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morning run on the beachDoug took the photo of me running along the beach at dawn one morning last week when we were at Folly Beach, and it helps me remember the incredibly powerful feeling I always have as I run with the surf crashing beside me.

Every morning Doug, Griffin, and I woke early so that we could watch the sun rise and compose haikus – “Sunrise Haikus” are one of my absolute favorite family traditions! – and then I would take off for a run while Doug and Griffin made breakfast.

The days were filled with swimming in the ocean, long walks (one day we logged over 30,000 steps – or almost 15 miles!) and yummy food.

Griffin goes back to school tomorrow, so our beach trip was the perfect way to wrap the summer.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always associated this time of year with new beginnings – when everything feels fresh, exciting and possible.

Today I want to focus on helping you take this energy and take brave and decisive action in the direction of your dreams!

Helen Keller once said, “We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.”

If we try, we can remember our own past bravery as a way to help us feel more courageous today. Sometimes, though, when we look back on our life, we can only remember the times things didn’t work out. And those memories can get in the way of choosing to be brave today.

We say to ourselves: Things went wrong in the past, what if things go wrong again?

Things haven’t always worked out great for me. When I returned from Mexico after working with Doctors Without Borders, I had no job waiting for me. My husband wasn’t working and we had used up all of our savings.

As soon as I got back to the States I applied for every job in the nursing field I could find – even jobs that were way below my level of expertise (and former earnings). I went 2 months before I received a job offer.

The job was as a community health nurse. It would have required working 5 days a week, and because it involved a lot of travel and paperwork, very little of that time would be devoted to actual patient care.

I knew I needed the income, but when offered the position, I just couldn’t accept it. Every fiber of my being knew that I would be miserable at that job. I thanked the nurse manager but declined the offer, hung up the phone, and BURST into tears.

I felt cursed by the warnings of my father and so many well-meaning others who had told me that I was foolish for quitting my good job to take a volunteer position in Mexico, and that I was crazy to think that I could find an even better job on my return.

All that is to say that I am familiar with the demons of grief, anxiety, self-doubt and despair. Very familiar.

My leaps of faith and acts of bravery haven’t always worked out exactly the way I had hoped. In fact they’ve often found me down on my knees in despair asking God how I could have been brought this far to fail.

Another month after that “down on my knees” dark place, I did get my dream job, working as a nurse-midwife for a busy hospital-based birthing center that cared for predominantly Latina patients – working 24 hours a week for more pay than I made working 50-60 hours a week in my former midwifery position.

I worked that job happily for 11 years before I decided that it was time to leave it for my next leap – where you find me today.

And, yes, one year after quitting that job, this particular leap hasn’t worked out exactly the way I hoped either.

My experience has not always been filled with bright sunshine and walks on the beach. And yet, when I finally stopped fighting the questions and the doubts and the fears and allowed myself to simply be sad or confused, I realized that everything actually was okay.

Even when things are not at all the way I want and expect them to be, they are still okay.

“Things are still okay”? What does that mean?

What could that possibly mean when, every day, people all over the world die because of poverty, disease, drugs and violence?

It doesn’t mean that I accept that suffering is unavoidable or acceptable. It doesn’t mean that I stop doing all that I can do to bring more justice, more kindness, and more peace to the world.

What it means to me is that I can focus on what I am doing and – most importantly – how I am doing it, and then I can let go of needing to control, or even worry about, the outcome.

I have survived failures before, and I will survive them again.

And I practice remembering that things always get better, eventually.

possibilitiesFor example, the Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho has said, “Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not, then it’s not the end. I’ve contemplated that quote enough in good times that it helps me keep putting one foot in front of the other when things get tough.

It also helps to take note of exactly what we’re afraid of. Have you noticed that fear almost always comes up when, confronted with a present challenge, we remember something bad from our past? Have you noticed that it also comes up when we imagine something bad that could take place in the future?

Don’t get me wrong – some things should evoke fear. Driving too fast on a twisty road should make you afraid enough to slow down.

Getting bitten by a possibly rabid raccoon (that happened to my husband once!) should elicit a fear response, enough so that you decide to consult a doctor about what to do.

As a character says in Kate DiCamillo’s children’s story, The Tale of Despereux, there are many wonderful things out there to be afraid of. But your regrets about the past or worries about the future probably don’t make the grade.

In these instances, recognizing your fears for what they are – stories about the past that might not now apply, or stories about the future that might never come true – will help.

So will bringing your attention back to what is actually happening right now. How cool would it be if you could just stop thinking about all the memorable and impressive ways you could screw up? You can – it’s a skill you can develop through ten minutes of mindful breathing every day.

One last thing: You know how I told two stories about quitting the 2 different jobs? One had me down on my knees in despair and the other didn’t. Do you want to know what made the difference?

The fact that, when I quit the second time, I had quit once before. Having quit once and survived and succeeded, I had that first success as a model of the good things that could happen. And that’s what I want to leave you with – the things you gain by succeeding in the face of risk.

I’m SO much more comfortable with uncertainty now. I just don’t get that worked up by a lack of (so called) security.

These days, I just BELIEVE IN MYSELF that much more than I believe in the fears and the doubts. And that makes all the difference.

bingo pool partyThe picture to the right shows Griffin having fun with some of his buddies by the pool.

The summer was mostly filled with low-key, happy moments like the one above, but I’m thrilled to share that we’re enjoying a highly anticipated vacation at the beach this week!

Griffin will start 7th grade next week, and even though he may want the summer to continue forever, he’s also found plenty to be happy about when he thinks about the new school year.

I’ve found that finding positive aspects to focus on, no matter what your current situation, is the key to living a happy and fulfilling life.

Alternative medicine guru Deepak Chopra once famously said, “To think is to practice brain chemistry.” Since we create our reality with our thoughts, it’s evident that we can either improve or diminish our experience by the thoughts we choose to focus on.

We are all brain scientists. Our thoughts really do affect our brain chemistry. And we can be like brain surgeons in our ability to carefully excise negative thoughts from our gray matter.

I like to say that the brain’s job is to circulate thoughts, just as our hearts circulate blood. The problem is that the brain also wants to make its thoughts true—especially, it seems, the negative ones—so our brains also produce thoughts that reinforce the negative thoughts until we believe them.

The bottom line is that our negative patterns of thought are grounded in a rich neural circuitry, but that they are simply habits, and can be changed.

Like deer in the woods, our thoughts form paths that they will most likely retread unless we consciously set out to find them a new route. The first step to that new route is to be aware that thoughts can either be unconscious or conscious.

Fortunately, the unconscious variety of thoughts is actually very short-lived. You experience these when you have an emotional reaction to a trigger in your environment.

For example: you’re walking on a road and come upon a rattling snake. When you see and hear the snake, a circuit in your brain trips to tell you the environment isn’t safe. For a short time hormones, or chemical messengers, flood your body and you are in “fight or flight” mode. You will probably scream and run in the opposite direction.

brain researchBrain research has shown that the time from the trigger through the hormone’s release and complete dissolution in your bloodstream is only 90 seconds.

If you are still anxious and uncomfortable after that brief period, it is because you are continuing to tell the story of the snake in your path—even though it is far away and not able to harm you.

When you continue to think of the snake you are “hooking” back into the fear-based circuitry, even though your environment is now safe. It is important to pay close attention to how much time we spend hooked into the circuitry of negative emotions.

Getting caught up in these loops for long periods of time can cause us to get stuck in a groove—like a needle playing on a warped 45—and they can lead to feelings of depression and powerlessness.

The challenge, then, is not to get hooked. The challenge is to choose to think other thoughts, thoughts that feel better, like, “I’m glad I was paying attention and avoided upsetting that snake.”

To take another example, let’s say I am thinking about Griffin. Thinking about him is a specific circuit in my brain. Each thought I think about him can trigger me to feel either very strong positive or negative emotions.

In my brain, thoughts of my son and the emotional circuitry of joy are intimately linked. Usually, I smile just thinking of him. (Right now as I’m writing this and thinking of him I’m reminded of a song he has been singing lately, the Beatles’ “Good Day Sunshine.” But my son sings it “Good Day, Some Time.” It cracks me up every time. )

But there are also other occasions when I am likely to feel bad when I think of him. Just last week we went into an office supply store to buy school supplies, and he picked up a big package of fancy pens and asked to buy it. I said no and reminded him that he already had a bunch of pens at home. He again asserted his desire for the pens, and I again declined to buy it. He became very angry and inconsolable for a few minutes.

When I think of that exchange I feel bad. I wish he hadn’t wanted the pens. I wish I had been able to negotiate his request better and been able to mitigate his anger. I wish I had been less tired after a day of caring for him and his needs. I know that I could have been more patient and handled the situation better and the fact that I didn’t is the source of negative emotion.

So now, whenever I think of Griffin, I have a choice: focus on his happy song or his frustrated dismay. In the moment of thinking either thought, and tripping its underlying emotional and physiological circuitry, my mouth will either lift in a smile or purse in a frown.

Those strong thoughts and feelings have the potential to jump instantly into my mind. But I always have the power to consciously choose which emotional and physiological loops I want to hook into.

Realizing that you can be aware of your neural circuitry and choose whether or not to engage it is a powerful tool. If you are triggered, learning to give yourself 90 seconds to breathe through the release and dissolution of the negative chemical messengers, and then learning to choose a different, better-feeling thought will help you go a long way on your path to happiness.

How to Change Your Focus – and Your Mood – in Record Time

August 9, 2016

The picture to the right was taken after the game-winning, adult-beating goal for the kids’ team during a soccer playdate Griffin had recently with a boy who will be joining Griffin’s class this year. (Thanks in part to their shared victory, they’re now fast friends.) I’m the “Parent Mentor” to help new families make a

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How to Get Lucky

August 2, 2016

The photo to the right was taken at our local park after a fruitful day of Pokemon catching. If you haven’t heard of the PokemonGo craze, I encourage you to go to your local park and check it out. One of the very cool things about PokemonGo is that there are no published instructions, so

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Stephen King’s 5 Killer Life Lessons

July 26, 2016

The photo to the right was taken during a sweet moment cuddling on the couch during our family vacation. It was a blissfully low-key, fun-filled week after what seems like months of one crisis after another. My husband Doug professes that his favorite vacations are all about “reading and eating,” and although I love vacations

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What’s really bothering you?

July 19, 2016

The photos below show Griffin with his BFF – yesterday and 5 years ago. They became fast friends in first grade when Will’s family moved to Asheville, but then they moved away two years later. (Long-time readers may remember that we visited them on their yacht in Greece two years ago!) Even though the family now lives

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What’s Your Love Language?

July 12, 2016

That’s a pic of me enjoying some quality time with my brother a few days ago. I went up to Cincinnati last week to help take care of him after his heart surgery. (In my ezine last week, I talked about how Randy, my older brother – who is a 48 year-old super fit, vegan

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How Stress Signals That Your Life Is at Risk

July 5, 2016

I consider my body my most-trusted advisor. I think it assimilates information from the Universe that I can’t understand fully at first. You see, I know the Universe wants me to live my best life, but sometimes I don’t heed its advice – I’m convinced that sometimes I don’t even hear it. It’s like Oprah

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How to trust yourself to make the right decisions

June 28, 2016

The photo to the right shows me and Griffin eating some campfire guacamole and generally having a blast during our annual “off the grid” camping adventure. We were at the gorgeous Lake Santeelah. The spring-fed lake features the most beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, and the pristine water made for VERY refreshing dips, given

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It’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility

June 21, 2016

The photo to the right shows Griffin working through a difficult mountain bike course in preparation for some serious mountain biking and camping over the weekend. One of the things I often tell Griffin is “We can do hard things.” And I’m so glad he’s embraced it as his own personal motto as well. What

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