How to survive Valentine’s Day

•February 14, 2010 • 1 Comment

It’s Valentine’s Day. You’ve noticed. How could you not?

Everywhere you go there are reminders about this day of romance. The radio and tv stations are full of jewelery specials. The grocery stores are packed with flowers and chocolates. And I’m pretty sure Pro-Flowers spent about 80% of their advertising budget on pop-up internet ads this week alone.

This list of miserable reminders does NOT include any stories you’ve had to listen to from your colleagues, family members and friends about their plans for the day. I get it. Valentine’s Day sucks for you. There’s nothing like a national day celebrating romance to remind you JUST how unhappy and alone you feel.

So here’s my advice on how to get through it, whether you’re single (and don’t want to be) or attached (and ridiculously disappointed by the person who “forgot” to bring you chocolates this afternoon). I spent many years in BOTH categories and devised a three-step plan for making it through this day as unscathed as possible. So go ahead and grab a pen and a piece of paper because you are about to do some pretty heavy-duty self-coaching work.

Step One: Face your lizard.

On days like these, when you are at your most emotionally vulnerable, lizards like to attack. Big-time. Blanche used to tell me all sorts of mean things on Valentine’s Day. When I was single, she would tell me that no one was ever going to love me and then point out all of my (according to her) grossly huge imperfections. When I was in a bad relationship (and there have been quite a few), she would try to convince me that my disappointment was unwarranted because I shouldn’t expect much from members of the opposite sex. Whatever Blanche said, it made me feel like shit. I would listen to her for hours, wallowing in misery. Then I learned a strategy. Every time Blanche would say something hurtful, I would write it down. This simple step was the beginning of me learning to detach from Blanche.

Action Step: Divide your piece of paper into two columns. Label the column on the left “Lizard.” Label the column on the right “Truth.” Start listing all of the mean things YOUR lizard is saying to you, right now, under the lizard column.

Step Two: Face the Truth.

Now that you’ve got your Lizard’s List, just go ahead and look at it for a minute. Would you ever say any of these mean and hurtful things to ANYONE you cared about? Of course not. Don’t for a minute think that your lizard is on your side because it is not.

What you are now going to do is to state an opposite and/or positive affirmation (the Truth) for each of your lizard’s nasty comments. For example, if your lizard told you that you were too old to ever find someone to be with (a common diatribe from my dear Blanche), a possible positive affirmation would be: I have enough time to find someone who is right for me. If your lizard is telling you NOT to break up with that loser you’ve been stuck with for years because you’ll end up alone, a possible affirmation would be: When I end an unhealthy relationship, I open up room in my life for a new and better relationship. Get it? I know this all sounds a little corny, a little Jack Handy, but trust me, it works.

Action Step: On the right hand column of your chart, next to EACH lizard blurt, state an opposite and/or positive affirmation (the Truth). Then read each affirmation out loud and feel the truth of it. This will feel very uncomfortable at first. Don’t be surprised if your lizard tries to jump in with some counterargument to your affirmation (remember, this is what lizards do). Just keep stating the affirmation and feeling the truth of each statement (even if it just feels like a little bit of truth at first).

Step Three: Be your own Valentine.

Katherine Woodward Thomas, a very wise woman and brilliant relationship coach, gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard: It’s time to cut your losses. It’s time for you to give yourself that which you’ve been waiting for someone else to give to you.

When I first read this, I was in a relationship I had wanted very much to work out. I kept waiting and waiting for this man to see how beautiful and brilliant and special I was. But he just never did. He keep doing thoughtless and hurtful things. Valentine’s Day was the day I came to the devastating conclusion that he just wasn’t the right guy for me. All I had really wanted was some flowers. He didn’t bring me flowers any other day, but I thought for Valentine’s Day he just might. I know it’s cliché, but I LOVE FLOWERS. He never got them for me. In fact, he didn’t bring anything over to the dinner I had spent all day planning and preparing for us. He just showed up, with the disappointing evidence that he wasn’t ever going to appreciate me.

I broke up with him shortly after Valentine’s Day. And then do you know what I did? I bought myself flowers. Every week. And not just any flowers, either. The big, beautiful, organic and colorful bouquets. The bouquets that said-I love you and I adore you and I want you to have the prettiest flowers. At the time I was a teacher and this was a bit of a budget stretch. But those flowers, given TO me BY me, healed my soul in a way that nothing else ever could. Katherine Woodward Thomas is right. Stop waiting for someone else to give you what it is you desire. Give it to yourself.

Action Step: What is it that you would want your Valentine to give to you? Make a list of what it is you desire and then find creative ways to give these things to yourself. Here are some examples from previous clients:

I want unconditional love. (Client went and got herself a puppy.)

I want a dinner at a romantic restaurant. (Client made a reservation at the restaurant and went by herself. She took a magazine with her to read while she ate a great meal.)

I want to feel nurtured. (I’ve had clients do everything from mani/pedis, to sleeping in, to getting massages for this one).

I want great sex. (Even though my client at first insisted she could not give this herself, she later informed me my vibrator recommendations were excellent).

You don’t have to hide under a rock today. You don’t have to stay in bed, eating bon-bons, watching Lifetime movies and feeling sorry for yourself. Yes, it IS Valentine’s Day and most people think of it as a holiday for couples. But really, Valentine’s Day is about love. So I would advice you, dear reader, to use my three-step plan and make this day about love. Love for the person who will ALWAYS be with you, the person who will be with you through thick and thin, no matter what, for the rest of your life: YOU.


Meet Blanche

•February 11, 2010 • Leave a Comment

This is Blanche. She is my lizard. That’s right, my lizard (also known as the unrelenting self-critical voice inside my head). Now don’t go getting all self-righteous on me because I have a lizard. You have one too and it’s stronger than you think.

For a long, long time, I tried to shut Blanche up. I tried to feed her grapes. I tried to persuade her to take naps. I even tried to reason with her.

You know what? She didn’t listen. Why would she? She’s a lizard, for Pete’s sake. She has a reptilian brain-what did I expect?

So I recently have decided to embrace Blanche and the crazy things she says every day. If Havi Brooks can have her rubber duck as her sidekick, then I can have my lizard, dammit. I’ve decided that Blanche should join us in this blog.  I’ve noticed that when I publish her fearful phrases to the world, when I tell other people what good ol Blanche is saying,  it’s quite funny. Blanche makes people laugh. Granted it’s unintentional, it’s probably because her attempts at keeping me fearful and freaking out are eerily familiar to others, but gotta hand it to her, she makes people laugh. And laughing feels good.

So welcome, Blanche, from all of our lizards. Personally, I can’t WAIT for her to join us on the blog about Valentine’s Day, coming very soon.

Goal Training-Part Four

•February 9, 2010 • Leave a Comment

If you’ve followed the steps to setting and achieving your goals thus far you have:

1. Created a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG) and listed the steps you need to take to get there.

2. Broken down each step into ridiculously easy steps.

3. Made a list of small rewards (to give yourself once you complete each ridiculously easy step), a list of medium-sized rewards (to give yourself once you complete each component of your BHAG) and one major reward (to give yourself once you have achieved your BHAG).

Perhaps you are wondering what could possibly be left after all of this careful planning? That, my dear reader, would be ACTION.

Yep, that’s right. Part Four of this Goal Training can be summed up in one word: GO.
And remember to keep rewarding yourself generously with small and medium rewards as you make your way to completion.

Goal Training-Part Three

•February 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

If you’ve followed the steps to setting effective goals, breaking them down into consecutive steps and then breaking those components down into ridiculously easy steps, you’re ready for the third part of goal training-your rewards.

As simple and as fun as this part sounds, I can tell you that for some strange reason, the concept of giving one’s self a reward seems to be a difficult aspect for my clients. Sooo… I will reiterate this point several times in this post as I do when I’m coaching individuals-Giving yourself rewards for completion of the steps you’ve outlined is one of the MOST important parts of reaching your goals. Do not underestimate how effective rewards are to your success.

By now you’ve set your BHAG (your big, hairy, audacious goal). You’ve broken it down. You’ve made several ridiculously easy steps to complete. The next thing you need to do, BEFORE you move into action, is to create a list of small and big rewards. 

On the surface, this doesn’t sound that hard. In fact, after all the tedious planning and breaking things down, it seems like this is the most fun thing I’ve suggested yet. However, when I tell people about this next step, I immediately hear protests. I have no money! I can’t afford to give myself rewards! I’m trying to lose weight-the last thing I need is a treat! (and one that I heard from someone this week) I don’t deserve any rewards until I reach my big goal.   

First, let me define a reward. A reward is anything that makes you feel good. It DOES NOT have to cost money. It DOES NOT have to consume a lot of your time. It DOES NOT have to be food related (but it can be. The things I’ve accomplished with Tootsie Rolls is nothing short of amazing.) A reward should be, um, well, rewarding.

Here are some little rewards that some of my past clients have come up with: smell my favorite candle, check my facebook page, take a deep breath, put a sticker on my goal chart, have a cup of tea, listen to a song I like, look at an art book, give myself five minutes to read a celebrity gossip magazine, text my best friend.

Think of what your five senses love. What do you like to see? Smell? Taste? Hear? Touch? Brainstorm a list of tiny rewards that would a) take no more than five minutes of your time and that b) you would truly enjoy. When you’re done with this list, then think of some bigger rewards you could give yourself when you complete the bigger steps leading up to your goal. These rewards can be bigger in scope, time and cost. The important thing here is that you PERCEIVE them to be congruent to the task that was just completed. When you’re done with this list, come up with one, big, HUGE reward that you can give yourself when your BHAG is completed.

By now you should have three lists of rewards. One list should be tiny rewards that you will give yourself after you complete EACH ridiculously easy step. One list should be a set of bigger rewards that you will yourself when your complete a bigger step that aligns with your goal. And the third list should be one major reward that you will give yourself upon completion of your BHAG.  

Take my example of reorganizing and cleaning my kitchen. In my first post, I listed all of the steps I would need to complete in order to have a spotless and well-organized kitchen. ONE of these steps was cleaning out the fridge. I took this one step (Project Refrigerator) and broke this down into ridiculously easy steps. Now, when I go to complete each ridiculously easy step (ie: removing all of the condiments from the shelf on the fridge door), I will give myself a very small reward (ie: one Tootsie Roll).

When I’ve completed Project Refrigerator, I will then give myself a bigger reward (for me this will be 15 minutes scanning my latest Pottery Barn catalog). Then I will move onto another step-cleaning and organizing the pantry. I will continue to give myself little rewards after I complete each ridiculously easy step and then give myself a bigger reward when the pantry is done. When I’ve reached my BHAG and my entire kitchen is reorganized and cleaned, I will then give myself my big reward (for me, this is an afternoon at an art gallery with my cell phone turned off).

See how this works?

All of the rewards, the bigger ones and especially the smaller ones, help keep you motivated as you progress on your journey. Feel free to structure your steps however it works best for you and your lifestyle, but keep in mind that GIVING YOURSELF REWARDS is the secret to your success and the force behind your motivation.

Here’s  an example of how I helped a friend of mine revise her goal strategy using this type of goal training. My friend is trying to lose 25 pounds by the end of April (this is her BHAG). She had already established her big reward-she is going on a tropical vacation with her husband, sans children. In order to reach her goal, she has to a) follow her eating plan designed for her by a nutritionist (5 mini-meals per day) and b) follow her exercise plan(5 days at the gym per week). When I spoke with her, she had already decided to break down her BHAG into weekly goals.

Each week that she completes her 5 days of exercise and sticks with her eating plan, she gives herself a reward (for her, this is being able to watch her two favorite tv shows, uninterrupted by work). However, three weeks into her program, she began to notice her drive waning.

I know from my own experience that eating right and exercising each day is a challenge  in and of itself. For someone to wait until she’s been successful for an entire week to give herself a reward is just too long. I suggested setting up mini-rewards for each ridiculously easy step in order to keep the momentum going.

My friend has to plan and eat her five designated meals at certain times. AND she has to find time to go the gym five days per week (despite the stresses of work and family life). Each time she eats one of her designated meals, she gives herself a mini-reward. Then she gives herself a bigger reward each time she goes to the gym (because she perceives going to the gym as a bigger commitment than eating a mini-meal, I suggested she align the reward with the task at hand).

Now each time that this friend sticks to her meal plan, she immediately gets a reward. Each time she goes to the gym, she has something to look forward to when she’s done-her bigger reward. Each week that she successfully completes the program, she receives an even bigger reward and when she reaches her goal weight, she’s off to Hawaii.

Now, it’s your turn. 🙂

Goal Training-Part Two

•January 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Are your New Year’s Resolutions starting to lose their luster? Tired of making inspiring goals only to be thwarted by, um, life? Sick of feeling like a failure every time you try to accomplish that goal you’ve had forever?

Last post, I expounded on the number one reason most big goals fail: They are not well-planned out. Having a goal with no strategy or game plan is a recipe for failure. The first step one needs to take after one makes a goal is surprisingly obvious yet frequently neglected. Yep, you got it. As soon as you articulate a goal, you must then break it down into its smaller components. Below, I explain the next step to making sure that you WILL achieve whatever it is you’ve set out to accomplish.

But first, a disclaimer: this type of goal setting IS tedious and IS time-consuming at the get-go. Don’t get discouraged by the amount of mental energy it takes to plan these steps before you even get started. Putting in the work now, before you even more into action, is what will guarantee your success. Also, if you practice this goal training for a while, you will begin to notice that your brain will naturally start breaking down goals into smaller components and even smaller steps. You will naturally begin rewarding yourself when you accomplish ridiculously easy steps (more on this in Part Three). And you may notice, as I have, that setting goals becomes kind of like a game where you know you have set yourself up for victory. I would even go so far as to say that sometimes it can almost be fun.  

In my last post, I used the example of cleaning and organizing my entire kitchen as one of my big, hairy, audacious goals (or BHAG as those of us who are fond of acronyms like to call them). For you, cleaning and organizing your kitchen may not be such a big deal. But this resolution had made it onto my New Year’s list time and time again until I learned these four steps to accomplishing goals. So in this post, I will illustrate for you how I used these steps to be successful. You can use this goal training for ANY goal with which you’ve had issues accomplishing in it the past. And I would highly encourage you to continue to use it for any goals you set in the future. It is easy, versatile and effective.

Goal Training-Part Two

Once you break your BHAG down into its smaller components, you then take each smaller component and break it down into what Martha Beck calls “ridiculously easy” steps to accomplish. How does one know if one has created a ridiculously easy step? By putting each step against this litmus test: these steps take some kind of effort, but they are so easy, you have 100% confidence that you can accomplish them. If you’d like an example, take one of the smaller components from my BHAG and see how I did this below.

BHAG: Clean and organize kitchen.

Smaller Component One: Project Refrigerator-Clean and organize the fridge (and throw out the science experiments).

Ridiculously Easy Steps to accomplishing the cleaning and organizing of the fridge:

1. Turn off the refrigerator.

2. Take all of the condiments out of the shelves on the fridge door and put these on the kitchen counter.

3. Remove all of the food and food products from the shelves inside the fridge.

4. Remove all of the fruits, veggies, meats and cheese from the bins in the fridge.

5. Wipe down/clean the shelves in the fridge.

6. Wipe down/clean the shelves on the fridge door.

7. Pull out the bins.

8. Pour a sink full of hot, soapy water.

9. Wash bin one.

10. Wash bin two.

11. Wash bin three.

12. Wash bin four.

13. Dry all four bins.

14. Put bins back into the fridge.

15. Put the condiments back in the fridge door, checking expiration labels and throwing out expired food.

16. Put the food products back on the fridge shelves, checking expiration labels and throwing out expired food.

17. Put the appropriate food back into the bins.

18. Turn on the refrigerator again.

Each of these steps, in isolation, is ridiculously easy for me. Pulling the condiments out of the fridge? No problem. Filling the sink with some dish soap and hot water? Simple. Washing ONE bin? Easy. No, actually ridiculously easy.   

Now it’s your turn. Take one of the smaller components of your BHAG and break it into ridiculously easy steps. Next post, Part Three, we’ll talk about the bribes, I mean rewards, you will give yourself in order to keep the momentum going.

Goal Training-Part One

•January 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I’ll admit it-I’m a goal-aholic. I love thinking about big, hairy, audacious goals. I love making action plans and to-do lists. I have never had any issues with aspiring to greatness.

Problem is, like most overachievers, I set my sights too high, too soon. I’ll lose 10 pounds this month! I’ll master this entire cookbook of recipes by next week! By the end of this hour, I’ll have reorganized all of my computer files! Guess what? These never happen. They always sound impressive, they always look good on paper, but their ridiculous unreasonable timelines always lead to failure.

Once I taught a new client who was going through a huge and painful transition a coaching tool called the House Metaphor. Her homework for the week was to take one small thing in her house that she did not like and to make it better. At the time, I was a brand new coach. I thought giving her something very small to focus on would really help her. The next session, she told me that she had brought in an interior designer and had redesigned every room in her three-story house. “All I have left to do is to reorganize the bookshelf and I have that set in my schedule this evening after my 12 hour workday!” I remember her telling me.

Although a part of me was impressed at her velocity, I couldn’t help shake the nagging feeling that she was moving way too quickly, way too soon. That redesigning her whole house in one week was actually just part of the overall problem of overachieving. I recognized in my sessions with her what the universe was trying to teach me-that the need to do big and impressive things in an unrealistic amount of time is actually just a form of self-sabotage.

Sound familiar? So what’s an overachieving goal-setter to do?

First of all, I’m not going to try to get you to compromise on any of your goals or your dreams. Make them as big and impressive and inspiring as you’d like. Once you’ve stated your goals, then you’re about to take some other very important, very significant and very crucial steps to your success: breaking them down into smaller projects.

Goal Training-Part One:

This week, your homework is to take one of your goals (perhaps a New Year’s Resolution that’s already going down the toilet) and break this big goal into several small and more manageable goals (or projects as I like to call them).

For example, let’s say you want to reorganize your entire kitchen. That’s a big project. So first, you would break this goal down into several, different , smaller projects. Here’s an example from the kitchen reorganization of yours truly.

BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal): Reorganize and Clean Entire Kitchen

Smaller Projects for BHAG:

-Project Refrigerator: Clean and organize the fridge (and throw out the science experiments).

-Project Pantry: Clean and organize the pantry.

-Project Dinnerware: Organize all dinnerware.

-Project Silverware: Organize all silverware.

-Project Pots and Pans: Organize all pots and pans.

-Project Tupperware: Organize all tupperware.

-Project Glassware: Organize all glassware.

-Sweep and Mop Floor (including behind the oven and fridge).

*Notice how I took my big goal of reorganizing and cleaning my kitchen and created 8 separate projects from this one goal. Now it’s your turn. Once you break down your BHAG into several smaller projects, don’t move into action just yet. There are still three more important steps to this process that I’ll write about soon. For now, just focus on
breaking down a big goal into smaller projects.

Making your Resolutions Fun

•January 7, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It’s the first week of January. If you’re like most, you’ve already started to put your New Year’s Resolutions into action and are starting to feel, perhaps, a little less motivated than you did last week on December 31st. 

Maybe you resolved to lose weight and get in shape and this is the morning you find yourself making excuses to stay in bed rather than heading off to the gym. Maybe this is the year you’ve decided to find the man of your dreams and are starting to feel a disillusioned at the lack of prospects on the internet dating sites. For me, I’ve got a long list of resolutions and this is the year that I’m finally going to finish my novel. Last week I had no problem finding time to write. This week however, I notice my fire already starting to die down.

Starting a new year is kind of like running a race. At first, you’re all gung-ho and full of energy, determined to win. But after the first mile, you start to get a little tired. When I was a long-distance competitive runner, many of my former teammates would pull out these small packets full of energy gel and eat them along the way, while they were running, to keep up their energy.  Whenever I’ve run a 10K, there’s consistently a water stop after about the 2nd mile and one every mile thereafter.  Runners know what the rest of us sometimes forget-when you’re going to be going for awhile, you need your fuel.

What’s your fuel for keeping those New Year’s Resolutions?

What works for me is to consistently make meeting my goals seem as desirable as possible. Every time I do something that moves me in the direction of my goal, I sprinkle in a reward.

For example, take my novel-writing resolution. My weekly goal is to write for one hour on one day of the week. This is what I do. I schedule in my writing time into my calendar so that I make that committment to myself. Then, during my scheduled writing time, I go to my favorite coffee shop and buy my favorite coffee drink. Even before I get started, I’ve given myself the reward of beautiful ambiance and a nice little warm drink. I write for 10 minutes, then I give myself the reward of checking my daily horoscope. I then write for 30 more minutes and give myself the reward of going onto Facebook for 5 minutes. I write for 20 more minutes and then give myself the reward of listening to my favorite cd in my car as I drive home. So now I’ve written for one hour and I’ve programmed myself to look forward to this otherwise daunting resolution because I’ve set it up to be fun.

Now it’s your turn. Grab a fresh sheet of notebook paper. Take one of your New Year’s Resolutions and write it down. Underneath this resolution, come up with 10 ways that you could make this resolution more fun and/or more desirable in some way. These ways don’t have to be elaborate (in fact, simple works better). And these ways most certainly don’t have to cost money. Think of these as your fuel. Get creative. Ask friends for suggestions and ideas if you get stuck. Then schedule in a time in your calendar to work towards your resolution and employ at least 3 of these fun things the next time you start working towards your resolution.