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.

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.

Giving Up Before You Even Get Started!

For many of us, there is something in our lives that we just can’t change – no matter how hard we try. Maybe it’s the last 10 lbs. you can’t loose, or paying off that credit card, or finally ditching your relationship. This can be superfrustrating, especially when you are motivated and dynamic in so many other areas of your life. So what is really going on

‘Failure to Launch’ may be related to not really wanting to make this change. And here is where it gets a bit tricky. You may think you want to make the change but not really want to make the change. What am I talking about – of course life would be better without debt, a boring partner, and a marsupial pouch peeking out from above your
waistband! Or would it? Ask yourself the following 2 questions:

1. What would happen if I didn’t make the change?
You may find that nothing really would change much – so
how inspired a change is it? Uninspired changes are often motivated by ‘shoulds’ rather than ‘wants’. I should get out of debt, rather than I really want more financial security.

2. How does not making this change, and continuing to
believe I want to make this change work for me?

The thing is this – we often keep doing behaviours that have some reward in them, even when we don’t see the
reward. If you can find the hidden reward in staying in your relationship, or keeping those extra few pounds, then you can exchange the hidden reward for an overt, much better reward. For example, snarfing back another box of turtles might be a great way to hide behind the overwhelm I might feel in thinking that I will need to find time to get to the gym 3 times a week. With this new understanding, I could consciously trade the reward of avoidance for the rewards that come with more effective self and time management, even if it means getting to the gym just once a week.

And sometimes we just need a little push towards that change. Find a friend or a support group who is also dealing with making a change. Camaraderie is great for keeping the changes moving.

Ask Jan – Coaching Tips for Easy Solutions

Q: My to-do list is a mile long every day. I can’t stand it. Sometimes I really get off on having a day lined up like dominoes and other days I just want to pull the covers over my head and pretend I am not home. What can I do?
– Super Woman Needs a Holiday

A: Dear Super Woman, Sounds like you might be an adrenaline junkie in need of rehab. Do you get a feeling of self-worth from meeting all your deadlines? Do you decide that you will NEVER work that hard again, only to find yourself swamped under with even more stuff to do? If you get a break and find your energy coming back, do you fill up your schedule immediately? If this is you, you need some serious realignment.

Start by knowing the difference between a ‘must do’ and a ‘should do’. A ‘must do’ is something that has to happen or your world will fall apart. There are very few things on our ‘must do’ list other than ‘breathe, eat, sleep, and well, – those are the big ones. The ‘should do’ list is likely long and filled with tasks that you have confused with ‘must do’s’ – that is, they are things that you believe must happen or your world will fall apart. In most cases, these are things that we feel we must do to fulfill our obligations to others, to fit in with social norms, or to feel that we are ‘good people’. Sometimes they are things that help us feel ‘in control’ of our lives – like getting out taxes in on time. Sort out the authentic ‘must-dos’ from the ‘should dos’.

Then prioritize the ‘should dos’, if you can’t get rid of them altogether. If all your ‘should dos’ are about others, then you will need to add a few for yourself. Self-care keeps you from expanding your ‘must do’ list to include things like: go for dialysis, visit therapist, have reconstructive surgery to vital internal organs.