The Benefits of Like-Mindedness

Why Birds of a Feather Really Should Flock Together (What's in it for the Birds!)

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

All for one and one for all.”  ― Alexandre DumasThe Three Musketeers

Fraternity. Community. Brethren.  Allies. Team. League. Group. Alliance.  Tribe. Flock. …

These words –  and many more – all describe the same basic premise and the same basic truth: Comfort, and even strength, are often found amongst like-minded individuals.

This isn’t groundbreaking  information, of course. Since the beginning of time, people have realized that there’s strength in numbers. They’ve also known that hanging out with people who have similar interests, goals, and situations to your own provides you with a comforting feeling of normalcy.

Ironically, as I’m typing these words, there are 6 doves on my windowsill.  (I keep birdseed and black sunflower seeds on the windowsill beside my computer desk. This, combined with bird and squirrel feeders in our yard provide me with endless little cuties to distract me throughout the day. Jury’s still out on whether that’s actually a good thing or a bad thing.)   While there are exceptions, generally speaking, doves will show up to dine together.  I’ve never had, say, a cardinal and dove show up together.

Birds of a feather, literally, flock together.  Even nature knows the strength and safety that comes from community.

As I said in a recent post about Finding Silver Linings, my body has decided that it can no longer tolerate gluten (a protein found in… well… many things) in any way what-so-ev-er. It calls the shots, so I’ve had to change my relationship with food entirely – the way I eat, cook, and even think about food is now completely different from the way I had for my entire life.  Suffice to say that “entire” encompasses a healthy number of birthday candles over the years.  And, no, I don’t want to think about the bonfire they could combine to build.

Early on in my Gluten Free world, I found a wonderful key to sanity and happiness:  Surrounding myself with others who trudging along the gluten free trail.

Moving hundreds of these people into our home seemed extreme, so I simply found other ways to build my own private little support group:

  • On Twitter and Pinterest, I searched out Gluten Free Magazines, Gluten Free Food Manufacturers,  authors, and website accounts and followed them.  Then I looked at different accounts that interacted with them and chose certain ones to follow as well.  Soon my Twitter timeline and Pinterest feed were filled with recipes, tips, encouragement, ideas, food reviews, etc.
  • I signed up for different e-newsletters from these same experts – now my inbox is also a wealth of information and inspiration.
  • There are several Gluten Free magazines I want to subscribe to and I’ve started a cool collection of Gluten Free cookbooks.

Doing all of the above had several benefits:

  1. I was able to see scads of smiling people who weren’t only living with their dietary limitations but seemed to love it.
  2. I’ve lost count of the number of great ideas I’ve come across that I would NO WAY have come up with on my own.
  3. There’s a lot to be said for feeling like you’re part of a community.
  4. It’s exhausting to always have to check products and recipes for gluten – when I see e-mails, tweets, and pins from these “safe havens,” it takes the guess work out of it and I feel almost normal. Okay, normal for me.

Naturally  “gluten free”  birds aren’t the only kind of birds available for flocking. Any area of interest, conviction, employment, aspiration, hobbies, dreams, causes, or needs you have can be supported and strengthened by finding like-minded people. Simply replace “gluten free” in the 3 examples above with your own personal subject….

  • parenting
  • cats
  • Christianity
  • dogs
  • self help
  • sales and marketing
  • adoption
  • blogging
  • writing
  • photography
  • empty nest syndrome
  • weight loss
  • vegetarianism
  • loneliness
  • leadership
  • yoga
  • pilates
  • meditation
  • paleo diet
  • wildlife preservation
  • tea reviews
  • bird watching
  • college tips
  • etc. etc. etc…

This is one of those things in life that, while it seems so obvious and  even simple,can make a big difference in your life.

Tip: “Hacks” is a GREAT search term (Google or Twitter) to use behind your area of interest – for example “college hacks,” “weight loss hacks,” “saving money hacks,” etc.

Good…. Better…. Best

As Your Choices Move Up the Scale, your Results Will Follow

Good Better and Best

Have you ever wrestled with something that was kind of in a gray (or grey for our British readers) area?  Maybe it was a habit that you couldn’t really call “bad” – but, at the same time, you certainly couldn’t call it “good.”

Years ago, a friend and I were having one of those deep conversations that can only take place over pizza. In fact, it was just me, her, two tall glasses of Coca-Cola and an extra large pizza with mushrooms, onions, and green olives.  That’s what I loved about her – she liked the same pizza toppings I did.

The girl had such good taste.

Although, like a fairy tale, it was a long long ago, I distinctly remember our conversation. We were both young mothers at the time, with lots of little girls between us – and the prospect of raising daughters, in what seemed at the time the toughest time period to do so led to many heart-to-heart “mommy conversations.” Little did we realize that late 1990′s and 2000′s would make our particular time period look like Little House on the Prairie. Even then, however, things kids were exposed to in music, television, and movies was reprehensible. We may have been pizza drunk, and we may have been incredibly young – but even we knew that life choices and decisions should be broken down into three categories:  Good. Better. Best.

Sure, watching this television show (compared to the rest) is good… but is there a better option… and, then, is that the BEST option?

Over the years, a lot of things have changed. After frequent moving on both of our parts, I’ve totally lost contact with my pizza buddy. Thanks to gluten intolerance, I no longer sit in restaurant booths shoveling pizza in my mouth and, thanks to a metabolism that IN NO WAY got better with age, I no longer drink Cocoa Colas. What is it with metabolisms, anyway? Why do they turn on us?

What hasn’t changed, though, is the fact that we should all periodically take stock of how we spend our time, the choices we make, and the the way we’re playing this game called life.

First thing we need to do is to own the fact that everything we willfully do throughout the day is because we made a choice.  If someone buys a Big Mac and large fries, they chose to eat something profoundly unhealthy.  It didn’t just happen.

If we squander our time and, at the end of the day, realize that we didn’t get a darn thing done – we chose that path. Unless someone tied us to a chair, the choice was made by only one person – and that’s the person we see in the mirror.

Every action we make or inaction we take, we choose to do so.  That’s why, whenever it comes time to talk about self improvement, self growth, or self help, the first thing we have to hold accountable are our choices.

They lead the way – everything else just follows.

One of the fastest and most efficient ways to get the most out of these choices is to give honest answers to these questions:

  • Does anything GOOD come from this?
  • If not, why am I doing it?
  • If something GOOD does come from this choice, is there a choice I could make that would bring about an even BETTER payoff?
  • If there is a BETTER choice… is it the BEST choice?

Let’s look at a quick example, because if you’re anything like me, that’s where things really begin to take shape.

I don’t have to tell you how important it is to eat healthy. You don’t look like a perfect idiot to me, so I know you get that.  We tend to kind of “misplace” this bit of common sense as soon as we drive past a fast food restaurant, don’t we? We’ll see a sign that says something like Free Drink When you Buy Two Juicy Cheeseburgers and Large Fries, and automatically say through a smile, “Don’t mind if I do.”

While the convenience of this choice might appear GOOD, I’m pretty sure we can do better.

How about ordering just one burger and an unsweet tea? That’s BETTER…. but, can we do even better than that? Is there a BEST option available?

Absolutely.

The BEST decision would be to either go home and have a wholesome, cheaper, lower calorie lunch or find a Subway and “eat fresh.”

Let me guess, it seems like a small thing, right?  But that’s kind of what choices are  - they’re the small brush strokes that paint the big picture.  Now, which is going to make the best picture – the best strokes, of course.

Same thing with self improvement – if you want the BEST you, you have to practice making the BEST choices.  Unless, of course, you just want to settle for a “good” you…

I didn’t think so.

If you want the BEST from yourself and the BEST from life, it all starts with making the BEST decisions.  Like a single unit, they will all move in the same direction.  May as well swing for the fences!

 

One Small Step Can Open a Whole New World

Don't Let Life Slip Away from You!

No Line Bifocals

I know, better than anyone, that my advice isn’t worth pure gold. Even on my best day, I’d never suggest that anything I have to say is worth a $20 bill. Someone once suggested that I charge people to read certain articles on Self Help Daily. I was relieved that he suggested it in e-mail, so he didn’t have to see me throw my head back and laugh as I said, “Oh, that’s a good one!”

I don’t have an over-inflated sense of myself or anything about me… well, I take that back. I’m beyond cocky about my cooking. I’m pretty sure that if anyone ever told me something I cooked or baked was less than a 10 on a scale of 1-10, I’d grab them by their neck collar and throw them out of my kitchen, all the while asking them how they managed to live to this point with absolutely no taste buds.

I’d offer to set up a fund and solicit money to buy them a new tongue – one with taste buds that actually function. I’m just charitable like that.

In all seriousness (an area I seldom visit), the advice I’m about to lay on you is golden. It’s the best advice you will get all year.

I’m not being cocky.

I’m not being grandiose.

I’m simply being honest.

If you have anything in the world that stands between you and enjoying the world to its absolute fullest, I plead with you to take the one small step to navigate around it.

I have been needing new glasses for years. YEARS. But, like most people, I kept seeing other things that I’d rather spend time and money on. Looking back, I know just how ridiculous I was. I’d even go as far to say that I was foolish.

Since I’d last gotten a pair of glasses, my vision has changed a great deal. I could tell when driving or riding in a car, for example, that I couldn’t read signs I was pretty sure I once read. When reading a book or the back of a cereal box, for that matter, I always had to take my glasses off or peek over the top in what I always termed my “annoyed librarian look.” The kind of look a librarian throws to kids who aren’t talking with their “indoors voice.”

The vision change happened so gradually I wasn’t fully aware of just how much I was missing. I knew that I had been slacking off on my writing and reading, but I guess (somehow) I never attributed it to the simple fact that trying to SEE the words I wanted to type and read had become such a challenge.

I knew I needed stronger glasses and I knew I needed bifocal lenses. But I kept putting it off – for years. And years. It wasn’t vanity because thanks to AMAZING technology, today’s bifocals look exactly like all other glasses. “No Line Bifocals” look the same as all other glasses. It boggles the mind, but NO ONE knows you’re wearing bifocals except you. You know it when you can actually read without taking off your glasses, you know when the text on your phone is clearer than ever, and you know when you don’t whip out your annoyed librarian look while reading small print.

More than anything, I think I was afraid of being able to adjust to bifocal lenses. I envisioned myself getting seasick just walking through the room. I pictured myself floundering in a distorted world that suddenly seemed like a house of mirrors.

I got my beautiful new No Line Bifocal glasses this weekend and am relieved to say I’m neither seasick or floundering. What I am is amazed.  Absolutely amazed.  A whole new world has, literally, been opened up for me and I realize, now, that I didn’t even realize, then, just how much I was missing.

As soon as we left Lenscrafters, I found myself reading billboards and restaurant names from FAR away.  Because my vision had deteriorated slowly, the world had, in a sense, slowly slipped away from me.  But the story has such a happy ending, I can’t even feel sad for the time lost – I’m too excited for the time saved!

If you need glasses, bifocal lenses, hearing aids, or anything else that will help open a whole new world for you, again, I’m pleading with you to simply take the small step needed to walk through the door.  The world may be slowly slipping away from you and, because it’s been so gradual, you may not even completely realize it.

My mother experienced gradual hearing loss beginning at a very young age. Although everyone needed to repeat things to her several times, she always seemed to think that people were mumbling.  Everyone, thinking of what all she was missing, kept telling her to get her hearing checked because she needed hearing aids.  No one did it in an ugly manner, of course – only jerks do that.  Personally, I never even minded repeating myself.  If someone actually cares enough about what I say to ask me to repeat it… I’m flattered!

However, my mom (who was such a character, I can’t even tell you – she was the very definition of a PILL!) did what just about everyone with hearing loss did. If she’d already asked someone to repeat themselves several times – she didn’t want to keep on asking, “What?” or “Excuse me?”  She’d simply kind of guess at what they’d said and either laugh or or answer with something she hoped would fit the situation.

Sometimes she’d be so off base I’d have to laugh.  She’d answer my dad at times with completely off the wall responses and I can still see the befuddled expression on his face.  One time he told her that the heat needed to be turned up “a couple of notches” and she said, “I’m going to the store later.”  He said, “Okay. Let’s go with that.”

To which she replied, “Of course you can go with me.”

He then looked at me and whispered, “Help.”

While we sometimes laugh at moments that surround vision and hearing – at ourselves as well as others – let’s be honest. It’s not all that funny, is it?  While we may tell ourselves, “I’m as blind as a bat!” or while someone may tell us, “You can’t hear a lick!” – I don’t think anything that stands between someone and life is anything to laugh at.

My mom, to her credit, did make an appointment for a hearing test. She got a couple of hearing aids and, honestly, tears kind of come to my eyes when I remember the look on her face when she heard birds singing for the first time in what must have been 20 or more years.  We were in front of her house and she said, “Listen!  The birds are singing!”

I thought, Momma, they’ve been singing all along.

So often, she’d ask us, “Have you always been able to hear that?”

She started calling her hearing aids her “ears” and would often say something like, “We can go in a minute… just let me put my ears on.”

The world had slowly slipped away from her and she didn’t even know it.   You, while reading these words, may be in the same boat as my mom (hearing loss) or with me (vision problems).  The world could be slipping slowly away from you, and that really breaks my heart.

If the only thing standing between you and hearing aids, glasses, reading glasses, or bifocal lenses is vanity – let me give you a wake up call.  No one cares. They really don’t.  I think a lot of people are afraid of looking “old” or of being perceived as “old” when it comes to glasses and hearing aids.

Duh!  There are grade school kids who require glasses and hearing aids.  Besides, I’ll give you another little wake up call.  If you’re in your fifties, you aren’t keeping that a secret from anyone, no matter what you may think.  The world will know you’re there and, guess what… again, they don’t care! Fifties and sixties, today are like the yesterday’s forties.

Never be ashamed of your age… be proud.

Besides, let’s be honest, who will be perceived as older, the one who has to do the “annoyed librarian” move or the one who simply sees what they want to see.  Who’ll be perceived as older, the one who says, “What?” or the one who gives a perfect answer every time, right on cue?

Today’s glasses and hearing aids are made so stylish, anyway.  With people living longer, companies are making sure that these products are as fashionable and discreet as ever. Trust me, you’ll be blown away.

You’ll want to kick yourself for not taking that first step sooner. When you’re seeing or hearing everything you’ve been missing, you will feel like a whole new world has opened up right before you.  Think of the scene in the movie Avatar when Pandora opens up for the first time.  It’s like that… only better.

You’ll find that you have more time to actually LIVE and enjoy life. You may not realize just how much effort it takes to try to do things others take for granted. I spent so much time taking glasses off, putting glasses on, walking closer to see what I needed to see, etc. I never realized how much effort I was having to put into life!  The same is true for those who have hearing loss. They have to ask others to repeat what they said (and subject themselves to some people who get annoyed when they have to repeat themselves), they have to try to read lips (my mom mastered this trick), they have to, nervously, throw out an answer and hope for the best.

That’s a lot of effort. It’s also a great big fat (and needless) barrier between yourself and life.

Please don’t live on the sidelines any longer. Make this the week you call for an appointment. There is LITERALLY a whole new world waiting for you to step into it. You just have to make that first step.  As I’m typing these words, I see my computer screen more clearly than ever. The words are sharp and clear.  Every now and then, I glance out of the window my my desk and window and see the birds and trees that I love so much. They had been slowly fading away from me and I can’t tell you how overjoyed I am to have them back.

When things fade away gradually, you never realize it fully until you have them back again.  I stopped reading the signs on the way home because it occurred to me, my husband has seen them all along. He doesn’t need me to read them to him!  So, I silently read them to myself and felt so much joy that I had trouble containing it.

The world is a joyful, beautiful thing. Please don’t let it slip away. I feel so strongly about this that it hit me this morning – if my words and our story (mine and my mom’s) can make just one person take that first step, every minute I’ve ever put into Self Help Daily will have been more than worth it.

 “Listen!  The birds are singing!”  (Momma, they’ve been singing all along.)

Your Thoughts, Actions, and Words Write Your Life’s Story

Are You Victimizing Yourself?

Quote About Life

A few days ago, I found myself thinking long and hard about baseball. Something, admittedly, I do a lot.  That’s one of the things that you should know about me… I’m completely obsessed with baseball. For me, there are two seasons: Baseball Season and Withdrawal Season. We’re in the latter, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still think about it.  I guess you could say I’m a “student of the game.” Not because I ever play baseball, or even have a desire to do so.  I grew up playing softball (every year from the age of 8 to 18), but I don’t even feel the call to play softball – let alone baseball.

A fact my knees (and feet, back, arms…) are grateful for.

I love to dissect aspects of the game of baseball. The pitchers, hitters, stats, ball fields, match-ups, etc.  To give you an idea of how eaten up I am with baseball, the other day I heard an announcer on the radio mention a particular team and my mind immediately pulled up the following information:

  • the city in which they play
  • the name of their stadium
  • their best starting pitcher
  • the name of their manager
  • their infield
  • where they hold spring training
  • their chances for 2013… zilch

I am, for better or worse, just as big a student of the game of life.  A philosopher without the degree, prestige, and title. I believe that’s one of the reasons I was drawn to writing in the first place.  It provides a release for all the thoughts, analogies, and conclusions my mind creates. If they all stayed inside my brain, there wouldn’t be any room for anything else.

One of the thoughts bouncing around recently was this: There are two kinds of people in the world.  There are the kind who say, “Look at everything I’ve BEEN through!” and there are those who say, “Look at what I SURVIVED!”

This occurred to me when I heard a woman ranting about 2012. She literally said the words, “God PUT me through….”  and as the words came out of her mouth, I thought, “You’re looking at it all wrong. Say, God BROUGHT me through…

Sometimes just one word makes all the difference!

Our thoughts, attitude, and even our words create the story of our lives.  We’re the author of our life’s novel and, personally, I’ve always wondered why anyone would want to portray themselves as the victim. Isn’t it much cooler to be the hero?

Words and thoughts like the following cast yourself in the victim’s role:

  • I’ve been through so much…
  • I have too much on my plate…
  • God put me through…
  • Someone hurt my feelings…
  • Someone broke my heart…
  • This is more than I can handle…

Not only do they make you the victim, the words themselves scream, “I’m weak!”

Words and thoughts like the following cast yourself in the role of the hero/heroine:

  • I’ve overcome so much…
  • My trials have made me strong…
  • I’m actually thankful for the weight I’ve carried because they built muscle and character…
  • God has brought me through a lot of tough times…
  • This made me stronger…
  • I can handle that…
  • Hey, Life… bring it!

I’m reminded of one of my daughters, Brittany, when she was around 7 or 8.  She was in the yard playing with her sisters and a couple of their friends. I was working in one of my flower beds and, like all over-protective mothers, I had two eyes on my kids and two eyes on the flowers. Only mothers are equipped with these magical extra eyes.

Brittany – who has always known one speed, TOP speed – fell while running. Smack right on the patio. Before I could even get up to see about her, she was back on her feet and running. She shot me a look that said, “THAT never happened.” I stayed put and went with her version of the story.

Basically, she fell and – in one motion – got back up again.  I guess it’s odd that this scene from life has stuck with me all these years but I just thought it was cool.  Make no mistake about it, the fall hurt. Both knees were scrapped and one hand was scuffed up.  However, acknowledging the fall would have meant that, unlike the other girls, she slipped.

“THAT never happened.”

If there’d been such a thing as “Pictures with Captions” back then, I’d have labeled her reaction, “Life, you hit like a girl!

The next time you find yourself heaving deep sighs or rolling in complaints – and long before you pick up your violin – ask yourself if you want to be the helpless victim or the conquering hero/heroine.

Let’s face it, one’s infinitely more attractive.

 

 

Like It Or Not, Priorities Shape Our Actions

These Actions Go On To Shape Our Lives!

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe quote

Funny, isn’t it, how oftentimes the answer to our problems is ridiculously simple. As you know, I work full-time from home as a writer and web publisher.  My husband has a full-time job, but as for my own personal income – what I make online is it.  I may never be rolling in it, but I’m wild about the whole coffee in my pjs until the mood to get dressed hits me thing and my cats consider the arrangement the deal of a lifetime.

Nine lifetimes, even.

I recently had an issue with one of my websites.  I won’t bore you with the details because my website and I aren’t what’s important here.  You are. And if you can glean anything from our hassle, then the hassle would have been worthwhile.

I was starting to get a little stressed out over this particular website and felt like our relationship was about as strained as a jar of baby food.  When I have something on my mind and want it resolved quickly, I always do one of three things:

  • I take the problem to the shower with me.
  • I take the problem for a walk.
  • I Swiffer the house as the problem rides shotgun.

It was cold outside and I didn’t want to get wet (a given in the shower), so I shot my computer an “I’m out!” look and headed for the Swiffer Wipes.  Without fail, when I concentrate on something menial, like walking or cleaning (me or floors), my mind figures things out for itself.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” - Stephen Covey

The weird thing about my mind is that when it comes up with the solution, it doesn’t speak to me in long, poetic prose.  It seldom even adds pictures to its message.  Truth be told, the answer I need is very often simply a short sentence or even just one word.

As I pushed and pulled the Swiffer across the kitchen floor, wondering how I ever lived before these things were invented, it came to me, “If you want something to be as good as it possibly can be – you have to make it a priority, not an option.”

I literally said the word, “Ouch” out loud.  priority or option

I hadn’t really been making this particular website a priority.  I guess I really hadn’t been making a lot of websites a priority if we’re being totally honest.  The holidays have this effect on me.  All I seem to want to do around November and December each year is bake, look for new recipes, shop, browse Amazon, watch Christmas movies, buy new ornaments…  You get the idea.

Basically, I was expecting everything to be sparkly and golden without putting in any elbow grease.  What can I say, sometimes I’m a very clever girl.

After finishing the floors, I sat back down at my computer and vowed to make the website a priority. I’ve done so for a while now and our relationship has improved by leaps and bounds and, wouldn’t you know it, the website is now performing exactly how I wanted it to.

“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This same common sense approach can solve just about any type of problem you can think of.

  • relationships
  • weight
  • health
  • work
  • school
  • housework

Taking any of these from bad to good or even from good to great may be as simple as making it a priority as opposed to an option.

If you want something to be as good as it possibly can be – you have to make it a priority, not an option.” – This Side of the Swiffer

Life is A Lot Like a Jigsaw Puzzle

The Pieces Dont' Always Seem to Fit...

My oldest daughter Emily and I have a great love for jigsaw puzzles. We came by it honestly. My mom and aunt seemed to always have a jigsaw puzzle going when I was growing up.  Each of them had card tables set up expressly for their puzzling passion.

When Emily lived at home, we often had a jigsaw puzzle going.  We always got a big kick out of working on a masterpiece, even though it was a bit of a struggle – thanks to our cat Alexa who loves to lay right in the middle of everything, swatting pieces onto the floor just because she can. Her involvement actually added a whole new level of difficulty to the process, but that’s okay, we like a good challenge.

Working jigsaw puzzles is actually an outstanding stress-relieving activity. Whenever we have a puzzle set out, every member of the family gets in on the fun.  Whenever any of us passes by a puzzle in progress, we feel compelled to try to find a few pieces to magically fit in place.  I haven’t had a puzzle going in a while – it  seems to be one of those things that I do more frequently in seasons other than summer. Like updating blogs!  Summer cuts into my writing and updating like a sharp knife cuts into a watermelon.

The last jigsaw puzzle my family and I had going was a real beauty. There were six big, colorful hot air balloons against a blue sky with just enough fluffy clouds to make it one of the most puzzling puzzles ever.  The only one I can remember being tougher was a Times Square one that was just vicious… it’s actually still too soon to talk about that one.

One afternoon Emily and I were hard at work on the Hot Air Balloons puzzle, sipping coffee and strategically trying to find pieces of the sky that would consent to fit together.  We got tickled once because we caught ourselves trying to enforce our will a couple of times.  I mockingly acted like I was pounding one in with my fist. It, of course, didn’t see things my way – no matter how hard I pounded.  I decided to accept the inevitable and took the “difficult” piece on the same tour the last pieces of a puzzle get… a visit to each open bay or available peninsula.

Please tell me I”m not the only one to think of puzzle pieces geographically.

Life, interestingly enough, is often like a jigsaw puzzle.  Sometimes it hums along beautifully. All the pieces fit perfectly. We see the big picture of our life the way we see the big picture on the front of a puzzle’s box.  We have money in the bank, food in the refrigerator, the kids are being down-right saintly, our spouse is so close to perfect it scares us… all’s right in the world.

The pieces fit effortlessly.

Other times it seems like we can’t catch a break. Money’s tight, the kids are getting into everything, our spouse is in the worst mood in the history of moods, bills are piling up and…  Days (sometimes weeks!) when you’d be hard-pressed to find an answer if someone asked, “What are you most thankful for today?”

The pieces don’t fit.. no matter how hard we pound!

Yet, all the pieces are necessary to complete the big picture – the masterpiece that will be our life.

Have you ever worked a puzzle only to find a few pieces missing? If you have a cat like Alexa, it probably happens regularly.  I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve crawled around on my hands and knees peeking under sofas, appliances, tables, etc for missing pieces she swatted.  I suspect it’s all part of the game she plays called, “Let’s see how many crazy things I can make the humans do today.”

A puzzle is anything but a work of art when there’s even just one piece missing. Isn’t that crazy? There can be 999 pieces beautifully in place, but if there’s one tiny piece missing, it messes everything up.  The entire picture is ruined.

Difficult times in our lives… the pieces that don’t fit… are just as necessary to complete the “big picture.”  They may take extra time, work, and patience, but they’re necessary – every bit as necessary as the pieces that glide into place.   In fact, these times will probably always have a special place in your heart.  After our Hot Air Balloon puzzle was completed, we’d all talk about the sky each time we looked at it!  We’d remember what a struggle it was to find just the right pieces of white for each cloud and we’d remember asking each other, “How many shades of blue can actually exist?!”  Looking at the beautiful cloud-filled sky may have even been more gratifying than the big beautiful balloons.

When we look back over trying times in our lives, we’ll be able to get a certain kind of satisfaction and relief from just knowing we made it through alive! If the events made us stronger, the satisfaction will be even greater.

I’ve heard from quite a few people lately who are currently going through difficult times. I know that there are many others out there who are just trying to find ways to make the pieces fit.  When I correspond with friends I meet through Self Help Daily, one of the things I always say is, “Stay Strong…” I should say one of the many things – anyone who knows me knows that some of my e-mails should come divided into chapters!  “Stay Strong” may seem like simple little words, but if you keep them as your mindset, they can help see you through anything.

Staying strong is the key to making  it through to the other side a stronger, better person.  It’s the key to hanging in there long enough to make the pieces of the puzzle fit.

Whatever puzzle lies before you, know that you hold all of the pieces.  Keep the big picture in front of you and… yes… stay strong.

 

The Hidden Root of a Lot of Rottenness

The Past is a Great Place to Visit...

Ralph Waldo Emerson Quote about living in the past

There is no past we can bring back by longing for it. There is only an eternal now that builds and creates out of the past something new and better. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The past is a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. That very thought ran through my head a few days ago when, for whatever reasons, I started thinking about a terrible car accident my oldest daughter and I were in.  The brain’s a peculiar thing, isn’t it?  There I was, picking tomatoes in our garden and my mind started playing 20 questions: “Why did you take that particular route?  Why didn’t you take the main road? What was so important that you even had to go to the store anyway?!?

I turned the tables on these thoughts and ended the conversation by saying, “Thank God we both lived through it and, what’s more, I know it made us both stronger.” Plucking a positive out of wreckage (literally, in this case) puts negative thoughts on mute.  Just where they should be.

Even those of us who so firmly live by the phrase, “Live in the Moment” that it could be tattooed across our forehead have moments when our thoughts slide into the past.  We’ll long for days that have passed or, as in the example above, wish desperately that we could get a “do over” where we could change events.

Spending time in the past can actually prove to be  the root of many problems, but because it’s such a deep, hidden root we don’t always see it.

  • Many relationships are tense because of unforgiven or forgotten incidences in the past. One will pounce on the other for a tiny infraction simply because they’re carrying residual anger from a past incident. The other person will cry out, “What I did isn’t worth all of this!” and perhaps the one who’s angry KNOWS it isn’t’. They may not even realize that the “root” of the problem travels into the past.
  • People who have lost dreams will hold onto them so tightly that they fail to realize just how wonderful their life really is. They keep measuring it against their castle in the sky dream, causing it to come up short. What part of that is healthy?!
  • Parents with grown children will often cling to the past, when their children were small and running through the house bouncing off walls.  If they aren’t careful, they fail to fully appreciate and cultivate a close friendship with the young adult in front of them.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with having wonderful memories and, certainly, revisiting happy times is a beautiful trip. The point is this, you don’t want to spend so much time THERE that you fail to fully experience HERE.

I once had an experience that sort of sums up what I’m trying to say.  If you read much of my writing (if you do, I love you!), you know that I’m a nature and animal lover to the core. I’m one of those people who gets completely lost watching birds at her bird feeders or seems to check out of reality while staring at a magnificent tree.   One day this past summer, my husband and I were driving in a region of Kentucky called “Land Between the Lakes.”  This gorgeous area is filled with wildlife, birds, butterflies, trees, sailboats, lakes… it’s just gorgeous and it’s a place we visit regularly.

As always, I had my camera with me and was snapping pictures for my own enjoyment as well as for my Kentucky blog.  As we turned down a scenic road that ran right by one of the lakes, for some reason (I’ll never know why, exactly), instead of keeping my camera ready and looking out my window as usual, I started looking down at the pictures I’d recently taken. My husband came to a slow stop and, when I looked up , there was a gorgeous doe right by my window.

Would have been the photographic moment of a lifetime. 

She was so close I could have practically kissed her nose.  But where was I? In the past.  I was looking at what had already happened rather than fully taking in what was LITERALLY right in front of me.

Whenever I find myself being pulled back into the past, I remember that gorgeous doe and the lesson she taught me.  Look in wide-eyed wonder at the world around you. Take it all in and appreciate where you are.

“Look at everything as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time. Then your time on earth will be filled with glory.” - Betty Smith

Self Help Lessons from The King’s Speech

Or 6 P's on the Road to Success

The King's Speech Movie Poster

My husband and I recently saw the movie The King’s Speech.  King George (Bertie) had a problem which must be one of the most irritating, maddening, and frustrating issues in the world to deal with.  He stuttered.

The King’s Speech (an outstanding movie that’s worthy of all the praise it and its stars have received – Colin Firth as King George gives one helluva performance) is the inspirational story of King George VI of Britain.  In spite of his royal blood, “Bertie” was just a man – flesh and blood, albeit royal.  He had doubts and insecurities like all of us – thanks to his speech problem and to a father who handled the whole matter poorly (as well as a brother who badly needed roughing up).  His sudden ascension to the throne corresponded with a time of great turmoil and trouble for Britain.  They needed a leader they could put their confidence in but their leader had to find it first.

King George had an all-important speech ahead of him.  He simply had to make his words reflect the strength and conviction that resided inside of him.

Fortunately, the king had been working with an unconventional speech therapist, Lionel (brilliantly played by Geoffrey Rush).  His wife Elizabeth  (played by the always sublime Helena Bonham Carter) had found this wonderful man, at a time her husband had all but given up. Lionel and Elizabeth formed a little team that refused to let him go under.

I was about to type, “Before this post turns into a movie review” when I realized it already had.  I might as well cap the review portion of this post off:  The King’s Speech is an utterly fascinating, hilarious, and breathtakingly beautiful movie.  The cast is sheer perfection and you really should see the movie, at least once.  It’s outstanding.

And that concludes the impromptu movie review – I guess we know now why I don’t do that for a living!

The King’s Speech actually holds – within its gorgeous scenes – a self help lesson for us, and as you’d expect, I’m all over it.  King George VI’s life played out on a long, winding road that essentially had 6 Mile Markers.  Had he stopped at any of the 6 and refused to continue his journey, who knows what would have happened.  Fortunately, he found the courage and determination to make it through each.

While we are each on decidedly different roads, with our own gorgeous scenery and individual challenges, but we have the same 6 Mile Markers, the Six P’s, if you will:

Mile Marker #1:  PROBLEM

Like King George, we all have problems. You may have a particular problem right now that looms in front of you like one of Ebenezer Scrooge’s ghostly visitors. The first step in overcoming a problem is to admit it exists.  King George acknowledged his problem.  He didn’t hide from it, blame others, or try to make excuses.

When we face problems in our own lives, we have to look them in the eye, take ownership of them, and set out to find the solution. Pointing fingers never accomplishes a darn thing. Even if King George had a specific person in his life who he felt caused his problem – what good would pointing the finger at him or her do?  What good would come from unleashing hate and revenge?  Wouldn’t the speech problem still exist?

Why waste that kind of energy?

If you have a particular problem in your life, stop concerning yourself with the Why’s, Who’s, and How Come’s. In the time some people spend chastising and belittling others for not “measuring up,” they could create a masterpiece in their own life.

Shouldn’t that be the plan?

Don’t find blame. Find answers.  Acknowledge your problem and accept it as that: YOUR problem.

Mile Marker #2: PRESSURE

Was the heat ever on poor King George?! He had the speech of his life coming up!  George had a lifetime of struggles with this cursed problem, and each time he’d squared off against the enemy (his speech problem), it had won.  It had the last laugh – each time.  How could he DARE hope this time would be any different?  His people, and the country he dearly loved, needed him now more than ever before and he was up to his crown in a pressure cooker.

Most of us know the feeling, whether a crown is or isn’t on top of our head.  Finances, relationships, careers, education, mortgages, health, challenges…. We all feel pressure.  Sometimes we put it on ourselves, and other times someone else has the honor.

This the intersection where most people jump off the road.

When she was around 3 or 4, our daughter Brittany was sick with one of those lovely wintertime viruses.  The kind that aren’t serious but make you feel seriously sick.  For this little live wire, being sick was a complete and utter inconvenience and seeing her so lifeless broke all of our hearts!  I remember the entire scene just like it was yesterday.  She had on a little yellow gown with Snow White (with her elves in tow) on the front.  I had made a comfortable place for her in the den with pillows behind her, orange juice nearby, and cartoons on the tv.  I’d given her her favorite coloring books and crayons but she didn’t even have the energy to color.

My dad, who knew one of his little angels was sick, came by on his lunch break.  He’d brought something special for her (and her sisters) but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was.  The gown I’m all over, but what the loving grandfather brought isn’t clear.  (Just like a female to remember the clothes!)  He sat on the floor beside her and said, “How do you feel baby?”

Brittany weakly said, “A little bit good and a whole bunch bad.”  I laughed.  My dad melted.
Anyway, Pressure feels a little good and a whole bunch bad.  On second thought, maybe it doesn’t feel good at all.  Which is why so many bail when it hits.

As I said earlier, who knows what would have happened if King George had been a quitter instead of a fighter.

Mile Marker #3:  PURPOSE

This one’s obvious. We have to have a purpose in life! If we have a problem that stands between us and our purpose – the answer’s pretty clear, the problem has to go.  King George’s purpose was great: He had to be the king his nation needed him to be.  In the face of war, his people needed someone they could count on, someone with conviction in his voice.  King George purposed in his heart to become that person.

He didn’t look at the circumstances and didn’t allow the problem or the pressure to keep him down.  He decided that his PURPOSE carried more weight than either his PROBLEM or his PRESSURE.

That’s exactly what we all must determine.  Purpose > Problem and Purpose > Pressure.   Not Purpose = Problem or Purpose = Pressure and darn sure not Purpose < Problem or Purpose < Pressure.

Every now and then I just like to prove to my math teachers that, contrary to popular belief, sometimes I actually did pay attention.

Mile Marker #4:  POWER

There are many sources of power – and there’s no way on earth (or off) I’d ever try to lessen any of them. Whether it’s the single greatest power on earth (from God, Himself),  the power that can change the world (Love), or the power that defies all reason (the power of family and friends) – power is all around us.  When we want to do great things or overcome great obstacles, we’d be smart to call upon all the power we can.  It’s always my first course of action!

King George had a very powerful team in Lionel and Elizabeth.  Without them, I’m not 100 percent sure the speech would have gone as well as it did.  However, for the purpose of this post, I want to address the power that, had it been absent, I AM 100 percent sure the speech would have failed…

The power from within. King George would not have… could not have…. achieved anything great solely on the power from Lionel or Elizabeth.  You and I can not… will not… achieve anything great solely on the power from those around us.

The kind of power it takes to move obstacles and jump over hurdles comes from deep inside. Sometimes you have to dig deep.  Sometimes, like King George, years and years of disappointment and pain build up a wall of resistance.  Our defenses are up, so to speak.  Renovations often have to take place inside before we can take the first step. King George had to dig deep – PAST pain, humiliation, disappointment, embarrassment, and shame.

What he found on the other side of all THAT was THIS – power to overcome and power to have the last laugh.

The power is inside all of us, we simply have to dig deep and find it.  Once we have acknowledged our problem, have gone toe to toe and nose to nose with pressure, determined our purpose, and gotten in touch with our power… it’s time to lay it all on the line!

Mile Marker #5: PLAN

That’s right, it’s time to plan.  You know the saying, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  Whatever it is you want to accomplish, don’t sit on the sidelines, waiting for it to happen.  Remember the little girl on the couch a few paragraphs ago?   Let’s just say she doesn’t wear Snow White gowns anymore.  She is still beautiful, hilarious, full of life though.  It still breaks my heart to see her sick and… yes, she is still my baby.  Always will be.  A few days ago we were talking about something in particular and I basically asked her if she was planning for it.  She laughed and said that she guessed she just thought it’d happen.

As someone who all too often operates the exact same way, I had to laugh too.

Whatever it is you want in life, or from life, requires a plan.  If you do nothing else today – I hope you’ll think about one particular goal and literally write out a plan to make it happen.  I want you to have that goal – unless, of course, your goal includes defeating my beloved St. Louis Cardinals – then I’d have to lovingly say I hope you come up short!

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  I don’t guess any of us can hear that often enough.

Mile Marker #6:  PERSEVERANCE

The first part of any journey can be the toughest – whether it’s a journey to lose weight, launch a business, overcome a destructive habit, or conquer stuttering in order to deliver the speech of a lifetime.  Setting out on the course takes a great deal of courage.  Standing up to pressure without batting an eye takes conviction.  Digging deep for power and purpose takes strength.  Making a plan takes boldness.

Wouldn’t it be a shame of epic proportions to achieve all of THAT just to throw it all away.  Whew, fortunately that never happens, right?  No one ever loses weight just to gain it back.  No one ever quits smoking just to pick the habit up all over again.  No one ever squanders a fortune they worked years for or throws away a good name they spent a lifetime earning…

Right??!?! Right?  Oh.  That’s right, it happens all the time.

A lot of people excel at planning, some are even wonderful at addressing problems and dreaming up solutions.  There are even some people who could light up a major city with the power they generate.  However, few… precious few… have what it takes to really make it to the finish line because they start strong and finish weak.  They have the boldness to begin but lack the conviction to follow through and the courage to finish.

Make no mistake about it, perseverance is the most important mile marker of the six.  Why?  Simple – she has the power to undo ALL of the others.   Years of overcoming obstacles, powering through pressure, silencing critics, and achieving your wildest dreams can all be wiped out by this one mile marker.   She can make it as though none of it ever happened – sending you right back to the start.

Don’t let this happen to you.  Think of it this way:  By perseverance, the snails reached the ark. Can’t you picture the diminutive couple as the sky began to turn dark?  As other larger, decidedly faster animals gracefully made their way to safety, it would have been easy for the speed-challenged snails to pucker up and kiss their tails goodbye.  They could’ve thought, “Well, life’s been sweet but this is where we check out.”

Not an option.

They set out – slow and steady – for their destination.  That journey must have gotten tedious fast!  Watching hundreds of legs sprint past couldn’t have been fun, but they kept on keeping on.  The snails knew the right time and the right place to quit.

How about you? Do you know the right time and the right place to quit?  Think about that for a second.

If you answered, “When you get to your goal… when you have success… that’s the right time and place to quit,”  you may be surprised to hear that you’re not just wrong, you’re dead wrong.

The right answer is NEVER. It is NEVER the right time or the right place to quit.  The minute you think you can sit back, put your feet up, and bask in your victory is the minute you begin sliding back to the start line.   Keep digging deep, keep finding the power inside, keep your purpose in front of you, and use pressure to work FOR you. Let it propel you further down the road than you’d be able to go on your own.

Look pressure in the eye and say, “Thanks! I needed that push.”  That ought to catch him off guard.

When you need answers, find them.  When you need a plan, make it.  When action is called for, take it. Most importantly, remember the right time and the right place to quit.  NEVER!

The poster at the top of the post can be found here. (Pssst, see the movie.)

Brooding is a Sport Only For Fools

How to Stop Being a Worrying Wart

“There is nothing that wastes the body like worry; and one that has any faith in God should be ashamed to worry about anything whatsoever.” – Mahatma Gandhi

brood: (verb)  1. to think or worry persistently or moodily about; ponder: He brooded the problem.
2. to dwell on a subject or to meditate with morbid persistence (usually fol. by over or on).

Have you ever known a brooder? Brooders study on a particular thing or situation at length, focusing all of their energy on it until the brooding drains the energy right out of them.

Even worse than knowing a brooder, of course, would be BEING a brooder.  How exhausting.

Do you tend to brood? Do you often fixate on things to the point of having the same thoughts on a repeat cycle? If you do have this unproductive tendency, I hope this article can help you rethink your course of action the next time your brooding mechanisms kick in.

Look at the second definition above…  oh, never mind looking, I’ll bring it to you: to dwell on a subject or to meditate with morbid persistence

Morbid persistence. What part of that sounds good?

I am incredibly lucky, I have to say.  I don’t live amongst brooders.  Myself, my husband, our daughters, and even our cats don’t brood.  If you were to think about brooding as e-mail, we’re from the school of “OPEN the e-mail, DEAL with the e-mail, DELETE the e-mail, and MOVE ON to the next.”

It’s the way I approach my own e-mail actually.  My husband teases me a lot about the amount of time I spend with e-mail but I get a very high volume of it and I don’t want it to just sit like a lazy great uncle.  I hate the thought of someone wanting something and having to wait for me to get to them. Not only do I hear from a great number of people in regards to my blogs, I also oversee a number of blogs/websites that we host. Sometimes people have problems they need help with, sometimes they just want to run something by me.

If someone needs my help, I want them to have it asap.

Some people allow their e-mail to build up to the hundreds.  Doing so seems kind of like  a waste to me.  They just sit there, taking up space – not accomplishing anything.

Brooding is a lot like unopened, undealt with e-mail.  Except it’s far worse, actually.  Not only does brooding take up time, thought, and energy – it actually makes the problem(s) or perceived problem(s) bigger than they really are.

Have you ever noticed that worry clobbers rational thought?  Brooding eats rational thoughts alive. It’s happened to all of us.  A noise in the night? – Has to be a burglar and, well yes, as a matter of fact he is on the roof.

Your 15 year old son’s hair is longer than your hair was at his age.  And you’re the mom.  Brooding on his beautiful locks will only compound the problem. You’ll conjure up various and assorted scenarios and each one will star your son as a failure, a ne’r do well, and possibly a bum.  Are these thoughts really what you want to focus on?  Do you really want to continually focus on and dwell upon negative images of your son?

He’s 15!

It’s hair!

Brooding is worry with OCD.  It gets locked in and just can’t stop.

The next time you find yourself focusing on worrisome thoughts or brooding about things that “could” happen or brooding over situations you “wish were different” – take action.

  1. Ask yourself if there is a present problem or if you’re simply fretting over a potential problem.  If you’re worried that your vehicle won’t make it another year, it’s a potential problem. If it’s in the driveway and doesn’t seem to want to ever leave, no matter how many times you turn the key – it’s a present problem.
  2. If you have a potential problem, stop wasting valuable energy on situations that may possibly be around the corner and take care of what’s currently on your street – right in front of you.
  3. Parents, this is for you us: Stop brooding over every single thing your child does, says, and/or wears. I know, I know, I know.  Parents who love their children will worry about their children but constantly brooding about all the little things will drain you and you won’t have anything left.  And there’s always this: You’ll drive everyone crazy in the process.  Never  good.

Maybe this would be a good time to remind you of that definition again: to dwell on a subject or to meditate with morbid persistence.

Actual Steps to Help Overcome Brooding

First of all, memorize the definition above and repeat it to yourself when you feel yourself beginning to worry or brood. If you promise to memorize it, I promise not to hit you with it anymore.

Second of all, ask yourself if the subject of your worry falls under the category potential situation or present situation.

If the situation is a present problem or issue, leave brooding mode and enter action mode.  Do what you can to alleviate the problem.  If it’s beyond your means, ask for help.  Back to me and my e-mail: When someone we host has a problem with their website, I address the problem as soon as possible.  If it’s beyond my reach, I find the appropriate person to refer them to.  Either way, the e-mail is opened, dealt with, and deleted.

There’s no need to worry with it anymore because it has been taken care of.

If the situation is a potential problem or issue, ask yourself how reasonable you’re being and be brutally honest.  If the potential situation could very well become a present situation, again enter action mode.  At the very least, share the concern with someone else.  They, very often, can help you see that your worry is out of proportion to the actual circumstances.  Other times, they may have extra information or advice that could set your mind entirely at ease.

You’ll never know unless you ask.

Last of all, hit the delete button. Once you have ascertained what (if anything) you can do about the situation, rest assured that you’ve done all you can.  Give yourself permission to enjoy life and allow everyone around you to do the same.

Here’s a quick exercise to illustrate the power of brooding.

  • Stare at the picture of the polar bear below.  Stare directly at him (or her?) for an entire minute.  Then, continue reading below….

  • During the time you spent fixated on the beautiful polar bear, you didn’t think about or acknowledge anything else.  For that minute (or ever how long you lasted), the only thing in your world was you and a gorgeous polar bear looking right at you.
  • Do you see the implications?  This was just one minute.  Can you see the potential harm negative, destructive thoughts can do to a person when they spend endless minutes and hours wrapped up in them?  If you spend day in, day out brooding on miserable thoughts and tragic scenarios, what must that do to your psyche?!?!

Treat your thoughts carefully, they’re far more influential than you realize.  Thoughts always grow into words and actions.  Now tell me that’s not reason enough to entertain worthwhile, constructive, and positive thoughts as opposed to foolish, destructive, and negative ones.

We are the product of our thinking, so it is important that we choose carefully where to focus our mental energy. – Dr. Charles Stanley

A Cherry Tree, an Ax, and A Life Changing Question

Excuses or Change? The Choice is Ours to Make

I recently saw a great cartoon that didn’t make me laugh or even smile. How can that be? Great cartoons always make you laugh out loud or at least chuckle a little inside. At the very least, they make your face break out in a smile.

Not this one.

This particular cartoon simply made me think and think hard.

In the cartoon, you see George Washington as a little boy. The future Father of our Country is standing with an ax in his little hand and a once beautiful cherry tree on the ground…. the deed, done. Apparently little George has already made his admission of guilt – you know, something along the lines of, “I cannot tell a lie. I did if, father.”

His obviously frustrated father says, “All right, so you admit it! You always admit it! The question is when are you going to stop doing it?

Le Sigh.

How many of us could star in our own comic strip?  Maybe instead of an ax and a fallen cherry tree we have a napkin and a Big Mac.  As we wipe our mouth we tell our bathroom scales, “I cannot lie. I ate the whole thing – hundreds upon hundreds of wasted calories.”  To which our scales reply, “All right, so you admit it! You always admit it! The question is when are you going to stop doing it?

Oh, there are other areas of our lives where this same scenario could apply:

  • Financial carelessness
  • Bad habits
  • Negative thoughts
  • Poor anger management
  • Dishonesty
  • Laziness
  • Procrastination
  • Gossiping
  • And on and on…

The parent who overreacts to a small child’s infraction only to admit, later that day, that they were way out of line. Their temper got the better of them, yadda yadda yadda.  Like little George, admitting a mistake is well and good – it puts the individual in a small minority of  “super cool” people.

However, when they’re able to learn from their mistakes (rather than simply repeat them) they experience the much-coveted self growth and the much-hyped self improvement.  That’s the point they begin to change their life, as well as themselves, for the better.

I’m sure each one of us had at least one thing in mind when we read the father’s response.  Let this scenario resonate in your mind for the rest of the day.  Replay it in your mind the next time “it” happens and see if you can come up with an answer to the question, “All right, so you admit it! You always admit it! The question is when are you going to stop doing it?