Endless Ripple



Ah…how moving I find these little acts of kindness…

hat tip: Shawn Achor





Thursday Thought



thankswonder

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

- Gilbert K. Chesterton

 





Three Steps to a Low-Stress, High-Joy Holiday Season



Phpto by Pablo Menezo

Photo by Pablo Menezo

This morning on the way to school, the kids turned on the radio hoping to hear Christmas carols on the station known for holiday music. It’s the holidays! they exclaimed with excitement. This is, at least to the kids, the most wonderful time of the year.

Many adults love the idea of the holidays more than their actual experience of them–mostly because their list of holiday-related tasks and obligations outweighs the joy of it all. So that I can actually enjoy the holidays, I’ve devised the three-part plan below.

Step One: Prioritize connection. ‘Tis the season for reconnecting. We reconnect with our friends and neighbors through a handful of annual parties. We reconnect with our more distant friends through cards and photos. And we reconnect with our extended family consistently throughout the season–our holiday rituals are what help make our family truly our family.

For example, the weekend before Christmas my cousins always fly in from Massachusetts and Washington and Florida for a big family Christmas party, complete with a funny “white elephant” gift exchange. A few days before Christmas, my mom always makes spritz cookies with the kids, a tradition started in Germany with her mother. We light the candles of the menorah and say prayers each night during Hanukkah, something my husband’s Jewish family has been teaching me and my kids.

All of this is about renewing our sense that we are a part of something larger than ourselves. Let me not mince words here: This sense that we are connected and part of a larger whole is the single strongest predictor of happiness that we have. It is true that the holidays have become depressingly commercial in our culture, with a massive focus what each individual will get and what kids want in terms of material gifts. Soon every news report will include something about how the economy is responding to this year’s wave of massive collective consumption.

But we can choose to focus on relationships instead of individual gift lists this holiday season. Not surprisingly, people who focus on family or religion during the holidays report higher happiness than those who don’t.

Step Two: Schedule the fun, the tasks — and the necessary downtime. There is so much going on at this time of the year, I know that I have to sit down with my calendar and block out time to get a Christmas tree, shop for our Hanukkah meals, take a holiday card photo, etc.

First, I make a simple list of all the things I need and want to do in the next two months. Second, I block off time on our family calendar to actually do those things–including the not-so-obvious things, like scheduling time to update my address book so that our holiday cards make it to where they’re supposed to. (Research suggests that telling your brain when you will do something reduces stress.) Third, I actually schedule downtime on my calendar, like weekend mornings when we commit to not going anywhere or doing anything.

Once I do that, I realize that I’m not going to have enough time to do everything on my list. But I can’t skip my downtime, or I won’t actually enjoy the holidays. And so I have to decide: What are the most important things for me to do and events for me to attend?

That leads me back to Step One: Where do we get the most bang for our relationship buck? Everything that doesn’t serve to connect us to each other or something larger than ourselves gets nixed.

It is never easy to stick to the plan. Inevitably, someone will call to see if we can go ice skating on a weekend morning when we’ve scheduled downtime, and we’ll all want to go. But if we can’t easily reschedule the downtime for the next day, we’ll say no.

I’ll get a lot of pushback on this decision from my family, but I’ll remind them that more is not necessarily better, and that I’m actually not that fun to be around when I’m exhausted.

Step Three: Trade in expectations for appreciation. Most of us suffer from what I think of as an abundance paradox: Because we have so much, it becomes easy to take our good fortune for granted; as a result, we are more likely to feel disappointed when we don’t get what we want than to feel grateful when we do.

This tendency can be especially pronounced during the holidays–but we can overcome it by consciously cultivating gratitude.

We can do so in three ways. First, we can create holiday gratitude traditions (see this post for ideas how). Second, we can intentionally expose ourselves to other people’s suffering, and make a real effort to help. An afternoon spent serving the homeless can make most anyone feel instantly, and deeply, grateful. Finally, we can make an effort to notice when our expectations are leading us to desire something different than what we have–a recipe for disappointment. One of the best happiness tips I know of: find something to love in the moment you are in right now.

As the holidays approach, we will likely feel stressed and exhausted, but we need not feel like victims to this time of year. Our exhaustion is not inevitable; how tired or stressed we get is often a result of the choices we make (or fail to make) ahead of time. So while I think it is too early for holiday music, it is not too early to start making the choices that will lead us to a low-stress, high-joy holiday season.

If this post resonates with you, I bet you’ll love my new stress reduction tele-seminar!

Please join me for three fun conversations designed to teach simple but critical skills for reducing the stress in our busy lives. We’ll be talking about how to be productive, well-rested, and happy — even during the busy holiday season. Reserve your spot now…





Happiness Tip: Practice Saying No



Photo by Sean Davis

Photo by Sean Davis

I am rarely so unhappy as when I’ve committed to do something I don’t really want to do; dread is such a yucky thing to feel.

For better or worse, this time of year tends to bring more invitations to events and parties, more opportunities to volunteer, and more people asking us to help out during the holidays than we could ever possibly accept. When we accept too many invitations, tempting as they might be, we eventually become too exhausted to enjoy the season.

It helps to have (and practice!) a go-to way to say no.

Take Action: Make it easier for yourself to say no by preparing now what you will say the next time you need to decline an invitation. If you need ideas, check out this list of “21 Ways to Give Good No.”

Join the Discussion: What is your favorite way to say no?

Want more ways to reduce stress over the holidays?
Join us for our last live call on this subject at noon on Wednesday, November 19 at noon PST. Or just download the three class teleseries and listen while you are driving, or doing the dishes.

 





It’s not too late to join us live!



   reneeptrudeau   2aaa16c   katrinaalcorn

These conversations are designed to teach simple but critical skills for reducing the stress in our busy lives. We’ll be talking about how to be productive, well-rested, and happy — even during the busy holiday season.

  • THIS WEDNESDAY: HOW NOT TO HAVE A BREAKDOWN. Katrina Alcorn, author of Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink, and I will share our personal low-points balancing our demanding careers and our families. This will be a rich discussion about the tension between the societal forces that make work-life balance hard, and the practical things that we can do as individuals to find ease and joy.
  • AVAILABLE NOW: HOW TO ACHIEVE MORE BY DOING LESS. Renee Peterson Trudeau, life balance coach and author of The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life and I share the surprising secret to our high productivity. This call took place on November 5 and the recording is available now.
  • AVAILABLE NOW: HOW TO FIND STILLNESS IN A STORM. James Baraz, author of Awakening Joy, and I will talk about how to find calm in a world where busy-ness is a marker of importance, and overwhelm is the rule of the day. This call took place on November 12 and the recording is available now.

The calls include Q&A and are held at noon Pacific time. If you can’t make the live calls, you can download them later and listen anytime you’d like.

Access to this Teleseries is Simple

This teleseries is a preview of my new book, THE SWEET SPOT: How to Find Your Groove at Home and WorkI’m excited to start sharing this book with you now – even though it won’t be in stores until January. To access the teleseries,  pre-order The Sweet Spot and send a copy of your receipt to thesweetspot@christinecarter.com. We’ll give you immediate access to the teleseries!

I hope you’ll join us on these exciting calls!

Christine_signature

 





One Stitch Closer



Take control of the life that you want to lead. #womeninspire





Thursday Thought



serenity

“Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.”

Author Unknown





21 Ways to “Give Good No”



6848450969_f4cffcdd45_z

Photo by Derek Mueller

We are coming to that time of the year that is both blessed and cursed with zillions of invitations. Here are some that are in my email right now: Can you meet me for coffee to help me with my book proposal? Will you bring a snack to the 8th grade party on December 19th? Are you coming to our housewarming party? Can you help with my son’s college applications? Do you want to take the kids to see “The Nutcracker” this year?

As much as I’d like to do all of these things, I can’t. When I take on everything that comes my way, I find that I start staying up late in order to get everything done. And then, tired, I start pressing snooze instead of meditating in the morning. Before I know it, I’m too tired to exercise, too, something that is essential for my wellbeing. It’s a slippery slope that starts with me taking care of other people’s needs at the expense of my own, and ends with me being too tired (and sometimes sick) to take care of anybody’s needs, my own included (much less do anything fun, like go to a party). Perhaps this is obvious, but just to spell it out: When we get sick and tired, we have a hard time feeling happy, and a hard time fulfilling our potential, both at home and at work.

But saying “no” can be really hard–I hate making people feel bad for even asking. It takes practice to say no in a way that doesn’t offend people, much less to say it in a way that makes folks feel happy they asked. Giving no that good takes practice. Here is my three step plan.

Step One: Prepare yourself to say “No.”

It is much easier to say no to an invitation when we have a concrete reason for doing so–a way to justify our refusal beyond the vague notion that we should avoid the commitment in question.

This means that we need to create the reason for saying no before we need it–we need a decision making structure, or “rules” to guide us so that we don’t have to agonize over every invitation.

For example, one rule I have for myself is that I don’t go out more than two nights in a given week, because I know that when I do this, I get cranky, tired, and run down. So if someone asks me about a third evening one week, I have the structure I need to tell them I’m not available (but thank you for asking!). Similarly, I only meet people during the workday for lunch or coffee two times per week, I only do two speaking engagements a month, and I only do one phone interview a day.

In addition to making rules for myself, I block out time on my calendar for things like writing (in the morning, when I’m most productive), hiking (in the afternoon, when I need a break), and for tackling administrative tasks (on Fridays, when I’m most inclined to want to just tick stuff off my list). This means that a lot of time on my calendar is blocked out, which can be really annoying to people who are trying to make an appointment with me. At the same time, however, blocking time out for the things I need to do to feel calm makes it totally clear to me when I’m just not available. This makes it much easier to give good no.

Finally, if I’m available to do something, I don’t say yes before asking myself a very important question: Do I want to do this thing, or is it that I feel I “should”? Will saying “yes” bring me joy or meaning? Or will I feel dread or regret when this particular event or task rolls around? I’ve learned to notice when I’m glad I said “yes”; it has helped me realize how much happiness I get from helping other people. (I always try to help my friends’ children with their college applications, for example. So fun.)

One of the joys of middle age is that I now feel confident that if I do only the things that I really feel compelled to do (rather than the things I used to do because I thought I “should” do), I end up contributing more. If I find myself considering an invitation because I’m worried about what other people think of me, or because I think it will “look good on my resume,” I just say no.

Step Two: Say no.

I’ve found it incredibly helpful to have go-to ways to just say no. I mostly use Renee’s “I’m already booked” strategy (see below), because that is most often the reason I can’t do something. Here are some other tactics–21, count ‘em!–that work for me:

  1. Vague but effective: “Thank you for asking, but that isn’t going to work out for me.”
    .
  2. It’s not personal: “Thank you for asking, but I’m not doing any interviews while I’m writing my book.”
    .
  3. Ask me later: “I want to do that, but I’m not available until April. Will you ask me again then?”
    .
  4. Let me hook you up: “I can’t do it, but I’ll bet Shelly can. I’ll ask her for you.”
    .
  5. Keep trying: “None of those dates work for me, but I would love to see you. Send me some more dates.”
    .
  6. Try me last minute: “I can’t put anything else on my calendar this month, but I’d love to do that with you sometime. Will you call me right before you go again?”
    .
  7. Gratitude: “Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and support! I’m sorry I’m not able to help you at this time.”
    .
  8. Give Dad a chance: “You know, I feel like moms are always getting to do the holiday parties at school. Let’s ask Dad if he wants to help this year.”
    .
  9. 5-minute favor: “I can’t speak at your event, but I will help you promote it on my blog.”
    .

    I also asked my friends Renee Trudeau and Katrina Alcorn–two people who’ve honed their ability to say no well–for their favorite go-to ways to say no.

    .

    Here are Renee’s favorite ways:

    .
  10. Just No: “Thanks, I’ll have to pass on that.” (Say it, then shut up.)
    .
  11. Gracious: “I really appreciate you asking me, but my time is already committed.”
    .
  12. I’m Sorry: “I wish I could, but it’s just not going to work right now.”
    .
  13. It’s Someone Else’s Decision: “I promised my coach (therapist, husband, etc.) I wouldn’t take on any more projects right now. I’m working on creating more balance in my life.”
    .
  14. My Family is the Reason: “Thanks so much for the invite, that’s the day of my son’s soccer game, and I never miss those.”
    .
  15. I Know Someone Else: “I just don’t have time right now. Let me recommend someone who may be able to help you.”
    .
  16. I’m Already Booked: “I appreciate you thinking of me, but I’m afraid I’m already booked that day.”
    .
  17. Setting Boundaries: “Let me tell you what I can do…” Then limit the commitment to what will be comfortable for you.
    .
  18. Not No, But Not Yes: “Let me think about it, and I’ll get back to you.”(Renee’s list is from her book The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal.)
    .

    And here are the additional ways that Katrina most often says no:

    .
  19. Say nothing: Not all requests require an answer. It feels rude to ignore a request, but sometimes it’s the best way for everyone to save face.
    .
  20. Let it all hang out: Recently my daughter got injured in gym class. It was a week of visits to the ER, the concussion clinic, specialists, etc. I decided to just tell people what was going on, which sort of shut down the requests for a bit.
    .
  21. I’m “maxed out”: We need a “safety word” for saying no–an easy way to tell people that we can’t/won’t do the thing they are requesting, but that it’s not personal. One convenient thing about authoring a book called Maxed Out is that now I can say “I’m maxed out” and people who are familiar with the book know I’m asking them to respect that I’m taking care of myself, and that I also respect their need to take care of themselves.

Step 3: Don’t look back.

Plenty of research suggests that when we make a decision in a way that allows us to change our minds later, we tend to be a lot less happy with the decisions that we make. So once we decline an invitation, we need to make an effort to focus on the good that will come from saying no, not the regret or guilt we feel about turning down an offer. Perhaps we will be better rested because we didn’t go to a party, or we’ll feel less resentful because we let someone else help out. Maybe saying no to one thing frees up time for another (more joyful) activity. Whatever the case may be, focus on the positive outcome of your effort to give good no.

Because that is what all this saying no is really about: Allowing ourselves to really enjoy what we are doing in the moment, whatever that might be.

What is your favorite way to say no?





Our new tele-series continues tomorrow!



It’s not too late to join us!

.

   reneeptrudeau   2aaa16c   katrinaalcorn

These conversations are designed to teach simple but critical skills for reducing the stress in our busy lives. We’ll be talking about how to be productive, well-rested, and happy — even during the busy holiday season.

  • Tomorrow: How to Find Stillness in a Storm.

    James Baraz, author of Awakening Joy,  and I will talk about how to find calm in a world where busy-ness is a marker of importance, and overwhelm is the rule of the day.

  • AVAILABLE NOW: HOW TO ACHIEVE MORE BY DOING LESS.

    Renee Peterson Trudeau, life balance coach and author of The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life and I share the surprising secret to our high productivity. This call took place on November 5 and the recording is available now.

    .
  • November 19: How Not to Have a Breakdown.

    Katrina Alcorn, author of Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink, and I will share our personal low-points balancing our demanding careers and our families. This will be a rich discussion about the tension between the societal forces that make work-life balance hard, and the practical things that we can do as individuals to find ease and joy.

The calls include Q&A and are held at noon Pacific time. If you can’t make the live calls, you can download them later and listen anytime you’d like.

Access to this Teleseries is Simple

.

This teleseries is a preview of my new book, THE SWEET SPOT: How to Find Your Groove at Home and WorkI’m excited to start sharing this book with you now – even though it won’t be in stores until January. To access the teleseries,  pre-order The Sweet Spot and send a copy of your receipt to thesweetspot@christinecarter.com. We’ll give you immediate access to the teleseries!

I hope you’ll join us on these exciting calls!

Christine_signature

 





Happiness Tip: Stare into Space



Photo by Micheal Evans

Photo by Micheal Evans

When was the last time you just sat down and stared into space? Put your feet up and did nothing? Spaced out in the shower? Okay, now when was the last time you did one of these things and didn’t feel like you should be doing something else instead?

If you can’t remember, you aren’t alone.Many of us don’t feel good about just sitting around doing nothing. But we human beings need stillness in order to recharge our batteries. The constant stream of external stimulation that we get from our televisions and computers and smart phones, while often gratifying in the moment, ultimately causes what neuroscientists call “cognitive overload.” This state of feeling overwhelmed impairs our ability to think creatively, to plan, organize, innovate, solve problems, make decisions, resist temptations, learn new things easily, speak fluently, remember important social information (like the name of our boss’s daughter, or our daughter’s boss), and control our emotions. In other words, it impairs basically everything we need to do in a given day.

Take Action: For 5-10 minutes today, practice being still. Turn off your phone and close your laptop. Get comfortable in a favorite chair or on the couch. Then…don’t do anything. Just stare into space. Rest. It’s okay if you get bored or agitated or sleepy — that’s normal if you don’t do this very often.

Join the Discussion: How does it feel to just sit and do nothing? How does it feel to get back to work after you’ve rested? Share in the comments or discuss on Facebook here

If you are interested in why this practice can make you more productive and happy, or why we are so bad at being still these days, I hope you’ll check out this blog post.

And for more about the concept of achieving more by doing less, listen to this short teleclass that I did last week with Renee Trudeau. We get into some depth on the matter.