I found this fascinating quote today:

With the everyday stresses from work, parenting and budgeting finances, it’s no surprise that stress has been directly linked to causing heart disease, high blood pressure and decreased immunity. In a survey conducted by the American Institute of Stress, about 75-90 percent of all visits to general physicians are for stress-related problems. While it is difficult to avoid stress altogether, there are several ways to relieve stress and manage it through simple and often free practices that can be done at home and work.Workingwellresources, Working Well Resources’ Blog, Apr 2010

You should read the whole article.

According to Gallup’s Well-Being Index, three million Americans have less access to basic necessities than they did in the first three months of 2008, the same year data collection for the index began. In most areas such as Life Evaluation, Emotional Health, Physical Health and Healthy Behaviors, Americans have improved their sense of well-being. In fact, it is at its second highest since 2008. In other areas with less personal control such as the Workplace, there continues to be a lag in well-being.

What does this tell us?

  • Personal control matters.
  • Having access to things that fulfill our basic needs matters.
  • Being connected matters.

We must begin to understand that not only is our overall well-being a composite of numerous factors, but also our collective well-being as a human race. It is reminiscent of the butterfly effect. The wings of a butterfly on one end of the Earth can influence a hurricane on the other. We are all connected. Nature is connected. Despite all our knowledge, it is funny that we still act as if we are not.

Let’s look at an example. Did you know that happiness is contagious? I’m not just talking about a smile you might meet at the check-out line; your happiness impacts the happiness of others in your proximity as well. A recent study by James Fowler that relied on participants from the Framingham Heart Study found that a friend who becomes happier and lives less than a mile from you increases your likelihood of happiness by 25%. Apparently, this goes for your friend of a friend, too. Interestingly, happiness levels were not affected, according to the Harvard University-led project, at the workplace. That is, your work colleague’s happiness levels do not impact your own. Perhaps it has to do with the competitive environment or that you may have a different type of relationship with your co-workers than you do with your friends.

What might the solution be to increasing overall global happiness levels ergo overall well-being? Work with those you love! And love what you do. According to Deepak Chopra’s recent video report, only 20% loved what they did. “It is no wonder,” he states, “that more people have heart attacks on Monday morning at 9 a.m. than any other time.”

What is your dream job? What steps can you take today to get one step closer to it? The happiness of the planet depends on it.

Does slow scare you?

April 29, 2010

When you think of slowing down, do you get frightened? Do you think you’ll be considered a loser, lazy or worse, just plain incapable? The truth is slow is faster and fast is simply exhausting.

Embracing the power of slow is about making the choice to spend your time on the things you are meant to do. Trust your inner voice. It is your wisest ally.

I offer you the opportunity to draw inspiration from Marianne Williamson’s words about our deepest fear in this short film. It might just be the best three minutes and forty-one slow seconds you spend today!

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Happy Hump Day, All! It’s poll time. Let’s vote!

Clutter be gone

April 27, 2010

Sometimes I just get the urge to purge. That dresser drawer that won’t close because it’s stuffed to the gills, but you find yourself tolerating it way too long? The countertop filled with little papers? That basket of folded laundry that never quite made it up the stairs?

Clutter symbolizes an unmade decision. We look at something, stuff it away or drop it on a surface somewhere and label it in our minds as ‘to be handled later’. Clutter is the physical manifestation of procrastination, items in various stages of decision-making (or not).

One way to combat paper clutter is to keep a recycling paper bin outside. Before the junk mail even enters your house, you’ve tossed it. Or open your mail over a trash can.

The change of seasons is a great time to evaluate your closet. As you move warmer clothes to the back and bring forth the warm weather ones, ask yourself how often you wore that neon sweater from Aunt Betty. I eliminated three bags full of old clothes that I’ve had since the mid-90s. It felt delicious to bless them as they went into the bag. “Thank you. You no longer serve me. Fare well and blessings to you!”

If you have a hard time letting go of things in your life, try to let go of a few physical things. Notice how liberated you feel as you open your closet to fewer things and more space. It is one simple pathway to joy!

The garden is a mythological place. It’s the main stage for the beginning of humanity ~ in Biblical terms, that is. It is the showcase of Nature’s riches. And it is the place from which I have learned more about life than just about anywhere else.

You see I have an ancient apple tree outside my office window. I stare at it every day when sitting at my desk, which I do often. It stands strong against the hurling winds with equanimity, just as it plays host to swarms of nearby bees that drink from its blossoms. That is, until last year…

My husband, that merciless plant warrior, pruned its branches beyond recognition after our neighbor complained that its fouling apples dropped too numerously upon his property.

“I’ll be back,” it whispered to me through my tears as I watched the dead branches being neatly stacked for the recycling bin.

The next spring no blossoms sprang from its branches and its leaves were crushed in a hail storm. Haggard and worn, the tree stood in silence as summer folded into autumn, which was soon follwed by a relentless winter that lasted until virtually last week.

As spring finally got around to Germany on Saturday, I worried we’d never see another verdant thing hanging from its limbs. There were indeed leaves emerging, but the blossoms were nowhere to be seen! I found myself comparing a neighboring tree.

“You see! Their tree has blossoms. And ours, well, I suppose it’s all over now…” My own pessimissim surprised me.

Sunday morning I asked my husband if that white reflection I detected without my glasses really was a blossom.

“Nope,” he exhaled, clearly tired of my fretting.

A few hours later, the house was wrapped in silence. The children and my husband were off to their various athletic activities while I sat beside the tree, gazing heavenward.

As I scooped a spoonful of yoghurt into my mouth, I saw it! A merry carousel of buds holding strong against the sun. Then, as if by magic, I detected another and another! It was as if the tree’s promise was unfolding before my very eyes. Funny I hadn’t see it until now…

It had  taken a year to recover from the vigorous purging of the old. It had sought shelter against the storm and had meditated in silence, as any tree does: still, patient, majestic in its unwaivering decision simply to exist. Right here. Right now. Just as it is. With or without blossoms.

What I learned from the apple tree is a precious life lesson. I learned there is a reason for every season, that sometimes we are pregnant with hope and renewal; sometimes we are shattered and torn; and sometimes we need dormancy before we can emerge in all our beauty, too.

As I write these last lines, I see the bees are memorizing the tree’s DNA so that, in time, they will drink from its abundant nectar supply once again.

Thank you, my arboresque friend. You are indeed the poster tree for slow!

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Living a Day of ‘Yes’

April 23, 2010

On those occasions when I’ve been a tad too harsh with myself (or with the kids, for that matter), I institute a day of YES. It’s simple. I say ‘yes’ to those certain things I normally say ‘no’ to.

Such as Nutella for lunch. Say what? Listen. We have been on a non-Nutella diet going on three weeks here. My kids have been well-behaved. So yes, that’s what we’ll be having for lunch (along with homemade crepes, which my dad would fondly call a mere ‘sugar delivery system’).

Then there is the ‘should I not just take a day off from that project today?” Another resounding YES comes from deep within.

TV in the middle of the afternoon? Yes.

A brisk walk to the country store and back instead of a boring exercise class? Yes (I did not get a donut whilst there. I have my limits).

Homework put off until Saturday morning? I feel my yes muscle quiver. Well, alright…

Boundaries are the key to happiness. When they are sometimes extended, we get to enjoy greener pastures before returning to the familiar. Have you thought about how you’d live a day of ‘yes’? You might just find some of the things, such as a little time off, could be the very thing you need.

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On Savoring

April 22, 2010

According to research in the area of positive psychology, savoring can literally expand our sense of time. It is the scooping up of life moments that gives us meaning.

If you’ve ever watched a show such as American Idol, the winners will tell you it was like being in a state of shock. It is a timeless feeling so overwhelming it cannot be savored. While many of us look for that next ‘kick’, the smaller moments such as breathing the smell of your freshly cut grass or cuddling a pet that keep us grounded and most happy. We cannot live in a constant state of adrenaline. It is, in fact, unhealthy to do so.

Life offers us all kinds of choices. This morning I was faced with a simple one. Either I could take the convenient route and drive my car to a local bakery or I could embrace the power of slow and ride my bike.

Which would be the more savoring activity? A car ride offers protection from the elements while a bike ride allows you to experience so much more: the breeze, the dust, the pavement, the cow dung-strewn fields. The fingers of verdant grass literally beckoned me outdoors.

The air’s chill did not deter me as I swung my leg over the saddle of my mountain bike. I used to ride 26 KM a day to and from University. I felt my younger self rekindled.

“I will have a chocolate croissant!” I exclaimed, giggling ferociously into the wind. It was all downhill on the way. In fact, I made it to my favorite bakery within twenty minutes.

Trying hard not to press my nose to the glass, I scanned the remaining baked goods. It was 9 am for pete’s sake! Not a chocolate croissant in sight. I mocked myself for my false bravery as I pointed to an apple danish.

“I’ll have that one.” I mustered a smile.

The ride back was a little more vigorous, but surprisingly less so than I remember (that indoor spinning class this past winter helped). I clamped the bag under my hand as I pumped my way back up the hill, savoring the anticipation of a nice cup of Joe with my danish.

It made the entire experience so much more enjoyable. The journey is the destination ~with a good baked good tucked into your palm, even better!

How will you savor a moment in your day?

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When Synchronicity Calls

April 21, 2010

This morning I was listening to a fabulous interview with Marilyn Nyborg for Women on the Edge of Evolution‘s weekly audio series. She was talking about how women were not present during the signing of the Declaration of Independence or during the drafting of the US Constitution. We are functioning within a system that was built by men for men. And, folks, as Nature is telling us through sustained stratospheric ash , it is no longer working.

As I was listening to her talk, I began wondering how I might address more women’s groups because, after all, I am one. Not to marginalize anyone here, but women fulfill so many more roles than men (if you want to fight me on this one, go ahead, but be warned. I went to a women’s college). We need to put on the brakes to regroup. The speed with which we are currently running is no longer sustainable.

That goes for men, too.

My ringing cell phone interrupted my thoughts. It was a long-time friend who lives in Munich. She was on her way back from Frankfurt (concurrently my husband just arrived there). She wanted to know if I might present for her women’s group, of which she is a board member.

I nearly dropped the phone.

She went on to explain the remarkable synchronicities that have filled her life since she embarked in what she calls self-exploration. We had a tremendous meeting of the minds and I was left uplifted and happy and oh so synchronous.

What synchronicities can you see in your own life? Take the time to reflect and breathe. Remember to leave the door open for it is only through openings that new things can enter.

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Ah productivity! It is a word I truly love. We feel so accomplished, so in the flow, so, so, so…organized! Yet one look at my frumpy desk will tell you I could be streamlining a few things to make my life a little more flow as I embrace the slow, you know?

So I did what any self-respecting blogger would do. I reached out to my network to find some answers. Luckily, I didn’t have to look far. Facebook pal Leslie Obrecht Shreve, a highly articulate and caring productivity specialist, came to my rescue. Just yesterday she kindly called me and offered thirty minutes of her time to discuss her work. I fumbled with my headset as my SkypeIn number rang.

Ever curious, I asked her about herself. She revealed to me that after thirteen years in the corporate world (health care), she felt there was too much pressure and not enough passion.

“Life was going by too fast,” she said. “I wasn’t paying attention to my life.” When she said that, I nearly got a lump in my throat.

Oh, how I can relate to those hours spent chipping away at my soul in a ceaseless grind! Much like myself, she yearned to help more people than the small group that benefited from her efforts. So she, like I, bade Corporate America farewell to journey toward richer shores.

The road was not smooth. In fact, she went into residential organizing (think California closets and clutter control), which she promptly left after six months. “I went back to a business focus because that’s truly where my heart is,” she revealed. “I got away from organizing because to me organization is the foundation of a productive life.”

Eureka! She was on to something. Productivity became her passion. Seven years later, she is still helping people clear the junk that stands in their way so they can manage their tasks better.

We wrangled a bit with the concept of time management. As a proponent of task management, I firmly believe time itself cannot be managed, only the things we do within the time we have. We both agreed it’s about self management. When we are clear with self, we are clear with our lives. Thus we make clearer decisions. And that leads me back to my desk…

Help!” I cried into the microphone, nearly grabbing the monitor as I might Leslie’s shoulders. My desk is an array of, shall we say, creative confusion.

“I have a clothing catalogue to my left, an O magazine in front of me, two children’s books I just must, must, must review to my right. I mean, is that normal?”

It all seemed utterly overwhelming, until Leslie, with that deep-seated calm of the most productive sort, assured me she has a six-step system to clear it all away.

Really? I leaned into the screen to listen more closely.

“It’s all about establishing Mission Control,” she remarked.

Huh? I shifted my weight as I pondered what she had said.
“You’ve got to have the Motherlode to which you refer all things.”

“Like Star Wars?” I giggled, suddenly feeling remarkably childlike.
She giggled, too, making affirmative noises that told me we were on to something.

“Have your computer be your Mission Control. Use the task manager in Outlook. If you’ll be away from your desk, extract what you’ll need on a sheet of paper where you will see it, such as ‘Conference call at 3 pm’.”

I felt a sense of ease glide up my shoulders. You see, I love my little paper reminders that I tuck into my Filofax that pop out at me when I’m at the grocery store or the dentist or the gym. They tell me “Hey, you’ve got your tasks managed, lady. You are in charge!” Outlook seems too mechanized and distant to hand over all the control. I mean what if I have a power outage? I’d be that lone sock flapping from the clothing line. Utterly helpless! I felt a tear well up as I thought about departing from my beloved system that fosters my creative powers.

Leslie’s voice pulled me from my reverie.

“I don’t think there is a normal,” she assured me. “Personally, the way my system has evolved there is access to creativity when your desk is clean.”

Ahhhh….So there it is. “This system,” I whispered, suddenly shy. “Would you share it with me?”

“Indeed,” she smiled.

With the alacrity only the ultra-organized possess, she ticked off the six things we must all know to manage ourselves better. And, are you ready? Here they are!

The six components in Leslie’s Productive Day Success System™:

1)    Organization (foundation for great productivity)
2)    File systems (not just paper, but looking at the file system and organizing and address what’s useful)
3)    Task management in Outlook
4)    Time management (so closely tied to task). Use your calendar tool. “It is neither task or time management; it’s self-management.”
5)    E-documents ; e-file management
6)    Email ~should not be your to-do list ~ You should only have emails in there that you will move to someone else.

She challenged me with her thinking. A size zero inbox? As in, not a single email there? I’ve called for an email smackdown before. There is collosal liberty in the airiness of an empty inbox. In fact, I was thinking of making it an International Holiday, kind of like No TV Week or some such.

“Follow this system,” she promised, and “you’ve moved everything one step closer to done.”

I could feel the chills dance around my vertebrae. Now this was something I could do!

Her closing remarks sealed the deal for me.

“Your most productive day is not first come, first serve. It’s about prioritization. It’s about being proactive, not reactive. Put yourself back in the driver’s seat of your life.”

I thanked her for the goose bumps  as we ended the call, then implemented some of her ideas immediately. I’m not sure my desk will ever be spanked into complete submission, but as a dedicated space for Mission Control it will reflect a bit more order, thanks to Leslie and her fabulous six-step system.

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