alike and believing they are limits the possible outcomes in every interaction.

These ways of thinking limit us and others. They hold us back from seeing other perspectives and possibilities. Interpretations, limiting beliefs and assumptions lock us into a particular pattern of thinking, feeling and behaving. It restricts our ability to choose our response to people and situations. Instead, we are locked into courses of action that no longer benefit us. Our emotions are created by our thoughts and our behavior is strongly and frequently motivated by our emotions. When we change our thoughts, our behavior and emotions change along with them.

Inner Critic
We all have that voice in our head that criticizes what we do, puts us down, and in every way prevents us from doing things we want to do. Whenever we are about to step outside our comfort zone or we are close to achieving a goal or dream, the inner critic gets very loud and abusive. With thoughts like “you’re lazy” or “you’ll never amount to anything” or simply “you’re not good enough”, resounding in our heads, we shrink back. We don’t stretch ourselves or reach our goals when we listen to that voice. This is our inner critic and it is much more powerful than interpretations, assumptions and limiting beliefs.

The inner critic comes from a very deep place inside of us, from a place of fear. It can be the result of a painful past experience – a child’s interpretation of what happened and why – that has hardened into a core belief. Possibly, we no longer remember the event that spawned this inner critic. The memory lurks in the shadows just out of sight. But, we feel the presence of something bad. It must have been very traumatic to make us so afraid, to create this inner critic that has worked diligently over the years to prevent a recurrence of such an event.

The thoughts generated by our inner critic can be more difficult to shift than other limiting thoughts. The voice has roots all the way back into the past. The emotions associated with the voice (the inner critic’s and ours in response) are more intense and paralyzing. However, recognizing the inner critic for what it is – an old friend that doesn’t fit us anymore – is a big step in overcoming the fear engendered by the voice and its message. The inner critic is like an old friend because it tries to protect us. It wants what is best for us, and based on what happened when we were young, the inner critic believes that some things are not good for us. However, we are not children anymore. As adults, we have a different perspective on things. We can handle a lot more, and understand a lot more, than we could when we were young. We recognize that choice is better, stronger, more life-affirming than being tied to an outmoded way of thinking and acting. We want to be able to consciously choose to expose ourselves to possible embarrassment, anger, or praise so that we can continue to grow and develop ourselves. As adults, we recognize that we only truly fail when we don’t try. Being unsuccessful is an opportunity to try something different, to practice something new, and to continue to grow and develop. Recognizing this is the first step on the path to replacing the harsh messages with something more empowering.

What challenging thoughts do you experience? How do you deal with them?

Unexpectedly Unemployed? Don’t Panic!

Image courtesy of Eileen Rackus

Being let go from your job is a horrible feeling. It can be terrifying when your life is suddenly turned upside down. Any future plans you have fly out the window.  Worries surround you. It’s only natural that you want to jump into a job search to try to find another job as quickly as possible. But is that really the best course of action?

I’m sure you’ve heard the adage: when one door closes, another opens. I want to tell you that it’s not just one door. There are always opportunities around us. We just have to look for them. This is the first step to developing a change mindset. A change mindset will help you thrive through all of life’s changes. Watch this space for more on this topic.

Now that you know there are opportunities all around us, do you want to keep doing the same thing? It’s perfectly fine if you do. But if you don’t, pause before investing your limited time and energy into a job search to discover what you really want. Here are some questions to assist with this process.

  • What does your heart say when you think about the work you have been doing? What did you like about it? What would you like to be different?
  • Stop and take stock of your life. Consider what you are grateful for. What gives you strength? What parts of your life could be better? What parts would you like to eliminate?
  • Where do you want to go from here? Following are just a few possibilities.
    • Do you want to keep doing the same type of work?
    • Is it time for advancement or a lateral move to something new?
    • Have you been thinking of freelancing, consulting, or starting your own business?
    • How about some downtime?
    • Should you get a degree?

Once you decide, it’s time to make a plan and put it into action. Take your time on this. You’ll need to break down your goal into smaller steps or milestones and identify the actions needed to reach each step. Work backwards from when you want to achieve the goal to set time limits for each step. If this sounds like project management, you’re right. It is exactly like that! Being considerate of, and flexible with, the time, resources, and scope of your plan will allow you to manage change better.

Additionally, you’ll want to have a strong support system to help you through all of this. The people you choose should be your champions. Encouraging you when you struggle, celebrating your successes, and holding you accountable for reaching your goals.

Change is a process that takes perseverance, patience, and a strong but flexible plan. A coach can help you decide what’s next, develop a realistic plan, and support you through the work of achieving your goals as well as with important areas of career management including branding, resume building, interviewing, networking, and much more! When you find yourself without a job, take a few deep breaths and contemplate your options.

Change is a Process

Image courtesy of Eileen Rackus

Everyone has heard the platitude, “change is hard,” but not everyone really thinks about just how difficult change is. Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight understands it isn’t just about portion control. Lasting change often requires changing our thoughts as well as our habits. Why is that?

Habits are behaviors that require no conscious thought on our part. To change these automatic behaviors, we have to start by recognizing when we do them. This takes patience and awareness. In other words, we have to work at it before we’ve even started to replace the actions with new ones. Using the weight loss analogy I started above, we have to become aware of our eating. We have to catch ourselves in front of the TV or computer stuffing chips in our mouth because we are hungry and that was the only thing ready to eat.

Change takes planning. We need to break things down into small, achievable steps. In order to avoid unconscious eating, we need to have healthy food in the house. That means going to the grocery store. It would be useful to have a shopping list before we go. To create that, we would need to decide what to eat. It often involves cooking ahead of time so that there is food in the house and to take for lunch. So, planning cooking time into the schedule at least twice a week is part of the process.

In addition to thinking ahead, we need to consider the past. We form habits for many reasons, good and bad. So, any lasting change requires looking at the thoughts that led to the habit we want to change. We can’t help what we think, but we can change a thought once we have one that doesn’t help us lead a happier, healthier, fuller life. Changing our thoughts involves noticing when we are thinking things that will lead to behaviors we don’t want and replacing that thought with something that works better. Change is a process of trial and error. It can take time to get things right.

Once we have formed a new habit, we must remain vigilant about our thoughts and behaviors. Old habits never go away, according to author Gretchen Rubin. When we become too tired, hungry, or otherwise stressed, we can automatically fall back into ways that no longer serve us. 

One thing that helps throughout this process is having a support system. Loved ones, friends, a coach can help keep us on track. They might recognize a slip before we do. Having someone to listen when we feel frustrated and exhausted, someone to offer encouragement, will be invaluable during the process of change. It is critical when change happens that we didn’t initiate.   

How do you manage change?

Help for the Tumultuous Teen Years

Most young people have to deal with painful problems. Your best friend is moving. Your parents are getting divorced. Your grandmother is dying. We all struggle with these events but young people have a tougher time adjusting and adapting.

There are a number of reasons for this. First, you may not always understand what is happening. Second, you don’t know why something is happening. Third, it is challenging to know if your feelings are appropriate. Last, there is often no one to talk to – especially when your whole family is struggling with the same experience. Fortunately, there are actions you can take to make these inevitable experiences less painful. Often you can lessen the duration of unpleasant events. Change can be difficult but taking action, even if it takes a few tries to get it right, will make you feel stronger.

Stay Calm
The first thing to remember when something unexpected, unfortunate or otherwise upsetting happens is to not immediately give in to your feelings. Try to stay calm. Acknowledge your feelings but focus your attention on the situation at hand. Take a deep breath or two or three. Paying attention to where you are, what is happening, and who might be close by that can help will keep you from ending up in a worse position. For instance, if you are at the mall and someone is harassing you, try not to give in to anger or fear, which often makes circumstances worse, especially if the bully is not alone. Staying calm will allow you to think of ways to extricate yourself from a bad situation.

Talk About It
Another action is to talk about your problems. Seek out an adult that you respect and trust. Explain the situation to them first. This will help you focus on something other than your feelings. It is easier to talk about emotions when we are not held tightly in the grip of those emotions.

If you have trouble expressing your feelings, think about a time before when you felt the same and describe that instead. Time and distance give you a perspective that you don’t have in the present. If you can’t name your feelings, describe the thoughts you have associated with the feelings such as “I don’t want to go back to school” or “I just want to be alone.”

If the adult does not want to talk about it or answer your questions, don’t give up. The subject may be just as upsetting for an adult. Wait a little while and try again. Begin your next attempt with something like “I don’t understand something” or, “can you help me with something?” It is a nearly universal human tendency to want to give help when someone asks for it. So, when you ask for help before telling people what you have to say, you are more likely to get the assistance you need. If these approaches do not work, find someone else to talk to.

Talking about problems can lead to good problem-solving skills. It is always helpful to hear another’s perspective. Sometimes looking at things in a new way can solve a problem or open the door to even more insights. When this is not enough, try these basic steps:

  1. identify the problem 
  2. decide on the desired solution 
  3. determine possible ways to reach the goal 
  4. put the plan into action 

Using the previous example, a positive outcome would be that the bully stops picking on you. In conversation with a parent or teacher, or someone who has been through the same thing, you could learn some tips to make a bully lose interest in you. This advice would include standing and walking tall. Looking directly into the bully’s eyes when speaking to them and not letting your voice go weak or quivery. Avoiding isolated places. Trying to avert a bad situation with humor. What other ways can you think of?

Once you’ve identified the steps to reach a goal, you’re ready to put your plan into action. Sometimes problems are not resolved on the first attempt. You can follow these problem-solving steps again and again to find additional ways to achieve your goal. Other people can be very helpful in this process.

Find an Outlet
A third step, finding an outlet, works independently and in support of the other actions. It is very helpful to have at least one way to release and focus our emotions. Getting involved in music, art, drama and sports are great ways to work off some of your emotions. Such activities are very soothing and healing. They engage us in creative activities that tap into our subconscious and unconscious mind which helps us work through our strong and often conflicting emotions. This, more than anything, will help keep you on even keel emotionally. It will help you to manage your feelings better and give you confidence. Raising your confidence will allow you to deal with problems more effectively and make you less interesting to the bullies of the world.

It’s not easy being a teen. There are lots of pressures on you, both internal and external. Give yourself a break. Try not to get so upset about things. Have some fun. Use your mind to analyze your struggles and talk about them with someone you trust. Channel your emotions into something positive through athletic and creative activities. These habits will help you no matter what situation you find yourself in. They will make your younger years and your adulthood a lot easier.

What ways of managing stress and difficult situations have you found successful? Please comment below.

Simple Living

Life is simple but it’s not easy.  Making the best or right choice in the moment can be hampered by many things.  Peer pressure, emotions, physical comfort, and limiting thoughts and beliefs about our worthiness can have us taking the easy route every time.  Remembering what is important and reminding ourselves that we deserve the best will help us skip momentary, fleeting pleasure for lasting joy and satisfaction.  

Following are some tips to help you live simply and make the best choices.

  • Find Your Passion. When you have something in your life that you are passionate about, you won’t pass time dreaming of a better life or spending a lot of money to distract from the life you have now. This doesn’t necessarily have to be paid employment. It can be gardening or painting or any nearly infinite number of pursuits.
  • Laugh. The more the better!  It not only makes you feel good but it reduces stress, elevates mood, and it’s good for your heart.
  • Stretch Yourself. Exercise your body and mind everyday by doing activities such as walking, yoga, crossword puzzles, reading, discussing challenging issues and learning to play a musical instrument or to speak a foreign language.  You will feel better, learn, and be able to focus more clearly.
  • Feel the Love. Spend time with people you love and enjoy connecting with.  You will be happier overall with this reminder of what is one of the best things in life.
  • Find Fulfilling Work. We spend so much time at work – time that we would rather spend with those we love, time we could be doing something we’re passionate about – so make it count.  Finding work that is interesting, challenging, rewarding, or meaningful can change our whole outlook on life. 
  • Relax. Meditation can be as simple as closing your eyes and focusing on taking slow deep breaths for as little as one minute.  You can do this when you begin to feel stressed, when you want to prepare yourself for a particular event or situation or when you want to achieve a certain outcome.  Thinking the same thought or affirmation over and over can also enhance your relaxation and focus.  For example: “I am calm and relaxed” or “I can handle anything.”
  • Visualize. When you are relaxed create a picture in your mind of you having the life you want, doing the things you want to do with the people you want to do them with.  Make it as vivid as possible using all your senses.  Focus on this vision at least twice a day – when you first awake and before you fall asleep.  This will help make your dreams a reality!
  • Wear Comfortable Shoes. Life is a journey.  There are lots of roads we will travel.  Some are dead ends or go off in a direction we don’t want to go.  If you want your feet to carry you all the way, wear comfortable shoes.

What are your tips for living simply and making your best choices?

Cultivating Happiness

fledgling flowersIn today’s complicated world with all the strife, tragedy and (let’s get real) bullshit, it is not unusual to feel helpless, outraged, depressed or overwhelmed. Life is full of challenges and it is not easy to stand up against society, the government, or even our boss. There are so many things, great and small, that are simply out of our control yet affect us daily or on a deep level. Like most people, I wish for world peace, equality, social justice, and to heal our planet. But each day it feels like we are going in the wrong direction. And, again, like too many people, my day job is not something I love and my duties and compensation structure have changed dramatically. My dogs are fighting all the time. Why can’t they just get along?! Some days it is an immense challenge to manage my feelings. I’m sure most of you can relate, having experienced the same or similar situations. What makes it even worse is that many of these are situations where we have little power to change. So, we’re left feeling sad, frustrated, and angry. And, even if we can mitigate or modify things in some manner, change takes time. So, what can we do to cope when life gets overwhelming or crazy?

Many people look for something – sex, drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, music, exercise – to distract themselves from it all. Of course we want to feel better, especially if there is nothing that can be done now that will dramatically alter a situation for the better. I’m not here to judge anyone. I’ve tried all those methods (and more), with varying degrees of success. But, in the long run, not all strategies will continue to provide the same level of relief and some of these ways of coping can end up causing more serious problems than we were avoiding in the first place. Thankfully there are better strategies that will create more lasting, positive change, even if they don’t solve the world’s, or our workplace, problems.

A therapist told me that lasting happiness is not something that just happens to us. We must actively work to create enduring pleasure and contentment in our lives. Taking direct action of our choosing towards something we want, in itself, will alleviate some of the stress and strife we experience. There may be many things we cannot change in life, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t change. Or that we can’t experience joy and satisfaction. Following are a few suggestions for creating lasting happiness. The more we persevere in our efforts, the greater the rewards.

  1. Cultivate your dreams like they are a garden. Plant them. Water them. Feed them. Talk to them and love them. Give them plenty of sunlight and oxygen. Bring them to life and prune as needed, like a rosebush in winter, so they will continue to flourish over time. In order to combat the conflicts and worries of life, we need to do things we love. Not everyone can earn a living doing what they love, so we must make time for what makes us happy. What dreams do you want to bring to life?
  2. Do things that make you happy. I like to wear dresses. I love the comfort, feel, and how they look. I prefer my day-to-day life to be as easy and stress-free as possible. So, I spend time designing and creating systems that make my life easier. I focus on how best to implement new routines and how to make them a habit. That is another thing that makes me happy. I get to use my brain and make tasks smoother. I love writing and enjoy editing and helping others express themselves better, so I make time to write, to publish a blog, to submit poems for publication, and to edit books, articles, and dissertations for others. I often receive some service (i.e. massage or acupuncture) in exchange that allows me to experience a more comfortable life, physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. One thing I love as much as writing, analyzing, and planning is comfort. Working toward my comfort – whether that is buying flowers, growing plants in my house, eliminating clutter or feeling more flexible in my body – is taking direct action towards something that makes me feel good. What makes you happy?
  3. Attend to your health. It is difficult to be positive or experience happiness when we feel poorly. Aches, pains, upset digestive systems, headaches can leave us feeling tired, bloated, frustrated and sad, sapping energy needed to work towards happiness. Eating nourishing food, moving our bodies, sleeping at least 7 hours every night, and spending time in nature will go a long way to making us feel better and stronger. And that will provide more energy to take further actions toward our own happiness. This is one area that is particularly challenging for me. If it is for you, too, try not to be hard on yourself. Small steps are usually easier to sustain than big leaps, which don’t always produce the results we want and can undermine our motivation and desire to change. Practicing patience and self-compassion will help you stay the course. Change, like life, is a process rather than a destination. What can you do in this moment to foster better health?
  4. Surround yourself with good, like-minded people who will sail with you through the best of times and love you through the periods of greatest discord. It is critical to know that we are not alone in our feelings and struggles. Being understood and supported makes challenging times easier to bear. Remembering all the good things and people in your life will also sustain you. Strategically place photographs and other reminders – like post-its on a mirror or a quotation near your laptop (mine says “Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”) – will also make an impact. The special people in our lives make us feel worthwhile and remind us that we are better and stronger than any stupid bullshit. They help us learn that, even if we can’t change the world, we can change ourselves, how we feel, and how we perceive life.  And that changes everything. Strong, lasting relationships are key to happiness and must be fostered. All relationships take work, but they are well worth it with the right people. Don’t be afraid to let go of negative people or those that aren’t supportive. You can always find good people if you look. Who are you grateful for?

When so much of life is out of our direct control, consistently taking actions that greatly impact how we feel will not only cultivate lasting happiness but will provide us with a sense of empowerment. This begins with realizing that our choices and behavior are our own to do with as we please and that they have a direct impact on how we feel and experience life. Acting in our best interest will foster the joy, satisfaction, and contentment that we all crave. What are some things you do to cultivate happiness?

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