There’s always been a certain charm of Europe that grabs hold of you, a sense of great architecture, grand design, great food, amazing culture, and women who know how to wear a scarf effortlessly. I particularly like to be in Europe for the holiday season. It’s done so well, so elegant, old-world charm, light-handed, and all your senses are immersed in holiday cheer. Not the unabashed, neon, tinsel-town fakeness in America.
So my BFF and I decided to spend this holiday in Italy and Belgium to surround ourselves with Christkindlemarkts, gluehwein, kaesestanger pretzals, and French fries with mayo in a cone and little forks as only the Belgians and the Dutch can do so well. When we arrived in Bruges, one of our favorite towns in the world that we thought couldn’t get any more charming and quaint. Well… cue the horse-drawn carriages clip-cloppping down the cobblestone street, the smell of chestnut roasting on an open fire (no kidding), and the smell of chocolate, the sight of 18th century canal homes decked out in greenery, simple white lights and red ribbons, ice skaters on the square encircled by holiday market stalls, and holiday music piped through the streets. Bliss, simply bliss from all angles. All we needed was reindeer and some snow. It did spit rain, so we ducked into a 15th century convent turned hotel for high tea by the roaring fire in the walk-in fireplace along the canal. We were the only ones in the sumptuous drawing room replete with champagne, tea, and crumpets – just what we needed to complete the holiday mood.
Several trips and years ago we had decided to up our game in several areas of our lives. It’s funny how little things can be improved and when you string together all the areas you have stepped-up, it turns out your life has been up-leveled in interesting ways. This trip was no exception. We continued to step up our scarf game because they are plentiful in Europe, take up no room in the suitcase and don’t break. I’ve come to know that eyeglasses are much more creative and interesting in Europe than in America. Why can’t American’s have imagination when it comes to eyewear. There is no comparison. This trip was no different when we met a woman whose dad has been the creative force behind some wild and crazy designs since the 60’s. Of course, we couldn’t leave the country without a pair of hot pink and purple frames to add to the collection.
One this trip we decided to step up our balsamic vinegar and chocolate game. Visiting a tiny artisanal vinegar house in Modena was a perfect entre into the world of fine balsamic vinegars. They produce only 2000, 100ml bottles per year and the entire operation is in the attic of their 1800’s home. The sweet, tart scent of vinegar wafted throughout the home where they took such pride in aging their stash for 12-25 years completely naturally. Of course, we had to buy bottles at $65 – $130 each. The complex taste is out of this world and the consistency of heave syrup is divine. I had long stepped up from the watery balsamic of the grocery store to specialty vinegars, but had no idea this amazing concoction existed. It rocked my world.
The same held true for chocolate. The Europeans have the Americans beat to shreds in chocolate-making, bread-making and many other things. When we strolled the Galleries near the Grand Place in Brussels, the high-end chocolate shops looked like fine jewelry stores with Mary chocolates holding the seal of the royal family. Another divine sensory overload. Eat your heart out Hershey’s.
The cherry on top was the sensory overload in the Grand Place at night with a light show set to holiday music while eating a warm waffle and turning in circles to not miss a thing trying to catch a glimpse of the fabulous buildings from the 1600’s bathed in flickering lights timed perfectly with the music. It was magical, it was marvelous, it was setting the bar very high for holiday experiences European-style. Yet another area where we had up-leveled our experiences and our awareness of bigger and better things available.
What kinds of things have you up-leveled in your life? How have you stepped up in different areas of your life? What are you consciously letting go of in order to make room for newer, better things, experiences, ways of being, doing, having? From things such as pens, furniture, fabrics, foods, jewelry, books, what you watch on screens, how you choose to use your time, dishes, thoughts, habits, colleagues, job/work, friends, behavior, bed linens, towels, lingerie, bags, paper, lotions and self-care products to hotels, villas, restaurants. Treat yourself to some up-leveling at any level this year. One small thing or big leaps and be conscious of what works for you and how it feels and what feels right for you. It’s all part of continuous improvement in all areas of your life. Make an effort to notice your space, your closet, your kitchen and refrigerator. What can you improve to represent who you are or who you want to become?
I’ve decided I probably need to be in Europe the month of December from now on. It feels like home. I’ve always tried to stay off the road and out of the malls and stores between Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King Day in America. It feels bad for me and I refuse to get caught up in the self-imposed stress of running around for sales and buying obligatory gifts that you wouldn’t normally be buying. The rushing around and fake blow-up decorations are a big turn-off for me. What feels more right is the old-school way of celebrating the holidays is how it is done in Europe. One more way of stepping it up and stepping out to enjoy what feels best for me. What do you do to feel your best and take care of your soul, your psyche, your body and your mind?
It’s that old balance thing again. Get your priorities sorted out according to what is truly important: people first and then things, people first and then things. It is good for the soul to feed it what it wants, or it will always be hungry no matter what else you give it. Work with your personal energy cycles to be the most productive. For some, this means intermittently switching off between personal and professional tasks throughout the day and inserting personal energy breaks in-between stretches of intense concentration.
For others, it could mean working a night shift if they are night owls and sleeping during the day. For another group it might mean both spouses working part time so they can split the child care and still have time for work, family, and couple time. The advent of flex schedules and compressed workweeks are a great invention to help workers equalize their time by working four days and having three days off. It sure seems more equal than the old five on and two off.
It takes constant attention to how you are balancing your personal or family time with your professional or school time. Whatever your balancing act entails, it takes vigilance and attention to ensure you are in sync and in balance for optimum energy and peak performance.
When we are out of balance and have unequal amounts of time spread between the different areas in our lives, we feel overwhelmed, under great stress, out of focus, out of sorts, and irritated with others. We tend to lose our sense of humor and our sense of control over our time and our lives. When we feel out of control, we feel stress and fear and frazzled. Recognize the signals of being unbalanced and make a plan to equalize your life in the future.
Take note of what circumstances brought you to this unequal place and create steps to get yourself out of there. Sometimes we cannot attain the proper balance over one day; we need to take a look at the week, or even the month. Sometimes circumstances warrant that we need to plow through a project or moment in time with intense focus and only after that time can we opt for better balance. Plan some down time as your reward for getting through this period so you have time to recoup your energies.
Become aware of your natural biorhythms for optimal performance and equalize your time between personal and professional responsibilities. Balance keeps things in perspective and helps you do most things in moderation to keep your energy in check. It’s a constant, conscientious effort to keep all the areas of your life in balance. Awareness is the first step to creating boundaries for your time and energy.
Pre-set your boundaries and know your limits. When demands stretch you towards your ends, you know when to pull back to maintain your balance, your sanity and your energy. Let others know of your boundaries and when they have crossed the line in order to keep your stress levels and your energy in check. n a USA Today survey, 75% of CEOs and 88% of middle managers listed balancing work and family as a major concern. How’s your balance? What are you doing to create more balance in your life? Do you know the signs your body tells you when you are unbalanced?
Life balance is vitally important to your happiness, success, and health. There is considerable evidence showing that mishandled stress at home interferes with work performance, and mismanaged on-the-job pressures create or magnify problems at home. Other research shows that the quality of personal relationships strongly influences job productivity, disease resistance, and longevity. Evaluating your various roles in areas of your life and attaching a level of priority to each is another important step toward making more intelligent decisions on where to put your time and energy.
Providing time for Leisure Moments in our lives, helps increase our resilience to stress, helps improve self-confidence and self-esteem, our physical fitness, and mental alertness. Often, when we take time out to re-create, refresh, and renew, we feel more in control of our lives which helps lower stress levels. When was the last time you went out and played to recharge your batteries?
Humor and laughter can build a healthy heart. Cardiologists at the University of Maryland studied 300 participants, half with healthy hearts and half with heart disease. Those with heart disease were 40% less likely to see humor in situations based on a survey and were more hostile and angry than those with healthy hearts. You can test your healthy sense of humor with their survey at http://www.umm.edu/news/humor.html . Another study of 240 heart-attach survivors found those who laughed at comedy videos every day were less likely to suffer a second heart attack during the course of a year. Based on an article by Allen Klein, the Jollytologist, in the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor Newsletter.
Many workers believe that the supportiveness of their boss is an important factor in determining their attitude or outlook at work. Nearly 61% rated this factor as extremely important, while 26% rated the supportiveness of their boss as somewhat important. When choosing a workplace, 87% sought out a place that is understanding of their personal and family needs. Only 4% actually sought out employers who are strict about attending to family needs, while 9% found employers who appear to be unaware of family needs as reported to Careerbuilder.com. Being content at work is a big part of having a balanced life. Take stock of where you work and with whom you work and if it’s not working for you, find something that will.
Upon attending an outdoor concert the other night watching the toddlers dance and play and make new friends very quickly; I’m reminded to be more child-like (not childish) in order to keep up my energy.
Childish is whiney, self-centered, me, me, me. Child-like is inclusive, joyful, open, free and possibility thinking.
This was not a Wiggles concert, it was an 80?s party dance band that got everybody rockin’ from 2 year-old’s to 72 year-olds and the energy was amazing. Here are some observations on being more child-like:
1. Free-flowing self-expression. What are you doing to express your creativity, your emotions, your message, and your authentic self to the world? One boy just kept running across the dance floor with his arms spread out yelling, just yelling and venting and letting it out. Try some sound therapy – vocalize a long A sound loudly for as long as you can in a deep breath – it helps get the energy moving through your body.
2. If you fall down, get back up quickly and keep moving forward. Another boy just kept running in circles at top speed. He’d fall, look around, smile and get up to keep running. This went on for 1.5 hours. He never stopped smiling and running, even if he ran into people or tripped and fell. He just kept going. Ski racers and other athletes know the race could go to the one who gets up the fastest after falling.
3. Laughter keeps you healthy and vital. As a Certified Laughter Leader, I’ve written on the benefits of laughter. It helps boost our immune system, it connects others, it keeps oxygen flowing to our body, it helps our lungs and it gives us internal exercise. Children laugh 350-450 times per day, adults laugh maybe 15. See the difference?
4. Make friends easily. I mean real people, not just Facebook friends. Go out and meet others in person. If the internet crashed tomorrow, how many real friends would you have? Friends boost our energy, help us live longer, give us a place to vent and bounce ideas off of and are a soft place to land if we do fall. One little girl just walked around with her arms open and gave kisses to everybody. Sometimes she would just stand there, arms spread with a wanting look in her eye and others would give her a hug.
5. Free flowing movement, dance with abandon, run, skip, make a game out of what you’re doing and make it fun. Make a game out of cleaning your house – set a timer and see how fast you can do it, create competition, put on some music, ride your bike for errands, walk to the store, and invite others to join. One boy made a game of jumping from one colored marker on the dance floor to the other and did a happy dance when he made it across without touching the other colors. Sheer happiness and a celebration of success.
6. Change directions, change activities when your energy is waning on one activity, to focus on another that will pump up your energy. When a child loses interest in something, they immediately change to something else that catches their eye. We adults call it a short attention span. I call it a smart move to keep your energy and enthusiasm up to pump up your resilience to life stressors. If you feel your energy draining, change directions to something new and feel the spark.
7. Take new risks, try new things and learn from failures. We can’t win at everything, but when we lose, don’t lose the lesson. Have a beginner’s brain and try something new. I’ve have a pact with myself for the past 25 years to try something new each year and to learn something new – hang gliding, parasailing, moving to a new country, dog sledding, sky diving, bungee jumping or something a little lower key like starting a new business, taking a class, learning a new language or trying vegetarianism.
What are you doing to celebrate your successes? What are you doing to keep your energy and interest at its peak, build resilience, and stave off stress? How are you expanding your horizons and learning new things or taking new risks to be more childlike? What puts you in beginner’s brain to be open to new experiences? Now excuse me to go change activities….
As a former Recreation Professional (yes we got paid to play); we knew that it wasn’t just about the leisure activity we provided that provided the benefits to our participants, it was their mindset when they were participating.
Come to think of it, I’m not sure ‘former’ is appropriate, maybe ‘recovering’ would be a better term. I will always have a recreation and leisure outlook on life and will always embrace the importance of play, fun, re-creating, re-charging and renewing my mind, body and spirit.
I digress…. You see, we can be gardening, playing in the garden or working in the garden. It can be the same activity, but our mindset while we are doing it can be very different and thus create very different outcomes. Is cooking a joy and a creative experience to show love or is it a chore you must do to get fed? What is your mindset towards your activities?
What once was a joy can become a burden simply because of your mindset. Sort of like what attracted you to a person, may become annoying? Sound familiar? Minding our mindset when we are involved in the moment, in an activity can influence our material outcomes and our emotional/stress management outcomes as well.
Are you in the flow and in the moment? Are you fully aware and experiencing what you’re doing in that moment, or are you distracted, pre-occupied, thinking in the future or worrying about the past, or just not into it? Being in the flow, where the challenge meets our skills and time disappears is renewing, refreshing and fun.
If you’re doing an activity and finding yourself in a negative mindset, then you’re likely not reaping the benefits of your actions. If you’re just going through the motions, you may need to find another motion that’s more fulfilling or building more resilience to stress, rather than producing stress.
Minding our mindsets can help us fully engage in our lives, fully express and experience our activities and fully be in the moment without regard to the outside influences. Being conscious of our mindset throughout our day, whether work or play (or is it all play?) can help us reap greater rewards for a richer life.
Time outs are not only for unruly children. I believe we all need to call a time out once in a while for our sanity. Taking time to take care of ourselves, our loved ones, our business, our physical bodies, our emotional well-being, our homes, our life or just to enjoy our surroundings near or far, here or on vacations.
I’ve written in prior posts about taking holi-moments when we can’t take holidays. Taking some time for yourself is critical for being the best we can be for ourselves, our work and others. If we are burned-out, rusted-out, worn-out and about to give-out, then we are not any good for others. We can’t give what we don’t have. And that includes our energy.
We must guard our appointments with ourselves to amp up our energy as fiercely as we guard our appointments with other important people such as doctors, clients, family and friends. It’s all about balance and giving ourselves permission to do what feels right and knowing when we need to take ourselves out of the game for a period of time. Call an adult swim and take 10 minutes, or 10 hours, 10 days or 10 months if you need it to come back refreshed and renewed. That’s what sabbaticals are for, or as I call them self-batticals.
One friend calls them ‘rewind days’ where she just takes care of life – bills, laundry, cleaning, letters and other catch-up stuff. I call a housekeeper to do that! 🙂 You may set aside time for physical activity, meditation, dreaming, scheduling, journaling, writing or other rituals that recharge you.
We must serve and take care of ourselves so we can attract others who want to do the same. Our health, wealth and vitality vibrate and resonate with others who are feeling similarly. If you want to attract healthy, vibrant clients, be healthy, vibrant and vital. We attract who we are and not what we want.
I recently gave myself a permission slip to mourn the loss of my only child, my dog Madison. She was my first and only. She was my muse, my heart, my joy, my model and a legend in my greeting card business. She was my daily ritual, my time-out. Even when I wasn’t quite ready for a time-out, she would ever so gently paw at me or just look at me with that face to let me know I’d spent too much time on the computer and it was time to walk and play.
I took a time out last week to allow her play time and allow me to mourn and celebrate her life. We had the ultimate last day for a doggie day: went to the dog park, played squeaky, romped in the people park, drove with the windows down and the wind in our ears, and then took the last drive to doggie heaven. Her spirit is all around and I am reminded to take time out and enjoy the day, take time out for myself even though I don’t have that little reminder nudging me. I took off last week to renew my spirit after she passed and I do it without feeling guilty.
In loving memory of Madison, my puppy-mill-rescued little girl. Take some time out for yourself and go play.
In light of the recent Icelandic ash incident and all the news about stranded travelers; it reminds me that we have little control over what happens to us. It’s what we do about what happens to us that really makes the difference. The news was filled with irate travelers who were ‘stuck’ in Vegas for a few extra days. Hmmmm, millions dream of being here, yet some were outraged they had to spend some extra time here. Maybe they were out of money. It’s all about managing your expectations.
Being a seasoned traveler as a Professional Speaker and former Outdoor Adventure Director in Europe, I was on the road or in the air 3-8 times per month every single month for over 20 years. I’ve had my share of delays and detours. As an experienced entrepreneur for about 14 years, I’ve had my share of re-routings in that arena as well.
The best advice I can give comes from a couple friends. One said to me, if I was planning on traveling to Rome, had my heart set on it, packed for it, learned some Italian phrases and bought the guidebooks. And my flight was re-routed to Paris and I ended up spending the trip in France instead, what would I do.
Would I spend the entire time in Paris lamenting that I wasn’t in Rome, or would I re-group, assess the situation and remind myself I’m in a wonderful place on a wonderful adventure and then start enjoying Paris on the fly and be more spontaneous and figure it out as I went, asking for help, directions and recommendations as I went along.
It’s the same way with being an entrepreneur, we can’t have every single flight path planned out before we even start. We need to loosen our grip, go with the flow, enjoy Paris if that’s where our path leads us, even though we may have had our sites set on Rome. Enjoy the journey, make course corrections when we can, have a plan, but scrap it if it isn’t working. Delays and detours are bound to happen, we need to just be fluid to them and keep moving forward.
Another friend once said she saddles the horse in the direction it’s going. It’s much easier to work with what is moving in that direction, preferably forward. As a former horse owner, I also know it’s much easier to put the saddle on correctly and sit facing forward – the views are much better.
So the next time your path takes you off course, ask for directions, be spontaneous enough to figure it out and enjoy the views while you’re there. You just may discover something new and exciting that you were supposed to learn.