Name: Charity

Posts by cfowler:

    15 Practical Ways to Adjust Your Attitude

    April 11th, 2011

    In “The Most Powerful Change You Can Make In Your Life-Today” I wrote about how the simple act of changing your attitude–having an attitude adjustment–can transform your life. It really is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal, but so many of us have been conditioned into thinking that we are ruled by emotions that it is sometimes difficult to figure out just how to effectuate this change.

    So, I decided to write this follow up article to address the nitty-gritty practical side of attitude adjustments. The truth is, you can adjust your attitude anytime, anywhere, without any tools, but for a lot of us that takes time and practice. Using the tips and tools on this page will help you learn to see that you do have control over your emotions and attitude. The longer you practice controlling them, the easier it will be, until you will find yourself able to make these attitude adjustments with a deep breath and a single thought.

    The first thing, and the most important, is that you must believe that you can change your attitude. Without this belief, the tools are all on shaky ground. They may work, but they will be far less efficient.

    Secondly, before you begin any specific attitude adjustment you must identify what the attitude you feel stuck in is. This doesn’t have to be fancy, but try to put a name on it: grumpy, frustrated, angry, depressed, discouraged. They are all some variation of “bad,” sure, but each one has its own flavor, and different approaches may help change different attitudes.

    Thirdly, try and get a sense of what attitude you’d like to have instead. As with identifying where you are now, this doesn’t have to be fancy, simple descriptors will do: upbeat, encouraged, motivated, inspired, happy, excited. They’re all some variation of “good,” but as with the “bad” moods, each has its own taste, its own feel, and you want to try and capture what you’re going for.

    Those three factors in mind, let’s look at 15 practical ways you can bring about an attitude adjustment:

    1. Monitor your thoughts and substitute new ones

    I’ve thrown the most difficult one out first, but it is also the most effective. It takes some practice, but once you master it, you’ll find this skill to be a godsend. Because our feelings are connected to our thoughts, if we can change our thoughts, we can change our feelings. Before you can do that, though, you have to be aware of what you’re thinking.

    So practice that first. Listen to the voice in your head, the inner one that is probably often pretty critical and cranky. Notice what it’s saying when you’re feeling your bad mood. Then ask yourself–what thought would be a more positive one? Consciously work to insert that one instead, and make yourself think it.

    For instance, when you’re stuck in traffic and you’re ready to flip the bird to the guy who just cut you off, and you’re thinking all sorts of horrible things about what he must do to small animals, take a breath. Notice those thoughts. Are they serving you? Are they helping you? Are they doing anything to make traffic go faster? What can you think instead?

    Remind yourself that one car isn’t going to make or break the flow of traffic. Ten cars wouldn’t, even. You’ll still get there when you get there. Be grateful you were able to stop and not hit him. Whatever you do–stop dwelling on the thing that’s making you so upset. Dwelling never did anyone any good, and that bad attitude–how is it serving you? How is it making things better?

    2. Question yourself and your attitude

    One way to get to a point with the first suggestion is to play the game of questioning your attitudes, especially ones you hold on to. Ask where they have come from. Ask what they are serving. Ask what you are getting by not letting them go.

    I find that journaling is really helpful for this step. It isn’t as quick as just monitoring my thoughts, but sometimes it is far easier (when just substituting happier thoughts isn’t happening at the moment). Writing isn’t everyone’s thing, so maybe you’d rather do it in your head, or talk it out with a trusted friend, or a coach, but it’s important sometimes to spend some time with yourself on these attitudes and questions.

    We hold on to things generally because they serve some purpose. Or we hold on to thoughts because we can’t see a way around them. Write them out. Write the thoughts, write the attitude, and then question it–don’t just vent. This isn’t your whining session. This is something constructive–find out what’s going on underneath the surface, and then, like with #1, do something to turn it around.

    Ask what you can do to make it better. Find some constructive solutions to the problem. Do some creative brainstorming. Often spending that time in asking and answering will lead to surprising solutions and lift a mood all on its own.

    3. Write a letter to the person or thing that is irking you.

    This is a variation on #2, and what I described doing with my boss in “The Most Powerful Change.” It’s a journaling exercise and can be highly effective as far as attitude adjustments go. This can be a letter to a person, a situation, a thing, an idea. You can write to your body, your health, your mom, your broken car, your lack of a job. Whatever you want–personalize and write to it.

    Unlike #2 with the questions, in this one, it is a-okay to vent. Vent your heart out. Pour out all your angst. Let it spill across the page. You’re never going to send this. No one is ever going to see it but you.

    If you can, try to come to some resolution in the end of the letter. Whether it’s a “you have no power over me” declaration, or some sort of problem solving effort, try and free yourself from that angst once it’s out. The point is to have it not in you anymore. Ideally, you want to get rid of the letter, even, once you’re done.

    Burn it, shred it, put it in the bottom of the bird’s cage–whatever you do with it, make it very clear to yourself that you are tossing this problem symbolically out of your life once and for all, and see how much freer you feel afterward.

    4. Write out affirmations/Write out how you’d like to think

    When you’re training yourself to move toward new thought patterns to replace the old ones, it helps if you know in advance what the new thoughts are and should be. Affirmations can get a lot of sort of woo-woo feelings around them, and sometimes people feel really silly thinking about them, or working with them. (After the SNL skit, I certainly can’t quite say them to myself in the mirror without cracking myself up)

    But affirmations are just new ways of thinking, and training yourself to replace old thought patterns with new. They can be whatever you want them to be, and however works for you.

    Think about the thought patterns that are giving you the most grief and most affecting your attitude. Write those out as statements. Then consciously turn those around into something more positive–into what you’d like to think, into what your ideal self would think. This is different from #2 in that it’s not so much stream of consciousness as a deliberate activity.

    Negative thought/Attitude supporting thought → Something more positive/supporting of the attitude you want to have

    Then, when you find yourself thinking those thoughts that are somewhat frequent in your head (i.e. in monitoring yourself in #1), you will have something on hand to replace them with.

    5. Write a Gratitude List

    Yes, I’m very up on writing. I am a writer after all. 😉 But it’s incredibly therapeutic, and writing forces you to order your thoughts in a way that you sometimes cannot on your own early on in this sort of work.

    A gratitude list is simply a list of things for which you are grateful. You can start it with “I’m grateful for” or “I’m thankful for” and then just go. Anything and everything from small to large. Friends. Family. The cute guy at the coffee shop who held the door open with a smile this morning. That you woke up this morning. Ice cream cones. Raindrops on roses. Whiskers on kittens. Whatever you are grateful for–write it down.

    Being grateful forces us to acknowledge the good in our lives. And when we are acknowledging the good, it crowds out the bad. It’s hard to be sullen and grateful at the same time, and when you see how much good there is in your life, it’s easier to smile. And smiling is an automatic mood lifter, which brings us to…

    6. Smile!

    Our body reacts to physical cues. If you are frowning, you automatically tense up and your emotions will follow those cues. When you smile, even if you don’t feel like it, your body starts to relax and follow those cues instead.

    Happiness really is something you can sometimes fake until you feel, but I’m not really suggesting that. While making yourself smile should start to make you feel better, it’s even better if you have something to smile about.

    Watch something funny, ready a funny book, hang out with friends who make you laugh, pet a furry animal, watch children laugh–whatever it is that gets you smiling, do it. This will help reduce the stress in your body and help lift your attitude. The more you do it, the more often you are happy, the more your overall attitude in life starts to lift.

    7. Work out

    Unlike in “How to Feel Better on Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days,” I’m going to suggest a harder work out here. We’ve already talked about there how to lift your mood on a particularly bad day, and a gentle walk or being outside can also help with an attitude adjustment, certainly. Just getting outside and some fresh air and breathing deeply will help (see #8).

    But for this section, I’m talking about seriously working out. Endorphins are your friends. Runner’s highs are very good things.

    Not only can a good workout give you an immediate lift, but people who work out are healthier in general, and less stressed, which helps greatly with maintaining a good attitude. When you have a regular outlet for your stress and bad moods, it’s easier to maintain an even keel.

    Besides, if you do hit the pavement for a solid 5 mile run when you feel like snapping someone’s head off–you get multiple benefits: better relationships for getting out the door without snapping, awesome endorphin rush to make you feel instantly better and a better, healthier body.

    8. Meditate, or at least, spend some time breathing deeply.

    I’ll admit that I’m not a great meditator. I’m not going to be your go-to girl for that for a while, though you’re welcome to come along for the ride as I try to learn to be. I do find, however, that if I can just sit still for five minutes and breathe and focus on the here and now (i.e. meditate, but without the scary term attached), then I feel a lift in my body and mood.

    Being aware of your body helps you stay present. Being aware of your thoughts helps you monitor them and change them. Being aware of your breath helps you lower your stress levels. Taking some time to breathe can keep you from saying or doing things that you’ll regret later.

    Whenever you feel the need for an attitude adjustment, it’s always a good idea to step away and breathe. Even if it’s just 5-10 deep breaths, even if it’s just a moment of centering, it will help take you out of your head (your raging, possibly lying thoughts that are controlling your emotions) and bring you back into your body, and calm you so that you can reevaluate what you’re thinking.

    That time for reevaluation will almost always help you adjust your attitude to at least something calmer. And from calm you can work your way toward happy.

    9. Change your actions – Do something different than what you’ve been doing.

    There’s a common saying in the personal development arena of “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” It’s very true when it comes to attitude, as well. One way to effect an attitude adjustment is to shake things up.

    Drive to work a different route. Get something different for lunch. Go to a different gym. Try a different tactic with a supervisor. Start a new conversation with a friend or loved one. Do your work in the opposite order you usually do.

    If what you’ve been doing has resulted in you living in a negative attitude–you need to change it. While changing your attitude can often effect the outside change, and that is probably ideal, sometimes we really do need to change our outside circumstances.

    I don’t mean that you need to change your life or have your ideal life before you can be happy or have a better attitude. Note that all of the suggestions are fairly small.

    Sometimes just shaking things up a little bit is enough to jar your brain into a new thought pattern and force it out of its usual pathways. It helps you see things from a different perspective and can shed new light where you only saw darkness before.

    10. Change your space

    It’s hard to have a positive attitude when you’re living in filth or overwhelming clutter or dark, depressing rooms. So change things up. Clean. Organize. Get some color in the room.

    You don’t have to spend a whole lot of money redecorating (though if you feel the urge and have the cash, by all means have fun–I redid my living room a couple of years ago and had a blast with it. It’s SO much nicer when I come home, now–an oasis instead of an energy suck). Simple things like a blanket you got at a thrift store, or a vase of bright flowers can do wonders for a room.

    Definitely clean and organize. Get rid of things that are tying you down and holding you back. Do you really need all that stuff that reminds you of the ex who broke your heart? Do you really want all that junk that you have to dust every week that you keep out of guilt, but not because you love it?

    Take a look around your space–what do you love? What do you use? What do you need? Get rid of anything that doesn’t fit those three questions. Organize what’s left. Clean it all thoroughly. Open the windows and let fresh air in.

    You’ll feel a lot better every time you step into your home, and just the act of setting your life in order can do wonders for your attitude.

    11. Volunteer for a cause you believe in

    Giving back to others is one way to reinforce the good in your life. The act of giving generates a feeling of goodwill in most people. It helps to connect you to other people who believe in the same things you do, and it lets you feel like you’re doing something with a purpose in the world.

    The key is finding something you care about. Don’t go and be a Big Sister if you really can’t stand kids. Don’t volunteer at the animal shelter if you’re afraid of dogs. There are tons of causes out there that need people’s help, and I believe that there is something that you are passionate about or you wouldn’t be here.

    So, find a group that needs your help in an area you care about and donate your time. It doesn’t have to be a huge chunk if you’re working 60 hours a week–just give them 5 hours a month. By helping those less fortunate, or giving back to the community in some ways, we foster a sense of connection to a world outside ourselves and this helps us step out of the isolation that bad attitudes can bring.

    12. Have goals you are working toward and a physical reminder of them around you.

    A life without purpose or meaning is one that is directionless and one that can leave someone feeling lost and adrift. It’s hard to find motivation to do anything or to change your attitude if you do not have anything that you are working toward.

    Everyone should have goals they want to achieve, whether big or small. These can be wild dreams of our hearts desire (which we should all have, but that’s another article) or simple things that we feel that will make our lives a little better.

    Whether big or small, you need to have something you are working toward and you need to have a visual reminder of it somewhere around you. This can be a vision board or post-it notes on your mirror or pictures on your refrigerator or little sayings and reminders that pop up on your iPhone–whatever works best for you to keep your goal at the forefront of your mind.

    When you are focused on achieving something, it is far more difficult to let yourself slide toward depression and hopelessness. Frustration, yes, but there are ways to work around that attitude with other tactics. You must have something meaningful in your life, though, some rudder to guide you.

    Then, when you feel your attitude start to take a nosedive, it helps to refocus on your goals and do something toward them, however small, and the productivity and glow that comes from that is guaranteed to help you shift your attitude.

    13. Find something to do every day that you enjoy and that makes you feel good about yourself.

    When we are doing things we enjoy and feeling good about ourselves, it is difficult to slump into a bad attitude. Furthermore, when things do not go our way and bad attitudes come upon us, the positive feelings generated by our fun activity will give us something to conjure up and strive for.

    Memory is a positive force, and if you make sure to inject something fun into each day, then the memory of pleasure is always at your fingertips. You do not have to stretch back far for it, or try to remember when the last time you smiled was. Scheduling daily time for you also gives you something to look forward to, and the sense of anticipation for an enjoyed activity can be the lift that you need to get you through a moment when things are less than pleasant with a more positive attitude.

    Like your goals, these things do not necessarily have to be big. They can be something different every day. Maybe a dance class one day, or a particular workout. Perhaps you schedule time for yourself for a bath and a book three times a week. Maybe girls night out once a week. A pedicure twice a month. Possibly it’s something as simple as walking the dog, or making your favorite meal for dinner.

    It can be something routine, or something new. Most likely it will be a mixture of both. Either way, make that time for you. Hold it sacred. Give yourself something to look back on and forward to with a smile and enjoy your life that bit much more.

    14. Learn something new

    Some of the happiest people in the world are those who learn something new everyday. That’s because they approach life with an air of curiosity. It’s hard to let the bad attitudes creep in if you maintain that curiosity toward everything.

    If you keep yourself open to new experiences, you will see new opportunities everywhere. Even in potential adversity, you have the chance to learn, if you look at it as a learning experience. Ask yourself after something doesn’t go your way, “What can I learn from this? How can I do it differently next time? How can I handle my reaction better next time?”

    Take classes. Expand your horizons. Keep learning and opening your mind toward new things around you.

    It’s the same attitude of openness and curiosity whether you’re examining a moment in your day for a lesson or whether you’re seeking one out. And while curiosity may have killed the cat, it can only enrich your life and decrease your bad attitude days.

    15. Practice Acceptance

    Nearly as important as monitoring your thoughts is cultivating an attitude of acceptance. Like gratitude, this one has to be practiced and learned, but it is well worth the effort. In addition, it will make monitoring your thoughts and replacing them with more positive ones much easier.

    We live in a highly judgmental society. We judge our neighbors, our coworkers, our politicians, our celebrities, the random people on the street. More than any of that, though, we probably judge ourselves.

    I’ve written a great deal about accepting others in “Being the Change: What Does It Take,” and so I just want to hit on it here as it relates to attitude. Judgment of ourselves or others, that critical vicious voice, is never going to lead to a positive, happy attitude. It is only going to foster negativity.

    We must come to see ourselves and others as we are, and beyond that, to accept each other as we are, flaws and all. We must look beyond the surface irritants to the people below. Recognize in the annoying coworker the single mom who’s trying to get by and is afraid of being laid off. See in the strident cashier the girl who feels like her dreams passed her by and is just trying to make ends meet. Look in the mirror and see not just your flaws, but also your beauty.

    Be forgiving. Accept people as they come. Accept yourself as you are. This doesn’t mean we don’t strive to improve, or be our best, but if you can accept that you are flawed, that people are flawed, and still love yourself and them, you’ll find a much greater peace in your day and your life.

    Everyone has a story. Everyone has their own set of troubles. When we try to see the world through eyes of acceptance, a lot of anger we’ve been carrying evaporates into a feeling of compassion and that is one of the ultimate attitude adjustments you can have.


    [Photo Credit: Pedrosimoes7 ]


    The Most Powerful Change You Can Make in Your Life – Today

    April 8th, 2011
    I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.  ~Anne Frank

    As much as I would like to claim that I was an angel when I was a little girl that would be more than a bit of an exaggeration. I wasn’t a holy terror (or I like to think that I wasn’t, at least), but I was a headstrong, opinionated only child who didn’t much like to have the attention off of her and who liked to be in charge of things. I was also imaginative and funny and liked to entertain people and would make friends with anyone, anywhere, but that’s a different article.

    My mother had a phrase she used when I was acting out, getting belligerent, or just being a brat. Most often it came out when I was whining or complaining or acting in a way that was generally making myself and those around me miserable. She would pull me aside and very calmly tell me that it was time for an “attitude adjustment.”

    Back then, that was generally my first warning–shape up or discipline would follow. Now, however, as I am a grown up and parental punishment is a thing of the distant past, the phrase still sticks with me and has become one of the power tools in my arsenal for tackling and succeeding at life.

    This is because the #1 thing that determines how you go through life is your attitude.

    We cannot direct the wind but we can adjust the sails.  ~Author Unknown

    We can control a lot of things in our daily lives and make a lot of changes by willpower and discipline, it’s true.  Our habits and practices are greatly a product of our choices. But there are always elements that can come in that are outside of our control:

    • You can start the best exercise program in the world and then be waylaid by an injury.
    • You can find a job that you absolutely love, only to have the company go out of business.
    • You can have certain responsibilities that must be done which limit the time you have to spend pursuing your dreams.
    • The stock market can crash, illness can hit, accidents can happen–all outside of your control.

    Of course, all of these are things we can work around and overcome. There are stories aplenty of people overcoming adversity and great odds to achieve dazzling success. In some ways, it’s the ultimate of the American Dream.  But those who have achieved that success did not do it by grit and discipline alone. They had a secret weapon underneath their willpower and determination, and it is one we must have as well.

    That weapon is the right attitude.

    We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs.  ~Kenneth Clark

    Despite all the positive thinking messages out there today, it still isn’t hip to be positive. People who try to live that way are often derided as Pollyannas or told that they aren’t realistic by those around them lost in cynicism. We’re called chirpy cheerleaders (no joke, I read that just yesterday in an Amazon review) and the implication is that we’re either too naive to understand how the world works, or are selling some sort of snake-oil to other desperate, deluded folks.

    The naysayers can list of dozens of things that are wrong with the world, and with life, and ask how we can possibly find anything to be positive about.  But I want to ask you this: What does that attitude accomplish? If you’re one of those cynics, how has it helped you so far? Most people adopt such an attitude to protect themselves from disappointment, but when you live your life that way–where do you get?  What do you achieve?

    When you look for darkness, you will find it. And the more you find, the more your worldview is validated, and the more dark the world seems to you. There seems to be no point in striving for anything, no hope, no reason. What is the point, then? This level of thinking can lead only toward a downward spiral to misery and depression, ripping joy out of life.

    Sure, you might seem “cool” as you sit around being cynical with everyone, tearing down this or that, or complaining about whatever the complaint of the day is…but when you turn out the light that night, do you feel any better?

    I’ve been there. I was that person. And I can tell you that, no. I didn’t feel any better for all my cynicism and snark. I went to bed miserable most nights, lost in a sea of “why do I even bother?” It was hard to see that the world could ever get better. It didn’t matter when things went right, because I was convinced they’d just go wrong again soon.

    No one could change that for me. Nothing that happened externally could shift that. I had to do it. I had to be the one to perform an attitude adjustment, to make a conscious choice to approach life differently.   It didn’t happen overnight. It took work, and it still takes work.

    Old habits are hard to break, and there are still days when I catch myself in old, negative thought patterns. When I do, though, I take a breath and say firmly, but calmly (and sometimes in my mother’s voice): “Charity, you need an attitude adjustment.”

    Because when I made that choice–when I decided that I would start doing attitude adjustments when I found myself in those dark places–everything changed.

    Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different.  ~Katherine Mansfield

    I could give you tons of research and talk about the power of positive thinking all day, but that isn’t what I want to focus on right now. Right now I want to demonstrate the sheer power in one little shift of attitude. One change in how you think, and nothing else, really can effect outside changes in your world.

    For several years I worked in a job where I was miserable. More than once, I closed the blinds to my office and found myself sobbing at my desk because of something someone said, or some opportunity that passed me by again. Until this job, I’d been a superstar everywhere I’d been, and succeeded at nearly everything I’d done, so the disappointment was that much more crushing.

    I was a straight-A student who graduated from my MA program with a 4.0 and was in the top 10% of my law school class.  All of my employers had always loved me, and I had achieved the highest rankings ever given to a law clerk in one position I held at a law firm.

    But something didn’t click at this job.  Something wasn’t working. I was working. I was putting in the effort and trying my best, but nothing I did was good enough, and I kept being passed over for opportunities I wanted and was told that my work was sub-par, no matter how hard I tried.  It was devastating and demoralizing because I couldn’t figure out how to fix it.

    Finally, last year, I decided to stop trying to “fix” it. Not, mind you, to stop doing my work or anything. I didn’t decide to give up altogether because “why bother?” But I realized that I had come into the job already miserable from my divorce and moved to a place I had no friends. I was putting all of my self-worth into what my boss and supervisors thought of me, and whether I was promoted as quickly as others in the office. I was letting what they thought of me, and what they said about one tiny facet of my life, define who I was as a person and undermine all of my happiness.

    So I made a conscious effort to stop doing that. I got more involved with things I loved outside of work. I performed in one of my favorite plays. I directed a show for the first time. I worked on my novel.  And I did some serious internal attitude adjustment.

    I wrote letters that I didn’t send expressing my resolve to give up basing my self worth on their opinion and accepting that it was possible nothing I did would ever be good enough, but that I was more than that, and I knew that I was smart and capable and a valuable asset. Others had seen that and cultivated it, and if they couldn’t, it was their loss, not mine. I would continue to do my best until I had the cushion I needed to leave to pursue my passion, but this was now a job to achieve a goal, not what defined me.

    Excellence is not a skill.  It is an attitude.  ~Ralph Marston

    Immediately, I was more happy. It was as if a burden had lifted off my shoulders and for the first time in five years, I could breathe again. I saw new possibilities all around me and felt myself re-energized to pursue my passions and dreams. This is one of the main benefits of attitude adjustments–it awakens you to everything good that really is out there. But this one went further.

    Within one week after my conscious decision to change my entire attitude toward work, I had my boss in my office offering me a chance at the opportunity I’d been wanting for two years. It came with a caveat that seemed challenging–working with one of the people who’d been most critical of my work before–and I felt my new positive attitude challenged.

    But I held on to it. I promised myself that she wouldn’t define me, and I would work with her and go into it believing the absolute best about her and about myself. Everyone in the office expected me to fail, I think, such was the reputation of the person and the situation I was going into.

    Instead, I had a really good few months working with her. I learned a lot, and she really helped me to grow.  She treated me with respect and asked my opinions on our work and listened to them. In the end–I got the opportunity I wanted and have been loving it.

    Beyond that, I have had my boss and all of my supervisors consistently stopping by my office to thank me for my work, to praise it and to say how much they appreciate both my hard work and the quality of what I’m turning out. That just doesn’t happen much in my workplace, and has never happened to me here before.

    I didn’t change anything external.  I didn’t change my work ethic (It’s always been strong). I didn’t noticeably change how I was doing my work (I’ve always tried to do my best).  I didn’t take extra classes or go to extra training to improve my skills.

    I just changed my attitude. Instead of the despairing place of, “I’ll never be able to do this and they want me to fail” that I had been in, I reaffirmed my intelligence and capability and that they were lucky to have me (confidently,  not arrogantly!). And miraculously–they suddenly seemed to agree.

    I have found that if you love life, life will love you back.  ~Arthur Rubinstein

    Admittedly, not every attitude adjustment will have such immediate dramatic results, but the possibility is there and you never know which one is going to pay off in spades. However, even those that do not literally turn your life around will make a dramatic difference.

    Life is how you see it. Everything is about perception. Two people can look at the same situation and experience completely different things based upon their perception, and their perception of the situation is driven by their attitude.

    Whenever I mention this, someone always wants to argue with me saying, “That’s great for you, but you don’t know what my life is like. I have to deal with x, y, and z…” That’s true. I don’t know each and every one of your situations.

    But I do know that if people around the world who are far less fortunate than we are can find ways to be genuinely happy, then so can we. If Anne Frank can still believe in the goodness of people and see beauty in the world, even while hiding in an attic, afraid for her life, then so can we.

    It’s a choice, and it’s the one thing in your life that is completely, totally, 100% within your control. Your outside circumstances can never infringe upon it. No tragedy or injury or bad day can take it away from you.  No one can take it away from you.

    We choose our attitudes. We choose how we see the world. We choose how we approach situations.

    And those choices often have consequences outside of our own heads. People with positive attitudes see more possibilities because they believe possibilities exist. The energy and attitude you project is something others can pick up on and it effects how they interact with and treat you, which can effect the opportunities with which you are presented and the relationships in which you engage.

    It is not too broad a statement to say that if you change your attitude, you change your life. It is a change you can make with no monetary investment, no training, no great amount of time. All it takes is a little faith and a bit of hope.

    So, what are you waiting for?  What’s holding you back? And what attitude adjustment do you need to perform today?


    [For practical tips on how to adjust your attitude, please see the follow-up article: 15 Practical Ways to Adjust Your Attitude]

    [Photo Credit: Pedrosimoes7]


    How to Feel Better on Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days

    April 4th, 2011

    This weekend was the first weekend I had off since Christmas. It was much needed, given the excruciating past three weeks at work. Not only have the hours been long, but the media coverage of the work we do has been brutal and excoriating, leaving me crying at my desk at least once and declaring to sympathetic friends that I was having at “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” and that I thought I was going to move to Australia. Bonus points if you get the reference for that without looking below.*

    I could write a whole article on those three weeks, and the media coverage and the partisanship apparent within it and the misrepresentations on both sides. On politics itself and the issues ripping our country apart right now, but for the moment my “day job” requires my silence.  I have opinions, but I do not express them, because I serve both sides, and I serve the people in a nonpartisan capacity. I do my best work no matter which party asks it of me.

    And this isn’t a political blog, anyway.

    But it is a blog about living a life you craft, and choosing to live life the way you want to see it. So how do you do that when everywhere you look, life seems to be throwing things at you determined to twist up all you’re trying to vision into being? How do you shrug off the criticism that may not be aimed at you personally, but feels like it’s scoring nails down your soul?  How do you keep your head up and actually smile when you feel like the mob is trying to tear your hope to shreds?

    How do you get through your terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days?

    I would suggest five possible ways.  Some of these may seem simple, but feeling better when you’re down in the dumps isn’t about going from misery to elation in one fell swoop. That is very likely unrealistic unless you are incredibly more skilled than most of us.

    But if you can just manage to feel a little bit better, and then a bit better from there, and then a bit better from there; if you feel like you’re in the well of despair and then you can rebuild one brick of hope, and then another, and then another; if you can lift yourself from exhaustion and get one night of rest, and then another, and then another it gets better.  You get the drift?

    One step at a time. One day at a time.  These may be small steps, but one at a time, one piece at a time, and I promise they add up and all the negativity out there will start to wash off of you and the world will seem a little better, a little brighter.

    1.  Have a playlist that’s your “happy” or “inspirational” playlist. Better yet, have a theme song on there somewhere.

    Music has been shown to have a direct effect on the brain and body. Some studies have even shown that it can lower levels of cortisol (associated with high stress levels) in the body. In a study reported in the AORN Journal in February 2003 researchers posited that listening to music can even lower blood pressure.

    Beyond that, I’m sure almost all of you have felt the positive effects of having your favorite song come on the radio, or know how hearing a song from your past can evoke those memories–good or bad. Science may not be able to explain all of it, but the effects of music are visceral. So why not use them to your advantage?

    I have a playlist on my iTunes on my computer and on my iPod and iPhone (so I have it wherever I go) entitled “Inspiration” and on it are my favorite uplifting songs–the ones that never fail to make me smile.

    Beyond that, ever since Ally McBeal had her search for a theme song, I’ve been looking for mine. It changes as I change, and as my circumstances change. For the past year or so it had been Christine Kane’s “Virginia” (you can get a copy at her website!), but the past couple of weeks, it switched to Katy Perry’s “Firework.” I keep having that on loop when I get down at work.

    And I feel instantly better.

    No one said your theme song or happy playlist had to be particularly deep music.

    So go through your music collection. Find the songs that make you smile. Don’t just let them be random and out there, but gather them together in one place that you can find them whenever you need a pick me up, and when that time comes, listen. You may think that perky music is the last thing you want to listen to. In fact, the temptation may be to find music to match your mood, but don’t give in to that. Instead, listen to the happy music, and watch as your mood shifts to match it instead.

    2.  Go do something outside. Go for a walk. Go to the park. Go roller skating. Go swing on the swings.

    Any form of exercise will probably make you feel better, so this could read “go to the gym” or “exercise,” but sometimes when you’re feeling overwhelmed, or stressed, or angry, or whatever has pressed down on you “exercise” can feel like yet another chore.

    So don’t make it that. You don’t even have to break a sweat on this expedition. You don’t have to time yourself, or go walk for a mile, or make it a big thing. Even just ten minutes around the block at lunch will help. Just a meander around the park or five minutes at the local playground will make a difference.

    Fresh air and sunshine are imperative for happiness.  The lack of it can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder in some people–its own form of depression, which says just how important the sun can be in our lives. We need it for the production of Vitamin D, as well.

    Don’t take your phone or anything where your problems can reach you–just get out and away  and walk for a bit. Move your body . Breathe deeply (which can also reduce stress) and just feel and be as you move.  A lot of people suggest just walking with yourself without any distractions, but I always feel better if I walk with music, so if you’re like me–go walking with your happy playlist. It’ll distract you from your upset thoughts and you can kill two birds with one stone and double up on the happy-making.

    Movement gets us out of our heads and makes us aware of our bodies. Doing something fun like roller skating or swinging reminds us of more carefree times. Sunshine and fresh air help our bodies heal themselves. If you can combine all of them together, even better, but give any one of them a try and I guarantee that you’ll feel a lift in your mood.

    Personally, my favorite thing to do is to take my iPod (I did say I took it everywhere) and walk to the local park, which is about a half mile away, and hit the swings for a while. Depending on how much I have to do, or how much time I can spare, I’ll stay there until night falls, if need be, or until I’m just laughing with the exhilaration of flying through the air. It was my favorite thing to do as a kid and it never fails to make me smile and make things a little bit better no matter how bad they seemed when I left the house.

    Find your thing, and give yourself the gift of doing it in the fresh air, especially now that spring is in the air.

    3.  Keep a success journal.

    It’s easy to lose sight of all we’ve accomplished when everyone is trying to tear us down. When the voices all around us are telling us everything we’re doing is wrong, or how much of a failure we are, it’s all too easy to believe them. Our own inner voice can lose some of its power without reinforcement.

    So we give it something to back it up.

    It’s easiest to do this when times are good, but if you haven’t already started one, you can find that wise inner voice and begin one even in the hard times. Do suggestions one and two first. Go for a walk, listen to your power music, clear your head of the negative voices for a bit, and breathe. Find that inner you and have a smile on your face, then sit down and write.

    Write out everything you’ve done well in your life. Write down everything you’ve succeeded at. Write down everything you feel you’ve accomplished. Big. Small. I don’t care if you got a certificate or public recognition or if you did it in the silence of your locked room and no one knew but you–if you felt a thrill of pride, of achievement inside your heart, write it down.

    Turn the page, and write down every good thing that’s happened to you, for you. Every thing that’s made you smile. Immerse yourself in goodness. Immerse yourself in smiles. Go back as far as you need to, as far as you have time. Don’t let a hint of negativity creep into this writing. No nostalgia, either. This is a record and a reminder, but it isn’t something to beat yourself up with, because here’s a solid truth:

    Everything in life goes in circles. Challenges come into the brightest lives, but we surmount them.  We succeeded before.  We were happy before.  We will be again.

    Now, every time something good happens, every time you achieve something, you write it down–you keep a record of it, and when you’re feeling like you’re nothing, or you’re no good, or you’ll never rise up; when those voices are beating you down and your own can’t seem to rise above them: you pull this journal out, and you read. You read each success, you pull each smile into you, and you let them strengthen your inner voice until you can hear you over all of them.

    Because we are stronger than all of that noise out there. But even the strongest of us needs a reminder of that sometimes.

    4.  Set a window for indulgences.  But go ahead and indulge.

    Sometimes we need to indulge.  We need to cry to a friend or we need to shop or we need a bowl of ice cream or we need a drink or we need some macaroni and cheese or we need a glass of wine while in a bubble bath with a trashy romance novel.

    I’ve always been mildly suspicious of people who say that you shouldn’t indulge when having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. People who say they are stronger than that, or who say that they feel better for having some super healthy dinner of brown rice and greens and go to the gym and don’t want ice cream.  Maybe they do.  Maybe honestly being that healthy really does make them feel better.

    But it really doesn’t work for me. I mean, I’m healthy–I work out 4-5 days a week, and I enjoy it. I don’t do it because I “should.” I really enjoy moving. I like eating healthy, too, and if I eat too much junk, I don’t like how I feel.  And I hate how I feel after more than 2 or 3 drinks, even on a night out with the girls for someone’s birthday party.

    But on a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day?

    I may go for a walk. If it’s nice out, I may even strap on my skates and hit the trail for an hour with my iPod and upbeat music. But then I’m very likely going to come home and indulge in one of the things in the first paragraph.

    Notice the singular up there, though. One of the things. One.

    Because that, I think is the key. Our indulgence when feeling bad can sometimes make us feel better. Too much sugar or alcohol and you’re going to have a serious crash on the other side that’s liable to leave you feeling worse. Just a bit, though, and it might be just enough to lift your mood and get the serotonin going in your brain to kick in and help you find some balance.  Go on a bender, and you’re going to wake up feeling worse.  One drink, and you might be able to sleep better instead of tossing and turning in anxiety.

    None of these are habits you should form, obviously. (Ice cream every night is a sure fire way to add on five pounds pretty fast) (Well, okay a nightly bubble bath might be a nice self-care routine. Sans the glass of wine.) But as an indulgence, in moderation–don’t feel guilty. Just set a window. Don’t pull out the pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Get yourself a bowl and put the carton away and don’t go back for it.  Pour one glass of wine and put the bottle away.  Get one bowl of mac and cheese and put the rest in the fridge before you can be tempted by seconds. Take out a certain amount of cash from the ATM for a shopping trip that you can afford and do not spend any more than that at the mall.

    Whatever your particular indulgence for your bad day–go ahead. I won’t judge you. Because after my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day–I’ll be over here with my bubble bath, glass of wine and the new Sookie Stackhouse novel.

    5.  Let go of your “shoulds” for a bit. Be kind to yourself.

    If you’re like me, all those outside voices are throwing enough at you.  You have a ton of things you “should” be doing. There are the things you have to do for others. Your work responsibilities. Your family responsibilities. Your community responsibilities.

    For me, I have had bills and amendments to draft. I have a committee to staff, research to do, questions to answer. For my community, I have my responsibilities to the theater I work with–bylaws to amend, Board meetings and retreats to attend, issues to weigh in on.  For my family–birthday presents to attend to, things to get in the mail, cards to buy.

    None of those are really things I can slack on.  You probably can’t slack on a lot of your responsibilities, either, or feel that you can’t.

    But beyond those we put a lot of other “shoulds” on ourselves. We have our goals, our dreams, our ideals. And these are all good, amazing things. I’m here to encourage all of you to go for them, to aim high, to pursue the things that make you happy. I want each person reading this to work toward your ideal, your best life.

    Some days, though, days when the world is beating us down, our goals, our dreams, and our ideals can turn into something we beat ourselves with, and that is something they never should be. When the voices outside are castigating us, we do not want to add our own to the chorus. Neither, of course, do you want to use a bad day as an excuse to let go of your dreams–that can become self-fulfilling. You can get caught in a cycle of “bad days” and never move forward toward a goal.

    Instead, when you have one of those days when it seems like you cannot win at anything, when you just want to curl up and hide and your to do list is a noose around your neck–let it go. Forget about having to do everything on it. Just pick one thing. What is the most important thing on there?  What is the one most in line with your vision of your life?

    Do that one thing.  Even if it’s only fifteen minutes, try and do that one thing that is moving you toward your ideal life, still, because I guarantee you that you’ll feel better for it.

    But let go of the others on days like that. And let go of the other “shoulds.” Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get to Spinning.  Don’t yell at yourself if you don’t hit that party with your best friend. Don’t put yourself down for skipping the networking event. There will be other gym classes and other parties and networking events.

    Do what you can, do what does not make you feel even worse, do what brings a smile to your face, and write that down in your happiness/success journal. Then call it a day.

    Because tomorrow will be a new day full of new possibilities and when you’re in the middle of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day–that’s the best news of all.

    [Photo credit: Pedrosimoes7]

    [*The phrase “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” is taken from the title/book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day which was one of my favorites as a child and has thus made it into my vocabulary ever since. Alexander declares throughout the book that because the day is so terrible, and he is so unappreciated, he is going to move to Australia, which must be this magical, wonderful place where nothing bad has ever happened. That’s also shorthand in my family and among many of my friends who remember the book–instead of going into that it has been a bad day, we simply can say,  “I think I’ll move to Australia” and everyone knows what the day was like.]


    Fear and Change

    March 24th, 2011

    This is a more personal post than usual, but it’s been on my mind the past few weeks, and I think it’s something we all struggle with in our own ways, so I thought I’d share where my head has been.

    I’ve always been a girl who’s embraced change. Growing up in the military, change was the only constant.  We’d get settled somewhere, and I’d make friends and then boom–three years later (sometimes it felt just like months) the orders would come and we’d be moving halfway around the country or the world to do it all over again. New school, new home, new friends.

    I thought when I got out on my own, I’d settle down, but that hasn’t really been the case. Four years of university, and I was off to Korea to teach for a year. Two years of graduate school after that, and I was off to L.A. to do the Hollywood thing. Two years there, and I was off to San Diego for an experiment in marriage and a grab at law school.  Three years later, I packed up my car, my cats and my broken heart and headed north to Lake Tahoe.

    Well, color me surprised as I’ve taken stock the last few weeks of a few things:

    I’ve got to say that for a girl who doesn’t let grass grow under her feet, there’s at least a few seedlings that have sprouted.  Five and a half years now in the same job, the same town, the same apartment, even.  I hated it here, at first.  I mean, let’s be honest–I was heartbroken, and I’d left sunny SoCal at the end of November to arrive in Carson City as the snow started to fly.  The work wasn’t anything they trained me for in law school, and my coworkers, while nice, weren’t my Renaissance Faire loving, theater going, sit up and talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the philosophical implications of questions posed in Joss Whedon’s television shows until 3AM with a bottle of wine sorts of people.

    I was homesick for a place I didn’t know I’d called home. I wanted to leave.  I spent the next five years trying to figure out how.

    Now I have it. I have my shiny opportunity handed to me on a silver platter of dreams spun out: art and theater and words and friends and a home I once had, even if it isn’t Sunny SoCal. It’s the place of childhood and the place I came of age combined.  The birth of a lot of what is me lies back there in that town to which I’m returning, and a whole new life is spread out beckoning as I get ready to take a leap as huge as the one I took the first time I drove across this country–from that place to LA–eleven years ago.

    And what I’ve figured out these past few weeks?

    Change is bloody terrifying.

    The past few months have been the best I’ve ever had at my job. I’m finally doing work I actually enjoy.  I’m getting compliments on it from my supervisors and my bosses. I’m engaged in the process going on outside the walls of my office. I think about all that I could do next time around and how hard I’ve worked to finally be appreciated and accepted here and how good it feels to be recognized, and I wonder, “why the hell would I give that up to start all over again?”

    The past year has been the best I’ve had since moving here. I performed in a show I loved and made three wonderful friends. I assisted in directing another and then directed my first show for a summer art performance, and it was amazing.  I look at the upcoming season at the theater and I think, “OMG, I want to audition for…” And then I stop, and I realize, and I pause, and this ache twists in my chest, because I won’t be auditioning for it. I won’t be there to see the show my friend will direct or the one another friend will star in, I’m sure. Okay–well, maybe I can fly back to see them, sure, but I won’t be a part of it.

    I’ll have moved on.  That thing that a year ago I would have told you was what I wanted more than anything, and even now, when I truly envision my life…it isn’t here. It’s somewhere else, doing other things. Creating and mentoring and teaching and building this business into something vital and alive.  I see it pouring out and growing and I can feel the joy it will bring, and the excitement that tingles under my skin at the very idea of it.

    That way lies my bliss.  This is my path. All the little fear demons that are popping up aren’t going to stop me. I’ll stomp them out the same way Buffy stomped out Gachnar, though with fewer taunts, because Giles wouldn’t approve. (You knew there had to be a pop culture reference in here somewhere, right?)

    But change is hard. Change is scary. And I finally realized that change can be painful, too.  I have something to lose. Where I always figured that I’d just say, “screw it” and be gone when the time came, now that’s not the case. I have, as my mentor Christine Kane has said, to say “no” to the good to say “yes” to the great.

    But permit me my sentimental moment for a bit.  I think I’m just still reeling a little from the surprise of just how much I’ll miss the good I have here.

    How about you? What do you need to say “no” to, in order to say “yes” to what’s calling to your soul? What are you afraid to let go of in order to change?

    [Photo Credit: Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Fear, Itself” – Image from Wikipedia]


    Administrative stuff

    March 16th, 2011

    Just a quick note to say that we’re moving servers/hosting companies here at Pursuing Bliss, so we may be down for a couple of days this week, but we should be back up by the weekend and ready to go again!

    Thank you for your patience and support. :-)

    UPDATE: The site is back up, obviously–but I’m still working on getting it back up to normal. The wordpress transfer didn’t work *quite* as well as it said it would. So, the information is all here, but it’s going to take some tweaking to get it formatted and looking back how it should! Thank you for your continued patience!


    [Photo: Miss Pupik ]

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