Ask Jan – Coaching Tips for Easy Solutions

Q: I spend most holidays on my own. Don’t mean to sound like a loser but my family is spread out across the country. I don’t have kids, and I am not currently dating anyone.This is usually a recipe for loneliness. Honestly, I can get really bitter and resentful of all those happy holiday types. I am so tired of hearing about how to survive the ‘over-stimulation’ of holiday time. What about those of us who feel forgotten and irrelevant because family time is just not possible?
– Scroogy with a Good Reason

A: You make an excellent point. Many families are far from each other. Financial resources don’t make travel possible. Split families means that many of us do not spend holiday time surrounded in familial confusion. It can be a real challenge to enjoy the ‘family-oriented’ aspect of the holidays when you don’t have a ready-made and available family. But there is good news. Positive

Psychology research indicates that we can generate positive feelings about things quite readily – when we make the effort. Here are a few tricks.

  • Change your standards, and you will change the way you feel. Instead of comparing yourself to the perfect family, compare yourself to the most problematic family you can imagine.   Spending time on your own is preferable to entrapment with a psycho family. Can’t imagine a scenario worse than your own? Try working in the food bank. That’s always a good reality check.
  • Start now to plan your holiday adventures. Even people with many family obligations spend time with their friends. Book now so that your social calendar is full throughout the holiday season.

Six Tips for Creating Holiday Cheer

Holidays mean different things to each of us. And for some of us, holidays can be both enjoyably life affirming, and stressful challenges. Obligatory office parties, gatherings with family members who appear to believe you are still 12 years old, and the chaos of meeting holiday-related organizing deadlines can put us in survival mode. Perfectionists and those who worry about the judgment of others have it especially tough.

Here are a few suggestions for thriving during the holiday season.

1. Pretend you are 6 years old and focus on what is important to a child. Kids don’t care if everything is perfect. They really just want to spend time with you and know they are loved. Research indicates that even the most materialistic of kids would trade receiving their most coveted toy for more interactive time with the adults around them. Isn’t this what holiday time is supposed to be about? Hanging out with others we want to see more of?

2. Put a budget limit on your expenses – and stick with it. Finances create considerable stress during holiday season. Get a handle on this, feel in control, and devise a plan for making it through the holidays without having to mortgage your house in January. This is particularly challenging for generous folks. The key here is to select a gift that is consistent with your budget, wrap it beautifully, and add to it with small, very inexpensive things like treats you have baked yourself. Don’t bake? Go to Costco.

3. Budget into your expense limit a bit of money for yourself. This way you won’t feel guilty when you buy that great new iPod for yourself (it was on sale) that you really intended to buy for your sister.

4. Ask gift-givers to purchase gift certificates for self-care for you. Then have your massage in January, your pedicure in February, and your facial in March. This stretches out your holiday warmth and helps you recovery from added holiday stresses.

5. Let go of expectations. The only perfect family holiday I have ever observed was in 1910 at the Walton’s homestead. (Don’t remember the show? Watch for the Christmas special.) Your family dynamics don’t make you miserable – you make yourself miserable by hanging onto what you want your family to be like. Not getting on with your brother? Pretend he is someone else’s brother and watch how quickly your frustration dissipates.

6. Delegate the tasks, and then DON’T do other people’s tasks. Again, this is tricky for those of us who are perfectionists, or just highly competent people. If everything is always being dropped in your lap, ask yourself, “How do I behave in ways which suggest to others that dumping things on me is ok?” Chances are, and here’s the bad news, you are giving people the impression that doing everything is ok. If you are competent in everything, how will the space be created for others to know that you need them? Fulfilling relationships requires giving and receiving.

How to learn to let go

Last night I stayed up late to watch one of my favourite all time movies. Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands still makes me cry. I wondered why this story is so powerful for me. And then I realized: it is a classic Western love story where pure, good, selfless love is squashed by social ignorance, where the truth of heart and feeling is overruled by the fear of the collective mind. And the really beautiful thing about this whole mess is: Although Edward Scissorhands and his true love Kim must release each other to their separate destiny, their gift of love is never lost or forgotten.

Sure, it’s just a movie, but it made me stop and consider the issue of letting go, especially letting go of those things that truly speak to our soul. How do we know when to let go? And how do we do it?

In recent years, many psychologists, philosophers and New Age spiritualists have turned their attention to the ‘living in the now’. Their call to be in the moment is supported by reams of research that demonstrate how holding on to attachments, feelings, memories, and desires increases anxiety, discontentment, and frustration. Ouch. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure this out. Staying angry or disappointed, or continuing to try to figure out what went wrong contaminates our present possibilities for growth and happiness with negative feelings or useless ruminations.

Letting go of the need to hold on to your past is the secret to living in the now. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? So how come letting go is such a challenge? Approximately 80% of our daily life is concerned with either thoughts of our past or our future. Perhaps we can blame the linear thinking processes emphasized in Western culture for this – we are trained to think in terms of cause and effect, and are asked to continually re-evaluate the role of particular causes so that we can maximize certain effects later.

To overcome this cultural focus, we must practice letting go of past and future-oriented thinking. Here are 5 tips to help you do that:

  1. Angry or hurt by someone? Can’t stop thinking about how they have done you wrong. Try this. List their inappropriate behaviours. For example, they acted selfishly. Then remember a time when you behaved selfishly towards someone else. Oops – Recognizing the laws of karmic return sometimes make is easier to forgive and move on.
  2. Does the past situation feel overpowering to you? It will lose its impact when you play the ‘what if’ game. Follow the situation to its most extreme conclusion. For example, “What if your child broke the TV?” A logical response might be that you would not be able to watch the news, and this makes you feel angry. Ask yourself: “What if you could not watch the news?” An extreme response might be: The apocalypse could occur and you would be the last to know – sounds ridiculous right? Kind of puts a broken TV in a bigger picture context where we can see that the broken TV issue is probably not the end of the world. Literally.
  3. Ask yourself: who has control over how I interpret this situation? Guess what? You do. Recognizing your own power to let the energies of others affect you will automatically diminish the impact of their energies on you.
  4. Trust your intuition. It is the voice of your spirit. Sometimes situations and feelings escalate because we have not honoured our intuition. We stayed too long, or did too much, or ignored our creep alert. Sometimes the person we are really annoyed with is ourselves. Honouring our intuitions will help us love ourselves more.
  5. Watch how what you focus on in your life gets bigger. Feeling badly? Focus on that and watch how the bad feelings contaminate everything and everyone around you. Understand that whatever you focus on gets bigger. Focus on gratitude and watch how good feelings flood your world. Like attracts like.

Bring these tips to action by finding a quiet place to sit with yourself and your feelings. Even a few moments of reflection can help move you towards letting go and living in the moment.

Ask Jan – Coaching Tips for Easy Solutions

Q: I can’t seem to get out of my brain. I am a deep thinker and when something goes wrong in my life I just get stuck spinning around in my head, asking the same question over and over. Usually the question starts with ‘WHY’. What is going on with me?
– Thanks from Brain Stuck in Chicago

A: The image that pops to my mind is of a dog chasing its tail – forever. If you are going to be stuck in the question asking and answer finding phase, accept it. Clearly this is something that your brain does regardless of your intention not to do it. This is a common issue for cognitively-oriented people and problem-solvers who often believe that if they can just determine the cause of a situation, they can ‘fix’ it or ‘avoid’ it in the future.

You can avoid being pulled into the endless circular loop of questioning, however, by choosing what questions to ask. Instead of asking ‘why’ something occurred, ask ‘how’ and ‘what’ questions such as ‘How could I behave differently?’, ‘What is the learning experience here for me?’ and ‘How did I create the impression that this situation was acceptable to me?’ These questions create possibilities for more effective problem solving since they are directed at raising self-awareness and changing your behaviours.

Ask Jan – Coaching Tips for Easy Solutions

Q: I just started a new job and now my workspace at home is completely out of
control. I can’t throw out the old stuff since it has good memories, and let’s face it, I am a pack rat. But I don’t really have room for the new stuff. Any suggestions?
– Piled High in Idaho

A: Dear Piled High, I am hearing that you have attachment issues – that’s right. You are still attached to the old stuff that no longer is of use to you. This is a common situation, and the main reason why storage boxes were created. If you are not ready to get rid of certain things but need more space, try putting the non-essentials into labelled boxes in your closet or basement.

You can even attach a list of the box contents to the outside of each box to help you find things later. This is a great way of getting stuff out of your way, but keeping it available for later use. This also works when getting divorced – you can temporarily avoid ditching the old stuff until you are really ready to let go of it.

Sometimes finding a ‘temporary home’ for the stuff you are attached to but don’t use is a great way of consciously getting the article out of your space but not breaking the attachment fully. After your neighbour has been temporarily using your dresser for 5 years, you won’t have
any desire to get it back. If you have something that still works but you don’t use
anymore, you may just want to find a new home for it – one where it will be used. Your old but still working printer or cell phone will be greatly appreciated at women’s shelters for example.

Getting Organized In the Midst of Chaos

I am living in chaos. That’s right. I am renovating my house. And not just one room – but the whole house, all at once! It feels like camping, which I used to like to do. I am sleeping on an air mattress and since I don’t have any chairs, I squat on top of piled boxes of new flooring to eat my morning cheerios with an unwashed spoon. We are into week 4, and I am still sane – but barely.

Given this, I have spent considerable time in the last month thinking about how to create a manageable ‘Jan’ space amidst the drywall dust and wall-less interior. When renovating, moving or experiencing big environmental changes, creating a ‘safe space’ is vital, even if it is tiny and temporary. So this month, we will explore how to do this – how to bring a tiny bit of order to your life, when chaos tornados about you.

Research has demonstrated that the state of our environment has a big impact on our productivity, and our feelings of wellbeing. Ever wondered why you suddenly must vacuum everything BEFORE you sit down to tackle that deadline? This might not be procrastination. Rather, creating an orderly environment might just be a metaphor for your thinking process. Putting material things in their place is good practice for putting mental things in their place.

Here are a few tips to help you bring order to your world. If you are moving, redecorating, or renovating, a few of these easy strategies might just help you stay sane amidst your chaos.

  1. Think small because size does matter. Don’t try to order the whole space, or you might get overwhelmed. Just focus on the immediate areas which are the most important to you. Draw an imaginary circle around your bed and your desk, for example. Tidy everything within this circle, and exclude the rest. Each time you tidy your area, make the circle a bit bigger.
  2. Got boxes of stuff? Whenever possible, pack stuff in clear containers and bags so that you don’t need to label things. You can just look right into the box without even opening it.
  3. Divide disorganized piles of things into 3 big piles according to their ‘use value’ – things you use everyday, things you use once a week, and everything else. This works especially well for office materials. If you must pile your piles on top of each other, pile the more frequently used things on top of the less frequently used stuff.
  4. Need to get rid of overflow? Try putting stuff that is on its way to the Goodwill into your trunk. You might not have time to drop it off this week, but at least it is out of your way, and on its way out of your life. At times like this, I think of my truck as a giant extra purse!
  5. Got workmen in your house? Feeling invaded? Even the best crew can sometimes drive you crazy. You can ask them to take scheduled break times in a particular area of your house. This will give you a predictable opportunity for 15 minutes of quiet time upstairs.
  6. Driven crazy by constant interruptions about the reno? Schedule a time for others to ask you questions. For example, be available from 8-9, 12-1, and 3-4. Close your door and shut out the chaos during your unavailable times. Even if you are just having a nap behind that closed door, it helps to create boundaries that protect your privacy.
  7. Work from home? Leave whenever you can. Set up shop temporarily at the library, or at a friend’s house.

This is why God made laptops and cell phones.

Ditch the To-Do List

Its spring! The sky is blue and the grass is green and the beer patios are calling you. But wait – you’re stuck at your computer. You have a serious deadline to meet. Or worse – perhaps you have to clean the windows, or put the kid’s hockey equipment in storage.

And as if it couldn’t get worse, what is really annoying is this: you could have done this last week, when it was cold and rainy BUT YOU PROCRASTINATED!! Sound familiar? Read on if you want to learn a few tricks to keep you ahead of the onslaught so you can get to that patio for some great spring fun.

Ditch the To-Do List. Sound scary? Is your to-do list the only thing keeping you from a core meltdown? If so, then you are probably not using your to-do list in the most effective way.

To-do lists are more frequently used for short term, immediate tasks that MUST be done. And you already know what these tasks are – feed the children, have a shower, buy your metropass. Sometimes your to-do list gets so full of tasks that it can not be used for what it is really good for – scheduling in unexpected or infrequent tasks like going to the dentist, for example. Here, having a to-do list helps to you look ahead to find a time when a trip to the dentist fits in.

Procrastination happens when your to-do list gets so full of daily, predictable tasks that you can not accommodate an unexpected or infrequent task. You put it off, or schedule very far forward. Or just decide you will deal with it later. And later never comes soon enough.

If this sounds familiar, don’t worry. You can use the ‘parking lot’ technique to help you deal with procrastination. Combine this with your to-do list, and you will have an effective method for taking care of short term tasks, while never losing site of those longer term issues.

Imagine a parking lot – cars move in, park, and then they move out. Less urgent tasks, that might be prime targets for procrastination, are just like cars. You want to move them into your parking lot, let them sit for a brief period of time, then move them out. Parking lots make more money when the cars keep moving in and out as quickly as possible.

So here is how you do it:

Pick 1 task that you are procrastinating on right now in your life. What 5 SMALL actions could you do that would bring you 1 step closer to completing that task? For example, if you need to go to the dentist, you could do the following: look up your dentist’s phone number, find 3 possible appointment times, make an appointment, get your insurance information written down, and find childcare for your appointment time. Each of these small tasks represents a car in your parking lot.

Now back to your to-do list! Each day on your to-do list, schedule in 5 – 30 minutes of time dedicated to moving a car out of your parking lot. Within a week, 5 items will be taken care of and moved out of your parking lot. You will be set up to visit the dentist when your appointment time comes. If something remains in your parking lot for longer than a week, consider that car abandoned, and tow it to the dump.

Clearly, it wasn’t significant enough to warrant attention, so you probably don’t need to do it anyway. The trick to keeping your parking lot moving is this: keep your tasks as small as possible. If a daily task is too big, you probably won’t do it anyway. You can think of this as preferring economy cars over an SUV.

Thoughts Become Things

Ever wondered why good things just happen to some people, again and again? They don’t really even seem to be trying, or be overly impressed with themselves when they get that new job, win the lottery, or find their soul-mate. And meanwhile you are slaving away at your job, trying to make ends meet with never enough time or money to do the things you love?
Let’s look more closely at one increasingly popular explanation for how this happens. So, if you have been wondering what the heck Oprah’s ‘Big Secret’ is really about, here is your chance to learn a bit more.

In our world, we usually measure our successes and failures by looking at the things we did to make something happen. We focus on our actions, and how they created a result. That’s great – actions are important. But they are only a piece of the story. Our thoughts are the real key to bringing about change. Thoughts become things, as Mike Dooley puts it.

There are a number of equally compelling and seemingly bizarre explanations for how our thoughts become things however, what is most important here is to understand that our thoughts are steeped in our emotions. Want a new job? Try getting excited about the opportunity to find a new job – to meet new people, make new connections, and explore
other career possibilities. Be genuinely enthusiastic about the process. Forget about the outcome. Wondering if you will get the job, whether they like you, or if you will fit in, just brings negative feelings into the mix, and this will create a more negative experience.

Sounds a bit Pollyanna? Just be happy and everything will go your way? Not really. You have to continue to do what you need to do to make the outcome happen. You can’t feel your way to happiness without actually taking the physical steps to enable happiness to manifest. So update that resume. Keep researching who is hiring. Keep going to job interviews. But do it with a sense of adventure, and you might be surprised how quickly your dream job becomes your reality.

Getting rid of tolerances, and creating a lifetime of happiness

Spring is coming! When I think about the tiny crocuses buried beneath the last inch of snow and ice, pointing their new, green tips towards the warmth of the sun, I am reminded of the cyclical nature of ‘new beginnings’. And I remember that sometimes there is so much growth around me that I just can’t see.

Perhaps this is what a miracle is – the birth of something so amazing and whole, that when it materializes out of nothingness we realize deep within our hearts that it must have been there all along.

Are you tolerating a cluttered kitchen, boring career, tumultuous love life? Or perhaps you are caught in that post holidays, downward financial spiral that rectifies itself next October, just 2 months before you start holiday shopping again? Let’s face it. These tolerances are crazy-making! They create blocks that hold us back. They rob us of joy, security, and ‘everything-is-right-in-my-worldness’. Life is a collection of moments – some great, some challenging. Getting rid of today’s tolerations will set you up for a lifetime of burden-free moments, and ramp up your overall happiness quotient. Here are some tips for getting rid of tolerances, and creating a lifetime of happiness – one moment at a time.

  1. Stop needing to be right. Of course, we know that you ARE right – but being right is not the same as being happy. And being happy is not predicated on being right. If this were the case then idiots would be miserable, and ignorance would not be bliss.
  2. Create a list of small things that are driving you crazy in your life today. Tackle 1 thing each week. Clean the closet, sort those socks, get your car serviced so you at least know why the engine light has been on for 3 months. You will experience an immediate feeling of lightness even doing just 1 a week.
  3. Hire someone to do the things you hate the most. Students are always looking for short term jobs that can be completed in a few hours. Try calling a college or university employment centre near you and get someone fast. No money for help? Find a friend who will help in exchange for helping them with ridding their lives of something they tolerate.
  4. Scale down your life. Having, doing, or being too much creates annoyances that must then be tolerated. Purge, purge, purge and learn to say ‘no thanks’.
  5. Decide to drop the baggage and move on. This can be tricky because sometimes we really like our baggage. Like it or not, you can move faster and farther without the crap. And if you find you need it later, well you can always go back and get it.
  6. Make your life a toleration-free zone by being honest about what is important to you. Put your values at the centre of your life. If something feels like a compromise, it is! Consider what you must give up when you are caught in the midst of constant compromise. Is it worth it?

I hope your spring feels miraculous.

Celebrating Singledom During February, the Month of Love

Got a Sweetie? If so, then you are probably looking forward to Valentine’s Day. If not, you might consider renaming February 14th – Singles Awareness Day.

Yup, Valentine’s Day is for lovers, and as wonderful as that is, the entire Western world’s 24 hour focus on celebrating that special relationship can feel a bit isolating for even the happiest of singles. Cultural norms play a big part in this.

Although expectations have weakened over the last generation, most of us will still follow (or hope to follow) this common pattern: finish school, find work and focus on career development, connect with a few potential life partners, choose one from our diverse selection, and settle down to raise a family of our own. Sounds easy enough, however finding and staying with the ‘right’ partner can feel overwhelming. And for those of us who are still looking for that special life partner, or feel unsure about our current choice, Valentine’s Day can amp up the pressure and leave us questioning our current state of happiness.

In honour of Valentine’s Day, and out of respect for humanity’s ongoing search for belongingness and unconditional love, this post will look more closely at myths about love and happiness.

Ever thought, “If he/she just loved me more, I would be happy”? Or the reverse, “Without his/her love, I would be absolutely miserable”? Or “I must be on track because he/she thinks I am fantastic”? Admit it. We all have these kinds of thoughts at some point in our lives. We attach our self-worth or state of being to another person’s views of us or their behaviour towards us. This makes sense since this is how as children, we learned to navigate the social world – we judged our self according to the reactions we got. And we were happy when those around us treated us as if we were special.

As adults we have other avenues to happiness that aren’t contingent on the love of others. Research in the field of Positive Psychology suggests that happiness can be achieve  in 3 different ways. The overall happiest people are those who develop each of these areas.

  1. Actively search out pleasure: Embrace your inner hedonist and DO things that you enjoy! Can’t find the time for something you love? Schedule in 15 minutes of fun, 3 times a week. Trust me on this. Once you start having fun again, and feeling happier, you will suddenly find the time for 20 minutes of fun, 4 times a week. Pleasure-seeking is addictive.
  2. Do more of what you do well: Embrace your natural gifts and DO what is easy for you. Doing what comes easily will reduce tension and diminish daily tolerances. It will create a state of ‘flow’ in your life where time passes free of dramas and challenges. Addicted to struggle, even though you claim to hate it? Being in flow means you can put that problem – solving energy towards creating visionary change, rather than just mopping up other’s tragedies.
  3. Spend time with others: Create love by being loving. Love is an internal experience that we create within ourselves. Ever noticed how you might be in a great mood when everyone around you is grumpy, and pretty soon your good mood has rubbed off on them? Love works the same way. Give it to get it. Are you introverted and find that spending time with others leaves you drained and unfocused? Dump the energy vampires. Drop your need to fix things. You don’t need a lot of friends, just a few really good ones will do the trick.

Follow these steps to happiness and by next year, you may

have renamed February 14th Singles Appreciation Day.