Wednesday, May 28, 2008

It IS Personal

I have heard on more than one occasion that you shouldn't mix the personal with the professional. Well, that's a bunch of B.S. The two are so inter-mixed, especially for those who are moms and who are doing work they love or feel they are doing what they are called to do on a professional level.

And what about the fact that when one is working, they are still a mother, a wife, a partner, a daughter, a friend, etc. Those aspects of your personal life don't just magically disappear when you are working.

Life--work and all--IS personal. It's an expression of who we are, what we love and what we stand for.

So thinking that there's some magical balance or line between your professional world and your personal world is part of what makes working women feel even more crazed. We are striving for something that is an impossibility.

Instead, think about what Total Life Success means to you. How do you want to define success on a personal and professional level? What would feel good to you? How do you want to feel as a mother? As a wife? As a leader? As a woman?

Use how you feel as the barometer for your success. If you have a nagging feeling about working through dinner a lot lately and not eating with the family, make a different choice that feels better. If you've been thinking a lot about wanting some time to do some work outside the home that supports your professional interests, but haven't out of guilt or fear of how it will impact your family, make a different choice that feels better.

It's not about defining yourself in this box or that box and expecting you to only be this during these hours and that during these hours. Yes, we do need some time when we focus on just one thing, otherwise we end up feeling less productive or like we are not present with the things or people we most care about.

But we are multi-faceted, multi-dimensional, dynamic woman. It's okay to acknowledge and appreciate the fact that the personal is mixed in with the professional and the professional is mixed in with the personal. Perhaps if we stop resisting it so much, things would flow a little easier. And we could each experience our own Total Life Success based on who we are, what we love, and how we feel.

Interested in defining your own Total Life Success based on who you are, what you stand for, and how you want to feel? Contact me at nicola[dot]trueinsightscoaching[dot]com for a complimentary coaching consultation, which includes a twenty minute sample session.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Got sleep?

It’s no secret that getting sleep is a good thing, and the impacts of not getting enough are huge. It’s also not a secret that many people don’t get enough sleep, especially working moms. Although it’s one of the most important ingredients to living a happy and healthy life, it often falls to the bottom of the list when you are a busy parent juggling the complexities of both the personal and professional areas of your life.

On a personal note, last night I had a crappy night of sleep. I had trouble falling asleep, I had trouble staying asleep, and when I was asleep my brain was still going a mile-a-minute, which made me wish I wasn’t asleep. So, while I laid in bed this morning wishing that I felt a bit better rested and wondering how I was going to get through the day without snapping someone’s head off, I made a mental note of my plan for tonight based on what I know has worked for me in the past.
  1. Commit to being in bed by 9:30 p.m. and light off by 10:00 p.m. NO MATTER WHAT! This was my intention last night, but darn that laundry needed to be folded and then I got sucked into American Idol (which I never watch).
  2. Turn off the computer and stop all things work related at least one hour before going to bed (which means 8:30 p.m.). You know how it goes, you plan to do “just one more thing” for work and then that turns into that and then you remember that and the next thing you know you’ve spent two hours on the computer instead of the thirty minutes you intended to just finish a small project. Last night for me it was getting caught up in figuring out how to set up a feed subscription for my blog (Note: which you can now do on the right!). It was not surprise that my dreams where about RSS feeds and my half-awake-half-asleep thoughts were in trying to figure it all out. My brain is working on overtime enough when I am awake, I don’t need it trying to work when I am asleep.
  3. Drink a warm (not hot) cup of milk thirty minutes before bedtime (which means 9:00 p.m.). Note to self: this does not mean a cup of warm milk with chocolate in it and whipped cream on top, which is what I had last night.
  4. Exercise in the morning, which improves my sleep by the end of the day.
  5. Allow for at least twenty minutes of no-brainer reading before turning out the light (which means 9:40 p.m.). I often use this time to read a coaching, professional development or self-help book for work purposes. The problem with this is that my brain then starts swirling with ideas and it’s hard to calm it down. On the other hand, when I pick up a no-brainer book or magazine, I find that I can barely keep my eyes open ten minutes later.
  6. Crack window to allow for cool fresh air in the room, which always helps with my sleep.
  7. Spend a few minutes with the light out, my head on the pillow, and my eyes shut to visualize how I want to feel the next day (i.e. healthy, happy, present, energetic, focused, etc.). For I have come to learn that regardless of what my sleep looks like from night to night, the point of my desire for good sleep is to feel a certain way. Sometimes I can feel this way with a night that hasn’t gone so great. And other times I can sleep through the entire night soundly, and wake up feeling like I’ve been hit by a bus.
As a parent you know that nights can sometimes be unpredictable. Creating (and sticking to) a sleep plan for yourself that supports you in feeling the way you want to feel during the day is a valuable exercise. But that’s only one piece of the equation. If you haven’t helped your child(ren) learn healthy sleep habits, it will be challenging for you to stick to yours.

I’ll get on my “Children Need Healthy Sleep Habits” soapbox in the next post. Until then, I dare you to put a plan in writing that will help you get more and better sleep. Try it for two weeks straight and let me know how you feel!

If you’re interested in a blog all about sleep, check out Snoozester. It's got some great links to recent and relevant articles and studies around adult and child sleep.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Photos Tell Powerful Stories

A client of mine just shared with me this piece she wrote as a way of expressing her deep emotion around the recent disasters in Asia. I was moved to tears by it and asked if I could share it here. I am happy to say that she said yes.

Photos tell powerful stories, and I have been struck in recent days by three sets of photographs. All feature similar subjects but in vastly different circumstances.

In one group of photos, taken by teachers in my daughter’s daycare, the toddlers are busy doing art projects, reading books, and going on walks in the California sunshine. The kids are adorable, engrossed in the water fountain on campus and making paper flowers for Mother’s Day.

In another set of photos, a similarly adorable group of young children gathers around a tent, a makeshift shelter in central China. Their orphanages were deemed unsafe following the earthquake and its aftershocks. The teachers and nannies care for not only their current charges but also incoming children, newly orphaned by the disaster.

In the final set of photos, the most disturbing, children’s gray-blue bodies are washed up on the shores of the Irrawaddy River or lined up for identification in the hard-hit area of Burma’s delta.

These scenes strike a chord professionally and personally. I work with an organization that researches human rights abuses and attitudes toward justice and social reconstruction following mass atrocities. Close colleagues were in Burma when the storm struck, and they saw the devastation firsthand. They helped deliver supplies and assisted local organizations to monitor the sham referendum choreographed by the junta.

China’s tragedy also hit close to home. We adopted our daughter from the stricken region nearly two years ago and spent a week in Chongqing, breathing diesel fumes in the sweltering heat. I look at her in the photo with her current classmates and imagine how easily she could be among the children now sleeping in tents, or worse.

The events in Asia seem overwhelming and beyond any one person’s capacity to assist in a meaningful way. So what can be done?

For my own sake, I am motivated to do three things:

  1. Give what I can to relief efforts. I am grateful to people on the ground providing what aid and comfort are possible.
  2. Actually make an emergency plan with my family. Earthquakes and powerful storms are imminent possibilities here on the edge of the ocean.
  3. Squeeze my daughter a little more, tell her I love her and I am glad she is part of my life in this fortunate part of the world.
Written by Camille C.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Movement vs. Momentum

mo•men•tum: the impetus to go forward, develop, or get stronger*

move•ment: the act, process, or an instance of moving*

Lately I’ve been feeling like there’s been a lot of movement, but not necessarily much momentum. I’ve felt busy, but not necessarily like my goals have been moving forward. When this happens, I realize that I feel less productive and present at both work and home. My time is taken up by often small, random tasks (movement) without the intention and focus of really moving my goals forward (momentum).

With the help of my own coach, I’ve started focusing on three High Pay Off Actions per day. These are actions that I determine the night before and list day-by-day for each work day. These are actions that are the smaller steps to my bigger goals.

I’ll admit that it’s felt a bit uncomfortable. Not the concept, because I totally get the process and recommend it to my own clients. Instead, the discomfort has come in the amount of time and energy this has freed up. By focusing on the High Pay Off Actions during my scheduled pockets of time, I find that I am wasting less time “trying” to be productive. So I am spending less time and energy on my work, but the actions I am taking are things that are building momentum, rather then just simply being movement.

Sometimes my High Pay Off Action is just sitting for 10 minutes with my eyes closed connecting to my vision. These ten minutes of visualization does more for me than two hours of pushing papers or responding to emails.

Here’s the analogy: When you are running, you can move your body and expend a certain amount of energy and not really get very far. If you waste a lot of movement in flailing arms or upward motion, you are moving, but not necessarily building momentum to help you move forward. You may finish your run or make it across the finish line, but it’s going to take you longer and you’ll have used a lot more energy.

Compare that to running with a form that supports your intention to move your body forward. You’ll be using yours muscles and movement in a way that builds momentum and with less energy the momentum will propel you forward. You end up finishing at the same place, but in less time and using much less energy.

Are you making choices and taking actions that take your time and energy, but just feel like movement? Or are you making choices and taking action that take your time and energy and which builds momentum to continue to move you forward? It’s your choice!

*Definitions from Collins Essential English Dictionary 2nd Edition 2006 © HarperCollins Publishers 2004, 2006

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Different Approach

I was sent this article earlier and found it very interesting. Patty Wipfler, of the non-profit organization Hand in Hand, recommends becoming a "Vigorous Snuggler" when your children are "caught up in a behavior that isn't working for them or you." Upon the first read, I was a bit skeptical. How does making light of the times your child is not listening to you or doing (or not doing) what you have requested beneficial? Don't they need to know that you are serious? And who has the time to get into a snuggle-fest each time your kid doesn't listen?

But then I tried the approach with my own 3-year-old this morning who has gotten into the habit of whining and making the same request over and over and over, regardless of how many times and how stern I give her the answer.

Following is a recap of our usual breakfast conversation.

Me: "Do you want crunchy cereal for breakfast or toast with peanut butter?" (Note: using two choice option, which I've come to learn doesn't necessarily always work).

Lindsay: "I want you to decide."(spoken in whiny voice)

Me: "OK, I choose toast with peanut butter."

Lindsay: "Nooooo....I don't want toast with peanut butter." (spoken in even whiner voice)

Sound familiar? Then you probably know how the rest of this goes.

But this morning when I asked her what she wanted and she said "You decide" I got down to her level, I "snuggled" her in my arms and and in a funny and light-hearted voice gave her three choices, one of which was a bowl of mud with flies on top. She immediately started laughing and said, "Ewwww...that would be yucky." And then she proceeded to quickly make her choice between the two non-yucky options.

Maybe it was just a fluke this morning. But I'll tell you something, I found myself enjoying the morning much more with her after that interaction. The Vigorous Snuggler concept encourages parents to have a bit more fun in their parenting, lighten-up and see that sometimes you can get the results you want by choosing a communication style that better resonates with children.

If you try this yourself, please share you comments!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Peace Be With You

I thought that I’d want to sleep in yesterday, being that it was Mother’s Day and all. However, instead I found myself wide-awake before anyone else was up. I took this chance to start the coffee and have some quiet time in the house before the other bodies started stirring. What a pleasant feeling. I now understand why a number of moms I know purposely get up in the early hours to get some alone time before the kids wake up.

My time alone yesterday morning was relatively short, but the gift I received during that time was timeless.

I sat down at one end of the couch. A place I don’t sit very often, especially since we’ve moved the living room furniture around. But on this morning, I sat down and immediately my gaze went to the window to my side. Ordinarily this window’s view is nothing other then the side of the neighbor’s garage. But not yesterday.

Yesterday the view was of one dove perched on the top of the garage. For ten minutes or so I sat there and watched this bird puff up its feathers and then “deflate”. And all I could think, over and over again, is that this is what I want to feel in my life—in all areas of my life: PEACE.

I want to feel at peace with my career; at peace with my relationship with my husband; at peace with my relationship and parenting of my children; at peace with my friendships and community; at peace with my body and health. I want to feel a certain peace and contentment and ease. What these things look like is less important to me. How these things feel is everything.

If peace is my feeling of choice, then my next step is to ask myself, “What choices am I making that support that feeling in my life? Which are not?”

We each get to choose how it is we want to feel in our lives. There are many other things I want to feel: happiness, passion, joy, connection (just to name a few), but at the core of all of those, for me, is peace. There are many choices to make in life. There are many paths to choose. I believe that the choice and the path matters less then the peace you feel about the choice or path.

When you are faced with a choice or a new path in front of you, ask yourself these simple questions.

Which will feel more peaceful? Which will bring me a greater sense of peace in my life?

The simple part is asking the questions. The more challenging part is to listen to the answer and then to act accordingly.

I will hold the image of the dove on Mother’s Day as my reminder to choose peace.

And may peace be with you as well…

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Put on your oxygen mask first...

I wrote about the topic of 'Paying Yourself First' previously. Here's another excellent article just in time for Mother's Day that reiterates the point so eloquently. If you haven't read the blog Half Full Blogversation: Science for Raising Happy Kids, it's worth it.

An excerpt from A Different Mother's Day Gift Guide, written by Christine Carter, Ph.D., executive director of Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.

I say take the advice of the airlines: put on your oxygen mask first and THEN help those around you. I’m not saying don’t help those around you, but rather, that should you become faint from lack of oxygen, you won’t be much good to anyone at all. Speaking for myself, I’ve found that a certain core of peace and centeredness is necessary before I can really be engaged in raising happy, compassionate, and altruistic children.

So if you are thinking of buying the mother in your life gobs of stuff this Mother’s Day, consider this: stuff won’t make her lastingly happy, but there are other things that you can do that can. And if you are a mother, consider taking the matter into your own hands rather than waiting for a present to make your Mother’s Day a good one. Here are some things you can do to that are more likely to bring you real joy:

(1) Go out with your friends and have a few laughs.
The most persistent finding we have from 50 years happiness research tells us that our well-being is best predicted by how connected we feel to other people. Do we have lots of friends? Know our neighbors? Are we close to our extended family? Care about our co-workers? People with a lot of social connections are less likely to experience sadness, loneliness (duh), low self-esteem, and problems with....(read entire article).

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Designate a Date Day

Remember what it used to be like before kids when you could wake up on a weekend morning and know you had the whole day ahead of you to play around with your spouse or partner? You could sleep in. You could fool around (wink, wink) in the middle of the day. You could go out for a leisurely lunch. You could take in a movie without worrying about rushing home. You could get out of the house and the day-to-day life management stuff and just enjoy being together…for an entire day.

Why not do that now? My husband and I had a date day on Friday. Yep, an entire day. Well, from nine in the morning until four thirty in the afternoon, but when you’ve only had a few brief hours alone over the course of months, nearly eight in the same day feels like an entire day.

How did we do it? We both took the day off. Yep, he took the day off because he knew he was going to have to work over the weekend and, being self-employed, I cleared my own calendar for the day. After dropping the kids off at school and day care, which they would have been going to if we were working, we started our date day together.

Did we feel guilty? Mildly.

Did we do it anyway? You betcha!

And what did we do? Well, after kissing in the car wash (yes, we felt like teenagers), we spent the first three hours of our date day negotiating the purchase of our car at a dealership. Were we thrilled with the length of time we were there? Not necessarily. But we were happy to be there together taking care of something we needed to do without two young kids in tow. (Can you even imagine trying to entertain an eight-year-old and three-year-old at a car dealership for three hours?)

After that it was off to a relaxing lunch at a restaurant we’ve been meaning to try. The hostess must have known that this was a special day for us as she sat us at the back table for two, tucked away from the noisy crowd. We’re use to being put in the back of a restaurant, but it’s usually because we have the small kids in tow. Not this time. In fact, not only were our kids not around, but no other kids were either!

Next, we killed some time wandering through a bookstore before heading to a movie. We agreed that we could easily spend an entire afternoon browsing through a bookstore, especially without children asking to buy things or climbing up the shelves.

And then there was the movie. We got a good chuckle when we walked in to an entirely empty theater. Hmmm….perhaps another opportunity to steal some kisses? Not quite, because a few others did show up, but the thought made us both smile.

I can honestly say that I really did feel more connected to my husband at the end of the day. We held hands more. We kissed more. We talked more. We definitely laughed more. And we came home feeling happy about our day, happy about our relationship, and exhausted from a day spent focused on us.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Your Relationship Deserves More

Over and over again I hear from women who I am talking to about the concept of having the best of both worlds—a successful professional life and a fulfilling personal life, with the energy to enjoy it—is how hard it is to stay connected in their marriage with young kids.

Having a successful career or running a successful business takes time, energy and attention. Raising healthy, happy and well-adjusted children takes time, energy and attention. Having a fun and fulfilling relationship takes time, energy and attention. For whatever reasons, the first two usually trump the last when it comes to where you choose to put your time, energy and attention.

However, if you really do want to have the best of both worlds, which includes having a loving, fulfilling and connected relationship with your spouse or partner, you need to start giving that relationship some of your time, energy and attention now. If you don’t, the best case scenario is that you’ll be in a relationship that doesn’t particularly feel good to you. Worst case scenario is that you’ll both feel so disconnected over time that you’ll forget what even brought you together in the first place.

I am going to start offering relatively simple tips and suggestions on this blog for giving your relationship even just a bit more of your focus. Try those that interest you and let me know what you think. Also, if you have any other ideas to share, please email me at nicola(at)trueinsightscoaching(dot)com (using the appropriate symbols instead of the words).