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Happy New Year!

Today is the first day of your New Year. No, I'm not looking at some distorted Mayan calendar. That ended along with the end of the world last year. I am looking at a calendar that I utilize with my clients every year, in preparation for making plans and resolutions for the new year.

Part of the failure of New Year's resolutions is we tie them to one single day (January 1) beginning at a very specific time (at midnight). There is a tremendous pressure to, literally, change your life overnight. This pressure is why resolutions and new year's plans are notoriously destined for failure. All success and failure hinges on a specific point in time. What if you don't feel well on January 1st (many of us don't)? What if there are unforeseen circumstances that delay the start of your plan? There is no wiggle room in the traditional resolution format.

It has been scientifically proven that it takes a minimum of 21 days to establish a habit (based on the number of days it took for people to get used to amputations and nose jobs), so I guide my clients through a four-week program (I give you seven extra days as a buffer to insure the habit is completely ingrained in your life). By January 1, the plan is solidly in place, debugged, adjusted and fully realized at a time when others are just starting with a list of resolutions.

There is a method I put my clients through.

Week 1 (Always Dec 3 - Dec 10) - Formulation of the plan, resolution or life change. Yes, you have a week. The more complete and detailed the strategy, the better chance of success. I use meditation, vision boards, writing post dated letters to yourself and a lot of creative digging to get the clearest, most creative image of what the change will look like.

Week 2 (Always Dec 10 - Dec 17) - Test run the plan. That means join that gym, go on that diet (before the Christmas parties? - trust me, get through the most tempting season and you will have no problems the rest of the year), start that new business policy (it's usually an excellent time of year to do this, unless you are in retail) or start that new budget (can avoid overspending during the holiday period).

Week 3 (Always Dec 17 - 24) - Celebrate the week's successes and make adjustment to elements that didn't work. This is your chance to polish and fine tune your vision. The typical New Year's resolution is an "all or nothing" situation. There isn't a time to Beta test it. There is a subconscious "pass-fail" atmosphere that kills the momentum and motivation if we cheat on the diet or miss a day at the gym. This gives you a week to consider a different type of exercise or a different diet. Maybe exercising 5 days a week is not realistic. It's all right to implement a plan B (or C or D or E - you have a week to experiment).

Week 4 (Always Dec 25 - Dec 31) - A nice, quiet week to implement the new and improved vision. Even with the modifications, by January 1, your "resolution" is a habit. Rather than missing a day at the gym you have an opportunity to design a less strenuous or less frequent exercise regime involving fewer days each week or different types of exercise. Rather than cheating on your diet, you can decide to put in an "eat what you want" day. You are the designer and the manager of this new event in your life. Make it challenging, but obtainable. The only way to know what works for you is to live it for a week and then give yourself the freedom to tweak it.

Then at midnight on December 31, sing Auld Lang Syne and lift a glass on bubbly to toast your success, standing side by side with a crowd of people who are  dreading their resolutions that start in a few hours.

Happy holiday season!

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The Power of Failure

OMG! Is he serious!

We live in a world of motivation, entrepreneurship, competing and, definitely, winning. Negative thoughts are discouraged. The law of attraction is our daily mantra. Even using words like "losing", "failure" and  "underperformance" generate negative feelings and emotions, and, many believe, attract those elements into our lives.

FAILURE, FAILURE, FAILURE. There. I've said it and I await the wrath of the gods.

So why do I design team building workshops with a strong possibility of failure? Why do I get ecstatic when groups struggle and fall apart during an event? Why are the losers more important to me than the winners?

Simple.

As much as we would like our reality to be that we never lose, fail or underperform at anything, the world just doesn't work like that. In a team building workshop, it truly is "not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game".  The greatest lessons in leadership and team cohesiveness occur when things are not going well. Does the team realize the need to change directions? Does the designated leader understand when to admit that there is a need to shift strategies? Is the leader courageous enough to admit mistakes? Will the team work in order to shift direction fluidly and without judgment of feelings of regret?

This is where failure can be empowering. Benefiting from failure is a three step process.

First, spot the error and let it go. Don't let pride, embarrassment or fear of appearing weak make you hang on to the original plan too long. Admit quickly when a strategy is not working and change it immediately.

Second, start from NOW. No regrets. No recriminations. No Monday morning quarterbacking. You're not looking backwards, only forwards. There is no way to go back and redo the past, so visiting there is a waste of time. From the moment the error is admitted, it's a whole new game. Start from NOW.

And finally, be prepared to fail again. Many times when a company or individual goes through the failure-regroup process, they relax into the new strategy and assume it is going to work. Having failed before, they are usually hesitant to go back to that painful place of admitting failure again. If there is a second failure, believe it or not, a group is even less likely to admit it the second time.

So whether in business or personal pursuits, embrace the power of failure. Embrace it briefly, and then make the moves necessary to move away from it. Just as in poker, fold often and fold early. The next shuffle may just give you that royal flush.

 

 

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Skip the Rules

My entire business is finding a game angle for resolving life and business issues. Whether it is working with an individual client or a corporate team building program, I have found that people respond to games on a very basic level. There is something about games that touch something in all of us. We like to take that journey back 10, 20,30 or more years, for some of us, to the days when our play was our work. There is a motto that guides me when coaching companies or individuals. Skip the rules.

Chaos is disturbing. Change is disruptive. Novelty is frightening. Why? Because, in these situations, it is impossible to feel anchored. People are often overwhelmed by the massive number of new rules they are going to have to synthesize before they feel at ease. And we have to feel at ease to accept the possibility of growing. Fear of failure is a very powerful demon and this fear is rooted in anxiety over making a misstep. To0 much time focusing on learning the rules both stifles creativity and heightens anxiety.

There was a study done where people were handed  an unfamiliar board game and were asked to play it. Their excitement level was measured - heart rate, respiration, etc. - throughout the process. The highest excitement level documented was when they were first given the box. The lowest excitement level documented was the reading of the rules. There is no way to play the game without understanding the rules. So the challenge is to get the rules out without the drudgery of having to sit and absorb them.

So, here is the way I guide individuals and companies through this boring step. Get on your feet. The new situation, whether it is a new job, a new relationship, a new entrepreneurial  endeavor, a new company policy or an entire company restructuring, can best be accepted, if people are given the opportunity to find their own ways of getting to the desired objectives. And, who knows? They just might find a better way of arriving at the same objective than had been originally imagined.

Role play works well. If anything doesn't work in their "rule choices", letting them know in a fun way (clicker, bell, whistle) allows them to make a new choice on the spot. Make "wrong choices" fun, non judgmental and rewarding. I've taught entire CPR classes this way. No manuals. No videos. Just a group of people stumbling through an emergency situation with a manikin. And every one of them passed the exam and learned and retained more from "killing" the manikin and themselves several times in the process than if I'd bored them with a video and lecture format.

So, skip the rules. Tap into the highest excitement that exists with a new situation and go straight to "playing the game". You will see dramatic results in engagement and commitment to their new world.

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Life Purpose vs. Duty

I teach a workshop on "Finding Your Life Purpose". In this workshop, I start by asking people to identify the values that direct their life and rate each value in terms of how important they are in their life. I then ask them to rate the same values in terms of how well they honor them in their life. In every case where a value is ranked high in importance, but low in fulfillment, there is a common reason. Duty. Duty [doo-tee, dy00], noun, plural duties (even more stifling) - something that one is expected or required to do, moral or legal obligation.

I work a lot with caregivers - professional and family. This group has a high level of guilt when they do anything for themselves. My message to them (and to you, if you are structuring your life around someone else's desires or needs) is that you can only be the best for them when you are the best for you. The first patient (or master) is you.

Synchronistically, as I'm writing this, Bon Jovi's "It's My Life" shuffled onto my Pandora station. I think it is a sign I should end of my workshop from now with this anthem. The lyrics say it all. "It's my life. It's now or never. I ain't gonna live forever. I just want to live while I'm alive." and it goes on.

This is where you say, "Yeah, easy to say. Hard to do". True. The process of starting to live life purpose guided by values instead of duties is bigger than my three hour workshop. I assign accountability partners who are requested to stay in touch for at least 6 months of weekly checkins. The secret is to attempt to do something every day that honors your values and find a way, at least once a week to take control of your duties. This means deciding if you are going to take a phone call when the phone rings (duty) or call back at your convenience (control). Will you go to that party that you should go to (duty) or decline to go in order to do something you really want to do (control)?

On this day before Thanksgiving, I urge each of you to be thankful for all you do for YOU. If you are not living your life purpose right now, my wish for you in this holiday season is that you discover your true life purpose and nurture it to it's fullest potential in the new year.

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Take Partial Control

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

courage to change the things I can;

and wisdom to know the difference.

Most of us have all heard or read The Serenity Prayer many times in our life. I believe wholeheartedly in the logic and sentiment expressed in these very concise and powerful words. Where I take issue with this prayer is the black and white nature of this request.

People tend to divide aspects of their lives into two categories - things they can control and things others control. When we are in control, the resulting feelings are serenity, happiness, accomplishment and improved self-esteem. When we are out of control, usually synonymous with another person or organization dictating what we must do, the results are that we either give up and take on the role of the victim or lash out and exert a great deal of anger and negative energy. These "controllers" can be family members needing care, society that doesn't understand or approve of our choices, our inside voice that tells us it's not all right to take care of our needs or old school management who doesn't believe in innovative approaches.

What I propose is seeking  out areas where you feel out of control and explore the possibility of sneaking in control. Do you really need to answer that person's call right now or call them right back? Do you have to do the task another person has asked you to do immediately? Is is all right to explain that you can't give someone a ride home because you are going the other direction?

I am not advocating revolution or outright aggression, but many times our knee-jerk  reaction to requests and demands is to do them without thinking or analyzing. We phrase our explanations to other people using the words "have to" and "need to", not "want to". I am advocating assertiveness, and a little bit  of manipulation. Take a moment to look at any "have to's" or "need to's" and see if you are making them a priority because you've always made them a priority. Its a bad habit to fall into. On closer inspection, you may discover that you have partial control over when you fulfill these obligations or if you fulfill them at all.

The other,  more insidious, aspect of this process is to continue to  allow someone else to control things in order to build up their confidence in your loyalty to them, all the while making small changes to be implemented later on to regain your control.These small changes can range from seeking out ways to delegate some of the work, to beginning a new job search, to suggesting small procedural adjustments to the "controller". All this may mean "playing along' for a while; however, keep your eye on the ultimate goal and it will make the waiting period more acceptable.

When I work with clients to balance home and work life, this is one of the first steps we tackle in our coaching session. In less than an hour, it is possible to redefine the areas of your life so that you have, at least, a bit of control over all of them. Changing your perspective can change your life.

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End of Month Blues

It's very common for people to have a many items left on their "to-do" list at the end of the month - actions that just didn't get completed as they had planned. Transferring those things to the next month can feel like an admission of failure. The truth of the matter is that these leftover actions are usually part of a project that is expected to go for several months. My catch phrase has always been "change your perspective and change your world". Here is my solution to the end of month feeling of failure.

First of all, any project that will span several months should not be on a "to-do" list, but on a "project" list. The only items which should be on the "to-do" list are the actions which can be completed in a day or week, depending on how you plan your life. This way at the end of the month, your "to-do" list is completely checked off. Success! Nothing to transfer over at the end of the month. At the beginning of the next month (as you will do every day or week), you just go to your "project" list and fill  in your "to-do" list with the action items you plan to complete for the day or week.

The feeling of emptying a "to-do" list at the end of the day, week or month is one of accomplishment, control and satisfaction. Not a bad way to end the month

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You Made Me a Mixtape

It has been a very rewarding and inspirational week. I was introduced to a documentary called "Alive Inside" (available on Netflix) and today was sent a link to The Jewish Standard. Both of these sources demonstrate the power of music on breaking through the fog of Alzheimer's and dementia. In both instances, the introduction of music to an previously non communicative individual has dramatic results.

I posted an earlier blog on how rich the memories of holidays can be. During the holiday season, the veil often gets lowered and you may see a spark of past normalcy in your loved one's behavior and communication skills. And that is great - if only the holidays lasted all year.

This is where music comes in. It can be present all year. Christmas carols can be a part of your loved one's daily soundscape. Why not? if it gives them the opportunity to return to a happier, more connected time, then it makes life easier for you, and more alive for them.

But, what if Christmas music is not the key? How can you make a mix tape that could open the door? If your loved one is able to communicate, simply ask them if they have any favorite songs. Once you know a few of their favorite songs, you can get a feel for the type of music they enjoy and, from there, a simple web search for the  top hits of a genre or of a time period should give you hundreds of possibilities to create a mixtape (or iPod mix or Spotify station or disc drive) for them. That soundscape has the possibility to illicit memories that can result in renewed connections.

What if your loved one cannot communicate their favorite song? Then, start with a mix of all genres and time periods - popular songs from their adolescence, gospel, jazz - traditional or Dixieland, opera, classical, country, blues, show tunes, holiday songs. Introduce the music source to your loved one. Listen to the music together (a cheap splitter can let you share the music over two headphones) and watch for renewed connections. Whenever I mention "renewed connections", I am talking about the smallest change in what is their normal behavior - a smile, tapping a foot, moving a hand to the beat. These small changes are huge leaps for someone who lives in an isolated world. Their small reactions will reveal the choices on the initial mix tape that connect to them emotionally. Now, with those observations, you can take the selections to which they most strongly responded and expand that genre to fill an entire mixtape.

This is life changing work. So for Christmas this year, give your loved one the gift of music. It truly is the gift that will keep on giving.

Happiest of holidays to you and yours.

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The End to Resolutions

New Year's resolutions are fleeting things. They are notorious for lasting a few weeks and then going by the wayside. As proof, my gym is packed the first three weeks of January. I have to wait for an elliptical almost every time I go; however, by the fourth week of January, everything is back to normal and I can work in a mostly empty gym again. So I advocate sitting down now, the first of December and spend a month analyzing what was, what is and what will be. I suggest doing thing in an orderly, 4 week process.

Week 1 - What was (accomplished)

Spend December 4 - 10 journaling every day about all you accomplished over the year. Don't invest a single, long session doing this. Do this in spurts - in coffee shops, while waiting for the kids or your loved one, as you are in bed and winding down for the day. Try to list everything from small ("I found a store with really amazing kale") to huge ("I started my own business"). Don't prioritize or rank. All accomplishments are valuable. Also, list the accomplishments your family achieved. You a their support person, so their accomplishments are yours. Don't guess. Ask them what they have achieved this year. If you are caring for a loved one, ask them. Their reality may be altered, but what they believe they have accomplished is as real as your real accomplishments. One of the accomplishments on your list may be that your father BELIEVES he has started and is running a new business. This process gives you an appreciation of all the year has brought you and gives you an area to refer to when the future weeks start making your feel like you didn't do what you intended to do.

Week 2 - What is (left on the plate)

From Dec 11 - 17, journal about what you would have liked to have happened, but didn't. Don't look on this as wallowing in negativity. Don't get emotional. Just list factually what is still on the plate unfinished. This is also a time to add new items you would like to see tackled in the coming year. Again, involve your family and loved ones. Find out what they still have pending. On the last day of the week (December 17), go through the long list you have created all week and scratch through anything your have no control over. Sure, you would like for your loved one to regain some of their short term memory, but this is highly unlikely. We are creating a realistic list that you can take charge of and carry into the new year.

Week 3 - What will be (your projects for the new year)

From Dec 18 - 24, go through your list of items you can control and assign them to three lists. The "Project" list is for items on your list that have more that one step in their completion,  but that you would like to work on right away.The "Someday" list is for projects that have more than one step, but you see happening later in the year. The "Actionable Items" list is for items which require one activity to complete. Take a week for this. Remake the lists several times until they feel right. This is not an exact science and it is not an intellectual exercise. Notice I said remake the lists until they FEEL right, not until you THINK they are right.

Week 4 - The final plan

From Dec 25 - 31, look at each of your "Projects" and pick out the next one or two steps you can do right away and add them to the "Actionable Items" list. Any step that you find that would take under 2 minutes to complete, just do it and be done with it. Again, take your time. Enjoy the process. Envision doing each item on your list.

Now, start the first week of the new year with an actionable item list, not a resolution. Revise the actionable item list every day by pulling things off of the project list and combining them with tasks that crop up. If a "task" crops up that has more than one step in it, add it to your project list and just put the next actionable item or items of that project on your actionable item list. Now you have started the year with a short list of things you can accomplish every day. These individual, daily lists, taken over time will become projects crossed off of your "project" list allowing room to more items from your "someday" list to your "project"list.

So, as an example, if starting a workout program just didn't get done last year (as it has not gotten done in many years past), the steps in that project might be:

1. Get list of gyms in your area
2. Pick top three gyms on your list
3. Go look at gym #1
4. Go look at gym #2
5. Go look at gym #3
6. Compare three gyms and pick one
7. Sign up for gym program
8. Meet with personal trainer for program suggestions
9. Establish weekly workout schedule and add it to calendar
10.Go to first workout

So, your actionable items that might go onto your list for the first week of January might be only #1 - maybe #1, #2 and #3, if you are really energetic. No need to push. Remember, this is just one of many projects on your list. Small progress every week will result in successful results throughout the new year.

Have a productive and eye-opening month and hit the ground running in January with a plan, not a resolution.

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More Sticks?

We all carry around our own bundles of sticks. These are our various activities, obligations and chores. We tend to get our sticks all gathered up in a bundle that we can manage on a week to week basis - as long as there are no surprises.

So, when we take on the responsibility of caregiver, it is as if someone just handed us a brand new bunch of sticks. It is overwhelming and takes some organization. Anyone put in this situation is going to feel frustrated and put upon. When this new shift in your life occurs, remember, the greatest freedom is the freedom of choice. As you start to add your new bunch of sticks to your old bunch of sticks, you have four valid choices before you.

THROW AWAY

Look at your old pile of sticks and your new pile of sticks. Does everything in the pile REALLY need to be done? Are you doing some things because "you have always done them"? Are there some things your loved one would like done, which are not really necessary? Start by crossing things off your list. No need in prioritizing useless items. Make a "Someday, If Ever" list, if you find items that have been hanging around for months. By putting things on this list, you are acknowledging in a positive way that they may never get done. And that's OK.

THROW FORWARD

Not everything needs to be done right away. With your new obligations, does it make sense to feel an urgency with every item on your list? Get a calendar and place future items in the future - six months, nine months, a year out. There will be plenty of duties that need immediate attention. Spread the sticks out in front of you and pick them up when you get to them. 

THROW THEM TO SOMEONE ELSE

Delegate. When people ask you if they can help, give them a job. Look into house cleaning services, yard maintenance services, laundry services, food delivery services, part time care serviceS and grocery delivery services. Delegating is one of the hardest things a caregiver ever has to do. The main reason behind this attitude is the belief that "if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself". Even though there is a lot of truth in this statement, by overloading yourself, you may start to jeopardize YOUR ability to do it right.

LOOK FOR SIMILAR STICKS

When combining two sets of chores, look for similar items or items that compliment each other. Can your three day a week workout be combined with your three day a week clutter pick up at your loved one's house? Both are physical activities probably best done in workout type clothes. Can you take your loved one's with you for the hour you wait on your kids at soccer practice? Can you have your house cleaning service help you do some of the additional chores you have inherited for a small additional "tip"?

The key to all of these choice is that you have the freedom to design your new life. Be creative with your new bundle of sticks and you will be able to build an exciting and manageable new normal.

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Holiday Memories

Countless movies, television shows and jokes have been written about the horrors of a family holiday together. Any theme that popular must be rooted in a universal truth. Holidays together are wonderful - and wonderfully challenging. Here is a way to find the "wonderful".

When dealing with a person with memory loss, day to day events are easily forgotten; however, big events from their past are often etched into their memory. Just being surrounded by the visual stimuli of the holidays (Christmas tree, holiday lighted neighborhoods, menorah, Santa Clause) can often trigger a vast outpouring of stories from your loved one ("Oh, the Christmas the lights went out . . .").  My mother, during Christmas might forget if she had eaten lunch, but could tell me what dress she wore to the Christmas party at the "Big House" back in 1947. Listen to these stories (sometimes over and over and over) with joy that the holiday season can take your loved one back to times in their life which are vivid, detailed and alive. 

As for you, the caregiver, lighten up. See the humor, even if it is tinged with a bit of darkness. Enjoy the parts of the holiday that are dear to you. Utilize visiting family members to lighten your responsibilities. Don't hesitate to ask for help. Many hands make light work and your loved one will benefit from the variety of social contacts. Plus, your other family members can listen to the story about "the Christmas the lights went out" for three or four times, giving you a respite.

Happy, Contented Holidays Everyone

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Tis the Season for an Anabolic Team

Tis the season for gratitude, sharing and giving. And starting your anabolic team. This is a group of up to ten people (more than ten becomes too hard to maintain) who are your go-to support group. Take a moment to recall all the nice things that they have done for you during the year. Now start a new tradition. Take a moment to email, call or drop a short note to these people who have been supportive in your life to express your gratitude. 

Now, go to your calendar and put a tickler at the beginning of every month, starting in January of 2015 to touch base with these people sometime during the month. I send my anabolic tea different items each month - articles I like, inspirational quotes and just plain silly stuff. When I was in Scotland, I bought small $5 books that I mailed to them for about $5. Total cost: $100. Unbelievable response: Priceless. People are extremely surprised to get something for no reason.

Start the season with this new tradition. It will keep you closer to the ones who are your foundation. It will also give the unselfish gift of staying in touch, not just when you need something. 

Happy holidays

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One of a Kind

If I have coached one family caregiver . . .

I have coached one family caregiver.

The point here is that no two cases are identical.There are three levels of resources available to caregivers.There are also pitfalls to be aware of within each group.

1) Professionals. This will be the doctors, social workers, insurance people and support group leaders you encounter. They are excellent at taking a complex situation and (hopefully) simplifying it into layman's terms. You cannot do without these professionals; however, understand that they have developed their "way of doing things" over years. They usually offer one packaged suggestion on how to proceed. It is your duty as a caregiver to question anything that feels like it is going against any core values you honor. Don't be blinded by diplomas and credentials. Only you know what is best for you and your loved one.

2) Mentors. These are people who have gone through the caregiver role before. They may currently be in the role of caregiver. They love to tell you how they did things and much of what they have gone through will be of value to you. They are excellent sources for finding both Professionals and Resources. Just remember, even though their journey is SIMILAR to yours, it is not your journey. I suggest the "nod and smile" technique. Listen respectfully to what they share with you, then sort through the information and decide what is right for you. How will you know? Trust your intuition. When in doubt, try a trial run on the suggestion, but set up a reevaluation time within the month to see if the suggestion has been beneficial to your unique situation.

3) Resources. These are the most plentiful and overwhelming. These are web sites, blogs (yes, thats me), newsletters, books, magazines, etc. These really require a judgmental viewing. I read 10 blogs and 4 newsletters on aging and Alzheimer's. Not a week goes by that I don't read conflicting information. These are great sources of validation because they confirm that there are one of a myriad of people going through a situation SIMILAR to yours, but not identical. Again, trust your instinct when culling through this information to decide what works and doesn't work for you.

Shameless plug: i am a huge advocate of taking on a coach who will ask you the questions which will key into the unique, personal answers that you have within you. I had a coach while I was going through my role as caregiver and it changed my life. It helped me to keep "me" at the forefront and to make decisions which supported both me and my mother. for more information, please go to my web page (another Resource) at www.roadlesstraveled-errol.com and enjoy my other blogs and discover what I can do to help you design your "one of a kind" journey.

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The "Healthy Ignore"

There are many reasons that caregiving becomes an overpowering burden. The main reason is that as a caregiver, you feel an obligation to make certain that your family member receives the best care possible. The old phrase, "if you want something done right, do it yourself" becomes your mantra. This is a valid belief, because studies show that in the majority of cases, a family member is in a caregiver role due to the fact that they are the only family member able or willing to take on the responsibility.

What I am going to suggest to you is to adopt a "healthy ignore". This means setting aside time for yourself every day. This is sacred time and, barring an emergency, should not be given up without a fight. You will have to decide how much time you are comfortable taking for yourself. Start small - fifteen minutes a day - and see how you handle that time out. Slowly increase it. 

What I mean by a "healthy ignore" is that if a phone call comes in, ignore it. if you are dealing with a loved one who has access to a phone, you may get twenty phone calls a day. There is no need to answer every one. Will you feel guilty about not answering? Will there be fear and concern that something is really wrong? Absolutely. But you need an uninterrupted break for yourself every day. By experiencing this "healthy ignore", you are caring for yourself, which, in turn, will make you a more effective and productive caregiver. You may also become comfortable with answering every other phone call throughout the day.

Remember, you are your first patient.

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Keeping Gratitude in Your Life

Whether you are a new or seasoned caregiver, it is very normal to focus on all of the chores, obligations and scheduling that accompany your role. It is easy to feel put upon. In this environment it is easy to go though your day and not be aware of the wonderful things that have occurred. it is important to keep a balance during this stressful period, and I suggest clients utilize a technique I call "Three Gratitudes".

When you wake up in the morning, on a piece of paper list three things you are grateful for. This can be as simple as:

1. A great night's sleep
2. A wonderful shower
3. An amazing cup of hazelnut coffee (can you tell what I am enjoying right now?)

Keep this list with you at all times. A small journal or notebook works great for this. As your day progresses, if something happens that is better than one of the three things on your list, go to your list and cross an  item off and write the new gratitude item at the bottom. At the end of the day, look at your three items. On an uneventful day, you will still have three things for which to be thankful. On a gratitude filled day, your page will be filled with scratch throughs and the three "cream of the crop" gratitudes will be there for you. Even the multiple scratch through's will be visual evidence of how incredible your day was.

Caregiving is not easy, but maintaining a balanced perspective will keep you moving forward every day.

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Yes, You Can Be Angry!

Every week a family caregiver quotes to me the cliched mantra, "They took care of me. Now it's my turn to take care of them". This is an honorable sentiment; and I am not advocating that people, who are obligated (yes, it is an obligation) to take care of a loved one, not cling to that foundation principle. I am saying, hold your chin up too long and you're going to get a crick in your neck.

No matter how slowly a disease progresses, the moment that a person takes over a caregiver role is always disruptive. I don't care how carefully you have prepared in advance for your new role, the gap between the imagined and the reality is huge.

Most people believe that you should just take the surprises in stride. It's that "they took care of me" thing. The new caregiver also often takes the unhealthy approach of letting any negative emotions which slip in make them feel guilty and selfish.

Here is the reality of the situation. Your life has just been derailed, upended and scrambled. You have to completely create a new schedule, a new set of priorities and a new "normal". By ignoring emotions like resentment, anger and disappointment, caregivers are increasing the stress and anxiety which are already inherent in their new caregiver role.

If this describes you, here is what you need to do today. Accept and embrace these negative feelings without guilt or concern. Write down every aspect of your life which has been effected by your new role as caregiver. Leave space after each item so you can now list all of the emotions that these changes makes you feel. Finish your list. Have a good scream. Have a good cry. Have a good cocktail. And tell yourself that what you are feeling is perfectly normal - that anyone going through what you are going through is feeling the exact same way.

This lets you see all the ways this new OBLIGATION has effected your life and helps you accept that these negative emotions are not bad, or selfish, or hateful. These emotions are human and normal in your new situation. From this point forward, you can allow yourself to feel these emotions when they creep in without judging yourself. Self-awareness is self-mastery.

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Detached Involvement - Why it is important when choosing a coach

Detached involvement is the backbone of my coaching practice.

What is the difference between a coach and a mentor. A mentor has walked in your shoes before and can tell you what the best path was FOR THEM. As a coach, I believe that the best answers FOR YOU come from within you. I have the questions, you have the answers. Both mentors and coaches have their places when it comes to major life transitions, but when dealing with a mentor, remember, you are a unique and special person and your path is different from everyone else.

I am here to help people uncover their own personal solutions, not offer suggestions. We can brainstorm and I may throw out suggestions. I may see a point where 1 + 1 = 2 and my client is not seeing it. In that case, I will clarify the situation for them, but always I will make it clear that they can disagree with the observation.

I was speaking with a friend last week who was strongly encouraged by their mentors to rush their transition process. The idea was to transition quickly as a sign of commitment. Since this transition process involved physical changes, my friend wanted time to adjust to the changes. She stood her ground and proceeded at her own pace, and was happier because of it. 

Because of detached involvement, I don't have to be a surgeon to coach a surgeon. I don't have to be a member of the LGBTQ community to coach someone from that community. In fact, when I coach an actor or a freelancer, I have to constantly monitor myself to make sure I don't slip over into that mentor role and start offering suggestions. I've walked in those shoes and I have to remember my path is not the same as my client's path.

I am emotionally involved with every client - detached involvement. This means that I celebrate and champion their successes. I struggle with them as they overcome their roadblocks. I have the wonderful blessing of traveling successful, fulfilling journeys with up to 14 people at any one time. Every day brings exciting milestones and amazing breakthroughs.

So when looking for a coach, it is perfectly normal to align with someone who is "just like you", but remember, no one is "just like you". Finding a coach who understands that and is passionate about helping you find your unique path is essential. 

I am starting to take on a few new clients starting in April. I love meeting people by offering a free two-hour coaching session to see if we work well together. Send me a message, if you are interested. I work with people in transition to maintain balance in their life through the transition process in order to reach their full potential in all areas of their life. 

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6 Steps to Finding Your Dream

What is your purpose in life? What are you meant to be doing? What path would lead you to your fullest potential? What is your passion? We are each here for a special purpose. The problem is that many people don't seek out their special purpose. Others may know what their special purpose is, but they think it is too hard. Or that they are too old. Or that no one would ever take them seriously. 

The people who have changed the world, who have followed their dreams and passions, have had the same doubts and fears. The difference is that they ignored them, overcame them, and went for it.

But, what if you are unsure of your path, your place in the universe. Here is a six step process to hone in on your passion and make your choice clearer, and, hopefully, provide you with the confidence to plunge forward.

1. Dream, Dream Big, Dream Bigger

On a sheet of paper write down three levels of your dream. If time and money were no object what is your ultimate dream, the minimal dream that would make you happy and a manageable middle dream. For example, your ultimate dream may be to win an academy award, the minimal dream may be to make a living by acting exclusively. The middle level might be to make enough from acting to move and live in LA. Do not cop out and make your minimal dream just a "satisfaction". Doing two community theatre shows a year is not a minimal dream. Nothing against community theatre. I love and respect it, but it is not a dream. Your minimal dream should be huge. It's just that the other two dreams should be huger.

2. 3 X 5 Friends

Poll 5 friends and ask them for three dreams. If they could look forward in time, what can they imagine you doing. This is not three levels of one dream. This is three distinct dreams. We have all looked at certain people and said, "They are going to change the world someday". If they give a vague answer like that, simply ask them to be more specific. Ask them "how?".

3. Create your dream path

If your rubbed a magic lantern today and the genie gave you the ability to design your future life, what would it look like? Go back to your biggest dream and expand on it. Take some time with this. This is not a one-sentence answer. Write several paragraphs about your biggest dream - where you live, what a typical day is like, who your friends are, how you spend your vacations. By looking at this dream 3-dimensionally, people sometimes discover that what they believe is motivating them initially is not the true motivation, at all. Winning an academy award may just be a way for you to gain enough clout to finally direct your own movie. Or it may represent making enough money to open an inner city school for the arts. 

4. What issues move you emotionally?

Finally, list five issues or topics that touch your heart. Our dream path often is easier to follow it we have an emotional connection to it. If you are building a business that allows you to take time to volunteer for animal rescue, you will have an added incentive to make that business succeed. If your acting makes you more visible to be an advocate for the homeless, you will pursue it with more fire.

5. Now, stir.

Set aside an hour with your favorite beverage and mix all of the information together. You will see certain patterns emerging. You may find two different paths. Is there a way to bring them together to pursue both at the same time? Is there a way to prioritize them, pursuing one now and letting it lead to the second path sometime in the future?

6. And, take action.

Now that you know your dream path, commit to do something, ANYTHING, within the next three days to start yourself along your chosen path. This action is your validation that you believe in your dream enough to pursue it.

Have fun discovering your roadmap to your dream and I will see you on the other side.

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The Only Constant is Change - The Value of a "Fill-In" List

Do you write all of your appointments in pencil. Is your calendar in a constant state of flux? If so, welcome to the real world. In all of my years of keeping a calendar, rarely have I made it through a week without someone canceling an appointment, changing an appointment or some other surprise appears to make me use up the eraser on my pencil faster than the lead. But I have developed a strategic tool over the years which minimizes the shuffling and maximizes my control

I call it my "fill-in" list.

When someone cancels an appointment or reschedules, you are often left with a surprise gap of free time. Trying to fill this gap of free time with projects which are already allocated for different times and dates in the future in your schedule may seem like a great way to get ahead. This is true, in some respect, but we are creatures who like order and control. The more order and control we can claim during times of change, the more anchored we feel. Trying to work ahead on a project and move everything forward often times creates a domino effect and a gap in time later. Or it creates earlier deadlines on some aspects of the project which may add unnecessary pressure.

For example, suppose you had an appointment cancelled on Monday and you decided to start on a project that was originally planned for a week later. Does that mean you have to work all weekend to prepare to start the project? Will moving the project into the Monday slot create a gap of downtime later while you wait on parts of the project to catch up to the new earlier schedule?

As an alternative, keep a "fill-in" list of tasks that are necessary, but not urgent. This is your list of things to do when you have a few minutes at the end of the day. Well, now you have several hours. By going to this list, you get things accomplished that you didn't plan for the week. It really feels like a surprise gift. You also don't disrupt the flow of your other work (God bless PERT charts) or cause any unforeseen backups or gaps. Some of the things on my "fill-in" list are tasks like: write the intro to my book, read an article on aging in the LGBT community that a friend sent me, fill out a brainstorming sheet on video presentations. These are items that I would like to do someday, but there really is no deadline on them. You may want to write an estimated time on the tasks. This really helps on choosing what items might fit a specific gap of time.

"But, Errol", you say, "don't you feel guilty doing these non-essentials when you have that major workshop to create for May?" The workshop preparation day has been on my calendar for April 10 for two months now. I put it there because I have all day to work on it and it still gives me plenty of time to run it with test groups over the weeks between preparation and actual presentation. This has a great deal of thought behind it before I placed it on my calendar. This new gap of available time really doesn't change where that workshop prep needs to happen. In fact, trying to do part of it during a smaller gap of time, as opposed to devoting a day to it, is actually counterproductive. The key word here is control. I am in complete control by "filling in" random later tasks - much more than shifting my entire life ahead by 4 hours.

This may not work for everyone, but I find it is an effective way to minimize change and maximize control. I actually embrace change with a positive attitude because I get to move a few things off of my "want to do, but they really have no deadline" list.

Try it. You might like it.

 

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My Creativity Cocktail

So you need to write a workshop, come up with a company party theme or get over writer's block on your new play. I am going to share with you my personal creativity cocktail that works for me every time. If I asked you quickly to name a flower and a color, most of you would say "rose" and "red". Believe me, I have proven this in over 20 creativity workshops throughout my training career. Why do we immediately go to those answers? They are short and sweet and they solve the presented problem quickly. But, do they solve the problem in the most creative way? What if I were to give you a sheet of paper and ask you to name 10 flowers and colors? 20? 50? 100? Now you would have to be creative - dig into your memory and subconscious to "come up with every flower and color you have ever known", as one workshop participant recently complained to me. You may even push the creativity envelope and start making up names for flowers and colors. But among your colors and flowers would be a color or flower that no one else had come up with - and that is what we are looking for in creativity.

When presented with a problem or challenge, sit down with a sheet of paper and make yourself come up with 20 solutions. 50? You may very well come back and select the first choice, but you will choose it from among many, instead of just leaping at the first choice to be done with it. Use pictures out of the newspaper of magazines to suggest ideas. Find a person in the source material and ask yourself, "If I were that person, how would I solve this problem?". So the first two ingredients for the creativity cocktail are a requirement to have some sort of visual stimulation and a requirement to come up with multiple ideas. You decide how many, but I usually go with 22, since my source material is usually the Major Arcana of a Tarot deck.

Now let's add the final ingredient to the mix - fatigue. Brainstorm on your project late into the night. As you get more tired, your inner critic and editor are less likely to say, "That is a stupid idea". Your brain is more likely to make unfamiliar connections as it gets more fatigued. Definitely write everything down during one of these late night sessions, since memory is hindered by the fatigued state, as well.

So get that sheet of paper, grab some magazines, brew that pot of coffee and create something unique and wonderful.

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U B U!

The worst thing you can try to do is to mimic someone else. I am not saying you shouldn't accept their guidance, warnings and advice; but, remember, everyone's journey is unique and valuable. Sure, finding a mentor who has already traveled over the road you are planning on covering can offer priceless advice on how to avoid the potholes, roadblocks and slippery spots; however, to truly travel your own road less traveled requires the awareness of how you want your journey to differ from anyone else's previous journey.

I work exclusively with people who desire to travel their own roads. Only you know what works for you, so you are the most qualified person to plan your future. Steve Jobs said it very well:

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by Dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

Nuff said? Question everything. Create everything anew. See things in new ways and combinations. One of the major principles I push in my coaching practice is that the first answer is not always the best answer. The first answer is often influenced by two things - the desire to get to a solution quickly and, often times, the parroting of other people's solutions - not your own. I am always asking my clients, "What is another possibility?". Usually three or four answers later, we finally get to some very creative, individual ideals.

I have three clients who have moved on this month, well on their way to achieving their own unique dreams. This leaves me with the wonderful opportunity to start working with three new people. If you have a dream that you have always wanted to pursue; if you are in the middle of the journey and need a boost; if you are tired of living everyone else's life and have an idea of what your road looks like, contact me. We can do a single coaching session to start the journey.

And most of all - U B U. You know you better than anyone, so why seek a second opinion.

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